Saturday, October 17, 2015

It's about who I am, not what I do

Today, I share what Jesus taught me during my time with Him this morning. I'm using the "Stop. Look. Listen. Respond." format for my time with Christ. That's explained here. Below is what happened during the look and listen portions today. I leave out the stop and respond, which I keep between Jesus and me. The passage where I met Jesus today is Luke 10.
LOOK: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)

LISTEN: I have always heard this as an admonition to not be taken with the power You give to believers, but to instead be grateful that we have been saved by grace through faith in You. And I believe that it’s still part of what You tell us.

But I now think I see You saying even more. The disciples were taken with what they could do (in Your power), but You told them to be taken with what they are (children of God, by Your grace).

You acknowledge the power that they exerted over Satan and his dark kingdom (“I saw Satan falling…”), but even these deeds of power wrought in Your name won’t endure. You have conquered and will conquer Satan and his demons. But, on Your return, there will come an absolute end to them. All that will endure is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all whose names are written in the book of life by faith in Christ, and the angels who have stood with You. That’s the greatest wonder.

Both these things--wonders done in Your name and believers’ names being written in the book of life--are Your doing. But whenever we believers are the instruments of Your power and grace, we fall prey to the temptation of believing that we are doing something, when in fact it’s You doing something through us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

It’s possible also for the spirits to be subject to us--I think of those who weren’t Your followers who invoked Your name to work deeds of power--and still not have our names written in the book of life.

This is a haunting thought for a pastor who has exercised the office of Word and Sacrament. It’s possible to “handle the holy” as Pastor Schein used to remind us and still be far from You. God, protect me from this egotism. “Don’t be amazed by the positive feedback you receive for the sermons that I inspire,” You say, “be amazed that You have eternal life through Me.”

This applies to my personal life too. “Don’t be amazed that people value the deeds of friendship I do through You. Be amazed that by grace through faith in Me, a faith created by the Holy Spirit within you (1 Corinthians 12:3), You belong to Me.”

Be amazed always by Your grace, not by the things Your grace empowers us to do, despite ourselves!

Other incidents in Luke 10 seem to underscore this theme. The man set upon by thieves did nothing to ensure his rescue and healing. They were wrought by a good Samaritan who acted as nothing more than Your agent. And Mary chose the better part precisely because, at the moment Jesus was in her home, she lived as the grateful recipient of His Word, while Martha did so much that she failed to listen to the Word that, as it did its saving work, could ensure that her name was written in the book of life.

Stop, look, listen, and respond indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bono: Grace versus karma

Thanks to my son for putting me onto this article.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No, this really happened

A Kansas man tried to contain a trash fire in a way that will make you wonder, "What was he thinking?"

Thanks to Jeff Schultz for linking to this critical news story over on Facebook.

'5 Ways to Protect Yourself' from 'Pathological Liars'

These strategies may protect us from pathological liars, but there seems to be no way to prevent them from lying to us short of refusing them access to us to lie. Changes can happen in the behaviors of pathological liars under pressure from the Holy Spirit, for which we pray in Christ's name.

I've found it best when forced to deal with such people to keep my distance. But when that's impossible, I to try to only speak with them when there is one other trustworthy person present. That way, there is a witness to possible later lies.

From the article:
Some individuals have developed skill in lying to others and have no fear or regret in engaged in lying to a Judge, police officer, therapist, psychiatrist, family member, spouse, supervisor, etc. They can also present as very calm or charming, provide appropriate eye contact, maintain norming breathing rhythms, be personable or friendly, and have calm body language. These individuals certainly fit the description of a sociopath and can be very dangerous for society and the lives of those who are in relation to them in some form or fashion.
I have learned that such persons, while rare, can be found in almost any institution, including the Church. They elude responsibility for bad actions or inaction, while portraying themselves as open, caring people. They're experts at deflecting responsibility for their actions, even when they bear clear responsibility for them. This can make their lies all the more damaging, because of the credibility credulous people may assign to charming liars who misuse others' goodwill.

