Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Ultimate Makeover

This my journal entry for my quiet time with God today. To see how I keep this time, read here.
Look: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)

“All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, Good News Translation)

Paul, who has had some sharp things to say to the Corinthians has also spent time in the previous verses, underscoring the authority of his team and himself to say sharp things.

Apparently, some have questioned that authority. Basically, Paul is saying, “You Corinthians are credentials for my authority. The fact that Gentiles who were once unbelievers confess faith in the God of Israel revealed in Jesus is our authority. Once you were no people, now you are God’s people. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through our witness, You have life from the God previously known only to Israel. That shows my authority!”

As Paul warms to his subject, he posits an idea found in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere in the New Testament that the old covenant, given through the Patriarchs and Moses, both necessary and of God, was a prelude to the new, definitive covenant God makes with people of any race or nationality through Jesus and their faith in Him, made possible by the Holy Spirit.

He contrasts the old and new covenants.

“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” (vv.7-8)

“If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” (v. 9)

“For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (v.10-11)

It’s not that the old was bad, it’s that it couldn’t achieve what the new can achieve. It wasn’t definitive. The old always pointed to the new and now the new has rightly supplanted the old.

Paul’s words echo the opening verses of the New Testament book of Hebrews: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

In other words, in the past, God spoke to His people Israel through a multiplicity of voices, the voices of prophets. Now, however, God has spoken directly to the world through the One Voice, the same voice that bore down on primordial chaos and brought all life into being (Genesis 1:1). That Voice, God made flesh, speaks the definitive, life-bringing Word to the entire human race. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

“My authority comes from the way in which the Holy Spirit keeps speaking Jesus’ life-giving Word through those who follow Him,” Paul is telling the Corinthians.

It’s not an authority he claims as his own by his own will. It’s the same Word that all who confess Jesus as Lord are to speak to others. For the Christian, there is one authoritative Voice and Word: the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

Listen: All of which leads to verse 18. Moses was given the terrifying privilege of seeing God in all of God’s blazing glory. But Moses had to veil his face when he went back to his fellow Israelites. To see God’s glory directly would mean death for them. God was perfect; they weren’t. (Moses wasn’t either, but God set Moses aside for the purpose of acting as his leader/priest.)

But when ancient Israel saw God’s glory reflected in Moses’ face, that too was terrifying for them. His face had to be veiled and they told him not to make them see God. Just tell us what God wants us to do and we’ll do it, they told Moses. (They didn’t, it should be pointed out.)

Why didn’t Israel want to see God? To come into the presence of God, as we do when we confess our sins to God in Jesus’ name in private prayer or public worship, is to be made mindful of the chasm between God’s holiness and perfection, on the one hand, and our unrighteousness and imperfection, on the other.

Thanks to God, we can approach Him through Jesus, Who covers us with His righteousness when we trust in Him and His righteousness, rather than in our own power and our own unrighteousness, making it possible for us to be God’s presence without dying on the spot. When we are covered with Jesus, our High Priest, and come in His name, we have no reason to fear about approaching the One Who Jesus taught us to call, “Our Father.”

That’s why, also in Hebrews, the preacher exhorts: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin [Jesus]. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16-17)

Set free from our bondage to sin and death through the crucified and risen Jesus, we no longer need to “veil our faces” in God’s presence. We don’t need to be hesitant about approaching God.

In fact, we should approach Him often, with confidence. That’s why Paul says elsewhere: “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

And, picking up on these themes, Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism regarding the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, who art in heaven”):
God encourages us to believe that he is truly our Father, and that we are truly his children, so that we may boldly and confidently pray to him, just as beloved children speak to their dear Father.
Paul says that we’re to “contemplate” or, better yet probably, “reflect” this glorious God.

That means that we’re not to be afraid to come into His presence: Even if doing so will show our weaknesses, God has shown Himself to be, in Christ, not only as the people of the old covenant confessed “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” but also the God Who has shared our lives, borne our sins on His sinless shoulders, and wants nothing more than to give us new, everlasting life through faith in God the Son.

When we choose to spend time, choose to spend our lives, in God’s presence, we are transformed. The more of our lives we give over to God, the more we surrender to Jesus, the more He gives of Himself to us and the more we become like God in the flesh, Jesus...even when we ourselves can’t perceive it.

