Saturday, May 16, 2015

'A 30 Second Argument for God'

Robin Schumacher makes a thirty-second argument for the existence of God:
  1. I exist.
  2. If I exist, something must have always existed because you don’t get something from nothing.
  3. There are only two choices for an eternal ‘something’: (a) The universe; (b) God.
  4. The universe is not eternal.
  5. Therefore, God exists.
Read the whole thing. Thanks to colleague Pastor Dave Mann for sharing this over on Facebook.

Saturday This and That

These are some of the things that caught my eye this past week.

Ever wonder what that extra shoelace hole is for?
It isn't just for show.

Are fountain pens the next big thing?
In A Primer on Fountain Pens, Brett and Kate McKay share the writing instrument's history and tell us why, at times, they should be our instrument of choice for writing. Somehow, I don't see the fountain pen taking off as a fad.

Denzel Washington's recommended number 1 priority for college graduates...
...put God first.

Letter to JetBlue...
...from the grateful mother of an autistic child.

"How is it that really, really smart people can come to believe really, really stupid things?"...
...The revered journalist, Seymour Hersh, seems to have been looking for the "big story" for decades and, in the process, produced some embarrassments, including his just released story alleging that Osama bin Laden's death was less of an American achievement than a Pakistani government gift. Marc Ambinder suggests that, in his long journalistic career, Hersh has often been right on facts, but often way off when taking about motive, leading him to believe crazy things.

The US is "less Christian"... says a new study.

But the sky is not falling...
...So shows Ed Stetzer.

The US restaurant business is stagnant...
...because millennials don't go to restaurants as much as preceding generations did. One factor that might explain this, not mentioned in the article, is the plethora of cooking shows. Cooking has become fun and hip, whereas in previous generations regarded it as a necessity and a chore. So, millennials might actually prefer eating their own cooking at home.

$179.3-million is no abstraction...
...That's how much Picasso's Women of Algiers brought in at an auction this past week.

Has the decline of baseball...
...corresponded with the decline of American character?

Hillary would, if he weren't a competitor, likely advise Jeb to watch out for questions...
...Clinton has only answered eight from the media since her campaign began, preferring to take questions from folks at town meetings. On the other hand, Bush's most challenging questions have come from "ordinary" voters, not the media, and as he answers them, seems to get himself into increasingly deeper waters. I wrote here:
While it may be in a candidate's interest to speak to the press, Clinton isn't legally bound to do so. If she wants to reach the public with town hall meetings, advertising, conventional campaigning, and social media releases, that's her choice. But it's likely to backfire on her...
Now, Bush seems to be showing us that answering any question from anybody can produce its own backfires.

While I recognize that there's a good chance that anyone who runs for president is either (a) filled with megalomania or (b) racked by feelings of inferiority, I nonetheless feel badly about the meat grinding analysis and tedious verbal parsing to which all candidates for the country's highest office are subjected.

A legend has died...
...B.B. King passed on Thursday. Love this article about him from USA Today.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Thrill is Gone (Live) by B.B. King

An incredible voice teamed with a distinct guitar style in B.B. King. In this, his biggest hit, King gives full vent to the blues' unique capacity to express world-weariness. Yet in the interviews he granted, King never seemed wearied by the world or his stardom, only grateful.

The first time I remember hearing of King was when he made an appearance at a prison on the Phil Donahue Show back in the 60s or 70s. I was a punk kid, home from school for some reason. His performance was riveting and like Johnny Cash, he seemed to speak straight to the hearts and experiences of the inmates. I was spellbound.

God bless all who mourn King's passing.

You Can Close Your Eyes by James Taylor

Love this song. And Taylor was in fantastic voice here.

U2's Newest Tour Dates Should Be Amazing

The first show of U2's new tour has happened in Vancouver. This review from Rolling Stone is one of several I've read and it looks like whoever goes will have a wonderful time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Giancarlo Stanton Drives a Homer Out of Dodger Stadium

During yesterday's game between his Marlins and the Dodgers at LA. The ball was hit, we're told, 475 feet at a rate of 114 mph. Yowza!

