Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Not ABOUT Us...the Gospel is FOR Us

Donavon Riley shares these thoughts from R. Scott Clark: 
The heart of the Gospel isn't about us. The heart of the Gospel is Christ for us (Christus pro nobis). This was the essence of Paul’s message: that Christ came for us, to do for us what we couldn't & wouldn't do. He obeyed. He was crucified. He was raised. He is ascended. He is returning. The medieval church turned the Gospel into a message about what Christ is doing in us, by grace, in sanctification & about what we must do to do our part in order to benefit: cooperate w/grace. The good news is that we have no part, not in this story. We’re recipient. We’re beggars; we’re not contributors to the story.

Song of Songs

Reading Song of Songs (or, Song of Solomon) with folks from Saint Matthew this past week, it struck me how repeatedly the Bible conveys the beauty of sexual intimacy in a marriage between a man and a woman. 
Such oneness in the flesh is seen in the Bible as a gift from God to  husbands and wives. Even Jesus sees marriage between husband and wife as the only, appropriate, and beautiful place for the gift of sexual intimacy to happen. 
Yet some church bodies, including my own, seem to think that they know better than God about when and with whom people should have sexual intimacy. It's sad and ridiculous.
Of course, such presumption on the part of believers who should know better is nothing new. Solomon, traditionally thought to be the author of Song of Songs, himself violated God's will for human sexuality which God had revealed to him. This only goes to show how important is for people of faith to not be harshly judgmental, but constantly pursuing a life style of "daily repentance and renewal," turning each day to God for the help to live faithfully.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

People Like Daniel

Today, I went to Columbus to visit Janice, a member of our Saint Matthew congregation who suffered a stroke on Monday night. She is doing remarkably well and may be discharged soon. Fantastic care at the hospital in Columbus, buttressed by the prayers offered by many people, no doubt explain Janice's progress. We said a prayer that included thanks to God during my visit today.

I've been feeling sort of "flu-ish" over the past several days. So, I decided that while in Columbus, I would see my own doctor. He diagnosed a sinus infection and prescribed an antibiotic. Knowing that I was planning on visiting Janice, he asked if I would like for him to send the scrip to the hospital pharmacy. That's how I found myself sitting in the hospital pharmacy when Daniel walked in today.

Daniel works at the hospital as a custodian. I'm sure that the table next to me needed dusted and polished. But I'm also sure God sent Daniel at that particular moment to teach me a lesson.

"Hi," I said. Daniel, who up to that point, had looked intent on being unobtrusive, stood erectly and smiled at me while returning my greeting.

He saw my clerical collar. "Are you a priest or a pastor?" he asked. I explained that I was a Lutheran pastor.

He told me that, at the hospital, he had a ministry. Every day during his breaks, he and his supervisor go to the chapel and pray for the intensive care patients and for anyone else, aware of their ministry, who asks for prayer. (Often, I take breaks, all I do is stuff my face and scan a magazine. Daniel prays for people!)

As our conversation progressed, he told me that he and his wife were from Ethiopia. Both worked at the hospital, taking different shifts so that they could take turns caring for their son. They had just flipped shifts.

He went on to explain that under Ethiopia's previous regime, life was difficult for Ethiopian Christians. It still can be. I told him that both Saint Matthew and I personally had been praying for the oldest Protestant body in Ethiopia, the Mekane Yesus Church, which is a Lutheran denomination. In recent months, more than 50 congregational buildings of the Mekane Yesus Church, which is larger than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which I'm a part, have been burned by radical Islamists.

In Ethiopia, it turns out, Daniel had worked for a Bible society which distributed audiotapes of the Bible, part of a program called, Faith Comes Through Hearing. At many Ethiopian churches, believers and those seeking to know the God of the Bible, ultimately revealed in Jesus, gather to listen to segments of the Bible on tape, then discuss what they've heard. It's one means by which faith in Christ is growing in depth and in numbers in Ethiopia.*

Daniel told me about the day he went to visit one of the churches that was using the Bible on audiotape. The church's building had been attacked by radical Islamists. That was difficult enough for the church's pastor and for Daniel to accept. But Daniel told me that he and the pastor wept when, going through the ash and rubble, they found the case in which the Bible tapes were kept, burnt. "Look, Daniel," the pastor said, "they even burned the Word of God." Daniel told me that on seeing this, both he and the pastor wept.

