Saturday, August 20, 2016

Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sara Groves

Since I mentioned Sara Groves in an earlier post about Francesca Battistelli's If We're Honest, I thought that I'd put this video for one of my favorite Groves tune.

Using the metaphor of ancient Israel's nostalgia for its days of slavery in Egypt, as recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus, Groves talks about our reluctance for diving outside of our comfort zones with God as our only certainty. She talks too, about the often painful process we need to go through to get to where God is leading us.

Great tune!

I Can't Hold Out by Eric Clapton

The 1974 LP, 461 Ocean Boulevard, was a comeback project for Eric Clapton, having successfully entered recovery from his cocaine addiction. The first track, Motherless Children, comes screaming at you with an insane and loud guitar riff. Though Clapton goes through many musical moods on 461, from the slowly soulful Christian-themed confessional Give Me Strength to the poppy I Shot the Sheriff, the quality never lets up. To this day, it remains one of my favorites.

This is an old, and a bit racy, Elmore James tune, Clapton once again giving homage to his beloved blues. I say it's "a bit racy." But even by 1974 standards, the tune was tame, slightly suggestive but still G-rated. Like an old Looney Tunes cartoon, you could play this song in front of your kids without clamping your hands on their ears. (Contemporary artists seem to have lost this knack. James displays it in I Can't Hold Out.)

Clapton, who has always disdained his own voice, delivers on this entire LP and, as always, his guitar work is second to none.

If We're Honest by Francesca Battistelli

This song from 2014 is amazing.

Battistelli has a beautiful voice, reminding me of Sara Groves. The lyrics are so incredible. They're given in full below (from Google Play). I'm going to buy this song!
Truth is harder than a lieThe dark seems safer than the lightAnd everyone has a heart that loves to hideI'm a mess and so are youWe've built walls nobody can get throughYeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do 
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine'Cause love can heal what hurt dividesAnd mercy's waiting on the other sideIf we're honestIf we're honest 
Don't pretend to be something that you're notLiving life afraid of getting caughtThere is freedom found when we layour secrets down at the cross, at the cross 
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine'Cause love can heal what hurt dividesAnd mercy's waiting on the other sideIf we're honestIf we're honest 
It would change our livesIt would set us freeIt's what we need to be 
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine'Cause love can heal what hurt dividesAnd mercy's waiting on the other sideIf we're honestIf we're honestWritten by Francesca Battistelli, Jeff Pardo, Molly E. Reed • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

La Vie en Rose by the Mantovani Orchestra

TCM featured one of my favorite movies tonight, Billy Wilder's Sabrina. It was released in 1954 and starring Humphrey Bogart (my absolute favorite actor), Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden and featured this beautiful melody, once a hit for singer Edith Piaf.

Sabrina tells the story of a young woman who, for years, thought she was in love with a man closer to her in age, only to find herself falling helplessly in love with her flame's much older brother. Wilder, certainly the rangiest of all directors, co-wrote the script and, as usual, is beautifully written.

I love this rendition of La Vie en Rose. The pairing of it with clips from Sabrina is perfect.

4 ways to help a hurting friend


Avoiding the Faithlessness of Being a Political Church

Four days ago, Pastor Dennis Di Mauro, on Facebook, posted a link to an article detailing the recent votes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) calling for an end to US aid to Israel and mandating that the retirement fund of the denomination to refrain from making investments that might benefit Israel.

As a person who left the ELCA to join the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) over the issue of the authority of the Bible, the Word of God, over the life, faith, and practice of the Church, I took particular interest in DiMauro's linked article. Lots of other people did and it's engendered many comments.

Many of those comments lamented the ELCA having become a "liberal" denomination. But I had a slightly different take on things, which I shared in the comments section in the wee hours this morning. Here, in slightly edited form, is what I wrote:
Without commenting specifically on the resolution in question, I want to comment on how the ELCA is characterized by many of its opponents and critics. (Of which I'm one.)
I see the ELCA not so much as a "liberal" church, though I understand what people mean when they use this characterization.

