Friday, March 01, 2013

5 Things to Do When You Get Bad News

Whether it's learning that someone at work has betrayed you, that you're being downsized out of a job, or that strange symptom you've been suffering has yielded a frightening diagnosis from the doctor, we all get bad news. What should you do when you get bad news? Here are five suggestions, gleaned from the Bible.

1. Talk it over with God. As a Christian, I believe that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ in order to take the punishment we deserve for our sins--death--and to rise again in order to open up eternity with God to all who turn from sin and turn to Jesus as their only hope. Jesus says: "Come to Me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Whenever we receive bad news, we can churn with frenzy, a sure recipe for making bad decisions. Instead, go to the God we know through Jesus. Tell Him what you're going through. Spend time with Him. The bad news won't go away. But God will give you the peace and power you need to face it.

Talking things over with God when we get bad news isn't just about dumping our woes on Him. Prayer isn't a monologue. To pray also means spending time reading God's Word, letting Him speak to us. In the New Testament we're told: "All scripture [which we now know as the Old and New Testaments] is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God [that happens through faith in Christ] may be proficient, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

2. Seek the advice of faithful Christian friends. Proverbs 15:22 says: "Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed."

God has especially granted to every member of the local church particular spiritual gifts. He does this, we're taught, "To each [Christian believer] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). So, if you're a Christian, remember that in your local congregation, whatever its size, there's likely to be someone gifted by God to help your or advise you on how best to address your bad news.

But even when there are no ready strategies, God gives the fellowship of the Church to lighten our burdens. Referring to the second portion of Jesus' great command that we love others as we love ourselves, Paul tells Christians: "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

When we share and bear each other's burdens, those burdens get easier to bear and we draw strength from one another. "Two are better than one...For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help...A threefold cord is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

3. Make plans, but don't let your planning turn into worry about tomorrow. The Bible tells us that it's wise to make plans (Luke 14:31), but we should be ready for the curve balls that come at us in this imperfect world. We also need to be ready for God's vetoes of our plans.

James writes in the New Testament: " do not even know what tomorrow will bring...Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that'" (James 4:14-15).

Jesus says, " not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:34).

Make plans, but take each day as it comes.

4. In the midst of troubles, let God love you. Jesus' death and resurrection were for you. The good news that Jesus wants to give you life with God, not just after you die and leave this world, but right now, trumps all bad news. You may feel powerless; but when you let God love you, bad news is powerless to destroy your hope, peace, or joy.

When you surrender your life, including all your troubles and your sins, to Jesus and let them be covered by His grace and goodness, you'll live each day in the assurance that nothing can separate you from the love God gives through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

5. Remember that God won't let go of you; so, don't you let go of God! Millions of believers in Jesus Christ have endured all sorts of troubles, experiencing what the Bible calls "the peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

You can know that peace too. In Deuteronomy 31:6, God promised His people, and in Hebrews 13:5, He promised again to all people who believe in Him through Jesus Christ, that He will never leave or forsake us.

That promise is like a blank check from God written to be used you whenever you get hit by bad news. Cash it!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I Think You'd Call This Abusing the System

My guess is that researchers would find a lot of "grocery story miracles" if they conducted similar research at a Kroger or Walmart.

FEBRUARY 28, 2013
Many Airport Wheelchair Requesters Are Just Sick of Standing in Line

15% of wheelchair requests at Los Angeles International Airport—about 300 requests per day—are bogus, according to officials quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Able-bodied travelers like to use wheelchairs to get to the front of security lines or because they want a wheelchair assistant to help them with their bags. Travelers who stand up and walk away after the wheelchair has served its purpose are known as "miracles" to the staff of helpers, the newspaper says.

Source: Long Lines Lead to Rise of Wheelchair 'Miracles'

Proofreading Lessons

I do a fair amount of writing. In addition to sermons, there are occasional articles for local newspapers, emails and notes to parishioners and others, those 140-character epistles on Twitter (known as Tweets), and the posts that appear here.

But, true confession: I don't think that I've ever been satisfied with anything I've ever written. Ever.

