Saturday, November 01, 2014

All Saints Sunday Welcome

This the welcome worshipers at tomorrow's services at Living Water Lutheran in Springboro, Ohio will read in their bulletins.
We’re glad that you’re worshiping with us today at Living Water Lutheran Church. We welcome you in the Name of the God we know in Jesus Christ!

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, a “lesser festival” of the Church Year. Originally, All Saints’ Day, November 1, was a time to remember the witness of Christians who were killed for their faith in Jesus. Now, we use All Saints’ Sunday to remember with thankfulness the witness of all Christians who have passed from this life to eternity with God.

From the standpoint of the Bible, a “saint” is a forgiven sinner. Forgiveness comes to all who dare to “repent” (turn from sin, turn to God) and trust Christ to be the only means through Whom God is known and brings forgiveness and eternal life to us (John 14:6).

Through Christ, God confers what the Bible calls “righteousness,” or rightness with God, on believers in Christ. Christians confess that we are saints not by what we do, but by God’s grace (His charity) given to us in Christ, while, remaining, in this world, sinners by birth and impulse.

We rejoice in knowing that freedom from sin and death come from Jesus Christ. That’s why Lutheran Christians believe in daily repentance and renewal, daily submitting ourselves for examination, correction, and forgiveness from God.

The saints we remember on today were not perfect. No saint is. But they turned to Christ for life. We thank God that they pointed us to Christ.

For All Saints Day

I love this hymn, For All the Saints. All eight verses!

The Mystery of Neil Young

I watched a portion of this recent interview by Charlie Rose with musician Neil Young last night. Whether you agree with Young or not on his view of the world, I think you'll find it a riveting and interesting conversation with a man and artist who is engaged and alive, smart and amusing.

But here's the thing. Neil Young is a mystery for me. I acknowledge his importance. But for me, though I can name a few Young pieces from over the years that I have liked--Ohio and Helpless, Helpless, Helpless from the CSN&Y years, and Heart of Gold and My, My, Hey, Hey from his solo repertoire, for example, I've just never taken to his music.

Instead, I've routinely had the experience of listening to his releases--even owning one or two through the years--and, after giving them several listens, coming away thinking, "That was okay, I guess." Or, "What was any of that about?" Or, "What is the fuss over this guy?" I remember especially thinking those things with Harvest, a release I owned on vinyl when it was first released, which many consider a classic. (Rolling Stone puts it at #82 on its list of 500 greatest albums of all time.)

Young is a great guitarist of unique styling. I enjoy his guitar work especially on hard rocking songs. Unlike some, maybe, I like his voice. And I love a few of his political songs. But he simply doesn't reach me, intellectually or emotionally.

I say this not as a rant against Young. I guess I wonder what's wrong with me. What do others get about him that I don't?

I wondered that again after watching and listening his interview with Rose. I thought: "The guy is so compelling. So passionate. So interesting. All of that must inform and be part of his music. Why don't I pick up on any of that? Why can't I get into him? Why does his music leave me feeling indifferent or sometimes wondering what happened to the rest of a song that seemed to start out as a good idea?"

That's on me, not on Young. And it is, for me, the mystery of Neil Young.

November 1 is All Saints' Day

So, what is a saint?

We'll be celebrating All Saints' Sunday tomorrow.

America by Lecrae

A challenging rap tune from Christian music's brightest artist, Lecrae.

Friday, October 31, 2014

He Reigns by Newsboys

I Will by the Beatles

"Love you forever and forever love you with all my heart,
"Love you whenever we're together, love you when we're apart."

Kite by U2 (Live)

"I know that this is not goodbye."

"I'm a man, I'm not a child
"I'm a man who sees the shadow behind your eyes."

On the Fritz By Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil (Live)

A great song about the allurements of fame and money for televangelists and other preachers. Favorite line: "So they love Jerry Lewis in France/Does that make him funny?"

Also: "Pride kills."

Come Away with Me by Norah Jones

Blackbird by the Beatles

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quick: Who's the Best Fielding NL Second Baseman of All Time?

Baseball fans might be inclined to name people like Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Rogers Hornsby, Ryne Sandberg, or Napoleon Lajoie in response to that question. All of them were great, both defensively and at the plate. Morgan and Robinson, at least, were also fantastic on the base paths, tremendous base-stealing threats.

