Saturday, January 30, 2010

ELCA is Dissolving by the Day


LutheranCORE Begins Its Work of Forming New Denomination


"Behind the Curtain"

For some, this could be the most important thing you will read in your life. And it will be an important reminder for all.

Faith Tidbit #34

So, if, as we said yesterday, we can't keep the commands we must keep to avoid losing the life only God can give, why does God bother giving us the Ten Commandments? The answer is that God gives us His law as a mirror, a means by which we can see ourselves as we really are, not as we pretend to be. "Through the law," the Bible says, "comes the knowledge of sin." When we honestly look at the law and how far we are from keeping it, we see how far we are from God and how filled with futility our lives are going to be, now and in eternity. Wrestling honestly with God's law is like the bracing first step of all Twelve Step programs: We are incapable of loving God completely or of loving others as we love ourselves. If the Ten Commandments were the only thing God revealed about Himself to the human race, life would be pointless.

Three Things the Church Needs Today

On his blog for pastors, Chuck Swindoll writes:
The early church didn’t ask God to bless their gimmicks. So, the church today doesn’t need gimmicks to attract people—it needs pastors who lead prayerfully, biblical truth preached passionately, and Christianity lived out authentically.

Friday, January 29, 2010

'Twelve Tips on Reading'

Reading is important to me. But as I grow older, I've become both less and more discriminating about what I read.

For example, I read more different kinds of things. But I skim some books nowadays. That feels like growth to me. I want to be more open to various aspects of life; yet I don't want to waste time.

But what do I skim?

I always skim the books of Bob Woodward. In a Bob Woodward book, you'll never miss great sentences that make you pause and wonder. A Woodward paragraph's first sentence tells you everything you need to learn from that paragraph. There's no point in pondering. Cut to the chase.

The same is true of government reports like that of the 9/11 Commission or anything written by former CIA agents, businesspeople, or law enforcement people. (I read very little of this stuff anyway.)

Gretchen Rubin skims too. Skimming is just one of twelve tips on reading presented by Gretchen Rubin here. You might want to read them.

I like Rubin's tips, although I can't speak about one and I would add one other one.

The one I know nothing about is Tivo. I don't own one. Never had the hankering to do so, either.

I would add a thirteenth tip: Read the Bible. You can read the whole Bible in one year if you read just three or four chapters a day. Believing, as I do, that the Bible is the Word of God, I also believe that it's good for us to read in order to get a good idea of Who God is and of God's will for our lives.

If you do read the Bible, you're bound to run across things you don't understand. I do every day. A good study Bible helps clear up most confusion. But I wouldn't let the difficult things vex me too much, if I were you. I like what Mark Twain wrote: "It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

Are you running for a reason?

Or are you just running? Also read here.

Faith Tidbit #33

Although the Ten Commandments reflect God's will for all humanity for all time, two points should be made. First: "'No human being will be justified in [God's] sight' by deeds prescribed by [God's] law..." In other words, even if we were capable of mustering enough love to obey the Commandments perfectly, they wouldn't spare us the consequences of our past lovelessness, the condition of sin into which all humanity was born. Sin shuts us off from God, the One Who gives life. And so, the grim consequence of sin, which none of us can avoid is death. The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death..." The second point will be here tomorrow.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Faith Tidbit #32

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, to give a twofold answer to that question. The greatest commandment, He said, is to love God completely. A second one, He asserted, "is like it": to love others as we love ourselves. In this answer, Jesus summarized the two tables of the Ten Commandments we talked about yesterday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time to Change Obsessions?

My colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot, presented this in his daily emailed inspiration earlier today.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

In Dennis Waitley's Empires of the Mind Waitley reports that
although there are approximately 450,000 words in the English
language, about 80% of our conversations use only about 400 words.
The most common words in the English language are. . .

"I," "Me," "My," and "Mine."

What does that say about us?