Two years ago, Daniel and his family came to America. Because of persecution, they had been praying for the chance to leave Ethiopia. "Then," Daniel told me, "God let us come here."

Today, Daniel and his family are involved with an Ethiopian immigrant church in Columbus where 300 believers regularly gather on Sundays. His smiling face betrayed none of his past pain.

My guess is that Daniel would like one day to return to Ethiopia. But I know that wherever he goes, he will have a ministry. He will carry Jesus with him everywhere.

I also know this: All who believe in Jesus Christ can live in the confidence that through our crucified and risen Savior, nothing can separate us from God. When I think of all the bellyaching I can do over minor inconveniences and setbacks, it makes me feel ashamed. That's especially true when I meet joyful Christians with servant hearts, people like Daniel.

People like Daniel inspire renewed confidence in the Lord Who promises to be with His people always, Who promises to meet them even in eternity, where He has prepared places for all who turn from sin and believe in Him.

Thank You, God, for sending Daniel to dust that table and to teach me to trust in You.

*The Mekane Yesuse Church, for example, grew by 300,000 members from 2009 to 2010!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why We Worship

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

Philippians 2:1-13
True story of a boy named Chad: One day Chad came home from school and told his mother that he wanted to make Valentine’s Day cards for his classmates. His mother wished that she could convince him to forget the idea. Chad’s classmates were always putting him down, picking him last for baseball at recess, and laughing at him. But Chad was insistent; he wanted to make those Valentine’s cards for his classmates. So, Chad’s mom bought the construction paper and the crayons and for three nights he worked hard on making the cards: Thirty five cards, one for each classmate!

On Valentine’s Day, Chad was excited! He carefully picked up the cards, put them in a bag, and ran out the door. Certain that he would be disappointed that his classmates hadn’t remembered him with Valentine’s Day cards, Chad’s mother baked his favorite cookies and had them waiting for the moment he got home from school.

At the usual time, she heard the other children laughing and talking as they walked toward their houses. Behind them all, walking by himself was Chad. It broke her heart to see him. But when he came through the door, there was a spring in his step, even though she could see that, unlike the other kids, Chad wasn’t holding a bag full of Valentine’s cards. Choking back tears, she announced that she had his favorite cookies and some milk for him. But Chad didn't seem to hear. His face was glowing and all he could say was, “Not a one...not a one.” Now, his mother thought she would cry. But then Chad told her, “I didn’t forget a one...not a single one!”

Today, I want to talk with you about worship.

By worship, I don’t mean just what we do on Sunday mornings. Worship is something that we do with our whole lives. And it begins not with our words or our songs or our offerings.

It begins with our attitudes, with the thoughts, actions, and feelings that we allow to be the controlling motifs of our lives. Chad could have been resentful. After all, once again, he had been overlooked and undervalued. Instead, he took a different attitude, the attitude of a servant who isn’t looking out for himself, but for others.

This is the very attitude that the first-century preacher and evangelist Paul commends in our second Bible lesson for today. Take a look at it in our Celebrate insert. Quoting from what had by that early point in the Church’s history, already become a valued worship song, Paul tells the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Philippi:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. [And then Paul points out that this reflects an attitude, the very attitude Jesus had while living here on earth:] Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, ...though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Worship, real worship, is something that the Christian is called to offer every moment of every day. Worship is a life lived in gratitude for the new life God gives to all with faith in Jesus Christ. In our worship, we constantly express thanks for the new life that Jesus has gained through His death and resurrection for all who repent for sin and entrust their lives to Him.

The word worship, is the descendant of a compound word from Old English, worth-ship. Lives of worship convey the worthiness of Jesus Christ. People who worship God in Jesus Christ say, “This Jesus is the most important Person, presence, power, and force in my life! I give every part of me to Him, because He has given His whole self for me.”

When we gather for community worship on Sunday mornings, we do so for several important reasons.

First and foremost, we worship together because the God we know through Jesus is really worthy of being honored and praised by His people. But we need to be reminded of how much we have to be grateful for.