But the best fielding National League second baseman of all time is playing the game in this era. It's Dat Dude, Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau on Tuesday, Phillips has taken over the all-time lead in fielding percentage by NL second basemen at .990 from the previous leader, Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Famer and former Cub had a .989 career fielding percentage...

Since joining the Reds in 2006, Phillips has played 1,307 games at second base. He has committed 65 errors in 6,195 total chances.
One of the slams some fans put on BP is that he's all flash and no substance in the field. Phillips is flashy. Astoundingly so. But he's also effective. No opposing batter wants to hit balls within thirty feet of him. He's almost always sure to record another spectacular out.

That makes his record all the more amazing. Phillips often gets to balls on which other second basemen would be unable or unwilling to make plays. In a sense, he puts his fielding percentage in greater jeopardy than most players would because of his aggressive play.

I'm looking forward to the 2015 season, in which a Phillips recovered from last year's thumb injury, dazzles us again with his amazing and effective--historically amazing and effective--play at second base playing for my Cincinnati Reds.

Glad that the Reds linked to this article by Mark Sheldon on Facebook and that I spied it during a break from studying and preparation this afternoon.

The Job That Americans Would Fear Holding the Most


That's what a new survey by CareerBuilder shows.
Americans think being a politician is scarier than being a mortician or an infectious disease doctor. In fact, there's no job in the U.S. that workers fear more than being an elected official, according to a nationwide survey by CareerBuilder.

It's all that public speaking, rejection and accountability associated with the job that terrifies workers most.
Maybe all of these factors are things we should consider before opening our yaps about how bad "all" politicians are. We're all entitled to our opinions, of course. But character assassination directed at people doing work that we ourselves would find too daunting, sometimes because misinformaton or outright disinformation, is an abuse of our freedom of speech.

The Huffington Post article in which the findings appear reminded me of a piece of information I ran across and wrote about a few years ago. It discussed what jobs that the late business management researcher and thinker Peter Drucker identified as the four toughest ones in the United States.

On Drucker's list were, in no particular order: the President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. I wrote about Drucker's list from the standpoint of someone who's been a student of presidential history all my life and who's been a pastor, now for thirty years, here

The whole top ten of fear-inducing jobs for Americans surfaced by the CareerBuilder survey looks like this, in order:
1. Politician
2. Microbiologist
3. Security guard at teen pop idol concert
4. Kindergarten teacher
5. Crime scene investigator
6. Animal trainer
7. Mortician
8. Radio, cellular, and tower equipment installers and repairers
9. Stand-up comedian
10. Parent
There are more than a few daunting jobs on that list, to be sure.

But none is more daunting or more rewarding than that of being a parent. From the Scriptures we learn that the role of a parent is the most important in all creation. Parents are to help their children prepare for adulthood and to introduce them to the God revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ. That's a big job! And no conscientious person wants to totally mess up when doing it.

Kindergarten teachers, crime scene investigators, microbiologists, and morticians all have the capacity to make mistakes that can harm people. That's what makes them frightening, I think.

Yet clearly, in a society that often expresses the value it attaches to the work people do by the amounts of money and perks employees and contractors are given, at least two, maybe three, and possibly all four of these professions are undervalued, especially in light of the good they do for people.

Read the whole article.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"The Priceless Payoff of Prayer"

Tim Keller is one of my favorite contemporary Christian pastor-theologians. He's the senior pastor of a Presbyterian congregation that he planted in New York City.

What's remarkable about Redeemer Presbyterian Church is that in the heart of Manhattan, a place thought to be utterly cynical and insusceptible to claims for the authority of the Bible as God's definitive Word to human race, the truth of the miracles it records, including Christ's resurrection and virgin birth, the reality of the existence of eternity, and Christ's teaching that faith in Him is the only way to life with God, made by Keller and the congregation, the church has grown and thrives.

Keller is the author of many good books which I've read and enjoyed. He has a new one out, called Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

A member of Living Water sent a link to an interview with Keller surrounding the book. I loved reading it. It appears on the Gospel Coalition website.

A sampling of a few questions and Keller's answers.
You recall being convicted upon realizing that the apostle Peter “assumed an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal” (1 Pet. 1:8). How do we rightly pursue such joy, especially when it feels far more elusive than normal?

