Saturday, July 11, 2015


The concept of "revival" is a biblical, if too often wrongly franchised, one.

To be revived is to be made alive. The Bible teaches that we are, in effect, born dead. We're born in sin, into a condition of alienation from God which means death and eternal separation from God.

It was to bring us new life that the sinless Jesus Christ bore the weight of our sin on the cross and rose from death. All who repent and entrust their lives to Him have new and everlasting life with God. For us to be raised from the dead beyond the graves we all face and for us to know life with God now, Jesus says that we must be "born from above" (or "born again") (John 3).

In other words, we need to be revived.

And the apostle Paul's open acknowledgment of the continuation of our sinful nature within our mortal frames until we die means that we need to be revived again and again. (This is what we Lutherans call, living in daily repentance and renewal.)

The author of Psalm 85:6 recognizes our need for revival and asks of God: "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?"

In 1909, James Burns identified the "laws of revival," common elements of all revival, of all coming to and being renewed in life with God. He observed these "laws" in the Bible and in history.

In a nutshell, revival has nothing to do with tents or altar calls--though God may use them within some revivals.

Revivals aren't so much events, but waves, movements of God's Holy Spirit, that sweep first through a few individuals and then whole communities and regions, sometimes whole nations.

Revival happens when people become heartsick with their own sin and come to the God Who meets us at the cross to seek forgiveness and empowerment for different kinds of lives--lives reflecting the image of God and the love and righteousness of God.

Revival doesn't begin with harsh judgments about others' sins, but with shattering realizations about our own sinfulness. And whenever the sins of others are mentioned in the prayers of someone being revived by God, that person implicates themselves in the same sins.

Revival also happens when we see the beauty and the power of Jesus' cross. We understand that His agonies were for us. He bore the condemnation we deserve. The cross is the only source of hope that those of us bound otherwise for condemnation and hell can find in this world.

Revival happens when the glory of the God we know in Jesus Christ is more important to us than our own fulfillment, happiness, or success. The person being revived recognizes that God is to be worshiped with our whole lives not because God is some insecure deity to be placated, but because the God Who made us has earned the highest praise from us for having made Himself our servant on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11). To worship and hold high the God we know in Jesus is to, maybe for the first time in our lives, see reality, ourselves, the world, and God aright.

The God we know in Jesus is worthy of our surrender because Jesus rose, just as He died, for us.

In Jesus' resurrection, revived people see the promise of God to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and we see the guarantee that all who follow Christ are part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), bound to live with Jesus forever. Who more to be praised than this amazing God?

In Jesus' resurrection, we see too, the power over life, death, and sin that only God possesses. And we know that this power has been marshaled for our good: to give life, to erase the power of death over us, to release us from  condemnation for our sin and to empower us each day, as we turn to Him in surrender, to live in accordance with His good will.

Revival is not a product of human imagination or effort. It comes from God.

Burns writes:
No revival can come from below. All attempts to create revival fail. Nor can we bring revival down, since prayer is not the cause of revival, but the human preparation for one. By prayer we prepare the soil.* 
Is there a disposition to pray for revival? Are devout men and women everywhere becoming alarmed, not for the success of the Church, but for the glory of Christ?* If not, then the night [of unbelief and turning away from God] is not far spent, a far deeper darkness is yet to come. For what would revival be, if we were not prepared for it?
Speaking for myself, I am alarmed. Not just by (or even mostly by) the sin of my nation and the world, but by the sin in me. And so, I'm praying.

I'm asking God to forgive me my sins for Jesus' sake.

I'm asking God to empower me and push me to share my faith in Christ, my life with Christ, by both words and actions, with others. Without reserve.

I'm asking God to prepare the soil of my heart for ever-deepening levels of renewal through Christ.

I'm asking God to work these same miracles in His whole Church and beyond the Church.

I'm asking God to bring revival to me, to the people I know, to the Church and to the congregations I know and love most, to my family members. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

He Reigns by the Newsboys

Despite all our (my) pretensions to the contrary, yes, He does reign, now and for all eternity.

All praise to the God we know in Jesus Christ!

You Never Let Go by Matt Redman

We need new Haugeans

Parishioners over the years have heard me speak of the Haugeans. We need their ilk today.

Here is an article about the painting and the movement that inspired it. The article is by Thomas E. Jacobson. Thanks to Eric Swensson for putting me onto it.

The Blessings of Surrender

This image for The Problem of Pain appeared on the C.S. Lewis page on Facebook yesterday. It's an incredible book, by the way.

