Saturday, March 05, 2016

A moving video...

...showing Chinese Christians receiving their own Bibles for the first time. This was originally posted two years ago.


A 2014 report on CBS News. I'd never seen it until today. The still photograph at the end of the report will break your a good way. Worth your time.

Friday, March 04, 2016

In other space news

There's this.

Blackbird by The Beatles (rehearsal take)

Written by Paul McCartney as an encouragement to an imagined young black woman in the USA longing for the success of the civil rights, Blackbird remains a beautiful piece that stands on its own irrespective of context. Its words can encourage anyone.

Song for Someone by U2

I love this song. Ignore the video and listen to it. A great love song.

Ordinary Love (Live) by U2

It might feel great for him to be back on Earth

But, wouldn't it have been great if NASA had asked you to take Scott Kelly's place? His recently-completed 340-day stay will help get us ready to go to Mars. Sign me up! (Preacher in Space)

To me, the most curious element of Kelly's experience was how he experienced time.
“The only big surprise was how long a year is,” Kelly said Friday, three days after returning to Earth from the longest stint anyone has ever spent on the International Space Station. “It seemed like I’d lived there forever.” Scott’s identical twin Mark, a retired astronaut who spoke often to his brother during their nearly yearlong separation, gave a blunter account. “Every time I would say to my brother, ‘A year is going by quickly,’ he would say, ‘No, it’s not,’ ” Mark Kelly said Friday.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Reading God's Word (Part 3, Reaching Up, Reaching In, Reaching Out)

[This was shared during this evening's midweek Lenten devotional worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Psalm 1:1-3
Matthew 4:4

Have you ever thought about the title of this book?

We call it the Holy Bible.

The word holy means set apart for God’s purposes.

The word Bible comes from the Greek and means simply, book.

So the Bible is the book set apart from all other books by God to give us His Word.

Unlike other books that grow static or old-fashioned, the Bible always remains alive and relevant, always like a tweet or Instagram someone posted just this minute. “... the word of God is alive and active,” Hebrews 4:12 says.

There is actually just one thing that makes the Bible unlike any other book, the book set apart for us by God. It’s Jesus.

The whole book shows that the whole of human history, from the creation, through the call of Abraham and the life of Israel, through this very night, points to Jesus, the only One Who can save us from ourselves, from our sin and death.

We see Jesus in Genesis 3:15, where God promises a Savior Who would destroy the sin into which Adam, Eve, and the human race had just fallen.

We see it in Revelation, where the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus is affirmed as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last,” Who is returning to this fallen world and raising the dead, so that all who have believe in Him will have life with God for eternity, while those who have turned from Him will live with the eternal consequence of their choice, hell.

The Holy Spirit has guided the Church to recognize that the 66 books that make up the Bible speak God’s Word to us, pointing us to “the Word,” God the Son Jesus, as “the way, and the truth, and the life,” the only way to life with God. Martin Luther explained: “Scripture is the manger in which the Christ lies…”

The Bible is holy, set apart by God, so that you and I can know Jesus and the new life that only He can bring. John could as well have been speaking for all the Biblical writers inspired by the Holy Spirit as for himself when he wrote near the end of his gospel: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

If there were a subtitle for the Bible, it might be, Why and How to Trust Jesus for Forgiveness and Everlasting Life with God.

Reading and taking the Bible in brings life to believers in Christ. This is why Jesus cited Deuteronomy 8:3, when confronted by the devil’s temptation to turn stones to bread: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

It’s essential then, for believers in Christ to steep themselves in God’s Word, studying it both privately and with trusted Christian friends, as I know many in this congregation do.

But the Bible is sometimes hard for us to understand.

How can we study it in ways that help its message permeate our lives, inform our decisions, give us guidance and hope?

How can we hear God’s voice speaking to us through the Bible?

Pastor Mike Foss, in a book we’ll be considering in our Tuesday studies after Easter, points to a three-step process Christians have used for centuries to let God speak to them through the Bible.

