Friday, December 02, 2016

God's Word: Knowing it, living it

From my quiet time with God this morning, what God taught me from Revelation 1:3. That passage reads:
Great blessings belong to the person who reads the words of this message from God and to those who hear this message and do what is written in it. There is not much time left.
Look: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 3:1)

Listen: John has received a revelation, one consistent with the revelation of God given to the ancient Israelites and with God’s ultimate self-disclosure in the crucified and risen Jesus.

He says that the person who dares to read this revelation to the churches of Asia Minor is blessed, or favored by God. One might wonder how favored or blessed the world would regard the reader. John is living an exile on Patmos, an enemy of the state. To be associated with John and John’s witness for Christ would not make someone favored in the eyes of the government or the world.

But then, the Bible always evidences a strange notion of what marks a person as blessed or favored by God.

After the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary to announce that she will give birth to the Messiah, Jesus, Mary travels to see her relative, Elizabeth, and says: “...from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:48-49).

Mary speaks here as an ordinary believer, blessed to have the Savior come to her and blessed too, to have the particular role marked out for her by God to be the bearer of God in her womb.

And yet, there were times when Mary would not have seemed, from an earthly perspective, to be blessed. First, there was the stigma attached to being a mother out of wedlock, something with which she would always have to deal.

Second, there was the knowledge that she was raising a Son Who faced certain rejection. When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and her husband Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There, they encountered Simeon, a man who had been faithfully waiting and praying for Messiah to come in his lifetime. When he saw Jesus, he knew that his prayers had been answered. But he told Mary: ““Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

To be blessed then, is not to have everything go our ways. It’s about living in God’s favor no matter what unpleasantness, pain, or death we may be going through at any given time.

Paul captures this idea of blessedness when he writes in Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Jesus shows just how radically different the state of godly blessedness is from the world’s notions on the subject in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
We experience a state of blessedness from God when we are emptied of any dependence on the world’s definition of blessedness or happiness and instead, are filled only with the desire to live lives pleasing to the God Who has saved us by grace through faith in Christ.

Like Christ, we’re called to empty ourselves of concern about ourselves, confident that we belong to God forever and can move boldly to follow and do the will of God, whatever the world may think or say. (Philippians 2:7; Acts 4:29; Romans 8:31-39)

I have not attained this state of blessedness. Too often, I’m like the kids in the “trust experiment”: I trust, but not quite. I think of the radical call in Romans 13:14: “...make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires.”

The public reader of God’s Word mediated through John in the book of Revelation was, John writes, “blessed” because he was following God rather than human beings in boldly daring to share the Word with others. (Acts 5:29)

I want to lead that kind of blessed life.

John goes on to say “...blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it.”  

This reminds me of James’ words:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed [there’s that word again] in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)

This is no promise that everything will go well for us in this world if we do God’s Word, doing what He commands us to do.

In fact, Jesus promises the exact opposite: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We are blessed--favored by God--when we not only hear His Word, but seek to live it and its implications out.

Listen: It’s too easy for me to turn Your Word into head knowledge for me, akin to all the trivia I have catalogued in my mind, Lord. Too often, I’m a kind of Martha (Luke 10), only I don’t scurry with serving dinner guests...I scurry for the acquisition of knowledge not to be more faithful to you, or a better person, or a better citizen, or a better family members, but just to be more knowledgeable. That’s a worldly game and its vain, both in the sense of pointless and in the sense of being egotistical.

Respond: Help me to live out my faith, to do what You call and command me to do: Love God, love neighbor, make disciples. Help me also to live out my specific callings in life: to serve, preach, teach, lead, to be salt and light in unlikely places.

Help me to seek to really live Your will for my life, even though there are times when, like a horse gone wild, I want to break free and do what I want to do.

Help me to read and live Your Word, Lord.

In Jesus’ name I pray. 
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

The "Post-Factual World" and American Democracy

As a Facebook friend pointed out, "post-factual world" is a term now. She went on to write:
That's how low the bar has been set.

Regardless of party, this should be unacceptable.

Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.
I think she's right and that it's a bi-partisan (non-partisan) threat to our country. I responded:
It's all apparently about "feelings" now, irrespective of facts.

This is evidenced in both parties. Anderson Cooper rightly and gently called out one of the CNN contributors last week for saying that millennials feel cheated "because of this electoral college thing."

The electoral college may have outlived its usefulness. But American kids are taught about the electoral college in elementary school. It's a fact of life for now, no matter how a person may feel about it. Nobody got cheated by the system that's been in place since 1789.

Similarly, the "feelings" of people on the other side that crime is up and that every immigrant seeking asylum from oppression and violence in Muslim countries in the US is a terrorist are heedless of facts.

Facts should matter. But in a society that has dismissed the notion of objective truth, entry into a "post-factual" world is, I suppose, inevitable. It's frightening, un-American, and, I might add, un-Christian.

This post-factual world is also abetted by an intellectual laziness that prefers being entertained to learning about things like truth or facts or listening to those with whom we may reflexively disagree.

