Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Dangers in Haiti May Not Be What You Think They Are


Reading the Bible in a Year: The List of Readings

For those who are interested in joining with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, as we read through the Bible in a year, starting on March 9, here's the complete list of readings for the coming year.
March 9: Genesis 1-3
March 10: Genesis 4-6
March 11: Genesis 7-9
March 12: Genesis 10-12
March 13: Genesis 13-15
March 14: Genesis 16-18
March 15: Genesis 19-21
March 16: Genesis 22-24
March 17: Genesis 25-27
March 18: Genesis 28-30
March 19: Genesis 31-33
March 20: Genesis 34-36
March 21: Genesis 37-39
March 22: Genesis 40-42
March 23: Genesis 43-46
March 24: Genesis 47-50
March 25: Exodus 1-3
March 26: Exodus 4-6
March 27: Exodus 7-9
March 28: Exodus 10-12
March 29: Exodus 13-15
March 30: Exodus 16-18
March 31: Exodus 19-21
April 1: Exodus 22-24
April 2: Exodus 25-27
April 3: Exodus 28-30
April 4: Exodus 31-33
April 5: Exodus 34-36
April 6: Exodus 37-40
April 7: Leviticus 1-3
April 8: Leviticus 4-6
April 9: Leviticus 7-9
April 10: Leviticus 10-12
April 11: Leviticus 13-15
April 12: Leviticus 16-18
April 13: Leviticus 19-21
April 14: Leviticus 22-24
April 15: Leviticus 25-27
April 16: Numbers 1-3
April 17: Numbers 4-6
April 18: Numbers 7-9
April 19: Numbers 10-12
April 20: Numbers 13-15
April 21: Numbers 16-18
April 22: Numbers 19-21
April 23: Numbers 22-24
April 24: Numbers 25-27
April 25: Numbers 28-30
April 26: Numbers 31-33
April 27: Numbers 34-36
April 28: Deuteronomy 1-3
April 29: Deuteronomy 4-6
April 30: Deuteronomy 7-9
May 1: Deuteronomy 10-12
May 2: Deuteronomy 13-15
May 3: Deuteronomy 16-18
May 4: Deuteronomy 19-21
May 5: Deuteronomy 22-24
May 6: Deuteronomy 25-27
May 7: Deuteronomy 28-30
May 8: Deuteronomy 31-34
May 9: Joshua 1-3
May 10: Joshua 4-6
May 11: Joshua 7-9
May 12: Joshua 10-12
May 13: Joshua 13-15
May 14: Joshua 16-18
May 15: Joshua 19-21
May 16: Joshua 22-24
May 17: Judges 1-3
May 18: Judges 4-6
May 19: Judges 7-9
May 20: Judges 10-12
May 21: Judges 13-15
May 22: Judges 16-18
May 23: Judges 19-21
May 24: Ruth 1-4
May 25: 1 Samuel 1-3
May 26: 1 Samuel 4-6
May 27: 1 Samuel 7-9
May 28: 1 Samuel 10-12
May 29: 1 Samuel 13-15
May 30: 1 Samuel 16-18
May 31: 1 Samuel 19-21
June 1: 1 Samuel 22-24
June 2: 1 Samuel 25-27
June 3: 1 Samuel 28-31
June 4: 2 Samuel 1-3
June 5: 2 Samuel 4-6
June 6: 2 Samuel 7-9
June 7: 2 Samuel 10-12
June 8: 2 Samuel 13-15
June 9: 2 Samuel 16-18
June 10: 2 Samuel 19-21
June 11: 2 Samuel 22-24
June 12: 1 Kings 1-3
June 13: 1 Kings 4-6
June 14: 1 Kings 7-9
June 15: 1 Kings 10-12
June 16: 1 Kings 13-15
June 17: 1 Kings 16-18
June 18: 1 Kings 19-22
June 19: 2 Kings 1-3
June 20: 2 Kings 4-6
June 21: 2 Kings 7-9
June 22: 2 Kings 10-12
June 23: 2 Kings 13-15
June 24: 2 Kings 16-18
June 25: 2 Kings 19-21
June 26: 2 Kings 22-25
June 27: 1 Chronicles 1-6
June 28: 1 Chronicles 7-9
June 29: 1 Chronicles 10-12
June 30: 1 Chronicles 13-15
July 1: 1 Chronicles 16-18
July 2: 1 Chronicles 19-21
July 3: 1 Chronicles 22-25
July 4: 1 Chronicles 26-29
July 5: 2 Chronicles 1-3
July 6: 2 Chronicles 4-6
July 7: 2 Chronicles 7-9
July 8: 2 Chronicles 10-12
July 9: 2 Chronicles 13-15
July 10: 2 Chronicles 16-18
July 11: 2 Chronicles 19-21
July 12: 2 Chronicles 22-24
July 13: 2 Chronicles 25-27
July 14: 2 Chronicles 28-30
July 15: 2 Chronicles 31-33
July 16: 2 Chronicles 34-36
July 17: Ezra 1-3
July 18: Ezra 4-6
July 19: Ezra 7-10
July 20: Nehemiah 1-3
July 21: Nehemiah 4-6
July 22: Nehemiah 7-9
July 23: Nehemiah 10-13
July 24: Esther 1-3
July 25: Esther 4-6
July 26: Esther 7-10
July 27: Job 1-3
July 28: Job 4-6
July 29: Job 7-9
July 30: Job 10-12
July 31: Job 13-15
August 1: Job 16-18
August 2: Job 19-21
August 3: Job 22-24
August 4: Job 25-27
