Saturday, March 23, 2013

Americans' Three Favorite Sins

They may not be what you think they are. Thanks to Holly Boardman for tweeting this article my way.

Is Hope Really for "Suckers"?

Not if your hope is in the right Person!

"Biblical hope is unique; it’s a confident trust in God and what He is doing in the world and in our lives." Read the whole thing.

Leadership Tidbit #5

Leaders neither court conflict nor avoid it when necessary.

Friday, March 22, 2013


I was writing something earlier today and wondered about the proper use of the words, neither and nor in the same sentence. Grammar Girl helped me out.

By the way, Oxford says that both the words, neither and either, can be pronounced with long e's or with long i's in their first syllables. So, neither you with your long e, nor I with my long i are grammatically incorrect. No need to call the whole blog off.

Leaders and the Opinions of Others

Leaders must take others' opinions of them, as is said, "with a grain of salt."

This doesn't mean that leaders should be heedless of others' opinions. But leaders must realize that assessments of their leadership will tend to gravitate toward one or the other of two extremes, adulation or condemnation. In other words, the people with the most extreme positive and negative opinions are the ones likeliest to speak and each will give leaders a distorted view of their leadership.

Leaders must use a different compass than the crowds.

In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul confronts the members of a church he had founded and from whom he had been absent for some time, for their arrogance, among other things. In their arrogance, they had begun aligning themselves behind preachers who had served them, rather than behind the God revealed in Christ that the preachers had proclaimed and the faith in Christ each had commended. Paul took the Corinthian Christians to task in this way:
You should think of us as Christ's servants, who have been put in charge of God's secret truths. Now, I am not at all concerned about being judged by you or by any human standard; I don't even pass judgment on myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not prove that I am really innocent. The Lord is the one who passes judgment on me. (1 Corinthians 4:1-4, Good News Translation)
Ultimately, every person--including every leader--is accountable to the God revealed to the world in Jesus Christ. Christ is the only true compass. Even with Christ as Lord, no leader will ever come close to batting 1.000 in their decision-making.

And leaders, as servants, must be accountable both to God and to others.

But leaders who play to the crowds, be they their employees, their citizens, or their flock, will never lead people anywhere.

Leaders must live with the kind of confidence that Abraham Lincoln possessed and talked about as he led the country through the Civil War: "I do the very best I know how-the very best I can; and mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

Leaders must take others' opinions of them with "a grain of salt."

Leadership Tidbit #4

Leaders work hard to ensure that those in the organization who have erred have opportunity to reverse course and avoid embarrassment.

5 Ways God Uses Problems in Our Lives

From Pastor Eric Swensson. Great, simple thoughts.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Leadership Tidbit #2

Leaders understand that every project and initiative will consume more time and energy than they initially think will be required.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Leadership Tidbit #1

One of the most important things for leaders to understand is that they don't know it all and that they can't do it all.

Hold On!

"...know the God of your father, and serve him with single mind and willing heart; for the Lord searches every mind, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will abandon you forever" (1 Chronicles 28:9, ancient King David's words to his son, Solomon)

“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. 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" (John 3:16-18, God the Son Jesus' words to Nicodemus and to us all).

God wants to hold us in His arms forever. That's why Jesus took on human flesh, died on a cross, and rose from death. By His dying, He took the punishment for sin we deserve. By His rising, He opens up life with God to us all. 

Even in the bleakest, most horrible of times we encounter in this life, God will not abandon us, though, tragically, we might abandon God.

Hold on tightly to the God we know with certainty in Jesus Christ! [Thoughts inspired by today's installment of Our Daily Bread.]

Monday, March 18, 2013

Repentance (Part 11, The Augsburg Confession)

John 12:1-8

This morning, as we continue to consider what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, I want to talk with you about a teaching of the Bible which, in these days, is either hated or ignored. It’s the teaching about repentance.

We’re closing in on Holy Week. As we do, it’s a good time to introduce two men as “case studies” who had important roles in the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

One teaches us what repentance isn’t.

The other shows us what repentance is.

Our first study is of Judas Iscariot. Judas, of course, was one of the twelve apostles, that group among Jesus’ disciples whose job it was to be His “sent ones,” those who would carry the good news of new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus as God and Lord into the world.

