Saturday, March 12, 2016

It's Only Love by The Beatles

On the Escalating Violence at One Candidate's Campaign Rallies

[I hope that this won't be construed as a "political" post. I am not here advocating any policy position. I am talking about leadership and civility. And I feel that because the candidate in question has said he is a Christian, it's fair to point out how that should impact his approach to things.]

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by an assassin.

The streets of America's cities were restive.

Bobby Kennedy was campaigning in Indiana's Democratic primary and was in Indianapolis on the night of King's death.

Kennedy, who was highly popular among African-Americans, was in an African-American community and broke the news to a crowd to which he was speaking.

He reminded people that King had been an advocate of peaceful change and that, while understanding their rage, because he had lost his own brother to an assassin's bullet and had felt rage, he insisted that they must follow King's example.

He urged the crowd to remain at peace and to keep working for change politically.

While violence erupted in other American cities that night, Indianapolis remained peaceful.

I've always remembered that story because it's a vivid example of the impact that leaders can have on those they lead.

I think of that story again tonight. Kennedy risked a lot in asking the aggrieved to refrain from the kind of violence to which King and their people had long been subjected.

But in America, leaders, even as they often reflect and amplify the grievances of those they lead and represent, are bound by love of their country and its Constitution (and if they are, as they profess, Christians, by love of God and neighbor) to peacefully represent those grievances in the political process, not legitimize punching opponents in the face.

Every individual is responsible for their own actions, of course.

But when political leaders observe that their rhetoric seems to give their followers permission to be violent, they need to lead by pointing out that the political process isn't about violence. It's about persuasion, debate, and the vote.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Obama on Academic Freedom

A guy I know over on Facebook posted this video from Now This News. It's from a speech President Obama gave last September. The president makes a good statement to which I think all Americans should be able to agree.

What's interesting to remember by way of background is that as a student in law school, Obama adhered to these principles, inviting people of all points of view--conservative and liberal and so on--to contribute to the prestigious law school journal he edited. (For details on that, I suggest you read The Bridge by David Remnick.)

Obama: We Shouldn't "Coddle" College Students
Obama thinks college students are too "coddled" sometimes
Posted by NowThis Election on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Mike" Scaparrotti, a Great Nomination by President Obama

President Obama has made a great decision in nominating General Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti to serve as NATO commander.

General Scaparrotti is a son of Logan, Ohio and of St. Matthew Lutheran Church there, where I served as pastor for six years.

He is a great man of integrity, the kind of leader who never asks those he leads to do things he doesn't. He's smart, wise, and humble.

This is a great appointment.

Loving Imperfect People

Love this. God loves we imperfect people so much that He stepped into our world in the person of Jesus, who died to erase the power of imperfection (sin) and death over us, then rose from the dead, so that all who turn from sin and entrust themselves to Jesus as God have life with God that never ends.

If God can forgive our imperfections, He can also empower us to forgive them in others...and in ourselves. Forgiveness is not approval of wrong, it's acceptance of the wrongdoer. God is so good!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Letting Christ Shine (Part 4, Reaching Up, Reaching In, Reaching Out)

[This is the fourth midweek Lenten devotional message prepared to be shared this evening with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Micah 6:8
Matthew 28:19-20

In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus says: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

In these words, Jesus tells us something very important about being a disciple: We cannot be stealth Christians.

We’ve been saved by God’s grace through our faith in Christ not only for our own eternal salvation, but also so that we can be His light for others, so that others can know the life with God that only Jesus Christ can give. In 1 Peter 2:9, the apostle Peter tells believers that we have become God’s people so “that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light…”

The greatest tragedy in the world today is that Christians, who have the light of the gospel--the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus, often decide not to live out our faith so that others can see the Lord Who saves us.

In His illustration about a lamp being put under a bowl, Jesus is intimating that the tragedy that ensues from Christians failing to live out their faith publicly is twofold.

The first part of the tragedy is that others who need Christ don’t meet Jesus through us. Eternity is denied to people by Christians who fail to show Jesus to them.

The second part of the tragedy is that the light of faith within us is put out. Christian faith that isn’t shared is faith in danger of dying. Keeping our faith in the open feeds our faith in the same way that oxygen feeds a flame, allowing it to keep giving light to a room.

Above all, I think that Jesus wants us to know that faith is not a private matter. Our lives are to be turned outward to a world in need of the God we know in Christ.

This is how it has always been with God. In Micah 6:8, God’s ancient people were told: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Faith in Christ is something to be shared in how we treat people, how we serve people, and the way we stand for justice not for ourselves, but for others.