Romans 8:6-8 The Message

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end;
attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.
Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God.
Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God,
ends up thinking more about self than God.
That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.
And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

Lord, help me to be concerned less about me and more about
You and your will and the needs of others.
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Faith Tidbit #31

However different traditions number the Ten Commandments, everyone is in basic agreement that they are divisible into two sections or tables. The first table is about our relationship with God. The second is about our relationship with others. (In my Lutheran tradition, that's Commandments 1-3 and 4-10, respectively.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Just because you've experienced no ill consequences from past unrepented unkindness, injustice, or sin you've committed...

...doesn't mean that there are no consequences to be incurred.

We can be thankful that God "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing."

But we should also thank God if we're not among those God lets go their own ways.

God disciplines those with whom He is in relationship, His task being--as it is for any good parent--to shape our wills without breaking our spirits. That's what the preacher in Hebrews was talking about when he said:
...the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:6-11)
Almost daily, I ask God to give me the faith and the strength of character to pray not just, "Lord, reign over me," but also, "Lord, rein in all about me that is displeasing to You or destructive of your ends or my good."

Some times, I almost mean it when I pray that prayer.

One day, I know that I will mean it completely. In eternity with Christ, I'll see things more clearly. Along the way, I will even catch glimpses of how desperately important it is to pray that the God revealed in Christ will both reign over me and rein me in.

As I do, my loving God will keep disciplining me in countless ways. I won't always understand or like that discipline. But as I look back on the paths I've taken in my life, I can see with painful clarity the things I couldn't see back then--things like the sinful potholes into which I'd fallen (from which God forcefully extricated me), the bad decisions I almost made, and the depths of God's love for me.

One thing I always try to convey to new parents is that there are two sides to loving a child. Side one is what the psychologists refer to as "unconditional positive regard." That's the unshakable love every child needs to know that she or he has from parents.

The other is discipline: caring enough about a child to structure their lives, to guide them in the right directions, and to force them to face consequences for going in the wrong direction. (Forcing children to face consequences for the minor ways in which they may hurt themselves, others, and God is a great way of helping them to avoid larger and far more consequential breaches of God's loving plan for all of us later in their lives.)

If both sides of love aren't apparent to children, their lives will inevitably veer off into hurtful and self-destructive behavior. Children who receive psuedo-love dealt predominantly from one side of the coin rather than the other, can become real monsters.

God may be slow to anger. But God does discipline His children. God is too good a parent to do otherwise.

God's patience with us when we sin shouldn't be interpreted as weakness on God's part or as proof that God isn't there. Think about Paul's words in the New Testament book of Romans, you despise the riches of [God's] kindness and forebearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed...(Romans 2:4-5)
Individuals, nations, and even church bodies may presume to ignore God's will. When we do, we may interpret the lack of immediate consequences as an indication of God's indifference, absence, or even approval. But even Paul, the apostle of grace and love, reminds us:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-11)
I pray that I will take these words to heart and live in authentic love toward all people.

I pray that my country will take these words to heart and turn in faith to Jesus Christ and so begin to treat all people--at home and abroad--justly.*

I pray that my denomination will take these words to heart and repent for its twenty-year rebellion against God and the authority of Scripture.

We mustn't interpret God's patience for anything other than patience. We must all turn to God while we can.

*This is not a political statement, although I pray that love for God and love for others can be openly embraced as a value in our society and in our governments.

Faith Tidbit #30

It's important to notice that the Ten Commandments don't actually begin with a command. In fact, they begin with a promise: "I am the Lord your God..." Here, God underscores that a relationship with Him cannot be earned by adherence to His revealed will in the commandments. God promises to be our God without strings or preconditions. Relationship is God's gift to us. We may spurn that gift. But God offers it nonetheless. To understand this, consider the love of most parents for their children. Children may spurn parental love, opting out of a relationship. But this won't alter the parents' love for them. Jesus, in fact, told a parable or story which conveyed this truth about God's stubborn grace toward His children, as well as about God's respect for the choices we make regarding what to do with His offer of relationship.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Annual Pastoral Report

[This is my annual pastoral report for the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. The annual meeting charged with approving a budget and receiving annual ministry reports happens this coming Sunday.]