That got me to thinking...
Surrender to Christ is the hardest thing imaginable. And the sin in me being so pervasive--born in sin, the truth is, the sin is me, sin is my default mode, this hard thing must happen new each day. Without daily repentance, renewal in Christ cannot happen. It's too easy to follow the rut of my self-centered and seemingly harmless living, wandering from the One Who made us and loves us with infinite passion...wandering from the life only Christ gives. 
Without surrender to Christ, I die, separated from God. 
With surrender to Christ, I live again, in God's company and in fellowship with the saved.

Last Night's Sunset

[Click to enlarge image.]

The sun is actually at the bottom of the picture, taken just minutes before it sank out of view. The light at the top is just the rays of the sin peaking through the dark clouds.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Only Our Hearts by Paul McCartney

Yesterday I met my daughter for dinner. Afterwards, we went to one of our favorite haunts, Half Price Books. In the CD racks I found Paul McCartney's CD, Kisses on the Bottom. The premise of the album is simple: It's an homage to the songs McCartney's parents and friends would have sung together on a New Year's Eve during the singer's youth.

These are the kinds of songs that were standards on TV variety shows and on my own dad's Stromberg-Carlson stereo when I was growing up in the late-fifties and early-sixties.

As in his 2002 collection, Run, Devil, Run, Macca's loving tribute to the rock and roll and skiffle music with which he fell in love in the fifties, Kisses on the Bottom also contains two original McCartney compositions written in the style of the music he honors. One of them is My Valentine, which features a beautiful guitar solo by Eric Clapton. Here is the other McCartney tune, Only Our Hearts.

McCartney is in exceptional voice, despite the deterioration of that once-wondrous instrument, on this track. The only concession he makes to age here is that, unlike the crooners to whom he here alludes, Macca doesn't sustain the final sung word. The oohs at the end are up to the old McCartney standards. Throughout much the album, McCartney does not sing in full voice, probably a wise decision. But here, McCartney flat out goes for it in full voice.

I love this song. It may be romantic pablum. But any man who's loved a woman knows exactly what McCartney is talking about here. So, here accompanied by Diana Krall and her ensemble, a lush orchestration, and a fetching harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder, is Paul McCartney's Only Our Hearts. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Goodbye, Johnny Beisbol?

The trade of pitcherJohnny Cueto from my beloved Cincinnati Reds seems inevitable. 
The ace's contract expires at the end of this season and he's such a great pitcher, any long-term contract will likely be out of the Reds' reach once he enters the free agent market. The trade deadline is the end of this month and I look for the Reds to seek to get something--1 solid major leaguer and two prospects seems likeliest to me--in a trade of Cueto before or shortly after the All Star Game.
I hate that it's come to this. The Reds have had a nucleus for pennant runs for several years now. Cueto as the ace of the pitching staff has been part of this nucleus. But it seems one thing or another has always gotten in the way of post-season contention: injuries, iffy middle relief, and so on. 
On top of that, Major League Baseball has been slow to adopt meaningful revenue sharing, such as exists in the NFL. The result is that the big-market teams with their big-market regional media contracts have deeper pockets and can outbid smaller-market teams like the Reds for the services of the Cuetos of the baseball world. 
I can't blame phenoms like Cueto for taking advantage of free agency, a hard-earned player right that, thanks to Curt Flood, freed players from what amounted to indentured servitude to baseball teams that paid them comparative pittances. But it surely would have been nice if the Reds could have, at some point during Cueto's tenure in Cincinnati, made a run for a pennant and beyond. 
Revenue sharing is essential for the competitiveness of major league baseball to be sustained and to cultivate deeper levels of loyalty from fan bases. Until that happens, the Reds and other small-market teams will routinely be bid out of contention for the established stars which their organizations may have developed but can't afford to keep.

By the way, vote for Cueto for the final fan-selected slot on the National League roster. His numbers commend him for the honor. There is no limit to how many votes you can cast. See here.

There We Are by James Taylor

I know that I've put this song up before, but it's so good.

My favorite lines are:
Here we are
Like children forever
Taking care of one another
While the world goes on without us,
All around us

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Freed from the lie of self-sufficiency

This photo, with its quote from Martin Luther, comes from the Facebook site, Sundries

Christians who claim not to wrestle with this reality--the reality that they want to be God over their own lives and find it hard to trust the God we know in Christ--aren't being honest--with themselves, with others, or both. 

Thank God that as we surrender to Christ, Who knows everything about us anyway, acknowledging all our wrongs and neediness, we experience His healing and empowerment for living. 

He comes to us when we are sad and empty and defeated and teaches us, day to day, to trust in Him alone.

This is both a hard and essential lesson for us to learn, even harder to learn when we're not feeling sad, empty, or defeated...when we're happy, full, and on top of the world.

But we need Christ whether we're feeling defeated or we're deluded in thinking that somehow we are "like God," able to, in Luther's phrase, "take matters into our own hands."