It’s so easy to fall into ingratitude because we tend to take things for granted. When I was about six years old, my grandparents bought a wooden table and chair set for my sister, Betsy. She used to have tea parties for her dolls with it.

One day, I got the idea that a friend and I could put the table and chairs to better use! I decided to take them to my buddy’s house down the street. So, I found some rope in the garage and, keeping the table upright, I tied two of the legs to the back of my tricycle. With the extra rope, I tied the wooden chairs to the top of the table. My cargo safely secured, I pulled my trike out into the middle of the street and headed for my friend’s house.

Until that point, my mother had no idea what I’d been up to. But with the legs of the table scratching, dragging, and bumping on the pavement, she heard the noise and ran to the door. Then I heard a noise. It was my mother’s voice. “Mark James Daniels, stop this minute!”

After forcing me to help her carry the table and chairs back to our house and before meting out my punishment, my mother asked me what on earth I had been thinking. “Your grandparents spent good money to give this gift to your sister! What made you think you had the right to do that?”

Those words reminded me to never take gifts for granted, especially gifts that resulted from others’ sacrifices. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, sacrificed Himself on the cross and was raised from death by God that Father. Jesus did that for you! This, the most incredible act of self-giving love imaginable, was done for us, not because we deserved anything good, but so that all of us who deserve death for our sins can, if we repent and believe in Jesus, have life with God for eternity!

Sometimes we take Christ and our salvation for granted. In weekly worship, we remind each other of how great and awesome God’s gifts to us really are. We remind each other that a sacrifice of such infinite grace is worthy of the surrender of our whole selves to the God we know in Jesus.

Second, we worship to help us hold onto the God of the Bible alone. Life and a bad-news world seems intent on tearing us away from God.

But the confessions of the Lutheran movement, the constituting documents of our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the constitution of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church all confess that the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments are to be the yardstick against which all our decisions and actions are to measured.

While we don’t always practice what we preach, we Lutherans believe in the Bible not because the Bible is magical. We believe in the Bible because the Holy Spirit has taught us there is something God-inspired, God-breathed about the Bible. God is invested in these words He gave to finite, imperfect human beings. For over five-hundred years, we Lutherans have believed that the Bible is like no other book because of its unique and life-changing witness, from Genesis to Revelation, of the God of justice and grace we meet in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

We engage in public worship on Sunday mornings and at other times to hear God’s Word and to help us all to hold onto the God of the Bible, the God we meet in Jesus, for all our hope, inspiration, and encouragement.

Finally, we worship together to stir each other to live like Jesus, lives not lived for ourselves, but for others. That kind of life doesn’t make sense to many people you may meet. But you and I know differently.

Think of it like this. If you were billionaire Warren Buffet, how giving could you afford to be? The answer: Very giving! The fact is that is no matter what we may go through in this life, no matter how much of a success or a failure this world may see us as being, the baptized believer in Jesus Christ who repents and trusts in Christ is wealthy beyond all reckoning.

Believers in Jesus have an eternity of riches. Like Paul, writing in the New Testament book of Romans, we can say, “[God] who did not withhold His Son, but gave Him for all of us [on the cross], will He not with Him also give us everything else?

How generous, how loving, how compassionate can we be toward others when we know that nothing can separate us from the love of the God we meet in the crucified and risen Jesus? Very generous. Very loving. Very compassionate. When we worship together, we’re reminded how much we’re loved…and how much we can love others as a result.

Worship is to be the Christian’s way of life. We worship together each Sunday because we know how worthy God is of our honor and praise. We worship to help us to hold onto the Good News of the God Who is for us even in the midst of a world that never seems to tire of feeding us bad news. And we worship God to inspire one another to live not for ourselves, but for the purposes of God, for the good of others who need the eternity of blessings that we followers of Jesus already have!

Worship is the work of God’s servants who, certain that they belong to God for all eternity, can give themselves utterly to the love of God and love of neighbor. As we worship God together and apart, may God help us to be faithful servants of our loving God. Amen

The story of Chad, originally told by Pastor Dale Galloway, is recounted by Chuck Swindoll, in his book, Improving Your Serve.