Saturday, October 29, 2016

Forgiveness: Hard and Beautiful

[This was shared today, during a Living Water Lutheran Church women's retreat. I subjected people to listening me sing parts of a few of my songs.]

After teaching the disciples how to pray--including the petition, “...forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”--Jesus says in Matthew 6:14-15: “... if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

The God we know in Jesus is in the forgiving business. That’s why John the Baptist said of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is the ultimate sacrificial lamb. He offered Himself to take away the power of sin over our lives “once and for all.” Jesus’ self-sacrifice and our faith in Jesus ensures that we’re set free to live with God for eternity, even now in the messiness of this life. The forgiveness of God offered in Jesus is great news. But Jesus says that in order to claim the Father’s forgiveness, we need to be forgiving. If we don’t forgive, Jesus tells us, “your Father will not forgive your sins.”

The word that Jesus uses that we translate as forgive is, in the Greek in which Matthew rendered the Lord’s Prayer, a form of the word aphiemi. It’s a verb that literally means to send away from, or release, even divorce or separate from. Psalm 103:12 conveys the picture of forgiveness as God sending our sins far from us, when it says: “ far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” When Jesus brings God’s forgiveness to the repentant believer, we are released, set free, and our sins are sent packing! “The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23 says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When we’re forgiven through Christ, the boulder of sin that prevents us from claiming the life Jesus died and rose to give us is removed from our path. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” [Jesus asked the woman caught in adultery.] “No one, sir,” she said.“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” That woman was released from the debt she owed to God for her sin and her sins were sent away. She could walk with God. That’s what forgiveness lets us do.

But forgiveness is hard. The first thing that makes forgiveness hard is that we have to admit that, whether in our thinking or in our actions, we’re in the wrong. Yet, if we’re to receive forgiveness, we have to be open to confessing our sin. One of the most courageous prayers in the Bible is Psalm 139:23-24: “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.”

When I listened to the first drafts of Georgeann’s, Nancy’s, and Dawn’s presentations for this weekend, I urged them to be unafraid to share what they felt comfortable in sharing as they spoke with you. It’s when we see each others’ hearts and lives honestly and appropriately shared, that the message of Christ can be best transmitted between people. So, I’m going to follow my own advice and make a complete fool of myself on this subject of forgiveness.

I write songs...or more accurately, mostly I write parts of songs, most of them never getting completely finished. I started writing songs when I was eight years old after I'd watched The Al Jolson Story and realized for the first time that songs didn't just appear. People actually wrote them. I thought, "That's a good job." So, I went to my bed room, sprawled out on the floor, and wrote my first song. It was only later that I realized that it was written to the tune of The Daring Man on the Flying Trapeze. But it got the ball rolling. I can't not write songs, probably coming up with an average of three song ideas a day. They come to me as I experience life and as I observe the lives of others.

A few years back, I became conscious of a sin into which I’d fallen (it’s amazing how long we can live in denial about our sins, isn’t it?). I confessed. And then, a song came to me. Here's the first verse. (And the embarrassing and vulnerable part.):
What I did was wrong
And there isn’t any way I can make it seem that it was right
Which is why I try avoiding detection in Your light.
It’s a foolish game that I try to play
Running from You see me anyway.
What I did was wrong.
I once sat through an evening with an agnostic man. We talked late into the night. He unfolded a lifetime of regrets, exposing his sins to me.

As I was getting ready to leave, he smiled and told me, “They say that confession is good for the soul. I guess it is.” I told him that yes, confession can be cleansing. But unless we let Jesus take away the garbage, our sin will always be with us.

Forgiveness comes when we let Jesus take our sins away. That’s when we’re released. Many people realize that they’ve sinned; but they’re never forgiven because they don’t give it to the Savior Who wants to nail our sins to the cross and kill off their power over us forever.

And that leads to another song fragment. A friend committed a damaging sin and had no sense of regret for it. On the night we learned of it, I drove to lead a Bible study, thinking about what I would say to my friend had he not cut off contact with all us. This song started to come to me:
Everybody 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 lift up a prayer
And I know that He’s there
And somehow I can carry on. 
Through the joy and through the pain
Through all the driving rain
In the deep heart of a bleak night
I know my Lord is there
Through the laughter and the tears
Through all the raging years
When all my hope has left sight
I know
I know
I know my Lord is there.
What I wanted to tell my friend is, “Don’t run from God! Don’t run from those who come to you in the name of God. There may be some hard words that need to be heard. There may be some repentance and an honest dealing with your faults. But Jesus shows that God wants what’s best for you. God wants to forgive you and give you a fresh start.” I never got to tell him any of that.

