Saturday, July 08, 2017

More Places Grabbed from Google Streetview

See if you can guess where they are...

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

Optical Store in India

I was looking for Citi Field in New York, where the Mets play, on Google Streetview. Instead, I landed on Citi Park Road, Greater Khanda, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. More particularly, I found myself inside an optical store decked out for Christmas...or at least, for the secular side of Christmas. Except for the scooters visible through the store windows, the place could be in a strip mall in Fort Wayne.

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

State Capitol #1: Madison, Wisconsin

Recently, Althouse has been posting captured images from Google Streetview, focusing on random places that she enjoys visually. It's cool.

Prompted by her, I've been looking at places, both familiar and unfamiliar, from around the world on Streetview.

Through the years, I've visited a number of State Capitols, but have rarely taken the time to snap pictures while visiting. That includes the State Capitol in Columbus, where I used to work.

I thought it would be cool to share Google Streetview images of these buildings. They're fun for me to look at, too.

This is a view of the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Althouse lives in Madison. I did too, as a baby, when my father was stationed there with the Air Force.

A few years back, we stayed overnight in Madison, on our way to a wedding in Wilmar, Minnesota. But while in Madison, we took a drive through the main business district and caught sight of the Capitol.

At the time, as I recall, there were demonstrators on hand, part of the campaign to re-call Governor Scott Walker. In this picture from Google, you'll see a small group of demonstrators begging people not to elect Donald Trump as president. Neither demonstration was successful, but in Madison, an island of blue in what has become a purple-tilting-red state, political engagement is in the air, it seems.

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

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Peace That Brings Conflict (AUDIO)

This is the message from this past Sunday's worship with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church.

But the first two-and-a-half minutes of this audio presents some thoughts on the Fourth of July from one Christian pastor's perspective.

Also, because of questions raised about our second Bible lesson, from Romans 7, I talk a bit about it before digging into the Gospel lesson, Matthew 10:34-39.

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Who's in Charge?

For my quiet time with God today, I read Luke 7. These words of Jesus especially caught me:
Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: 'We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’" (Luke 7:31-32)
The remarks come in the context of Jesus talking about John the Baptizer. John was the relative of Jesus whose task it was to prepare the world for the disclosure of the Messiah, Jesus. As part of that mission, John called people to repentance--that is, to turning away from sin and turning toward God--and offered a baptism of repentance.

John also had an ascetic life style. He didn't drink alcohol and he was never known to attend a party. Many found him offensive.

Jesus, on the other hand, did drink wine and His first miracle--turning water into wine--was at a party. Yet many of the same people offended by John were also offended by Jesus.

The source of their offense was that neither Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, nor John, Jesus' announcer, brought messages most people wanted to hear. Turn from sin? Put God first? Rely on God's grace through faith in Jesus instead of our own imagined goodness?

For most people, it was enough that they showed up at temple or synagogue, made their offerings, and tried to act decently. This, they thought, should keep God off their backs. They also thought that their outward shows of religiosity entitled them to critique John as prophet and Jesus as incarnate Deity.

Instead, John insisted that if people wanted to live rightly and with God, they needed to turn to Jesus.

Jesus insisted that they should turn to Him, away from their sins, selfishness, and even their religiosity.

God and the people of God must never dance to the world's tune or take its cues from the world, whether it's time celebrate or to grieve. Either the God we meet in Jesus is everything to us or nothing to us. There's no in-between. After years of preaching that, I'm finally beginning to understand that.

Whenever I fall into the trap of thinking that God owes me anything, I risk making myself into my own little god. But unlike the one God and King of the universe as revealed in Jesus, I am incapable of giving myself life or purpose or peace of mind. Only God can give these things.

If I follow God, the God revealed in Jesus, I live.

If I follow myself, I die.

God says: "Choose life!" (Deuteronomy 31:19)

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

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

7 (maybe 8) Movies for the Fourth

When our kids were growing up, we usually tried to spend some time with them reflecting on the meaning of holidays, secular and sacred. Often, that would include watching movies or TV films that helped them to understand that these special days were more than just time off from routine activities or to gorge ourselves.