August 5: Job 28-30
August 6: Job 31-33
August 7: Job 34-36
August 8: Job 37-39
August 9: Job 40-42
August 10: Psalms 1-5
August 11: Psalms 6-10
August 12: Psalms 11-15
August 13: Psalms 16-20
August 14: Psalms 21-25
August 15: Psalms 26-30
August 16: Psalms 31-35
August 17: Psalms 36-40
August 18: Psalms 41-45
August 19: Psalms 46-50
August 20: Psalms 51-55
August 21: Psalms 56-60
August 22: Psalms 61-65
August 23: Psalms 66-70
August 24: Psalms 71-75
August 25: Psalms 76-80
August 26: Psalms 81-85
August 27: Psalms 86-90
August 28: Psalms 91-95
August 29: Psalms 96-100
August 30: Psalms 101-105
August 31: Psalms 106-110
September 1: Psalms 111-115
September 2: Psalms 116-120
September 3: Psalms 121-125
September 4: Psalms 126-130
September 5: Psalms 131-135
September 6: Psalms 136-140
September 7: Psalms 141-145
September 8: Psalms 146-150
September 9: Proverbs 1-3
September 10: Proverbs 4-6
September 11: Proverbs 7-9
September 12: Proverbs 10-12
September 13: Proverbs 13-15
September 14: Proverbs 16-18
September 15: Proverbs 19-21
September 16: Proverbs 22-24
September 17: Proverbs 25-27
September 18: Proverbs 28-31
September 19: Ecclesiastes 1-3
September 20: Ecclesiastes 4-6
September 21: Ecclesiastes 7-9
September 22: Ecclesiastes 10-12
September 23: Song of Songs 1-4
September 24: Song of Songs 5-8
September 25: Isaiah 1-3
September 26: Isaiah 4-6
September 27: Isaiah 7-9
September 28: Isaiah 10-12
September 29: Isaiah 13-15
September 30: Isaiah 16-18
October 1: Isaiah 19-21
October 2: Isaiah 22-24
October 3: Isaiah 25-27
October 4: Isaiah 28-30
October 5: Isaiah 31-33
October 6: Isaiah 34-36
October 7: Isaiah 37-39
October 8: Isaiah 40-42
October 9: Isaiah 43-45
October 10: Isaiah 46-48
October 11: Isaiah 49-51
October 12: Isaiah 52-54
October 13: Isaiah 55-57
October 14: Isaiah 58-60
October 15: Isaiah 61-63
October 16: Isaiah 64-66
October 17: Jeremiah 1-3
October 18: Jeremiah 4-6
October 19: Jeremiah 7-9
October 20: Jeremiah 10-12
October 21: Jeremiah 13-15
October 22: Jeremiah 16-18
October 23: Jeremiah 19-21
October 24: Jeremiah 22-24
October 25: Jeremiah 25-27
October 26: Jeremiah 28-30
October 27: Jeremiah 31-33
October 28: Jeremiah 34-36
October 29: Jeremiah 37-39
October 30: Jeremiah 40-42
October 31: Jeremiah 43-45
November 1: Jeremiah 46-48
November 2: Jeremiah 49-52
November 3: Lamentations 1-3
November 4: Lamentations 4-5
November 5: Ezekiel 1-3
November 6: Ezekiel 4-6
November 7: Ezekiel 7-9
November 8: Ezekiel 10-12
November 9: Ezekiel 13-15
November 10: Ezekiel 16-18
November 11: Ezekiel 19-21
November 12: Ezekiel 22-24
November 13: Ezekiel 25-27
November 14: Ezekiel 28-30
November 15: Ezekiel 31-33
November 16: Ezekiel 34-36
November 17: Ezekiel 37-40
November 18: Ezekiel 41-44
November 19: Ezekiel 45-48
November 20: Daniel 1-3
November 21: Daniel 4-6
November 22: Daniel 7-9
November 23: Daniel 10-12
November 24: Hosea 1-3
November 25: Hosea 4-6
November 26: Hosea 7-10
November 27: Hosea 11-14
November 28: Joel 1-3
November 29: Amos 1-3
November 30: Amos 4-6
December 1: Amos 7-9
December 2: Obadiah
December 3: Jonah 1-4
December 4: Micah 1-3
December 5: Micah 4-7
December 6: Nahum 1-3
December 7: Habakkuk 1-3
December 8: Zephaniah 1-3
December 9: Haggai 1-2
December 10: Zechariah 1-3
December 11: Zechariah 4-6
December 12: Zechariah 7-10
December 13: Zechariah 11-14
December 14: Malachi 1-2
December 15: Malachi 3-4
December 16: Matthew 1-3
December 17: Matthew 4-6
December 18: Matthew 7-9
December 19: Matthew 10-12
December 20: Matthew 13-15
December 21: Matthew 16-18
December 22: Matthew 19-21
December 23: Matthew 22-24
December 24: Matthew 25-28
December 25: Mark 1-3
December 26: Mark 4-6
December 27: Mark 7-9
December 28: Mark 10-12
December 29: Mark 13-16
December 30: Luke 1-3
December 31: Luke 4-6