So, forgiveness is hard, first of all because we have to admit that we’re wrong (we have to be vulnerable) and secondly, because it entails surrender to God, the only way we’re to experience the truth that God loves us and is always there for us!

But to me above all, it’s Jesus’ implacable demand that we forgive, that we lay down our demands that others pay up on the debts that they owe to us in order to receive God’s forgiveness, is what makes forgiveness so hard.

When we hear or read about this demand, we seem to automatically think of our need to forgive other people: the people who have wronged us, hurt us, or harmed us. But I think that there are two others apart from other people we must forgive in order to be set free by God’s forgiveness.

The first is this. We must forgive God.

The truth, of course, is that God never wrongs us. Even when He disciplines us or refuses to give us what we want, God doesn’t wrong us.

In Hebrews 12:7-8, we’re told to, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”

In other words, whatever bad we experience in this world doesn’t come from God’s hand, but if we will go through it clutching God’s hand, our faith will grow, our character will grow. We will be transformed into the image of the Savior Who died and rose for us.

Besides, as someone has said, when we see that God is all we have, we come to realize that God is all we need.

When Paul asked God to remove that mysterious thorn in his flesh, God turned him down three times and finally told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) When we’re weak enough to lay our sins at the foot of the cross, God fills with the strength to live forever!

The other person we need to forgive is, for me, the most difficult one of all to forgive: myself.

Three years ago, I came to be the pastor of Living Water. I believe that it was God’s call to come here and I love this church.

But I have also found it hard to forgive myself these past three years because of how I handled my leaving Saint Matthew, the church we served before.

There were people who had gone to battle on our sides in defense of the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of God’s Word. They were people to whom we’d grown close. They’d endured nastiness, recrimination, and shunning from others. And though I’d intimated that it might be best for me to leave and eliminate a lightning rod of controversy as the congregation moved to the North American Lutheran Church, I caught people off guard when I announced that we were coming to Living Water. Four people in particular, all of whom had firmly stood with Christ and the Bible, felt betrayed by me. They felt lied to and I’ve carried guilt for that ever since. People in whom I've confided have tried to counsel me to receive grace and forgiveness for my repented sin, but mostly, I've insisted on holding onto my guilt, even after Saint Matthew folks have expressed their forgiveness.

I did this even though I’ve long known that there’s a certain egotism associated with refusing to accept forgiveness that’s been offered by God and by others. It’s as if I was saying, “I know that God forgives me and I know that others forgive me, but my standards are higher.” That’s egotistical!

And it’s probably also needy.

I needed to be reminded by God’s Word and by other disciples that even when I don’t feel forgiven or forgivable, Jesus died and rose to make it possible for me to be released--set free, divorced--from my sins. To be forgiven!

Maybe that’s why I often remind people of the promise in God’s Word: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”

That includes you. Don’t withhold from yourself what God freely gives to all who call on Him with repentance and belief, forgiveness.

All of which leads me to one more humiliating self-disclosure in the form of a song that is completed and which I even shared with the congregation last year. It’s called Confession and Absolution Song and it’s about forgiveness. There’s a part for you, if you care to join in:
Father, forgive us for all of our sin
Come, Holy Spirit, make us clean within
Through Jesus Christ, we know You're our Friend
A Friend indeed, but also our King
The One to Whom all creation sings
Our needy selves are all we can bring

Now all who call on the name of the Lord
The One Who saints and angels adore
You have new life and life evermore
Forgiveness is God’s sweetest gift and it’s ours through faith Jesus, Who died and rose for us. Alleluia!

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Great LP: heel by Dogs of Peace

Dogs of Peace is a band composed of studio musicians who have worked with many of the major recording artists of the past thirty years, including Eric Clapton and Taylor Swift.

They've also composed songs for many artists and created major movie soundtracks.

They're also Christians, one of whom was a member of the great band, White Heart.

The band first recorded together under the Dogs of Peace moniker twenty years ago.