Pastor’s Report
January 31, 2010

The past year has been a good one for Saint Matthew, I believe. Attendance edged up slightly. We had several adult baptisms, which is one of the surest signs of congregational vitality. Two new congregational ministries got off the ground: Servanthood and Parish Health.

I’ve enjoyed my work with the congregation’s young people. The mission trip to Nashville, Tennessee, saw several youth and adults participate who hadn’t gone with us to Grand Rapids the year before. This coming year, I’m excited about our local mission “trip,” which will see us doing some of the same things locally that we have done on our trips elsewhere the past two summers.

Our youth had a better showing at the 2009 synodical Bible Bowl than at the one the year before. We had a great time. Now that the synod has cancelled this year’s bowl, we’re planning to have our own event here at Saint Matthew, involving adults as well as youth.

Participation in the Monday night group adult studies has been good. I hope that the studies have enhanced and strengthened the faith of our people, as well as being a good community outreach tool.

The prayer vigil was well-attended once more this year. I hope to do one again this Lenten season, this one of shorter duration.

One of the less exciting things I intend to work on this year with our church secretary, and the Church Council, is clean the church books. There are many whose names appear on the church rolls who have not been involved in Saint Matthew for years. We need to get a clearer picture of who Saint Matthew really is. But this is a task that has to be handled with delicacy and pastoral sensitivity.

Of course, maybe the most consequential events to happen for Saint Matthew in 2009, didn’t even happen here. Those were the two decisions taken by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) churchwide assembly to allow congregations to ordain gay persons in monogamous, committed relationships and to give such relationships legitimacy. While I believe that all people should be welcome to wrestle with the reality of their sin and their need for God’s grace, I believe that these decisions are heretical departures from the teaching of Scripture and the affirmation of our Lutheran Confessions regarding the authority of God’s Word. I have attempted to provide the congregation both with the background on the Lutheran understanding of Scripture’s authority and on what Lutheran alternatives may exist for Saint Matthew as it strives to be a Biblically-faithful Lutheran congregation. Personally, I remain in confessional resistance to the stance taken by my denomination. What steps the congregation may take are entirely up to the Church Council and the people of Saint Matthew, I hope under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

In recent weeks, I’ve been excited by the response to the Monday discussion group revolving around the novel, The Shack. This has been gratifying and enjoyable. So was the class I offered in the latter part of 2009 on the Holy Spirit.

In 2010, I’m looking forward to our Lenten emphasis on prayer and to Friend Day happening in May.

During the Lenten season, I’m also proposing that we designate the midweek offerings for Lutheran World Relief’s work in Haiti. This is the single-most efficient charitable organization in the world and every penny will be wisely spent.

The call of every Christian congregation is to pursue both Christ’s Great Commandment to love God and to love neighbor AND Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples. These are our calls not just collectively, but also individually.

One of my primary aims as your pastor is to do all I can to help you feel confident and committed not just to loving God and neighbor, but also to help you reach out to your spiritually disconnected friends, relatives, coworkers, and classmates so that, like you, they can follow Jesus.

If we believe, as Jesus teaches, that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him, how can we withhold eternity from those around us? (One pastor has said it well, I think: “The congregation that doesn’t want to grow [by reaching out to their unchurched neighbors and friends] is telling the world to go to hell.”]

The truth confessed by Peter and John when ordered by the religious authorities in Jerusalem to stop talking about the crucified and risen Jesus has not been rescinded. The two said that they couldn’t stop speaking of Jesus and then confessed: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Nothing will do more to enliven and uplift the life of our community than for all people to have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the only One Who gives those with faith in Him relationship with God, forgiveness, and eternity. Jesus transforms lives forever and He has commissioned you and me to share Him and His transforming gospel with everyone.

I pray that 2010 will be a year when our commitment to the Great Commandment and Great Commission will sink down into the everyday decisions and priorities of more and more members of Saint Matthew…including me.

God has great plans for Saint Matthew. Let’s let God have His way with us this year!

