Saturday, January 10, 2015

First, There'll Be a National Geographic Special, Then a Nicolas Cage Movie

Divers have found a metal the ancient Greeks said came from Atlantis:
Previously, researchers only knew orichalcum from ancient texts and ornamental objects. The metal is mentioned in the writings of Plato...— he described Atlantis as flashing "with the red light of oricalchum," adding that its value was second only to gold.

"The Church is Called to Be 'Churchy,' So Deal with It"

The church is called to be "churchy," charged with proclaiming God's message for the world--Law and Gospel--whether the world likes it or not.

I don't like it much of the time. It's an unpleasant punch in the gut to realize that I am not self-sufficient and that I'm not "all that." I need God and what He offers as a free gift to all who are willing to repent and believe in Christ as their only Lord and the source of their only hope.

Its frequent unpleasantness doesn't alter the fact that I need this message, now and eternally.

Or that Christ commands that we Christians share it.

Or that this message and this message alone and our belief in it and the Christ Who is the message, saves us from sin, death, and darkness.

Saint Paul wrote: "...I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16). So, why should the Church be afraid to proclaim God's truth?

This article is a slap in the face to all of us--including myself at points in my life as a pastor, who try so hard to be palatable to the world that we effectively cease being Church, God's people on a mission. We just try to blend in. We try to avoid rocking the boat.

When we act in these ways, Jesus says, we fail to be "salt of the earth," people God uses, to preserve His kingdom until Christ's return and people who bring God's seasonings of grace, love, Lordship, and power to the world today.

Jesus warns the Church of the need to stay connected and true to Him in order to fulfill our life's purpose, to remain His salt: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)

Check out the article, The Church is Called to Be Churchy, So Deal with It.

Knowing God

"God acts through his words, the Word is 'alive and active' (Hebrews 4:12), and therefore the way to have God dynamically active in our lives is through the Bible. To understand the Scripture is not simply to get information about God. If attended to with trust and faith, the Bible is the way to actually hear God speaking and also to meet God Himself." (Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.)

Tremble for My Beloved by Collective Soul

Too Much Rain by Paul McCartney

Love and Peace or Else by U2

A Certain Softness by Paul McCartney

Maxine by Donald Fagen

Be Still by the Newsboys

Based on Psalm 46:10, one of my favorite passages of Scripture.

Without You (from 'Rent')

As It Is In Heaven by Michael W. Smith

Blackbird by Paul McCartney

Love this live version from the Seventies. McCartney was in great voice here.

In a Little While by U2

Hope springs eternal.

God is Not a Secret by Newsboys

This band was great with Peter Furler on the lead vocals, writing the tunes while Steve Taylor created the lyrics.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Willie Nelson

Somebody Touched Me by Bruce Cockburn

All Because of You by U2

A God song from one of my favorite bands. Get well soon, Bono.

God, the Poor, and You and Me

Friday, January 09, 2015

Kindness Needed

Be kind to everyone, not just because it is Christ's command that we love our neighbors, but also because you don't know how many hidden broken hearts you encounter every day. There are people carrying griefs they don't reveal and you can bring God's comfort to them.

Nothing is Beyond You by Amy Grant

This song was co-composed by the late Rich Mullins who intended to include it in what he called The Jesus Record, a projected LP for which he had completed demos just before his death. It's based on Psalm 139:7-10. Psalm 139:1-10 is appointed for one of the lessons for Sunday, January 18.

This is such a powerful song!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Want to Know What Love Looks Like?

"A few days before their deaths, Gene Warrington visited his wife’s room and held her hand."
Read the whole thing.

Come Away with Me by Norah Jones

A different version.

Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

He loves you too!

Real Good Thing by Newsboys

Yet another song composed by the team of Steve Taylor and Peter Furler...

