Saturday, September 24, 2016

Museum memorializes "the perpetual struggle to live up" to our national ideas

The museum, Mr. Obama said, would make visitors face uncomfortable truths. But it would also capture the essential greatness of the United States — the perpetual struggle to live up to its highest ideals.

Mr. Obama spoke emotionally of his many flights on Marine One across the Mall, past the alabaster spire of the Washington Monument and the lighted figure of Abraham Lincoln, sheltered in his memorial. He said he had watched the museum rise from the ground and thought of the days when he and his family would return to visit it as private citizens.

“We’ll walk away that much more in love with this country,” he said, “the only place on earth where this story could have unfolded.”
From The New York Times' coverage of the dedication of the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture, located on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

I hope to see the museum the next time I'm in Washington.

Friday, September 23, 2016

As season winds down, Brandon Phillips' days as a Red may be numbered

The player who may be remembered as the second-best second baseman in Cincinnati Reds history--after Joe Morgan--seems likely to be traded during the off-season. Since he has the right to veto any trade, it's likely, based on remarks he makes in the linked article, that he'll only go to a contender. I will hate to see Phillips go; he's one of my all time favorites.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Would selection committee give Houston a chance?

According to a survey of fifteen Power Five Conference ADs conducted by USA Today, yes, the Cougars could have a path to the College Football Playoff. But there are a lot of games to be played yet, including a game against #3 Louisville in Houston on November 17.

The way things look right now, the match-up versus Louisville would be even more demanding than the game the Cougars won in Norman over Oklahoma, which was also ranked #3 on the opening Saturday of college football season when the two teams played. Louisville impressively dismantled Florida State last week; so, they are likely to be a team to be reckoned with.

I'm pulling for the Cougars for a great season, not just because they play in the non-Power Five American Athletic Conference and I love rooting for the "little guys," but mostly because the Cougars' head coach is Tom Herman. Herman was the offensive coordinator for my Ohio State Buckeyes when OSU won the first College Football Playoff championship two seasons ago. His play-calling then was masterful. And he's done an amazing job with all facets of his job with the Cougars.

Houston is rumored to be one of the schools that the Big 12, a Power Five conference, is looking to add to their number. Should the Cougars go 13-0 in regular season play, as seems likely, it would only burnish the case for their admission among major colleges.

Admission into the Big 12 might also entice Herman, who could probably write his own ticket to any available major college program, to stay at Houston. The heightened level of competition and the bigger salary he could likely count on might keep him on. Houston is already a major hotbed for high school football player recruitment and Herman is winning many of them over. He's building something there.

[UPDATE: The likeliest scenario by which Houston could get into the playoffs, I think, is for Oklahoma, now 1-2, to win out the rest of the season as Houston similarly takes care of business in their own weaker conference. This will make their win over Oklahoma a more impressive item on their resume. Houston is still a long shot.]

Of course, if, improbably, Houston gets into the College Football Playoff and faces off against my Buckeyes, who have a great chance to make it to the final four this year, I'll hope that the Cougars just roll over and play dead.

How losing weight and eating healthfully are going

I've written here and here about my quest to lose weight and eat more healthfully after I tipped my doctor's scales at a gargantuan 189.7-pounds. That weigh-in occurred on June 13. On June 14, I began to cut my daily calorie intake.

In the first linked post, I talked about what I'd learned after about a month of more sensible eating. In the second linked post, I gave a progress report; at that point I weighed in at 176.5 pounds.

Yesterday, I went to the local Little Clinic because of a cough and cold. The examination room had scales in it and since I'd not weighed myself since September 1, I decided to bite the bullet.

I wasn't hopeful. I'd fallen off the calorie wagon several times over the past few weeks. On the other side of the ledger though, I had, a few days before, bought a new pair of jeans with a size 34 waist and felt comfortable in them. But when I put my hands on my belly, I could tell that it wasn't shrinking as dramatically as it did when I first began the process or when I'd been more consistently disciplined. (Many people have commented to me how weight comes off readily initially, but gets tougher as time goes on.)

I climbed on the scales. I couldn't believe it! I had lost more weight. I was now at 173 pounds. Not a dramatic reduction, of course, but I had half expected a gain.

In addition to all the lessons this process is teaching me, which I mentioned here, I guess I would point to another one: Maintaining a daily positive discipline isn't easy. (I know that's obvious. But I think it's worth noting.)

Whether, we're establishing disciplines to lose weight, get fit, be financially responsible, serve others, inform ourselves as voting citizens, or keep a daily quiet time with God, all positive things, there will always be some urgent or more compelling thing that keeps us from being disciplined. The hardest thing in the world to do is the right thing.

I've learned that truth more from my failures--including my failures at eating more healthfully--than I have from my successes.