In fact, if, for whatever reason, I run across old blog posts, after I cringe at finding grammatical errors or unclear writing in the pieces, I will edit them. I do it even if they're more than a decade old and unlikely to ever be read again.

This piece from PBS' Mediashift, gives ten lessons aimed at people who self-publish e-books. But they're good rules for anyone who writes things they hope others will be able to understand.

To me, #10 is the most sensible lesson of all.


This great bit of satire was written and performed by Steve Taylor, a guy I wish would do more records, back in 1985.

It does a great job of sending up and boiling down "lifeboat ethics" of the kind we see in the proposal to euthanize those with dementia John Schroeder mentions in the post just below this one.

 Do more records, Steve!

One Voice Opposed to Euthanizing Dementia-Sufferers

John Schroeder, whose father died in car crash five years ago, talks about his mother's dementia and the proposals of one movement to bring euthanasia to the victims of dementia:
There are two ways to look at my mother - a mindless eating and pooping machine requiring constant attention - or - a living human of diminished capacity. Why is it we lavish love on babies who are also eating and pooping machines, why is it we work hard to care for those of diminished capacity not old, but when the diminished capacity is the road to certain death, we throw them in the warehouse and pray for a quick death.

You either value life or you do not. Even within the range of "normal" some lives are more worthy than others. As soon as we start making decisions based on whose life is better, or more worthy we place ourselves in God's place - we blaspheme in a very real fashion. It is a sin, pure and simple.

Read the whole thing.

'Here's the Deal'

This e-book, Here's the Deal: Taxes, Spending Cuts, Investments, presents an even-handed look at the federal debt crisis and a menu of possible solutions.

Maybe its most provocative assertion is that we Americans aren't being fair when we blame the crisis on spendthrift politicians.

Rather, Leonhardt argues, we're in the fiscal fix we're in because Americans want services from the government without having to pay for them.

Our politicians simply reflect our schizophrenic attitudes.

Americans, Leonhardt asserts, need to decide what government is for, what it should do, and then be willing to accept the cuts or price tags that flow from that basic decision.

The book costs $1.99 and will only take you a few hours to read, more if you're as slow a reader as I am.

Agree with Leonhardt's descriptions and prescriptions or not, this book may add a little meat to the way you look at the federal debt crisis. It's done that for me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jesus' Call to Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself

On a high school basketball court. This was shared by a colleague, Pastor Scott Ness, on Castle Church Blog.

How Many People Do You Know?

From Harvard Business Review's Daily Stat:

FEBRUARY 27, 2013
Your Acquaintances Would More Than Fill Two Boeing 787s

Each adult American knows, on average, 600 people, Andrew Gelman of Columbia University writes in The New York Times. The estimate is based on an ingenious method: Asking a sample of individuals how many people they know with a variety of memorable names such as Brenda and Keith (because people with such names are easily recalled), then factoring in the prevalence of those names in U.S. society. Despite the large number of acquaintances, most Americans know just 10 to 25 people well enough to trust them, Gelman says.

Source: The Average American Knows How Many People?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Review: 'Heaven's Lessons' by Steve Sjogren

Steve Sjogren's newest book will help anyone wanting to live a better life.

It would be an especially good gift item for people who don't go to church or don't believe in God. They won't get preached at, but experience the honest wrestling of a guy who went through a set of horrible circumstances and learned to live a better life after dying during gall bladder surgery that went very wrong.

CORRECTION: Scripture isn't the ultimate self-disclosure of God. Jesus is. But it's authoritative because it's the normative revelation of the God we meet in Jesus.

'The Bible Series'

The Bible Series premieres this coming Sunday on the History Channel at 8:00 ET. This is a music video with clips of scenes from the series. It looks like it's going to be very good!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Holy Baptism (Part 8, The Augsburg Confession)

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

Mark 16:16
John 3:1-10
Today, as we continue looking at what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, we consider Holy Baptism.