That was true of the Fourth of July as much as other special days. I find that watching these and other films, along with reading books on American history and the American political system, contribute to my being a more informed and appreciative citizen.

So, in no particular order, some of my favorite movies for conveying a bit what America is, has been, and aspires to be.

1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This classic tells the story of a young midwesterner appointed to fill the unexpired term of a deceased senator. He runs into the corrupt pols of his own state as he upholds constitutional democracy, though. Interestingly, the tool he ultimately uses to take on political corruption is the filibuster, a Senate practice that has often been used to prop up segregation and racism. This movie was controversial when released in 1939. People thought that it portrayed the Senate as crass. But in the end, it upholds the virtue of our constitutional system.

2. John Adams. This Tom Hanks-produced adaptation of David McCullough's majestic and accessible biography of our second president, is simply wonderful. John Adams was always something of a contrarian. But his is the Horatio Alger story of a man of humble beginnings who read and worked his way to greatness, becoming one of the titans of America's founding. This mini-series is worth your time!

3. Lincoln. When I first saw Daniel Day-Lewis portraying Lincoln in the days before his assassination, I drew in breath as though seeing Lincoln himself come to life. From all that I've read about Lincoln through the years, I recognized the accuracy of the actor's portrayal of our sixteenth president: the lumbering stride, the high-pitched speaking voice, the morosity intermingled with hilarity. More than that, I saw the character of the man.

Above all, it's character, the character that knows right from wrong and that learns from experience, that makes great presidents.

Lincoln had to address the gravest constitutional crisis in American history, the Civil War. That conflict was started by rebels who assaulted their own government and countrymen in defense of an immoral institution, slavery.

The movie shows Lincoln as he upheld the principles that, (1) except on sound moral grounds, the Union was and is inviolable and (2) all are created equal.

In turn, it's clear that Lincoln understood the two fundamental principles of American democracy, the source of American exceptionalism: (1) The affirmation of the equality and right to freedom of every human being, which is (2) guaranteed by our mutual accountability under the Constitution and law.

This is an awesome movie!

4. Sergeant York. Yes, it has its historical inaccuracies. Yes, it's filled with stock characters. But, what a movie!

5. Saving Private Ryan. The second of two Spielberg movies on my list (the other is Lincoln), Private Ryan tells the fictional story of a mission designed to rescue a family's last surviving brother after his siblings have been killed in battle. This is more than an homage to what's been called "the greatest generation." The D-Day sequence is, according to many who were there, the most realistic (and the most haunting) portrayal of that battle ever.

This movie is a challenge to all Americans to live up to the sacrifices their forebears made--and not just those who fought in war--to give us our country intact.

6. All the President's Men. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigate the gravest American constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

The movie affirms what President Ford said on succeeding his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon:  "Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men."

It also affirms the indispensability of a free press for the proper functioning of the American constitutional system.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird. This poignant film explores the stubborn disgrace of racism in America and the need for people of principle to combat it. The characters are vividly real. The film is an incredible adaptation of what may be the best American novel ever. Children who haven't seen it will love this movie!

8. Finally, watch every episode of the PBS series, The American Experience, that you can. This ambitious series lives up to its name, showing everything about America: the good, the great, the bad, the ugly.

If we and future generations are going to do our parts in fulfilling our constitutional calling of forming "a more perfect union," it's important to know where we've been, the great themes and principles of American democracy, and how this country is worth the effort.

As President Kennedy wrote in the introduction to a multi-volume encyclopedia of American history, which my parents faithfully bought for me each time a new book was issued: "A knowledge of the past prepares us for the crisis of the present and the challenge of the future."

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. He also has a bachelor's degree in Social Studies from The Ohio State University and had the good fortune of being raised by parents who encouraged an interest in history and the possibilities of America.]

Monday, July 03, 2017

Willing to Be Crazy?

[These are reflections on my quiet time with God today. I spent time with God in Luke, chapter 5. To see how I observe quiet time, see here.]
Look: “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break...When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’...Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’” (Luke 5:6, 8, 10b)

Peter, as directed by Jesus, reluctantly put out from shore and, despite catching nothing during an entire night’s work, hauled in a catch so big that the boats onto which the men dragged the bulging nets nearly sank. As an experienced fishermen, Peter knew that this wasn’t normal and that the One Who had commanded him to let down his nets wasn’t “normal” either.