Democracy is a messy business. As Churchill said, it's the worst form of government except for every other form that's been tried. But unless citizens are "diligent," as you put it, democracy is lost. For some though, life is about being a sated lab rat. They're perfectly willing to let everyone do their thinking for long as they get what they want and don't "feel" violated. (Their feelings being a moving target, subject the their fickleness.)

People seem to want a kind of elected monarch who will act in accordance with their feelings. This is the kind of king Jesus' fellow Jews tried to force Him into being in John's Gospel. He resisted. That was the beginning of people's disenchantment with Him. Their feelings were hurt.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, someone supposedly approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, "What have we got--a Republic or a monarchy?" Franklin answered: "A Republic, if you can keep it."

An uninformed, self-indulgent, selfish citizenry that ignores and doesn't care about the facts cannot keep a republic.

Time to pray more. And insist on making fact-based, not feeling-based decisions.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Talk Too Much by COIN

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Dialogue Part 1 and 11 by Chicago

This song is as relevant today as when it was first released on the phenomenal Chicago V LP back in 1972.

No matter how we close our eyes to injustice, it still exists. And our chosen blindness doesn't impress the God we know in Jesus Christ.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Into the Night by For King and Country

Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel by Bryan Duncan

This is one of my favorite versions of this great Advent hymn.

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

3 Songs

Three songs came up either in my shuffle or on Muzak at restaurants and stores on Monday night. They all evoke feelings of homes with love, I think.

First, Long Haired Lady from Paul McCartney's 1971 release, Ram. Macca did this song with his new wife Linda, mostly at his farm in Scotland, where they were living what he has described as a "hippie life." Though I am the least handy person you can name, I've always liked the idea of owning my own farm. I spent happy hours on a family farm for reunions when I was a kid and my first parish was in a farm community. I love singing along with the opening lines of the title track--"I got a horse, I got a sheep, I'm gonna get me a good night's sleep"--and imagining Farmer Mark going to feed the animals.

Next, Walk Between the Raindrops by Donald Fagen. This is, by contrast, a very urban song, the narrator reveling in the rainy dash through city streets to be with his beloved. I love cities too, big cities: bustling, filled with activity and art and commerce, great restaurants, concerts and plays and parks. Cities can be homey too.

Then, this rendition of the classic I'll Be Home for Christmas by Rascal Flatts. It's a cliche, of course, but home is where your heart is...even if you'll never go there for the rest of your lifetime. This song is one of those Christmas classics that never gets old and, really, gives expression to a longing for home that's more than just the homes we've known on earth. It also, I think, says that home, more than anything, is who you love.

Just saw this tweet and liked it

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How to get ready for Jesus' Advent

Matthew 24:36-44
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word advent, you’ll recall, means arrival or the coming of a notable person. In Advent, we wait for the coming of Christmas, of course. More importantly, we await the day when the crucified and risen Jesus, the One Whose birth we celebrate just four weeks from today, will return to this world.

Every Sunday, you and I talk about Jesus’ return as we confess our faith through the words of the Apostles’ Creed. “He will come again to judge the living and the dead,” we say. But in the rush of everyday life, we often seem to lose touch with the fact that Jesus, Who has made good on every single promise He’s ever made, will return.

When Jesus does return, the judgment will happen. Those who have trusted in Christ, surrendering their lives and their wills in the everyday places of life, will live with God for eternity.

Those who have not trusted in Christ--who have trusted in themselves, their wits, their money, their families, a false religion, whatever--will be separated from God and from life for eternity.

Jesus says, referring to Himself: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” [John 3:18]

It’s to keep the certain promise of His return--and the need to remain constantly focused on following Him--in the forefront of our minds that Jesus speaks the words that make up today’s Gospel lesson. Let’s take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 24:36-44.

Verse 36: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

This may be hard for us to imagine! The main characteristic of any human being is the desire to be in control, what the book of Genesis calls our desire to “be like God.” Yet, here’s Jesus, God in the flesh, saying that even He doesn’t know the day or hour of His return to this world. He’s leaving things totally to the will of the Father, just as He did when He went to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” [Matthew 26:39]

Anyone who claims to know when Jesus will return is placing themselves above Jesus. Speculation about when Jesus will return is nothing other than a human attempt to take control of what rightly belongs in the hands of God.

Go back to the lesson, starting at verse 37, please. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming [or the advent] of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken [to be judged] and the other left [to live]. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken [to be judged] and the other left [to live].”

Jesus asks us here to remember what things were like back in the days before Noah’s flood. There were two ways to look at those days.

Genesis 6:11-13 tells us how the world looked from God’s perspective: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.’”

From God’s point of view, the people of the world were corrupted by sin and violent in all of their dealings. Evil was so bad that God decided to send the flood and destroy every human being who didn’t worship him.

But, Jesus says, in the days and years leading up to the flood, all but eight members of the human race looked at things in a different light. They went about their business without a thought to the corruption, injustice, megalomania, and violence that characterized them and their culture.