Baptism was a subject about which Martin Luther, the monk and priest who accidentally started the Reformation and the Lutheran movement, preached and wrote a lot. From 1528 until his death on February 18, 1546, for example, Luther preached 28 sermons on baptism! For several years in a row, he did sermon series on the subject. And that's on top of all that he wrote about Baptism in documents like The Small Catechism and The Large Catechism.

Luther said in a 1519 sermon, “There is no greater comfort on earth than baptism.” He felt that it was essential for Christians to appreciate the power of this sacrament, even if none of us this side of our own deaths and resurrections, will be able to fully understand it.

Let’s take a look at Article 9 of The Augsburg Confession, which talks about Baptism. (It’s on page 14 of the buff and brown books in the pew racks.) It says:
Concerning Baptism, our [Lutheran] churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation...and that God’s grace is offered through Baptism...They teach that children are to be baptized...Being offered to God through Baptism, they are received into God’s grace.
Our churches reject the Anabaptists [the Anabaptists were the forerunners of all modern churches that teach what is known as “believer’s baptism”], who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
There are three main points the Confession makes here about Holy Baptism. The first is that Baptism is necessary for salvation. It mentions Mark 16:16 as evidence. Take a look at that passage, please. Just before it, the risen Jesus tells the disciples to go into the world and preach the good news that there is eternal life with God for all who repent and believe in Him. Then Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved...

Baptism, according to Jesus, is an essential part of being saved from sin and death. Jesus answers that question in another famous passage, John 3:5. Jesus tells a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit [in other words, without Baptism], he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Baptism is the port of entry, the birthplace for Christians, the occasion when helpless human beings are claimed by God as His children.

This picture of the sacrament doesn’t square with self-sufficient brands of Christianity that tell us that coming to faith is a matter of human beings exercising their free will, that people can decide to become Christians. But the Bible teaches that we’re born with original sin: We don’t have free wills. We are, as we confess each Sunday, “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

If you and I had to make a choice between following Jesus or not, we could never make the choice to follow Jesus stick.

We’re not born equipped with the ability to trust in God or in anyone else, for that matter.

Now, when God’s grace confronts us--when we catch a glimpse of the fact that God so loved the world, He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him will not perish, but live with God eternally--we can give up our rebellion and let Him love us. We can pull down our defenses and let His grace break through to us. But faith in Christ is not our doing. Our faith is God’s work in us. God does everything needed for us to be saved from sin and death. We have nothing we can do to make that happen.

Jesus explains this a bit more in John 3:7-8: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This past summer, a fierce gust of wind swept across our state, knocking out power for days. None of us, including AEP, really knew what hit us! It was an event over which we had no control. It would have been silly for any of us to have said “I have decided to allow my power to be put out.” If anyone had said that, we would have said that person was living in denial, overstating their own strength.

Similarly, when the Christian says, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” what they really should say is, “I am bowing to a power, love, and grace bigger than me. I won’t deny that any more. I put down my dukes and surrender.” Holy Baptism is a blast of God’s life-giving Holy Spirit over which we have no control. God’s grace and Holy Spirit, given through Jesus Christ, comes to us. And in Baptism, the apostle Peter says, we are saved (1 Peter 3:21).

Baptism then is not the symbolic gesture of commitment to Christ by someone who’s had an emotional or spiritual experience of God.

Baptism is an act of God in which His Word of promise meets the water of Holy Baptism and the baptized person is claimed by God as His own child, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

This is the second thing that Article 9 teaches us about Baptism: In Holy Baptism, God’s grace is actually offered to the baptized. Baptism is more than an external ceremony. God makes His covenant with the baptized and makes it possible for them to live with God for eternity.

Notice: This doesn’t mean that if a person is baptized, but doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ, they’re saved from sin and death. Holy Baptism isn’t fire insurance or an eternal “Do Not Go to Jail” card!

Go back, please, to Mark 16:16. Look again at Jesus’ words: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe is condemned.”

Baptism is the means by which God gives the gift of eternal life with Him. But it’s a gift that can only be be opened by faith in Christ.

