Saturday, August 13, 2016

Should Americans be making more babies?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argues that they should be. While it's good that teens are having fewer babies, he argues:
It used to be taken for granted that the best indicator of a nation's health was its citizens' desire and capacity to reproduce. And it should still seem self-evident that people's willingness to have children is not only a sign of confidence in the future, but a sign of cultural health. It's a signal that people are willing to commit to the most enduring responsibility on Earth, which is raising a child.

But reproduction is also a sign of national health in a more dollars-and-cents way. The more productive people you have in your society, the healthier your country's economy. It's an idea that was obvious back in the 17th century, when economist Jean Bodin wrote "the only wealth is people."
This is still fairly clear, I think. Despite the menacing moves of authoritarian Russia and communist China toward exercising regional hegemony (or more), both countries are severely limited in their aspirations by their birth rate trends. Russia is already aged and in crisis, China will almost inevitably be in such crisis soon.

That doesn't mean that married couples should have more kids so that we can forestall the Russians and the Chinese, though both of those nations, at present, pose a far greater existential threat to the peace and security of the United States than do Islamist terrorists.

I would argue that our reticence about having more kids in this country is rooted less in concern about the environment, a fear fostered Paul Erhlich's absurdly overwrought book, The Population Bomb, back in the the late-60s and 70s--a fear that many in my generation, fearful of having less, bought into, than it is in materialism and selfishness.

We had two children who I love dearly, but I wish that we'd had more. There's simply nothing like family living and being a dad is, for me, not only one of the biggest challenges in the world, but also one of its greatest pleasures. There's something beautiful and humbling about pouring yourself into your children and watching them grow up to be wonderful in spite of your parenting.

According to Gobry, there are practical reasons why the United States should be concerned about its low birth rate, "59.6 births per 1000 women," the lowest rate in US history:
Today we see the problems wrought by the decline in productive populations all over the industrialized world, where polities are ripping each other to shreds over how to pay for various forms of entitlements, especially for old people. The debates play out in different ways in different countries, but in other ways they are exactly the same. That's because they are ruled by the same ruthless math: The fewer young, productive people you have to pay for entitlements for old, unproductive people, the steeper the bill for the entire society becomes. This basic problem is strangling Europe's economies. And while the United States is among the least bad of the bunch, it is still headed in the wrong direction.
While acknowledging that evidence for the effectiveness of government programs to encourage people to have kids is mixed, Gobry points out "the fact of the matter is that in contemporary America, 40 percent of women have fewer children than they want to."

Gobry suggests several ways government could entice husbands and wives to have more kids. But for me, the most compelling reason for bigger families is spiritual. The Bible teaches that it's more blessed to give than to receive. Apart from the fact that a nation with fewer children leads to scarcity, fewer opportunities, less productivity, and economic and military weakness, couples who have the wherewithal to raise families--and far more do than they think they do, learn the blessedness of giving to themselves to their kids, not indulgently, but with love that includes loving discipline, time, and personal investment. A parent learns that life isn't about what you keep, harbor, husband, or get for yourself, it's about what you give away.

Parents have a sacred and fulfilling two-fold responsibility. First, they are to prepare their own children for adulthood, nurturing them with the two sides of the coin of love: gracious love and gracious discipline. Second, they are to "make disciples," teaching their children to know the God we meet in Jesus Christ so that they can become not only their children, but God's children as well.

Parenting is a daunting thing. But God has also engineered it to be one of the greatest blessings a human being could ever experience. And, for those who seek to follow Christ, parenting can be a tremendous calling in which to learn love, humility, selflessness, and a right relationship with money and possessions, among other things.

OK, husbands and wives of child-bearing age, don't replicate the mistake of my own self-centered Baby Boomer generation, get busy and make babies.*

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

*By the way, it has always struck me as absurd that people my age can get "senior discounts," something utterly unnecessary for most of us, while young couples with kids and mortgages have to pay full price. It ought to be the other way around, shouldn't it?