"You just have to be faithful and regular in prayer. Most of us pursue joy in prayer, don’t get it, and then don’t stick at it. But as the Puritans used to say, “Mind your work, not your wages.” Prayer is a duty—even if we don’t get much out of it emotionally, we nevertheless owe it to God. Christians necessarily believe we depend on God for everything—a prayerless Christian, then, is a contradiction in terms. But if there is a secret to this, it may be right here. When we seek God for himself, not for some emotional payoff, and we develop habits of regular prayer, the sense of joy and of his presence is more likely to come and come more often."
Why is it so crucial to pray in Jesus’s name? What are some ways we pray in our own names instead?

"To pray in Jesus’s name means to acknowledge that we only have access to the Father’s attention and grace through the mediation and work of our Savior. So just using the words “in Jesus’s name” is not sufficient. We use the words to reinforce the required attitudes and motives. To pray “in Jesus’s name” is to come before God in both humility (knowing we don’t deserve God’s help) and confidence (knowing that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and worthiness), as well as grateful joy.

"To pray in Jesus’s name, then, is to be aware of the grace of the gospel as the basis of prayer, and to have our attitude in prayer deeply enriched—both humbled and exalted. When we consciously or unconsciously expect God to hear our prayer because of our relative freedom from overt sin or because of our service and moral effort, we are praying in our own name."
And this...
What advice would you give to those who struggle with getting distracted and losing their train of thought while praying?

"Martin Luther suggested meditation. For example, if you paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer, as Luther counsels, it forces you to concentrate. Almost any method of meditation can focus the mind and then engage the affections so that when you turn to prayer you won’t be distracted. It should go without saying—but I will say it—that what I mean by “meditation” is not any of the contemplative practices that aim at getting beyond words and rational thought into pure awareness of our oneness with God. Biblical meditation, rather, is filling the mind with Scripture and then “loading the heart” (to use John Owen’s phrase) with it until it affects not only the emotions but the entire life."
Read the whole interview here.

Should Surveilance Revealed by Snowden Spark Foreign Outrage?

To me, the most interesting thing in this piece, apart from the substance of the argument, is Fareed Zakaria's citation of the words of former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner: "Let's be honest. We eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous."

I suppose that only former foreign ministers can afford to be so forthright. But it does put Edward Snowden's actions in an interesting light, suggesting that foreign governments' outrage at the U.S. government for its surveillance program may be a bit hypocritical.

Ordination Anniversary and the Importance of Blue Butterflies

On October 19, the folks of Living Water Lutheran Church, the congregation I serve as pastor, remembered the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination. I didn't know until this morning that the display pictured above was around on that day. It means a lot to me.

The butterfly, of course, is a symbol of resurrection. But the blue butterfly is especially important for me and more than a few friends in the parish I last served, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. It was a favorite of Sarah, a young woman from Saint Matthew, who was always an example of faithfulness, grit, determination, fun, and good humor, a saint I look forward to seeing again one day in eternity.

What Heaven Celebrates


Giants Get Closer

They win again Sunday night to go up three games to two in the World Series.  Bumgarner was, again, amazing on the mound.

It's been a great series, which makes it all the more confounding to consider that its television ratings have been so low.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I'll Remember You by Bob Dylan

I know that it's hard for some folks to get passed the fact that Bob Dylan doesn't have a pleasing voice. But the man has written incredible music and I own almost all of his LPs. This is such a sweet, sad song.

Here are the lyrics, taken from Dylan's web site:

I’ll remember you
When I’ve forgotten all the rest
You to me were true
You to me were the best
When there is no more
You cut to the core
Quicker than anyone I knew
When I’m all alone
In the great unknown
I’ll remember you
I’ll remember you
At the end of the trail
I had so much left to do
I had so little time to fail
There’s some people that
You don’t forget
Even though you’ve only seen ’m one time or two
When the roses fade
And I’m in the shade
I’ll remember you
Didn’t I, didn’t I try to love you?
Didn’t I, didn’t I try to care?
Didn’t I sleep, didn’t I weep beside you
With the rain blowing in your hair?
I’ll remember you
When the wind blows through the piney wood
It was you who came right through
It was you who understood
Though I’d never say
That I done it the way
That you’d have liked me to
In the end
My dear sweet friend
I’ll remember you

Oscar Taveras' Death

So sad. He was a player of promise.

