Friday, March 25, 2011

Only Sinners Need Apply

If you think a past sin disqualifies you from serving Christ, consider Peter. That's who Joe Stowell points to in this piece, which I recommend you read.

As Stowell points out, over a fire during a session of the kangaroo court that convicted Jesus of a capital crime, he reneged on his pledge of loyalty to Jesus and denied knowing Jesus three different times. Think of that: Peter denied any acquaintance with the One he had earlier confessed to be the Messiah, the Son (or the very image) of the Blessed, God.

Yet over another fire on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus called on Peter to affirm his belief in Jesus--three times--and Peter knew that, leaning on Christ's grace, he could, imperfections notwithstanding, be used for good by Christ.

Some people refuse to worship or get involved in a local church because they feel that they're not good enough. Pay heed to the wisdom of Virgil M., a member of the first congregation I served as a pastor:
"If there weren't any sinners in the church, it would be an empty place."
He's right!

If you're a sinner who can acknowledge your dependence on the mercy God gives to all with faith in Jesus Christ, God has great plans for you!

Learning what they are begins, as it did for Peter, with confession, repentance, and belief in Christ. As with Peter, that happens within the fellowship of Christ's very body on earth, the Church.

If you're an imperfect sinner, I invite you to be in worship this weekend with Christ's fellowship of recovering imperfect sinners, the Church. The Word of God you encounter there can erase the power of sin to keep you from becoming all that God made you to be.

When it comes to church membership, only sinners need apply.

And only sinners who trust that Christ is greater than their sin can be used by God. If you doubt it, just consider Peter.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More on "the Law"

"The law always accuses, but it does not only accuse, nor does it only accuse and restrain. It instructs. If that is not Lutheran, then Lutheranism is not biblical." (Michael Root)

“The effects we found in these experiments were quite large, which suggests that prayer may really be an effective way to calm anger and aggression."

A study shows that, apart from its effects on those for whom we pray, the act of praying for someone else can bring calm to the person praying.

You might be inclined to say, "Duh" to that. But I find the amount of research being done on prayer by social science and medical researchers these days interesting. Both Dale Matthews and Larry Dossey, themselves physicians, have written extensively on research into the connections between prayer and healing.

Presumably any quiet activity that takes a person's mind off of whatever has been frustrating or angering them would bring a degree of calm, including prayer.

But it's interesting that the calming activity in question isn't prayer for one's self, but prayer for others.

At the beginning of his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren hits readers with a bracing assertion, rooted in the teaching of the Bible: "It's not about you."

Prayer for others--what Christians call intercessory prayer--is one way people can embrace the fact that they as individuals aren't centers of the universe and that instead of praying to complain about others--a legitimate Biblical form of prayer known as imprecatory prayer and found in the Psalms, by the way--peace comes when we choose to allow God, through out prayers, to use us as channels of grace and help to others. It's not about us!

So, I would theorize that one reason those, in this study who prayed for others were calmed is that  intercessory prayer moves toward the kind of compassionate regard for others that Jesus commands in the great commandment. I hope that more research is done along these specific lines.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Are the Uses of God's Law Today?

This question was also addressed during our weekly Read the Bible in a Year discussion group today. To see what the Bible means by "the Law," go here.

God's moral law cannot save us from sin and death.

Yet God's demand that we obey the Law stands.

These two facts would otherwise leave us eternally condemned and without hope. But as Saint Paul wrote to the first century church at Rome:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
Jesus calls us to repent and believe in Him and the "good news" He brings. (Believing in Jesus isn't just affirming His Lordship. Even Satan can vouch for that. To believe in Jesus is to entrust our lives--past, present, and future--to Him and to Him alone.) Jesus says that all who believe in Him are saved from sin and death and live with God eternally.

So, what are the uses of God's Law today? Lutheran theology identifies three.

First: God's moral law acts as a hedge, protecting human beings, even those who refuse to acknowledge God's existence, from themselves and from one another. Human beings have an understanding of what is right and wrong. As C.S. Lewis points out in the opening chapter of Mere Christianity, the reason that human beings "quarrel," attempting to prove each other wrong and themselves right, is that, without even articulating it, they each believe in some baseline understanding of what is moral and what is immoral. Good governments and despotic ones alike, explain and justify their laws based on this moral law, encompassed in the Ten Commandments, whether they know the commandments or God or not.