They've released their second LP, 'heel' and it's phenomenal: lyrically and musically rich, with great vocals and harmonies. This LP rocks and inspires.

You can buy it here.

For a taste, here's the first track:

Good advice

Life gets tough when we mess these things up. (Like I do.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Holdin' on to Yesterday by Ambrosia

I was never a big Ambrosia fan. But this is a great tune.

AUDIO: Fight the Good Fight!


Grace: Actually Awesome!

Here are musings from my morning Quiet Time with God today. I met God at John, chapter 6.
Look: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54) 
This doesn't impart a new truth to me today, Lord. But I see it in a somewhat different light this morning. 
Jesus’ words underscore just how amazing Holy Communion is and what actually happens when we receive Christ’s body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine. We receive life, the life of God that cannot be stopped by death!

Listen: This is why the sacrament must be received with reverence and awe. Not fake reverence and awe. Not with goosebumps we generate. But with gratitude and absolute awe that God deigns to come to us, to sacrifice Himself, to give His life to us. Especially when it would be so easy to give up on the human race as a good project gone bad.

Holy Communion shows us that salvation isn’t something we can achieve by being good people or "religious." God gives Himself to those who trustingly receive Him and what He has done for us on the cross. It’s a free gift for those willing to receive what God offers to us. Not a chicken in every pot and all our material fancies given. But what we need more than anything: Life with God! (Because without God, the Giver of life, we can't live.) 
That’s why Jesus’ words earlier in the chapter have such power. He has upbraided the crowd for following Him not because they saw in His feeding of the 5000 a sign of His identity as God and Messiah, but as a would-be king on the campaign trail. They wanted to force Jesus to be their king so that they could get what they could out of Him. Just like most voters today, their concern wasn’t with things like truth, but what was in it for them. Even in pre-democratic times, people (mobs) wanted “leaders” they could lead around and get them to do what was in their interests. Would-be leaders heeded what the ancient equivalents of polling told them and tacked in the direction of the crowds. The wily offered not leadership, but sycophancy. They were tails wagged by the dogs. And the shrewd crowds knew when they had kings they could manipulate. The crowd that followed Jesus figured they had a softie they could buy off with a crown and some huzzahs.

And when Jesus started talking about God, this mob, like the woman at the well, decided to play along and got all religious, asking Jesus what they needed to do to be doing the work of God. He said: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). 
That’s probably not the answer they expected. They were looking for something like: “Do these religious acts.” Then, they could pretend to agree (maybe even genuinely think that they could make themselves holy, which no human being can do) and get Jesus to sign on the dotted line to become the king who would always fill their bellies and do their bidding. 
They misunderstood their Man.

Simply put, we do the works of God when we receive Jesus Christ and what He has come to bring to us--eternal life with God--by the power of God’s grace through simple faith in Jesus. Receiving what Christ has come to give entails not deal-making, but total surrender and trust in the God we meet in Jesus. 

In Holy Communion, Jesus physically, tangibly enacts the grace of God, the Word of God--Jesus Himself, according to John 1--given to us.  
The only choice to be made is whether we will receive Him, along with the rightful judgment of our sin and the gracious erasure of the power of that sin over us, that only Jesus offers. 
Jesus wants to become our king on His terms, not ours, and for our everlasting good, not for what we think is good for us. (How could we possibly know better what is good for us than the One Who made us?) 
The word awesome is thrown around and misused for insignificant things. 
Christ coming to us, filling us with His life and salvation, not because we’ve earned it, but because we humbly receive and trust in Him, is truly awesome.

Respond: Help me, Lord, to always receive You, Your body, Your blood, Your life, and Your forgiveness, with awe, thanksgiving, and faith. Help me to commend this faith and this reverence for the sacrament to others. In Jesus’ name.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He's also the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

If the House Burns Down Tonight by Switchfoot

OK, I admit it: I love the new Switchfoot LP.
Ashes from the flames
The truth is what remains
The truth is what you save
From the fire
And you fight for what you love
Don't matter if it hurts
You find out what it's worth
And you let the rest burn... 
If the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need when I got you by my side
That's how the love between a woman and a man feels.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Will I be a servant of God or a blob of Silly Putty?

