Saturday, May 07, 2016

A Prayer for Victims of Fort McMurray Wildfires

Creator God, we know that Your creation groans under the weight of human sin and that trouble is part of life on this earth. We also know You to be the God of healing and help. Bring Your healing and help to the people of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, reeling from wildfires that have destroyed many lives, homes, memories, essential services, and ways of life. Grant that those who have been impacted by this disaster will know Your help and healing. Bless and keep safe those involved in rescue and recovery efforts there. Use this tragedy to draw the lost to Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. In Jesus' name. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

General Scaparrotti Takes NATO Command

Mike Scaparrotti, who grew up in Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I pastored for six years, is a great leader and a fine man.

Saint Matthew, Logan, and the Scaparrotti family are justly proud of him!

Despite misinformed talk from the campaign trail this year, NATO and other similar alliances and arrangements remain important not just or even primarily for others' security, but for the security of the people of the United States. General Scaparrotti is a wonderful choice for this command.

Please keep him in your prayers, asking God to give him wisdom and safety. Please also pray for his wife Cindy, who is a great person in her own right.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Friday, May 06, 2016

Good News!

"You make me want to be a better man"

There are people who come into our lives who make us feel this way.

Sometimes, we are so confounding for them, so frustrating and infuriating, that we never get the chance to tell them how they make us want to be better people.

Nor do they see what effect they have on our characters, our actions, our thought processes.

I've had people like this in my life. They've never seen how God has used them to call me to repent and how, as the Holy Spirit sent by Christ uses them, calls my attention to the examples of their character, integrity, and honesty, and how God's Spirit is slowly changing me.

This is dedicated to people who have made me and make me want to be a better man.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Thursday, May 05, 2016

How God is Speaking to This Recovering Sin Addict

I try to start each day in a quiet time with God. I use the "Stop, look, listen, respond" method for meeting with God each day.

As explained here, I stop, look, listen, and respond in order to interact with God before I "hit the bricks" of everyday life.

A few days ago, I looked at Matthew 16:5-12. This is The Message translation, an rendering of Scripture I'm using right now in order to break open truths from God that I may have previously missed because the renderings of other translations have become so familiar to me that I miss out on God's Word for me. Here's what I read:
On their way to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring along bread. In the meantime, Jesus said to them, “Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.”

Thinking he was scolding them for forgetting bread, they discussed in whispers what to do. Jesus knew what they were doing and said, “Why all these worried whispers about forgetting the bread? Runt believers! Haven’t you caught on yet? Don’t you remember the five loaves of bread and the five thousand people, and how many baskets of fragments you picked up? Or the seven loaves that fed four thousand, and how many baskets of leftovers you collected? Haven’t you realized yet that bread isn’t the problem? The problem is yeast, Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.” Then they got it: that he wasn’t concerned about eating, but teaching—the Pharisee-Sadducee kind of teaching.
As I looked into the passage, God underscored important truth for me. This is what I wrote in my journal:
The disciples realize that they've forgotten to take bread as they travel across the lake. Jesus gives a cryptic warning about avoiding the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees," two religious sects who dominate first century Judea's life. The disciples think that Jesus is chastising them for not bringing bread. 
But Jesus asks if they don't remember how He'd fed the 5000 and the 4000 miraculously. 
Bread isn't the issue. Jesus can provide daily bread. 
The problem Jesus is warning the disciples to avoid is in approaching the questions of daily life--like bread--in the same way as Pharisees and Sadducees. Their worldview was me-centered, not God-centered. They even thought of righteousness as their achievement. 
But everything comes from God. 
"Remember," Jesus is saying, "I provide bread without you doing a thing. The religious leaders commend a righteousness of their own making, detached from Me or dependence on God. Be different from them! 
How different we are to be is shown in Matthew 16:24-27. We're to embrace Christ and His cross; that's where life is, not in "the world's bread." Jesus is the bread we need.
Next, I listened for God to tell me what I needed to know and apply from this truth that day.

God has never spoken to me in an audible voice, though I have sometimes heard His whispers in my soul and felt His touch on my shoulders when I'm on my knees in prayer.

But since the Bible is God's definitive word, often I sense Him pressing certain truths on me as I keep silence before Him after I delving into a passage of Scripture.

