Friday, November 07, 2008

Praying for the Unemployed, Pondering the Dignity of Work

On a day when the government announced troubling increases in the numbers of unemployed, statistics about joblessness and the recession were brought more sharply into view for me.

My daughter called from Florida to say that the Curves at which she works on a part-time basis and where she works out, is closing down. (She has a full-time job. So, no worries there, although her hours have been cut back.) The owner of the franchise, a woman who holds two other jobs, simply can't afford to keep the place up and running.

I learned today that a Christian publishing house is closing down all of its retail outlets. There is a general trend away from the overhead associated with physical stores, toward online sales. So, this decision may have been in the pipeline anyway. But it was probably also hastened by the economy. The decision comes as an enormous blow to an acquaintance of mine with more than thirty years with the company.

Over the course of the week, I've spoken with several people who have lost their jobs because of the shrinking economy.

It isn't just the loss of income that's so horrible when one loses a job, although that's worrisome enough. It's also the loss of self-worth.

There's a downside to tying up one's sense of worthiness to a job, of course. As I said here, we're human beings, not human doings.* In God's eyes, we're accounted worthy not because of what we do or own, but simply because we are children of God.

On the other hand, we weren't made for idleness, contrary to the bad rap that work sometimes gets. Some Christians even have the mistaken impression that work is a punishment for sin. Not so. Even before the fall into sin recorded in Genesis, God gave the first man work to do. Work isn't a punishment. It's part of our purpose for living. When it's taken away from us, it chips away at our dignity.

Tonight, I'm praying for all who are without work.

I'm praying too, that the economy not only of the United States, but that of the world, will improve, bringing new opportunities for people.

I'm also praying that once things do improve, we won't forget our vulnerability or our need for God in good times and bad. (See here.)

*The phrase isn't original with me. But I don't remember where I first read it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Potential of Prayer

From the October 30th. edition of the daily emailed inspirations sent by my colleague and friend, Pastor Glen VanderKloot...

WELCOME to the daily issue of ONLINE WITH FAITH.
ONLINE WITH FAITH is a ministry of Faith Lutheran Church,
2313 Whittier Avenue, Springfield, IL, 62704, Glen VanderKloot,

We encourage you to worship and be involved in a local congregation.

If you have any questions, comments, or prayer
requests please be in touch with us at
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

A Thought for the Day

In prayer the church has received power to rule the world.
The church is always the little flock.

But if it would stand together on its knees, it would
dominate world politics--from the prayer room.

O. Hallesby



James 5:16 NIV

Therefore, confess your sins to one another
and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power
as it is working.


Lord, use me to transform my church into a praying,
powerful church. Let me to those who will stand with me
in prayer. Amen


What are you waiting for?

The question is Joseph Stowell's in today's Our Daily Bread piece. Before you read it, read this.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Prediction

My projection of Electoral College...

Obama: 409
McCain: 128

[UPDATE: Okay, I got this wrong and right, I guess.]

Election Morning Prayer

Gracious, powerful God, on this election day, we pray for our country. We ask that You give those who vote today Your wisdom.

We pray, too, that You give that same wisdom to Senators McCain, Biden, and Obama and to Governor Palin. Grant that they will use that wisdom to make sound decisions about how they conduct themselves on November 4, and in the years beyond.

We ask that You would provide to them and to their families, Your protection from all danger and harm each day.

We pray that You will guide us in our voting. Give to us the President that You will for us, the President that we need for us to collectively fulfill Your purposes.

After the votes have been counted and tabulated, make us one nation, united not uniform, agreeable and committed to what is best for one another even when we disagree.

Protect those Americans who this day are in harm's way in dangerous places, whether they are military personnel in places like Afghanistan or Iraq, diplomatic emissaries representing the US around the globe, Peace Corps volunteers acting as goodwill ambassadors for our country, or missionaries carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ to peoples remote from us.

Knowing that Your promises are true, God, we pray petitions our Lord Jesus taught us to pray: Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Guide all of our leaders and us as voters and citizens as we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, economic turmoil, the need reform of our political and financial institutions, finding alternatives to abortion as a method of birth control, encouraging mutual responsibility and accountability within the American and world communities, global warming, finding alternative energy sources, unemployment, urban sprawl, equality for all of our citizens, having the courage to stand up to tyrants, and enacting health care reform, to name just a few. Remind us again and again of Jesus' words, "Without Me, you can do no good thing" and "With God, all things are possible."

Keep our citizens safe as they vote. Grant that they will also stand in lines for as long as necessary, remembering that voting is a special privilege.

And at the end of the day, help us to remember that we are not just Americans, but children of God, created in Your image, called and commanded to love You with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors, all of our neighbors, the world over, just as we love ourselves.

We pray all of these things in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen!