Once again, I present how God recently spoke to me through His Word during Quiet Time today. The chapter of the Bible on which I focused was John 5.
Look: “I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:43-44) 
Jesus is the speaker. Earlier in the chapter, He reminds people that John the Baptist had testified as to His identity as Messiah. Later, He would assert that Moses had pointed to Him. Also, in the chapter, He speaks of Himself as the Son of God the Father, making Himself equal to God. But Jesus knows that these witnesses won't convince the crowd about Who He is. They’ve already made up their minds about Him. ("Don't confuse us with the facts!") 
Here, Jesus cuts to the reason for the crowds’ rejection of Him as God and Messiah: He comes to them in the name of the Father. 
If, Jesus says, someone comes to them in their own name--in other words, in their own interests, brazenly seeking glory and adulation for themselves, the crowd is all ears, eyes, and open pocketbooks. People love (at least for a season) self-promoters, be they rock stars, athletes, politicians, or would-be saviors.

I suspect that there are several reasons we human beings are prone to, paraphrasing Paul Simon, throw another hero up the pop chart
One is that we all want to be like God. That was the seminal temptation that sucked Adam and Eve into sin. It's our seminal temptation. When we see a shiny new “star” of one kind or another, thumbing their noses at niceties and being boorishly self-absorbed, we’re prone to applause. In them, we see someone “getting away with” what we secretly wish we could get away with. (Of course, the shininess wears out and soon we tire of the spoiled and entitled "hero" and we go searching for the next shiny new self-glorifying star.)

The other reason is that a self-glorifying would-be god is more tangible and more susceptible to our control than self-emptying God. God’s greatest feat was dying on a cross, then being raised from the dead, not for Himself, but for undeserving people. We can become heirs to His saving action when we acknowledge how undeserving we are, turn from sin (all of it rooted in our stubborn desire to be like God), and trust not in themselves--or their “goodness,” or their accomplishments, or their star power--but in the God revealed in Christ alone.

The person who comes to us in their own name can be controlled by us. The success of their self-glorifying schtick is entirely dependent on our going along with it. The abusive husband, whether the abuse is physical, emotional, sexual, or otherwise, inflating himself at the expense of a wife, will be deflated if the wife leaves. The arrogant politician can get away with their arrogance only so long as his/her constituents put up with it. People can’t set themselves up as godlets without our permission.

Jesus came into the world to honor God and to save us. Despite the power that He manifested, because He didn’t act selfishly, the world saw Him as weak, contemptible, worthy of scorn, worthy of death. His selflessness actually threatened those who had power or wanted power. (That would include the entire human race.)

The crowd--me, Jesus says, is willing to live off of the glory that others give to us (to me). Jesus lived (and died and rose) to glorify His Father. Big difference in orientation there. 
Jesus, of course, achieved more than anyone else in human history. He opened the way of salvation to all who believe in Him. Through Him, eternal life invades this dead world through all who trust in Him. (God's life enters my dead frame through Jesus!) None of the world’s self-glorifying godlets can offer that. Their achievements and the adulation of adoring worshipers are finite. What Jesus achieved is eternal.

Listen: God, I wonder what my life would look like if I quit concerning myself with what I want and stopped bothering with others’ opinions of me? Like others, I pretend that neither of these things concern me. But you that that’s a lie.

You could have as easily had me in mind when you said of ancient Israel in Isaiah 29:13: “...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips (this Mark says all the right things to me and about Me), while their hearts are far from me (his heart is far from me), and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” And while you’re talking about religious commandments imposed on people that have little or nothing to do with You, I don’t think it’s eisegesis to say that “commandments taught by men” include our codes for getting ahead by getting along, being the uber-confident self-worshiper who commands allegiance, even when it's all dressed up as being religious and decent. 
Subconsciously, I suspect that I make a little bargain with the world (I may even tell myself that I make it with you): I will be what people want me to be so that they’ll like me, accept me, not find me objectionable, even, in a way, worship me. (Like Adam and Eve, I'd sort of like to "be like God," not in the self-serving sense. But you know, in the Creator of the universe, everyone bow down to me sense. It's embarrassing to see in writing. Yet, I know that at some level it's true. I wonder if I'm rare among the together, loving, devoted Christians I know?) 
It must be true that if you’re all about you and want everybody else to be all about you, becoming a pliant piece of Silly Putty is the way to go. "I'll be whatever other people want me to be if they'll love me." This is not what Jesus meant by losing ourselves to find ourselves. He meant to no longer be concerned about oneself, only about the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. It's when we commit ourselves to that "shalom lifestyle" that we find our true selves, loosed from self-consciousness or self-worship. (One of the first things to happen to humans after falling into sin was the paralysis of self-consciousness. They hid themselves from God because they were naked. "Who told you that you were naked," God asks. 
As Silly Putty godlets, receiving worship because we're looking our for ourselves, we become like the apocryphal French general Robert Kennedy mentioned in the foreword to the memorial edition of his brother’s book, Profiles in Courage. “There go my people,” the general said. “I must follow them so that I may lead them.” 
You can't lead when you seek others' adulation. You can't serve either. That's why true leadership and true servanthood are the same thing. 
Make me more than Silly Putty, Lord. Instead of looking out for me or for the most comfortable and least troubling pathway through life, help me to seek to glorify You. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit so that I can lift You--not me--before the world.