People who are baptized but don’t have faith in Jesus Christ condemn themselves eternally, Jesus says in Mark 16:16.

He says the same thing later in His conversation with Nicodemus: “Those who believe in Him are not condemned; but those who do not believe in Him are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

This then, is the third thing Article 9 teaches: The grace of God must be apprehended, taken hold of, by faith in Jesus Christ

In Holy Baptism, God makes us spiritually “pure, without sin, and wholly guiltless,” Luther wrote, but that doesn’t mean that sin still isn’t present in the baptized. It is and will be until the day each of us dies.

But if we respond with surrender when the Holy Spirit moves us to repentance and to having faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, we’re joined by God in battling to kill off our sins and letting God’s forgiveness and life in.

And this really is central to what Holy Baptism is about.

Baptism is, first, a drowning of our inborn sinful selves.

And Baptism is, secondly, the rising of a new self, born of water and the Spirit.

Yet, no matter how close we grow to Christ, the “old Adam” or the “old Eve” will keep rearing its ugly head, threatening to suck us into hell, as long as we’re living.

This is what Paul was wrestling with in Romans 7, where he writes: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want [sinful, wholesome, holy things], but I do the very thing I hate.” Paul wonders at this and concludes: “Now if I do what I do not is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

And it’s because sin still tempts us and sometimes causes us to fall, that no Baptism is complete unless we who are baptized respond with repentance and belief in Jesus Christ.

Listen: I was baptized as an infant. God claimed me. He never gave up on me. When I look back on my life, I can see that God never failed to keep His part of the Baptismal bargain, His covenant to be my saving God. Repeatedly, He orchestrated events to reach out to me and reclaim me in His grace, even when I had turned my back on Him and claimed He didn't exist. Had I died in my atheist years, having chosen to go it alone without Christ, I would have stood before Christ at Judgment Day naked in my own sins, not covered by the grace and forgiveness that Christ bled, died, and rose again to give to sinners like me.

I'm grateful, eternally grateful, that, in remembrance of my Baptism, God kept sending what someone has called "the hounds of heaven" to shepherd me back into His kingdom!

I'm glad that He was so consistent, insistent, and loving that He brought me to a moment of surrender when I laid aside my rebellion and let Him love me and let Jesus Christ be my Lord!

In Baptism, God gives us life.

In Baptism, God gives us the power to resist temptation.

And in Baptism, God gives us the assurance that, as we repent and trust in Christ and struggle to live in accordance with His will, we are forgiven.

That’s why Luther called Holy Baptism a comfort.

When we receive the gifts of Holy Baptism by faith, Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are duplicated in our lives. Each time we truly repent for sin, God gives forgiveness; the old self dies and the new self rises. We live in peace with God. This is the daily life of a baptized Christian who welcomes Christ and the salvation given in Baptism.

Paul speaks of Baptism and the life with God it makes possible in Romans 6:4-5, where he says: “...we were buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”

In Baptism, God promises to erase the power of sin and death over our lives if, in faith, we will submit to the crucifixion of our old selves, allowing our new selves to rise with Christ.

People with faith in Christ needn’t be guilt-ridden when we feel the allure of sinful inclinations within us.

We don’t need to despair even when we fall into sin.

We don’t wall ourselves off from Christ, convinced that He couldn’t love or forgive us anymore.

Instead, we remember our Baptism.

We honestly own our sorrow for our sin and we confess it to God.

We allow our temptations and our sins to drive us back to Christ and the promise to be our God that makes to us at Baptism.

We live the truth of Psalm 32:1-2: “Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Happy is the one whom the Lord does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from all deceit.”

I don’t know how Holy Baptism works. I don’t need to.

But from God’s Word and promises, I am sure of the three things the Confession teaches:
  • that Baptism is necessary for our salvation; 
  • that in Baptism, God offers us grace; and 
  • that the grace God offers in Baptism, no matter the age at which we’re baptized, can only be received by faith in Jesus Christ. 
“This,” as a famous Lutheran often wrote, “is most certainly true.”

Next week, we look at Holy Communion.