Cancer Killers?

This looks promising.

"Autumn at the Lake"

Love this picture from Super Social Media Theologian, Eric Swensson.

Can You Handle This Truth?

[This was shared at the early worship service of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

John 8:31-36
I’ve never seen the movie, A Few Good Men. But like most people I’ve seen one of its most famous scenes. Tom Cruise’s character, a prosecuting attorney, demands of a witness, “I want the truth!” And Jack Nicholson, the witness on the stand, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Today’s gospel lesson asks us, “Can you handle the truth?”

The people with whom Jesus speaks in today’s lesson couldn’t.

We’re going to look at the truths Jesus reveals in this lesson and see whether you and I can handle them. Please turn to the lesson, John 8:31-36 (on page 746 in the sanctuary Bibles).

In verse 31, we read: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him, ‘If you hold to my teaching [or more literally, If you abide or remain in My Word, you are really my disciples..’” Truth number one, which seems to elude the people to whom Jesus is speaking, is that believing in Jesus is more than just reciting the Creed or enlisting in a "club" called "the church."

This is Reformation Sunday. We celebrate the simple act of a priest, monk, and Bible scholar, Martin Luther, on All Saints’ Eve (Hallowe'en), October 31, 1517, when, to the church door in Wittenberg, he nailed ninety-five theses for debate among clergy and scholars.

Luther had no intention of starting a Reformation. But his questions for debate challenged the teachings of the Church of his day.

Through his act, the Holy Spirit unleashed a Christian movement that pointed to the central teaching of the Bible that unrighteous, sinful human beings are made right with God not by engaging in good works, but solely by the charity (or grace) of God given to those with faith in Jesus Christ.

To be saved from sin, death, and darkness, we must only believe in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. That’s good news!

But, of course, believing in Jesus is more than the recitation of words or showing up for church functions.

Belief in Jesus is entrusting my whole life to Him, accepting His total authority over my life.

Because this idea so violently collides with our pretenses of self-sufficiency and our personal desires, the good news of Jesus is also a tough truth. And most people can’t handle it! (Including me, much of the time, I must honestly confess, though I crave to live for Christ more than anything.)

But Jesus isn’t done laying the truth on us. Look at what He says in verse 32: “‘ will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

This verse is widely misquoted and misunderstood. For example, the words "the truth will set you free" are chiseled into the marble on the front face of the Law School at my alma mater, The Ohio State University, as though Jesus were saying, “If you know the facts, you’ll be free.” That is NOT what Jesus is saying! Jesus means something, in fact Someone, very specific when He talks about the Truth: Himself.

Please turn to John 1:14, part of the prologue or introduction to the gospel of John (page 739 in the sanctuary Bibles). In his prologue, John calls Jesus the Word, God the Son, then tells us: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Then, please slip over to John 14:6 (page 752). It says: “Jesus answered [Thomas], ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Truth #2 then, is this: Jesus is the foundational Truth on which the entire universe is built. To build on any other foundation but Christ is to live a lie and a delusion.

To be in relationship with Jesus, to entrust our past, present, and future, our sins, and our identities to Jesus Christ alone, is to be in relationship with God.

To refuse relationship with and surrender to Jesus is to be out of relationship with God, separated from God.

The entire universe, in fact, is not as it should be because it is out of relationship, out of sync, with Jesus the Truth. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says that those who refuse Christ’s lordship over their lives, “...will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.” Tough stuff. But Jesus says that as we stay connected with Him, meeting Him with trusts in the ways and in the places He promises to meet us--as we daily repent of our sins, pray in His Name, read and hear ans study His Word, fellowship with His people in the Church, receive His body and blood, and live under His grace alone--we will know the truth, we will know Him, and He will set us free.

Jesus’ original hearers, fellow residents of Judea who said they believed in Jesus, could not handle any talk of their needing to be set free. In verse 33, they protest: “‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’’”

This is denial, pure and simple. The whole history of the descendants of Abraham had been filled with their enslavement and subjugation under other peoples. In fact, except for a brief period between 140 and 63 BC, about seventy-seven years, God’s people had been slaves of other people for centuries! Most notable, of course, was the 430 year stint of slavery in Egypt. And even at the moment Jesus spoke with them, they lived under the dominion of a foreign nation, the Roman Empire.

