Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Shamrock West Hummingbird Bar and Grill is Now Open for 2016 Business

The new feeder is a top-fill, which I really like.

Don't know if there have been any patrons yet.

Cause Wagon

When I visited a member of the congregation at a local hospital on Wednesday, I saw a reasonably late-model minivan covered with stickers advocating all sorts of causes.

Tomorrow's Prayer of the Day

Tomorrow, we continue our series on Understanding Revelation. Here's the Prayer of the Day, which we'll pray together:
Almighty God, whether people know Your name or not, we all are each born with a yearning for the shelter of Your grace, mercy, and love. We thank You that in Christ, You have made Yourself known to us and, that by grace through faith in Christ, You shelter us from eternal imprisonment to sin and death. We pray that Your Holy Spirit will sustain us in saving faith in Christ, so that we may live with You for eternity. We pray that by the power of the same Spirit, You will help us to share Christ with others so that they too, can know Your shelter in their lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Plan on worshiping at a church near you tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paul Ryan's Decision...and a (likely pointless) Proposal to Change How Candidates Are Nominated

[The following is a pointless diversion.]

House Speaker Paul Ryan emphatically said that he is not a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination today.

It's funny though, that some pundits are still sniffing around for some clue in the statement indicating that his arm could still be twisted.

I think Ryan can be taken at his word for the simple reason that for GOP House members facing contested elections this fall, there will be a felt need to distance themselves from the likely Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Ryan seems intent on developing a House Republican platform separate from what a Trump or Cruz-dominated Republican convention is likely to produce, allowing GOP candidates for the lower chamber to argue, "The Trump (or the Cruz) platform isn't what we believe," thus improving their chances of winning.

Ryan's inspiration for a separate Republican House platform that candidates could run on across the country is likely the Contract with America, the set of pledges GOP House candidates under the leadership of Newt Gingrich ran on in 1994.

That year was the first midterm contest of Bill Clinton's presidency and many feel that the Contract was so compelling that it gave the Republicans control of the House of Representatives.

If the Contract is Ryan's inspiration (or just the "port in the storm" to which he's clinging for dear life), the analogy between 2016 and 1994 is almost non-existent.

Built in to every midterm election is a predisposition of voters to turn to the party opposing the incumbent president as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction.

Also, Republican candidates for the House will be forced, if Ryan intends to create an agenda separate from the party's official platform, to do a contortionist's dance, claiming the same party identification as the presidential nominee, repudiating that nominee's policies, and courting Trump or Cruz supporters, all at the same time. Lots of luck with that!

But more interesting to me than Ryan's decision not to run and what it might mean is something else he said in his statement:
"I simply believe that if you want to be the nominee for our party – to be the president – you should actually run for it."

There's a whole tradition in American presidential politics of turning to candidates who weren't actually seeking the office. It's rare, I'll grant. And it hasn't always produced the best presidents. But there have been a few really inspired choices.

Take, for example, the country's first (and arguably, greatest) president, George Washington. Washington was a dutiful man who, when he was young hungered for "fame," a term that then meant much more than wanting to be a reality TV store so that everyone will know your name and that you can market perfumes or clothes under your brand. Fame in Washington's Day was all about living a life of brave nobility and useful service to their fellow citizens.

But by the time America prepared to elect its first president, Washington had had as much of fame as any person could expect. He had led the United States in the Revolutionary War, hailed as a transcendent hero. Then, the general walked away from the offer of supreme dictatorial power over the newly independent country, an act that caused King George III to declare Washington "the greatest man in the world."

After retiring to Mount Vernon, Washington became concerned about how the increasingly fragmented states, operating under the anemic Articles of Confederation, was at risk of losing both its independence and liberty. He knew that a strong central government was needed. And so, despite wanting to stay clear of politics, Washington enlisted in the cause to establish a new framework for US governance, what became the Constitution.

Washington didn't want to be chief executive of the new nation. But, he had no ability to resist. He couldn't avoid taking the office. History shows that his was a magnificent, precedent-setting two terms.