Monday, November 03, 2008

What is the Christian's Responsibility When It Comes to Voting?

[The following is a piece I wrote for our congregation's November newsletter.]

While some of us may have taken advantage of early voting by now, November 4, brings election day. What is the Christian’s responsibility when it comes to voting?

For the follower of Jesus Christ living in a democracy, the command to love our neighbor, I believe, includes responsible citizenship. And responsible citizenship, in turn, can entail voting.

I say that it can entail voting because merely casting a ballot is no sign of being a good citizen.

The right to vote can be abused or misused as easily as other privileges we have in life. To cast an uninformed vote, to vote for a candidate simply because of their party affiliation, or because we like the way a candidate looks, are common ways in which we can misuse the privilege of voting.

If we’re uninformed about a particular race, we should probably not vote in that contest. We exercise good stewardship of our citizenship when we cast an informed vote. If we do feel informed though, then we should by all means, vote. One could even say that we have a Christian duty to vote.

This raises another question: What do we do if after fully informing ourselves, we feel no enthusiasm for any candidate?

Here are a few points to consider.

First: Remember that politicians are people too. Those who seek public office are, just everybody else, members of the human race of whom the Bible observes: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one...” (Romans 1:10) Perfection is not the benchmark standard for us to apply to our political leaders. I’m certainly not suggesting that you overlook what appears to be an overtly rotten character in a candidate. But I do suggest cutting candidates some slack for being human. Remember that even George Washington, as great as he undeniably was, didn’t start out with his face chiseled onto Mount Rushmore.

Second: Pray about your vote. Ask God to clarify your thinking and to give you wisdom. The Bible says, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

Finally: “Sin boldly.” This strange bit of advice came from Martin Luther for Christians sincerely weighing decisions. Luther advised Christians to read God’s Word, talk things over with trusted Christian friends, and to pray. If, after all of that, your course remains unclear, do what you think is right. Your judgment could be wrong. But you can have a clear conscience because you know that your intent is to do God’s will.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

You Are Saints...Be Saints

[This sermon was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio today.]

Matthew 5:1-12
Bill Hybels, pastor of the massive Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area, tells about the final inspection of the congregation’s new campus, which he and a staff person made with the head of the construction company that built it.

Before the meeting, the staffer had secured a huge skylight, one like those used at fairs and festivals. The meeting was taking place before sunrise and the staffer intended to circle the perimeter of the entire enormous facility with that light, pointing it toward the building so that on the inside, the seals around every window, door, and seam could be confirmed to be tight. If any light shone through, he reasoned, patchwork would have to be done.

But when the contractor arrived and learned what the staffer planned, he pointed out that their contract stipulated that re-sealing would have to be done only if “natural light” shone through the structure's seams. “No building could stand up to the light you want to use,” the contractor explained. The contractor knew that in light like that, any building would be shown to be imperfect.

As I begin this morning, I have to make a confession to all of you: The closer I get to Jesus Christ, the more imperfect I can see myself to be. That’s especially true today on this All Saints Sunday, considering our Gospel lesson. It contains Matthew the Evangelist’s rendering of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”

Martin Luther looked at these words of Jesus and said that they exemplified the perfect law of God which none of us can keep. Jesus laid them out, Luther said, to hold us up to the brilliant light of God’s holy perfection and show us our many imperfections and our desperate need of grace, God’s charitable forgiveness and acceptance. It will be no surprise to any of you who know how much I respect and appreciate Luther to learn that I think Luther is right.

But I also think that Jesus meant to do much more than hold us up to His light and drive us to His grace here.

I think that Jesus means to give us not just laws, but incredible comfort.

To see what I mean, we need to hold the Beatitudes, the opening salvo of Jesus’ sermon, up to some light this morning.

The first verse sets the stage for what follows. Matthew tells us: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him…”

We usually picture the Sermon on the Mount as an oration that Jesus delivered to throngs of people. I’m not so sure about that. To me, nowadays anyway, it appears that Jesus called out to the crowds to follow and some did follow. Those who did are called disciples, the first time this word is used in the Gospel of Matthew, incidentally. The word, disciple, mathetes, in the original Greek of the New Testament, means student or follower.

To me, that creates a comforting image. Even the most saintly follower of Jesus is just learning what it means to be a child of God.

I once heard about a lecture given by a Bible scholar and theologian who, at that point, was deep into his nineties. By all accounts, he’d been a loving and enthusiastic follower of Christ his whole life. He’d spent decades studying the Bible. After his lecture, someone asked him a question. I love his answer: “I have no idea.”

The Lord Who calls us to listen to Him again this morning is the God of the entire universe, infinitely wiser, more intelligent, and more powerful than any of us. This God may have become one of us, dying and rising for us. But if any of us thinks that, short of our own deaths and resurrections, we will ever be more than learners, students, disciples, of the Christ way of living, we’re fooling ourselves.

