Friday, June 09, 2017

Praying for Friends on Tough Anniversaries

Today, I'm praying for a friend and family going through the anniversary of a tough day, the start of a rough period in their lives.

You probably have people in your life who face these dark markers in their lives each year. Pray for them when those days come around, that God will encourage and comfort them. Even if you can't speak with them on those anniversary dates, you can pour God's love and life into their sadness through your prayers to God for them offered in Jesus' name. And God can do infinitely more than any of us can.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Love Alone is Worth the Fight by Switchfoot

A cherished friend gave this CD to me when it was released three years ago. Love this track.

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

Glad to See You by America

This is a track from America's 1974 release, Holiday. George Martin produced the album, as he did other America projects. Martin's arrangement on this and Holiday's other tracks adds depth and beauty.

I've always loved this song despite its misuse of God's name in the chorus. The interesting thing though, is that the composer and lead singer, Dan Peek, later became a Christian and a pioneer in the Christian contemporary music movement of the 70s and 80s.

The chorus and the whole song can, in fact, even be read as a plaintive cry to God, as in:
God, I'm glad to see you
I thought you'd left me far away
I remember in my atheist days writing a song that included the line:
Sometimes, God
I feel like I'm
A million miles from heaven
And I can't find my way back home
In my mind, at a conscious level, I was treating God as a concept, the way politicians who thoughtlessly end their speeches by saying, "God bless America."

But I think that in my subconscious, I sensed the alienation from God and others that goes with thinking that you're a creature without a Creator.

Who knows what may have been going on in Peek's subconscious when he composed the song?

Incidentally, in this period, Peek was dealing with substance abuse issues.

In 2011, he died in his sleep of a rare and poorly understood disease, fibrinous pericarditis.

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

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

As we grow older, do friends become more important than family?

Research indicates this may be the case.

And I'm inclined to agree. Why? Because as much as people may love their family members, they don't have much (any) choice as to who their family members are. Family members often have diverging interests and, sometimes, unfortunate shared histories.

Friends are different. As the old saying puts it, "Friends are the family we choose."

In my mind, this research also has implications for marriage; I often tell engaged couples that marriage, when it is good, is only friendship plus intimacy. After all, most people choose marriage partners just as they choose their friends.

The research also indicates what I believe to be true: that disruptions in our friendships can often be more stressful than disruptions in relations with one's family.

Of course, as the article points out, people can have strong friendships with family members, too.

Read the whole thing.

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

Quenching Our Thirst for "It" (AUDIO)


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

Monday, June 05, 2017

Claiming the Place Prepared for Us

John 14:1-6
[This was the message shared today at the funeral of George, a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, where I currently serve as pastor. A one-time successful high school football coach, George received several offers to serve on several major college staffs, but turned them down in order to be there for his wife and children. He became a successful business executive. In retirement, he was an integral part of the churches of which he was a part, providing amazing servant-leadership. He will be missed, but we rejoice that he is with his Savior Jesus right now!]

Unlike many of you here today, I have known George only three-and-a-half years, the time since I became pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church.

But I learned early on something of what made George tick.

Before we moved into our condo in Miamisburg, George led a team of Living Water folks to get the place ready for us to move into. Anything that we needed, he saw that it happened.

I had already begun to work here before Ann and our belongings arrived. One night, I arrived at the condo, expecting it to be empty, only to find George doing a little finish work.

We started talking and each of us, tired of standing, ended up plunking ourselves down on the floor of one of the bedrooms before there was a stick of furniture in it, talking for maybe a couple of hours.

In that conversation, I learned that George was a leader and that like all true leaders, he was, above all, a servant.

I learned that he was a man of his word and utterly loyal.

I learned that he loved his wife, his family, his friends, his church, the players on his old Meadowdale football teams.

That night, before he left the condo, George told me, “Pastor, I don’t know you very well. But you seem like an unassuming guy. So, I’m going to tell you something: Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever you want or need.”

The first impressions I formed of George that night on the floor of our condo were, in the subsequent crowded three-and-a-half years, confirmed repeatedly. George was one of the greatest people I ever knew and I count myself blessed to have known him and to know you too, Marilyn. Like hundreds of other people, I loved George. He was truly one in six billion!

I had to say all of that today because George would never have allowed me to say it if he were physically present with us right now.