Rather, I see it as an unbiblical and unconfessional church body.

I see the body of which I am now a part, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), seeking to be biblical, approaching the Word of God with reverence, and confessional, seeking to faithfully live out the Lutheran Cobfessions' understanding of Christian faith. I also don't see the NALC as "conservative."

While the ELCA often seems to be in sync with political movements that are politically liberal, I pray that the NALC will steadfastly avoid associations with any political ideology or agenda.

Jesus isn't conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. He is God in the flesh who died and rose to set sinners free from sin and all of its consequences, to give life with God ever new to all who trust in Christ and the Gospel Word about Him.

Making disciples through the proclamation of this Word is work enough for the Church, the only work Jesus assigned to it, work that will eternally transform the lives of those who receive it with faith. It will even transform the way they view their world, how they live each day, and how they vote.

The problem with church political activism is that it's work of the flesh, reflective of human reasoning and understanding, rather than being the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Church political activism, liberal and conservative, isn't an expression of faith in Jesus. It's actually faithless, born of Christian impatience with how God operates to redeem and transform people.

We need to trust in God, love our neighbor, speak God's revealed truth, make disciples.
What do you think?

Friday, August 19, 2016

How to spot a liar

"You may think that fidgeting and not making eye contact are telltale signs that someone’s lying to you," writes Jenna Goudreau at motto, from the editors of TIME. "But according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, there is no one nonverbal cue that’s a dead giveaway."

Cuddy, a psychologist says, though:
...instead of looking for one big “reveal,” the best way to spot deception is to look for discrepancies across multiple channels of communication, including facial expressions, posture, and speech.

“Lying is hard work,” Cuddy says. “We’re telling one story while suppressing another, and if that’s not complicated enough, most of us are experiencing psychological guilt about doing this, which we’re also trying suppress. We just don’t have the brainpower to manage it all without letting something go — without ‘leaking.'” 
The best way to catch these “leaks” is to look for differences between what people are saying and what they are doing, she says. Conflicting emotions, like a happy tone of voice paired with an agitated facial expression, can be particularly telling.
Another way to spot a liar might be to take a look in the mirror. There are so many different ways we might be lying, most of which we might be apt to excuse as "a little white lie." "Does this dress make me look fat?" is a question dreaded by many husbands. ("Do I look as old as the other men in my class?" is the one dreaded by many wives.)

The Bible warns that no human being is righteous, no one. And lying, the attempt to avoid unpleasant disclosures, has been part of the human profile since Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit and attempted to conceal it from God. In John 8, Jesus says that our fallen race are all children of "the father of lies," Satan. No amount of wriggling, dodging, or "explaining" can change that fact.

Some people are more dishonest than others, of course. Some people are more comfortable with lying. Some, as the old saying puts it, "lie when the truth would suit better." But we all need the help that only God can give to us in the honesty department.

The New Testament says that a reliance on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit He sends to all believers in Him, can empower us to speak "the truth in love." Doing so is part of growing into maturity as a disciple of Jesus.

Overcoming this sin, as is true of any sin, is a constant battle in this life for those who truly want to follow Christ and live life God's way. It begins (and is continued) with the simple acknowledgment that we're addicted to sin, to self-willed living, including lying. It continues with utter reliance on Christ for the grace of God that brings forgiveness for all sins and peace with God. And it continues on from there in daily seeking God's help to be authentic, loving truth-tellers.

People who lie to us can and do harm us, in many ways. But before we get too self-righteous, we need to look at ourselves. One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament offers a prayer that all of us might adopt as our own:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
"Show me my wrong, God," the psalm teaches us to pray to God, "and then lead me to life with You that never ends."

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

Two evils the love of money brings

Michael Kelley is right in saying that 1 Timothy 6:10 is one of the best known and most misunderstood passages in Scripture.

There, the apostle Paul writes to the young pastor, Timothy:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Paul doesn't say that money is intrinsically bad. He does say that the love of money--making the acquisition of more of it or the hoarding of it (I said hoarding, not saving)--major objects of our lives leads to all kinds evil and grief.