January 1: Luke 7-9
January 2: Luke 10-12
January 3: Luke 13-15
January 4: Luke 16-18
January 5: Luke 19-21
January 6: Luke 22-24
January 7: John 1-3
January 8: John 4-6
January 9: John 7-9
January 10: John 10-12
January 11: John 13-15
January 12: John 16-18
January 13: John 19-21
January 14: Acts 1-3
January 15: Acts 4-6
January 16: Acts 7-9
January 17: Acts 10-12
January 18: Acts 13-15
January 19: Acts 16-18
January 20: Acts 19-21
January 21: Acts 22-24
January 22: Acts 25-28
January 23: Romans 1-3
January 24: Romans 4-6
January 25: Romans 7-9
January 26: Romans 10-12
January 27: Romans 13-16
January 28: 1 Corinthians 1-3
January 29: 1 Corinthians 4-6
January 30: 1 Corinthians 7-9
January 31: 1 Corinthians 10-12
February 1: 1 Corinthians 13-16
February 2: 2 Corinthians 1-3
February 3: 2 Corinthians 4-6
February 4: 2 Corinthians 7-9
February 5: 2 Corinthians 10-13
February 6: Galatians 1-3
February 7: Galatians 4-6
February 8: Ephesians 1-3
February 9: Ephesians 4-6
February 10: Philippians 1-4
February 11: Colossians 1-4
February 12: 1 Thessalonians 1-5
February 13: 2 Thessalonians 1-3
February 14: 1 Timothy 1-3
February 15: 1 Timothy 4-6
February 16: 2 Timothy 1-4
February 17: Titus 1-3
February 18: Philemon
February 19: Hebrews 1-3
February 20: Hebrews 4-6
February 21: Hebrews 7-9
February 22: Hebrews 10-13
February 23: James 1-3
February 24: James 4-5
February 25: 1 Peter 1-5
February 26: 2 Peter 1-3
February 27: 1 John 1-3
February 28: 1 John 4-5
February 29: 2 John, 3 John, and Jude
March 1: Revelation 1-3
March 2: Revelation 4-6
March 3: Revelation 7-9
March 4: Revelation 10-12
March 5: Revelation 13-15
March 6: Revelation 16-18
March 7: Revelation 19-22

Reading the Bible in a Year

This is an announcement recently shared with the members of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. If you'd like to join us in reading the Bible in a year, I'll be putting the reading list on the blog as well.
THIS COULD CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER! Beginning on Wednesday, March 9, every member of Saint Matthew is invited to join in on the journey of READING THE BIBLE IN ONE YEAR. Starting with Genesis 1 (on Ash Wednesday) and ending with Revelation 22 one year later, you’ll have the support and encouragement of the entire Saint Matthew family as you follow through on that resolution you’ve found so difficult to keep in the past. You’ll be acquiring a more intimate relationship with the God made known to all the world in Jesus Christ.