When we don't get what we deserve that's a real good thing
When we get what we don't deserve
That's a real good thing
Born to sin
And then get caught
All our good deeds
Don't mean squat
Sell the Volvo
Shred the Visa
Send the cash to Ma Theresa
Great idea
The only catch is
You don't get saved
On merit badges
When we don't get what we deserve that's a real good thing
When we get what we don't deserve
That's a real good thing
Doctor's coming
Looking grim
"Do you have a favorite hymn?"
Check your balance through the years
All accounts are in arrears
Guilt is bitter
Grace is sweet
Park it here
On the mercy seat
When we don't get what we deserve that's a real good thing
When we get what we don't deserve
That's a real good thing

Karma versus Christianity

All other religious systems say that "what goes around, comes around" and "you get what you deserve." Christian faith says that all have sinned and fallen short of being human.

But those who turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as their God become beneficiaries of what He did for us on the cross, where He took the punishment we deserve for sin.

Jesus then rose from the dead so that all who repent and believe in Him have life with God...even though we don't deserve. That is truly amazing grace!

We are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

As an old song put it of grace, "When we don't get what we deserve, that's a real good thing."

[I can't now remember where I got this graphic. I thought it was from Sundries, a Facebook page that describes itself as "a Lutheran pub." But I guess not.]

Monday, January 05, 2015

'The Old Farmer's Almanac,' the Weather, and Being Culture Current

For some reason, ever since I saw a copy of The Old Farmer's Almanac hanging by a wall telephone in the kitchen of a farm house my parents were thinking of buying when I was a kid, I've been hooked on the annual publication. The editors say that the publication goes back to 1792, when it was first published by a journalist named Robert B. Thomas. One online encyclopedia says that the almanac "has proven to be the most durable periodical in American publishing."

Almost every year I pick up a copy, mostly to see how far off or on target the editors are in calling the weather. Each year, the almanac presents an elaborate set of forecasts for the eighteen regions into which they divide the US, including ones for Alaska and Hawaii.

Tonight, the National Weather Service says that here in the Dayton area, we're going to get a fairly heavy snow this evening, with accumulations of between three and five inches.

The almanac designates this area as part of their region 7, the Ohio Valley, and says that on January 1-5, we should expect, "Snow showers, very cold."

Well, it did turn very cold today. The current reading 17-degrees. So, maybe the almanac editors know what they're talking about.

But they also say that January 6 to 10 are to be sunny and mild. The National Weather Service forecast doesn't jibe with that. We'll see.

The almanac claims that it uses three sciences in projecting a year's worth of weather across the US: solar science, studying sun spots and solar activity (the inclusion of which in their method they trace back to Thomas himself); climatology; and meteorology. They claim that last year, they had an 80.6% accuracy rate. If true, that would be pretty impressive forecasting for a whole year.

The publication has a section on astronomy each year. (As well as amusements, the year's big anniversaries, calendars and holidays, food, gardening, home remedies, husbandry, outdoors, romance, and miscellany.)

But disappointingly, it still features a section on astrology, which sort of makes you question the credibility of all the other content.

By the way, this is only the fourth post I've ever written about the weather. But all of them were written during winter. Guess I'm too busy enjoying the weather the rest of the year to talk about it much.

And it's the first time I've written about The Old Farmer's Almanac, proving once again how culture current and cutting edge I truly am.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Death Blog

Given four posts recently mentioning the deceased, I'm wondering whether that shouldn't be the name of this blog.

"As cool as the other side of the pillow"

ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who has died of cancer at age 49, had an arsenal of vivid catchphrases to describe the plays he described on Sports Center. The one in the title is my favorite. Here, in two separate articles, are a few more.

Lost and Found

[This was shared during both worship services at Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio,  today.]

Luke 2:40-52
Today, our Gospel lesson revolves around an incident that happened when Jesus was twelve years old. This is the only incident from Jesus’ childhood beyond Matthew’s and Luke’s birth and infancy accounts that we have. As Luke tells it, the incident is recounted just after his account of what happened in the temple in Jerusalem eight days after Jesus was born.

