Saturday, December 17, 2016

No Coverage of the John Glenn Funeral

It was deeply offensive to me that John Glenn's funeral was not broadcast in its entirety on all the news channels and major networks.

Glenn was a unique and important American hero, who served our country as a fighter pilot, astronaut, and distinguished United States senator, as well as a candidate for president.

He has left our country an important example of a life of service. We need examples like this for our young people. We need opportunities on occasions like this for parents to sit down in front of their TV sets with their children and explain what it means to be a citizen of the greatest country in the world.

And we need to honor such servant leaders.

Shame on the networks for failing to take advantage of a perfect moment for mass civic education, a desperate need in these times.

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

Still big in Russia?

Well, not big. This blog doesn't get the kind of traffic the blogging biggies draw.

But it's always interesting to me that so many of this blog's readers come from Russia.

Over the course of the blog's life, the overwhelming majority of page views are from the United States, as you'd expect. But there are some weeks when lots of Russians seem to visit and, as with this week, the largest bloc of visitors are Russians. I'm not sure why.

If there are any Russians who would like to explain, leave your comments below.

By the way, I can't tell anything personally or individually about the people who visit the blog, just the big metrics.

So, hello, Russia. Christ is Lord!

[If the image below is too small to see, click on it to enlarge.]

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

So Be It Faith (some reflections)

Most mornings, I try to spend quiet time with God, using the format of "stop, look, listen, respond," explained here.

Today, I read Revelation 13, where God spoke to me most clearly in two verses. Here's my journal entry:
Look: “Whoever has ears, let them hear. ‘If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.’ This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.” (Revelation 13:9-10)

This chapter, like much of Revelation, is filled with strange imagery that makes me want to throw my hands up in frustration. I know, of course, that much of the book is taken up with apocalyptic language about the Roman Empire and that it’s not to be taken in the same way as prophetic books of the Bible. (Apocalyptic books of the Bible aren't to be confused with prophetic books of the Bible.)  Revelation shows the ongoing struggle Christians will endure seeking to remain faithful in a fallen and always-falling world.

The verses here are the clearest words in the entire chapter. And their message is absolutely relevant for Christians living in any time.

Christians can expect to be shunned, marginalized, tormented, persecuted, and/or killed no matter the era.

The Christian Gospel with its insistence on God’s ultimate authority, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, the ethic of love for God and love for neighbor, and the truth of God’s Word will always encounter the enmity of the world’s beasts: our own sin, the sin of the world, the devil. (I’m not suggesting a one-to-one equation between the dragon and the two beasts mentioned in Revelation 13, by the way.)

Listen: Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus warns Christians of persecution, while reassuring us of His ultimate victory for all who trust in Him, in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And Peter tells we Christians that if we’re going to get into trouble with the government, for example, we’d better make sure that it’s because we’re being faithful to God, not because we’ve actually committed wrong: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:15-16)

This verse from Revelation tells Christians (tells me) to adopt the attitude of “so be it.” If Christians are to be taken captive for their faith in Christ, so be it. If any are to be killed for their faith, so be it.

This isn’t to say that Christians facing persecution shouldn’t exercise common sense in protecting themselves or their loved ones.

Nor is faith equal to fatalism.

But the passage is saying that we cannot allow ourselves to:

(1) Become so fearful that we grow silent about our faith or shy about practicing it openly. Peter says elsewhere: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

(2) Make the foolish assumption that sin and death won’t continue to do their worst in this fallen world. That’s really the point of Jesus’ words in John 6:33.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 24:12-13: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

This is a call and command to keep following Jesus, to remain in fellowship with His Church, to continue to love God, love neighbor, and make disciples no matter what the trends, risks, dangers, or conflicting worldviews we encounter in the world around us.

In this world, we are “foreigners and exiles [called and commanded] to abstain from sinful desires [desires for things like acceptance, an isolated life, getting our own ways, ease], which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

This is hard to remember, but this world is not our final destination. My call as a follower of Jesus is to remember that daily and seek to help as many others to follow Jesus into a life with God as I can.

Respond: God, help me to live for You alone and not for the commendations of the world. Help me to focus on my ultimate destination, not so that I become careless about this world, but so that I can love this world all the more, even in the face of patronizing, condescension, hatred, hostility, indifference, persecution, for my faith. Help me to stand firm with You no matter what. In Jesus’ name.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What Child Is This? by Chris Tomlin, featuring All Sons and Daughters

I love this rendition of the song.