Jesus never spoke a word to His accusers in His own defense. But He always spoke and acted in defense of others, even the most despised sinners.

Disciples of Jesus reach out to others with acts of love and compassion. They fight for the well being and the eternal lives of their neighbors.

Reaching out has another dimension, of course. We’re to tell others about Christ. A few moments ago, we heard Matthew 28:19-20. It contains what we call the great commission, Jesus’ command that we make disciples. We are to cast the light of Jesus on others so that they can believe in Him and so, live with God too.

The book of Acts in the New Testament tells us that after a man named Stephen became the first Christian killed for his faith in Christ, a general persecution of the church began in Jerusalem. The apostles stayed in Jerusalem, but the rest of the Church scattered, reaching out to others with the Good News of Jesus as they did.

We’re told about a layperson, Philip, who went, oddly enough to Samaritans, people his fellow Jews hated, and shared Christ with them. While Philip busily made disciples among the Samaritans, God sent him to an Ethiopian, the treasurer for a queen. Philip explained the Good News of Jesus to him. The Ethiopian came to believe in Jesus. And at a pool of water, Philip baptized the man.

The moral of that true story is simple: It isn’t just the Church as an entity that’s to be about reaching out to make disciples, it’s each of us as believers in Jesus who are to be about this mission! As one author has put it, both churches and individual Christians need to be "missional."

Before we close, I want to say two things about the reaching out aspect of discipleship that I feel must be underscored.

The first is this: Reaching out is not about the institutional survival of the Church. I’ve heard of some Christians who tell their pastors, “We’d better get more people in here or this church will die.”

Now, we are blessed to be part of a spiritually-thriving and financially strong congregation.

But frankly, I don’t think Jesus cares about whether the human institutions we associate with church survive or thrive.

When Jesus thinks of the Church, He doesn’t think of buildings or altars, candles or building funds. For Jesus, the Church is the people who follow Him. Period.

We don’t reach out to others for the sake of building up the numbers or assets of our local congregations. We reach out to be obedient to our Lord and to be used as the Holy Spirit’s instruments in building up the Kingdom of God.

The second thing I feel the need to underscore is this: Reaching out doesn’t just happen through programs of the institutional Church. The church often unintentionally lays guilt, for example, on the parents of young children or of teens, by seeming to insinuate that if they aren’t involved in mission trips, or soup kitchens, or other outreach programs, they’re not being faithful to Jesus’ command that we reach out to others in His name.

But when commanding us to reach out, Jesus never said, “Come to church functions and make disciples.” Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples.”

Parents who are discipling their children to follow Jesus are reaching out. They’re reaching out to their kids. The church should be hailing such parents as heroes, not making them feel guilty.

As another example, people who offer to pray in the name of Jesus with and for co-workers or classmates going through tough times are engaged in very impactful reaching out, even if they don’t do these things with a church group.

Reaching up and reaching in, elements of Christian discipleship that happen often among Christ’s family, the Church, are vital for us. But reaching out is something every Christian is called to do on their own, with the Church fellowship AND on our own beyond the walls of the Church.

For some, reaching out will mean going to Haiti, Chevy Chase, India, or being involved with Upward. And we should all thank God for people involved in such ministries and support them through our prayers and our dollars. But we should also celebrate those disciples among us who are sharing their faith and their prayers with family members, friends, coworkers, and classmates.

Reaching out is not about programs of the church; it’s about passion for those who are hurting and for those who will be lost for eternity without faith in Jesus Christ.

However we reach out in Jesus’ name, we fulfill our call as disciples.

You, Christians, are Christ’s light to the world. However you feel called to let it shine, never hide it. Reach out so that the world--your world--will know the God Who so loved it and all the people in it, that He gave His only Son so that all who entrust their lives to Him by faith will have life with God for eternity. Amen

Prayer for the Centerville Business Community

[This prayer was offered at the start of today's Mayor's Business Appreciation Breakfast sponsored by the city of Centerville, Ohio, held at The Golf Club at Yankee Trace. There are more than 700 businesses that call Centerville home.]