Paul talks about this in Romans 2:14-16:
When Gentiles [non-Jews and particularly, Paul refers to Gentiles who have no awareness of God's moral law], who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. 
Without the law written on our hearts, the world would be in an even bigger mess than it is. Nothing would act as a hedge or curb against our inborn sin turning every piece of this planet into total anarchy. Luther said that were it not for the law curbing human impulses, believers in Christ would be like "lambs among ravenous wolves."

The second use of the moral law is to act as a mirror. God's moral law shows us how far we are from God's expectations for human beings. We see ourselves as we are and know that we are condemned to death by our sin.

Paul says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Another New Testament writer, James, says, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10).

The proper "wages" for sin, Paul also writes, is death. And the absolute most the moral law can do for us is show us that we are sinners alienated from God and life.

Passages like that should give us pause, helping us to see ourselves truthfully and driving us to the God revealed in Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus' parable about the son who "came to himself," recognizing how he had sinned against God and against his father, and returned to his father, willing to be a slave and not a son, is a great picture of how the moral law acts as a mirror, turning us to the God we meet in Christ for forgiveness. By God's grace--His charitable, forgiving love for sinners, all who repent and believe in Jesus are saved from sin and death. The mirror of the Law shows us that, without this grace we're lost to God forever and sends us to Christ in desperation.

The third use of the moral law is to act as a guide for those who already are living in relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the use the psalmist had in mind when he wrote:
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 to the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
This side of our own death and resurrection, believers who have been made into Christ's new creation must nonetheless live with our old sinful selves. Without attention to God's commandments and submission to Christ's authority over our lives, it becomes easy to slide into sinful patterns which, if left unchecked, could take us into unbelief or willful sin. The third use of God's moral law helps believers face the truth about themselves and to keep turning to Christ for forgiveness and new life.

What is "the Law"?

A few weeks ago, our congregation began reading the Bible together, three chapters or so every day. In this way, we'll read all sixty-six books in a year's time. Each Wednesday at two different times, one in the morning and the other in the evening, we get together to discuss the readings from the previous week. We had our second morning session earlier today. The discussion was animated and interesting.

One person asked what was meant by "the Law" when speaking of the Bible.

This was a great question since in the early books of the Old Testament, there are all sorts of laws or commandments laid down by God for the descendants of Abraham, God's chosen people, the Israelites. (AKA: Hebrews)

In the Old Testament, three kinds of laws can be identified:
(1) Civic or civil law
(2) Ritual law
(3) Moral law
The first category refers to what we usually mean when we talk about the law in everyday conversation. Civic or civil law governs how society functions socially and politically. The civic or civil law of Old Testament times is no longer relevant because we don't live in a theocratic society as the ancient Hebrews did.

Ritual law or sacrificial law dealt with all the regulations surrounding the offering of sacrifices for reconciliation with God which ultimately was centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. It incorporated dietary rules and things like circumcision, all designed simply to set apart the Hebrews behaviorally and physically from those who did not follow Yahweh, their Lord. (The term holy means set apart.)

These laws are no longer needed because, as the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us, "it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). This is what John the Baptist was talking about when He saw Jesus and said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). The ultimate sacrifice for sin has been made in Jesus Christ, Who took all of humanity's sins to the cross. His sacrifice renders further sacrifice unnecessary, along with all ritual laws associated with ritual sacrifice. God confirmed this for Peter when He revealed that, after Jesus' death and resurrection, all foods are clean.

The moral law encompasses the Ten Commandments and the explications and explanations of it found in both the Old and New Testaments. The moral law tells us God's will for human beings for all time. It's what Jesus referred to when He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).

God's law cannot save us from sin and death above all, because none of us is capable of keeping it perfectly. Salvation from sin and death only comes to those who repent (turn from sin and turn to Christ) and believe in Christ.

But the law reflects God's will for us, shows us our need for repentance, and reveals why Jesus, Himself innocent of sin, had to become the perfect sacrifice for our sin. (If a sinless man dies because of our sin, it shows you what a serious matter sin really is.)

The uses of the Law will be the subject of another post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"How to Be a Smashing Success"

I love this.

"Those who bless God in their trials will be blessed by God through their trials."

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

"In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:3-7)

Monday, March 21, 2011

What's Your Idol of Choice?

In the First Commandment, God says, "You shall have no other gods before Me."