In fact, looking at that earlier incident can help to explain much of what is going on in today’s Gospel lesson. 

You remember that back then, the holy family was met by two elderly Jewish believers, Simeon and Anna. Each of them had been waiting and praying for the coming of the Messiah promised by God hundreds of years earlier.

Simeon, you’ll recall, rejoiced when he saw Jesus. But there was a grim follow up to His rejoicing. Please open a sanctuary Bible to Luke 2:34-35 (page 716) to see it: “...Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” 

Just in case Mary entertained any illusions that the child conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit to Whom she had given birth would be a normal son, Simeon was evidently sent by God to remind her that this was not the case. As God-in-the-flesh, Jesus would inevitably arouse the hostility of a world of people--including you and me--intent on being their own gods and lords, their own kings and counselors. 

Simeon thus foreshadows Jesus‘ cross for Mary and Joseph. The freedom of human beings from slavery to sin, death, and futility can only come through the sacrifice of the perfect representative of the human race. It was to offer Himself in this way that Jesus came into our world.

Any parent can imagine how Mary and Joseph must have reacted to Simeon’s prediction. When bad things happen to or are predicted for our kids, when doctors give frightening diagnoses and even more frightening prognoses for them, our first reaction as parents is denial. The second may be anger. In any case, we want to block the unpleasant prospects from our thoughts and shield our kids from them. And, under such circumstances, there’s one thing we crave more than anything else: normalcy, routine, an ordinary life. (Whatever that may be.) That was what Mary and Joseph craved, normalcy, ordinariness. 

So, Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in their hometown. 

The ordinariness of the lives they established there may have lulled the parents into thinking that, as special as Jesus was to them, maybe Simeon was wrong. Maybe the cross could be avoided. Maybe a sword would never pierce Mary’s soul. 

But today’s lesson shows us that neither cross nor sword could be averted. 

Look at our lesson, Luke 2:41-52 (page 716 also). At the outset, we’re told: “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.” 

Mary and Joseph assumed that their twelve year old was with some of their family members or neighbors from Nazareth. It took them a day to realize that Jesus was missing. Verse 46 says: “After three days they found him in the temple courts...” We’ll come back to “three days” shortly. But, to me, what Luke says here surprises me. It would have taken the two a day to get back to Jerusalem. But they evidently spent a whole day searching in the city before going to the temple. The question is why didn’t they look for Jesus at the temple first? It was the most prominent place in Jerusalem and even before this, Mary and Joseph could see that Jesus, in Luke’s words, “was filled with wisdom...the grace of God was upon Him.”

Maybe the reason they didn't go to the temple immediately was that it served as a harsh reminder to them of Simeon’s prophecy. This may be why they spent a day looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. 

And, I must admit that I too, often look for Jesus in the wrong places. 

I look for Jesus to be where I want Him to be, rather than submitting to the death of my favorite sins or going where He sends me. 

I try to get Him to do my will, rather than surrendering to His. 

Yet the hard fact is that God did not take on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to make us comfortable in our sin, self-will, and life lived on our own terms rather than God’s terms. 

Jesus came to invite us to crucify our old selves in repentance and experience new and everlasting life by believing in and surrendering to Him. 

Even Mary and Joseph, we see from today’s lesson, needed to repent of their sin of wanting Jesus on their own terms and to, instead, believe in Jesus with total surrender. 

Verses 46 and 47 go on to tell us that Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Then in verse 48, we’re told: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished.” 

We might wonder: How could they have been astonished? 

Had Mary forgotten her conversation with the angel Gabriel who told her that despite never having been with a man, she would give birth to the Savior of the world

Had Joseph forgotten the dream in which he was told not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because this child was the Son of God

Had they forgotten the shepherds or the wise men or Simeon or Anna

Had Mary forgotten that her kinswoman Elizabeth reported that the child within her, John the Baptist, had leapt for joy when he heard the voice of the Savior's mother?