Crystal Cathedral: Cautionary Tale for Christ's Church

This week, I've attended Lutheran Week, the annual family reunion of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) that includes the gathering of the Women of the NALC, the Braaten-Benne Theological Lectures, the NALC Mission Festival, and the NALC's Convocation. All in all, it's a wonderful "tradition" in this five year old denomination with its commitment to four core values:
  • Christ-centered (We believe that people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.)
  • Mission-driven (We believe that Jesus has sent us to go and make disciples of all nations.)
  • Traditionally-grounded (We reject presentism that presumes wisdom from past generations of Christian history must be automatically wrong or suspect.)
  • Congregationally-focused (We aren't waiting for our denominational leadership to give us permission to do the ministries to which God's Holy Spirit may be calling us and the denominational apparatus exists to facilitate the ministries of the local congregation.)
It's exhilarating to be part of a denomination devoted to the authority of God's Word over faith, lives, and practices. Exhilarating too, is the NALC's commitment to making, forming, and empowering believers to enjoy personal relationships with Christ through Christ's body, the Church, and to carry Christ into the world!

Last night, we had a free evening and the four of us from Living Water Lutheran Church who are attending Luther Week decided to take the 1.2 mile walk to what was once The Crystal Cathedral of Garden Grove, California. The name was given to what had formerly been Garden Grove Community Church, a congregation of the Reformed Church of America, founded by the late Robert Schuller, after the congregation--with lots of financial help from viewers of Schuller's Hour of Power broadcast--erected a building designed by architect Philip Johnson.

There were rumors for years that the Crystal Cathedral was a financially overextended institution, less invested in being a congregation making disciples in its community than in keeping an institution with a large TV studio afloat. After Schuller retired and his son took over as pastor of the congregation, including offering the Biblical call to repentance and new life through faith in Jesus Christ, global support for the Crystal Cathedral shrank.

So did giving from around the world. The Crystal Cathedral's ministries fell apart, victim of a founder's ego and his consequent edifice complex. Schuller may well have had positive and godly motivations for his approach. But as his ministry fell apart with family members suing each other amid recriminations and taking sides, the Crystal Community Church died.

But now, the six buildings will not become ignored or vandalized, like some oversized Sears store decaying before the forces of urban change.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has purchased the campus, renaming it Christ Cathedral. I like the name, because it points to the only One Who can save us from sin, death, and futility, rather than to the architectural innovations involved in the design and erection of the building itself.

While the Crystal Cathedral sanctuary will not be fully remodeled for two years, other buildings are being used. We noted that in one building, a youth group was gathered, a group of adults were studying Scripture, and a choir rehearsed. One building has been dedicated to pastoral care.

It's exciting to see this place being repurposed by a Christian denomination. But the Crystal Cathedral is also a cautionary parable.

The first priority of Christ's Church is not to build empires or even impressive buildings. (In fact, there wasn't any such thing as a permanent church building structure in the Christian movement until the fourth-century AD.)

The Church is charged by Jesus with one mission only, to, in the power of the Holy Spirit, call people to become disciples of Jesus so that they can live each day with the freeing forgiveness of God and can look forward to an eternity with God. Buildings can be used as tools to facilitate that mission. But they are only tools, not ends. To think otherwise, is really faithless to Jesus Christ.

Below are some pictures I took on the Christ Cathedral campus last night.

To the left in the picture above is the frequently-televised "cathedral" itself. On the right, is the famed tower.

Here, a sign explains plans for turning Crystal Cathedral into Christ Cathedral. I wonder whether several nearby businesses will change their names, including the Crystal View Apartments and the Crystal Car Wash. 

This statue portrays Matthew 19:14, when Jesus said, "Let the children come to me."

I liked this shot showing the Prayer Tower, SoCal palm trees, and the moon clearly visible on a cool night. It's hard not to love southern California.

This statue portrays the Good Shepherd, which is how Jesus describes Himself in John 10:11-17.

This statue's subject is the flight to Egypt by Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. You'll find that bit of history portrayed in Matthew's gospel.

This sculpture portrays Moses bringing the Ten Commandments given to him by God at Mount Sinai (Exodus)

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

Monday, August 08, 2016

What Biblical writer really says about sex, marriage, & divorce

The apostle Paul is often portrayed as a rigid sexist. You can isolate passages from Paul's New Testament writings to force such a message on him. But that's eisegesis, imposing our own constructs onto a piece of Scripture, rather than exegesis, deriving its clear meaning from the actual words and context of the passage.

Paul views marriage as a covenant of mutual submission and service which wives and husbands enter under the lordship of the God we know in Christ.

This morning for my quiet time with God, I read Paul's inspired words in 1 Corinthians 7. In the chapter, Paul talks about marriage. I found that Eugene Peterson's rendering of the chapter refreshed my understanding of Paul's words, written to a congregation among whom sexual escapades were on the loose, just as some devout believers wondered if they should even be married.