All of us are enticed to give our ultimate allegiance to other gods, whether money, success, sex, family, sports, comfort, or a whole bunch of other godlets that constantly bray for our attention. Martin Luther said that whatever is most important to us is our god.

What does God have in mind when He commands and invites us to keep Him as our only God? Here's my working definition:
We keep the first commandment when the God revealed in the Old Testament to the people of Israel as Yahweh and to the world, through Jesus, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the only source of our identity, hope, and strength for this life and the next.
Luther puts it better in The Small Catechism:
We are fear, love, and trust God above anything else.
Why does God take such a hard line?

Why can't God share us with our gods of choice?

Why is the prohibition of false god-worship so important that it shows up first in God's moral law?

Well, it isn't because God is an egomaniac or because God is a despot. The God revealed ultimately to the world in Jesus Christ has said that He is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Among other things, this statement is a reminder that the God to Whom the Bible witnesses is a dispenser of life. Check that, this God is THE exclusive dispenser of life. The God ultimately revealed in Jesus is the only one Who can give life and the only one Who can give new life--a life free of sin, death, and futility--to us. (See here, here, and here.)

God loves every member of the human race and wants to have an everlasting relationship with each of us.

But God will not force Himself on us.

God leaves us free to choose whether we'll take Him up on the new life He offers in Jesus Christ.

He leaves us free to choose other gods.

The fact is that, in this lifetime, when the sin in and around us keeps dogging us, we never get over being tempted to allow our particular "gods of choice" hold sway over our decision-making, priorities, and living. This is why it's so important to keep reading God's Word, praying, worshiping each week with a church family, receiving Christ's body and blood, and listening to the counsel of seasoned Christian friends. These are means by which God, among other things, will set off alarm bells in the consciences and minds of those who really seek Him alerting them to the ways in which they're wandering from God and life. We need to pray as David did in one of the psalms, that God will show us where we have moved away from Him, seek forgiveness, and receive the power to keep on the path of life.

I'm a little wary of checklists and grids. Life is messier than checklists and grids...and a lot more mysterious and beautiful.

Be that as it may, a fellow named Jared Wilson presents a checklist from author David Powlison that you might find helpful in identifying your idols. I found the questions on the list incisive and good food for thought and prayer. They might even set off alarm bells for you, pointing you to the idols that vie for supremacy in your life, helping you to have a good conversation with God, including confession and a prayer for the empowerment to keep God first in your life. Here they are:
1. What do I worry about most?

2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?

3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?

4. What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?

5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?

6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?

7. What do I lead with in conversations?

8. Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?

9. What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?

11. What is my hope for the future?
Life comes from the God we know in Jesus only. Maybe honest wrestling with these questions can help us to follow God, not because it's a commandment, but because the God we know in Jesus is the life-dispenser...and because we want God to remove every impediment from our relationship with Him and so, fully enjoy being His people!

God bless you!

Weekly Worship: Part of the "Privilege of Belonging"

Rev. Larry Peters, senior pastor of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Tennessee, reminds believers that Christianity is not worship-optional:
The first job of members is to go to Church.  Barring death or illness unto death, members are in Church on Sunday morning.  Barring work during the worship hour or another obligation which we cannot avoid, we are there each Sunday morning.  We do not wake up on Sunday morning and see how we feel.  We do not ask our kids if they want to go to Church.  We do not wait for a Sunday when we feel right, when we feel good, when the weather is halfway decent (but not too good to distract us by other things)...  We do not let perceived or real slights from other members or a problem with the Pastor or somebody else on staff to keep us from the place where Christ is -- in His Word and Sacrament.  We do not look to see what else we might be doing if we did not go to Church nor do we plan things for Sunday morning...

Nobody in Seminary taught me this.  I learned this from my parents.  (And my parents are not "professional church workers" - whatever that category means).  They were faithful people who knew that come hell or high water, death or dismemberment, disaster or disability, Christians went to Church on Sunday morning and Lutheran Christians even more so...

