Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mission Trip 2012 Video

From June 24 to 29, five youth and three adults from Saint Matthew participated in Group Workcamps' Week of Hope in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with 58 other Christian youth and adults, we served others in Jesus' Name in Grand Rapids. We also worshiped together, prayed together, studied God's Word together, sweated a lot, and had tons of fun. We slept in sleeping bags on hard floors and church youth groups took turns fixing breakfasts and dinners and cleaning up the facility in which we stayed through the week, the church building of Zion Reformed Church in Grandville.

We had no idea before we left Logan, but when we arrived we learned that a group from Immanuel United Methodist Church, whose building is located just a few blocks from Saint Matthew's facilities, also were participants. It was great being in Grand Rapids with them!

Group Workcamps puts on lots of these camps across the country every year.

This video gives a flavor of what the week was like. The video portion was taken on my cell phone and the stills were taken by Week of Hope staffers.

Soul Man by Sam and Dave is the song to which one member of our group, along with friends from Logan, pantomimed during a talent show.

Get Down by Audio Adrenaline is a song with which we sang and danced during the programs each day. "Ev'rytime I'm down the Lord lifts me up, yeah!"

The theme of the week was Made and refers to Revelation 21:5, in which the risen and ascended Jesus proclaims, "See, I am making all things new!"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Audio of 'Read the New Testament in a Year' Discussion (John 19 to 21)

The people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio are reading the New Testament together in a year's time. On Wednesdays, participants who are interested gather for weekly discussion groups at either 11AM or 7PM. This is audio of this past Wednesday evening's discussion (July 25). We discussed John, chapters 19 through 21, an account of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

A source from which I read here is Craig Keener's outstanding reference book, The IVP Background Commentary: New Testament.

During the discussion of John 21:11, I mentioned that my seminary professor, the late Pastor Bruce Schein, said that the 153 fish of the miraculous catch was "the perfect catch." I couldn't then remember why Schein had said this. But this is what he says in in his wonderful book, Following the Way: The Setting of John's Gospel:
"There are 153 fish in the net, a perfect catch fishermen would say--a third always goes to the boat, a third to fishermen, and a third to the provider of nets."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ripley and the Underground Railroad

Ripley, Ohio is celebrating its bicentennial this coming week. An Ohio River town, Ripley was an important stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves seeking freedom from the pre-Civil War South. This release from the Ohio Historical Society has information not only on Ripley's planned celebrations, but also a few interesting looking books.

Welcome to Orwell's World: The Chick-fil-A Controversy

Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy recently underscored his belief, based on both the Old and New Testament, including the words of Jesus Himself, that the covenant of marriage is between a man and a woman (a husband and a wife), period.

A firestorm of protest ensued. The mayors of both Boston and Chicago have said they would like Chick-fil-A not to operate in their cities.

But the last time I checked, the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion still are guarantees in the United States. Mr. Cathy's exercise of those freedoms in no way threatens the freedoms of others.

Personally, I believe that his position is the correct one. I also believe in full civil rights for all people, including those who are gay and lesbian.

These are not mutually exclusive positions. Indeed, both spring from the same place: a belief in the God of love revealed to the world in Jesus Christ.

Christians have no interest in coercing others to agree with every facet of Biblical morality. Indeed, it's only when people are free to disobey the will of God that confessions of repentance for sin and faith in Christ have any meaning.

Out of love for God and others, my call as a Christian is to speak God's truth in love. Fully cognizant of my own sinfulness and utter dependence on Christ's grace for forgiveness and life with God, I don't pretend to be better than others. I don't think Dan Cathy pretended superiority either. Nor did he express "homophobia" or hatred in the statement he made on God's will for marriage.

The Christian is free from the enslavement of sin and death, but not at liberty to say that God is wrong in His revealed will for the human race. When God and we disagree on something, the Christian is bound to admit that God is right and we are wrong. God clearly does not approve of some things. Injustice, prejudice, thievery, deception, gossip, using His Name for anything other than prayer, praise, and worship, and sex outside of marriage are some of those things that displease God. Not to earn God's love in Christ, but to express gratitude for it, Christians seek to align their lives with God's revealed will.

And the Christian who is grateful for the undeserved gifts of Christ's grace is commissioned to speak the truth that God has revealed: the truth about what is sin and the truth about the forgiveness of sin and new life that belongs to all who repent and entrust their lives to Christ.

People may not like to hear what we believe are God's revealed truths, but no one is threatened by their expression. And it is sloppy, Orwellian thinking to describe sentiments that spring from love as "hate speech."

But in the United States of 2012, the intolerance exhibited by the mayors of Boston and Chicago and those who agree with them are seen as tolerance, while Christians who accept the rights of others to engage in behaviors God reveals to be sinful, while having the temerity to underscore what they believe God teaches, are called intolerant. That is Orwellian.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Should This Be Filed Under, "No Surprise"?