Here’s how it will work:

(1)    On Sunday, March 6, you’ll receive a list of the complete daily readings as we read the Bible in one year together. The entire Bible can be read all the way through by reading an average of three to four chapters per day. (Note from Pastor: My great-grandmother used this method to read the Bible completely through nine different times in her life.)

(2)    If there are days when you can’t get to the three or four chapters of the Bible to be read then, don’t worry. Just pick up the next day and keep on truckin’. Remember that the idea behind this isn’t to face a grim daily appointment, but to get to know the God Who loves you better, through His Word.

(3)    Along the way, usually on Sunday mornings, you’ll also receive brief overviews of each of the Bible’s 66 books to help you better understand what you’re reading.

(4)    On Wednesdays throughout the year, the pastor will offer two different weekly opportunities to gather with him and discuss any issues or questions you’ve encountered in the readings for the preceding week. One weekly session will happen on Wednesday mornings at 11AM; the other will happen on Wednesday evenings at 7PM. If you want to go to the morning session one day and the evening session the next, that’s fine; whatever works with your schedule is great. If you can’t make it every Wednesday, that’s great too. The idea is to keep reading to keep getting to know the God better, in the same day-to-day you build any relationship.

(5)    Don’t be intimidated. Nobody knows the Bible thoroughly. Everybody has questions about the Bible. Reading the Bible together is a way we all learn and grow in our faith together.

Just a few additional notes: We will have our usual Ash Wednesday service on March 9. But we won’t have our usual midweek Lenten or Advent services over the coming year. Our Wednesdays will be focused on discussing what we’ve read in the Bible.

Some will wonder what translation of the Bible to read. The answer is that you should read the one with which you are most comfortable. The translation in the Celebrate inserts that we use on Sunday mornings is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). It’s accurate and accessible while retaining the majesty of some of the older translations. Our pew Bibles are the New King James Version (NKJV), which is also very good.

Other really fine, accessible translations include The New International Version (TNIV), very similar to the NRSV; The Message, a beautiful modern rendering written by Old Testament scholar, longtime pastor, and poet Eugene Peterson; or The Good News Bible, also known as Today’s English Version (TEV), pitched to a sixth grade reading level. Yet another one, which you can often find at Half Price Books, is The Bible for All People, also known as the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

It’s advisable to have a Bible that includes maps, topical indexes in the back, and overviews at the beginnings of each Biblical book. The gold standard of such editions of the Bible is The New Oxford Annotated Bible, but it tends to be a bit pricey. The Life Application Bible is excellent, as is the outstanding Study Bible, co-edited by the Christian writer and journalist Philip Yancey.

If you would like help in selecting a new Bible for this venture, just let Pastor Mark know. He will be happy to help you.

As we prepare for this venture, please pray that God will use it to strengthen our faith in Christ and our witness for Him in our daily lives.

Book Review: Outstanding Resource for Congregational Role Plays on Book of Romans

Occasionally, I write book reviews for the quarterly publication of my seminary alma mater, The Trinity Lutheran Seminary Review. Here's my latest submission:
Roman House Churches for Today: A Practical Guide for Small Groups. By Reta Halteman Finger. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (, 2007. 221pp. ISBN 978-0-8028-0764-9 $15.00 (Paperback).

The letters that comprise most of the New Testament contain essential teachings about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, justification, Law and Gospel, and, in fact, all the central tenets of Christian faith. Yet, much of the preaching and teaching that happens in modern churches, at least in Lutheran congregations, tend to ignore this part of the written Word of God in favor of the Gospels.

That’s probably understandable. Narrative is often more powerful and memorable than exposition, even exposition rooted in real-life situations. The Gospels are narratives that recount “the greatest story ever told.” On top of that, the Gospels, especially Luke, are filled with stories—or parables—from the Greatest Storyteller who ever walked the earth. It’s easier to preach on Gospel texts than it is on the New Testament letter. Yet the letters contain a treasure trove of important teachings that shouldn’t be ignored.