When this happens, I sometimes write what I feel God is telling me as though He were the speaker. God seemed to say this to me on this particular morning:
Too often, you settle for being half-Christian, Mark. You embrace suffering with the cross until the suffering comes. You seek to live pleasingly to Me, until it becomes inconvenient or threatens your "right" to ease. You fantasize about worldly vindication and success. You splinter your commitment to Me by your commitment to you. I said to follow Me; you follow, but take plenty go selfish detours along the way. That's not following!
One of the things about the devotional method taught by the Navigators that I love is that, when it comes to the "respond" part of our time with God, the method acknowledges our humanity, how hard it is to keep any resolutions for us, especially when we drift into thinking that we must keep them in our own power.

Being a recovering sinner saved by God's incredible grace given to us through Christ is like being a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, food addict, or compulsive gambler.

In this life, we always remain addicted to sin--addicted to our inborn desire to "be like God."

But each day--in a practice Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal"--we come back to God to help us face this day, to seek the power of God's Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus to all who trust in Him, to live as free grown-up children of God.

So, the Navigators say, just seek God's help to respond to His Word--be it His Word of direction, correction, promise, or grace--through the day you're entering. Don't resolve to live differently for the entire rest of your life. That's too daunting and way beyond our capacity to fulfill.

This then, was my simple response to what God taught me in Matthew 16:5-12, a few days back:
(1) Today, Lord, help me not to complain; (2) Today, when selfish thoughts come to me, help me to crowd at my self-serving penchant by praising God, thanking God, and praying for someone else.
Within twenty minutes of my quiet time, I was in the shower and a selfish thought crossed my mind. I remembered what I had asked God to help me to do. I filled my time in the shower with praises for God, petitions for the needs of others, and special prayers for friends and family.

I almost remembered to respond to God as I resolved to do through much of the day. Like a recovering alcoholic, I've fallen off the wagon more than once since then. I get full of myself and tell myself to get my attention off of me and back on God and my neighbor. And I ask God to help me to remember.

Last week, during a study of Mike Foss' book, Real Faith for Real Life: Living the Six Marks of Discipleship, I decided to read these entries from my journal to the Living Water folks who were there. Though I occasionally share journaling of my quiet time with God, I don't make a habit of it because my quiet time is all about my own relationship with God, seeking to grow as a disciple of Christ, not a project for my call as preacher, teacher, leader, minister of Word and Sacrament.

But I also want people to know that just because God has called me to this work doesn't mean that I'm not a child of God in constant need of His guidance and reassurance. Fortunately, God makes guidance, reassurance, and so much more in His Word.

Martin Luther said that Christians are the Holy Spirit's workshop. Each day, through His Word, God chisels and scrapes, remodels and renews, those who are willing to submit to Him, and in the submission, experience the freedom of being made over--often slowly and with fierce blows to our egos--into the image of Jesus Christ, heirs of God's grace.

If that isn't as true of the subset of redeemed sinners called to be pastors as it is of laypeople, pastors shortchange God, ourselves, and the people we are called to work among as servant/leaders.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Teacher Appreciation Day

Yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day and I posted this on Facebook.

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day. I'm thankful to the many great teachers who have changed my life through the years.
I think of several in particular.

The first is Mrs. Dorothy Everett, my fourth grade teacher. She was demanding and fair, knowledgeable and caring.

Cleo Goldsberry, my fifth grade teacher, deepened my passion for reading as a means of knowing more of the world.

In junior high school, I appreciated Mr. O'Leary. He was our PhysEd teacher and though I was no athlete, he always encouraged me and my love for sports, a lifelong passion.

In senior high school, I especially appreciated Mrs. Rosemary Leuchter, the English teacher who taught us so much and demanded so much of us. Because of her, I was able to proficiency test out of all my English requirements at Ohio State.

Also, my Journalism teachers, Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Dritz, in their roles as sponsors of our high school paper, 'The Occident,' encouraged us to write succinctly and well.

Another high school faculty member, a man from whom I never took a class, had a positive impact on me. He was our head football and basketball coach, who won championships in both sports, Dave Koblentz. As noted above, I was no athlete and he coached a ton of good ones. But he also knew and interacted with every student in our school. Twenty years after graduating from high school, I saw Mr. Koblentz at a restaurant. I went over to him and said, "Mr. Koblentz, you won't remember me, but..." "Mark Daniels!" he said. "How are you?" Good teachers pay attention and Mr. Koblentz clearly did!