JULY 24, 2012
Many Financial Pros Feel Pressure to Compromise Ethics

30% of financial services professionals say their compensation or bonus plans create pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law, according to a survey in the U.S. and UK conducted for the law firm Labaton Sucharow. 22% of female respondents say they'd face retaliation if they reported wrongdoing in the workplace, compared with 12% percent of male respondents.

Source: Professionals Feel Unethical Behavior May Be a Necessary Evil and Have Knowledge of Workplace Misconduct, According to Labaton Sucharow Survey

This came in today's Daily Stat from the Harvard Business Review. Maybe the only shocking thing about the findings is that such a small percentage of financial services professionals feel pressured to play fast and loose with ethics or the law.

If that seems cynical, I hasten to add that feeling the heat to cheat isn't itself unethical, criminal, or sinful.

When internalized, the pressure to cheat may be described with the Biblical term, temptation. Being tempted to sin isn't to do wrong.

And, if we're honest, we've all been tempted to do wrong.

That's part of being human.

 Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, experienced temptation, but unlike the rest of us, never sinned. Christ not only has conquered sin and death for those who repent for sin and believe in Him, He also understands what it's like to be be human. Hebrews 4:15, in the New Testament, says, "[In Christ]...we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin."

When faced with temptation, the God revealed to us in Christ can help us. "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone," 1 Corinthians 10:13, also in the New Testament, says, "God is faithful and he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."

 Of course, if we don't want to avoid sin or successfully elude the temptation to do so, there is no help to be had from God. While God wants to help us, He won't force His help on us.

But, honestly, it's better to run away from sin (and all its consequences) into the arms of God than to run to sin. Take it from one who knows.

Shepherd for the Harassed and Helpless

Here's the somewhat scratchy and hard-to-hear audio of this past Sunday's 8:30 AM Chapel Holy Communion Service at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.

The Biblical text used is Mark 6:30-34, 53-56:
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Barry Larkin Inducted Into Baseball Hall of Fame

Barry Larkin was a great hitting shortstop for my fave Cincinnati Reds for nineteen years. I am so glad that, yesterday, he was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He had a true Hall of Fame career and is deserving.

Now, I hope that through the veterans committee, another Cincinnati shortstop, David Concepcion, will be admitted to the hall. Concepcion was the best shortstop of his era and deserves to be honored as a Hall of Famer.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

3 Things to Remember

[This was shared this morning during the 10:15 worship service with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Ephesians 2:11-22
Our second Bible lesson for today, Ephesians 2:11-22, was written to a Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) Christian community in the first century who lived in an area then called Asia Minor, which you and I know as Turkey.

But there is more than musty history to be found in these verses. In the midst of the demands and challenges of our everyday lives, these verses remind us to do three things:
  • Remember who we were. 
  • Remember who, by grace through faith in Christ, we are. 
  • Remember who, by grace through faith in Christ, we are to be. 
Please go to our lesson, Ephesians 2:11-22.

Look first, please, at verses 11 to 13. We’re told, “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—  that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

To understand this passage, we must remember a simple Biblical truth: God is the giver of life. Without a connection to God, we are dead, even if we have a strong pulse and heartbeat. We are dead in our sins and we face an eternity divorced from life and an earthly lifetime of futility and meaninglessness without connection to God.

While the Bible tells us that there have always been people who have believed there was a God and who sought Him in their own ways, God first disclosed Himself and His nature to a single people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the Jews. The Jews were called by God to be His own people.

God evidently had His reasons for focusing His attention and energy on one people.

For one thing, the Jews were meant to be “a light to the nations,” showing the whole world the glory of God.

For another, the Jewish people became a laboratory showing the whole world how God’s law, grace, and forgiveness work, what repentance and faith are all about.

What we see when we read the Old Testament’s account of God’s interactions with the Jewish people is that He is no different from the God we encounter in the New Testament in the Person of Jesus. (See here and here.)

Look at Genesis 15:6. God has promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah will have a son and become the ancestors of nations. It’s an outlandish promise--almost as outlandish as promising eternal life to those who repent and believe in Christ. Abraham and Sarah were old, well beyond child-bearing or child-rearing years. Yet look at Genesis 15:6: “And [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”

Now, flip back to Ephesians 2:8 and see the remarkably consistent way by which God brings salvation or righteousness to imperfect sinners like you and me: “For by grace [that’s God’s charity] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Verses 11 to 13 of our lesson tell us that the miracle of salvation, once a gift belonging only to the Jews now belongs to all who believe in Christ. As verse 13 says, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

It used to be that only Jewish men who had been circumcised, along with their wives, daughters, and sisters, could claim to be God’s people, reconciled to God, one with God. Those who weren’t Jewish were aliens, foreigners, strangers to God. But God has brought all who believe in Jesus close to Himself.