Ole Hallesby, in his book Prayer, has an illustration that clarifies this reality. He talked about what was often done for tuberculosis patients. They would be taken to sanitaria where the most effective treatment often turned out to be wheeling the patients out into the sunlight. There, in the brightness and the warmth of the sun, these once-sickly people would be transformed. The sun would clear the disease from affected lungs. The patients were healed.

Because of Jesus, we no longer need to fear the blazing, consuming fire of God. When, in humility and need, in simple trust in what Jesus has done for us, we come into God’s presence, He, the brilliant Lord of all, heals us of our fevered sin-sickness. He fills us with His life, which can’t even be ended when we draw our last breaths on this earth.

It was this humble attentiveness to Him, this passive saturation in God’s presence and Word, that Jesus commended to Martha, the busy sister of Lazarus and Mary, in Luke 10:38-42. He tells the frenzied Martha, concerned about making a good impression, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Jesus isn’t condemning work or commending laziness. He’s saying, “Follow Me and heed Me, whatever you’re doing.” Jesus doesn’t say this because He’s an egomaniac. He’s saying it because it’s only in Him that we find life from God. Jesus is the good portion.

When we, our faces no longer veiled in shame or fear, can peer into the face of God as we meet Him in Christ, He can work changes in us. Paul says that we are, through our surrender and attentiveness to Jesus, “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

The glory of God becomes more manifest in us, in ways that we are hardly conscious of, because our thoughts are no longer about us, our reputations, our sins, our comforts, our perks, our fears. Our thoughts are on Christ, of Christ.

Paul is describing the process of sanctification. It’s the process by which the holy God of all creation makes believers in Christ holy, their lives increasingly reflecting the presence of God’s goodness and love and grace in their lives. Sanctification, just like the justification that initially sets us free from the power of sin and death through faith in Jesus, is a gracious act of God alone. It is not our doing.

Sanctification happens when the Holy Spirit incites us, through God’s Word, whether mediated through other people, the Sacraments, or reading it ourselves, to spend time in the presence of God, to yield control over more aspects of our lives despite our desire to go our own way.

The human impulse is to hide from God when we sin or our sin is shown to us, like Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit.

The human impulse also is to pretend that we’re self-sufficient, gods to ourselves who don’t need God, again like Adam and Eve, who wanted to “be like God.”

But when, by the power of the Spirit, we come to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, the only way to the life with God for which we were made and which we all secretly want, we give the Holy Spirit access to our minds, hearts, and wills. He makes us mindful of what we really need and want: a deep fellowship with the God in Whose image we were first made.

There are times when I have been so busy with the things I wanted to do or thought that I needed to do, I didn’t realize how hungry I was. It’s not until I finally sit down for a meal and begin to eat that suddenly I realize how famished I am.

It’s the same with God. We can go through our days and lives--Christians and non-Christians alike--and become oblivious of our need for fellowship with God. But once the Holy Spirit creates or re-creates that “taste” for God in us, we realize how, without Him in our lives, we’re starving. (That’s the way it was for me when, after a decade of atheism, I got to know God as revealed in Christ; I couldn’t get enough of Him.)

The Bible is speaking perhaps more than metaphorically when it invites people to “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)

And because the God Who is Spirit (John 4:24) understands that we are fleshy dust (Psalm 103:14), He compassionately reaches out to us by becoming one of us, yet without sin (John 1:14; Hebrews 4:15), so that He can be touched and seen (John 1:14) and then redeem us by offering His own flesh and blood at the cross.

And this isn’t a privilege only enjoyed by a few hundred residents of first-century Judea. We can taste and see the goodness of the Lord, God in the flesh, Jesus, every time His body and blood are offered to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion: "Take and eat; this is my body,” He says to us when His Word meets the bread at the table in Christian worship. "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” He says when His creative, transformative Word meets the wine of Holy Communion (Matthew 26:26-28).

This meal, along with God’s Word and the fellowship of the Church, are all meant to be tools of the Holy Spirit by which God feeds us on Himself and incites a still greater hunger for God, a hunger to have Him in every part of our lives.

And when, by the power of the Holy Spirit and not our own power, we militate against all the distractions of this world that would keep us from God, and we, like Mary, come into God’s presence, He infuses us with His glory: the power to live, to have peace, to be the bold, humble, purposeful, forgiving, joyful, loving people we were made to be.