A sampling:
Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?

Certainly—but only within a certain context. It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out...

...if you are married, stay married. This is the Master’s command, not mine. If a wife should leave her husband, she must either remain single or else come back and make things right with him. And a husband has no right to get rid of his wife...

And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.
Important things to pay attention to in the twenty-first century.

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

Sunday, August 07, 2016

AUDIO: How to be free of worry


How to be free of worry

Luke 12:22-34
Some of the worst tragedies I’ve witnessed as a pastor have had their roots in what people thought gave their lives value. Marriages have broken up. Families have been driven asunder. And other tragedies have happened because people tend to put too much trust in the things this world has to offer.

For the Christian, it’s clear that our value can’t be found in money, the affirmation of other people, in pleasure, or in power. Nor can it be found in our work or even our families, no matter how much we may enjoy the one and cherish the other.

The reason that none of these common ways we use to measure our value will do is that they’re of this world. They’re finite, imperfect, and dying.

Now, let’s be clear.

I’m not saying, “Don’t love your spouse or kids.”

I’m not saying, “Don’t be devoted to doing a good job at work” or, “Don’t sometimes relax and take it easy.”

And I’m not saying, “Don’t try to be worthy of others’ trust in your business relationships, family relationships, and friendships.”

What I am saying is that if you or I use the success with which we do these things, as the measure of our value of our lives, we delude ourselves and set ourselves up for both massive disappointment and eternal separation from God.

There’s only one measurement of our value that matters. That’s the value that God places on us.

Listen: There is no one and nothing God more values than you!

According to Genesis, after God created everything else in the universe, He declared it, “Good.” But when God made human beings, God called His whole creation, “Very good.”

It was only human beings, of all the things God created in this universe, that God made “in the image of God.”

And, it was to human beings that God gave authority over creation.

To God, human beings are a very big deal!

You’ve heard the saying: “I love humanity. It’s the people I can’t stand.” God doesn’t have this kind of ambivalence toward us. He loves you, an individual human being, with all the passion, commitment, concern, and joy with which He loves humanity.

Every single one of us has been individually, custom-designed by God and every one of us is the object of God’s love.

King David in Old Testament times was amazed by God’s love and concern for every human being, how wrapped up in every individual person God is. David writes in Psalm 139:15-16: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

And, God’s love for us didn’t end once sin became part of the standard equipment with which every one of us is born. As soon as the human race fell into sin, God went to work with a plan to make it possible for all of us who are the objects of His love, could be saved from sin, death, and darkness.

In Genesis 3:15, God promised that He would send a Son of the human race, hated by the serpent, but who, despite Satan’s and the world’s efforts to kill Him off, would crush the power of sin beneath His feet. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers,” God tells the serpent, “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

God, as always, was as good as His promise, sending Jesus to save all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus to live with God forever.

Second Corinthians 5:21 speaks of this gracious love, saying: “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Sinless God became the embodiment of every human sin--including every one of our sins, so that by faith in Christ, we could receive His righteousness and be restored to God.

Only the God we know and believe in in Jesus Christ confers value on our lives.

And what does He say our value is to Him?  By His action in Jesus,
  • He says that you’re worth the sacrifice of His life on a cross. 
  • Worth suffering for. 
  • Worth dying for. 
  • Worth sharing the victory over sin and death He gained for all who trust in Him. 
It is only Christ Who gives our lives eternal value that no one and nothing else can either give us or take away from us. With the apostle Peter, we know that there’s no place else we can go for a life or for lives of value, significance, hope, and peace: ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” [John 6:68]

In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 12:22-34, Jesus warns us against three of the most common ways we’re inclined to follow in order to ensure our value in this world. The three ways are:
  • worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow; 
  • worry over having enough; and 
  • worry over whether we’re going to look good. (In this, I include both what we wear and how we look to the world.)
Each of these three ways of worrying has one thing in common. They all express a common idolatry, the idolatry of the self.

Self worship, which the advertisers encourage in us every time we turn on our TVs or laptops, is born of the delusion that we can or should be in control of the world, or at least of our own worlds.

In other words, the real source of worry, in the end, is a common human desire, the same desire that drove Adam and Eve to bite into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the desire to be like God.

