Saturday, June 03, 2017

Stetzer: Christians Need to Repent for Conspiracy Theories (I agree)

Ed Stetzer is a conservative evangelical Christian and the executive director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. He's an expert on and practitioner of Christian evangelism. He's also no mean theologian and social thinker. I really respect this guy.

Here is a piece he just published in 'Christianity Today' about the need for Christians, in this hyper-mediated and polarized era, to stop spouting conspiracy theories. Stetzer is right, I think, in calling this a violation of what we Lutherans know as the Eighth Commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the meaning of this commandment for a Christian's daily conduct:
We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.
Just because you're suspicious of someone on the right, or the left, or the middle, or somewhere else on the spectrum, doesn't mean that the bad things you hear about them must be true.

Our social compact is being daily eroded by loose ships sharing hot tips, not so much by major news outlets, most of whose journalists and editors work hard to corroborate good and bad news, but by ordinary citizens passing on the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook or Twitter. (I'm especially sensitive about this because my grandfather spouted all sorts of conspiracy theories when I was a kid. Because he was my grandfather, I believed what he said and often re-spouted them at school, only to be acquainted with the documented facts by good teachers.)

As a lifelong student of history, it's my observation that most conspiracies that involve more than four people eventually crack. If the conspiracy was nefarious, somebody talks to the right person, or takes money to betray the other conspirators or to write a tell-all, or to get revenge, or to look like a hero. In short, most "conspiracies" aren't.

Be that as it may, Stetzer is right: We Christians have a lot of repenting to do on this point.

As to counsel for the future, I turn again to Luther, who said that when we hear items of gossip (like conspiracy theories), we should let our ears be their tomb. Bury them; don't spread them.

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

Petition for Our Troubled World

This petition, an adaptation of a petition published by our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, will be included in the Prayers of the Church at Living Water tomorrow morning. Please include similar petitions in your own personal prayers tonight and tomorrow:
Lord of all comfort and peace, give to the world that peace which only You can give. Deliver Christians from the hands of persecution, restore peace to lands ravaged by war, grant safety to refugees, and comfort those victimized by war and terrorism, especially we remember the people of Ukraine and Syria daily assaulted by the Russian military and the people of Britain recently attacked by Islamist terrorists. Bring peace to our own nation. In the face of political division and tension, let us find peace in You and Your unchanging promises. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

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

Praying Blessings on the United Kingdom Tonight

Praying blessings on the people in the United Kingdom in the wake of these latest attacks. May God comfort all those who mourn. May He also guide law enforcement and intelligence officials as they bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent potential terror incidents.

This incident underscores two things for me. First, we are blessed in the United States to have the FBI, CIA, NSA, local law enforcement and first responders, and the US military. In this modern world, the possibility of terror will never be entirely eliminated. But these government entities are tremendous assets in the USA in preventing and minimizing individual terror incidents.

Second, this incident underscores how important intelligence-sharing particularly through FVEY (Five Eyes) and NATO, through which the democratic West mounts a common defense against not just existential threats like Russia and China, but also against Islamist terrorists, really is.

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Welcome to America by Lecrae

I've posted this song before. But, man, it's good.

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

Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

This was playing in the restaurant I ate at a few hours ago. I forget about this song. But I love the simplicity of the lyrics and melody.
I don't know where
Confused about how as well
Just know that these things
Will never change for us at all

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Prayers, Blessings, and Charges

Today's Centerville Memorial Day Service was a meaningful remembrance of those American service members who gave their lives for our country.

Colonel Bradley McDonald, Installation and 88th Air Base Wing Commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, challenged us all to remember, revere, and respond to the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces.

Mayor Brooks Compton also spoke movingly about the significance of the day.

Local high school students sang, read a self-written essay, and presented the moving The America We Love, written by former President Barack Obama.

The Centerville Community Band played Goin' Home, as well as Beautiful Savior and the National Anthem.

Local boy and girl scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Greg Martin piped Amazing Grace and Tom Voss played Taps.