Respond: I get too busy and distracted, Lord. Thank You for this time with You today. Make me over in Your image and in doing so, help me to reflect Your glory. Free me from the need to impress others or be what others want me to be. Help me to be who You want me to be, which I know, corresponds with who in my gut, I want to be. Grant that this will not be a selfish or self-aggrandizing pursuit, but one that will allow me, as You invade more of my life, give all glory to You alone. Help me to be my God-self with reckless, joyful abandon. I pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Friday, August 25, 2017

Smelling Good to God

From a recent quiet time. I explain quiet time here.
Look: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16a)

The passage from which these words are taken is shot through with both humility and confidence, each born of faith in God.

Paul has just said in vv. 12-13, that while God had opened the door for he and his team to do ministry in Troas, he’d felt uneasy while there owing to his inability to find Titus. This dovetails with what he talked about in 1 Corinthians 16:9: Even when God opens doors for us to follow Him, there can also be troubles when we walk through them. We can be in “triumphal procession” with God and still encounter troubles, whether sadness, opposition, or difficulties of other kinds.

I believe that Paul truly took to heart what Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I can be following the path laid out for me by God in Christ and still be subjected to sorrow and death. In fact, if I follow Jesus, nothing is more likely; after all, this is precisely the path Jesus took. There is no Easter without Good Friday.

Our procession is triumphal, whatever comes our ways, because it follows Christ, not because we’re all that.

And for reasons known truly only to God (though we may speculate), it’s through believers in Jesus that God spreads the fragrance of “the knowledge of Him everywhere.” Then Paul says: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…”

“Aroma to God” reminds me of the incense offered to God in the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Incense was meant to carry people’s prayers, sacrifices, worship, and commitment to faith offered to God. Paul says that believers in Christ are like incense lifting praises, prayers, and surrender to God through their lives.

When we read about such offerings being made, we might think of the people of God gathered for worship, times together with the Church when we confess sin and receive God’s forgiveness, sing God’s praises, hear God’s Word, and receive the gift of life in the Sacraments. And, according to Paul, worship with God’s people is one place in which we are to be “the aroma of Christ” to God. We’re to be this when we are “among those who are being saved.”

But we are also to be the aroma of Christ after we’ve left Christian worship “among those who are perishing,” among those who don’t know or refuse to receive Christ and His gracious offer of new, everlasting life with God. In other words, we’re to keep offering ourselves to the purposes of God, the glory of God, and the sharing of Christ, in our everyday lives with everyone.

Paul doesn’t sugarcoat things either. People will perceive the Christ we share with our lives, actions, and words differently. Some will perceive the “aroma of Christ” as “a fragrance from death to death” and others as “a fragrance from life to life.” Or, as these words are rendered in The Message translation/paraphrase: “Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.”

In other words, the good news of new life through the crucified and risen Jesus, will seem like death to some people. And they’re right in that it is a death to the dead life of sin into which we’re born and which spells an instant death sentence for every human being absent the gracious intervention of Jesus.

But to those open to the Holy Spirit’s proclamation of this message through us, this good news, this gospel (this aroma of Christ), even as it spells the death of this old dead life, it will be perceived that life with Christ moves us from life with God here and now to life with God in full perfection in eternity. From life to life.

Paul writes elsewhere: “...the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

And Jesus says to Martha, grieving for her brother, Lazarus: ““I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

Listen: Intentionality about being the “aroma of Christ” is important, of course. Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). I need to take that as His will for my life as a disciple, wherever I may be.

But I also know how little good my good intentions do when push comes to shove. That’s especially true when it comes to doing the things God wants me to do. Like Paul, I confess that the force of sin that lives in me scores easy victories over my good intentions and sincere resolutions: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

If I’m going to make good on being the “aroma of Christ” to God among all sorts of people, my good intentions and heartfelts resolutions will do no good. I need to take to heart Jesus’ words: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Being the aroma of Christ in the world will seem compelling to some and repulsive to others. If I focus solely on people’s reactions to me following Christ, I’ll lose the aroma of Christ. I’ll be like Peter, full of faith when he asked Jesus to call him to walk on the stormy water with him, but full of fear when I lose my focus on Christ and look, instead, to my circumstances.

If I don’t take a shower every day, I won’t have a very compelling scent any longer. And if I don’t spend time with Christ every day, I’ll lose the scent of Christ and His sacrificial offering for me in my life.