What We Can Do for Nepal...

...First, we need to pray.

  • Pray for those whose loved ones have died, that God will comfort them.
  • Pray for those engaged in rescue, that they will be able to get to survivors amid the rubble of the latest earthquake.
  • Pray for the efforts of relief agencies, that God will give them access and success in reaching those impacted by these two earthquakes.
  • Pray for the people of Nepal as they attempt to rebuild their lives and their buildings.
  • Pray that, as Nepalese people receive the compassion and care of those who claim Jesus as Lord, they will be drawn to Jesus, the way and the truth and the life.

Second, we can give to relief efforts.

The North American Lutheran Church (NALC) had already joined hands with five different agencies that are working in Nepal. This past Saturday, as NALC representatives from Ohio met, our worship offering was designated for Nepalese relief.

Here is a link to the NALC page on Nepal. Here are the four agencies to which you might consider donating money:

Lutheran World Relief (USA)
Lutheran World Relief (Canada)
Samaritan's Purse
World Missions International
World Mission Prayer League

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why Does God Command Us to Love Him?

To put it simply, God doesn’t need our loveWhile speaking to the people in the marketplace in first century Athens, the apostle Paul noted: "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”  
God doesn’t need for us to love Him. God isn’t some self-absorbed egomaniac needing constant reassurance that He’s the apple of our eyes. God has all the love He could ever need or ever want within Himself, the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
The New Testament tells us that, “God is love,” which doesn’t mean that God is some abstraction called love. It means that love informs every aspect of God's character and personality. Love is the motive behind everything God does--including judgment and discipline, including giving us the freedom to walk away from Him, including the cross and the empty tomb. 
Out of an extravagance of love, though He didn’t need to do it, God gave us life and made us in His image. 
The Old Testament says that we are the apple of God’s eye, the object of His passion and commitment and concern. That’s why, after humanity fell into sin, God set to work to save us from our sin--to save us from ourselves--and to save us from the death we deserve by becoming one of us in Jesus Christ, then dying and rising, so that all who repent and believe in Christ have life with God that begins now in this imperfect world and is “brought to perfection in the world to come.”  
The fact is that God commands us to love Him not because He needs to be loved by us, but because we need to love Him. 
When we love God, we simply acknowledge the reality that He is God and we aren’t, that He made us and that our lives are completely in His hands. We acknowledge that all of life is a gift from Him. And with gratitude, we acknowledge the depths of His passion for us, a passion that led Him to submit to suffering and death on the cross for us. 

Keep praying...

...and let God decide how to answer. Don't edit your communications with God. He sees what you're feeling and thinking anyway. Lift your concerns to him with abandon, honesty, and submissiveness.

Don't worry whether what you pray for is "important enough" for God's attention. If they're important to us, God simply wants us to invite Him into those situations that concern us.

Don't worry whether the request is "appropriate" or not. God will sort that out for us. In time, on His schedule, God will, as needed, correct and respond to the requests of those who seek Him.

In his classic on Prayer, Ole Hallesby writes:
...prayer is ordained for the purpose of glorifying the name of God. Therefore, whether you pray for big things or for little things, say to God, "If it will glorify Thy name, then grant my prayer and help me. But it it will not glorify Thy name, then let me remain in my predicament. And give me power to glorify Thy name in the situation in which I find myself."


Thanks to Duane Rhodes, the Woo Guy, for sharing this on Facebook.

The Church: Called and Powered to Say "Yes" to Christ's Command (How to Be the Church, Part 5)

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio, this past Sunday.]

Acts 10:34-48
Christian martyrdom is in the news. Over the past several months, with increasing frequency, we have seen reports about the murder, or martyrdom, of believers in Jesus, executed for no other reason than that they believed in the crucified and risen Jesus as their God and Savior.

