Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Caught in the Act: Jesus, Praying for You

Here's the video of this past Sunday's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. Below it is the text of the message shared during the service. 

John 17:1-11
One morning a few years back, I was alone in our bedroom, on my knees next to the bed, praying. Ann didn’t know I was there and opened the door. When she saw me and realized what I was doing, she was apologetic. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s OK,” I told her. But again she said, “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”

Christians can and do pray with others, of course. Our first lesson for today tells us of the first Christians disciples that after the risen Jesus ascended into heaven, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14)

But, through Jesus, God also gives us the privilege of doing just as Jesus often did, pray directly to the Father as individual believers. Our private prayers can be intensely intimate conversations with God. We confess our sins, reveal our deepest insecurities and secrets, entrust our most heartfelt requests, and own our doubts. I think that’s why Ann kept apologizing when she opened our bedroom door and found me in prayer.

In today’s Gospel lesson, John 17:1-11, we’re privileged to listen in on one of Jesus’ intimate prayers. The lesson is composed of the first portion of what’s known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, the prayer that John says Jesus offered on the night of His betrayal and arrest. This section has four petitions. What’s remarkable about them is that, in the final analysis, each of the petitions is offered on behalf of believers in Jesus like you and me, disciples who live in this world right now. When Jesus prayed on the night He faced the greatest agonies imaginable, He was thinking of you and everyone for whom He was going to die and rise.

The first petition is in verse 1: “‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’”

The hour to which Jesus refers is the one in which He would be glorified by God the Father through His death, resurrection, and ascension. In the gospel of John, Jesus calls these three things, Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, together as His glorification. It may be hard for most people to see any glory in a sinless Savior being nailed to a cross to die. But for the Christian, the cross displays the immensity of God’s love for the human race. On the cross, Jesus faced the wrath and endured the death that we deserve because we are born sinners incapable of making ourselves fit for life with God. And that’s a glorious, weighty thing! This is what the apostle Paul celebrates at another place in the Bible's New Testament, Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In this first petition, Jesus prays that the Father will help Him to see His mission of dying for us through. Jesus wants all people to be saved from sin, death, and futility. That can only be accomplished through His cross.

Jesus then prays in verse 5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” This too, is a prayer for us. Jesus knew that after He was glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father, He would send His Holy Spirit to believers. In John 16:7, He already told the disciples, “ is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Many of you know the comfort that the Holy Spirit gives to you. He’s the One Who brings God’s Word to you, prompts you to pray, gives you faith in Jesus, inspires you to share your faith, empowers you to serve others in Jesus’ name.

I enjoy doing the live weeknight Bible studies on Facebook these days. But I would be lying if I said that they’re easy. I generally put in two to three hours of preparation for each night’s session. More than that, I daily pray that God will help me to explain the sometimes complicated things people need to know to more fully understand and appreciate the greatness, power, and love of God that are revealed in the books of the Bible we study. And though I’ve been an ardent student of Scripture for forty years now, there are things that I don’t understand as well as I would like to. That’s why the most important part of my preparation is begging the Father in Jesus’ name to send the Holy Spirit to make something out of what feels like the nothing I have to impart. Whatever good is coming of these studies is because Jesus ascended back to the glory He had before coming into the world and because He is constantly sending His Spirit to needy believers like you and me.

Jesus' next petition is in verses 6 through 9, where He prays for us, believers who have received the powerful, eternity-changing Gospel Word of new life through faith in Jesus. He says in verse 9: “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Earlier in the gospel of John, we’re told that many people who had initially believed in Jesus deserted Him. Jesus asks the twelve apostles if they intend to turn away from faith in Him too. Peter responds for all of them, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68) In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays that we will stay connected day-in and day-out to Him through His life giving Word. It’s His Word that can guide us, assure us, bring forgiveness, and sustain us until the day we see the Lord personally, face to face.