Mighty God and King, thank You for the people in this room who have used the brains, the ability, the drive to be one’s best, and the willingness to innovate and to try that You have given to them as they have established businesses, created opportunities, and improved the life of this community. Bless them with insight and wisdom and the faith to follow where You lead them and their businesses. We thank You for the food we’re about to eat and we thank You for the people who prepared it all. Use this food and our time together this morning to strengthen us to serve You and our neighbors with dedication and heart. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Sunday, March 06, 2016

A Different Point of View

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

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
A young woman, who had become a mom after many of her friends had, once spoke up in a Bible study about how she had once looked critically at the parenting of others. She said: “I would see and hear children--babies being fussy when they hadn’t slept or were hungry, or older children who seemed to make nuisances of themselves--and I’d think, ‘If I were a parent, those kinds of things wouldn’t happen.’ But now that I’m a mom of a kindergartener and a toddler, I don’t think things like that.”

After becoming a mom herself, that woman could hardly look at other moms in the same ways she had previously.

New moms or new dads (or people who have been new moms or new dads) know all about the transformation in perspective that woman underwent.

In fact, any of us who undergoes a new experience--newly wed, newly relocated, newly moved up one grade or to a new school, newly hired--knows about it too. When new things come along in our lives, it impacts the ways we look at the world. We are changed.

When we have a relationship with the God we know in Jesus Christ--when we are “in Him,” trust in Him as our King and Lord and God--we look at things differently than the rest of the world does.

Jesus says that being His will also change the ways we look at others. We don’t excuse their sins or bad behaviors, any more than the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son excused the sins of either of his sons. But we are prepared to look at people differently, prepared to offer love and forgiveness.

Like the father in Jesus’ parable--like God when he looks at you and me--we who have been made eternally new through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, can look at others with “grace-colored glasses.”

In another of His famous parables--the one about the final judgment in Matthew 25, the king who stands in for Jesus in the story tells believers astounded that they’ve been counted worthy to live in God’s eternal kingdom:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger without a place to stay, the poor without clothing, the sick, the believers in Christ doing time for their faith], you did for me.” 
The people in Jesus’ parable are so “in Christ,” so dependent on Him, and so in sync with Him, that they can’t even remember doing any of this good. They did good not because they decided to “do good,” but because the King (Christ) lived through Him, they viewed people differently, and His good simply sprang to the surface of their daily lives.

This truth--of how Christ makes believers new and causes them to see and serve the world in ways they wouldn’t or couldn’t on their own--lay behind Paul’s words in today’s second lesson, 2 Corinthians 5:16-20.

Paul had founded the first century Corinthian church. But since he had gone on to preach the gospel and start new congregations elsewhere, other preachers had come to Corinth.

These new preachers were flashier, more eloquent, and more impressive than Paul. Paul wasn’t a scintillating speaker; he could drone on for hours. In fact, you'll remember that in the book of Acts, we're told that one night, Paul preached for hours in second-storey room. As he went on and on, a young man named Eutychus, who was sitting by an open window, dozed off, and fell out the window to the ground and to his death. (Fortunately, God used Paul to bring the boy back to life. Otherwise, the long-winded sermon would have been a complete disaster!) So, Paul could be a bit boring.

And while the new preachers in Corinth looked successful, Paul talked about and lived a life of self-sacrifice, eking out an income as a tentmaker wherever he went.

If the new preachers in Corinth were combinations of Matthew McConaughey and James Earl Jones, Paul was Don Knotts.

As the marketing people would say, Paul’s optics were all wrong.

The upshot was that, while the new preachers enabled the Corinthians into all manner of sin--adultery (sexual relations by married persons with other people), fornication (sexual relations among people who had not committed their relationships to God in marriage), and selfishness (wealthy Christians refusing to share with fellow Christian disciples who were poor), Paul could get nowhere when he called the Corinthian Christians to repent and return to submission to Christ and the will of God. He simply didn’t have the same appeal as the new preachers.

That’s why Paul begins our second lesson at verse 16, with these words: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

The phrase translated here as from a worldly point of view is literally in the Greek in which Paul composed his letter kata sarx, according to the flesh.

Flesh, as Paul uses it here, refers to the world’s sinful way of looking at things. The world had looked at Jesus of Nazareth, a poor son of a fix-it man in Galilee, and, despite the things He taught that accorded with God’s Word in the Old Testament and the signs He performed, found Him contemptible, worthy of execution on a cross. They killed God the Son.

They looked at Jesus “from a worldly point of view.” Jesus wasn’t the king people were looking for, just as Paul would later not be the kind of preacher many in the Corinthian church were looking for.

Paul is saying, Before the crucified and risen Jesus Christ came into our lives, we saw things differently. We saw people different from ourselves and we either judged or hurt or ignored them. We saw the poor, the weak, or the despised and concluded that they were lazy. We saw those without faith and concluded that they were bad people.