We think that if we conquer the world--or our little pieces of the world, get lots of stuff, look good, wow other people, get promoted, we will be in control. We’ll be on top. Though we’d never say it this way, we’ll be gods. The desire for control, the desire to prove and secure our value, is where worry comes from.

Let me be honest, I struggle with this myself.

At the beginning of this summer, I set five major goals to achieve by this fall as the pastor and spiritual leader of Living Water. I didn’t expect that needing to hire a new secretary / administrative assistant would get thrown into the mix.

I spent hours not only praying, but also worrying. I will confess that I probably spent more time worrying, worshiping the idol of Mark-being-in-control, than I did praying and working on a solution.

But God is good even when we're goofy. (That's a technical theological statement, by the way.) Despite me and all the ways I’ve tried to get in His way, God is bringing these five goals close to fruition.

It’ll be a few months before we know if all five goals have been met. But when they are met, it will be because God worked, not because I worried.

Jesus has been underscoring the wisdom of His words in Luke 12:25-26, for me: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

I’ve never been a fan of roller coasters. I love the rides that whirl you around and throw you sideways. I like Disney World’s Tower of Terror that drops you a few stories at a time, ratchets you back up, drops you back down again, then pushes you out over the park and pulls you back in again. I like water rides that take you up, down, and all around. But I’ve always had an irrational fear of roller coasters. They’ve always scared me to death, mostly I think, because they make me feel so out of control.

On the day after we were married, Ann and I went to Cedar Point. She fooled me into getting onto a coaster that was mostly concealed by trees. I was terrified the entire time. But guess what? I survived. I lived. I’m still here forty-two years and four days later.

Here’s the deal: We all have irrational fears about this life.

We’re afraid of things that shoot down our delusions of control.

But look, whatever it is we adopt as the thing that makes us feel like we’re in charge and makes us feel that we have attained the status of “valuable” is one day going to let us down.

Only God is in charge.

Only God assures us of our value when the world turns away or leaves us behind.

Only God assures us of our value when He welcomes us to resurrection beyond the bounds of death.

Only the God we know in Jesus Christ, Who died for us, collectively and individually, can imbue our lives with a value that can never be berated, reduced, or denied to those who trust in Him as their God and Lord and King.

In Luke 12:33 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus says this to all we worriers: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Jesus isn’t telling us we need to take a vow of poverty, although some Christians have done so through the centuries. Their examples of trust in Christ inspire us all.

But Jesus is saying this:
  • Free yourself of fear’s and worry’s rule over your life. 
  • Get rid of those things you don’t need for you, your family, your life, your work. 
  • Travel light because you won’t be taking it with you. 
  • If what you get rid of can be sold, use the proceeds to help the poor. 
Jesus says also, don’t put a strain on your wallet or your financial advisor. Invest in what’s eternal.

And friends, there is only one commodity on this earth that’s eternal. That commodity is the people for whom Jesus died and rose who believe in Him. Invest in people for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Give yourself to the mission of the Church and of every individual Christian, to the mission of making disciples.

And give all you can, every bit of yourself, wherever you work or live, to that cause.

When you do, you can be sure that one day, you will see your dividends, the payoff, in eternity.

That payoff won't be more value from God. You already are valued by God eternally, infinitely!

That payoff will be the people you see in eternity who trusted in Jesus because of the way you lived your life, the way you shared the Gospel, the way you loved God and loved neighbor, the way you prayed for others, the way you served in Jesus' name, the way you made disciples.

When we follow Jesus’ directions in verse 33, we will be living in the certainty of our own eternal value and passing that certainty onto others so that they too, can live with God forever. We will kill off our worries and give a life of eternal value to others too.

Could there possibly be a better way to live?

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

Counting Stars by Onerepublic (and some thoughts)

Love this line:
Everything that kills me makes me feel alive
That can be taken several ways.

One way is hinted at in the line, "I feel something so wrong / Doing the right thing." Doing the right thing often feels right, makes you feel more alive. Sin is tempting, for example, not because it's ugly, but because it's attractive.

Another way is more overtly Christian. (Band members are Christian, but Onerepublic isn't a "Christian band.") The New Testament teaches that those who repent and believe in Christ submit to the death of their old sinful selves so that the new selves can be raised with Christ. So, Christians can easily sing that everything that kills the old us brings us to life.

There are other ways the line could be seen.

Most probably, it's just a song lyric.

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