I would argue that if we could find some genuinely reluctant person with a proven track record of leadership, someone who didn't campaign in 2016 and didn't ache to be president, that person might be a far better president than some of the choices we are being given right now.

And such a person wouldn't have to come from the professional political class, the military, or the business world, the three realms from which we tend to draw our presidents.

Donald Trump complains these days about needing to collect a majority of delegates to his party's convention, 1237, in order to be nominated.

But in much of presidential nominating convention history, candidates had to collect two-thirds of the delegate votes. This often caused protracted convention balloting.
  • Lincoln was nominated by the Republicans in 1860, on the third ballot.  
  • John William Davis was nominated by the Democrats to run against President Calvin Coolidge on the 103rd ballot. Sixty candidates were nominated for the presidency. (The Democrats wouldn't have stood a chance against Coolidge that year. So don't think that the large numbers of ballots somehow "weakened" Davis' chances.)
  • Franklin Roosevelt was nominated by the Democrats on the fourth ballot in his first run for the presidency in 1932.
The process by which delegates are selected to participate in the national conventions is arcane in both parties, varying from state to state. Trump and other candidates have a legitimate beef with that. But "them's the rules" that Trump and all the other candidates began with and with which they must live.

In the future, I'd like to see national conventions maintained, and not as the sorts of Politburo rubber stamps of the arcane process that we usually get every four years or as partisan pep rallies. This process usually yields safe, sanitized, boring, and platitude-filled festivals of self-congratulation designed to sell the American voter on their nominee as the true object of their heart's desire.

To fix the current process, why not dust off an old proposal? Hold five or six regional primaries every presidential season. They would occur over a period of two months, compressing the process, but making it long enough to give candidates the once-over. There would then be a one-month long general election campaign.

This approach would accomplish several things:
  • First, it would de-emphasize the peculiarities of individual states. For example, most states aren't interested in ethanol. Iowa, sight of the first presidential caucuses, is. But candidates who oppose or are indifferent to ethanol can get badly beaten in Iowa and hurt their future chances.
  • Second, regional primaries would nonetheless elevate the concerns of whole regions, such as the restoration of manufacturing jobs and new job opportunities here in the Midwest.
  • Third, because the candidates would be overtly campaigning over a period of several months, you could still find the development of "momentum" that would allow candidates to secure nominations on the first ballots of their conventions, something that's become routine in recent decades.
  • Fourth, you would avoid campaigns needing massive sums of money at the start, which is exactly what would be needed if you had a single national primary. Someone like Bernie Sanders, who is giving Hillary Clinton a more spirited campaign than most would have imagined possible, would have almost no chance at gaining traction if there were a single national primary day. (He has almost no chance as it is, given how the Democratic National Committee has so clearly tried stacking the deck in Clinton's favor this pre-convention season.)
  • Fifth, by affording the delegates and candidates to influence and compromise in light of developments after the last regional primary takes place, the conventions would retain their meaning. But there would be no superdelegates or the GOP equivalents. Delegates, all democratically elected, would then democratically nominate a candidate, even if that candidate wasn't delegates' or voters' first choices, even if the nominee hadn't run that year.
And electing someone who didn't run for the office could be a great thing!

Often, candidates with "fire in their bellies," a consuming covetousness toward the presidency, can't be trusted once in office. Kennedy and Nixon were both dirty tricksters who stained the presidency. So did Lyndon Johnson.

The framers of the Constitution, of course, never anticipated a process in which people outside the aristocracy would have much say in who became president.

But they had a healthy view of human nature; they understood that there are very few George Washingtons around, unquestioned and trustworthy people of integrity. That's why they established an extensive system of checks and balances in our government, someone somewhere almost always in place to keep the worst excesses of other government officials in check.

They also anticipated that the president would be someone who had established a positive reputation of integrity, success in some field, success in leading people toward a common goal, and knowledge of the laws, traditions, and principles of democracy. And when these leaders, some of whom were electors in America's first presidential election, considered who to vote for, they did so for the guy who wasn't running.