But, Paul is telling them, we are not of this world any more! For us to accept the lordship of Jesus over our lives meant that we had to first accept that we are sinners in need of rescue, that we can’t rescue ourselves from the punishment of death we deserve, that we are unrighteous and only those who surrender their lives to Christ can be made righteous by God. Our old worldly ways of living and of looking at life are through! We love others because, despite our unworthiness, God has loved us and save us from sin, death, and the grave because of all that Christ has done for us and our surrender to--our belief in--Christ alone.

“So, why,” Paul implicitly asks, “are you looking at me like something that the cat dragged in? Don’t you remember that I am a redeemed, baptized child of God?”

Paul had been, you remember, an enemy of the church, a snake in the grass. But the grace of God given in Jesus Christ had literally blinded Paul one day on a road to Damascus, and once his eyesight was restored, he saw everything differently.

In the bargain, God gave Paul a new mission. Verse 18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The word translated here as reconciled was, as Paul dictated it, katallasso, meaning changed to the exact point. When Christ lives in us and we are part of His new creation that will live eternally, as opposed to the old creation that will die eternally, our point of view, our perception of reality is changed. The scales of sin and prejudice and pretense drop from our eyes and, imperfectly in this world, we begin to see people and life as God sees them.

God frees us to stop looking down on people, but instead look at them in love.

God frees us to stop demeaning ourselves, whatever our circumstances, and to see ourselves for what we are: people made in the image of God who God counted worthy enough to go to a cross and tomb and hell to set us free from sin and death and give us life with Him.

By grace, all who believe in Jesus are given the righteousness of Jesus, made right with God for eternity.

Our point of view is changed, by this, to the exact point of righteousness from which God looks at us: with self-sacrificing love, passion, forgiveness.

But God doesn’t impose this new life on us. God won’t force any of us to be part of His new creation.

It’s God’s desire to give His new creation to those who want Him, who want Jesus, more than they want anything else.

That’s why God sends people like Paul, people who may be unimpressive in the eyes of the world but with whom, in our own neediness, sin, and imperfection, we can identify. It's through imperfect people like Paul that God makes His appeal to us and to the world.

“We implore you on Christ’s behalf,” Paul says. “Be reconciled to God.”

That word implore means beg.

Folks: God ain’t too proud to beg.

God begs us to be reconciled to Him, just as the father in today’s Gospel lesson begged the elder son to lay aside his worldly way of looking at things, to repent for his sins of superiority and smugness, and to humbly, gratefully, and joyfully enter the celebration over the return of his formerly sin-lost brother.

And God wants to use us, just as he used Paul, to beg the people in our lives, to be reconciled with Jesus and so to have new and everlasting life with God.

When we dare to look at the world through the eyes of the God we know in Jesus Christ, we see a whole world to love and beg into relationship with the One Who has made us part of His new creation.

As we close, let me ask you to consider doing four things this week.

First, think of someone who annoys you or with whom you’ve had a falling out.

Second, ask God to help you to see that person as He sees them, in need of His love, made in His image, maybe in need of the Gospel.

Third, ask God for the opportunity to live differently toward that person: to be as compassionate and caring toward them as Jesus is toward you.

Fourth, if this person doesn't have a relationship with Jesus Christ, pray for the chance to one day, as an ambassador for Christ to that person, beg them in Jesus’ name, to be reconciled to the King Who changes everything for those who follow Him.

Four things.

Please prayerfully consider them.


When I Look at the World by U2

I've had this song in my head and playing on my computer all day long.

It fits perfectly with tomorrow's second Bible lesson, which I'll be talking about during worship, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. I even thought of playing this video during worship. But it would be a bit too long and not leave time to do the passage justice.

In the passage, Paul talks about how being "in Christ," in relationship with Jesus, empowers us to see people and the whole world differently, through the eyes of Christ. I find that this transformation of perspective is far from complete in me. (I know that it will never be complete on this side of the grave as the old Mark still daily battles with the new Mark. That transformation will only be perfected after I have been raised with all the other dead in Christ.)

Like Bono though, I pray that God will help me to feel and see things more like He does.

I aspire to pray with sincerity each day the same petition offered by the late Bob Pierce: "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

Frequently, I confess to God the frustration I feel with myself, as Bono does at the end of the song: "Tell me, tell me, what do you see? / Tell me, tell me, what's wrong with me?"

"Change my heart, make it ever true / Change my heart, O God / May I be like You / You are the Potter / I am the clay / Mold me and make me / This is what I pray."