Saturday, March 04, 2017

Blackbird (Rehearsal Take, 1968) by Paul McCartney

Blackbird appeared on The Beatles, known popularly as "the white album."

It's interesting to listen to McCartney play with the song as he figures out how to complete it.

Inspired by the US Civil Rights struggle, Blackbird was Macca's attempt to say something to encourage African-Americans. In it, he imagined himself singing to a "black bird," bird being a common English slang at the time for a young woman.

But, of course, as is often true of McCartney's songs, the lack of specificity in the lyrics gives the song a more universal application. It's a bit of encouragement to anyone. And the melody is gorgeous.

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

Renewed in Thankfulness and Awe

God amazed and humbled me as I spent my quiet time with Him again this morning. (I explain quiet time here and here.) To consider God marshaling His majesty and power to take the form of a servant and make purification for my sins on a cross, when I take time to consider it, overwhelms me.

When coupled with an amazingly answered prayer from yesterday, one answered in the most unlikely of ways, I'm looking at God with renewed awe and thankfulness this morning.

From my journal, here's what God told me today as I read Hebrews 1 and found my attention drawn to Hebrews 1:3. (The parenthesis show verses of Scripture to which God led me today.):
Look: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3)

This verse tells me everything I need to know about Jesus in order to be reconciled to God and saved from sin and death.

Jesus is God, reflecting the radiance of God that shone on Moses’ face after he met God and the holy fire that so intimidated the people of Old Testament days.

The whole world exists and continues to exist because of “his powerful word.” Jesus is the Word uttered by God in Genesis (John 1:1-14; Genesis 1-2). He speaks and life happens.  
If Jesus weren’t still speaking, “Live!” the universe would cease to exist.  
And one day, when the Father gives the signal, He will bring an end to speaking this world to life and He will usher in a new heaven and a new earth for all who believe (Matthew 24:36; Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1).  
This will come to all who have believed the Word about Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 3:16-18; John 10:30; John 14:6).

Paul says in Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

The Word shared about the Word Who sustains the universe and Who “provided purification for [our] sins” creates new life for those who believe (2 Corinthians 5:17). Simply put, speaking the message about Him makes faith and new life happen: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)


And now, in consequence of the victory He’s won for us, Jesus sits “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” From there, He can bring the prayers who are empowered to speak to God by the grace Christ gives to sinners who repent and believe, to the Father. Jesus speaks His Word of forgiveness over us (Acts 10:43) and we can then approach God in intimacy and boldness that the ancient Israelites chose to delegate to Moses (Hebrews 4:16; Exodus 20:19).

It remains “a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Were we to do so uncovered by the grace of God given in Christ, we would stand naked in our sin, condemned, and ticketed for death. But when the Word of Jesus has been spoken over us and we believe, we can come before God as children, just as Jesus has taught us to come to Him (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Luke 11:2).

Listen: In this verse, I see God as, in Tillich’s phrase, “wholly Other,” infinitely different from me, infinitely greater than me, infinitely purer, infinitely more self-giving. I see Him as the One Whose word brought the universe into being and Who continues to speak it into being even as it dies in its sin (Colossians 1:16-17).

I also see Him as the God Whose love for me and all sinners is so infinite that He chose the path of submission to a cross in order to provide purification for my sins.

How can I callously disregard all that God has done and is doing for me by sinning against His revealed will?

And when I do sin, how can I callously refuse to repent and once more trust in the One Who has done all of this for me?

When I do, the One Who did all of this speaks promises through His Word given to the apostle John: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Respond: Lord, help me today to hear and heed Your Word, to trust and live: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) In Jesus’ name. Amen!
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Call to Repentance

Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Samuel 12:1-14
Ash Wednesday
Sometimes we forget that the Word of God in the Bible arose from specific historical circumstances or specific encounters between God and real life human beings, like you and me.

Psalm 51, which we read responsively a short time ago, was written by Israel’s King David, later in his reign, sometime after 1003 BC. And it arose from a specific situation.

Open one of the sanctuary Bibles to 2 Samuel 12, which you’ll find on page 215, please. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers, Uriah. Bathsheba became pregnant. David tried to make it look as though Uriah was the father. But that didn't work. So, David made arrangements for Uriah to get isolated and exposed to enemy fire and killed in battle. The king God refers to as “a man after [My] own heart” [1 Samuel 13:14] was guilty of adultery and murder and a cover-up!