But even that phrase "my successes" makes me laugh. The reason is simple: The reason that I've lost more than 16-pounds since June 14, a paltry amount if the diet technique commercials are to be believed, is not because of my will power. My will is to eat what I want, do what I want, spend as I want, look out for myself with no regard to others as I want.

But God is in the process of taming this rebel sinner. Each day, often many times a day, I turn to the God I know in Jesus Christ and ask Him, despite my self-will and stubbornness, to bring me under His control, to meet my willing but weak spirit and create and deepen faith in Christ within me, to create and deepen my dependence on Christ. And, I also pray that as Christ does this, He will cultivate in me the habits that will cause me to daily welcome Christ as Lord over my whole being.

The old Mark--sinful, selfish, willful--my default mode is always trying to steer me away from letting Christ have charge of my whole life. My only defense is the disciplines of Christian life, the means by which Christ comes to us and strengthens us to be who we know, through Christ, we can be:
  • God's Word, the Bible;
  • worship with fellow believers;
  • the sacrament of Holy Communion, the true body and blood of Jesus;
  • prayer;
  • the fellowship of other believers;
  • serving in Christ's name. 
As I indicated here, I regard this movement toward more healthy eating and a lower weight as a spiritual battle. There is nothing that the devil, the world, and our sinful selves (our old selves) like more than for us to be on "cruise control": self-satisfied, resigned to being who we are, unconcerned with others, unconcerned with taking care of the bodies that God has given to us.

When we follow these ordinary pathways of the world, we take ourselves out of the game in which God enlists us at our Baptism--and in which God wants to enlist all people: to love God, to love our neighbor, to surrender to the life-changing grace of God given only in Jesus, to make disciples.

I want to be in God's game until the moment I draw my last breath on earth. That's why I'm trying to eat healthfully and get to a good weight. Despite all the roadblocks I put in God's way, I keep turning back to Him to help me to make this new life style stick.

He can do the same thing for you.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Being Shrewd Managers of God's Graces

Luke 16:1-15
[Audio of this message can be found here.]

Let’s get one thing off the table immediately as we look at the strange parable Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 16:1-15. The God we know in Jesus Christ does not commend thievery or dishonesty.

The seventh commandment still says, “You shall not steal.”

The eighth commandment still tells us: “You shall not bear false witness.”

The Savior Jesus, the foundational Truth of the universe, Who came into our world not to abolish God’s Law, but to fulfill it, would never compliment dishonesty in financial dealings. Nor would He compliment cheating. But Jesus does commend the manager’s shrewdness. And He commends the shrewd use of all that has come under His disciples’ control in this life. It remains commendable for you and me. Let's find out why.

This parable is, above all, about stewardship. Not just the stewardship of our money, but the stewardship of our whole lives.

Each of us has been given the gift of life. Stewardship is about what we do with this gift.

James 1:17 reminds us: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” We tend to forget this and the moment we take something in hand--be it a job, a house, a car, a career, whatever--we think of it as being intrinsically, by right, ours. In perpetuity...or, until we decide to get rid of it or trade up or sell it or will it to our kids.

But that’s not what God’s Word tells us. Psalm 24:1 says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

Whatever we have, not just property and goods, but also our minds, our bodies, our health, our friends and family and spouses, aren’t ours. We only have them on loan from God. So, how will we use this life that God has given to us? That is the question Jesus challenges us to answer in this parable.

Let’s look at verse 1: “Jesus told his disciples: There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”’”

The rich man isn’t quite ready to give his manager a pink slip. Maybe he’ll give the guy another--less cushy--assignment. But the rich man has heard that the manager is wasting his money.

This is curious! The manager is on the brink of getting fired or demoted because the rich man has heard rumors from gossips. He tells the manager, in effect, “I find you guilty. Now give me the evidence.”

Now, in your experiences, what sort of person is quickest to believe that someone else is cheating them, that someone else has lied to them? It’s usually someone who’s an accomplished cheat and liar themselves. They figure that everyone is as bad as untrustworthy as they are. So, when the rich man hears rumors about his manager, he believes them. We’ll get confirmation of this later in the parable.

Read on, please. “‘The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” [The manager’s career options are dwindling.] So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” “Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,” he replied. The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.” “Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?” “A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied. He told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.”’”

Let's be clear: the manager is being completely self-serving. That's not the thing Jesus is commending.

But Jesus says that the manager is using the money owed to his master--or more accurately, forgiven portions of money owed to his master--to create a soft landing for himself--a golden parachute--after he gets fired. The manager figures that each of those whose debts were forgiven will be grateful to him and welcome them into their own households. We still have no idea from what Jesus tells us whether the manager actually had, as the gossips had reported, wasted the rich man’s possessions. But we do know this: That the IOUs the rich man was waiting to come due were now worth a lot less than they had been before.

And there’s something else we know now for sure: This rich man himself isn’t such an upright character. Old Testament law was clear in condemning usury, which it defined as loaning fellow Jews money with interest. Deuteronomy 23:19 says: “Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.”