It’s good though, to remember who we once were without Christ. It’s good to remember that, in spite of not being “members of the club” and in spite of our sin, Christ welcomes all who repent for sin and believe in Him with open arms.

Nobody I know is more critical of me than me. There are times when I get so angry at myself, thinking, “How many times do you have to commit the same sin before you learn your lesson? How many more times do you intend to disappoint God with your hard-headedness and hard-heartedness?” But then I go to God in prayer and I read His Word and I’m reminded of passages like Isaiah 1:18, where God says: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Or, Jesus’ words from the cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

I remember who I once was: A sinner without hope. Through Christ, like all who believe in Him, I have been transformed: a forgiven sinner with an eternity of hope.

Look at the next section of our second lesson, Ephesians 2:14-18. It says: “For He [Christ] Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances [this refers to the Jewish ritual and civil laws, not to the moral laws, like the ten commandments, which still stand], so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

I heard a man say of his son, “He came out of the womb, cigar in hand, barking out orders.” Truth is, we all came into the world that way, more or less. The Bible, in Psalm 139:14, tells us that each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” But, we also come equipped with an inheritance from our imperfect human parents: an insatiable commitment to having things our own way, a desire to “be like God.” King David speaks for us all in Psalm 51:5, when he writes: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

We are born at war with God. But Jesus Christ has come to make peace between God and us.

Peace with God is what Christ has come to give to us. But it’s a peace that can only be ours when we surrender to Christ!

Jesus wants us in His eternal kingdom. But we can’t get in if we insist on holding onto our sins, if we insist that our favorite violations of God’s will for human beings are “no big deal.”

To God, every sin--from taking His Name in vain to sexual intimacy outside of marriage between a man and a woman, from murder to false witnessing (what we call gossiping)--every sin is an assault that disrupts and destroys the peace in which He wants His creation to live.

1 John 1:8-10 contains words familiar to most Lutheran Christians: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar and His word is not in us.”

The  peace of God comes to those honest enough to admit their sin and honest enough to own their need of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to change their lives. In Romans 5:1-2, the apostle Paul writes: “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

In Christ, repentant believers in Jesus have peace with God and even with those who hate us.

I once read about a Lutheran pastor and psychologist doing graduate work in a major US city in the east. We’ll call him Bill. Bill began attending a local congregation and made himself known to the pastor. The pastor was happy to have Bill in the congregation and took Bill up on his offer to help in any ways he could. Bill saw a few congregants in counseling situations and occasionally led worship and preached.

As time went on, Bill became aware that, to some parishioners, the pastor seemed like an angry person whose venom was creating a lot of ill-will. Bill initially discounted it until one Sunday, just before a service at which Bill was to preach, the angry pastor lit into Bill, accusing him falsely of all sorts of maliciousness.

The service began and, silently, Bill begged God to help him get through it, knowing that the entire time the pastor was staring at him with searingly angry eyes. Bill says that God not only gave him peace internally, but also peace in his relationship with that pastor. He was eventually able to get the pastor to the help he needed for healing.

In Christ, God makes peace with you and if you will let Him, He promises that--in the words of Philippians 4:7--”the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Remember by grace through faith in Christ who you are right now: a person at peace with God and with others.

Look, please, at the final verses of our second lesson, Ephesians 2:19-22: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

After remembering who we were without Christ and who we are with Christ, Ephesians reminds of who we are becoming through Christ. Once foreigners to God, now members of God’s own household, confident of God’s love for us and His presence with us right now, we also have a lot to look forward to.

Through the witness of the apostles and the prophets found on the pages of our Bibles, God is building us up to be part of a temple, the very place God lives. And, as much as we may like our church buildings, it isn’t in brick, mortar, or plaster that God lives, but in people who dare to give their lives to Jesus Christ. As someone has said, “Christians don’t go to Church. They are the Church.”

And it’s this Church into which you and I are being built for all eternity. It’s the Church in which sin, death, grief, and futile toil will come to an end. Every tear will be wiped from our eyes and we will live with joy and purpose alongside all who have trusted in the Name of Christ.

The world has brought sad and tragic news to our doorsteps this past week. This life is fragile and fleeting. But when we who trust in Jesus, remember who we were, who we are, and who our God is making us to be, we do not despair.

This morning, we thank God for Christ and we recommit ourselves to that commission which Christ has given to every follower of Jesus. Turn to that commission, please, in Matthew 28:19-20. The risen Jesus commands all who have been saved by His grace:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 
God has given us His peace through Christ. Share that peace with others by sharing Christ with them. That’s the work to which you and I are called while on earth. May it be our way of life. Amen!