In Jesus, Peter saw a holy man, even if he didn’t yet understand Jesus to be Messiah and God. (That would come later.) He saw the distance between Jesus’ righteousness and his own imperfections; so, he begged Jesus to go away. Peter didn’t want to be consumed by the holy fire of God; he knew, as Hebrews 12:29 reminds, that “God is a consuming fire.”
But Jesus tells Peter not to be afraid. Jesus has plans for Peter. Peter is going to “fish for people.”

Listen: Peter was right to reverence Jesus, of course. He was right to be humbled by the reality of Christ’s holiness and his own unholiness. When I stop long enough to let God speak to me, I too am overwhelmed by the distance between Jesus’ perfection and my own imperfection.

But Jesus doesn’t want to end His interchanges with us on that note. The Law rightly condemns us for our sin. Jesus comes with His gospel--the truth that He has conquered the Law, sin, and death for us through His cross--and assures that all who repent and believe in Him have nothing to fear.

Just as Jesus doesn’t want us to get hung up on our guilt without appropriating the grace, forgiveness, and new life He wants to give to us, He also doesn’t want us to misinterpret or be dependent on signs, getting hung up on the billboard more than on the Savior they advertise.

The miraculous catch of fish was a notable sign. But signs always point beyond themselves. Peter might have thought, “I can make a lot of money with all of these fish. Maybe if I follow Jesus, He can make me really wealthy.” We know from Peter’s suggestion at the Transfiguration that he build booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah that Peter has a tendency to want to capture or domesticate miraculous signs, seeing them and not the Sign-Giver as the point. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter wanted to capture and bottle up the holiness he witnessed, like an addict wanting to keep a fix going.

But Jesus isn’t our junkie.

He’s not our cash cow either. Once Jesus assured Peter that Peter shouldn’t fear, before any earthly thoughts of his own comfort or advantage could form in Peter’s mind, Jesus told him, basically, “You’re not in the fishing business any more. This miraculous catch is a sign to you that from here on, you’re in the people-catching, disciple-making business.”

Jesus struck while the iron was hot. He didn’t tell Peter, “Now that you have some sense of Who I am, I’ll give you twenty-four hours to decide whether you’re going to follow Me or not. Consider whether you want to become an apostle or not.” No, that was the moment that Jesus wanted a response.

Would Jesus have accepted Peter if he’d put off the decision? Would Peter have come to play the role in Christ’s Church that he was to play had he deferred following? I don’t know.

But this is what I know: At the moment he was experiencing his greatest single success as a fisherman he had ever known, Peter left his nets behind.

This is a strange thing. It makes me wonder: If I experienced an enormous success, as a preacher or anything else, would I trust Jesus enough to follow when I sensed Him calling me to do something else?

This is probably a more soul-searing question than I think it is. I let little successes go to my head. A sermon gets more than the usual number of compliments, a family touched by grief tells me how much my ministry to them means, a friend extolls my cleverness...and suddenly, I’m in danger of thinking that I’m “all that.” What I mean is that even little successes put me over the moon.

So, I really wonder that, once exposed to the addicting power of being told, “well done,” would I have the faith and the courage to do something different if I sensed Jesus telling me, “It’s time to do this, Mark”? Would I be willing to leave the comfortable and apparently successful to go where Jesus sends me?

Once, I answered Jesus’ call to pastoral ministry and I believe that I’ve answered the call to specific congregations on four different occasions in the past nearly thirty-three years. But what if God suddenly made it clear that I needed to become a greeter at Walmart? Or a teacher in an inner-city school? Would I be as responsive as Peter was?

Say what we will (and often do) about Peter’s pig-headedness and impulsive braggadocio, the guy followed Jesus even when it made no sense to him. He was open to admitting when he was wrong. He was malleable to the direction of God. And at the moment he scored his biggest payday, he left it all to go wherever Jesus sent him, to do whatever Jesus wanted him to do.

He makes me wonder if I could ever be so sold out to Jesus to do anything that crazy.

