Saturday, February 06, 2010

Walk This Way


The Latest from John Reuben

John Reuben is one of my favorites. The Columbus native has been on my list of preferred artists ever since he released his first CD back in 2000. His newest release may be his best: great rhymes, winsome hooks, fantastic insights, deep honesty, plenty of fun. It's called Sex, Drugs, and Self Control. I downloaded it from iTunes last week.

It's both Reuben's most musically adventurous and literate effort yet.

Sex, Drugs, and Self Control may be what God had in mind when He invented rap music!

Faith Tidbit #41

Yesterday, we said that an acronym we might keep in our minds when we pray is ACTS. The A stands for adoration. In adoration, we praise God for Who God is, for the characteristics or personality traits of God.

Psalm 19, in which the psalmist praises God for His grace, creativity, power, and goodness and for the beauty of God's law, expresses adoration.

God continues to deserve our praise. Because Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, has shared the worst of this life in order to give all who believe in Him the best of the life to come, we have even more reason than the writer of Psalm 8 to ask God, incredulously: "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

Adoration is a great way to begin our prayers. It's a reality check for us as we strive to have an honest conversation with the God Who wants to be our best friend. In expressing adoration for God, we acknowledge the truth of God's greatness and goodness. And we thank God for Who God is.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Faith in Jesus

The path of the realists.

Faith Tidbit #40

Many people ask me for tips on how to pray. You can't go wrong by simply conversing with God. But I find that more often than I like, my prayers can veer off into self-absorption. If I'm not careful my prayers could become bids to enlist God following me, not the other way around. So, I've found it helpful to remember four letters that someone came up with as a guide for praying: ACTS. Those four letters stand for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. We'll talk about each one of those terms over the next few days.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Faith Tidbit #39

This being made right with God, which we talked about yesterday, is what the Bible calls "justification." In the original Greek of the New Testament, this word is related to the word, "righteous." To be justified or to be made righteous by God is a gift from God to all with faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, the condition of sin is erased, making believers in Him able to stand in God's holy presence.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Living My Faith and Not Just Knowing About It (Thoughts Based, in Part, on Our Discussion at 'The Shack' Group on Monday)

Often, I begin Bible studies at church by praying something like, "God, make what we learn here more than head knowledge, something to satisfy our curiosity. Your Word gives life; so help us to live that life."

The Bible teaches that no one can secure a relationship with God based on what they do. All depends on what Jesus Christ has already done for us on the cross and from an empty tomb. We must simply entrust our lives to Christ--entrusting our lives to Christ is what the Bible means when it talks about believing in Him.

But for us personally, as we look at our own lives, what we do and how we live as a result of our faith in Christ, is a measure of whether we really do in fact trust in Him. In John, chapter 15, Jesus teaches that He is the vine and we are the branches, dependent on Him for life, flowering with His power, life, and love when we remain tightly connected to Him. In Matthew, chapter 7, Jesus warns us against false prophets and says that one way we'll be able to tell that they're false is "by their fruits," whether they appear to be connected to Christ and reflective of His grace and goodness.

Human beings who confess a faith in Jesus Christ are still human beings. That means that we sin.

We say things we shouldn't say.

We do things we shouldn't do.

We act hypocritically.

And yes, I said, we, definitely including me.

I don't expect that I will ever have a moment on this side of the grave when I'm not conscious of my general condition of sin, my inborn orientation to try to live apart from God--my desire to "be like God."

But more than that, I don't anticipate a moment on this side of death when I won't either be repenting for a sin, actually sinning in thought or deed, or wrestling with the temptation to sin.

Being born in the condition of sin, it's as natural as breathing for me to sin. Being forgiven is supernatural. Being empowered to repent or resist sin is supernatural. I'm happy and relieved that God gives that power to ordinary people like myself.

There are times though, when I let my guard down: My sin nature mugs me, kidnaps my conscience, and plugs my ears to God's Word and before I know it, I'm doing or saying something sinful.

I can say with the backwoods Christian I've quoted before: "I ain't what I wanna be and I ain't what I'm gonna be, but thank God, I ain't what I was." I strive to live in daily repentance and renewal and I'm learning that this God Who saves by grace all those who repent and believe in Jesus also helps us grow in faith and holiness by that same grace.