That’s where this impressive resource for creating simulations (or role plays) built around the New Testament book of Romans, comes in. This well-researched volume not only provides extensive background material on daily Roman life and plausible character studies of the individuals Paul addresses by name in Romans, it also provides lesson plans for eight simulations. The simulations are designed to help participants experience the teachings of Romans in more than abstract ways. Each participant plays the part of a person mentioned in Romans.

Finger is Mennonite and occasionally, her reading of characters and Christian doctrine reflect her specific views. (Pacifism as a given of Christian teaching, a notion not accepted by all Christians, is one example.) But that’s no reason not to use this resource.

The groups of people recruited to participate in the simulations detailed in this book would need to make a serious commitment, one requiring several hours of study each week in addition to the hours spent in the simulations and the out-of-character reflective discussions afterward. But for anyone intent on understanding this important book of Scripture, the payoffs in deeper understanding and an enriched faith, the commitment could be worthwhile.

Aided by resources like Jo-Ann Shelton’s As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History, a leader wanting to make Scripture come alive for the earnest Christian, will, I think, find Finger’s book an outstanding tool.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feeling the Heat of Adversity? That May Be a Great Sign

The opening illustration of today's installment from Our Daily Bread may be trite, but the entire piece makes an important point.

God is in the business of strengthening and purifying the characters of those who believe in Him. I love the last line: "The only way God hurries holiness is by turning up the heat."

If you're a believer in Christ feeling the heat these days, lean on God a little harder; He's up to something in your life!

Read the whole thing.


It's based on Isaiah 43:1-13, written about 500 years before Jesus' birth to God's chosen people:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, “It is true.” You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses, says the Lord. I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?

Keep trusting in the God Who has definitively disclosed Himself in Jesus Christ; you and your character, the most important thing about you, will always be the better for such trust!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Whose Side, God's or Ours?

"I know that the Lord is always on the side of right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." (Abraham Lincoln)

Christ Sets Us Free for Lives That Matter

"Thus the disciples are think, not about their own way, their own sufferings, and their own reward, but of the goal of their labors, which is the salvation of the Church." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

Fear of God Overcomes Fear of Death...and Sets Us Free

"[Christians] must not fear men. Men can do them no harm, for the power of men ceases with the death of the body. But they must overcome the fear of death with the fear of God. The danger lies not in the judgment of men, but in the judgment of God, not in the death of the body, but in the eternal destruction of body and soul. Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

This is What Love is Really Like


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Internet is Amazing!

The Internet really has the ability to create a global village. Over the past several days, this blog has seen substantial incoming traffic from an Indonesian web site citing an article I wrote six years ago about Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville's 19th-century observations of the link between Christianity and the success of US democracy. That just amazes me.

Let Christ In; He'll Do the Rest

Over the past several Sundays, as we've looked at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount during worship, I've been struck by how impossible the way of life Jesus describes in it truly is for us. (So far, we've looked at Matthew 5:1-37. More of the sermon will be shared in coming weeks.)

If any of us read the sermon and say, "I'm resolved to live like this," it might very well be commendable.

But, if undertaken in the power of our own grit and determination, we're sure to crash and burn and it will leave us feeling guilty or ashamed and defeated. We might even give up on the whole notion of being a Christian.
But consider what Tom Wright says about the Sermon on the Mount:
The Sermon on the Mount isn't just about us. If it was, we might admire it as a fine bit of idealism, but we'd then return to our normal lives. It's about Jesus himself. This was the blueprint for his own life. He asks nothing of his followers that he hasn't faced himself. And, within his own life, we can already sense a theme that will grow larger and larger [as we read further in Matthew's Gospel] until we can't miss it. If this is the pattern that Jesus himself followed exactly, Matthew is inviting us to draw the conclusion: that in Jesus we see the Emmanuel, the God-with-us person. The Sermon on the Mount isn't just about how to behave. It's about discovering the living God in the loving, and dying, Jesus, and learning to reflect that love ourselves into the world that needs it so badly.
As I see it, in the entire Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes that life of perfect surrender to God that He and He alone has lived.

And in describing a life that shows us "a new way to be human," He also shows us a way of life that we imperfect, forgiven sinners can only appropriate as we let Jesus into the center of our lives.