I need to keep bathing in Christ. I need to spend time with Him. I need to worship with the Church, read His Word, receive the Sacraments, and spend alone time--quiet time--with the God revealed in Christ.

As we abide or remain connected to Christ, it won’t be us but Christ that people “smell” in us.

And if some don’t like the scent, they may let us know. But we won’t be shaken because we know through our constant fellowship with God revealed in Christ to Whom we belong. The only one to Whom we need to smell good is God...and all who turn from sin and trust in Christ and His righteousness rather than their own, smell very good to God, covered in the sweet aroma of Christ.
Respond: I need to remember all of this because I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. My antennae are particularly attuned to others’ reactions to me. Lord, free me from the worries to which this can give rise. Free me from the temptation to compromise your truth and to blend in with my surroundings that this creates in me. Help me to stay grounded in You so that today, my life will be an offering to You no matter who I may meet. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When you break a promise

"Due to circumstances beyond our control." That's the phrase that popped into my mind this morning during my quiet time when I read words of the apostle Paul addressed to the first-century Christian churches in Corinth and Achaia.

There, Paul is explaining why he'd been forced to break his promise to come visit them, not because he wasn't good for his word but because circumstances had changed. But, ever the preacher of Christ, even in the midst of this explanation, Paul couldn't keep from pointing out how reliable the God we know through Christ always is:
Confident of your welcome, I had originally planned two great visits with you—coming by on my way to Macedonia province, and then again on my return trip. Then we could have had a bon-voyage party as you sent me off to Judea. That was the plan.

Are you now going to accuse me of being flip with my promises because it didn’t work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth—a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next? Well, you’re wrong. I try to be as true to my word as God is to his. Our word to you wasn’t a careless yes canceled by an indifferent no. How could it be? When Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed the Son of God among you, did you pick up on any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn’t it a clean, strong Yes? 
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (2 Corinthians 1:15-22, The Message)
Though my team and I were incapable of making good on our yes, Paul seems to say, remember two things:
(1)We always proclaimed God's "yes" to repentant believers in Christ;
(2) Even when humans fail to keep their promises, when God says "yes" to a promise, you can bank your life on it.
God calls imperfect human beings--which includes every believer in Christ--to share the message of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and trustingly follow Jesus. But our faith is not in the imperfect disciples who strive and sometimes fail in their promise-keeping. Our faith is in the God Who, as seen in Christ, always keeps His promises.

I think that this has several implications for the way we live our lives if we confess Christ to be our God and Savior.

First, it means that we need to be judicious in our promise-making. We should only make those promises that we think we are going to be able to keep. When we're associated with Christ, identified by others as Christians, we must remember that we are "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) and strive, as Jesus tells us to "Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matthew 5:37).

Second, we need to be charitable and understanding when circumstances beyond the control of those from whom we feel we have promises are unable to keep them. This is especially the case when they may be unable to keep their promise to us because of another promise they have made to God. This appears to be the explanation that Paul offers in these verses from 2 Corinthians 1. His extenuating circumstances aren't things like, "Oops! We overslept." Or, "We were having such a great time here, it seemed such a shame to go tearing off to Corinth."

No, Paul says, "I try to be as true to my word as God is to his." Especially when a person has a good track record for keeping promises, we should be understanding when they don't fulfill a promise. Especially when a promise to God may supersede their promise to us. As with Paul and his crew who faced persecution and the call of God to remain where they were rather than heading to see the Corinthians, we should be understanding of those who try to be as true to their word as God is to His Word.

That leads to a third implication in Paul's word to the Corinthians: God is the only One Who ever has kept or ever will keep all His promises. God's Word alone is completely reliable. Even the most well-meaning people flub up. God never flubs up! Isaiah 40:8, says: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 118:8, which says: "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans."

And here's a fourth implication: Not only should we be judicious, careful, about making promises, we should repent both for careless promise-making and for godly promises broken. We should apologize both to God--because, as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, whenever we sin (and carelessly breaking a promise is a sin, a violation of the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness"), we sin chiefly against God--and to the person to whom we've made our unfulfilled promise.

Of course, repentance means more than saying we're sorry for committing sin; it also means turning to God in the name of Jesus, receiving God's forgiveness, and allowing the Holy Spirit to this aspect of our lives to help us live more faithfully. In our Lutheran tradition, when we install people into positions of responsibility in our congregations, these people are asked to make a series of promises to God and the congregation. And with each promise, they pledge to seek to fulfill those promises by saying, "Yes, with the help of God."