Respond: Lord, today, show me how I can glorify You only. Help me to refrain from those behaviors in which I look out for me. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, October 24, 2016

What God taught me today about who's qualified

Five days a week, I make it a point of spending Quiet Time with God, asking Him to speak the message He has for me that day through His Word. Recently, I spent time with God in John, chapter 4. Here are my reflections.
Look: “Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” (John 4:36) This chapter of John’s Gospel is one of my favorites, a touchstone to which I return time and again. 
When I prayed that God would show me some new truth here though, I confess to being skeptical that could happen because the passage is so familiar to me.

But, in John 4:36, a truth appeared that I had never really noticed. 
Before this, Jesus has encountered the Samaritan woman and, after He told her everything about herself and revealed to her that He was the Messiah, she forgot her dread of encountering the people of Sychar, running back into the village and telling people about Jesus. (The woman went to the well during the hottest time of the day, when none of the other women would be drawing water there. She didn't want to face condemnation for her sinful lifestyle, living with a man to whom she wasn't married.)
At the tail end of the encounter, the disciples return from their food-gathering errand. After that, the woman leaves on her “mission” and the disciples urge Jesus to eat. He says that He already has food and that His food is to do the will of God.

But then, He says: “ Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 8:35) It seems an incongruous thing to say, but Jesus is teaching in a teachable moment when His disciples expectations are being upended, when their understanding of "proper" behavior is challenged. 
There are, Jesus is telling them, people ready to be "harvested," brought out of the mission field of a deathbound world and brought into Christ’s eternal kingdom. Here, even in Samaria, the fields were white with ready souls. Jesus tells the disciples to “look,” to see this reality. 
It’s something I need to see, too. Those people who are hostile or indifferent to Christ aren’t enemies! They’re the mission field, a crop in varying stages of readiness to be harvested for Christ’s kingdom: People who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will be at varied places in their receptivity to the gospel of new life through Jesus.

It's here that Jesus says: “Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.”

Listen: It never struck me before: Jesus moves from a universal statement about the field to a specific statement about what’s happening at Sychar that very moment.
Jesus is surrounded by His apostles, the sent ones, who will carry the gospel and lead the Church after His death and resurrection. 
But the first “reaper,” the first evangelist to gather in the harvest, receiving her wages by gathering the fruit of eternal life through Jesus is this woman from the wrong side of the tracks.

The woman’s slight and embryonic faith--”Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29)--which, despite its seeming incompleteness and her seeming incompetence, compelled her to witness is being rewarded in many ways, two most notably. 
(1) First, she reaps a harvest of believers in Christ; 
(2) She no longer is ashamed. She can face those from whom she once hid. The Jewish man--Jews had no dealings with Samaritans and men never spoke to women from outside of their families in public, who was at the least, in her reckoning, “a prophet” had spoken to her, had offered her eternal life, living water that never gives out. 
She experienced the grace and forgiveness of God that swallows up guilt and shame and makes those who trust in Christ new.

The first evangelist was a Samaritan woman of questionable character. The first to carry the good news of resurrection on Easter (the first Easter sermon) was carried by women.

But never before had I realized so clearly that the Samaritan woman--never named--was the first to give the disciples an object lesson in how the Gospel was going to be carried into the world.