Real by Nicole Nordeman

The lyrics of this song are so true and convicting.

If, during the Advent and Christmas seasons, we give much thought to Christ and His birth at all, we usually sentimentalize the story, robbing it of its earthiness.

But the power of Christmas lies in the fact that God took on human flesh and was born to human parents.

Mary and Joseph were faced with an unimaginable situation in which they had to ask themselves: "Do I believe?"

By the power of God's Holy Spirit, these two sinner/saints, real human beings, answered, "Yes" and served as the earthly parents of "God in flesh appearing."

Angels We Have Heard on High by Sanctus Real

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

In a Little While by U2

In a little while
This hurt will hurt no more
I'll be home, love!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I love this!

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you." (Psalm 139:13-19)

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

On this date... 1799, George Washington, the father of our country, passed away after a short illness. To mark the anniversary, the people of George Washington's Mount Vernon published this today.

The last time I visited Mount Vernon I became choked up when standing in the bed room in which Washington died. Having read many accounts of the death scene, I knew that his passing was as noble and unassuming as the man himself had become over the course of his life.

Historian Garry Wills once asserted that Washington was the greatest political leader in the history of the world. I agree. By his example, he demonstrated that executive leadership need not be authoritarian and that it can be passed along to a successor democratically and peacefully. Every American owes Washington an enormous debt of gratitude.

There are two Washington biographies I especially recommend:
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation by Richard Norton Smith
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Uncertain World, Certain Savior (AUDIO)


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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Altar of Ego by Carolyn Arends

Listening to one of my old Carolyn Arends LPs before hitting the sack for the night. This is a great song.

I've always loved how simple, honest, and yet literate and thoughtful Arends' songs are.

Forgive me, Lord, for worshiping at the altar of ego. Help me to remember that You are God and I'm not...and help me to worship You with every thing in me. In Jesus' name.

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

Haass calls for "World Order 2.0"

Republican foreign policy veteran and editor of Foreign Affairs Richard N. Haass, in an article distilled from his latest book, promoted the concept of "sovereign obligation" posted on the Foreign Affairs site yesterday.

In a nutshell, "sovereign obligation" is the responsibilities nations have to one another in an era that finds the globe shrinking. From cyberspace and world trade to the prevention of pandemics and dealing with climate change, sovereign nations need to understand their obligations to one another to help resolve issues that are no respecters of national borders.

As Haass puts it:
Little now stays local; just about anyone and anything, from tourists, terrorists, and refugees to e-mails, diseases, dollars, and greenhouse gases, can reach almost anywhere. The result is that what goes on inside a country can no longer be considered the concern of that country alone. Today’s circumstances call for an updated operating system—call it World Order 2.0—that includes not only the rights of sovereign states but also those states’ obligations to others. 
Haass is no pie-in-the-sky idealist. He says that a world order based on sovereign obligation will only come about incrementally after much "time, talk, and effort."

Nor does Haass commend the diminution of American national sovereignty. It builds on this concept that's been central to international relations since the seventeenth century. As he explains:
...sovereign obligation is about what a country owes to other countries. It stems from a need to expand and adapt the traditional principles of international order for a highly interconnected world.
What I appreciate about the article is that Haass is here wrestling to identify an overarching strategy for international relations (and US foreign policy), moving away from what today seems like a series of seemingly disconnected episodes that only heighten international tensions and fail to address the downside of the increased interaction of the whole world.

Sovereign obligation isn't, as Haass points out, unknown in the world today. He identifies international efforts on health issues as one area where this principle is gaining traction. He sees the need to thwart nuclear proliferation as an area that urgently cries out for implementing sovereign obligation as a norm among the largely fictional "community of nations."

Read the whole thing. (Subscription necessary.)

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

Christ is in Control (short reflections)

Most days of the week, I spend quiet time with God, using the method taught to us by our friends at Navigators. I stop, look, listen, and respond as I meet God in His Word. For more on this simple way of meeting God each day, see here.