Jesus’ fourth petition builds off of this. It’s in verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” God the Father, the New Testament tells us elsewhere, has given Jesus “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) The name of Jesus has power! Martin Luther said that the mere utterance of Jesus’ name by a believer will subdue Satan. Calling out to Jesus when we’re in trouble, when we’re tempted, when we need guidance or inspiration, will ensure that He is present with us, leading us on the resurrection path. The protection that Jesus asks the Father to extend to us may not prevent us from things like accidents, cancer, heart failure, COVID19, or being rejected by others for believing in Jesus. But, as we flee to Him for all our hope and help, Jesus will protect our faith, our justification, our eternal life with God. Anyone who can speak Jesus’ name with trust in Him as their God and Savior has exactly what He came into the world to bring, something we don’t deserve and could never ear, life with God that never ends. This week, ask God to renew you each day in your faith in the Savior Who, as He faced the cross, prayed for you and even now, wants you with Him for all eternity. Amen

Tonight's Midweek Bible Study of Ephesians, Chapter 5


Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Hour Is Getting Late

Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Below, join the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, for worship. Beneath the video, find the written text of today's message. God bless you!

Acts 17:29-31
The Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watchtower, famously covered by Jimi Hendrix, contains an apocalyptic vision that plays out in the dialog of a joker and a thief. In the second verse, we hear,
‘No reason to get excited,’ the thief, he kindly spoke 'There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.’”
“The time for having a false view of reality is through,” Dylan’s thief tells the joker. Life isn’t, to paraphrase Jesus, about eating, drinking, and being merry. It’s not about acquiring the most toys before the hearse takes our bodies to the cemetery. Like the thief crucified on the cross next to Jesus, who repented and turned to Jesus in faith, Dylan’s thief insists, “It’s time to get real. The hour is getting late.” That truth has a special urgency for me today. Maybe it does for you too. We all know that the conditions Jesus said were necessary for His return had already been met during His time on the earth: That’s why He said that His return to bring an end to the life of this old, dying universe could come at any time. But these days of the most lethal pandemic to visit the planet in one-hundred years remind us that we are mortal, that this life is fragile, that, whether for us as individuals or as the human race, “the hour is getting late.” And that’s true whether every one of us gathered for worship today survive this dangerous moment and this world continues for another million years or if Jesus returns tomorrow. The promise of God’s Word is, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13, Joel 2:32). God’s Word tells us that faith comes when we hear the gospel Word of Jesus, the Christ and, through our hearing of this good news and the faith in Christ this Word from the Holy Spirit creates within us, we are saved from sin, death, and eternal separation from God. But, are we listening? Are we paying heed to this Word from God, the Word about Christ, that can save us? Or are we speaking falsely? Are we among those who treat all talk about God, Jesus, life, death, judgment,  salvation, or the lateness of the hour, like a joke?

Our second lesson for today, Acts 17:16-31, presses these questions on us. Acts, you know, is the New Testament book of the Bible that tells what the Holy Spirit did in the lives of the first believers in Jesus through the first three decades or so after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. In today’s lesson, the apostle Paul enters the city of Athens. Athens was a major center of thought and debate. It was also, as Paul noticed while walking through the city, a place in which people worshiped all sorts of gods, a bit like today, when people have “pick and choose” religion, even when their religion is atheism in which they worship human brains, will power, or cunning. Paul, who believed in God and had encountered the risen Jesus, may have been tempted to lash out at the Athenians for their idolatries. But Paul had bigger fish to fry. He needed to share the good news of new and everlasting life for all who repent--turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as their God and Savior--with these people.

All of which brings us to the last three verses of Paul’s message for the Athenians, a message for you and me and for the whole world this morning. Take a look, please, at verse 29. After quoting one of the Greeks’ poets who said that human beings were the offspring of a Deity the Greeks themselves didn’t know, Paul says: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring [as we are, since Genesis assures us that you and I are made in the image of God], we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.”