And what do we do if we truly repent before God and truly apologize to people for our broken promises and people refuse to forgive us?

  • For one thing, don't allow yourself to remain angry about it. Understand that your broken promise may have caused real hurt to the other person. This is especially so when you've had a track record of promise-keeping with them. When a person routinely breaks promises to us, we think, "That's them." But when someone has usually been reliable breaks a promise, the disappointment is great. Be understanding of how the person to whom we've made a broken promise feels. 
  • Also, pray for reconciliation. Ask God to work in both of your lives to make it possible for your relationship to be restored. Ask also that God will banish bitterness from your thinking. Ask God also if there are any further steps you should take. Usually, there are no further steps to be taken; you must simply pray and wait.
  • Finally, ask God to help you to be a more reliable promise-maker in the future.

As someone who has been known to make promises that I've gone on to break and sometimes, unlike Paul in these verse from 2 Corinthians, out of carelessness, I'm glad that there is One Whose promises can always be counted on.

When Jesus came into this world to die and to rise for the benefit of sinful human beings, He fulfilled the promises of God. And His death and resurrection are the guarantors of all the other promises He makes, from the promise to always be with those who follow Him in this world to the promise to prepare a place for His disciples in eternity.

So, I will ask God's help in being judicious and faithful in my promise-making and promise-keeping.

I will seek, with the help of God, to forgive others as God forgives me, when they seem to fail in keeping the promises they have made to me.

But, I will trust the God revealed in Jesus and in the promises He makes in His Word, the Bible, above all else.

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Help me to walk through the doors You open, God

This is the journal entry on what God shared with me today during my quiet time. See here for information on how I keep my daily quiet time with God.
Look: “I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9)

This interests me because, as Paul gives the Corinthian Christians a rundown of his plans, he mentions going to Ephesus. In one breath, he seems to give two almost contradictory reasons for being in Ephesus through Pentecost: (1) A door for effective work there has opened to him; (2) There are many there who oppose him.

On the second point, The Lutheran Study Bible says that Paul’s fellow Jews in Ephesus were offended that he “welcomed uncircumcised Gentiles into the churches.”

It seems almost silly to use the offense he will cause people as a reason to go among them.

Silly? Not when I consider what he wrote to the Gentile-Christian church in Rome about his fellow Jews. Paul agonized over the fact that God’s chosen people, who had the patriarchs and the ordinances, whose Messiah had come to be Lord and Savior of all the world, could miss out on the promises given to them through the patriarchs and Moses and the prophets by refusing to accept or trust in the God ultimately disclosed to them and the whole world in Jesus. At one point in the extended section of Romans in which he addresses his concerns, chapters 9 to 11, Paul says that he’d be willing to give up his own eternal salvation if only his fellow Jews would receive and believe in Jesus. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race,” he writes in Romans 9:3.

So, Paul doesn’t look forward to being in Ephesus merely to be provocative. He has an opportunity to share the gospel with many people. But he also has an opportunity to get his fellow Jews’ attention placed on Christ and His gospel. Paul's hope is that he will incite them to listen to the message and come to believe in Jesus, too, as God and Savior.

But first they must be provoked.

Paul talks about this very strategy--of provoking his fellow Jews in order to incite them to faith in Jesus--in Romans 11:
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (Romans 11:13-14)
Paul sees the opportunity to share the gospel--the good news of new life for all who repent and surrender their lives to the crucified and risen Jesus--as good not only for the Gentiles who are receptive to Christ and the gospel. He also sees the opportunity, the door opened, by his ministry to the Gentiles, to provoke his fellow Jews to jealousy of the Gentile believers for the forgiveness, peace, joy, and new life they have through their faith in this Son of David, Jesus.

Listen: By now, Paul is familiar with the opposition and even violence his proclamation of Jesus can bring upon his head. Jews and Gentiles have an inborn predisposition--rooted in our sinful natures--to reject any message that calls us to admit our wrongs and to surrender to anybody else, even to God. In Ephesus itself, Paul would be denounced by Gentiles tied to the production and sales of statues of the greek goddess Artemis or Diana.