But how so?

Kelley identifies two evils into which the love of money can lead us, ways that he says we might otherwise overlook:

1. The love of money "can lead me to wander from my faith." Kelley writes chillingly:
I can’t be both greedy and content. I can’t worship both God and money. So if I choose money, I’m eventually guaranteed a departure from the faith.
2. Love for money "causes lots of pain points in my life." He enumerates a few:
...worry, remorse, discontentment, debt, and anxiety … the list goes on and on. The passionate pursuit of money promises liberty but only brings captivity.
I think he's right.

Thirty years ago, a friend of mine went to work for a man who had been a pioneer in the dot com world and raked in tens of millions of dollars as a result. One day, he told my friend wistfully, "You know, ten years ago, all I could think was that I would be happy and secure once I'd made my first million. Now, all I do is worry about how to keep the millions I have." Not long after that, he died suddenly, unexpectedly,...and unhappily.

There's nothing wrong with money. And God gifts some people with both the ability to handle money and to use it in ways that honor Him and show love to others. (To this latter point, in fact, Ephesians 4:28 says that a major reason for Christians to work is so that they'll have something to share with those in need.)

But money can become a god, an object of religious worship by which we measure our worthiness and value and by which we think that we can become gods ourselves, manipulating life to our own liking.

It's then that evil--things like selfishness, worry, and blindness to the needs or virtues of others--flood into our lives, taking us far from the God revealed to the world in Christ and from the life that only Christ can give.

Read all of Kelley's short piece.

[Photo from DataCapSystems.]

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

Jesus, the Best, wants YOU

A few years ago, I learned that a friend openly admitted his guilt to an ethical transgression. But he didn't see what the big deal was. Or so he said.

The particulars aren't important, both because I want to protect the friend's identity and because, though he was guilty of a particular wrong, it was born, like all wrongs are, of the same thing that drives us all to sin: a desire for something that wasn't his to have.

All sins boil down to our wanting or grasping for otherwise good things at the wrong times, or in the wrong ways, or for the wrong reasons, or with the wrong people. (To quote Jesus, after looking at that definition, I challenge you, "Those without sin, cast the first stone.")

Whether it's coveting, libeling, gossiping, cheating, lying, stealing, committing adultery, using God's name for anything other than prayer, praise, or thanksgiving, or a whole bunch of other things we might name, we're talking about sin. Sin violates God's holiness, God's intentions for human beings, God's boundaries for life at its best, and, apart from repentance and faith in Christ, something that can bring ruin to us, now and in eternity.

But when I heard about my friend's publicly acknowledged and unrepented wrong, saddened as I was by his act, more deeply, I felt an awareness of my own sins. As I thought about him, I couldn't bring myself to toss any stones.

I also wished--had he not cut himself off from many of us--surely a tacit, if unconscious, admission of the "wrongness" of his wrong--that I could talk with him.

I wanted to hear him out.

I also wanted to beg him not to allow pride to prevent him from seeing that his sin was not just a "personal choice" and that there was a way to be free of his sin, if not of the relational and worldly consequences they might bring for the short-term (i.e., the rest of this life).

I wanted to acknowledge my own imperfections that led me to sin and tell him that I was able to deal with them through the grace of God available to anyone willing to let God's Word about Jesus Christ wash over their lives, freeing us from sin and empowering us to live in an intimate relationship with Him.

Jesus, the perfect innocent, God in the flesh, died on the cross to erase the power of all our wrongs over our lives and eternities. Then God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, confirming that Jesus is the only way to life with God.

Jesus sets free from sin and death all who trust in this Gospel--this Good News--Word about Him. 

While driving a long country road on the night I'd gotten the news of my friend's admission, I prayed for him and for those most affected by his wrong. "God," I remember praying, "help him turn to Christ. Bring someone who can speak the truth of Your love and power to him. Change his mind about all of this."