Pre-flood humanity never knew what hit them or why when the waters rose. The flood came, Jesus says, and took them away.

Don’t, Jesus is telling us, get used to doing things the world’s way because, ultimately, every human being must answer to God.

(Notice too, that it's those who are taken away by the flood who go away to be eternal punishment. It's the ones left behind who remain with God, in sync with God, following God, faithful to God, remaining under His reign. According to Jesus, the last thing any believer would want is to "be raptured." We want, instead, to remain with the God we meet in Christ!)

Let's be honest: The world today is just as corrupt, violent, and selfish as it was in the days before the flood.
It turns out that pre-flood humanity has nothing on us in the sin department.

The world today hurtles along with its own agenda, indifferent to others’ suffering, six-billion people baying, “What’s in it for me?”

If the Father were to tell the Son that right now was the moment for Him to return, it’s hard to imagine a more apt time than this one!

Go back to our lesson, please. Verse 42: [Jesus continues] “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

We had our house broken into once. It took us by surprise because, as I’ve told some people before, the thieves didn’t send us a text to say, “We’re breaking into your house next week.” It’s crazy, but I remember thinking, “If I’d only known when they were coming, I would have stuck around the house and they couldn’t have stolen anything.” But the time to get ready for a thief is before the thief arrives, not after. Just so, Jesus doesn’t tell us when He’s coming back, just that He is and that we need to be ready for it.

And exactly why doesn’t Jesus tell us the time of His arrival? That way we could keep on sinning and doing whatever we want and then, just before He comes back or just before we die (assuming He’ll tell us that date too), we could repent.

People who think that way--and many people do think that way--are under the delusion that salvation is a deal we make with God by saying the right words or doing the right things.

Or they think that they'll know the exact moment at which they'll need to be ready, as though God is going to inform them of when Christ is returning or when we're going to die.

But we can’t negotiate with God. We can’t placate Gods with religious acts. And we can't anticipate the moment when the omnipotent Creator and King of the universe is going to draw the curtain on this old creation and usher in the new one with the return of Jesus.

This very day, God demands that we either adhere to His commandments perfectly, which we cannot do, or that we repent and surrender our whole selves to Jesus Christ, Who has obeyed God’s Law perfectly, then taken the punishment we deserve for us.

Then, we’re to live each day in submission to Christ Who brings God’s forgiveness and life to those who turn, each day, to Him.

It’s people daily submitting to Christ who are ready not only for Christ’s return, but also for whatever life may hit them with at any given moment.

No matter what our age or education or wisdom or income level, we cannot know the day or hour at which either our own lives or the life of this world will come to an end. We are NOT in control! I’ll never forget getting the telephone call telling me that the seventeen year old son of friends had died. Moments before his death, he’d been a vibrant young man. A short while later, he ran a stop sign, a car T-boned his, and he died.

A few days ago, I received a text from our daughter asking me to pray for a good friend of her husband. The friend's father had died suddenly unexpectedly of a heart attack the night before.

Events like these aren't recorded in the plans included in our day planners.

Life on this fallen planet is fragile.

But Jesus has died and risen so that death in this world need not be the ends of our lives.

In John 11:25-26, Jesus, the Savior Who could not be kept from living even by death, promises: ““I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…”

This is a promise not just that Christ-followers will live with God beyond death. It’s also a promise that God will fill us with life, a life of love and direction, hope and peace, even in the midst of the chaos, pain, grief, and uncertainty of this life.

Advent is the season of waiting for our King to come back. But we don’t wait passively.

We await Christ with faith that He’s in control even when our world is unraveling.

And from the certainty of faith, we watch for ways we can love God and love neighbor, fight for justice, feed the hungry, care for the impoverished, make disciples, take care of our families, love our friends, seek reconciliation with those we have hurt.

We don’t do any of this to earn God’s attention or affection. God already thinks about you all the time. (Think of that: God keeps you in mind as an individual, just as He keeps all the individuals who have lived, are living, or ever will live on this planet!) And God already loves you infinitely. I agree with Max Lucado when he says that every time He thinks of you, He smiles. He loves you. He wants you to be with Him for all eternity. His gracious offer of love, forgiveness, and life is standing and guaranteed by the shed blood of Jesus.

The question is whether you and I will receive Him as He comes to us through Christ or not. Will we be waiting to welcome Jesus when He returns?

We await Jesus with active, trusting faith and we watch that sin gains no foothold in our lives for one simple reason: Because we know that God has already saved us through our faith in Christ...because we’re thankful for what God has already done us through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus...because we know God loves us!

And when the sins of the world, the devil, and our sinful selves seem to rob us of our life and zeal for love, we can remember words like those found in Isaiah 40:31: “...those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Jesus is coming back! We don’t know when, but when He does, may He find us ready, our lives focused on Him and on our neighbor, brimming over with gratitude for grace, filled with faith, and powered by the Holy Spirit to live the lives of love and purpose for which we were made.

That’s how to be ready for Jesus’ advent!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was prepared for sharing during worship with the people and friends of Living Water earlier today.]