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Mark Daniels

Faith Tidbit #29

God originally gave the Ten Commandments so that His chosen people, the Hebrews (also known as Israel), would be a peculiar people entrusted with God's "will in its entirety." God gave the commandments to Moses, the instrument God chose to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt to the land God promised to Israel.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Good Word for Pastors and Congregations

Watch out for our adversary, the devil.

David Wayne Update

Some readers of this blog know about blogging colleague and pastor David Wayne has been fighting cancer for over a year now. I just learned that David was taken to the hospital yesterday, following a reaction he had to a new medication prescribed for him. The reaction has been mitigated, but the reaction was obviously a bit scary. Please pray for David's healing. Thanks.

Epiphany Signs Christ Gives Us to Do

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

Luke 4:14-21
This Epiphany season, as we said last week, is a time when we look at many incidents from Jesus’ time on earth that unscramble our picture of Him, helping us to understand that in Jesus Christ, we meet more than just a human being; He’s also God and the world’s long-promised Messiah, Savior, and King.

But the first sign of Jesus does in the lesson and the others we're told about are very different from a voice shouting God the Father’s pleasure with God the Son on the banks of the Jordan or from Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding, which are the signs we attended to over the past two Sunday. The signs in today’s lesson are simpler.

The first one narrated by Luke here comes in a visit home, the reading of a Bible lesson during worship, and a plain, yet forceful statement Jesus makes about Himself.

After being baptized and then propelled by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, Jesus had done some teaching and healing. His hometown was already abuzz with word about Him. When it reached Nazareth that Jesus was on His way, the hometown crowd was excited. Luke tells us: “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day…He stood up [and read from the scroll]: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

And then, Luke says that Jesus “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” In what must have been a moment of high and silent, drama, Jesus then told His townspeople--and us--"Today, right at this moment, in your hearing, all foretold centuries ago has taken place.”

The words that Jesus read in worship that day were from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. You can read them today, in chapters 58 and 61 of Isaiah’s book. Jesus claims that He is the anointed king (that’s what the word Messiah in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the word Christ in the Greek of the New Testament, mean, Anointed One) come to usher in the reign of God. And to prove it, Jesus asks the Nazarenes to consider the signs they’ve heard reports of Him doing: He proclaims good news to the poor; sets captives free; lets the blind see; and He springs the oppressed from their imprisonments. All of these things, Jesus says, are signs of Who He is and Who He came into the world to be for all of us.

These signs should be especially interesting to us because Jesus, later in His ministry, made the stunning claim that in His Name, His Church—you and I--would do the works that He does and, He said, even greater works.

In the list of signs Jesus gives today, there are no miracles of loaves and fishes, no thunderstrikes from heaven, just the tough, healing love of God meeting real people in their everyday lives.

These are signs that Christ wants to perform through you and me. Through simple signs lile these, people see the God we meet in Jesus Christ and come to believe in Him. Jesus wants to empower you and me to do the signs about which He spoke at Nazareth in order to point the whole world to the hope and life that only Jesus gives.

Jesus, for example, wants to set captives free through us. The word that Jesus uses for free here, aphesis, in the original Greek of the text is the same word He uses for forgiveness. It literally means release. In Christ, we are released from the debt we owe for our sin. Followers of Jesus are meant to show others that Christ can release them from their bondage to sin, to fear, and to needless guilt.

True story. “Carl Coleman was driving to work one morning when he bumped fenders with another motorist. Both cars stopped, and the woman driving the other car got out to survey the damage. She was distraught. It was her fault, she admitted, and hers was a new car, less than two days from the showroom. She dreaded facing her husband. Coleman was sympathetic, but he had to pursue the exchange of license and registration data. [The woman] reached into her glove compartment to retrieve the documents, which were in an envelope. On the first paper to tumble out, written in her husband's distinctive hand, were these words: 'In case of accident, remember, Honey, it's you I love, not the car.'”

Every Sunday, you and I pray the prayer our Lord taught us, including the petition, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us that, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” For you and me, sharing with others the freedom from captivity to sin that Jesus brings also sets us free from the paralyzing, gut-wrenching resentments and grudges that can rob us of life and joy when we fail to forgive. Jesus wants to free us from captivity to sin. And through us, Jesus proclaims release to other captives.