In Revelation 3:20, the risen Jesus speaks to a congregation in a town called Laodicaea:
"Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."
Don't take the words of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as a judgment over your life. That's not Jesus' ultimate intent! See them instead as an invitation to let Him live in you and as you keep letting Him in, His life will be replicated within you.

Paul explains how this works in the New Testament book of Galatians. He speaks of how God's law--the Commandments--alerted him to the reality of his sin, his distance from God, and his need for a Savior. Then he says:
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2:19-21)
Riffing off of this passage of Scripture, Martin Luther talked about what happens when Christ lives in a believer and is confronted by the temptation to violate the radical ethic of love for God and neighbor that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount:
When [the devil] comes knocking upon the door of my heart and asks, ‘Who lives here?’ the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, ‘Martin Luther used to live here but he has moved out. Now I live here.’ The devil, seeing the nail prints in His hands, and the pierced side, takes flight immediately. 
Let Jesus into your life and, no matter how imperfect you know yourself to be, He will change you from the inside out. Only the grace of God obeys the loving will of God and Jesus is the only One Who can bring that saving grace into your life.

All you have to do is open the door to Jesus each day. Don't worry; just keep letting Jesus in to the inner recesses of your life. That's all you need to do. Christ will do the rest.

The Call to Honest Surrender

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

Matthew 5:21-37
As we begin this morning, I'd like to warn you that we are going to cover some uncomfortable topics--uncomfortable for all of us. As we do, remember the love and the desire to bring you forgiveness and healing that God bears for you.

Now, please pull out one of the pew Bibles and turn to page 565. We're going to look at a parable told by Jesus that relates to our Gospel lesson for this morning. Look at Matthew, chapter 21, and starting at verse 28, please read along with me silently:
[Jesus asks:] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.”
 Jesus told this story to demonstrate that it’s possible for someone to appear to obey God’s commands and yet be far from God. Jesus wants our hearts, minds, and lives to be aligned with the faith we confess.

Where are your heart, mind, and life oriented this morning?

Every Lutheran Catechism student has been taught that the Ten Commandments, God’s inviolable law for the whole human race for all time, is divisible into two tables.
  • The first three commandments command us, as Jesus sums it up in the Great Commandment, to love God completely. 
  • Commandments 4 through 10 command us, as Jesus also sums it up in the Great Commandment, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. 
In our Gospel lesson for last week, Jesus said that He had come into our world not to abolish these commandments, but to fulfill them. He went on to say that unless our righteousness exceeds that the of the Jewish sects known as Pharisees, none of us will even get a whiff of the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, you’ll recall, looked at the commandments and tried to discern what it was they absolutely had to do in order to obey them. They reduced relationship with God down to a list of dos and don’ts, effectively putting God on the same level they would put a street vendor with whom they might negotiate prices in the marketplace. The Pharisees, though claiming to revere and honor God, in effect, thought they that they could force God to bless them as they self-consciously adhered to the strict letter of God’s commands.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus challenges us to move beyond Phaisee-like religion to a trust relationship of love with God, our fellow church members, and the world around us.

Please pull out the Celebrate inserts so you can scan our Gospel lesson as we explore the passage. Jesus starts by saying: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire…”

We should note that Jesus’ version of the Fifth Commandment is the accurate one. In the original Hebrew, God doesn’t say, “You shall not kill,” but “You shall not murder.”

Yet Jesus’ explanation of the commandment hardly gets us off the hook. Evangelist Billy Graham’s late wife, Ruth, was once asked if, in their long years of marriage, she had ever considered divorcing her husband. Her reply: “Murder yes. Divorce no.”

She understood the reality to which Jesus is pointing us today: Physical murder is only the outward manifestation of a sin that occurs inside of us first. That sin is to be so angry with someone that we want to murder them, to take away a life that is only God’s to give and take.

Don’t be confused, though. Anger in itself is something that happens to us. It’s a basic human trait. Even God gets angry. Remember Jesus in overturning the tables of the extortionists in the Temple. (What I call His "temple tantrum.") The New Testament book of Ephesians tells us, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” In other words, don’t allow your anger to cause you to dehumanize the person at whom you’re mad and always seek reconciliation. Otherwise, we will have committed murder without raising a fist.

Slip down to verse 27 in our Gospel lesson. Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

As in the earlier verses, Jesus is telling us to look at more than the letter of God’s commandments, to their intention.