This month, my daily time with God has been focused on the book of Revelation. Despite the complexity of its apocalyptic imagery, I find that as I read Revelation this month, God has been impressing the most simple and beautiful things on me. Today is no exception as I considered God's message in Revelation 11.

Here's what God taught me today:
Look: ““The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15b)

Whatever else this passage might mean, it surely does mean this:

First, God is in control of history despite the pretensions of humanity. No matter how arrogant we human beings are, God has the final say.

Second, on Jesus’ return, the old sheriff will be gone and Jesus will rule as Messiah over a kingdom of grace. His citizens will be all who, in this life, continually repented--having entrusted their sin to Him--and continually believed in Him--having entrusted their lives to Him.

In response to the announcement of the impending return of Messiah made by the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the twenty-four elders say: “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18)

Listen: The Lord reigns forever and ever. Your kingdom is never-ending, Lord. And by Your grace alone--not by any merits I may think that I have--I can be a disciple in Your kingdom. Whether the world considers me to be great or small, you reward all Your servants who revere your name by turning from our sin and trusting in You.

Respond: Today, Lord, help me to trust in You. Not in myself. Not in the pleasure of sins that cause me to put myself first. Not in the pleasure of being right, when I think that I’m right. Help me take my pleasure in You--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons--and in the good and perfect gifts You give alone. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.] 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Uncertain World, Certain Savior

Matthew 11:2-15
If this morning’s Gospel lesson leaves us a little uncertain, set a bit back on our heels, it’s understandable.

Last week, on the Second Sunday of Advent, we heard John the Baptist’s confident proclamation of the impending appearance of God’s promised Anointed King—what the Hebrew of the Old Testament calls the Messiah and the Greek of the New Testament calls the Christ.

In the Christ Who was coming, John told the crowds who heard him preach, God was getting ready to re-establish His reign over a sinful, rebellious world. When Jesus later showed up to be baptized by John, in a passage not a part of last Sunday’s lesson, John must have felt that all his preaching had been proven true. Jesus was the Messiah He’d been waiting for!

When we fast forward to the Gospel lesson for this Third Sunday of Advent, we come to a very different scene.

If John was like most of the Jews of his day, his expectations would have been that the Messiah, the King of kings, was going to push the bloodthirsty, corrupt Judean kings off of their thrones, would save the people from their foreign overlords, the Romans, and would take away the power and prominence of the vain and faithless rulers of Judea’s religious life—the priests and teachers of the law. Like other Jews, John probably expected the Messiah to execute a clean sweep of what we would call church and state, making everything in society right. John thought that the Messiah would, in one famous phrase, bring “hope and change” and, in another famous saying, “drain the swamp.” (I'm being bi-partisan.)

Since John's encounter with Jesus at the Jordan River, Jesus hadn’t taken over the government, led a military junta, established a government program, or punched anyone in the nose.

Instead, Jesus had undertaken a ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and miracle working. Great stuff, but not exactly what John had expected!

Herod, the Romans, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees were still in charge. And as we meet up with John the Baptist today, he’s in prison, the once-confident preacher wrestling with doubt.

With a probable death sentence hanging over him and with the kingdom of God seeming no nearer than it had been when he first began his ministry, John sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else??” [Matthew 11:3]

John wanted to hope in Jesus, but Jesus didn’t seem to be meeting John’s expectations. John wondered, “Is Jesus the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?”

Have you ever been there?

Have the promises of Jesus to hear and answer your prayers sometimes mocked your faith?

Have your life circumstances cast your faith in a sovereign, loving God in doubt?

Have questions pressed on you as you’ve watched loved ones suffer or die, or you’ve struggled with health issues, financial issues, or when your sense of purpose in life has disappeared?

Have you played by God’s rules and watched people who ignore them seem to skate through life as you face troubles and difficulties?

The truth, if we’re honest I think, is that we have all been there in the prison of doubt and uncertainty John experienced in that prison cell.

And so, John did what millions of people have done through the centuries when wrestling with their questions and doubts. He turned to Jesus. He asked Jesus, in effect, “Are You the One in Whom I can place all of my trust and hope?”

Jesus’ response to John’s question in today’s Gospel lesson is not just for John the Baptist, it’s for all of us who have ever doubted, who have wrestled to understand God’s plans in the midst of unbearable pain or indecipherable situations.