But I also live with these questions:
  • How much do you really believe, Mark?
  • How committed are you to living for Christ alone?
  • Can others see that, imperfect though you freely confess to being, you believe?
  • Are the fruits of connection to Christ visible in your daily life and decisions?
  • Are you serving Christ and others as well as speaking of a faith that calls and frees you to do those things?
These are questions with which I wrestle every day. For some reason, God seems to be challenging me to wrestle with them a lot these days.

And I mostly don't like the answers I give.

I can only pray that this questioning isn't self-absorption, but an example of what I call holy discontent.

I always want to be content with God's grace and provision, offered to us in Christ. But I never want to be content with a lazy discipleship or an ungrateful faith.

I want to confess Jesus with more than words. I want Him to be my life.

Help me, Lord Jesus.

Faith Tidbit #38

Remember: You cannot earn God's love or forgiveness. You cannot earn eternity. These are gifts to those who repent--that means turn from sin--and believe in Jesus Christ. The Bible says: "All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins. God sent Christ to be our sacrifice. Christ offered his life's blood, so that by faith in him we could come to God" (Romans 3:23-25, Contemporary English Version).

Federal Budget Deficits: Our Ticking Time Bomb

The seriousness of the ongoing saga of US federal budget deficits is the topic of two interesting recent articles.

First, this from The New York Times.

this from the BBC. My son, a seminary student with undergraduate degrees in History and Philosophy, linked to it over on Facebook. It elicited the following moderate, non-partisan rant from me.* (By the way, the Walker book to which I refer is Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility by David Walker.):

This is a good overview of the problem. I'm looking forward to reading the David Walker book.

Once unemployment comes down, it's going to be imperative that the deficits be addressed. But I'm not convinced that either party will do so. There are so many constituent groups--special interest groups, state, district, and regional groups--that want to eliminate pork and waste except when it impacts them, it makes eliminating the federal red ink tough.

Then, there are the sacred cows like Social Security and Medicare and the Defense Department, leaving little in actual "discretionary spending" to be cut.

The template for resolving these problems is an independent commission. It was done with Social Security back in the Reagan years, as I recall. It was also done with military base closings. Congress decides it can't deal with an issue because it neither has the will, the capacity to compromise, nor the willingness to give up on earmarks individual members want to bring back to their states or districts. So, it appoints a commission, outsourcing the appropriations function the Constitution gives it; all they have to do is vote up and down on recommendations.

But just last week, the Senate couldn't even agree to legislation authorizing a deficit reduction commission. Obama says he's going to appoint one by executive order. But it won't have any force of law.

It's a mess and both parties are to blame. Let's pray that God will give our leaders the wisdom they need. The stakes are enormous. These deficits mean that we're mortgaging the country's future to the Chinese government. Pols from both parties give lip service to doing something about it. But I don't see much substantive work happening.

Is anyone else as concerned as I am?

One other thing. Does anybody remember this? I personally think that Osama bin Laden takes entirely too much credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union. But when government spending reaches sustained high percentages of national GDP, it's not a good thing. Much of the war on terrorism has been financed by borrowing from the Chinese government, a regime which, because it is less than respectful of its own people, can hardly be expected to be forgiving of the US if we're unable to pay our bills.

Can't some of the river of red ink in Washington be attributed to our being terrified the terrorists?

Would any of our spending over the past eight-plus years have been significantly different if we weren't terrified?

How might we deal with terrorist threats and not spend ourselves into bankruptcy or slavery to the Chinese government?

*I'm certain that "a moderate, non-partisan rant" is not an oxymoronic phrase.

[This post is an example of JUMP, a category I created several years ago to designate pieces that are "just my opinion." This isn't Mark the Pastor writing, just Mark the Big Mouth.]