Respond: Lord, help me to be open to what Your Spirit tells me through Your Word, prayer in Jesus’ name, and the counsel of mature Christians. Help me to follow Jesus even when it doesn’t make sense, even when I don’t feel qualified, especially when I don’t feel qualified. Help me to not be comfortable today. Help me to derive my comfort from being Yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen

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

Did the Bible inform the largely non-churchgoing founders?

"Not all of the founders acknowledged the Bible as the revealed Word of God. Nonetheless, it was widely regarded as a receptacle of great wisdom and, especially Jesus' teachings, a handbook for ethical and virtuous conduct."

Read the whole thing.

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

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Peace That Brings Conflict

Mark 10:34-42
This morning, I want to focus on just the first six verses from today's gospel lesson, Matthew 10:34-39.

That’s because Jesus’ words for us here are jarring. They’re not the kinds of words you’ll see quoted on a Hallmark card.

“I haven’t come to bring peace, but a sword. Happy birthday.”

“Anyone who loves family more than Me isn’t worthy of Me. Happy Father’s Day.”

“Take up your cross. Get well soon.”

“Lose your life to find it. Will you be my Valentine?”

But if we find Jesus’ words today jarring, know that the first disciples, on hearing them undoubtedly stood gape-mouthed at the Lord.

You see, as Jesus speaks the words in our lesson, the disciples were already coming to believe that He is the Messiah. And the Messiah, according to prophecy, would come to bring peace.

Eight centuries earlier the prophet Isaiah, under inspiration from God’s Holy Spirit, had said of the Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

At Jesus’ birth, angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Yet, look again at what the disciples hear the Prince of peace say to them in today’s lesson: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36)

So, what is it, Jesus? Did You come to bring peace or conflict?

The answer is both.

It’s important to remember what the Bible means when it talks about peace. Peace, from God’s point of view, involves more than the absence of conflict.

In God’s eyes, peace is complete, unfettered harmony between God and those who trust in Him. It also means peace between those who trust in Him and their neighbors, their world.

This is the peace that comes to all who turn from their sin and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. It’s called shalom in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, eirene in the Greek of the New Testament.

The peace that Jesus brings makes it possible for us to look ourselves in the mirror and to see, not just an imperfect sinner deserving of death, but a child of God redeemed and made eternally new by Jesus Christ.

The peace of Jesus makes it possible for us to look at God not only as the perfect Judge, but as the loving Father Who sent His Son to die and rise for us, Who sends His Spirit to live in us, guide us, and make us over into His image.

The peace of Jesus makes it possible for us to look on our neighbors as people for whom Jesus also died and rose, people who need to know and experience the good news of new and everlasting life that Jesus brings, people whom Jesus calls us to serve as if they were Jesus Himself.

In bringing the possibility of such peace in all of these ways to each and every human being though, Jesus inevitably creates conflict.

If we get serious about following Jesus, conflict will come. Jesus came to bring us peace with God, with ourselves, and with others. But not everyone wants what Jesus has come to bring. Not everyone wants to surrender to Jesus. Even those who believe in Jesus find that the hardest prayer He teaches us to pray is, “Thy will be done.” We have all inherited from Adam and Eve a desire to "be like God" and it's foreign to all of us to want to surrender ourselves even to the One Who makes and redeems us.

So, it’s in Jesus’ call to follow and surrender that conflict begins. That’s where Jesus, in the words He cites from the Old Testament book of Micah, pits “man against father, daughter against mother,” family member against family member.

Jesus is not just the great giver of peace, He’s also the great divider of human beings and of human history.

Years ago, the movie Chariots of Fire told the story of an Olympic athlete getting into the very kind of conflict that Jesus brings to those who follow Him. Eric Liddell was a young Scotsman who had trained for a track event. But he learned that his event was scheduled for a Sunday and, as a devout Christian, who would later be a missionary to China, he did not believe that he should run on the sabbath. The United Kingdom’s Olympic elite were appalled. “In my day,” one of them, a former Olympian himself, tells Liddell heatedly, “we knew who took first place between God and King.”

For the Christian, of course, no matter how patriotic, God must always take first place. The God we know in Jesus Christ must take first place over country, over family, over career, over friends, over self. And when Christians dare to make the God revealed in Jesus their highest priority, there will inevitably be conflict. Jesus is preparing us for that with His words to us today.