Beyond that, Judas is an enigma. Even the meaning of the second name by which he’s usually designated, Iscariot, is a mystery. One theory is that “Iscariot” was derived from scortea, leather bag, making Judas, “the man with the leather bag.”

That designation would, in fact, underscore one of the few things we do know about Judas. Turn to John 12:6, please.

You know this incident well. In Bethany, Jesus is at the home of the sisters Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus, after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Martha, as always, is busily serving the meal--old habits die hard, you know--when Mary comes into the room and takes a pound of costly ointment and uses her hair to soothe the ointment into Jesus’ feet.

Today, we can’t imagine how socially inappropriate this action would have seemed. Men and women weren’t to touch one another unless they were husband and wife, mother and child. Only servants were to touch the feet of guests; for a woman to touch a man’s feet was considered, at the least, sexually suggestive. And a woman’s hair was considered sacrosanct.

Probably all of the disciples were taken aback by Mary’s gesture of gratitude and reverence for Jesus. (And Mary's reverence was understandable! Jesus had make clear that He was the resurrection and the life and that all who believe in Him will have life with God forever, then proved His deity and His power over death and life by raising her brother from death.) But John makes clear that Judas’ response was less about religious or social scruples than it was about what was important to him.

Judas asks indignantly why, instead of this wastefulness, the ointment hadn’t been sold, the proceeds used to care for the poor? Then we’re told: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put into it.”

Historians and scholars have often speculated as to why Judas later betrayed Jesus for a measly thirty pieces of silver. Was he politically motivated? Was he a zealot who thought that he could spur Jesus into leading a revolution if the Romans tried to arrest him? John seems to say Judas betrayed Jesus for the cash.

You know what happened. In the hours after Jesus instituted Holy Communion, He went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. That was a spot to which Jesus and the disciples apparently went often and that’s where Judas knew he could lead the temple police to arrest Jesus, under cover of darkness, far from the crowds who, just the Sunday before, had hailed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Anointed One.

And what happened to Judas after Jesus' arrest? Turn please, to Matthew 27:3. This comes after the Jewish temple leaders took Jesus to the Roman governor Pilate. It says: “Then Judas, [Jesus’] betrayer, seeing that [Jesus] had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have betrayed innocent blood.’...[verse 5] Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”

What accounts for Judas’ tragic end?

Doesn’t Matthew tell us that Judas was remorseful?

Doesn’t that mean that Judas was repentant?

Shouldn’t that have cleaned his slate with God and given Judas a clear conscience?

Why, even after he had given back the money he had taken to betray Jesus, did Judas take his own life?

The key to answering those questions is in the word remorseful.

You see, to be repentant for a sin, a wrong we have perpetrated against God or others, doesn’t just mean to be remorseful.

Judas realized that what he did was wrong. “I have betrayed innocent blood,” he said. So, he felt bitter regret. He understood that by his action, he was bringing about the death of an innocent person. He understood that his betrayal of Jesus was an offense against God.

And he no doubt was afraid of what God would do to him. But as the Bible points out repeatedly, “the fear of the Lord is” only “the beginning of” wisdom or knowledge. (See here.) When we are sorry for our sins, that's just the beginning of repentance. There are no good works we must perform. No acts of penance are required. But sorrow for sin is not all there is to repentance.

We see that in our second case study, the one that shows us what repentance is.

Our subject is Peter. Peter, of course, was another one of the apostles. We know a lot more about Peter than we do about Judas.

But when you think about it, Peter was as guilty of betraying Jesus on the night of Jesus‘ arrest as Judas had been.

You remember what happened. During the last supper, Peter proclaimed his undying loyalty to Jesus. Then Jesus told Peter that on that very night, Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed in the wee hours. Peter didn’t believe it. But of course, everything happened just as Jesus had foretold. Matthew 26:75 tells us what happened after Peter had denied Jesus a third time and heard the rooster crow. “And Peter remembered the words of Jesus Who had said, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.‘ So he went out and wept bitterly.”

In the Greek language in which Matthew and all the New Testament writers originally wrote, the adverb translated as bitterly, carries the meaning of an emotion that is harsh, painful. It’s used by one ancient writer to describe the oppressive rule of a dictatorial leader.

If you have ever sobbed with regret over some wrong you realize that you have done (I have), then you have some feeling for what Peter felt at that moment. He bitterly regretted what he had done. He felt remorse that he had let Jesus down.