Never before, perhaps, had they seen that Jesus was the sower and all we need to do is simply, humbly, without eloquence or “cuteness,” reap His harvest. 
The woman who had gone to the well at the time of day when she wouldn’t have to be around the respectable women who drew water in the morning or the evening, became a bold evangelist. She could do that because she wasn’t commending herself or protecting herself or looking out for herself. She was just sharing the message that the man at the well--the Messiah, had just changed her life forever.

I'm not qualified to share the Gospel because of what I've done; I'm qualified by what Christ has done for me...and every other human being on the planet! 
So cool!

Respond: Lord, help me to share this truth with the Church, so that their self consciousness will go away. Help me to live this truth. Help me be prepared to reap the harvest that is planted by Your eternity-chanting Word! In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Where the Light Shines Through by Switchfoot

"The wound is where the Light shines through
"The wound is where the Light finds you."

This is the title track from the new Switchfoot project...and it tells a really important truth.

The apostle Paul tells about a wound that afflicted him which he asked God to remove. But three times God refused, then told Paul: "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore [Paul goes on to say] I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fight the Good Fight!

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
A pastor once told a group of us who were meeting together his theory on communicating information to people. “Just about the time you’re sick of hearing yourself say it,” he said, “is probably just the time that people are beginning to hear what you’re saying.”

As we come to our second Bible lesson for today, we may suspect that the apostle Paul had a similar theory about communication.

In 1 Timothy, the first letter he sent to the young pastor, Timothy, Paul wrote, “ I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well…” (1 Timothy 1:18).

Later in that first letter, Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.…” (1 Timothy 6:12)

And in today’s lesson, Paul encourages Timothy to learn from Paul’s life, telling Timothy, even as Paul faced what he regarded as the certainty of execution for his faith in Christ, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.…” (2 Timothy 4:7)
For any who have grown sleepy with an unchristian sentimentality over the Bible’s description of Jesus as “the Prince of peace,” all of Paul’s talk about living out faith in Christ as a “fight,” may be a bit jarring.

Don’t misunderstand, though! Jesus is the Prince of peace, of course. Paul himself wrote about how, in Christ, God made peace with the human race and offered us the incredible peace of knowing that all who trust in Christ belong to God forever. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18 about how “God, who reconciled us to himself [or made peace with us] through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” Through Christ, we can have peace with God, with others, and even with ourselves. And we are called to share that peace.

But that doesn’t mean that following Jesus Christ in this world will be without its struggles.

Sometimes, those struggles will be within us, as we battle to stay faithful in the midst of experiences we can’t explain and, that we fear, are beyond our endurance. Or, when we struggle to justify our own sins despite the will of God made clear in His Word.

Often though, those struggles will come in the form of conflict with other people. Mark it down: Hold onto Jesus and you will sometimes be in conflict with others, sometimes with people you once thought were close to you.

“Do not suppose,” Jesus says in Matthew 10:34-38, “that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Each week during worship, through the words of either the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed, we confess that the God we know in Jesus Christ is the only rightful Lord and King of the universe. We confess that only Jesus is worthy of our ultimate allegiance. And we also confess that it is only through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance for sin in His Name that humanity can find joy, healing, hope, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with our Maker Who we push our of our lives when we sin, and everlasting life.

Make confessions like these, both Jesus and Paul tell us, and you will have a fight on your hands! And that's especially true if your faith in Jesus Christ is more than just words recited in this sanctuary on Sunday mornings. When we dare to carry Jesus beyond these walls, we may find ourselves in a fight or two.

Whenever, for example. we, in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit, dare to love the unlovable or forgive the unpardonable, we will offend people and get a fight.

But even in the face of resistance, we must ask God for strength to keep fighting the good fight: to keep making disciples by sharing Jesus and our lives with others.

The reason for this is simple. C.S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity: “Christianity is a fighting religion.”

As Christians, our call isn’t as Paul reminds us elsewhere, to struggle against flesh and blood, other people. We fight the devil and the demonic powers who want to hold people for whom Jesus died and rose eternally captive to sin, death, and darkness.

But we don't fight alone...or even in our own power!

God fought for us--for our very lives--all the way to the cross and then, after Jesus’ crucifixion had seemingly signaled that nothing about us could be made right, the Father pulled the Son up from the grave and gave Him life again, a life that He shares with all who turn from sin and trust in Him.

This good news--this gospel--changes the lives of those who follow Jesus forever! We have victory no matter what the devil may hurl at us!