First: We find a quiet place and ask God to speak to us in the words we’re about to read from the Bible. Here we seek “not information, but the transformation” of our souls. We want life-knowledge, not head-knowledge.

Second: We read the passage we’ve decided to look at, stopping when it speaks to us or at the end of the passage. In this step, we ask ourselves a few questions: What does this tell me about God or life? How does it fit with what I know about Jesus? What lesson for my life is here?

Third: We pray that God will plant the words of this passage and the lesson it gives deeply into our lives.

What if a passage doesn’t speak to you? Keep reading until you hit upon something God uses to get your attention.

If a passage doesn’t make sense, don’t worry about it. You can discuss that later with a fellow Christian, even your pastor. (I love talking with people about sections of Scripture they struggle with. I may not always have the answers, but I can struggle and pray with you.)

You may see a danger in reading the Bible like this.

What if we’re wrong about what we see in the passages we read?

This was the very reason that the Church of Martin Luther’s day was so horrified that Luther wanted laypeople to have access to the Bible in their own languages.

Pastor Foss also points to three tests to ensure that we’re reading what we see in God’s Word rightly. Here, I quote him directly:
“First, how does what you hear lift your soul up to the majesty and wonder of God in the crucified and risen Christ? If it doesn’t, it is most likely your own thinking [and not God’s]...Second, how does what you hear move you to thoughts, attitudes, and actions that fit the person and work of Jesus?...[Third] how does what you hear move you to reconciliation [with God and with others]...” 
Psalm 1:1-3 tells us: “Blessed is the one...whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season…”

In this well known passage, the law of the Lord references the Torah, the way of life laid down for us by God in His Word.

As we root ourselves in God’s Word, we grow as disciples and our growth will impact not only our own lives, but the lives of those with whom we share Christ and those for whom we pray in the name of Christ.

Breathing in God’s powerful Word, drawing life from it, is an essential element of Christian discipleship, of reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

9 Reminders for Reaching "Outsiders"

[This was shared this morning during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Acts 26:17-18
Today, I’m going to depart from the appointed lessons for the day, because yesterday, during my Quiet Time with God, God impressed something on me I feel compelled to share with you, especially in light of conversations I've had with some of you over the past week.

Yesterday, I read Acts 26, in the New Testament. In it, Luke recounts the interrogation of the apostle Paul and the witness he gave for Jesus Christ before two powerful men, Festus and King Agrippa. Acts being the first book of the Bible I read through after I came to faith in Christ when I was 22 years old, this chapter has always been a favorite. But, at the prompting of my Navigators coach, Bill, I decided to read the passage in a paraphrase/translation I don't ordinarily use for my devotions, The Message.

In Quiet Time, I ask God to show me a new truth or, at least, a truth I haven't thought of for a time in the passages I read.

Probably because of the unique spin that The Message's author, Eugene Peterson, gives, my attention yesterday morning was drawn today to Acts 26:17-18. There we read:
[In a recalled conversation, the risen and ascended Jesus meets Paul, then Saul, on the road to Damascus, speaks to Paul, a persecutor of the Church] [Jesus said;] "I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders ["Outsiders" here refers to Gentiles, non-Jews, most previously in on God's salvation plans for the human race.] present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me."
There are so many things going on in this passage that I can almost feel the synapses of my brain pinging all over the place!

But the thing that the Holy Spirit impressed on me most yesterday morning was this: I, Mark Daniels, personally need to make it my business to go to "outsiders," with the aim of offering "real living" (life with God, now and in eternity) through repentance and belief in Jesus.

I need to be Christ’s witness.

And even pastors are called to spend most of our lives outside the walls of the church and outside the fellowship of the Church, out there in the real world, where we're Christ's agents, field representatives, ambassadors.

I asked God: "Lord, how can I do this practically? Show me what I need to do to be reaching, interacting with, befriending, and conversing with the ‘outsiders,’ those who aren't yet in on the real living that comes to those who believe in Jesus?" And then I remained silent. (Do you know how hard that is for a preacher?)