And Jesus isn’t done bracing us for following Him while we live in this fallen world. He goes on: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)

When you follow Jesus, conflict may happen even in the intimacy of family. I was talking with a worried father a few years ago. The father was a Christian; but his faith was basically confined to Sunday mornings. His son had acquired a deep faith in Jesus while in college. The young man had started sharing his faith in Christ and, despite being on a great trajectory with his new career, decided to take two years off in order to go to a Third World country to do evangelism and mission work. His father was appalled! He was sure that his son could never pick up the thread of his rising career after a two-year absence in some far-off country. “I keep trying to make my son consider,” he told me, “how this is possibly going to help him.”

It was hard for me to help this man understand that, while not all of us are called to spend two years following Christ into a Third World country, his son was doing the right thing. The father viewed the son’s prospective missionary trip as a betrayal: All that money spent on the son’s education was going to waste. But for his son, it was clear: He loved his father, but he loved his Lord even more.

Jesus asks us, “Who do you love more, the things of this world or Me?” That father was conflicted; his son was at peace. When you follow where Jesus leads, despite the conflict roiling around you and sometimes inside you, you have a peace that passes all understanding.

Jesus goes on to say: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)

The first disciples would have had no understanding of Jesus at this point. They didn’t realize that Jesus would, on Good Friday, take up a cross and there, experience the death sentence that every one of us deserves for our sin, taking it for us so that we, by faith in Christ, be reconciled with God.

What Jesus is telling us is that, if we are to experience the new life that He has come to bring us now and in eternity, we must allow our old selves to be crucified.

Daily, we need to subject all those sins that we commit, either deliberately or reflexively, to crucifixion.

That means coming to God each day and asking Him to show us our sins so that He can rip them from our lives, even all those sins we like to commit, to be put on the shoulders of Jesus, Who died to consume them from existence forever.

Listen: Sin kills. All sin kills--from taking God’s name in vain to murder, from sexual intimacy outside a marriage of woman and man to gossip, from dishonoring our elders to coveting what our neighbor has, from making idols of our kids to even the pettiest of thievery.

And, if we are to live with the God Who sets sinners free to live as human beings were meant to live, we must daily submit all our sin to crucifixion.

And this is no abstraction. We are born in sin. Sin is such a part of us that it’s part of what composes our personalities, our habits, our ways of looking at the world. It must be crucified. Daily. Hourly. Through constant surrender to Christ.

Like the fog that clings to the ocean at the beach in the morning, it must be burned off by the light of God’s grace given in Christ.

It’s more violent, more painful than that.

Once, a melanoma, a malignant cancer, was found on my leg. It hadn’t grown much. But the cancer had become part of me. It had to be removed. So, one day, I went to the James Center at Ohio State, where a surgeon removed the cancer. It was no longer part of me.

It was a minor surgery; the scar is still there, but the sting lasted only a few days. Taking up our crosses, daily repenting, daily agreeing with God that the sins that have become part of me must go, is vastly more painful than that. And daily repentance for our sin will leave its scars on our psyches and our lives. That’s just the truth!

But as we take up our crosses each day, God goes to work to create our best selves. The sin selves die so that our God selves can live.

Jesus died and rose to make this soul surgery successful!

We often buy Hallmark cards to make people laugh or to comfort them. There's nothing wrong with that. But in describing what may come to us as His disciples, Jesus isn’t sending us a Hallmark.

Life with Christ is, of course, an incredible comfort. All who repent and trust in Christ have life with God that never ends. Christ stands by those who follow Him through this life and will usher us into a perfect eternity with God at the resurrection. That’s true comfort.

But along the way, the disciple will be constantly called to choose Christ over our own temporary comforts.

Christ over the world.

Christ over our family.

Christ over our status.

Christ over self.

Christ over our country.

That may cause us conflict with others, conflict even with ourselves, as we live from day to day. But all who dare to trust in Jesus, day in and day out, live with this comfort from Him: “...the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) No Hallmark card can bring that kind of comfort. Only Jesus.

Keep following Him!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message prepared for worship today.]