In the darkness, as I drove to a group Bible study, words and music came into my mind and out of my mouth, words that I wished I could speak to my friend right then, had I been able to find him:
Ev'rybody falls off their pedestals and tumbles to the ground
And there's no point in feigning strength when we all have fallen down
But when I'm made weak
By the things that I seek
I know Someone Who's strong.
I send out a prayer
And I know that He's there
And somehow I can carry on

Through the laughter, through the tears
Through all the raging years
In the deep heart of a bleak night I know my God is there
Through the joy and through the pain
Through all the driving rain
When all my hope has left sight
I know
I know
I know my God is there.
© 2016, Mark Daniels
I believe in the grace of God that Jesus went through a cross and an empty tomb to give to people who dare to lay aside their hubris, fears, and sin and follow Him.

I believe that that grace can change our lives now, allowing the power, strength, and peace of God's eternal kingdom to enter our imperfect, dying lives.

And I believe that all who cling to Christ and His cross, owning their sin and their need of God's grace, will live with God in a perfect kingdom beyond death.

Jesus' death and resurrection prove that those beliefs are well-founded.

No matter what your sins, Jesus wants you.

No matter your imperfections or screw-ups, Jesus wants you.

And even after you sin again tomorrow, Jesus will still want you to lay claim to His grace and forgiveness and new life so that you can get on with the business of living life as it was made to be lived by the God Who made you.

Jesus is proof that, if you want Him, God will always be there. In a memorable sermon during Luther Week in Anaheim last week, theologian Dr. Jim Nestingen said of Jesus, "He's the Best! There's nobody better."

Keep trusting in Jesus, God the Son, and let Him cover your imperfections and wrongs with His perfection and righteousness.

Fall into Jesus' orbit through regular worship, regularly receiving Holy Communion, regularly reading and reflecting on His Word in the Bible, and regularly growing as disciples alongside other believers in Jesus in the Church. You will know the truth of Jesus' promise to be with you always.

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Great thought

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

4 things God taught me about spiritual gifts on Monday

During my quiet time on Monday morning, I considered 1 Corinthians 12 in the New Testament. I was particularly struck by verse 18: fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
Here, the apostle Paul is talking to a church that had come into being through his proclamation of Jesus Christ as the way to salvation and new life with God.

But since Paul left the Corinthians, unchristian ideas and practices had taken root in their church. Among them was the notion that the possession of some spiritual gifts made a person superior to others in the church who didn't have that gift. (You still hear nonsense like this from some Christians today. Paul responded to such smug lovelessness among the first century Corinthian Christians with 1 Corinthians 13.)

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the Church to the human body. In fact, in many other places in the New Testament, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does more than compare the Church to a human body. Paul asserts that the Church is the body of Christ in the world. While the crucified and risen Jesus has ascended into heaven, the Church is Jesus Christ's physical presence here and now. For example, Paul says in different places:

Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5)

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:18) one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. (Ephesians 5:29-30)
And that's just a sampling.

As radical as the Bible's teaching that Jesus is the second Person of a triune God (one God, three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is its insistence, voiced often by Paul, that the Church is Christ's body, every disciple a member of Christ's body.

That person with the annoying cackle, the pastor who talks too much, the man with moral failures, the woman who seems to measure her worth by what she does rather than by what Christ has done for her on the cross...all who turn to Christ in repentance and faith are members of Christ's body, children of God the Father.

And each of them, Paul would say, is irreplaceable. When members of Christ's body at any given place fail to exercise their spiritual gifts, parts of the body die and individual congregations are at risk of dying.

On Monday, it struck me how truly revolutionary this whole business would be for the Church (and the world) if we would take Paul's words seriously. God impressed four major points on me as I read 1 Corinthians 12:18:

1. We must not doubt that by whatever agency--be it history, circumstance, mistakes--that the parts of the body possessed by any given congregation at any given time are precisely what God has decided that congregation needs to fulfill its Christ-given mission.