It's hard learning that we are not and can not be God, the captains of our own fates. And this only becomes a deeper reality once we come to follow Christ.

In this connection, I always think of the risen Jesus' words to Peter in John 21:18-19:

"Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
These words, it seems to me, has application to every Christian. To accept Jesus' invitation to follow Him means to submit to the crucifixion of every sinful presumption of control, self-sufficiency, or sovereignty, ceding it to the One Who made us and Who bore our sins painfully on the cross, then rose from the dead, so that all who will die to sin and self-centeredness will be raised by God to new life that starts here and will be perfected in eternity when we see God face to face.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it well: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."

It's only through the crucifixion of our egotism and pretended self-sufficiency that we can be born from above--again and again with each new revelation of the depths of our human presumption, each new crucifixion of the old self, each rising of the new self--as children of God, filled not with what this dying world can give but will inevitably take away, but with the life that only God can give.

It's the life that He only gives to those who live repentantly, that is in repeatedly, daily, moment by moment, turning FROM sin and TO Christ and a life with God, a life which is only possible through Christ.

Sunny Skies by James Taylor

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Only One by James Taylor

You've Got a Friend by James Taylor

You Can Close Your Eyes by James Taylor

Anywhere Like Heaven by James Taylor

The gifts of grace and weakness

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, earlier today.]

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Skepticism is a big part of life in the world these days. Some skepticism is warranted. The world, human beings and human technology aren't all-powerful. This is a lesson we seem to have over-learned in this country. Back in the 1950s, public opinion surveys consistently showed that Americans, by overwhelming majorities, believed that their government would never lie to them. After Vietnam and Watergate, those results have consistently been nearly reversed, with many Americans believing that their government always lies to them. Neither one of these extreme positions is true, of course.

We should sometimes be skeptical sometimes precisely because human beings and the things human beings create are far from perfect. 

But I wonder: Don’t we Christians, the people who know Jesus Christ best, often have similar skepticism or wariness about the power of the God we know in Jesus? Don't we sometimes suffer from a certain kind of skepticism which is really faithlessness?

If we do, it’s not unprecedented. 

In our gospel lesson for today, Mark 6:1-13, Jesus, Who in the previous five chapters of Mark’s gospel has done many miracles and signs, could do no deeds of power because of the skepticism and unbelief of the people in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. 

Underscoring this theme of skepticism warring with faith, all four of the gospels say that just after Jesus, God in the flesh, had died on the cross, His closest followers doubted that Jesus could be risen from the dead. 

Skepticism, faith-robbing skepticism, then is a problem even for believers and has been from the beginning.

In our second Bible lesson for today, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, the apostle Paul, the first century evangelist, is dealing with Christians who are skeptical about the power of the Jesus and the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in Jesus--the Gospel--that Paul proclaims. 

Instead of the real Gospel or the real Jesus, they hanker for “happy talk” preachers who promise that following Jesus will mean that their lives in this world will be peaches and cream. 

Shortly before Paul wrote to the Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth, the Corinthian church had been wowed by some preachers who convinced them that if the power of the God made known to the world through Jesus was really working in them, then their lives would be problem-free. They would have success, victories, and no illness. Paul sarcastically labeled these happy talk preachers, super-apostles. (They were preachers who pretended to be Supermen, but never Clark Kents.)

Now, it is true that Christ gives His Church, among other ministries, the power to bring God’s help to people, including, sometimes, healing. 

But no physical healing lasts indefinitely. This world is imperfect and, unless you and I are among those Christians living on earth when Jesus returns, death will come to us all. 

“So, in the face of these realities, where is the power of God and what good is your preaching?” the Corinthians want to know from Paul.

Their questions were pointed because, unlike the preachers who had wowed them, Paul was a less than impressive figure. Paul was brilliant, but a preacher who could drone on forever. (You'll remember that in Acts 20, a young man named Eutychus, sitting in a second-storey window while listening to Paul preach, fell asleep after the sermon had gone on for some time. After falling asleep, Eutychus fell from the window to his death on the ground below. Fortunately, God used Paul to bring the young man back to life. Nonetheless, Paul could be a droner.) Despite being an apostle, Paul had to scratch out a living as a tentmaker. He wasn’t what the world would call a success. His resume as a Christian preacher included being arrested and flogged, shipwrecked and beaten, mocked, chased out of several towns, and jailed. Today, people would label him a loser.

But this loser Paul has a message for those who question the authenticity of his message about Jesus Christ and question his authority to share it. 

Wary of being a braggart, Paul uses the third person to describe a personal experience he’d had years earlier. Verse 2: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”

Paul had an amazing experience of heaven. But, Paul says, that experience, awesome as it was, did not prove Jesus’ power over sin and death and it didn’t prove Paul’s authority to tell others about Jesus. God's power, Paul shows us today, is most readily seen in two other ways. 