Please look at our Gospel lesson, Matthew 11:2-15, starting with verses 4 to 6. It says: “Jesus replied [to the men John had sent to Jesus with his question], ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’”

Jesus didn’t deny that He was the King Who would bring judgment on the unbelieving world. And He would confirm that He was to be the judge of the world many times.

In answer to John’s question though, Jesus pointed John to all the signs that showed Him to be not just the Messiah, but the Lord of all creation, Who can speak a word and create life where there was death, wholeness where there was brokenness.

To John’s doubt and disappointment, Jesus says, “Consider the evidence. I’m doing the things that God told the prophets He would do when His kingdom came into this fallen world.”

There’s another message in Jesus’ words, though. It’s this: Change your expectations of the Messiah. Change your expectations of God.

I’m not saying that there is any limit to God’s power or to God’s willingness to hear prayers offered in Jesus’ Name. In Jesus, we meet the sovereign, almighty God of the universe Who can do anything, Who is committed to bringing the world’s injustice to an end, Who will allow those who refuse to trust in Him to go their own ways for eternity, and Who, by His cross and resurrection, has destroyed the power of sin and death for all eternity for those who believe in Christ! Everything that Jesus did, including His sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His rising from the dead, show us Who Jesus is and the good plans God has for those who repent and believe in Jesus.

But Jesus’ kingdom hasn’t come in its fullness yet.

Right now, you and l live in a world in which bad things happen to faithful people. It can cause us to question, just as it did John the Baptist.

The week before she died, a friend of ours, being ravaged by cancer, wrestling with her suffering, worried about her husband and two young children, but holding onto Jesus in the midst of it all, confided to me, “I keep wondering what it is God wants me to learn from all of this.”

I think that, like John the Baptist, she wondered, when Jesus was going to act decisively. When would God finally act to bring about the promise given by God through the prophet Isaiah and repeated in the New Testament book of Revelation: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [Revelation 21:4]

That promise will come to pass. The God Who was born in a stable, lived among us, died for us, and rose to give us life can be counted on to make things right.

Until then, He gives the Church, the fellowship of forgiven sinners.

He gives us His perfect Word.

He gives us the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, filling us with His Spirit and with His life.

He gives us a mission of reaching up to God, reaching in to grow together as Christians in His Church, and reaching out to help others to know and follow Christ.

And this life, with all its troubles, is also God’s gift to us.

But we know that God also gives new life, one free of sin, death, and darkness.

So, why doesn’t God set things perfectly, totally, completely right for us now? Take a look, please at what the apostle Peter has to say about that in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

If we’re inclined to see Jesus as a hedge against the nasty realities of life, a cosmic Santa Claus who makes life just go away, we need to change our expectations. As was true for Jesus, before our resurrections, there will be challenges to face, hurdles to overcome, crosses to bear.

But God doesn’t let us have pain, hardship, or uncertainty because God is slow in acting or because God lacks the power to act.

Instead, God is giving us the gift of time.
  • Time for us to repent and surrender to Him;
  • Time for us to share the good news of the baby born in a manger who went to a cross and rose from the dead for all sinners, making new disciples for Jesus;
  • Time for us to serve others in Jesus’ Name;
  • Time for us to grow as believers who are fit for eternity with God.
Today, Jesus invites you and me to seize the days we have, one by one, and to live this life fully: to turn from sin, to live for Jesus, and, just like Jesus, to spread His love by what we do and who we are.

And when, like John the Baptist, we wrestle with our questions, Jesus calls us to focus our hopes on Him alone.

After the friend I mentioned earlier had died, I was handed a note she had written for me to read in just that situation. (She had written notes for many people to read after she died.) She said, in part, “Please help everyone to know that just because I have died doesn’t mean that their prayers did not ‘work.’ Healing is so much more than having a whole and perfect body…I’ll be seeing you again—then we can forget all of this sadness…”

While we await the return of the Messiah Who came to our world on the first Christmas, we can live in this uncertain world with the absolute certainty that Jesus will make all His promises good for all who trust in Him.

When we let that certainty fill us, we can face everything with joy and peace, the very blessings of which the angels sang on the night of Jesus’ birth!

May we join their song every day we live and on into the eternity with God that the crucified and risen Jesus gives to all who repent and believe in Him! Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared during both of the congregation's worship services today.]