I shared the Invocation and the Benediction for today's gathering. Both are presented below.
We gather in the name of God the Father, God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen 
Father, we come together today to remember those Americans who have given their lives in the cause of freedom. We thank You for their sacrifice and we pray that we, the living, will be worthy of the great cost that they have expended for us. As they were diligent in doing their duty for America, help us to do our duty: to understand the founding principles of this unique and special land--freedom ensured by mutual accountability--and to keep them in mind when we speak and vote and form our opinions; to be informed as citizens; to be good neighbors who understand that, while we may sometimes disagree, we and our fellow citizens all love America. As we remember and celebrate the sacrifices of the fallen, fill us with new resolve to be Americans: committed to our neighbor’s freedom, fighting for others’ well-being as the fallen have done for us, seeking to extend the blessings of the great American constitutional experiment to all of our citizens, and maintaining this unique and blessed land for future generations. Help us in these ways to honor those we remember today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

It was the height of the Vietnam War and I was in high school. Several of my classmates would go on to fight in that war. An admiral came to speak at an assembly. It was a time when people were saying, "My country, right or wrong." But the admiral said that he didn't subscribe to that view. Instead, he believed, "My country: When right to keep it right, when wrong to make it right." In honor of those who have fallen, we can do no less than to seek, with God's help, to take a similar approach. 
And now, the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Open Book

John 17:1-11
Take a look at today’s Gospel lesson, John 17:1-11. Here, Jesus does an extraordinary thing: He lets us listen in on His personal prayer to God the Father.

When I’m talking with God in prayer, I don't particularly want anybody listening in. I have sins, desires, and apprehensions that I'd rather most of the world know nothing about.

But Jesus, true God and true man, has no secrets. He’s an open book. The entire Bible, in fact, reveals that God has always been an open book. Romans 1:19 reminds us that, “what may be known about God is plain...because God has made it plain…”

We see God's openness in many ways.

The Bible affirms, for example, that God’s law—His will and His commands for humanity—is written on our hearts, giving all of us a strong hint, long before we even hear the Name of Jesus, that there is a God Who made and cares about us. (Romans 2:15)

But more than that, God has taken the time and effort to sacrifice Himself on the cross out of His love for us and make it possible for all to believe in Him to have a life with God that starts now in this tough, imperfect world and is brought to perfection in eternity.

In Jesus, we see that God lives His love for us out loud for all the world to see and experience!

In the prologue to his account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, John the Evangelist says, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18).

Jesus has no secrets. Jesus is in the disclosing business. So, what exactly does He disclose to us in today’s Gospel lesson as He prays to His Father?

First: He discloses a heart filled with celebration. This is the time of year for graduation parties. The unspoken theme of all such parties is: Mission accomplished! In His prayer in today's Gospel lesson, before heading to the cross which He is intent on taking up for our sakes, Jesus takes a victory lap. He exults in His accomplishment on earth even before He goes to the cross or is raised from the dead.

Jesus can exult even in the face of His impending suffering because He knows that nothing is going to prevent Him from accomplishing what He knew He came to earth to accomplish. “For the joy set before him,” Hebrews 12:2 tells us, referring to the joy of opening up new life to all who believe in Him, “[Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In our Gospel lesson, notice what Jesus says that He has already accomplished at the moment He utters His prayer.
  • In verse 6: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” 
  • In verse 7: “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you...” 
  • In verse 8: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you…” 
In the pursuit of His earthly mission, Jesus came to make God known, so that we could believe in Him and live!

In this prayer, Jesus rejoices in the strength that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had given Him to accomplish that mission.

As He prays, Jesus knows, of course, that He has one thing left to do on this earth, one more definitive act disclosing Who He is. He must die. He must go to the cross. This is the place of ultimate self-disclosure of God to all who are open to the truth.

Martin Luther said that if we want to know what God is like, we only need to look to Jesus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus discloses and lives and dies out of the infiniteness of God’s love for you and me.

Jesus took our sins onto Himself--all our greed, envy, lust, thievery, murderousness, gossiping, idolatry--absorbing the punishment we deserve for it all into His own body so that its power over us could be killed off in the death of a perfect Savior.

And that’s why Jesus calls out to the Father as He dies on the cross and says: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ mission was accomplished!

The Father wouldn’t let this be the end for Jesus, though. He had to be raised up so that all people would know of their chance to turn to Him (turning away from their sin), entrust their lives to Him, and live with God eternally. So, in this prayer, Jesus celebrates what He accomplishes for the glory of the Father and for our eternal good.

And then: Jesus discloses a request to the Father. In verse 5, Jesus asks, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began…” The glory of God was displayed in Jesus in many ways. Most notably maybe, when at the waters of the Jordan River, where He was baptized, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Voice from heaven said, "This is My Son; listen to Him!"

And yet the glory of God disclosed in Jesus during His earthly life were only hints, dim reflections, brief tastes of the glory Jesus once enjoyed as God the Son in the halls of heaven before the creation of this world!