“Let us not speak falsely now,” Paul is saying. Human beings worship false idols like money, security, power, and status. Why? For some, it’s because it’s easier to worship a god you can see--whether it’s a statue erected in the town square or Ben Franklins in our wallets--than to worship the God you can’t see. But the bigger reason that human beings worship idols is our love of control. All of our favorite godlets are things that, if we can acquire them, we think we can control to our own benefit. We’re prone to idolatry because we worship ourselves: our comfort, our freedom, our power. But, Paul says, this is a lie we tell ourselves. We are not in control and the quicker we realize that, the better off we’ll be.

Then Paul says in verse 30 of our lesson: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” God is compassionate. God is patient with us. But Paul tells the Athenians (and us), “Now that you’ve heard the truth that you’re born in bondage to sin and can only be freed from God the Son Jesus, Who has overcome sin and death, you can’t go on living like you’ve been living.” Paul says it’s time to repent. To repent is to turn to God in sorrow for sin and in recognition of our need of God. When we repent in Jesus’ name, God not only forgives us for our sin, He gives us new and ever-renewing life with Him that never ends. Because of the power of sin and death, The Small Catechism reminds us that we need to live in “daily repentance and sorrow for sin” so that “the new person should come forth every day and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Finally, in verse 31 of our lesson, Paul tells us, “For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” The phrase translated as with justice is more literally, with righteousness. When Jesus returns, an event which His resurrection from the dead assures is going to happen, He will see two kinds of people. He will judge each person according to the version of righteousness they cling to in this life.
  • To those who have clung to the notions of righteousness or right living favored by this world--whether it’s salvation by good works or material wealth or influence or ease, God will give this world and the eternal destruction for which it’s ticketed.
  • To those who, like the thief on the cross at the last moment, cling to Christ alone for righteousness, God will give everlasting life in His kingdom.
The times for speaking falsely, for treating life as a joke, for putting Jesus off until some other time, for unrepentant sin, or for keeping Jesus at arm’s length have ended. In the next months--and likely in the next two years, if Jesus still hasn’t returned to judge the living and the dead, our lives, our worship, our church gatherings will look and feel different from what they have. Masks, social distancing, online worship and online small groups: Love for God expressed in love for neighbor and an unwillingness, like Jesus, Who refused to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, to put God to the test, will make precautions like these necessary.

But all of this only makes the call that Paul issued to the Athenians and that he issues to us today all the more urgent. First, we must understand that the God we know in Jesus is a living God not to be ignored. Second, we need each day to turn from sin and turn to the God we meet in Jesus. He alone gives life to those who trust in Him. And third, we need to cling in faith to Jesus. As a gracious gift, He covers us with the perfect righteousness of God so that when it comes our time to be judged, God won’t see us in our sin but will only see the Savior Jesus to Whom we cling. Dear friends, the hour is getting late; today and everyday, cling to Jesus Christ alone. Amen

Friday, May 15, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of Romans, Chapter 12

As I Went Out One Morning

Today, while preparing both for this evening's class on Romans 12 and the Sunday message, I've kept unaccountably hearing Bob Dylan's As I Went Out One Morning in my head.

The song appears on his 1967 LP, John Wesley Harding. (Dylan, who loves to riff off of and distort popular culture even as he remakes it, took the name from the Old West bad guy John Wesley Hardin. In his ode to a fictional Harding, Dylan sings of a kind of saintly Robin Hood "never known to kill an honest man.")

As I Went Out One Morning is a ballad. It has a fetching folk melody and is written in iambic pentameter, using the quatrain form. Simply put, each verse is composed of eight lines, each syllable having alternating accentuation. It fairly mimics the 1937/40 poem by W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening. Dylan's rhyme scheme is A-B-C-B-D-E-F-E for all three verses, each composed of two quatrains. It's a lyrical form that's particularly suitable to music.

But in listening to As I Went Out One Morning a few moments ago, I realized again that Dylan may have had more in mind than just creating a song or mimicking Auden.

