Friday, July 10, 2009

Tweets on This Sunday's Bible Lessons

You can read them all here. To read them all in order, you'll need to scroll down to the "More" button and begin reading from bottom to top at the message, "Going to tweet this Sunday's Bible lessons."

God's Masterpieces

I liked this:
God did not re-create us in His Son to be museum pieces. He redeemed us so that our good works would showcase the brilliant colors of His redemption and grace, and draw a world in darkness to the light of His love.
Read the whole thing.

Service to God and others, not harsh judgments, shrill political activism, or "crash and grab" evangelism, is the life to which our Lord calls us.

Bad Things, Faithful People

I finished my re-reading of the Old Testament book of Job, something I've been doing for several weeks, this morning. This, from the last chapter of the book, always strikes me:
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.(Job 42:7-9)
A little background: Job was a deeply faithful man who sought to live according to God's will. God allowed Satan to wreak havoc in Job's life. Job lost all his property and source of income. All of his children died in a tragic moment. His body became covered with painful sores. Even Job's wife appeared to turn against Job.

Then, some of Job's friends came along and for seven days did a fine thing: They let Job vent, listening to his complaints, even complaints against God, without saying a word.

Then, they made a big mistake: They defended God, as though the God of the universe needs the "protection" or "defense" of human beings.

If that weren't stupid enough, these friends' idea of defending God involved belittling the faith of Job, chastising him for being angry with God*, and insisting that Job must have done something wrong in order to have had so much tragedy befall him.

In the verses quoted above, God insists that Job, even when he was angry with God, was in the right and his seemingly pious friends were in the wrong.

People who are quick to claim that the grief-stricken, the disease-plagued, or the poor are being judged by God or that they lack faith, don't have a leg to stand on Biblically. We live in an imperfect world; bad things happen even to the most faithful people.

*A fine tradition for which is exemplified in the Old Testament book of Psalms, by the way. People of faith sometimes do get angry with God. As I often tell the grieving who experience anger toward God, "This is a sign of your faith. After all, you don't get angry with somebody you don't believe is there."

Freedom of Religion in China


Thursday, July 09, 2009

China's Growing Importance in Latin America


Click on the Label below to put this linked piece in context.

Background of the National Pastime

To those who saw Ken Burns' documentary on baseball, little of this will be new. But it's an interesting article anyway.

An Interesting Appointment at NIH

Here. Contrary to the stereotyping coming from some corners these days, not all who believe in the existence of God are bigoted, closed-minded, or anti-science. Francis Collins is one demonstration of that. He's a theist and an outstanding scientist.

Politically, this is yet another shrewd appointment on the part of Barack Obama. As he pursues such hot potato issues as stem cell research, Collins will likely be able to talk to all sides.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Best Thing in Heaven?

It's undoubtedly described here.

Be sure to read this too, though. It comes from the revelation of heaven given to John.

Audience of One

From the latest daily emailed inspiration sent by my friend and colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot:

OnLine with Faith

July 8, 2009 Issue 507c

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

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, Pastor.

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

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Thought for the Day

"I think of Frederick L. Anderson, the New Testament professor
at Newton Theological Institution at the turn of the century,
who came in his youth to be pastor of Second Baptist Church
(now Baptist Temple) in Rochester, New York.

"After his first sermon, an elderly woman, spokesperson
for the pew super-ego, asked him: 'How can you, young
as you are, expect to please 700 people?'

"Putting aside his altar ego, Anderson replied unhesitatingly:
'I did not come to please 700 people. I came to please one.'"
[Leonard Sweet]

1 Thessalonians 4:1:

Brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way
that will please God, and you are living that way.
Now we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to
live that way even more.

Lord, help me to always remember I only have an audience
of one, you, whom I seek to please. Amen


Mr. Obama Goes to Moscow, Where the Real Story is Beijing and Tehran

While the Vice President put his foot in his mouth (twice) and his seasoned political pro, Rahm Emanuel, did the same, President Obama was acomplishing quite a lot during his trip to Russia. The BBC reports:
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations' stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The "joint understanding" signed in Moscow would see reductions of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 each within seven years of a new treaty.

The accord would replace the 1991 Start I treaty, which expires in December.

Mr Obama said the two countries were both "committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past".

Separately, Russia also agreed to allow the US military to fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, allowing it to avoid using supply routes through Pakistan that are attacked by militants.