Contrary to the words of Paul Ryan today, I think that America would be well served if we thought outside the box and, whether in the regional primary idea I resurrect here or at a national convention, parties felt free to nominate candidates for the presidency who don't salivate for the office and who are neither venal, corrupt, nor disturbingly authoritarian.

The best way to get that possibility, I think, is to thoroughly democratize the election of convention delegates, continue requiring that nominees have a majority of delegate votes, and hold conventions that are allowed to be democratic enough, after determining that the candidates who've been running can't win a general election or couldn't be trusted to adhere to the Constitution or laws of this country, to turn to someone else.

A process like the one outlined above could result in someone more like Lincoln than Richard Nixon...and the country would be much better for it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Future is in Christ's Hands (Understanding Revelation, Part 2)

Revelation 5:1-14

Last Sunday, we began a five-part series called Understanding Revelation. Near the end of last week's message, I told you, “We can trust in Jesus no matter what.”

Today, we’re going to look at what God revealed to John to assure him and us that we can trust Jesus, even though before this world ends and even though in the course of our own lives, many horrific things are bound to happen.

The universe undergoes cosmic convulsions of evil even as God’s people, the Church, go about our business of making disciples and being His kingdom and His priests, His ambassadors to a dying world offering the only way to life: the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

God reveals this fact to John and through John, to us, so that we will never lose heart. In the end, God wins. And so do those who surrender their lives to Christ.

The first three chapters of Revelation recount the messages Jesus revealed to John for seven churches in Asia Minor, a place we know as Turkey today.

In the fourth chapter, the scene changes.

As he worships, John finds himself swept up into the heavenly throne room. There, God the Father sits on His throne, receiving the praises of four living creatures, who represent all of God’s creation praising and surrendering to God.

Whenever these creatures begin to praise God, twenty-four elders place their crowns at God’s feet, representing the total surrender of the human race, even the most powerful members of the human race, to God.

Angels and elders together, John saw, were praising God: “‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” [Revelation 4:11].

Nobody and nothing besides this God, heaven is saying, is worthy of our surrender, our praiseThat’s important to remember as we shift to Revelation 5, where today’s second lesson is found.

Take a look, please, starting at Revelation 5:1. John is the writer: “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’”

In ancient times, kings and other officials would seal important or secret documents with wax or clay into which they would press their signets.

The scroll held in God’s right hand contained information on seven evils that will befall (and, I should add, have befallen and are befalling) this world before the day when Jesus returns and fully establishes the new heaven and new earth, the place that will be inhabited by His Church, the people who turn from sin and persist in trusting in Him for life with God.

A mighty angel asks who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and reveal its content to believers. If brute strength were what was required to break the seals, the mighty angel could have taken care of the job. But the question isn’t strength; the question is worthiness.

Listen: When we face problems in our lives, we often try to power our ways through.

Relationship issues? Our inclination is to either push to get our way or to give up.

Health or fitness? Our impulse is to rely on our willpower (which usually gives out) or to resign ourselves to whatever.

When we try to face life’s challenges or to unravel the meaning behind them with our own strength, or intellect, or willpower, we come up empty, no matter what the supposed self-made or self-made women of the world claim.

But you and I don’t have to go it alone in dealing with the challenges of life. God is more than able and willing to help us every step of the way!

Who, the mighty angel asks, is worthy of breaking the seals on the scroll? Take a look at what comes next, starting at verse 3: “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’”

The “Lion of Judah, the Root of David” is the one Who, in earthly terms, became David’s descendant, born in David’s city of Bethlehem, Whose earthly parents were descendants of David, Mary and Joseph. It was from this family tree that the Old Testament said that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would come.

In Isaiah 11:1 and 10, written nearly eight-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, we’re told that a descendant of David’s father Jesse would be the world’s saving king:

  • “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” 
  • “...the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him…” 

Because Jesus has triumphed, one of the elders tells John, he can stop his weeping, and Jesus can open the seals. Jesus is the only One Who can open up the future to us.