So if you are listening, go to Church.  Get up and go.  Sunday morning cannot be replaced by two minutes of prayer and a quick trip to the convenience store to pick up the Sunday paper.  Come on.  You know that Christians ought to be in Church on Sunday morning.  Period.  This is not for me or for your Pastor, but for the Lord.  This is not a human rule but the privilege of belonging.  This is no extra law placed upon us but the very practice that flows from our baptismal identity and our confession of faith...
If you're a Christian, worship God with your fellow Christians every week! It's simply part of who you are as a baptized, believing follower of Jesus Christ! (Read Pastor Peters' entire blog post here.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"The Power of a Whisper"

Pastor Glen VanderKloot of Faith Lutheran Church in Springfield, Illinois, is preaching a series, The Power of a Whisper, in which he shares on how we can get better at hearing God's voice and get better at having the faith and courage to respond. As Glen explains:

There are crazy people out there who will tell you that
God told them to do all sorts of things, often horrible
things.  Every dream, thought, idea is not from God. 
It is essential that we learn to test each whisper we
receive to discern whether it is from God or not.
So far in this season of Lent, Pastor VanderKloot has presented two sermons. As always with his sermons, they're great! Here are links to the first two:
The Whisper-Led Life
Divine Input for the Day to Day

A Conversation in the Night

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

John 3:1-21

Father: When we gather for worship each week, of course, Your Holy Spirit speaks Your Word of Law and Gospel to us. But, in the tradition of the Old Testament psalms and worship as Jesus knew it, we also speak words inspired by Your Spirit: Words of praise and supplication to You and Words of challenge and encouragement to one another. In an old hymn that helps us to speak both to You and to each other, we find these words, “Come home! Come home! You who are weary come home. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, 'O sinner, come home.'” Use the words of this sermon today to call not only sinners who feel they’ve wandered from You, their home, but also to encourage we forgiven sinners—the people Your Word calls saints—to call others from the darkness of life without Jesus into the eternal light of heaven. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

Today we’ll move, verse by verse, through our Gospel lesson. It records a conversation that took place one night between Jesus and Nicodemus. Hopefully, speaking their words aloud together this morning will help bring their conversation to life for us.

Please pull out the special insert and read verse 1 aloud with me:
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 
Nicodemus was an important man. If Jesus had been politically correct, He would have buttered Nicodemus up. But Jesus had no interest in being politically correct. Instead, as we read here, His interest in Nicodemus is the same as His interest in all of us: Whether Nicodemus would spend eternity with God or be separated from God in hell. That was the issue that concerned Jesus most!

Let’s read verse 2:
He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 
It was risky for Nicodemus to be seen with Jesus. That’s why He came at night. Nicodemus didn’t believe that Jesus was the Word made flesh—God with us. But he did see God working in Jesus and so had gone to see Jesus.

Verse 3
Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 
Here we see that Nicodemus has an agenda. But Jesus has His own agenda! He wants to help Nicodemus (and all of us) to be born into a new life from God.

Verses 4 through 8, please:
Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 
Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ saying that Nicodemus will remain in the dark, unable to see the kingdom of God, unless He is reborn. Jesus explains that just as fleshy human beings give birth to other fleshy human beings, God’s Holy Spirit can re-create us spiritually.

Jesus then speaks of the wind blowing where it will. What's that all about?

As you know from our Read the Bible in a Year readings of this past week, in Genesis 1:2, we’re told that, in the beginning, a mighty wind or the Spirit of God (depending on your translation of the Bible) moved over chaotic waters and brought life and order and peace into being.

Later, the verb form of the word translated as either wind or Spirit describes the breath of God that entered inanimate dust to make the first human being, Adam. The Hebrew root word in each case is ruach.

Jesus uses a similar word when He talks about wind here. The word in the Greek of the New Testament is pneuma. (Which is the root for common English words like pneumonia or pneumatic brakes.) The same word, pneuma, is used when the New Testament tells us about how God’s Holy Spirit came to bring Christ’s Church to life on Pentecost through a violent wind.

It’s God’s Holy Spirit, bringing the Good News of new life for all who believe in Jesus, blowing where it will, that brings life to us. It happens at the Baptismal font.

We can’t control or direct the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit, Third Person of the Trinity, goes where He will.

This past week, I was talking with a member of the congregation who said that he used to be stymied by people who asked him, “When were you saved?,” expecting him to name a specific time and place when he came to believe in Jesus. “I don’t ever remember not believing in Jesus,” he told me. A friend told him how to answer that question, “When were you saved?” “On a cross outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago. That's when I was saved!"

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is not limited by our experiences. The Wind—the Holy Spirit—blows where He will and if the Spirit makes it possible for you to truthfully believe what we confess in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds, then you can be sure you are saved even if you can’t remember your baptism or the hour you first believed!