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Faith Tidbit #37

A third function of the Ten Commandments, God's law, is as a guide for God's people. The Commandments continue to function as a mirror for those who seek to live lives expressing gratitude for the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life that come to those with faith in Jesus Christ. Martin Luther said that the Christian is to live in "daily repentance and renewal." God will use the Ten Commandment to show the Christian her or his "growth edges." God will use the Ten Commandments to help the Christian to avoid allowing sinful habits to gain a foothold and to lure the believer away from God. God will use the Ten Commandments to deepen our relationship with Him when we pray something like David prayed: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24)

Monday, February 01, 2010

On Their Way from Amazon

Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility by David Walker

Luke for Everyone by N.T. (Tom) Wright

Faith Tidbit #36

The second function of the Ten Commandments, God's law, is to be a mirror, showing us ourselves as we are. We touched on this briefly several days ago. "Through the law comes the knowledge of sin," the Bible says. When we come to terms with God's commands for things like absolute loyalty to Him, honor for our parents, respecting the lives, properties, and reputations of others, sexuality expressed only in marriage between a man and a woman, and so on, we see our distance from God and from the life only God can give. We see that we are sinners and sinners can have no place in eternity. This realization will either drive us to despair or it will lead us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Knowing that we can't trust ourselves, we're called to take the leap of faith and entrust ourselves to Christ. The Bible explains it this way:
God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins. (Romans 3:21-24, Contemporary English Version)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Cool Book

I picked up this book today.

It's great to just leaf through. I hadn't known until today that Ohio Stadium at The Ohio State University was designed by the same architect, Howard Dwight Smith, who designed the high school from which my wife and I graduated, West High School, also in Columbus.

West High School, Columbus

Ohio Stadium, The Ohio State University, Columbus
The north end of the stadium is similar to the beautiful ceiling of the auditorium at West, which also depicts important events in history.

Christ is for "Them" Too!

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

Luke 4:21-30
At my first parish, a rural congregation set amid corn and soybean fields, we had just approved a building program that would increase our sanctuary seating capacity from 320 to 500, and give us more classrooms, a nice kitchen, and more fellowship space.

We were growing and we wanted to be able to welcome more people like some of those who had been coming to the church in the previous few years. These were people who had never been to church or hadn’t been in a church for a long time, but who, through the ministry of our congregation, were coming to faith in Christ, were being baptized, and were becoming active members.

After the vote approving the new building project, a fellow approached me. “Pastor,” he said. “I’m worried. We used to have a nice cheap church. But with these other people showing up, we may have to give more to keep things going.”

I frankly had no idea what I possibly could have said to that man. For him, the church was a closed club for “us,” not for “them,” whoever “them” was.

Jesus encounters an attitude like that man’s from the people of His own hometown of Nazareth in today’s Gospel lesson. It’s the last part of an incident we looked at last Sunday.

Jesus has gone to His hometown with a few disciples and, as was His habit, worships at the synagogue there. During worship, Jesus reads a few passages from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, written hundreds of years before His birth, words which foretold the coming of the Messiah Who would “bring good news to the poor,…proclaim release to the captives…let the oppressed go free…[and] proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus then sits down and with all eyes fixed on Him, says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people who grew up and worshiped with Jesus through the years are excited. “All spoke well of Him,” Luke writes in today’s Gospel lesson.

But Jesus understands that their excitement isn’t from joy that in Christ, God was reaching out to all people, calling all people to repent for their sins, calling all people to believe in Christ, and offering the free gift of new and everlasting life to all people who believe in Him.

Jesus understands that the people of of His hometown are excited because, as Judeans and Nazarenes, they figure they have an inside track. Their imaginations run wild as they see Jesus doing wonderful things for their town. Jesus, they think, is one of “us,” not one of “them.”

If Jesus had been a religious huckster, He would have simply let the folks of Nazareth believe what they wanted to believe about Him. He would ride the wave of popularity for as long as He could, wringing all the power, prestige, and cash out of it that He could.

Instead, as was always true of Jesus, He takes the more difficult path.

“Doubtless,” Jesus tells the hometown crowd, “you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

The old saying Jesus quotes means, basically, “Take care of your own.” And Capernaum, a town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about twenty miles from Nazareth, is a place where, Luke says, Jesus had already performed many miracles. Capernaum is set in a region full of foreigners.

Jesus sees the true sentiments of the people of Nazareth. “All this Messiah business is great,” they think, “especially if you give us what we want, when we want it. Quit fooling around with them, Jesus; take care of us.”

Then, having summarized the sentiments of His townspeople, Jesus goes on to show them why they’re wrong to think as they do.

He recalls that in the days of Israel’s greatest prophet, Elijah, there were many widows in the homeland of God’s people, then experiencing a famine. But God only sent Elijah to a foreign widow, providing her and her son with food.