Today, it’s our task, no matter how we may be buffeted, rejected, ignored, or scoffed at, to fight the good fight to communicate over and over, however many times we may need to repeat it in words and actions and service and love, that God really did so love the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him will be not be separated from God and the life that only God can give, but live with God and God’s people for all eternity!

Sharing and living this message is the good fight of faith. And friends: It’s the only fight worth our time or attention!

I know that in the midst of a hotly contested election season, that may be hard to remember. But we must remember it! A president will be elected and serve four or eight years. But Jesus is Lord, Savior, God, and King for eternity. No accomplishment of any president or king or emperor or prime minister  comes even close to what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross!

It’s this message of new, eternal life with God for dying sinners that Paul felt worth repeating again and again, in many different ways and circumstances. It's a message worth building our lives on too!

When life throws you a bad break, fight the good fight: hold onto Jesus.

When you find yourself disagreeing with God about what constitutes a sin, fight the good fight: repent and ask God to help you to live according to God’s will, not your own.

When a friend loses a loved one, don’t make yourself scarce, afraid of saying the wrong thing; pray God to give you the right words and the right listening silences, and go to that friend. That’s fighting the good fight, too.

When you see a classmate mistreated or a co-worker shafted, fight the good fight; go to them and be the loving presence of Christ and pray with them.

When you see someone struggling with life without a clue, fight the good fight; go to them, pray with them, and tell them about the hope you have in Jesus Christ.

Pastor George Hartman, a former missionary, was the senior pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Grove City for many years. I first got to know George when I was the twenty-five year old Elder of our home church on the west side of Columbus and Saint John was part of the same cluster of congregations. I came to know George better when Saint John was a mission partner to the mission congregation I pastored in Cincinnati, Friendship. George Hartman was absolutely sold-out, no turning back, no-doubt-about-it in love with Jesus Christ! He wanted people to be saved from sin and death by becoming Jesus’ disciples.

I’ll never forget one Sunday afternoon about twenty-five years ago. The people of Friendship were invited to Saint John for a joint worship service celebrating and praying for our partnership. (At that time, Friendship had grown to a whole 20 members, including my family!) I preached.

Sitting in the front row was George Hartman. I explained that though Friendship was small, already we had seen several adults come to faith in Jesus Christ. “Thanks to you, your prayers, and your gifts” I told the people of Saint John, “there are people you will meet one day in heaven, even if you never meet them on earth, people who, without your commitment to Jesus, might have been lost to God for all eternity.”

I wasn’t going for sentimentality, just stating the facts. But just as I said that, I caught sight of George. Tears were streaming down his face as he thought about the people saved by the sharing of Christ’s gospel who he would one day see in heaven. Folks, those were the joyful tears of a follower of Jesus committed to fighting the good fight of faith, fighting to ensure that every lost soul has a chance to know and follow Jesus!

Among our neighbors, family members, co-workers, and classmates, there are people you and I know who face their days without Christ and without the help that only He can bring.

There are people we know facing an eternity without Jesus Christ, of eternal separation from God and an eternity in hell.

There are people we know who need Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t that make you fighting mad at sin, death, and the devil, the devil who has always tried to deceive people into believing that they can be their own gods, that their sins aren’t so bad?

Don't you want, every single day, to fight for the eternal salvation of such people?

Please, in Jesus’ Name, I beg you to pray for the people in your lives who don’t know Jesus.

Serve them in Jesus’ Name.

Help them to know Jesus.

Help them to see how your perfect Savior is helping you, loving you, and saving you despite your imperfections.

Start a Bible study with them. (I’ll direct you to materials to make it happen.)

Pray with them.

Be there for them.

More than ever before, the world needs Christians to fulfill the mission Jesus has given to us: to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s the fight of our lives!

It’s a fight fought with the love of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the truth of God’s Word, and the prayers of disciples who know that all is hopeless without Jesus.

When we fight this fight, the devil opposes us, (the devil always opposes faithful churches and faithful people) but God-the God Who died on a cross and rose from the dead and gave us faith--stands with us, just as He did with Paul.

Fight the good fight of faith in Christ. It truly is the only fight worth fighting in this world. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared at both worship services this morning.]

Holy Water by Switchfoot

The first track on the new LP by Switchfoot. Make sure to crank it up!

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