Now read verses 9 and 10:
Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” 
Nicodemus wonders if the things Jesus speaks of are possible.

Faith entails believing that God can and does and will do what is otherwise impossible.

Some four thousand years before Jesus was born, God spoke to a man named Abraham. Abraham was old, his wife was old, and they were childless. But God challenged Abraham to imagine by faith that he would become the father of nations. The Old Testament says that Abraham believed and God counted Abraham righteous for his belief in the same God you and I know through Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is frustrated that Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, can’t believe that God does things that Nicodemus thinks impossible.

Listen, folks: If Christian preachers and teachers cannot affirm...
  • that Jesus was born of a virgin, 
  • that Jesus led a sinless life, 
  • that He physically rose from the dead, 
  • that He ascended into heaven and will one day return to this earth to judge the living and the dead, and 
  • that believers will rise bodily to live with God forever, 
then those preachers and teachers aren’t from God.

You can bet that teachers and preachers like this are as frustrating to Jesus now as they were on the night Nicodemus came to see Him.

Please read verses 11 through 15 with me:
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 
In verses 14 and 15, Jesus refers to a famous incident in the Old Testament, when, during their wilderness wanderings, the people of Israel were punished by God. Poisonous snakes bit them. Many died. God told Moses to forge a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, hold it aloft, and tell the people to look at it. The serpent, reminiscent of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, reminded the people of their sin. Looking at it represented their confession. Those bitten who looked at the serpent were healed by God.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that, like the bronze serpent, He too will be lifted up—on a cross bearing our sins—and that all who look to Him—believe in Him—will be saved.

Please read verses 16 and 17:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” 
Martin Luther called Jesus' words in John 3:16, “the Gospel in a nutshell.” After humanity fell into sin through Adam and Eve, God didn’t give up on us. He refuses to let any human being go to hell without a fight! He waged that fight—a fight for you and me--ultimately through Jesus Christ.

All who entrust their lives to Christ will have eternal life with God! This is the best news anyone will ever hear!

Let’s read verses 18 through 21:
“Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” 
This is the politically incorrect Jesus, the Jesus the first century world crucified, the Jesus that the twenty-first century world, including much of what calls itself His Church, wants to ignore.

Jesus insists that in order for us to be beneficiaries of His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, we must believe in Him.

He must be the sole foundation on which we build our lives.

We condemn ourselves if we refuse to believe in Him.

Jesus says that those who forthrightly come to Him, who—unlike Nicodemus—refuse to skulk in the dark and instead acknowledge their sin and their need of Him for life will live with God forever!

This past week, I met several Lutheran colleagues who just returned from Ethiopia, for a conference attended by 20,000 Ethiopian Lutherans.

The Lutheran Church there—the Mekane Yesus Church—is experiencing incredible growth.

At the same time, it’s experiencing persecution.

There have recently been 57 Lutheran churches or mission stations burned to the ground by radical Jihadists. Thousands of Christians have been displaced or lost their lives.

Yet, the Church still grows.

In fact, one colleague reported walking down a street and seeing 200 people waiting under a tree by a church to be baptized.

They wanted Jesus.

They wanted the life that only Jesus can give.

How does this happen?

Why aren’t 200 previously unchurched people waiting outside of Saint Matthew’s building on Sunday mornings, desperate for the new life that comes from Jesus Christ?

It’s not for a lack of people who need Christ. There are thousands in Hocking County mired in futile lifestyles who don’t know Jesus and who need Him.

Another colleague helped me to see one reason the unchurched and spiritually disconnected aren't waiting by our doors for Baptism and spiritual nourishment: Every member of the Mekane Yesus Church sees the great commission—Jesus’ command that we make disciples—as their own person responsibility.

The Lutherans there are desperate to share Jesus. I can’t always say that’s true of this Lutheran. Maybe you can say the same thing about yourself.

The Ethiopian Lutherans are like Jesus. He looked at Nicodemus, and didn’t see a prominent person to be buttered up (or an unimportant person to be ignored), but a lost soul who, without faith in Him, would go to hell.

Each of us must see the personal responsibility we bear for sharing the Good News with those with whom we work, study, party, play, and live.

God doesn’t want to condemn anyone.

Through Jesus Christ, He wants to save them.

Ask God what you can do to help those around you who live in darkness to see how much they need a Savior and how Jesus and Jesus alone is the Savior they need. Then tell them about Jesus. Remember: Jesus loves them too. Amen