Dylan presents us with three characters: the narrator, a damsel in chains, and Tom Paine. Paine, of course, was the famous writer whose pamphlet, Common Sense, George Washington ordered read to the suffering American troops at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

According to Wikipedia, Dylan received the Thomas Paine Award from something called the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in 1963. When, in his acceptance speech, Dylan said that he could understand the complaints about American society that JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had voiced, he was booed off the stage. The Wikipedia article suggests that As I Went Out One Morning is Dylan's response to that incident, apparently resenting what he saw as an infringement on his free speech by an organization that celebrated free speech.

That may be.

But Dylan isn't always that straightforward in what he writes and I wonder if there isn't another layer of meaning here, no matter what experience may have immediately triggered the writing of the song.

Auden's poem was spoken by three voices: that of a man; that of a woman, his love; and a clock. The poem is about the impact and inevitability of time and what it brings.

The narrator in Dylan's song is undoubtedly Dylan himself, still smarting from the controversy he created at the awards ceremony. I take "...the fairest damsel that ever did walk in chains" to be America. Dylan sees this damsel as he is out walking "to breathe the air around Tom Paine's."

Paine's Common Sense was an important and inspirational document for the American Revolution. It portrayed the Revolution as a war for liberty. Freedom would then be "the air around" Tom Paine.

But in 1775, Paine wrote another important essay in which he called for the abolition of slavery. He would become more vocal on this as time went on. The failure of the United States to see that the principle of freedom should necessarily mean the abolition of slavery embittered and angered him. The damsel in chains then is the United States, imprisoned by its failure to abide by its own founding principle.

As in 1963, America still bears the chains of its slave past. The chains still wrap us tightly with the continued existence of racial injustice.

At the end of the song, Dylan sings:
Just then Tom Paine, himself
Came running from across the field
Shouting at this lovely girl
And commanding her to yield
And as she was letting go her grip
Up Tom Paine did run,
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said to me
“I’m sorry for what she’s done”
I'm not a huge fan of Thomas Paine. He correctly enunciated the principle of liberty as foundational for the United States. But he failed to learn, as Washington, Hamilton, Jay, and others did, that liberty can't be maintained if there isn't mutual accountability. That's why after the United States tried to walk on the single leg of freedom as an operating principle under the disastrous Articles of Confederation, the Founding Generation (without Thomas Jefferson, who was in France) wrote the Constitution. That completed the American Revolution and ratified its principles, freedom and mutual accountability, the latter of which many seem to forget about today. The two together are needed to avoid the tyranny of the mob on the one hand and the tyranny of elites on the other.

But, if what I think Dylan is saying in this song is accurate, I believe that he's right. We will never breathe the air around Tom Paine's--the air of true freedom, if we don't finally and fully divest ourselves of racism. Otherwise the damsel in chains will keep imprisoning us all. Slavery and racial injustice are the things done by the damsel for which Tom Paine apologizes in the song. 

Dr. King was right when he said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Bob Dylan - As I Went Out One Morning from Rufus Corleone on Vimeo.

[According to Wikipedia, Dylan has performed this song only once since he recorded. For a guy who performs constantly, that's remarkable.]

Who's Wise?

In starting my review of Romans 12, which we'll be covering during our weeknight Bible study over on Facebook tonight, one part of one verse really struck me. It comes in verse 16. Paul says: "Never be wise in your own sight."

I think it's probably true that the moment we think we're wise, we're not.

Biblical Christian faith does not value self-sufficiency. God calls us into a community of shalom, of peace with God, with others, and with God's creation born of faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

And if we consult with only ourselves over our decisions and attitudes in life, we create a self-confirming feedback loop in which we assure ourselves that what we want to do or believe is right because it's what we want to do or believe. This is a prescription for being unwise.

That's why listening is so important for Christians.

First and foremost, we're to listen to God. Not our hearts. ("The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" says Jeremiah 17:9) Not our thoughts. (There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death," we read in Proverbs 14:12, ESV). Not our preferences. (When Jesus asked God the Father that the cup of suffering He was to "drink" in His suffering and crucifixion, He also prayed, "...not my will, but yours be done." [Luke 22:42]) We need to listen to God, through His Word.