But there’s something else I need to say to all of you today, something that George and his family definitely want me to tell you. It’s rooted in our Gospel lesson for this morning, John 14:1-6.

These verses are part of Jesus’ words to the disciples on the night of His betrayal, when He was arrested and taken for trial, before going to the cross to offer His life as the perfect sacrifice--the “lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”--for our sins, yours and mine, opening up forgiveness and eternal life with God to all who turn from sin and trust in Him.

Jesus here knows that He must die. There is no other way that He can tear down the wall of sin that separates us from God than for Him to die.

And He knew with perfect clarity, because Jesus is both truly man and truly God, exactly what suffering awaited Him. Contrary to what some people think, I believe that the perfect clarity with which Jesus could see what awaited Him only made His suffering and His experience of worse than it would have been were He only a man.

If anyone needed comforting, it was Jesus.

Yet, on this night, it was Jesus comforting His disciples.

While they didn’t know exactly what the next twenty-four hours would bring, the disciples did know that the forces of the Jewish religious leadership and the Roman government were arrayed against Jesus, that they wanted Him dead and would have Him dead if they could lay their hands on Him.

The disciples had hoped that Jesus would take the reins of the first-century equivalent of Church and State and bring them justice, vengeance, and ease. But now Jesus seems to be saying that their hopes for an earthly kingdom will not pan out. They needed comforting.

And so, Jesus tells them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

In the past year or so, many of us have had a recurring conversation with George: He would learn of some setback in his health and we would ask how he was doing with things. We wondered how he felt about it all. And George would say, as he did to me, “I’m OK, pastor. I’ve had a good life. And besides, I know where I’m going.”

George knew where he was going because he believed in Jesus Christ! George knew that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for him long before George was ever born.

And Jesus has prepared a place for you too.

Some people hear talk of the place that Jesus prepares for people in eternity and they think, “There go the Christians again, talking about pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by.” They think of Christians who, in the old saying, are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.

If that’s what you’re inclined to think when we speak of Jesus having prepared places for us in eternity, I invite you to consider the lives of George and Marilyn.

Did you ever know two people more engaged in the living of this life, more committed to each other, to their children and grandchildren, to other people, to work, to helping others, to having fun, to the Church?

In their retirement years, a time when some people sit back and settle into selfish pursuits, George and Marilyn have been servant leaders in the Church. George served as a mentor to high school kids. Marilyn has worked at Hannah’s Closet.

Listen: When you belong to the God we meet in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t drive you into some la-la land separated from reality; it empowers you to move with confidence and hope and courage into the very world that Jesus Christ died and rose for.

You try to make a difference--loving and serving and leading and helping others to know Christ--because you know God already has your back for all eternity.

Nothing can hurt you; so you can help others.

When you know that Jesus Christ has prepared a place for you in eternity, it liberates you to live this life with commitment, love, abandon.

We saw this repeatedly in George. George was never afraid of dying; he was only afraid of failing to live fully in whatever days God gave him on this earth. That’s part of why we loved him so much!

George showed us all how to live as people set free from fear of sin and death!

 He could care about others even when he was not doing well. I’ll never forget talking with George at Marilyn’s birthday party. I wanted to see how he was doing. But he wanted to ask me how my vacation went. “Did you relax?” he asked me. When I assured him that I had, he said, “Good!”

George faced death fearlessly because of his relationship with Jesus. I know that he and his family want you to know that today.

But here’s something else I know that George would want you to know: The place that Jesus has prepared especially for you in eternity will go unoccupied if you refuse to have anything to do with Jesus.

Jesus says: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)

We can be confident about following Jesus Christ into an eternity with God the Father if we dare to follow Jesus Christ here on earth.

If we fail to trust Jesus here, the grace of forgiven sin, a new way of living on earth, and an eternity with God cannot be ours.

Jesus will never force His love or His lordship on us, here or in eternity. If we want Jesus in eternity, we must claim Him here and now.

Jesus famously tells us in John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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.”

The comfort and the power for living that Christ offers to every human being, along with an eternity with God, only belong to those who dare to turn from their sin each day and trustingly follow where Christ leads each day.

Jesus gives us what we call the gospel--the good news--that all who repent and believe in what He offers, have what George had, confidence about their eternal destiny, confidence to live each day.

“The time has come,” [Jesus says.] “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Are you trusting that Good News today?

Are you trusting in Jesus today?