In 2 Samuel, God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David for his sins. Nathan does it by telling David the story of a poor man who owned a ewe lamb. This ewe lamb was so beloved that both the poor man and his family see the lamb as another one of the children. When a rich man down the road has visitors, he decides that as a good host, he has to throw a big dinner for them. But he doesn’t want to use any of his own flock for the main course. So, he steals the poor man’s ewe lamb and serves it up at dinner.

Look at David’s reaction in 2 Samuel 12:5-6. “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’”

The king had spoken and rendered his verdict. But there was a question: Who was the man who had done this awful thing? Nathan gives the answer in verse 7, telling King David: “You are the man!"

He goes on: "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own.’”

Through Nathan, God was telling David, “I gave you blessings you never could have earned nor deserved. I did these things for you out of pure divine and fatherly love and mercy. But instead of gratitude, instead of trying to follow the way of life I revealed long ago in the Ten Commandments, you decided to go your own way. Why?”

You know, every time a Christian deliberately flouts the will of God, I wonder if God asks the same question: “I went to the cross for you, endured the beating, the punches, the spitting, the insults, the nails, the thorns plaited into a mocking crown, and a slow agonizing death...all for you. I took the punishment for sin you deserved. I rose from death to open eternity up to you. I did all these things to give you a new life freed from the power of sin and death. I set you free to become the person I made you to be. And I want to spend eternity showering blessings on you. So, why would you block Me from your life by deliberately doing anything that I have shown you is the way of death? Why?"

Having been confronted for his sins, David might have reacted in a number of ways.

As king, he could have simply ordered Nathan’s death. It wouldn't have been the first time David had ordered the murder of an innocent man, after all. But David didn’t do that.

Or, he might have made excuses. But David didn’t make excuses either.

Or, after hearing Nathan out, David might have set up a commission to discern, given the ways the world had changed and grown more complex since God gave the Ten Commandments, whether sin and murder might not be sins any more. “If our consciences are bound to different ideas, not bound by a relationship with God,” David might have said, “it could be that now, when we know so much more than God did hundreds of years ago, adultery and murder are OK.” But David didn’t lash out at Nathan, didn’t make excuses, or appoint a commission to cover the truth with lies.

Look at how David did react, in verse 13: “I have sinned against the Lord." That's it. Here, David is exemplifying what the Bible--both the Old and the New Testament in their different languages--calls repentance. In the Greek of the New Testament, the most common word for repent is metanoia. It means to have a change of mind.

The person who repents--or lives the lifestyle Martin Luther called, “daily repentance and renewal”--is saying, “I got off track. I was thinking my way. I was following my own sinful nature. But now, aware of the sins I’ve committed, I’m asking God to change my mind, to change the way I’ve been thinking. I’m asking God to help me think His way, not mine.”

This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:5 when he exhorts followers of Jesus: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus...” God wants us to take on the mind of Jesus: a mind that wants what God wants, even when what God wants isn’t pleasant for us. Even when it means turning away from the things we most desperately want.

As I’ve said before, to repent is to confess that when God and I disagree about anything, God is always right and I am always wrong. This can be a bitter pill to swallow when it conflicts with the inborn cravings and impulses for sin with which we all are born.

After David said plainly, “I have sinned against the Lord,” Nathan told David, “The Lord has taken away your sin...” This all reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 6:23: “...the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Only the God we meet in the crucified and risen Jesus can set us free from death--separation from God--and hell. And that can only happen when we repent and trust in Christ, relying on Christ alone to give our lives meaning.

On this Ash Wednesday, as we remember that we are creatures of God formed from the dust and that we will return to dust again [Genesis 3:19], we also remember this: If we will change our minds, turning to Christ and to the way of God, rather than to the ways we prefer, this dust will rise again!

And we can live each day in the knowledge that when we live in daily repentance and trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, nothing will ever separate us from God [Romans 8:31-39].

Had David steeped himself in God’s Word, remained in fellowship with other believers, or been praying instead of ogling on the day he first set eyes on Bathsheba--in other words, if he had allowed God to reign over his thoughts--the terrible chain of events that followed never would have taken place. That’s one lesson we can learn from David’s experience: Life with God belongs to those who seek live life God's way and not our own.