These are huge agreements, which also bring huge benefits to US interests.

More broadly speaking, they also may help to lay a foundation for Russia, the US, and India in forming an informal hedge against the Chinese regime in Beijing and Islamic Republic's government in Tehran, each of which appears intent not only on oppressing their own peoples, but also on extending their powers regionally and globally.

One lesson of history is that oppressive regimes with designs on regional or global hegemony need to be checked by other nations cooperatively. In recent weeks, both Tehran and Beijing governments have provided more evidence of their malevolent intentions and of their need to be checke. Better to thwart them now peacefully through temporary, realist alliances, than to face major conflicts with them later.

One might also hope that Russian accords signal an intention on the Obama Administration's part to curb Chinese investment in US bonds, already at an alarming level.

The trip to Russia, I believe, was less about Russia, than it was about China, and certainly about nailing al Qaeda in the mountainous areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's interesting that the Russians are cooperating and hard not to speculate on what sorts of concessions were exacted from the US side,

Obama appears intent to follow a foreign policy realist's approach, a departure both from recent Democratic orthodoxy and from the Wilsonian adventurism of his immediate predecessor, Republican President, George W. Bush.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Where God's Power is Seen

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

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
One of my seminary professors, Ron Hals, used to wonder whether, if he had lived during the time of Jesus, he might not have been as skeptical as Jesus’ enemies (and Jesus's friends) could be.

“I can just imagine,” he would tell us, “seeing Jesus perform a miracle like restoring sight to a blind man or raising Lazarus from the dead and then saying, ‘Do it again...Slower.’”

Dr. Hals was saying that had he lived in first century Palestine, he might have questioned Jesus’ power. And had he seen Jesus crucified, he might well have wondered what good Jesus’ power was if Jesus couldn’t elude suffering with that power.

Skepticism about Jesus’ power and the good it does in the lives of those who believe in Jesus is nothing new. In our second Bible lesson, the apostle Paul, the first century evangelist, some of whose writings comprise a big chunk of the New Testament, is dealing with Christians who are skeptical about these very things.

Apparently, shortly before Paul wrote to these Christians, members of the church in the Greek city of Corinth, had been wowed by some preachers who had convinced them that if the power of the God made known to the world through Jesus was really in them, then their lives would be problem-free. They would have success, victories, and no illness.

Now, it is true that Christ gives His Church, among other ministries, the power to bring God’s help to people, including healing for all kinds. That’s among the reasons why, here at Saint Matthew, we pray for people’s healing during worship, have healing services, and are starting our parish health ministry. In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles two by two, and gave them the power to heal in His Name.

But no healing in this world lasts indefinitely; even after Jesus brought His friend Lazarus back from the dead, Lazarus still died again. This world and you and I are imperfect and death comes to all who are part of this world. There’s no way around that.

“So, where is the power of God and what good is the power of God in your preaching?” the Corinthians asked Paul.

Their questions were pointed because, unlike the preachers who had wowed them, Paul was a less than impressive figure. By this time deep into his forties or early fifties, elderly in that world, slight, balding, a poor and rambling speaker who scratched together what little income he made by patching together tents, Paul’s career as a Christian preacher wasn’t notable for its successes. In the course of his work, he’d been arrested and flogged, shipwrecked and beaten, mocked, chased out of several towns, and jailed. How far through the call process do you think a preacher like Paul would make it in most churches? Not far, I’ll bet. Most people would look at him and see a big “L” for “loser” on his forehead.

But by the time we get to the point in the letter to the Corinthian Christians that makes up our second lesson for today, this loser has a thing or two to say to these people who question the authenticity of his message about Jesus Christ and his authority to share it.

Maybe wary of being a braggart, Paul uses the third person to tell about a personal experience he’d had fourteen years earlier, but, so far as we know, had never shared before. “I know a person in Christ,” he says, “who…was caught up in the third heaven [this is what early Christians called paradise, where the risen and ascended Jesus lives]…and [Paul goes on, this person] heard things…that no mortal is permitted to repeat…”

Paul had experienced a vision of heaven that the preachers who had impressed the Corinthian Christians might not even have been able to imagine.

But, Paul says--and this is the most important thing about our lesson from Second Corinthians--that experience, as awesome as it was, did not prove Jesus’ power over sin and death and it didn’t prove Paul’s authority to tell others about Jesus. Something else did. In fact, two something elses proved those things. God's power is most readily seen in two ways.