Next comes a few verses with strange imagery. (As if what we've already read isn't strange, right?) Verse 6: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.”

You’ve got to keep your mind nimble here!

A slain Lamb doesn’t, on the face of it, seem like one who has triumphed. The world might call Him a loser. (A term we seem to be hearing thrown around a lot this year.)

But the Lion of Judah is also the Lamb. The Lion is the King of the jungle. A Lamb is weak and submissive. This is the paradox of Jesus that drives the world crazy when it comes to receiving Jesus.

How can the Lamb who was slain help anyone?

By bearing our sin for us on the cross.

By having the strength to bear the punishment we deserved and He didn’t.

“Look,” John the Baptist said of Jesus when he saw Jesus near the banks of the Jordan, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” [John 1:29]

In the end, it’s only the Lion Who is the Lamb Who can help us!

Read on, please: “The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” All we need to know here is that seven is the number of completeness. There is nothing that needs added to or taken away from Jesus for Him to be all that He is. He is perfect. He’s worthy of our worship.

Read again, starting at verse 7: "He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp [I really wish they had guitars instead!] and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people [Now you know why our Roman Catholic friends use incense in worship, symbolizing their worship and prayers ascending to God in heaven.]. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’”

The worship and praise Jesus receives in God’s heavenly throne room looks a lot like the praises given earlier to God the Father.

That’s because Jesus is God.

When we trust in Jesus, we have direct access to God. We don’t need sigils, horoscopes, or Ouija boards. Through Jesus, we know that we don't need to do good works to get God's attention.*  All we must do is turn to Him trustingly, repentantly!

Whatever the future holds--whatever is revealed in the seven scrolls that Jesus alone is worthy to break open--we who trust in Christ belong to God.

God’s Word to ancient Israel is true as well to those who make up His Church, people who believe in Christ: “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” [Isaiah 49:16].

Even when we forget God, He never forgets us.

Even when we sin, He never forgets His love for us, and when we truly repent, He never fails to forgive us and restore our relationship with Him.

Even when we walk away from God, He tells us through Christ: “Return to Me, and I will return to you” [Zechariah 1:3].

Jesus is worthy to break the seals on the scroll because He died and rose for us. “You were slain,” the worshipers say, “and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Through His blood, Jesus has purchased us out of our slavery to sin and death and He has given us life. If He can do that--if He can set sinners free, if He can breathe new life into dead bones--then the Lamb of God can also give all who trust in Him the power to face whatever this life throws at us!

Do you trust in Him today? He can be trusted!

So, four take-aways from Revelation today.

  • God is still reigning, still in control, even when it seems that the devil, the world, and our sinful selves have pushed Him off His throne. The present is in His hand. There’s no valley He can’t take you through, no sin of yours He can’t forgive. 
  • Jesus is God the Son. The future is in His hand. Jesus, the Lamb of God, can make every part of your life new. 
  • We who believe in Jesus are His kingdom and His priests. As His priests, we to tell the world the good news of new life for all who turn from sin and trust in Him as their God and King. As priests, we also to pray for the world, including the people who hate us, the people we find difficult, and the situations that seem hopeless. 
  • In all things, in all ways, at all times, we are to worship the God we know in Jesus. Not just on Sunday mornings, but at work, at school, at leisure. We worship God whenever we choose to love God and love neighbor even when we don’t want to. When we choose to seek and follow the will of God, rather than doing what we want to do.

Maybe you thought Revelation was just about some grim future we must endure. The truth is that it’s really about trusting in Jesus Christ here and now no matter what because we know that He’s already triumphed over evil and He truly is the Lord of the universe. Amen

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

*Of course, the person saved by God's grace (God's charity) through their faith in Jesus Christ will want to do good works--works of love for God and love for neighbor--out of gratitude for God's grace which saves us from sin and death. In fact, God has already prepared good works for the saved person to do in His name and power. Check out Ephesians 2:8-10.