Jesus then recalls that in the time of Elijah’s successor, another prophet names Elisha, there were many lepers among God’s people. But God used Elisha to bring healing to only one leper, a foreigner from Syria.

At this, the people of Nazareth become enraged. Jesus is telling them that neither He nor God the Father are their private possessions. God loves and reaches out to all people.

For us, this is an important lesson to learn too. In Holy Baptism, God claims us as His own. We belong to Christ, not the other way around. Our call is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with “them” so that they can be one of “us,” not members of an exclusive club, but citizens of the kingdom of God where all who repent, repudiating their sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, live with God forever.

Christ, in fact, has commanded you and me to love those people who may not be one of “us.” And He has commissioned us to make disciples of “them.”

Someone has said that the Church is the only organization in the world that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members.

Because Christ has already saved us for all eternity, grateful that we are part of His kingdom, you and I can be empowered to invite others to repent and believe in Jesus and so, become part of His kingdom too. We can even be glad when people we’ve always disliked or people who have mistreated us turn to Christ and live.

The late Corrie ten Boom was a Christian from the Netherlands. Corrie and her family were sent to a prison camp in a place called Ravensbruck because they helped Jews escape their country, occupied by the Nazis, then pursuing their murderous campaign that would result in the killing of over 6-million European Jews. Corrie was the only member of her family to survive World War Two. In the ensuing years, she became an evangelist, calling people to repent for sin and trust in Jesus Christ for God’s forgiveness and new life.

One night, Corrie preached at a church in Munich, Germany. In the congregation was a man she recognized as a guard from the camp in which she had been imprisoned. He had often mocked Corrie, her sister, and other prisoners. The service ended. Listen to what happened next in Corrie ten Boom’s own words:
“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ He said. ‘To think that, as you say, [Christ] has washed my sins away!’ His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often [about]…the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on [the goodness and healing of Jesus Christ]. When [Jesus] tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Jesus Christ has come into our world not just for us, but also for them. It has always been the will of God that all people have the opportunity for reconciliation with Him and to be part of His kingdom.

About one-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, King David sponsored a celebration as the Ark of the Covenant carrying the two tablets on which God had once inscribed the Ten Commandments, was carried to a tent in Jerusalem. David was so glad that he joined in the celebrating through a dance of pure joy. The Bible tells us that his wife saw this great man so humble himself before God and, she thought, acting in a way below his status as a king, that from that moment on, she despised David. But God inspired King David to write a special celebration song for that day. It included these words:
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of His salvation from day to day.

Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples.”

It's always been the call and the privilege of God's people to share the salvation that comes from God with all people!

But not all believers care about doing that. A pastor once told me the story of a parishioner who was upset. Someone—a visitor—had sat in the parishioner’s usual pew. “This church doesn’t belong to him,” the parishioner said indignantly. “You’re right,” the pastor had replied. “And it doesn’t belong to you or me either. It belongs to Christ.”

Because the Church does belong to Christ—because we belong to Christ, it is our call and it is our privilege to invite others-
  • the spiritually-disconnected,
  • the people with annoying habits,
  • the people we’ve never liked,
  • the people who lead messy lives,
  • the people who have hurt us
  • everyone—
to come to Christ, to see their sin and their need of a Savior, to seek forgiveness at the foot of Jesus’ cross alongside of us, and to receive new life from the One Who died and rose for all and gives life to all who dare to repent and believe.

Make it your aim in life to reach out to them, because they need Jesus Christ every bit as much as us. Amen

Our Witness for Christ is Light for a Darkened World

See here.

Faith Tidbit #35

So, if we can't obey the Ten Commandments which we must obey in order to have the life that only God gives, what good are they anyway? The Ten Commandments have three main functions. First, they act as a hedge on the behaviors and activities even of those who don't believe in God. The Bible says that the law is written on human hearts. Even those who regularly flout belief in God and believe that they have the right to do whatever they want will, at the moment they feel others have crossed them, appeal to some notions of right and wrong that somehow justify their sense of being wronged. Even in societies that have little or no experience of the God revealed to Israel--and in Jesus Christ, the Ten Commandments written on all human hearts will be appealed to, both by the victims of lovelessness and by the perpetrators anxious to prove that their violations of God's law are in some way justified. The Ten Commandments are a hedge against human lovelessness. The second function of the Ten Commandments tomorrow.