Here are nine things that crossed my mind as I prayerfully considered these two questions. All of them are, I believe, rooted in God's Word, the Bible:

(1) My interaction with "outsiders" must be on their turf, not mine; where they're comfortable, not where I'm comfortable. God wants me to move outside of my "comfort zone." That's where the "outsiders" are.

Think of how Jesus did ministry. He went to notorious sinners, dined in the homes of unbelieving, extortionist tax collectors, touched lepers he met on the streets and highways, and answered the prayers of foreigners He encountered in the public square. These were all people who had been “outside” the faith, but through Him, became believers, entered into the kingdom of God.

If no one was too bad or too far from God for Jesus to go to, then how can a sinner like me think I’m too good to reach out to outsiders?

(2) These encounters must be directed by God, as we see here it was for Paul. We can neither force encounters with outsiders nor should we run away from them when we see that God is creating them. Paul did and said what the Holy Spirit led him to do and say.

(3) I must be willing to accept being weak, in the eyes of the world, in the face of some outsiders' power. This is part of playing on their turf.

In Acts 26:17-18, Paul was in chains!

But he didn't see this circumstance negating God’s call and command that he invite outsiders to new life through repentance and belief in Jesus.

Paul accepted his weakness. Paul elsewhere says that we Christians should never lament our weakness. It is is our chief asset!

In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul talks about how God refused his repeated prayers for the removal of some unspecified thorn in the flesh. He quotes God as telling him as he prayed, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ [Then Paul tells us:] Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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.”

When we are stripped of all pretense of being powerful, we can get out of God's way, people can see God and our dependene on Him in us, making our witness for Him stronger!

(4) I must have an understanding of my faith, as well as an understanding of where "outsiders" are coming from. This doesn't mean we must all go to seminary.

Thank God! In fact, I often feel that my seminary education gets in the way of my witness. Too often, we pastors go to seminary and learn what some people call religionspeak, the native language of a land where nobody lives.

What this fourth point does mean is that we must all be in a living relationship with the Lord, enforced by daily prayer, reading of Scripture, and fellowship with Christ's Church, on the one hand.

And it means, on the other hand, being a willing listener to the values, needs, aspirations, and personalities of our "outsider" friends. We must never forget that as Christians, other people are never our enemies! [Ephesians 6:12 says: "...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." The people who don't follow Jesus aren't our enemies; they're people with whom we're called to share Jesus in words and actions and love!]

(5) As alluded to earlier, I must have a sense of humor. One of the worst things that often happens to Christians is that we become too solemn. ("So heavenly minded that they're no earthly use," as the old phrase puts it.)

Paul says later in Acts 26, in verse 29, to King Agrippa that he would have the king become just as he is--a believer in Jesus--and then adds "except for these chains." (Or as The Message renders it, helping modern readers to understand that Paul is making an ironic joke, "except, of course, for this prison jewelry.")

Paul’s humor reflected his humility. He didn’t take himself seriously, only his Lord.

(6) Don't be afraid.

(7) Own past sins and mistakes. Christ came to save sinners. I need to own the fact that I'm one who needs Christ's saving!

Otherwise I'm a holier-than-thou terror like Paul had been before Jesus encountered him on the road to Damascus.

This doesn’t mean we should tell people all of our sins. God spare us the emotional striptease that often passes for openness these days.

It does mean acknowledging our imperfection.

(8) Be honest. This relates to two earlier points, forthrightness about my powerlessness and my sin.

Honesty is not as easy as it may seem. Honesty is not natural to we descendants of Adam and Eve, who hid from God and tried, without success, to conceal their rebellion.

There are some things that need to be concealed, of course, things like confidences, surprise birthday parties, Christmas gifts.

And we may all have repentance to make for revealing things that should have been kept concealed.

But sometimes we think that we have to conceal things from others that we need not conceal. Some things we may need to conceal, for example, for professional reasons, things that ought not be concealed from everyone, especially from friends.

One of the bitterest regrets of my life involved concealing something from dear friends. I thought the professional practices I had been taught at seminary should prevent me from sharing some news with them that they really needed to know. I didn't take into account the depth of our friendship.