Second, we need to listen to committed disciples of Jesus Who also listen to God and will pray with us and for us.

Third, we need to listen to the wisdom of others, whatever their backgrounds, who have acquired expertise and experience from which we can benefit. All true wisdom originates with God, even when the person imparting it doesn't themselves believe in God. "For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6)

Above all, we should confidently ask God the Father in Jesus' name for wisdom. James 1:15 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."

The longer I live, the less confident I am in my own wisdom, in my own capacity to discern truth or make the right decisions. But the longer I live in relationship with Christ, the more I tune into God the Father through Jesus, God the Son, the more confident I am of the decisions and attitudes God commends me to adopt. I more deeply appreciate Jesus' words to His disciples (including me) in John 15:5: "I am the vine; you are the branches...apart from me you can do nothing." I gain a deeper confidence knowing that I have asked for God's wisdom through Christ, assured like the apostle Paul that "I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

Just a few thoughts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of Romans 9

Due to technical issues, we weren't able to do the weeknight Bible study on Monday evening. But we met this evening. I hope you find it helpful. God bless you. Living Water Lutheran Church

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Christ's Assurance in Uncertain Times

Below you'll find, first, the entire online worship service from Living Water Lutheran Church of Centerville, Ohio. Then, the text of today's message. God bless you.

John 14:1-14
We're now some weeks into the need for sheltering-in-place and social distancing because of the coronavirus. Even as some businesses start to re-open, we know, especially those with children and those who, like me, are in multiple at-risk categories, that the new normal under which we've been living will continue for some time to come.

We may find that discouraging, even when we understand the wisdom my nephew posted on Facebook this past week, “For the record, the virus doesn’t just go away because you’re tired of being inside.” 

My Catechism students tell me when we gather each week on Zoom, “I miss my friends.” 

And people who fully understand why we can’t go about our lives as usual still wonder when there will be testing, contact tracing, and a vaccine, things that will allow them to go to work again. 

One pastor said this past week, “I’m tired of giving sermons into a computer camera.”

To all of us, Jesus says today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1) 

Now, if this is all that Jesus had to tell us, we might dismiss these as hollow words. But Jesus gives us substantial reasons for why our hearts need not be troubled, why we can believe in Him in any and all circumstances, even when we face death itself. In fact, in today’s gospel lesson, John 14:1-14, Jesus gives us four good reasons for why our discouragement should give way to hope and confidence that can only come to those who believe in Him.

Jesus’ words today come from His farewell discourse, spoken to His disciples--His followers--on the night before He was betrayed and arrested, the day before He would offer up His sinless life as the perfect sacrifice for human sin. 

Although Jesus knows with perfect foresight the suffering that awaits Him, His thoughts are not about Himself but about the disciples who will soon watch Him die. He wants to comfort them. 

He wants to comfort you today too. 

So, Jesus gives us here four assurances that will allow us to live with untroubled hearts as we believe in Him.

Jesus’ first assurance is in verses 2-3: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

The believer in Jesus lives with the daily assurance that no matter what, even beyond death itself, there is a place prepared for us. Whether it’s in the midst of a lethal pandemic here or in the perfect face-to-face fellowship with God that we will one day enjoy in eternity, Jesus has a place for us. Our place is with Him

He has a place for us now when we come to His table, when He speaks His life-giving Word to us, when we pray to the Father in His name. 

And Jesus will have a place for us when we die and, like Jesus before us, the Father raises us up to live with Him forever. Jesus has a place for us and it’s with Him. That’s His first assurance to us today.

Jesus’ second assurance for us today is in verses 4-6 of our lesson: “‘You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Here, Jesus assures us that if we know Him, we will always know the way to go, even when we feel lost or discouraged. We go to Jesus

That’s because Jesus is the way to God. Jesus is the way to a life filled with the forgiveness, love, and presence of the God Who made us and has the destiny of the universe in His hands. 