Private confrontation, if bringing unsuccessful resolution to the lying pattern, should be followed by confrontation with a third and objective individual witness present. And if that confrontation is unsuccessful, it should be followed by confrontation in the presence of the affected group. All of this is designed to get the pathological liar or pathologically irresponsible person to a place of accountability and to gain a healed, recovering relationship with others. It is precisely the strategy for conflict resolution Christ gives to His Church in Matthew 18:15-20.

If failure to bring acknowledgment or a desire to change on the part of the pathological liar happens, more drastic action will be needed.

Pathological lying threatens any group--from the family to the congregation, from friendship to the nation--threatens any institution in which it happens.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Meaning of Your Life

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio. The church will relocate its offices, worship center, and activity space to Centerville, Ohio in 2016, the first Sunday there scheduled to be on January 10, 2016.]

Mark 10:17-22
Today, I want to talk with you about why you exist, why you were born in this time and in this place, your purpose for living. 

Scripture is clear that God has an intimate hand in the formation and birth of every human being, no matter the circumstances of their conception. With King David, we can confess to God, “ created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made...” (Psalm 139:13-14). 

And this God Who forms us in our mothers' wombs also has a purpose for these lives He has created. 

This purpose is no mystery, even though we may sometimes forget it or try to evade it. 

Forgetting or evading it can destroy our souls, our relationships with God and others, and our lives. 

Forgetting or evading God’s purpose for our lives can do this no matter how many of the world’s markers of success we may possess or enjoy. 

Last winter, I saw an interview with Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer about a book that had changed his life

Meyer had great success as the coach at the University of Florida, where he won two national championships. 

But then, Meyer’s life started going wrong. He had chest pains one night, certain that he was having a heart attack, and was taken to a hospital ER. His self-diagnosis turned out to be wrong. 

Soon though, he announced that he was retiring from the game, only to reverse himself a short time later. 

Then, came the period when, by many accounts, Meyer “lost” his team, no longer able to communicate, work with, or motivate them as he had. Meyer did retire then, taking a job as an analyst with ESPN, but without any clear understanding of how he might spend the rest of his life.

He spent a year doing that and really had no plans to return to coaching, when a friend recommended that he read a book called Lead...for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership

I've recently read the book. It tells the story of a high school football coach who, like Meyer at Florida, has “lost” his team. He’s stressed, losing his family because of his obsession with winning at all costs, and incapable of enjoying even the victories that had once meant everything to him. 

You can understand why Urban Meyer resonated with this book. Like the fictional coach in Lead...for God’s Sake!, Meyer realized that he had forgotten his whole reason for coaching. In the chase for championships, he had even forgotten his whole reason for living. 

Fortunately, blessedly, this book helped him rediscover those things and he felt that he could take his dream job at Ohio State.

Our Gospel lesson for today tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a man who had forgotten his purpose in life. 

It’s a familiar passage, Mark 10:17-22. It begins: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

It’s an interesting question for two reasons. First of all, it indicates that here is a man of action. He wants eternal life, apparently. He deems it preferable to a life separated from God in hell. So, he asks Jesus, “What must I do?” This is a man whose focus is on doing, performing, getting to the top. He lives like a human doing rather than a human being. 

His question is also interesting because he thinks there’s something that he can do to inherit eternal life. The question is no different from what a modern person of similar position might ask his accountant, “What must I do to decrease my tax liability?” This man who has fallen to his knees before Jesus lives with the delusion that everything, even eternal life, is about doing the deal.

Jesus knows teachable moments, though. 

Verse 18: “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” In essence, Jesus is telling the man that whether he knew it or not, he was confessing that Jesus is God. By His rhetorical question, Jesus does nothing to refute the assertion. 

But Jesus has much more to teach. He meets the man where he is, mired in thinking that he could or needed to earn God’s favor. Verse 19: “You know the commandments [Jesus tells the man]: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 

Here, Jesus references what we Lutherans call “the second table” of the Ten Commandments, the section that gives us God’s will for our relationships with others. As an explication of the command not to steal, Jesus also says we shouldn’t defraud others.