In college, I was blessed with so many great professors. Stan Swart, Jim Kweder, and Don Van Meter were just three. Stan was my history professor for my first two quarters at OSU. He used to tease me about coming to class in my West High School jacket, but he became a terrific friend and mentor. He and his wife attended our wedding.

In seminary, the professor and mentor who, more than anyone, challenged me to go deeper with Christ, to live in and study God's Word, to live my faith with passion, to employ whatever intellect I have to God's glory, and who, by the way he lived toward some often scornful critics, taught us how to love those who hate us, was Pastor Bruce Schein. Pastor Schein died just two years after I was ordained. But there isn't a day that passes when I don't think of him and remember what he taught us.
From each of these teachers, at every level of my life and schooling, I learned so much.

The saying, of course, is that those who can't teach. That's not true.

There are some teachers who have no business teaching, of course. But my experience is that the best teachers have a God-given passion for teaching. They love their students and then, out of that love, demand the best from them.

My teachers have, for the most part, been far better as teachers than I have been as a student. But God empowered the really good ones to take this unpromising lump of clay and do things that have changed and continue to change my life each day.

Thanks to all my teachers!

[UPDATE: I should add that I had a number of other great profs at seminary: Merlin Hoops, Tryg Skarsten, Wally Taylor, Jim Schaaf, Ralph Doermann, and Ron Hals.]

Sunday, May 01, 2016

When Christ Comes to Us (Understanding Revelation, Part 5)

Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27
In today’s message, the last of our five-part series on Revelation, I’ll be departing from my usual verse-by-verse consideration of the lesson. I’m going to try to summarize what I think should be the big take-away from what God is telling us in the last book of the Bible.

I once read about a reporter who spent time with a young man whose life was, in many ways, a sad inner city cliché.

His father left when he was a baby. He and his mother lived in decrepit housing. All around him were kids his age involved with drink, drugs, and crime. His classmates regarded doing well in school as a waste of time.

Yet this young man was an honor student. He kept out of trouble. He had dreams.

The reporter wondered why this young man was so different. So, he followed him for a week. The reporter had been with him for several days and still didn’t know what made the teen different.

But then he accompanied the young man one Wednesday evening to the balcony of a local church, where there was a prayer meeting. The reporter watched as this teen, often tempted to depart from the straight and narrow, shared the enthusiasm of several hundred others that night in worshiping God.

At times, the teen sobbed with other worshipers over the challenges and tragedies that are an undeniable daily inner city reality.

At others, he called out to God in songs and with fervent amens as he listened to God’s Word being preached.

He sang God’s praises at the tops of his lungs.

The young man had arrived for worship crushed by his burdens, tempted to give in to the easy sins of his environment. But as he praised the God made known in Jesus Christ, he abandoned his fears, sins, and temptations, and took the hand of God to walk with Jesus.

We all need to know that God doesn’t want to be separated from us.

We all need to know that if we truly want Him, God will come to us always, and when He does, He will lift us up!

These are the very things of which God has been assuring us as we’ve looked at the book of Revelation these past five Sundays.

And I believe that the apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos, back sometime between 81 and 96AD, needed to be assured of these same things as he lived as a prisoner of the Roman Empire for his faith in Christ.

And I believe that for John, it was easier to believe that God was with him when he worshiped God, whether he did so in the company of others or during Quiet Time he spent studying God’s Word and praying.

The book of Revelation was born in worship! I’m not making that up. Scholars tell us that whenever the phrase “in the spirit” is used in Revelation, it narrates a time when John was worshiping God.

In verse 10 of our second lesson for today, John writes: “[One of seven angels]...carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Listen: John worshiped God and God came to him.

Consider some of what John saw. First: He saw what he calls “the new Jerusalem” come down from heaven. God came to him.

Second: John describes this new Jerusalem, which we talked about last week. In this new Jerusalem, there will be no temple, because, John explains, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”

This is what Jesus had been talking about when once, knowing that a conspiracy was being hatched to kill Him, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus, God in the flesh, is the temple.

Even today, before God sends the new Jerusalem, all who believe in Jesus are part of it and Jesus can come to us where we work, where we go to school, where we live.

If God can come to a man in chains on a little Mediterranean Island, he can come to us when we worship God too!

Third: John tells us that the new Jerusalem will be a place in which the blazing light of God will illumine everything.

Unlike ancient cities, the gates will never be shut. There will be no reason for gates to be closed, locks to be secured, or alarm systems set. There will be no night, no fear.