This is what Jesus dares all of us to do in the balance of our Gospel lesson. After Jesus told the disciples that they already knew the way He was going, the way of following His Father’s will, the way that take Him to the cross, to the resurrection, to the right hand of the Father, Thomas said to Jesus: “‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Some people fault Christians for citing these words of Jesus. To them, they seem closed-minded. “Jesus is the only way to life with God?” they ask. The answer is yes!

Because Jesus loves all people, Jesus wants all people to follow Him in living with God, filled with confidence, hope, peace, and resilience in this life and filled with God’s love and life for all eternity.

But why should Jesus be the only way to life with God? Think of it like this: The Bible says that we are born in sin, a condition of alienation from God, lost in a roiling sea of death that will destroy us unless we grasp the outstretched hands of the Savior Who died and rose for us. If we insist on holding onto our sins or the earthly measures of success or to anything else from this dying world for hope or life, we cannot grasp onto Christ. We must hold onto Christ, and to Christ alone, in order to hold onto God.

Jesus tells us: “...wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus is that small gate and narrow road that leads to life. George found it. May you find it too.

Marilyn, life without George will not be easy for you, we know. He leaves a hole in your life and that of your family that cannot be filled by any other person. And it would be unnatural for you not to grieve. But I pray that knowing that George has gone to the place Jesus prepared for him will comfort you and that you will be comforted too by the fact, guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection, that one day, all who trust in Christ will be reunited in eternity. That will be an amazing thing! God bless you. Amen

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

Quenching Our Thirst for "It"

John 7:37-39
In The Silver Chair, one of the books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, there’s a scene in which a girl named Jill Pole, who is from this world, is mysteriously transported to an alternative universe called Narnia and there, happens on a lion. He’s sitting by a pool of water from which she desperately wants a drink. But seeing the lion, she simply stands, paralyzed by fear and indecision.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink,” a voice tells her. It was a voice, as Lewis says, “deeper, wilder...stronger” than any she had ever heard, “a sort of heavy, golden voice.” She wondered where the voice had come from.

Then it said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.” Now she realized that it was the enormous lion who was speaking to her. Frozen in fear, she said nothing.

“Are you not thirsty?” the lion pressed. “I’m dying of thirst,” she told him. “Then drink,” he said.

After considering matters, Jill thought that she didn’t dare go any nearer the lion or the stream. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream,” she said. And then the lion told her, “There is no other stream.”

In Lewis’ Narnia, Aslan is a figure of Christ, the King of kings, sent by the Emperor Over the Sea, a figure for God the Father. In this scene, Lewis gives us a picture of how God the Son and God the Holy Spirit work in our lives to give us faith and to give us life that can be found nowhere else.

You see, we’re all born with a thirst for God and for the life that only God can give.

That’s true whether we know it or not.

One pastor calls this our human desire for it, that unsettled feeling that tells us that there’s more to life than existing from day to day.

We’re born craving it and sometimes we think we’ve found it in new fidget spinners, new spouses, new friends, new cars, new homes, new jobs, new boats, new hobbies.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. Everything in this world, including every human relationship, can be wonderful blessings.

But none of them is it. None fill our thirst for living water.

Saint Augustine, who spent many years searching for it in his study of philosophy and in illicit sexual relations before coming to faith in Christ, spoke of our common search for it in a well-known prayer: “You have made us restless for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You.”

One of the psalmists speak of the same thing when he writes: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Pslam 42:1-2)

What is it then? What can quench our thirsty souls? 

It’s the very life of God, His breath, His Holy Spirit. 

It was the Spirit Who God the Father breathed into us to first give human beings life: “...the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The perfect life of God filled the human frame.

Of course, that life became distorted, marred, perverted after humanity fell into sin, bringing deterioration, death, broken relationships and a constant thirst for it.

Many today are so steeped in the sin and death of this world and all the habitual lifestyles we adopt to approximate what we’re looking for that it doesn’t dawn on them that what we’re looking for can’t be found in things filled with the death, sin, and corruption of this fallen universe.

Still, for many, the search continues. Paul told a crowd in Athens that searched for it in all manner of little gods, godlets, and lifestyles: “From one man [Adam] he [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Then, Paul revealed to the crowd that He knew about what they were looking for: A relationship with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, Who died and rose to bring forgiveness and new, everlasting life to all who believed in Him. This Jesus could fill them with the Holy Spirit, with the life human beings lost at Eden, the life that they longed for. Only Jesus could give them it. Only Jesus can give it to you and me.