But, unlike Judas, Peter lived and went on to become a leader of Christ’s Church, the one chosen by Christ and the Holy Spirit in the first Christian Pentecost, to deliver the good news that all who repent and believe in Jesus have God in their lives now and in eternity.

Both Judas and Peter were sinners. Both had betrayed their Lord. So, what was different about them to account for the very different ways in which their lives played out after the night of Jesus' arrest?

Here’s the difference: Peter had faith in the God he knew in Jesus Christ.

Peter understood that Jesus Christ was more than a nice man or a good teacher or a rousing leader of the masses and more than an itinerant advocate for justice or a miracle worker, who got killed on a cross.

Peter understood that Jesus was the Lord of all creation, the conqueror of sin and death, Who had always shown forgiveness to sinners who turned from sin and trusted in Him.

Peter remembered that Jesus had told stories (parables) to demonstrate how God responds to repentant sinners who trust in Him, stories like the ones Jesus told about:
Each of the primary actors in those stories--the shepherd, the widow, the father, were fictional stand-ins for the very real God of the world Peter had come to know in Jesus. And each of them threw parties when the lost--the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son--was found.

Peter had heard Jesus say that heaven throws a party every time a sinner turns from sin and trusts in the grace of God that Christ came to give.

Sinners who are sorry for their sin and trust in Christ as their God, Savior, and King, are forgiven. No ifs, ands, or buts!

Peter trusted that the God he had seen and known in Jesus would meet his remorse for his sin with a forgiveness he did not deserve. That God made known only in Jesus Christ is willing to meet our remorse for sin with a forgiveness none of us deserves!

This is a Biblical truth underscored in Article 12 of The Augsburg Confession, which appears on pages 14-15 of the buff and brown edition in the pew racks. Please pull one out and look at it. It says:
 “Our churches teach that there is forgiveness of sins for those who have fallen after [their] Baptism whenever they are converted. [That is, whenever, their minds are changed and they see the wrong in their sin.] The Church ought to impart Absolution [the assurance of forgiveness from God] to those who return in repentance...Now, strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition...terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel [the Good News about Jesus] or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. [Repentance] comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror. Then, good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance...” 
Peter’s faith in Christ was warranted. He received confirmation of God's forgiveness in one of the moving scenes in all of Scripture.

After Jesus rose from the dead, you’ll remember, Jesus asked Peter three times if he believed in Jesus, had faith in Jesus. Each time, Peter said yes. In this interview, Jesus reversed the three denials Peter made on the night of His arrest and assured Peter not only that he was forgiven, but that Jesus also had plans for him. "Feed my lambs" Jesus told Peter. "Tend my sheep."

Peter had acknowledged his sin to God and he had trusted that the crucified and risen Christ is big enough, gracious enough, powerful enough, loving enough to forgive the repentant.

When you and I repent for our sin, we too can be absolutely certain that, as was true for Peter, God forgives us and has plans for us, eternal plans!

They’re plans that begin to unfold here in this world, as we follow the Lord Who promises to be with us always.

And they’re plans that will come to the final, full flower when, in eternity, all our sins, suffering, and dying will be in the past and we will walk with God and all the saints who have trusted in Christ forever. Amen

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

I Don't Want to Be Normal

The nurse from my doctor's office called to tell me the results of blood work done during a recent physical. She rattled off the numbers, then said, "All I can say is that you're just normal."

"You know what?" I said, "This may be the first time anyone's ever called me normal." She laughed and told me, "Then maybe I should have said, 'As far as your blood goes, you're normal.'"

Sometimes, being normal is a great thing. That's true of health tests. Normal, in those circumstances, means all is well.

But sometimes, being normal--whether the designation at the time means typical, average, or like everybody else--may not describe a desirable state of being.

And there's one way in which I think I never want to be normal: I don't want to approach life with cynicism.

Cynicism, one online dictionary tells us is "an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others."

Cynicism seems to be today's "normal."

Ever since the deceptions created by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during their presidencies, giving us Vietnam and Watergate, cynicism has taken hold in the United States. We seem to find it hard to trust anyone or anything.

Cynicism also seems to be prevalent among people around my age. (I'm nearing 60.) I can't tell you how often the speech of my contemporaries degenerates into throwing verbal brickbats at societal trends, people in power, the media, celebrities. It's depressing to hear them talk. And I wonder how they stand living with themselves.