God has created sexual intimacy for one man and one woman in a lifetime covenant known as marriage. Lust, like anger, isn’t a bad thing in itself. In fact,  it’s the mechanism God invented to foster intimacy in marriage.

But, irrespective of the popular romantic myths of our world, lust need not be in control of our behavior. No one should be able to say with a straight face, “I couldn’t help myself.”

Jesus says that we are to be in control of all our impulses, not the other way around. In this, He echoes the words of God, when he told Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 

Lust outside of marriage is a sin that can happen in more than just the sexual sphere. We can allow all sorts of desires to lead us away from being a committed married person. There are literally thousands of ways for husbands and wives to be unfaithful that don’t involve sex. Scholar Amy Oden writes that “we can create primary relationships with work, sports, or even the internet, rather than our spouse.” That makes sense to me. In fact, in every instance of adultery I’ve encountered as a pastoral counselor through the years, the adultery—the splintered loyalties, the lack of trust, the end of intimacy—occurred long before the physical adultery ever happened.

Please look at verse 31. Jesus says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

These are hard words. They were even harder in Jesus’ day. In that sexist society, a man might come home and find a burnt dinner or no dinner and feel justified in divorcing his wife on the spot. Divorce was even more common then than it is today.

Here again, Jesus is pointing us to something deeper than the letter of the law. Ancient Jews thought that a person must be married. God’s kingdom only grew when couples had children. Singleness and barrenness were regarded as curses from God.

But Jesus ushered in a more eternal understanding of God’s kingdom. The Church truly grows not through the birth rate, but when people hear Christ’s call to repent and come to believe in Him. Marriage isn’t a necessity for Christians.

But if we do feel called to be married, Jesus says that it’s to be undertaken with seriousness. A woman once told me that when she married her husband, he was hardly the man of her dreams, and she figured that, if things didn’t work out, she could always leave him. But, over the course of the years, God worked in their relationship. In them both, God cultivated the kind of self-giving love that He gives us in Christ. To break that bond became unthinkable to them both. That's the kind of fidelity to love for God and love for neighbor to which God wants us to aspire each day of our lives, in every relationship of our lives.

Of course, we know of tragic situations in which divorce becomes the only option. Situations of abuse, adultery, or spiritual abandonment come to mind. And I’ve never known a spiritually healthy person who had been through a divorce who couldn’t also enumerate some things they brought to their former marriage that contributed to its demise. God understands and God can forgive our relational failures, just as He understands and can forgive all our failures. The Bible says that God remember that we are dust, created beings filled with frailty and sin.

But, in this teaching on divorce, as in today’s entire Gospel lesson, Jesus commands us to take the call to love our neighbors—even the neighbors with whom we have shared a marital bed—with utmost seriousness and respect.

Look now to verse 33. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all…Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

And really, these final verses from our lesson, with their call to unswerving authenticity and openness, will do as a good summary of everything that Jesus is getting at in today’s lesson.

Remember that these words come to us as part of his Sermon on the Mount. It was directed not so much to the crowds who thronged around Jesus, but to His disciples, people like us who seek to follow Jesus. In it, Jesus is telling us about what it means to live in His kingdom here and now. We are to be authentic in our openness to Him and to others. Listen: This sermon explains the radical ethic of a people who know that they cannot keep God’s commands by their own strength or resolve, yet know that God is implacable in His demand that we keep those commands.

But we don’t despair! We come as imperfect sinners to a gracious God committed to healing our every ill and, if we will be honest about who we are and who we are not, will help us to become the people He calls us to be.

At another point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that it will be harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples are befuddled. They think that wealth is a sign of blessing from God. “Who then can enter the kingdom?” they ask. “With people, it’s impossible; but with God all things are possible,” Jesus says.

A committed Christian hopes to live with the kind of inner authenticity and commitment to love of God and of neighbor that Jesus describes in today’s Gospel lesson. But the point is that none of us will ever live like this if, like the Pharisees, we strive to prove ourselves spiritually.

Jesus has fulfilled God’s implacable law for us. Jesus’ call and command is to simply, day in and day out, surrender to Him. This is what He means when He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus’ kingdom has come. He died and rose to make it so.

Surrender to Christ honestly and you will do the impossible: You will be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven in the midst of this world. The love of God will live in you and, even in a world of conflicts and challenges, you will be right with God, right with your neighbor, at peace with yourself. Amen