How often have we ourselves had some close encounter with God--an answered prayer, unexpected provision, a word of guidance, comfort, or needed reproach from God’s Word--only to move on as if the encounter never happened, as if God were some distant stranger and not the Lord of our every moment? How often do we take comfort in ordinary certainties rather than remembering our encounters with God and following Him into the unseen and unknown?

Mired in the commonplace realities of this finite world, Mary and Joseph seem to have forgotten their encounters with God.

In her forgetfulness, Mary reproaches Jesus (verse 48): “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 

Spoken just life the parent of a tween or teen! Can't you just hear her plaintiveness? 

Mary has sunken so deeply into routine, it seems, that she has forgotten Who Jesus‘ real Father is and where Jesus‘ real home is. 

Then Jesus says words that must have seemed like a sword piercing her soul, reminding her that her firstborn Son could never be hers alone: “Why were you searching for me?” [Jesus asks]. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

Jesus would honor His earthly parents always. But His earthly family would never be His highest priority. As Jesus would later say in Luke 8:21, "My mother and brothers [My family] are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

Folks: What Jesus says of Himself is no less true for those of we who confess Him to be our Lord and God. 

We may love and cherish our families, we may honor our parents, but when we come to faith in Christ, God becomes our Father. God in Christ is our highest priority

And this present world, shrouded in sin and death, is not our home

In Jesus Christ, we know that we have a better homeland, with God in eternity. 

And, like Jesus, out of gratitude for His forgiveness and love, no matter what our jobs, we are called to be about our Father’s business: loving God, loving neighbors, making disciples for Christ.  

In verse 50, we’re told that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them. And this is where the “three days” comes in. 

Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, you’ll remember, two unnamed disciples ran into Him, risen from the dead, on the road to Emmaus. Their minds, it seems, were so fogged by the normal expectations of life--you know, like the normal expectation that dead people stay dead--that they couldn’t believe the reports they’d heard of Jesus’ resurrection. Because of that fog, they didn’t recognize the risen Jesus as He walked beside them on the road! 

But just as the twelve year old Jesus pierced Mary's and Joseph's worldly fog to reveal Himself as the Son of God three days after the two worried parents began a frenzied search for the One they’d come to see as their son, the risen Jesus would reveal Himself as the conqueror of sin and death to those confused followers of Jesus on the first Easter. It wasn't the first time that Jesus had been so revealed to them. I guess that, like us, even Joseph and Mary needed constant refresher courses to keep in mind Who Jesus really was and is.

It’s easy to lose track of Jesus and Who He is. If it happened to Mary and Joseph and to the disciples who had watched Jesus perform miracles and heard His teaching, it can also be true for you and me. 

But it’s not as if Jesus has gone to heaven without leaving us a forwarding address. He wants to be with us now and in eternity.

Like Joseph and Mary, we simply need to know where we can find Him. And so, Jesus gives us reliable means by which we can be in His company twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. 

We can go to His Word, in the Bible, and His Word proclaimed in personal conversations, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies, and from pulpits. 

We can go to the Sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--by which He comes to us and fills us with God's forgiveness, new life, and the Holy Spirit. 

We can go to the fellowship of Christian believers who pray with and for one another, encourage one another, hold one another accountable to the truth revealed on the pages of the Bible, and support one another in good and bad times. 

We can go to prayer in Jesus‘ Name.  

We can go to service done for others as though they were Jesus themselves. 

As we begin a new year, it’s good to remember that it is no mystery about where Jesus can be found: in Word and Sacrament and the fellowship of other Christian disciples

You don’t have to undertake a frenzied search for Him. Through the eyes of faith, Jesus can be found in these places where He promises to meet us, and, when we do, we realize that it's never Jesus Who is lost, it's us. We simply need to let Him find us. When we do, His grace and love and His power will find us too. Amen