Life in this imperfect world presents its detours; Martin Luther talks about, “false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins…” But when Jesus is our way, we have the way through sin, death, and darkness to God Himself. Jesus is the only way to the salvation, eternal life, and wholeness that God alone can give.

Jesus’ third assurance comes in verses 7-11: “‘If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.’”

Jesus says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” When you know Jesus, you know the true God Whose love for us destroys the power of sin, death, futility, doubt, and discouragement over our lives and lifts us up to life with God.

Jesus’ fourth assurance comes in verses 12-14: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Jesus tells us that when we believe in Him, trust in Him, He will do His work through us. Because from His place at the right side of the Father, He can dispatch His Holy Spirit to work in all the billions of baptized Christians who seek to serve God and to serve others in His name, Jesus does greater things now than He did while He walked on earth. 

On top of that, every Christian can pray in Jesus’ name, meaning that we pray according to His will and His character, and see His divine love and power unleashed in the lives of those for whom we pray.

It’s amazing to witness what God can do when we trust in Christ. This past week, I’d just completed one of the midweek Facebook Live Bible studies. I was sure that it had gone horribly. I was sure it had been a total disaster. Then I read some of the comments people sent. “Tonight was a very comforting way to end my day!” one person wrote. “Thanks for tonight. Had a few hours of ‘woe is me’ today but feeling good now,” said another. “So reassuring,” wrote another. To the extent that those comments were true, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the Lord Who promises to do great things through those who trust in Him.

So, you and I as baptized believers can live each day with confidence, hope, and assurance because of the crucified and risen Jesus. Because of Him, as we turn from sin and turn to Him in trust we know that we have a place with Him, that He is the Way to the Father, that He is the Truth on Whom our lives can be built, and that He gives us a life with the Father that reflects the glory of God Himself. That includes times like these of a pandemic, sheltering in place, and social distancing. Jesus tells us today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” 

This week, may He help us live with untroubled hearts as we trust in Him: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

The Dark Shadow

Yesterday saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Kent State University shootings in Kent, Ohio. I wrote this early this morning over on Facebook.

It's one of those events that happen in life when you remember exactly where you were when you heard about it.

I was spending the day at Columbus North High School doing an article for our West High School Occident newspaper about a typical day at another city high school, comparing and contrasting. I even remember the name of the guy who told me about the Kent State shootings, a North High student, president of the student council, someone I met precisely once.

I don't know where he'd heard about it, but he said, "I just found out that the national guard killed four students at Kent State." I couldn't believe it!

The Ohio Primary was the next day, May 5. Jim Rhodes, who had had what many would characterize as a successful two-term governorship, was running for the Republican nomination for US Senator. His opponent was Robert Taft, Jr. Taft was the grandson of a president and the son of "Mr. Republican," Bob Taft, Sr., and the father of a future Ohio governor. Taft obviously had solid name recognition, buttressed by the fact that he had been, back when such things existed, an at-large member of the US House of Representatives, representing the whole state. But Rhodes was so popular that he was expected to win handily.

Not after Kent State. He was the one who'd sent the Ohio National Guard onto the campus and, as a friend of min rightly pointed out on Facebook those guardsmen were probably not trained in crowd control. Rhodes lost the primary to Taft.

That aside, it was a moment when middle America, until that point accepting of Lyndon Johnson's escalations of the war and Nixon's Vietnamization policy (i.e., a head fake) in which he talked about withdrawal but escalated and widened the war, began to take a second look. People forget that polling at the time still found a majority of the American people supported the war effort. Two and a half years later, Nixon would defeat the World War II-hero, but total opponent of the Vietnam War, Senator George McGovern.

But on May 5, 1970, almost everyone, I think, was sickened by the death of four kids engaging in what appeared to be peaceful protest.