Some of the Greek words from which we get our English word martyr include the verb martureo, meaning I witness, and the Greek nouns martus, which describes a person who gives witness, and marturia, the word that means, roughly, the witness’ testimony.

None of these words carries any association with persecution or death. The Greek words, in themselves, are completely neutral. In the Greek, a martyr was simply someone who told you about something that had happened.

But a martyr, as we use the term in English, is someone who loses his or her life for their faith.

The reason for the transformation of this benign set of terms--words meaning witness, testimony, and so on--is simple: To be a witness for Jesus Christ--to be a faithful disciple who tells others about Christ, to be a faithful Christian church that proclaims Jesus Christ to be “the way and the truth and the life” and the only way to God--such faithful witnessing will often incur the opposition, even the death sentence, of a sinful, fallen, dying world.

Many witnesses for Christ lose their earthly lives because they confess Jesus as God in the flesh Who forgives the sins of the repentant and gives everlasting life with God to those who surrender their lives and wills to Jesus Christ.

Penn State historian Philip Jenkins has demonstrated, over the past several years, that Christianity is the fastest growing movement of any kind in the world.* That’s encouraging.

But at the same time that this trend of growth has been evidenced, the murder of Christians, the burning of churches, and the depth of hostility toward Christian faith has also been increasing.

This is nothing new. The Church has always experienced its greatest growth in faith and growth in numbers at precisely the moments it has had the greatest number of martyrs.

Last week, our lesson from the book of Acts told us about how disciples like Philip witnessed for Christ in countries foreign to Judea where He, Jesus, and Jesus’ first followers had grown up. Philip witnessed in foreign nations because persecution in Judea and its capital city of Jerusalem had forced Christians like him to flee to other places.

Persecution and martyrdom are always tragedies, but it should never surprise us as Christians when these things happen. In about 60 AD, the apostle Peter told Christians facing persecution in Asia Minor--what is today Turkey--in 1 Peter 4:12-13: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

The Church is composed of disciples, followers of Jesus Christ.

Followers of Jesus Christ are witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And being a witness for Christ is a rock-bottom, non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His Church: “ will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “If you feel like it, you can be My witnesses.”

He doesn’t say, “If you think you have the gift of evangelism or if you’re confident in your knowledge of the Bible, you can say a good word for Me.”

He doesn’t say, “If it doesn’t entail the risk of being thought weird for standing up for My Lordship or by God’s commandments, you can be My witnesses.”

Jesus says, “You will be My witnesses.” That's a command.

The only question for Christians is whether we will be witnesses for Jesus even when the world hates us for it or will we remain silent and so be silently complicit in the eternal deaths of those who need to hear our witness for Christ?

Fortunately, we don’t have to operate in our own power as Christ’s witnesses. In that same verse, Acts 1:8, Jesus promises Christians: “ will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”

When the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ followers fifty days after His resurrection, ten days after He had ascended to heaven, on Pentecost, the Church was born and it was empowered by God to be Jesus’ witnesses.

Folks, the Holy Spirit hasn’t gone out of business.

And, if in His power, we dare to witness for Jesus, we will fulfill the one and only mission Jesus has given us as His people: We will make disciples.

Of course, in order to tap into the Holy Spirit’s power and to be witnesses for Christ, God allows us to cheat. In fact He commands it. He commands us to pray.

Philippians 4:6 tells us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

One of the most lamentable aspects of contemporary Christian life in North America is that we spend so much precious time on having anxious thoughts and engaging in anxious conversation over the state of the world and how nobody in the world is interested in Christ.

Time spent bellyaching is time that could be better spent obeying the command of God’s word by praying to God for the power to fulfill our mission as Christ’s witnesses and then, by the power of the Spirit, actually being Christ’s witnesses. (I'm trying to remember this each day myself.)

We see the power of prayer to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit in our first lesson for this morning, Acts 10:34-48.

These verses tell a portion of the story of the coming together of the apostle Peter and his fellow Christians with the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household.