But there’s another lesson, a lesson about God’s grace and goodness: If, when we have sinned, we can forgo our tendency to block out the truths of God we don’t like and instead, let God change our minds, then acknowledge our sins and trust in God to help us to do the right thing--even when it means consequences we don’t like--our relationship with God can be restored.

Life with God belongs to all who repent for sin and trust in Christ. May repentance and renewal be our way of life not just on Ash Wednesday or during Lent, but every day we live on earth. Amen.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for tonight's Ash Wednesday worship.]

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Matthew 17:1-9
Transfiguration Sunday
The key verse in today’s Gospel lesson is Matthew 17:5 in which the voice God the Father calls out from heaven to Peter, John, and James with a message about Jesus: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Why did the three apostles who accompanied Jesus to the top of a mountain need this message?

And why do you and I still need to be reminded to listen to Jesus?

In a way, these words from the Father come as a direct rebuke to Peter. Back in Matthew 16, Jesus had asked the apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gave the right answer, one that Jesus said came not from Peter’s good sense and insight, but from Peter’s openness to the Holy Spirit’s witness about Jesus. Peter said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” [Matthew 16:15-19] But then Jesus explained that He as the Messiah, God in the flesh, was going to Jerusalem to be rejected by the Jewish religious authorities, the Roman government, and the people, suffer death on a cross, and rise from the dead.

Peter was horrified! Peter thought that the Messiah would come into political power, vanquish the Romans, and establish a trouble-free reign of prosperity for God’s people. Jesus’ words didn’t compute for Peter. Crucifixion for the Messiah? “Never, Lord!” [Peter] said. “This shall never happen to you!” [Matthew 16:22]

At this, Jesus let Peter have it with both barrels: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

It was Satan, you’ll remember, who tried to tempt Jesus into avoiding the mission of His life on earth, the mission of offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Now, Jesus was saying that Peter, who had just confessed that Jesus was Messiah and the Son of God, God in the flesh, was acting just like Satan. “Peter, be quiet,” Jesus was saying. “Knock off your religious-sounding talk. Wait to speak until after you understand Who I am.”

Six days later, our Gospel lesson for today shows, Peter still had some learning to do.

As members of the inner circle of Jesus’ first followers, Peter, John, and James were terrified to see Jesus appearance “transfigured,” or “transformed.” A cloud came down from heaven filled with the blazing light of God and there Jesus stood talking with Moses, the giver of God’s Law in the Old Testament, and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet.

Imagine how overwhelming this all must have been for these three fishermen from Galilee!

But Peter, it seems, was never at a loss for words. Even when he should have been. Matthew 17:4 tells us: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’”

On the face of it, this is a religious-sounding thing for Peter to say. But it demonstrates that he just doesn’t quite get it. Peter has called Jesus the Son of God, yet he wants to build shrines of apparently equal importance for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

Back in chapter 16, when Peter tried to educate Jesus on Jesus’ job as Messiah and Son of God, it was Jesus Who set Peter straight. Now, on the Mount of Transfiguration, it’s God the Father’s turn to thunder!

In effect, the Father, in verse 5 of our Gospel lesson is telling Peter: “Peter, put a muzzle on it, man! Listen to My Son. Moses and Elijah, great though they were, are Jesus’ inferior. You won’t find life and salvation in Moses or Elijah. (Or in Buddha, Allah, or a big fat bank account, for that matter)’ Life and salvation can only be found in Jesus. So, button it up and pay heed to Jesus only!” “Peter, this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Poor Peter, always trying so hard to say and do the right thing. But that’s the problem. He’s trying way too hard. He thinks he’s being faithful by spouting religious talk.

But, in talking about building these shelters, he shows that he isn’t really listening to Jesus or to His Word.

Christ’s Church today is filled with a lot of well-meaning Peters. I can be among them. We say things that sound religious, but show that we really haven’t been listening to God’s Word or to Jesus.

Last night, I jotted down three things that I hear well-meaning Christians say, but that, according to God’s Word, just aren’t true.

One thing well-meaning Christians say is, “Follow your heart.” Wrong!

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” So, if my heart is going to deceive me and lead me into a deceitful life, a life apart from God, why would I follow my heart?

Jesus never says, “Follow your heart.” Instead, Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Follow Jesus: Turn from sin and trust in Him to save you for all eternity and to guide you always. Keep following Jesus.

Another false thing said by well-meaning Christians is, “God helps those who help themselves.” This is a whopper!