People are cynical, I think, for two basic reasons:

(1) One is that they've had overblown ideals about how other human beings should act.

For decades prior to the Vietnam War, for example, more than 70% of the American people consistently told pollsters that their national leaders would never lie to them. That was completely unrealistic idealism. So, when we learned about the deceptions of Johnson and Nixon, the numbers flipped. Now people are more likely to assume that the government always lies.

Cynicism is an unrealistic overreaction to the failure of some leaders all of the time and of all leaders some of the time, to live up to our unrealistic expectations of them.

It's unfair to have unrealistic expectations of others. No matter how great you thought the person to whom you are married or for whom you voted in the last election, may have seemed to you. They're still human you. That means they're not perfect.

"Put not your trust in princes, whom there is no help," says Psalm 146:3.

This doesn't mean we're to repose zero trust in others. It means: "Don't trust human beings to be like God."

The only one worthy of our total trust is the God we know in Jesus Christ. Sinless, Christ went to a cross, where He died for our sins, both yours and that person you don't trust.

The Old Testament tells us that God is patient with human beings because He "remembers that we are dust."

And Jesus teaches us that before we condemn the small splinter in the eye of another, we need to remove the log implanted in our own.

There would be a lot less cynicism in this world if we would seek the power of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the second part of Jesus' great commandment for the world, which echoes the last seven of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses: Love your neighbor as yourself.

(2) Another reason for cynicism, I think, is disappointment with our own progress in life.

We look at people we deem more successful than ourselves and, secretly believing that we don't measure up, infer that there must be something false about the other person's progress. We doubt that their progress is for real, dismissing it as PR. Or, we cast aspersions on the integrity with which they achieved their "progress."

It should be said that others' money and material well being aren't the only things that spur this cynicism. A happy family, a good marriage, true friendships, educational attainment, or almost anything we observe in others can be an excuse for the person who feels inferior to be cynical. "Yeah, they look happy," the cynic says, "but that's window-dressing." He may even start spewing unsubstantiated gossip about the person to build himself up, while tearing the other person down.

This strain of cynicism is often rooted in envy. And envy is really rooted in self-loathing. The cynic often feels compelled to knock others because, in his secret self, he hates himself. He feels that his life is inferior.

Or, he knows of deficiencies, bad decisions, or sins that keep him from experiencing some of the things he yearns for. Overcoming this form of cynicism involves opening up our eyes and realizing that we are blessed in our own ways.

One of the things I have had to get over as I've grown in years and in my faith in Christ, is my disappointment in the ways in which God has blessed me. "Those blessings you've given me, Lord, are nice, but I want to be blessed in other ways. I want to be like So-and-So," I tell God. But as I read the Bible, God's Word, God seems to tell me, "But you aren't So-and-So. I've created a package of blessings custom-made for you. Not for So-and-So, but for you."

Isaiah 45:9 says "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'The potter has no hands'?"

I'm learning to let the Potter form me as He chooses.

This isn't fatalism. It's faith.

I may be a plain clay pot. But to give glory to the One Who made me and then gave me new life in Jesus Christ, I am intent on being, through His grace and power, forgiveness and love, the best clay pot I can be.

Of course, I will only ever fulfill my intention by relying completely on the Potter, the God Who came into the world in Jesus, died on a cross, and rose from the dead for imperfect clay pots like me.

You may not measure up in your own eyes. But you were worth the suffering and death of God, all of which He went through so that when He rose again on the first Easter Sunday, you could have life with God.

And the new life Christ gives those who believe in Him, doesn't start after your earthly death, as though this life were just heaven's waiting room.

The new life Christ gives can begin "the hour you first believe."

And it can belong to you in all the everyday moments of this life: While you do your job, love your spouse, relate to your kids, strive for your dreams, pray, enjoy your friends, read God's Word, take out the trash, mow the lawn, do the laundry.

"If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation," 2 Corinthians 5:17 says.

If you have faith in Christ, you have eternity. You have God standing by you as you strive to be your best, to achieve, and to live. No reason to feel envious. None.

Whatever its source, if cynicism is your normal, get rid of it. Trust in Christ.

You'll be more able to forgive others as God has forgiven you.

You won't trust people or things to give you what only God has it to give.

You'll trust only God to be God.

That's when you'll stop being normal and your cynicism will start to evaporate.