When I finally revealed the truth to them, they were bitter, angry, and hurt that I hadn't shared with them earlier.

They were right to feel the way they did. I had allowed a human creation, a so-called "professional practice," to take precedence over the simple call to be honest with people I loved.

A lack of honesty can harm friendships and also harm our capacity to reach the outsider. Be honest.

(9) I must go wherever Jesus calls me. Paul, I'm sure didn't aspire to be in chains. But he did aspire to be faithful to God's call to proclaim Jesus wherever God sent him.

Paul was sure that his call was to go to Rome to proclaim Jesus, to invite more "outsiders" to experience real living through repentance and belief in Jesus. If that led him to being chained or killed, so be it.

Often in my own life, I've thought I needed to be "someplace else," rather than where God had put me: parties that bored me, doctors' examination tables, working on production lines in factories.

But wherever God has called me to be is the place where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I can nudge outsiders lovingly toward new and everlasting with Jesus.

I can do it by being a friend or a friendly acquaintance who is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, "ready at all times to answer anyone who asks [me] to explain the hope [I] have..." (1 Peter 3:15).

These are the nine things I sensed God telling me yesterday.

Part of my prayer then, yesterday was simple: “Help me to enact all of this in my everyday life, Lord. Show me when and where to help 'outsiders' to know and follow You.”

I pray the same thing for you today.

The #1 Cause of Divorce? (And how to thwart it)

Over on Facebook, blogging colleague and pastor Jeff Schultz linked to an article from Woman's Day which cites John Gottman, a marriage researcher, on what the number one predictor of marital breakups. According to the article, Gottman has done more than forty years of research to come to an unsurprising conclusion:
Dr. Gottman noticed a clear pattern among couples that didn't stay together, identifying what he says is the #1 predictor of divorce. Ready for it? It's contempt. Yes—as in eye-rolling, disgust-feeling, negative-thinking contempt.
It makes sense. Through the years, I've not only seen marriages end when one or both spouse develops feelings of contempt for the other, but also friendships. "I love you," I've heard spouses (or friends) tell their partners (or friends), "but after what you've done, I can't respect you."

Contempt is the result of disappointment. Sometimes disappointment is appropriate. People have failed to keep their promises or failed to work at our relationships. Sometimes disappointment is based on unfair expectations of the other person.

But I have found, when spouses (or friends) have reached a place of "I-love-you-but-have-contempt-for-you," divorce (or an end to relationship) is not inevitable.

What's needed, which the article doesn't address, of course, is an influx of repentance and grace. The only source for these things is the God we know in Jesus Christ. (That's probably why Christian couples who pray together have far lower divorce rates than the general population, by the way.)

Fortunately, God is willing to give us the power to authentically repent for our contempt-inducing behavior and to authentically forgive when we've been hurt. We let the risen and living Jesus Christ into our lives. We let Him cover our sins, amend our lives, and renew our relationships.

"...clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ," Romans 13:14 says.

And Christians are told in Colossians 3:12: "
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

When we clothe ourselves with Christ, taking Him on as our God and Savior, we clothe ourselves "with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."

This doesn't mean that we accept it when a spouse or a friend hurts us. Christians aren't to be doormats in our relationships and forgiveness isn't acceptance of the sins perpetrated against us.

Be angry and do not sin," Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us, going on to say, "do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil."

Let each other know when you have grievances and even fight about it, but do so with love, with a willingness to forgive, with a willingness to own our wrongdoing, with a desire to understand, and with a commitment to reconciliation.

The simple fact of the matter is that we imperfect, sinful human beings will disappoint each other. That's inevitable. But when, filled with God's help, we speak the truth to those we love in love (Ephesians 4:15), we thwart the devil, the sin of the world, and the sin in ourselves, forces that would prevent us from knowing the fulfillment of loving, mutual relationships, and we can grow together in love.

Despite not including the need for Christ in our marriages and friendships, the Woman's Day article is worth reading, because it gives people looking to rebuild respect in their relationships hints on how to do that. Check it out.