When the Father raised Jesus from the dead, His glory was on display for all the world to see, though some still didn't.

And one day, when the risen and ascended Jesus returns to the world, all the world, both those who believe in Him and those who don’t believe in Him, will see His glory with certainty (Matthew 25:31-46).

That will be a moment of jubilation for all who have surrendered to Christ, giving Him glory, and a moment of infinite regret for those who have ignored Him.

One of the things that Christ’s Church needs more than anything today, is a renewed sense of the glory of God! We keep trying to whittle Jesus down to manageable size, pulling Him out of a box (maybe) on Sunday mornings and then putting Him back into the box the rest of the week. (This ignores the fact that the last time people stuffed Jesus into a confined space, He couldn't be contained!)

Jesus, God in the flesh, is our Lord, our King, our Savior, and even our best friend. But Jesus is not our buddy, our rabbit’s foot, our ATM, our good luck charm, or a chump-Savior Who winks at our sin. Jesus will be there to judge us at the end of history. Jesus is God almighty.

The God we know in Jesus deserves all our allegiance, honor, loyalty, and thankfulness because, through His “amazing grace,” He saves all who trust in Him from sin and its consequence, death.

We must understand that the God disclosed in Jesus Christ is not a salesperson with whom we can negotiate a better price, but the Lord of the universe and that to have Him and the eternity only He can give, we must surrender to Him.

It's when we understand our need for daily surrender to Christ that we’ll be on the road to the wisdom that leads to life. The awe-filled fear and reverence of the God we meet in Jesus is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of understanding that we aren't gods who can make Jesus over in our image. (Proverbs 9:10)

In this prayer in today's Gospel lesson then, Jesus, Who laid His glory by for His time on earth, is reclaiming that glory.

But here’s the astounding thing: It’s a theme of the New Testament that the life of Jesus is replicated, reenacted, in baptized believers in Him. All who are baptized and live in daily repentance and renewal can say with the New Testament, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

It was because of Christ living in him, that the first century preacher Paul, before his death, could write to the young pastor Timothy with the same sense of fulfillment and jubilation we see in Jesus’ prayer in our Gospel lesson on the brink of His death. Listen closely to Paul’s words (this is from The Message translation): “I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, [God is] an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for His coming.”

In his wonderful book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Pastor David Platt talks about how many American Christians think that Jesus’ call and command for radical discipleship, including the call to love all the world and to carry the good news of Jesus to all the nations applies to other people, not us.

In taking this attitude, millions of Christians turn a deaf ear to the needs of 4.5 billion people who may die today without ever hearing the Good News of new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

And in thinking that Jesus’ call only applies to some spiritual elites, we also deny ourselves the very sense of fulfillment and the enjoyment of God’s glory that Jesus exults in in today’s Gospel lesson and that He wants us to have!

We, each of us, need to consider how we can restructure our daily lives to fulfill the mission Christ has given to each of us, so that we too can exult in the sense of fulfillment from a life spent in giving God glory. And I tell you that I am preaching to myself as much as anyone else in this sanctuary today. This morning, as I was getting ready, I started praying and was convicted by my sins and failings--my self-indulgence, my abuse of this body God has given to me, my failure to tell others about Christ--and, as I stood in the shower, I asked, "God, why do You put up with me?" The only answer to that question, of course, is grace, God's amazing grace. And so I asked God once again today, "Lord, help me to live my life in such a way that you will be glorified on this day."

We may not be able to go to foreign countries in pursuing God’s intentions for our lives. But each of us is called to fulfill the whole mission of Christ’s Church in our own individual lives.

And Living Water, which designates 23% of its annual budget to mission, offers all of us both plenty of chances to work together to fulfill God’s mission for us and plenty of support in finding how we can make our world our mission field.

We need to encourage one another in living out our Christ-given mission to the whole world, to start our days in reading God’s Word and prayer and getting God’s marching orders for the day. It’s to help us fulfill our mission that Jesus prays in verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus prayed that prayer for you, believers in Christ!

When I come to the end of this life, I want to be able to pray with the same sense of jubilation and fulfillment we see in Jesus in our Gospel lesson. I want to be able to look back on a life in which I loved God, loved the world, and took my part in making some disciples of the world’s 4.5-billion unreached people. (Even at the Kroger deli counter.) I want to be able to say, “Mission accomplished.” How about you?

If it’s your desire to fulfill God’s purposes for your life, surrender to Christ each day, letting Him live fully in you each day…and then going wherever He leads you. Amen

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