When, in Lewis’s story, Jill Pole sees the water that could quench the thirst from which she’s dying, she wants it more than anything. But to get to it, she must pass through Aslan. And so she hesitates.

When I was starting a new congregation in the Cincinnati area, I went door to door to introduce the church to the community. One house I stopped at was a large one set on a golf course. A young couple invited me in. They offered me water and I sat in their living room for a visit.

It turned out that they were both preachers’ kids. They were knowledgeable about God and the Bible. They had both been through divorces. I asked them how long they’d been married. They weren’t married.

“I know that’s wrong,” the man told me. I didn’t deny it. “So, how do you feel about God?” I asked them. “I love God,” the man told me, “But He’s just not part of our life right now. I want God in my life. We both do.” I asked him if he would like to do something about that desire, because, I assured them, “God wants you even more than you want Him.” They said, “Not now.”

That’s one of the most tragic conversations in which I’ve ever been involved. Here was a couple who knew what it was: life from God, life with God, freedom from sin, the power of the Holy Spirit to live in community with God forever, through faith in Jesus Christ. They hesitated. They said they weren’t ready yet. They were too busy with their sin to let God in just then.

Folks, the time to get ready, the time to let Jesus in, the time to drink the living water that Jesus can give to us is always now!

In today’s short Gospel lesson for this Pentecost Sunday, Jesus is speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem during the feast of booths or feast of tabernacles. It occurred each year seven weeks after Passover and was celebrated during the harvest season. During this season, it was common for Jews to erect booths or tabernacles in their fields in remembrance of the temporary shelters their ancestors used during the forty year Old Testament exodus. Jesus is in Jerusalem to teach and to make an amazing promise.

Take a look at the lesson, please. Verse 37: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.’”

I love the fact that Jesus spoke in a loud voice!

The world wants to turn Jesus into a compliant, namby-pamby dishrag, a weakling who will go along with us and not stand in our ways when we go wrong. But Jesus isn’t putty in our hands!

Revelation 5:5 calls Jesus, “the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” Who by His death and resurrection, triumphs over His enemies--our enemies of sin, death, and darkness--to bring us life.

Last week, you’ll remember, Jesus told us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Here, He tells us--in a loud voice--that if we want the life of God, the Holy Spirit bringing us, as we confess each Sunday in the Creed, “the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” if we want it, if we want to quench our thirst for what only God can give us, we must come to Jesus Christ. There is no other stream!

We can’t steal this living water from God. We can’t get it by being good people, or by dabbling in religion. All roads don’t lead to God or the life we long for. Jesus is the only road.

That may fill us with fear, betting our whole eternity on surrender to a Savior Who commands us to leave our sins and our most cherished selfish dreams behind.

And yet, we know that Jesus isn’t just the Lion of Judah, He is also “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

If we are thirsty for the life that God only gives through Christ, we must come to Jesus!

Verse 38: “‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

Today, six Living Water young people will affirm their desire to live in the covenant of their Baptism. They are saying that, for themselves and not because their parents brought (or dragged) them to church, they believe in Jesus Christ, that they don’t want to seek life anywhere else.

Of course, they haven’t formed these intentions on their own. They’ve been influenced by their families and this congregation.

But more than that, the Holy Spirit, unleashed in their lives when they were baptized, has drawn them to Jesus, filled them with life, caused them to realize that the holes in their souls--and the holes in every human soul--can only be filled by the sinless, crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus Christ.

As Paul reminds us: “ one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

And it is this same Holy Spirit Who can sustain them--and all of us--through the ups and downs of this life, quenching our thirsty souls through God’s Word, the witness of the resurrection, and the fellowship of the Church.

It is only when God helps and guides us that we can follow through on our good intentions of following Jesus always.

 Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

It’s Jesus’ promise, certified by His death and resurrection, that if we will look only to Him to fill that need for life, peace, hope, and relationship that only He can fill, we will be filled to overflowing.

He will send His Holy Spirit and we will have forgiveness and life, “pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38) as Jesus says.

That’s what He promises all who trust in Him on this Pentecost Sunday and every day we dare to affirm, by word and by living, our total trust in Him. May this be our way of life. Amen

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