Was that the day America changed, when we moved from blithe complicity with the actions of our government, believing that our presidents would never tell us lies (as polling in the 1950s and 60s repeatedly showed) to where we are now: always cynical, never trusting, susceptible to every cockamamie conspiracy theory that comes down the pike?

Things like that rarely happen on a single day. It took a succession of days corrosive of trust and cohesion to turn America into the balkanized, distrusting rabble that it is today, so divided, suspicious, and sunk in our partisan tribal silos that we can't seem to muster the patriotism or common sense to address an obvious national emergency with resolve and unity. Supporters of the respective parties don't mind the outrages committed by pols from their own tribes, so long as they believe their preferred agendas are advanced.

Human sin and selfishness were not invented on May 4, 1970 or the other sad days that fueled a cynicism as unrealistic today as the credulity that once characterized Americans was.

But since the days of Johnson, a crude, well-intentioned egomaniac who lied to get us to fight in Vietnam, and the cynic Richard Nixon, who tried to steal our Constitution, the shadow of their sins have hung over the presidency, the government, and country.

We need to learn to trust each other again and we need leaders worthy of that trust.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Study of Romans, Chapter 4

It's Gut-Check Time for American Christians

Small groups of protesters, representing, at most, about 30% of the American people, have been protesting social distancing and sheltering-in-place orders lately, claiming them to be infringements on their personal freedom.

But here's what I think, folks, from my perspective as a Christian and a student of American history.

My freedom ends when it infringes on your freedom.

The Constitution's Framers never believed in unbridled rights or allowing freedom to become license.

Babies and adolescents believe that freedom is being able to do whatever you want to do.

But when you grow up, you understand that, in Justice Holmes' famous example, freedom of speech does not allow you to yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

The vast majority of Americans want a slow, controlled, and, when needed, easily-reversed, return to more normal social distancing. They want government to fulfill its function as pronounced in the Preamble of the Constitution, to form "a more perfect union" by striving to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

Freedom does not, whether from a Christian or a constitutional perspective, give anyone the right to willfully endanger others. The apostle Peter writes in Scripture to Christians, "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves." (1 Peter 2:16) To be a slave of the God we know in Jesus Christ means to be set free to live lives of love for God and love for neighbor.

Yes, there are economic implications to continued sheltering-in-place. Our unemployment systems, operating on antiquated software, need to be updated. Government and all of us will probably have to do much more over the next year-and-a-half to help each other through this unprecedented crisis.

But on our currency, we Americans claim as our motto, "In God we trust," not "In money we trust." If we can take sensible, if sometimes unpleasant, actions to get through this crisis together, we will emerge stronger for it. We will preserve the most precious economic assets we have: healthy, living human beings.

It's gut-check time for Christians in America. Will we be full-tilt pro-life? Or will we join the pro-death advocates who say that having a few more bucks in their pockets is more important than the lives of their neighbors?

The answer should be clear. And most people know that.

[Armed protesters in the gallery of the Michigan State Senate chamber in Lansing four days ago.]

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Study of Romans, Chapter 1

Who can stand in God's presence?

Psalm 15 was part of the appointed reading for my quiet time with God today. The psalm was composed by King David, ostensibly after the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem.
In it, David describes who is qualified to, effectively, live with God.

We delude ourselves if we think that any of us intrinsically possesses these attributes. The person who reads these verses and thinks, "That looks like a picture of me, wonderful person that I am," is lying to themselves.
But we can be covered with these attributes and the Holy Spirit can begin to construct them in our lives only as we turn in daily repentance and renewal in the name of Jesus to God.

Baptized and forgiven, Christ also covers with perfect righteousness everyone who believes in Him.

Jesus' worthiness becomes our worthiness, enabling us to live with God, even though we all fall far short of being the kind of person that David describes in the psalm.
My prayer is that because of what Jesus has done for sinners like me in His death and resurrection, His Spirit will work on me again today to conform me to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
Here's Psalm 15:
1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Father, through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, work once again today to make me this person "even when it hurts." Amen