But though we may shake our heads at this denial of reality, these people aren’t the only slaves in human history to deny their slavery. All of us are equipped with the capacity to not see when we’re enslaved to sin. Whether the focal point of our sin is the abuse of alcohol or drugs, gambling, too much time on the computer, workaholism, materialism, pornography, or whatever our gods of choice may be, a common first response when confronted by loved ones is to deny our slavery. “I don’t need it,” we crow. “I can quit it any time.”

Jesus doesn’t mince words in expressing truth #3. Look at verse 34: “‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’”

This is the unpleasant truth the human race does not want to hear. None of us does. And when called to the carpet for something I’ve done wrong, my first impulse is to let loose with a string of excuses.

Psalm 51:5 and the whole Bible tells us that we are born in sin. Sin is the condition of alienation from God and from other human beings, the enslavement to ourselves and our own desires that blocks out true, open, loving relationships with God and with others.

This is what we reference when we confess to God on Sunday mornings that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

From this condition of sin, we naturally commit sins. We really do not, by nature, love God or love others.

Other-mindnedness, which is what the Bible calls righteousness looks like, isn’t the default mode those whose first words are often, “No!” and “Mine!” (Ask any parent and they will confirm that.) We are slaves to sin. And it’s from this slavery that Jesus came into the world to free you and me. 

Look at what Jesus says in verse 35 of our lesson, please: “‘Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.’” Under the inheritance laws of first-century Judea, only the oldest son inherited all that his father left behind. And slaves had no rights to an inheritance at all. There was nothing they could do about their circumstance. They would spend their entire lives as slaves.

Absent God’s help, we sinners would have no hope of anything but eternal condemnation and everlasting separation from God and the life for which we were made. We couldn’t inherit life with God. Hard truth #4 isn’t specifically mentioned here, but if Jesus is speaking it to Jews who believed in Him, the first Christians, it’s true for you and me as well, and it’s truth that’s mentioned in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

We are all slaves who can’t free ourselves, who deserve death, as Romans 6:23 reminds us: “the wages of sin is death.” Death is what we deserve for our sin, a hard truth to handle!

Thank God for the promise that Jesus makes in verse 36 of our lesson: “‘...if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’”

When we trust Jesus to take our sins on His shoulders and their condemnation into His very body, He crucifies our old sinful selves and sets us free from their power.

Martin Luther, as you know, said that on Judgment Day, God will look out over two seas of people, both groups composed entirely of sinners. One group will stand naked in their sins, having chosen sin over salvation by their refusal to repent for sin and believe in Jesus. By their refusal to believe in Jesus, they will have chosen condemnation, an earthly lifetime and an eternity spent in a chosen exile from the God Who made and loved them.

Luther pointed out that God will also look out over another group of sinners. Because of their faith in Jesus, God won’t see their earthly fallen selves. God will only see Jesus when He looks at them. They will be clothed in the forgiveness and new life Jesus gave to them and that they received by faith in Christ. Romans 6:23 tells us: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the greatest truth of all!

A few years ago, I read about the large number of emigres from Iran (Persia) who, in some independent German Lutheran congregations, are leaving the Muslim religion and coming to faith in Jesus Christ. These Persians were making public profession of their faith in spite of the fact that in many of their ethnic enclaves, their fellow Persians enforce Muslim sharia law, which says that if Muslims become Christians, they must be killed.

Why would these converts risk their lives to abide in Jesus and be His disciples?

One convert to Christianity explained, “In this [Lutheran] congregation, I heard for the first time that God is a loving Father who desires a personal relationship with every human being. This was news to me, because Islam had taught me...[that] God [is] a distant deity...”

The fact that God wants to have a personal relationship with each of us and that this God took on human flesh in order to die for our sins and rise again in order to secure that relationship for now and all eternity for all who believe in Jesus Christ is the good news on which the Reformation was built. It’s also the good news on which we can build our lives.

Those who build their lives on Christ will find, as Luther wrote in his famous hymn, inspired by Psalm 46, that God is "a mighty fortress," “a sword and shield victorious”! That is a truth we can not only handle, but celebrate, today and forever! Amen!

[The image above is taken from the 2004 release, Luther, which I highly recommend.]