The first is in God's grace.

The second is in our weakness.

A conference of theologians was being held in Great Britain. They’d been debating the question of what was the central teaching of the Christian faith. Apparently by coincidence, C.S. Lewis, the novelist and teacher who had once been an atheist and then a champion of Christian belief, happened on the conference. When Lewis learned that they were debating what was the most important teaching of Christianity, he said, “That’s easy: Grace.” Grace is God’s charity, God’s acceptance us we are.

The super apostles who had wowed the Corinthian Christians said that, “If there’s something wrong in your life—some illness, adversity, heartbreak, poverty, or struggle—it proves that you’re faithless.”

You still hear people saying things like this today. A faithful pastor friend of mine watched, as within months, his wife was diagnosed with a debilitating disease and his daughter was found to suffer from Down Syndrome. At a church convention shortly thereafter, he asked for prayers. During a break, a man approached him and said, “I am praying that you will repent because you must have done something terribly wrong for God to send these punishments to you.” I wish the apostle Paul had been around when that ignorant man approached my friend. Paul would have given him a smackdown!

In our lesson, Paul says that to keep him from being too elated by his heavenly vision, God had allowed Satan to afflict him with some sort of “thorn in the flesh.” We have no idea what it was. It may have been an illness, an incessant temptation, a psychological disturbance, a relationship problem, a lack of money. We don’t know. Three times, Paul says, he had asked God for relief. And three times the answer came back, “My grace—my charitable love, forgiveness, presence, and acceptance—are sufficient.”

Everybody here this morning knows what it is to experience thorns in the flesh. They’re the problems and heartaches that bedevil us and seem never to go completely away. They drive us to our knees and there, before God, we learn that all of the things we thought we needed to make life complete—health, money, connections, the big house, the respect of others—are nice, but they're not what we need the most. What we really need is the grace of God given to all through Jesus Christ. God's grace is the first thing that proves the power of Jesus Christ.

The second thing that proves the power of Jesus Christ is our weakness. Two weeks ago tonight, sixteen of us from Saint Matthew, who were on our mission trip in Nashville, gathered for our nightly devotions. From our handbook for the week, Sam asked this question of us, “What changes about a person when the Spirit of the Lord is on them?” I immediately thought of those times when I’ve sensed that God, the Holy Spirit, the Power and Presence of God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, has been with me, and my answer to that question was clear: I know God is with me when I can do what I can’t do.

Many, if not most, of you know exactly what I’m talking about...

You had to be with a loved one over months as they died and you knew that on your own, you couldn’t do what you needed to do.

Or, you had to undergo one more round of medical treatments, one more battery of tests, and you knew that you just couldn’t take it.

Or, in order to graduate or be certified, you had to pass a class for which you knew you had no talent or ability.

Or, to make the mortgage payment and provide your kids with a nice Christmas, you had to work double shifts for which you knew you didn’t have the strength.

In each case, you called out to the God we know in Jesus Christ and confessed, “Lord, I can’t.” And in each case, God told you, “I know that you can’t. But I can! Lean on me."

This was exactly what Paul experienced when he had asked God to remove the unidentified thorn in his flesh. “I’m not taking this adversity away,” God told Paul. “You’re going to have to go through it, leaning on my grace.” Why? Because, God says, “power is made perfect in weakness.”

God’s power is experienced only by people who admit that they’re powerless without Jesus Christ. We’re powerless when, by ourselves, we try to make sound decisions, make our relationships work, be happy, deal with our sins, or face life and death. But when we own our weakness and seek Christ’s help, we can face anything. God’s power surges into us. “Whenever I am weak,” Paul says, “I am strong.”

“I didn’t know if I could ever be happy again,” a woman told me years after her husband had died. There were dark days, pain interspersed with lifeless numbness. All the while, there were things to be done—children to be raised, bills to be paid, errands to be run. “I was sure that I just couldn’t do it,” she said. But in the midst of it all, she learned what Paul underscores in today’s lesson. Through Jesus Christ, God demonstrates His power by giving grace to the needy—and that’s all of us—and strength to the weak—that, too, is all of us.

If you’re feeling weak or powerless today, that’s good. It means you’re seeing life clearly. Don’t give up hope. Our strong God stands at the ready to give you grace and strength. God will see you through!