The man must have felt that he had met all the requirements for eternal life because he says to Jesus--was it with pride, relief, or triumph?--in verse 20: “Teacher,...all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 

We’re then told in verse 21 that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Those words can sometimes bring tears to my eyes. Jesus looked at this man--this dealmaker, this conqueror of the world--who, in his desire for eternal life, placed his confidence in himself and his good works--and Jesus loved him the way a parent loves an errant child. 

Jesus knew that this earnest man truly wanted to be with God. 

But he thought that his life with God and the meaning and purpose of the life God had given to him, could be captured, slaved for, worked at, claimed as a personal achievement. 

Jesus felt compassion for this man who could, with a straight face, claim that whether in his heart, mind, or actions, he had obeyed God’s commandments and so had earned eternal life. I don’t know of a single human being who could honestly make that claim, including me.

Jesus saw the obstruction between this man and the life with God he wanted. Jesus saw that this man’s understanding of his purpose in life was the same claimed by a bumper sticker popular a few years back: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” 

Jesus continues in verse 21: “‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” 

Let’s be clear here. Jesus is not saying that having wealth is inherently bad. There are many example in Biblical history of wealthy people who followed God: Abraham, Job, Nicodemus, Lydia, Joseph of Arimathea, and others. 

Nor is Jesus saying that everyone who’s wealthy needs to get rid of everything, give it to the poor, and live like paupers, any more than the call to be Jesus’ disciples means that everyone who follows Him has to go to seminary and become pastors. (Thank God!)

It means that when the earthly pursuits of our lives become our whole purpose for living, we need to dramatically change our relationship with those pursuits

When those pursuits become so consuming that we forget the reason we’re alive, things need to change

In the case for the rich young man, Jesus knew that nothing less than the total separation of the man from his money would allow him to follow Christ by faith into a purposeful life with God on earth and life with God in eternity

What earthly pursuits might we have to give up in order to follow Christ? 

Or, with what earthly pursuits must we change our relationship in order to have life with God? 

The things that keep us from following Christ might be, on their face, good things like being a good parent, moving ahead in our careers, keeping a beautiful garden, or coaching a basketball team or a football team. 

When the central character in Lead...for God’s Sake! understands his purpose in life, he doesn’t sense that God is calling him to stop coaching, but to change the purpose for which he coaches. 

And, after Urban Meyer went through his year of soul-searching, he didn’t feel that God was telling him to leave the football sidelines behind. 

In the past, I have erroneously thought that following Jesus meant making Him our number one “priority.” You know, like in a list reading: Jesus, family, friends, country, and so on. I've even preached this.

But what I now realize is this: Jesus doesn’t want to be our highest priority; He wants to be our God and King and Savior

He wants to be at the center of how we pursue every priority in life, be it making a living, raising children, getting an education, or enjoying the company of friends. 

He wants us to pursue the purpose of our lives, whatever we do and He makes clear in today’s Gospel lesson that whatever we do that keeps us from pursuing our life’s purpose must be changed.

Now, I’m not being coy. I haven’t mentioned the purpose of our lives until now because every one of you knows what it is. 

The purpose of every human life--and the road to eternity--is to know, follow, honor, and share the God we meet in Jesus Christ with our whole lives

Jesus summarizes these purposes for our lives in what we know as the Great Commandment: to love God and to love others; the Great Commission: to teach others about life with God belonging to all who turn from sin and follow Christ and making disciples; and His new commandment: that we love fellow believers with the same self-sacrificing love with which Christ has loved us. 

Jesus invites us to follow and to be transformed by His grace not so that we can learn what we have to do to earn eternal life, but so that, changed and changing over into His image as we fellowship with Him, we will live out the true meaning of our lives.

Along the way, we may become wealthy or earn wins or raise great kids, and, like the rest of the human race, we may have poverty, losses, and troubled children. 

But at the center of a life lived with its intended meaning and purpose will be the God we know Jesus Christ, the God Who made us, saves those who trust in Christ from sin and death, and gives us the only reason worth getting up for in the morning. 

And that reason is simple: To live as human beings certain of our purpose in this life and certain that on the cross, Christ has done everything to give us eternal life with God

Follow Jesus wherever you go and you will live out God’s purpose for your life. Amen