For me, whenever I feel confused or tormented by the mysteries of life—why suffering comes to the undeserving, why we must age and die, why some seem incapable of making healthy choices for their living, it’s enough to remember that the God Who enters our life through Jesus Christ, calls me to follow Him.

Jesus calls Mark Daniels, who grew up on the Hilltop in Columbus, Ohio, to follow Him. I didn’t have to do anything to earn His attention or His love. He loves me and all I have to do is follow when He calls!

If any of this sounds familiar to those of you who have taken Catechism class within the past seventy-five years or so, it should. About 1500 years before the birth of Jesus, on a mountain, God gave the Ten Commandments for Moses to share with God’s people. But, as you know, the commandments didn’t start out with rules. They began with God’s commitment to His people and His call to the people to follow. It begins with relationship: “I am the Lord your God...” God says.

After calling people to be disciples, displaying a similar love and commitment to those who follow Him, Jesus doesn’t immediately list laws. Instead, Jesus describes two different kinds of disciples.

The first kind are those who are empty in different ways: the poor in spirit (people who, rich or poor, find no hope in the rewards offered by this world), those who mourn (by which Jesus means all who are saddened by any sort of loss), and the meek (by which Jesus means anyone who’s been shafted in any way). Jesus says of these people that they hunger and thirst to be filled with something He calls righteousness. Righteousness is rightness with God, with neighbor, with self. We all hunger and thirst for this kind of rightness, no matter how close we are to God. Jesus says that one day, God’s kingdom will come and God’s will will be done in our lives.

The second description provided by Jesus is of those God uses to fill the emptiness of others. The merciful, Jesus says, will receive mercy. Those who are “pure in heart” (which means a God-filled point of view) will see God. Those who seek to reconcile God to people and people to people, the peacemakers, will be designated children of God. Those who take it in the neck for trying to fill up an empty world with the love and grace of God will be citizens of God’s kingdom.

In the last two verses of today’s Gospel lesson, the perspective changes. Jesus shifts away from describing what disciples to whom God’s kingdom comes look like. Now, as you teachers of grammar see, Jesus speaks to those He calls away from the world’s ordinary ways of doing things. He speaks to His disciples. That’s you and me. Jesus says: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”

On this All Saints Sunday, it’s good to be reminded of what a saint is. A saint, you know, is just a disciple, a forgiven sinner learning how to follow Jesus.

One of Saint Matthew’s older saints died this past week. Like all the saints, Gloria Arnold was imperfect. But she was saved by the grace of God, given to us in Jesus Christ. During the one year and twenty-six visits through which I got to know Gloria, I saw her exemplify both kinds of discipleship that Jesus describes today.

Long illness had weakened her. In the past year, I only ever saw her in a chair and a bed in a single room, Room 308 of the Skilled Nursing Unit of Hocking Valley Community Hospital. Gloria hungered and thirsted for the rightness that we all lack while we live here. She craved Holy Communion. And, as Pastor Brian, with whom I did Gloria’s funeral on Friday pointed out, she never let a pastor leave her room without asking for prayer.

But in Gloria I also saw the second sort of discipleship Jesus describes today. Even sick and dying, she was full with something to give. Several days before she died, Gloria was still conscious, aware of what was going on. She told me that, although it had been a difficult concession to make, she was finally ready to go. She underscored that because she believed in Jesus, she wasn’t afraid of dying. She actually looked forward to it. Her only hesitation was about leaving her family behind.

I read a bit of Scripture to her, Romans 8:31-39. After I read it, I explained to her, as I have to you before, that I’ve told Ann that if that passage isn’t read at my funeral, I'm popping out of the box to read it myself. Then, hovering between this world and eternity, Gloria laughed, asking me to read the passage at her funeral. Before I left, she asked if I would look in on her family and if we could have a goodbye hug.

Gloria had asked for me to come to her room to fill her with the assurance of God’s help in her dying. Hopefully, she received that from me. But the fact is that, filled with the righteousness of God, Gloria had filled me with that assurance. She overcame my poverty of spirit, inspiring me with yet another confirmation of the powerful love and grace of God!

There’s only one way for you and me to be disciples—to be saints who yearn for God’s fullness and saints who fill the emptiness of others—and that’s to give up our resistance, to let Christ love us and call us His own, to allow God to use us for God’s purposes, and to simply follow when Jesus Christ calls us. We let Christ see us, sin and all, so that we can be made over in God’s image and experience reconciliation and rightness with God, with our neighbors, and with ourselves.

“Faith,” Martin Luther said, “is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.” Saints are those who pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and proceed to live in the assurance that, in ways they cannot always see, their prayers are being answered.

You have been made saints by Christ. Now be Christ’s saints