This means no more searching for the "ideal" church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his fantastic little book, Life Together, warns Christians against falling in love with their ideal church, the church of their imaginations, lest they fail to appreciate the church they're already in, the church where God's Holy Spirit is already active.

This also means no more church of the fantasized future. It's God's future that we are meant to discover through lives of faithfulness, not a future born of the empty well of human wisdom and sin.

Jesus says that no truly wise person begins something without counting the cost. But He also tells a parable in Luke 12 about a man who had so much that he decided to build big barns to store everything and simply live a life of ease. He had big plans born of his own view of things.

Jesus' fictional man's smug self-satisfaction (there's that smug thing again) came to an abrupt end when, Jesus says, God came to him and said: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" (Luke 12:12) In other words, it's fine for people (and congregations) to make plans; but we'd better be prepared to trash them when God throws up walls or calls us in different directions. James 4:13-15 puts our fantasized futures in perspective when he writes:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12:18 also tell us no more lamentations for what our congregation is not, but celebration for what it is when Jesus and the Word of God hold center place, as well as prayerful faith in God that He is providing and He will provide what we need in gifted people to do, not what we want to do, but what He is calling us to do.

2. We must not allow other disciples' quirks to get in the way of recognizing their God-gifts that must be exercised for our congregations to do what God is calling us to do.

Everybody has quirks. (Even you!) There are no quirkless humans.

And it's through humans who make up Christ's body, with all their peculiarities and particularities, that God does His work in the world. The Church is called to "make disciples," internally and externally. God has given all the parts needed for any congregation needed to do this. And all of those parts will be imperfect, idiosyncratic, quirky.

It's always been that way. Paul had a volcanic temper, it seems. Peter was impulsive. James and John had to learn to get over looking out for number one. David had an eye for the ladies. Naomi was self-pitying. No matter. God used them all with their quirks. So, who are we to mentally disqualify people from doing the part in Christ's mission for His Church to which God has called them?

I've always remembered a wonderful bit of advice given by Alan Loy McGinnis in his book, The Friendship Factor. For any relationship to thrive and be all that it can be, each person must make allowances for the peculiar insanities of the other person. That's true in friendships, in marriages, and in the most sacred of all relationships, the Church, this organic body of Christ, the only relationship in this world that will continue to exist in eternity.

3. We cannot overestimate nor underestimate the value or necessity of any spiritual gift or the baptized believer in Christ who possesses the gift. We in the body of Christ all need each other.

4. We must encourage every Christian disciple to know and exercise their spiritual gifts, with mutual accountability to Christ and to the Church.

Congregations need to work hard at getting rid of gatekeepers who prevent some members from doing the ministries to which God calls them through their gifts

Congregations need to discourage the "humble pie" excuse-makers who claim they can't do anything for the mission of the Church because, "I have no gift." People who ply such nonsense are calling God a liar, because God's Word insists that the Holy Spirit has given every believer in Christ a spiritual gift by which the Church fulfills its calling.

1 Peter 4:10 says: "
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." Peter assumes that "each of you" in the churches he addresses in first century Asia Minor has been allotted at least one spiritual gift. For a Christian to say that she or he missed out on a spiritual gift is a humble-sounding way of dodging our calls to play our part in Christ's great commission of all Christians.

Help me to live out these insights as a Christian disciple and as a servant-leader in Your Church, Lord. Amen

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

The strange madness, the only way to be human

From our son, Pastor Philip Daniels:
When we are too busy loving our brothers and sisters, it is hard to find time to demonize them or write-off their sins and problems. When you love someone, you want what is best for that person. When you love someone, they will see your vision for them as being modeled on Christ-centered love rather than pharisaical hypocrisy. To love your enemies doesn't mean you allow them to do whatever they want. It means you love them so much that you are willing to enter into the messiness of their lives and be there for the hard cleaning. When we love our enemies, we are being like Christ. When we hate our enemies, we are nothing more than animals fighting for survival. There is a strange madness to the love of Christ, but the only way to live as a human is to be quite mad.