The Bible actually says that God helps those who cannot help themselves. And that’s all of us! Romans 5:6 tells us: “ just the right time, when we were still powerless [or, helpless], Christ died for the ungodly [those of us born in sin...and that's all of us].” God helps those who recognize that they need Jesus as our King and Savior.

A third common falsehood uttered by Christians is, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s another big fib!

I once heard a woman at a funeral visitation tell a father that his young son had died because God needed another angel in heaven. It would have been better for that woman to have shut her mouth than utter such unbiblical rot. When believers die, they don’t become angels. Humans are made in God’s image, angels aren’t! Human beings are of higher importance to God than angels are! Christ didn’t die and rise for angels; He died and rose for people!

Besides, the very notion that God would decide to take a boy’s life to sate His desire for more angels turns God into a monster, unrecognizable from the God we meet in Jesus!

The tragedies that happen in this world can’t be explained away as part of some master plan by God. Bad things happen to faithful people because we live in a fallen world in which sin, death, and darkness are on the loose. It was these things that Jesus came to conquer for us. That’s why Jesus says in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Death and tragedy don’t have the final word over the lives of those who entrust their lives to Jesus; it’s the resurrection Jesus has won for us that will have the final, eternal say over our lives!

If Peter had listened to God’s Word in the Old Testament or if he had listened to Jesus, he wouldn’t have said foolish things like He did at the Transfiguration.

If Christians today listened to God’s Word--not just on Sunday mornings, but everyday of their lives--they wouldn’t say untrue things like the three I just mentioned.

More importantly, when we listen to God’s Word, meet the God we know in Jesus in His Word each day, we will know God intimately.

As Jesus promises, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all of God’s truth [John 16:13]. When we listen to Jesus, we experience the amazing promise He makes in John 15:5: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” That’s a stunning promise!

To be friends with Jesus, God in the flesh, means that we trust in Him, we trust in the power of what He accomplished for us on the cross, we trust that He can bring us God’s forgiveness, we trust that He can give us life with God, however blurry this world may sometimes make it, and life with God in perfection in eternity.

When we are friends with Jesus, we live in the assurance that, as He promises to all who follow Him in Matthew 28:20, He is with us always!

All of this comes to us when we listen to Jesus. Paul summarizes the power of what happens when we listen to Jesus and the Word about Jesus in this way: “ comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” [Romans 10:17]

So, how can we listen to Jesus? You might want to pull out a pen or your smart phones right now and note a simple method for listening to Jesus each day--one I've learned from our friends at Navigators, as I've mentioned before, and a way of listening to Jesus that I have found to be powerful. Here’s how to listen to Jesus each day.

First, stop. Find a quiet place, away from the laptop and the iPad, away from the TV or the PlayStation. Ask Jesus to meet you as you read a chapter from a Biblical book like Matthew or John.

Second, look. Read that Word and ask Jesus what He wants to tell you that day.

Third, listen. Consider what Jesus has told you and what truth He wants you to grasp from Him that can guide you that day or the next day.

Fourth, respond. If there’s some sin for which you need to repent or a sinful habit you need to jettison, lay it honestly before Jesus, asking for His forgiveness and help with living differently that day or the next. If there’s some act of love you feel compelled to undertake, ask Jesus for the Holy Spirit’s power to do it. Give Jesus glory for His death and resurrection for you; ask Him to guide you in the next twenty-four hours; pray for those who need God’s help; ask God to fill you with His wisdom; and ask God to help you be part of His mission of making disciples that day.

I want to underscore how freeing and important it is to listen to God each day and to help you with that day. How many times have we realized some sin or deficiency in our character, some bad habit we'd fallen into, and said something like, "From now on, Lord, until the end of my days, I and so." How has that worked for you?

Let me put the question in another way: Do you remember what your New Year's resolutions were for this year? 

You know, the power of the Twelve Step program is that it calls people to recognize their need and get help for that day alone. It's easier to trust in Jesus one day at a time after we've spent time in His Word and then spend time with Him again the next day and the next, than it is to trust Him without ever listening to Him again. This is why it's important to spend daily time with God in addition to the time we spend together once a week in worship.

From the cloud that overshadowed the mountain somewhere in Caesarea Philippi, God’s voice commanded Peter and the other disciples, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

That's our command today. May we obey it. May we listen to Jesus and so, live under the grace and forgiveness, power, wisdom, guidance, and love of God all of our lives. Amen!

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