If you’ve been watching the NBC miniseries, AD, you know that they’ve decided to name Pilate’s second-in-command Cornelius and I suspect that they’re going to make that fictional Cornelius and the Cornelius of our lesson one and the same. That’s a little dramatic license and, I suppose, is harmless.

But what we know of the real Cornelius, as told to us by the Bible, is that he commanded a cohort of Roman soldiers--a cohort being about 480 men--who occupied the city of Caesarea, part of the Roman army which kept the Holy Land under Rome’s conquering thumb. Caesarea, founded by Herod the Great, was a kind of bailiwick of evil and idolatry. (Think Las Vegas without any of its virtues.)

Yet in this city with so much evil, a foreigner who had been taught to worship many gods, had come to believe in the God of the Jews. Cornelius, like the Ethiopian eunuch of last week’s lesson, was a God-fearer, a Gentile who believed that the God of the universe was the one and only God of all creation.

Listen: Faith in God can grow even in the most hostile and unlikely of environments.

God can work the miracle of faith in willing hearts, wherever those hearts may be, from Paris to Springboro, from Riyadh to Centerville.

But God had decided that Cornelius should come to know Him, as can only happen through Jesus Christ. God wanted Cornelius to hear a witness for the Lordship of Jesus and so have the chance to believe in Jesus and receive eternal salvation.

So, as Cornelius prayed, God told him to send for a man who turned out to be the apostle Peter so that Cornelius and his family could repent and believe in Jesus and so have eternal life. At the same time, Peter prayed and God told him to do something no Jew would ever have thought of doing. He was to enter the home of a Gentile. Then he was to give witness for Jesus Christ.

When Peter did give witness for Jesus Cornelius and his family came to saving faith in Christ, they were converted.

But another conversion took place at that moment, the conversion of Peter from a man who thought that Jesus belonged only to the Jews. Look at our first lesson, starting at Acts 10:34: “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’”

And when the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentiles and empowered them to share their newly minted faith in Christ in languages other than their own, we’re told starting in verse 46: “Then Peter said, ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

  • To be the Church is to be Christ’s witnesses. 
  • To be Christ’s witnesses entails risk. There is no choice for us as the Church or as individual disciples of Christ: If we claim the salvation from sin and death that God freely offers to all who repent and believe in Christ, we will be His witnesses. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we sign on also to be His witnesses. 
  • But God doesn’t expect us to be Christ’s witnesses in our own power. He gives us the Holy Spirit and He gives us the words we need to tell others about Jesus. 
  • And God lets His Church cheat: He lets us pray and tap into the Spirit’s power again and again. 

Some people in today’s North American churches are pessimistic and defeatist. They think that our world has sunk too far into the morass of sin and death to ever listen to our witness for Christ.

At a time when Israel’s great leader Moses had fallen into such thinking, God asked Moses: “Is the Lord’s arm too short?,” meaning, “Is there any circumstance so dark or horrible that it’s beyond My reach or beyond My capacity to transform.”

If the God we know in Jesus Christ can reach a one-time atheist like me and transform him from an enemy of God to a child of God, from one damned to hell to one saved for eternity, God can use our witness for Christ to bring His salvation to anyone.

The rabid atheist.

The indifferent humanist.

The wounded teenager.

The prodigal daughter or son.

The Roman centurion.

The Isis fighter.

The Muslim.

The Buddhist.

Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to liberate people like these from their darkness and to usher them into the light of His love and never ending life, through faith in Him alone.

He wants all to hear our witness for Him so that, like Cornelius and his family, they may turn from the sin and death of this world and come to eternal life in Him.

Jesus says to His people, to all of us who confess Him as Lord, “You will be My witnesses.”

And He seeks the Church’s simple reply, “Yes, Lord, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, no matter what dangers or opposition may face us, it is Your witnesses that we want to be and it is Your witnesses that we will be.” Amen

*The two works in which Jenkins demonstrates this are cited in Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan. Here is a link to Philip Jenkins' Author's Page at Amazon.