Jesus also wants us to bring good news to the poor. The poor were certainly a priority for Jesus and, as you read both the Old and New Testaments, God's revealed Word, you see that the poor has always been a priority for God.

And it's interesting to notice that when Jesus was born, He wasn’t entrusted to parents who were wealthy people. Instead, He was born into poverty. Mary, the mother of Jesus, saw this as especially fitting. Remember how, in the words she spoke to her relative, Elizabeth, Mary said, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”?

Jesus’ people, grateful for the free gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life, are called to share their blessings and to make the poor a priority. That’s what we do in our servanthood events and it’s what I hope will also be reflected in our generous midweek Lenten offerings for relief to the impoverished and beleaguered people of Haiti, starting on February 17.

Tomorrow night, our servanthood team meets again to plan our next outreach event. You’re invited to participate in the planning, as well as the actual outreach events themselves. Last year, when we collected food for distribution by Hocking County Job and Family Services and later, infant formula and diapers for distribution by the health department and by the agency for Developmental Disabilities, your response and involvement were fantastic! The team meets at 6:00 tomorrow here in the fellowship hall. I hope you can make it.

Through us, Jesus also wants, in the words He quotes from Isaiah, to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What does that mean?

The Old Testament book of Leviticus said that every fifty years in Israel, all debts were to be forgiven, all land restored to its original owners or their heirs, and all slaves were to be set free. It was called the Jubilee year.

Fifteen centuries after the laws in Leviticus were given to God’s people, Jesus proclaims a kind of permanent Jubilee! He says that He’s come to forgive all debts and all sins for all eternity. This is a free gift for all who turn from sin and who entrust their whole lives to Jesus Christ.

I find that this message of new life for all who believe in Jesus is news of which the world never tires and for which its need never lessens. A few years ago, in my former community, I met with a professional man on community business. I’d known this man for years. He was someone I had long suspected was dealing with unresolved guilt and questions about his relationship with God that he didn’t have the courage to face. As we were wrapping up our meeting, I put my arm on his shoulder and told him, “You know, the welcome mat is always out for you at our church.” He smiled and said, “I like your style.”

I don’t know if I have any style. But I do know that what I wanted to convey to that man was God’s favor, that God was for him, that God wanted to deepen His relationship with him through the fellowship of a caring church family, and that whatever secret guilt he may have harbored could never be big enough or awful enough to keep the forgiveness of Jesus from him if he wanted that forgiveness.

And that’s true for you and me as well. Every time we come to God in repentance, He declares a jubilee. Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty in full for all of our sins, no exceptions. When we confess our sins and ask God to help us walk away from them, forgiveness is total.

Our friends, neighbors, and coworkers need to know that just as much as you and I do. Whatever your style, whether you’re shy or bold, old or young, you can convey that message to the people in your life. You can declare an everlasting Jubilee free of the weight of guilt to everyone you know!

When Jesus went to worship with the people of His hometown, He told them that they could know He was their Messiah because He set people free through His love, He made the poor His priority, and He showed them that God was for them.

In His Name, you and I can do the same things today, showing people who might feel distant from God and isolated from others that their loving God and His Church are here for them always.

In ways as simple as those used by our Savior, we can be signs of Who Jesus is and of all that He wants to be for everyone for all eternity. Amen

Faith Tidbit #28

Different Judeo-Christian traditions reckon the Ten Commandments differently. For example, Lutherans and others see Exodus 20:3-6 (also Deuteronomy 5:6-10) as a single command prohibiting the worship of anyone or anything but God. Other Christian groups divide these verses into two commandments, one prohibiting idolatry and the other proscribing the creation of statues or objects to be worshiped. Lutherans and others split the proscriptions against covetousness as they appear in Deuteronomy 5:21, into two commandments, while other Christian traditions see the verse presenting a single command. Judaism refers to the commandments as Aseret ha-Dibrot. If you ask how many commandments there are and how they should be reckoned, my answer will be, "Yes."