Yet, here was the fictional rich man in Jesus’ parable likely making loans to other Jews with interest. Why do I say that was likely? Stick with me. But I will tell you now that I believe that the rich man violated God’s law and the law of his country to make money. He was a crook. No wonder he was suspicious of the manager without a shred of evidence.

And here’s the deal. There’s a good chance that the manager reduced what the rich man’s debtors actually owed him, without interest added, under the laws of Israel. It’s likely that one guy really only owed the rich man 450 gallons of olive oil and the other really only had borrowed 800 bushels of wheat. Either way you slice it, the manager was being shrewd. The debtors would appreciate his action. And the rich man would be more likely to get a 450 gallon payback of olive oil than 900 or 800 bushel payback of wheat than 1000...just as today, lenders will pay collection agencies to get at least something out of overdue loans, pennies on the dollar.

This may explain the next verse: “[Jesus says:] The master [didn’t fire the manager, but] commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For [Jesus goes on to explain] the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light [‘People of the light’ being disciples of Jesus]. I tell you [Jesus continues], use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Now, don’t miss Jesus’ point. Jesus is talking about how we are to manage every blessing that comes to us in this world and whether we will be prepared for what happens beyond death. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

Death, for we fallen descendants of Adam and Eve, is inevitable. It hangs over each of us, just as the loss of his way of life hung over the manager in Jesus’ parable. The question for us, as it was for the manager, is this: Will we prepare for the life to come by being good stewards--good managers--of the lives we’re living right now? Will we share the riches of God's grace with others so that, by our sharing of the Gospel and of our lives with them, they too will become Christ's disciples and be there to welcome us gratefully in eternity? This is an enormous question!

One scholar says, rightly, I think, that there are three ways we can “manage” this life that God gives to us.

One way is to be like the rich fool of Jesus’ parable in Luke 12. Jesus tells about a man who acquired so much that he decided to build bigger barns to hold all his stuff. Then, he told himself, he would relax, eat, drink, and be merry. But Jesus says: “...God said to [this rich man], ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:20-21] Watch out, Jesus says, that whenever you come to life’s end, you haven’t been spending all of God’s gifts on this life. That’s short-sighted: There will be no soft landing in eternity for people like this.

Another way we can “manage” the gifts of this life--and this life itself--is to, understanding that this life will pass from our hands one day and so, ignore taking care of God's gifts to us in this life. This what fifty years ago, the hippies in communes tried to do. They weren’t going to own anything. Or take care of anything. They were just passing through, man.

Through the centuries, there have been Christian movements that have adopted this line of thinking. These folks can be, as the saying puts it, so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. Short as this life may be though, the gifts that come to us from God are to be taken care of, even our bodies. (By the way, have you had a physical lately?)

By His death on the cross, Jesus paid the ransom to buy us out of captivity to sin and death; even as we look forward to eternity, we owe it to Him to take care of this life and this world.

That entails being faithful to the promises we made to God and the Church when we were confirmed: live among God’s faithful people, to hear His Word and share in His supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
That’s how we’re to use the gifts God has given to us. That's how we're to live and celebrate the free gift of grace given in Christ. That’s how we’re to manage our lives while on this planet!

This leads us to the third way we can live our lives. It’s the way of the manager in Jesus’ parable. It’s the way of shrewdness. One scholar has written that the manager uses “the authority he still has in the present [world] to feather his bed for the future [world].”

Every bit of this life God has given to us is meant to be invested in eternity, in the things of Christ’s eternal kingdom. Invest your life, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, in glorifying the God Who has saved you through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We all will get pink slips someday, our time and work on earth will be through.

But when it happens, may we stand before our Lord, gloriously spent, good managers who gave this life our all for Christ’s glory, people who, by the way we have entrusted all that we have and all the we are to Christ, have lived faithfully and wisely in response to God's goodness to us.

It will be the ultimate soft landing, right into the hand of God.

And Christ will tell us: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” [Matthew 25:34] It’s then that all will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that those who have managed their lives with gratitude for all that God has done for them are the shrewdest people of all. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared during worship on September 18.]

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Does 1 Timothy 2:8-15 Show That Paul Was a Sexist?

Not being aware during this morning's worship of the events in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, I called two of the appointed lessons for this Sunday "fire bombs" because of their power to disturb. Late in the week, I got an email from a member of the Living Water family asking if I would say a few words of explanation of 1 Timothy 2:1-15, the last eight verses of which might raise questions, to say the least. (The other disturbing passage appointed for the day was the Gospel lesson, Luke 16:1-15, which includes a parable in which Jesus tells Christians to be shrewd.)

Anyway, I decided to spend some time talking about these verses, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, before preaching:
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
Here's a link to that discussion. It's about seven and a half minutes long.

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