And, beyond the gates of death, in the new Jerusalem, life as it was meant to be will belong to all who have trusted in Jesus Christ.

God wants to come to you and me with this promise and His presence each day; He will, when we worship Him.

John presents us with staggering images in Revelation. And even if we can’t sometimes fully understand them, when life lays us low or when death stares us in the face, or even when the everydayness of life overwhelms us, these images can sustain and encourage us because in them we see the promise of the new Jerusalem we have in Christ. We are not forgotten ever. Christ will come to us when we reach up to Him, when we worship!

Many know the name of George Frideric Handel. Handel was already writing cantatas when he was nine years old. Not long after that, he presented his music to the king of Prussia.

But then, things took a turn for the worse. His father died. Handel’s music was no longer appreciated. If he were around today, we’d day no one was favoriting his music on iTunes or Spotify. He was yesterday's Elvis to today’s Beyonce. He was passe.

Bankrupt and hopeless, Handel locked himself away for twenty-four hours and in the end, emerged with an oratorio, The Messiah, based partly on John’s vision as recorded in the book of Revelation.

Something like 15% of all adult Americans living today have sung the The Messiah at some point in their lives. That’s pretty good for a musician who died 257 years ago!

But think of that: A work of art composed at what was a low point in Handel’s life has lifted millions of people into an experience of God and of what it means to be blessed by God’s love.

When asked how he was able to compose The Messiah, Handel said, “I [saw] the heavens opened and the great God himself seated on his throne.”

Handel worshiped God and, as he did so, God came to him.

Imagine how God might come to you and me if we daily spent time worshiping God, studying His Word and praying over those words and praising God for being God, for sending Jesus, and for caring about us and everything that happens in our lives!

One of my favorite twentieth century Christian heroes is a man named Frank Laubach.

Laubach was a missionary concerned with the grinding poverty in which most of people lived. He wanted to do something about it, but had no idea what it might be.

So, this man of prayer turned his eyes on Jesus, asking for guidance. It was while praying that God gave Laubach a vision: Teach adults to read, God seemed tell Laubach, and they could learn...about agricultural methods, about the importance of clean drinking water and hygiene, about the God Who loved them in Christ and Who could help them pursue love and justice in their everyday lives. Teach adults to read!

Laubach began what became a worldwide adult literacy movement still active today. Frank Laubach worshiped God and God came to him! (Are you beginning to detect a pattern?)

One of the lessons God is teaching me is that when we take the time to worship God, praise God, thank God, study His Word, and seek the will of God, it displaces things on which our minds and lives would otherwise be focused.

You don’t have as much time or energy, for example, to feel sorry for yourself when you’re intent on worshiping God.

There’ll be room for people you would otherwise ignore when you worship God.

Resentment is replaced by gratitude to God and compassion for others when you worship God.

In short, when we focus more of our lives on God and less on ourselves, we become a lot less distasteful to ourselves and more useful to God and to the people around us.

When we worship God, we learn that God is still God, still there, still for us!

Do you need assurance that God won’t turn you away, now or in eternity?

Do you have a problem you’re trying to figure out?

Is there some need in your family, our community, or our church you’d like to address, but you’re uncertain how?

Do what John was doing when God gave him the book of Revelation.

Do what that inner city youth did when facing the challenges of growing up.

Do what Handel did when his music was hated and his life seemed meaningless.

Do what Laubach did when he wanted to address poverty.

Worship! Reach up to God!

Give yourself over to the praise of God.

Worship God by reading God’s Word, loving God, loving neighbor, surrendering your life to Christ, making disciples, doing your best for everyone because, in fact, whatever good we do for others, we really do for God.

Worship! Reach up and give God the opportunity to descend to you the way He did in the new Jerusalem to John.

Worship, always on Sundays with others and on your own every day!

Reach up and you’ll be strengthened in the knowledge that God really is with you.

Worship and you’ll know that all believers in Christ belong to God forever, including you.

Worship! Reach up to the One Who is always reaching out to you.

And even when things seem dark, God will lighten your way. If we will come to God, God will always come to us.

Besides, one day in the new Jerusalem, we will be constantly worshiping and enjoying God's fellowship. So, we may as well start practicing worshiping and enjoying God right now, here, each and every day!

That, when all is said and done, is the ultimate message of Revelation: Worship God and live! Amen

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