The first way is in God's grace

The second way is in our weakness.

Grace is God’s charity, God’s willingness to accept the repentant who entrust their sins and their entire lives to Jesus Christ alone. 

Grace doesn’t paper over or ignore our sins. It forgives them and it welcomes those who are willing to turn from sin and believe in Christ into eternal fellowship with God. 

God doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before we have life with Him. Life with Him is a free gift for all who have faith in Christ. As Paul puts it in Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That's grace.

The super apostles who had wowed the Corinthian Christians said that, “If there’s something wrong in your life—some illness, adversity, heartbreak, poverty, or struggle—it proves that you’re faithless.” They said that Paul’s troubles proved that he was faithless. 

People say things like this today. Some of them have TV shows and books on the bestseller lists. They don’t understand grace!

Having the grace of God that comes only from Jesus Christ in our lives doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect; it means, rather, that we will still have God’s grace even when things are not perfect

In verse 7 of our lesson, Paul says, “ order to keep me from becoming conceited [by all the amazing things God had shown to him and done through him], I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” 

We have no idea what Paul's thorn in the flesh was. It may have been an illness, an incessant temptation, a psychological disturbance, a relationship problem, a lack of money. We don’t know. But three times, Paul says, he had asked God in prayer to remove the thorn. And three times the answer came back (verse 9), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

God refused to bring Paul the relief Paul sought, telling Paul that His grace was all Paul really needed. God refused to remove the thorn so that Paul would remember that.

Everybody here this morning knows what it is to experience thorns in the flesh. They’re the problems and heartaches that bedevil us and seem never to go completely away. They drive us to our knees and there, before God, we learn that all of the things we thought we needed—health, money, connections, the big house, the respect of others, happiness—are nice, but they're not what we need the most. What we really need is the life-giving grace of God given through Jesus Christ. God's tough, incessant, faithful grace is the first thing that proves the power of Jesus Christ.

This leads to the second thing that proves the power of Jesus Christ: our weakness. Listen: God gives those humble enough to admit their weakness the strength they need for living

Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

You were with a loved one as they were dying and you knew that on your own, you couldn’t do all that you needed to do, but, with God’s help, you did it. 

You had to undergo one more round of medical treatments, one more battery of tests, and you knew that you just couldn’t take it, but with Jesus by your side, you did. 

In order to graduate or be certified, you had to pass a class for which you knew you had no talent or ability and, after prayer in Jesus’ Name, God helped you study and to learn what you needed to learn to pass. 

To pay your bills, you had to work double shifts for which you knew you didn’t have the energy, yet God’s Spirit filled you with the needed energy. 

In each case, you called out to the God we know in Jesus Christ and confessed, “Lord, I can’t.” And in each case, God told you, “I know that you can’t. But My power belongs only to those wise enough and faithful enough to know they need it."

This was exactly what Paul experienced when he had asked God to remove the unidentified thorn in his flesh. “I’m not taking this adversity away,” God told Paul. “You’re not going to go around it. You’re going to have to go through it, leaning on My power and learning to lean on My power more and more each day.”

Why did God tell Paul this? Why does God sometimes tell us the very same thing?

Because, God says in verse 9: “ power is made perfect in weakness.” 

God’s power is seen only in people who admit that they’re powerless without Jesus Christ. When we own our weakness and seek Christ’s help, we can face anything

We acknowledge our weakness, our emptiness, and the God we know in Christ fills it up with His power and His grace. God’s power surges into us. 

Paul writes in verse 10: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

“I didn’t know if I could ever be whole again,” a woman told me years after her husband had died. There were dark days, pain interspersed with lifeless numbness. But there were things to be done—children to be raised, bills to be paid, errands to be run. “I was sure that I just couldn’t do it,” she said. But in the midst of it all, she prayed and learned what Paul underscores in today’s lesson.

Through Jesus Christ, God demonstrates His power by giving grace to the needy—and that’s all of us—and strength to the weak—that, too, is all of us. 

If you’re feeling weak or powerless today, that’s a great sign! It means you’re seeing life clearly. You’re able to give up on relying on yourself and able to depend on Jesus Christ alone. 
Contrary to a popular saying, the Lord does not help those who help themselves; the Lord helps those who admit that they need the Lord’s help. Call out to the God we meet in the crucified and risen Jesus and let God the Holy Spirit fill you with strength you can’t generate on your own.

Life in this world does not always make sense nor does God promise us that it will be easy. But God's Word shows us that we can do all things--go through all circumstances of life--through the only One Who can strengthen us. Our strong God stands at the ready to give us grace and strength in all circumstances. If we will override our skepticism and let Him do so, God will see us through everything in His power...and do so all the way to eternity. Amen