But Paul can also see the “open door," the door that God has swung open, allowing him to win some people to Jesus. So, even when he sees opposition beyond that open door, he walks through it. He follows where Jesus seems to be leading him. He doesn’t do so with the naive notion that all will be well. He fully understands the danger and simple unpleasantness that awaits him if he passes through the open door. His eyes are wide open. But he plunges forward anyway.

In one of the books I’m reading right now, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks of discipleship being made up, in part, of being with Jesus. Whether Jesus leads us to places of difficulty or ease, each of which have their own peculiar temptations to unfaithfulness, the disciple follows. And, it seems to me, they must do so with eyes wide open and constant prayer. Paul understands this, I think.

Respond: In looking at these two verses, I have to ask, Lord, if I haven’t too often opted for the comfortable ways, if I haven’t dodged controversy, if I haven’t failed to provoke when I should have been provoking--for the sake of those with whom I needed to share Christ’s gospel?

Have I opted for ease?

Have I passed open doors knowing that beyond them lay great promise, both for those who are immediately receptive to the gospel and for those who will be initially offended, but might later receive Christ?

The answer to those questions is yes, often.

And in passing on those open doors, I’ve also taken a pass on sharing the gospel with people You had called me to share it.

Which leads to another question, a haunting one: Once a Christian has passed on so many open doors, will You ever entrust them with the call to enter through others?

Jesus says that He only entrusts bigger things when they’ve been faithful in addressing smaller things (Matthew 25:23). Later, Jesus says: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29)

So, God, I simply ask that, no matter the size or implications, You will open doors for me to share the gospel, following Jesus in order to share Him with others. Help me not to worry about the troubles it might bring my way. Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but that He has overcome the world. So, troubles shouldn't keep me from being faithful. Forgive my unfaithful past. Grant that Your Holy Spirit will empower me to be faithful today.

Open the doors that You call me to notice and let me walk through, whether my doing so will provoke some or not. So long as my end goal is not to provoke (because who wants to be someone who provokes just for the sake of provoking?), but to bring the gospel message of new life for all people, I need to go where You lead. Help me to do just that!

In Jesus’ name I pray.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Red and yellow, black and white, we all need Jesus (AUDIO)


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message this morning.]


From a song I wrote about a special person who passed from this world at a young age.
Fourteen years old and you know exactly what you're gonna do,
Listening and watching I'm sure you're bound to follow through,
It's a miracle to me that one so young could be so wise,
When most of us go through our years and barely ever come to life

You must be some kind of phenomenon
You must be some kind of phenomenon

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

"Red and yellow, black and white...we all need Jesus"

Matthew 15:21-28
God has interesting timing.

Just as the attention of our country and much of the world is on the recent activities of white supremacist and Nazi groups in our midst, the lectionary--the plan for Bible lessons based on ancient Christian practice--appoints today’s gospel lesson for tens of thousands of churches throughout the world.

That’s no’s a God-incidence!

It is exactly the word that you and I and all the world need to hear today.

The lesson tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a woman who is a member of a race of people hated by God’s people since Old Testament times, the Canaanites.

At the end of the lesson, Jesus confirms two important insights into Christian faith known by this Canaanite woman, insights that Saint Paul later summarized: “...all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)

Jesus came into this world to die and to rise and to call all who believe in Him to become part of one race, the fully restored human race who populate the Kingdom of God.

The Church of Jesus, whatever the denomination, color, or nationality of its people, is a preview of John’s vision in Revelation: “I looked, [John says] and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language...And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’" (Revelation 7:9)

One of my favorite Sunday School songs growing up, said: “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight / Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Today, in a world rocked by hatred, we need the gospel message. We need Jesus!

When I say that, I’m not just using words. I’m proclaiming the absolute, bottom-line truth: WE NEED JESUS!

Only Jesus can fill our deepest need.

Only Jesus can bring forgiveness of sins.

Only Jesus can put God’s love into our hearts.

Only Jesus can give us sanity for living and thinking.

Only Jesus can give us eternal life with God.


As the Church, we need to be challenged to proclaim, with no embarrassment, that Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through Him; that God loves us and that Christ came to die and rise to offer new life with God to all people: Jews, Canaanites, blacks, whites, browns, yellows, Republicans, Democrats, Americans, Arabs...everyone.





In today’s lesson, Jesus meets a woman who knows just how much she needs Jesus.

Jesus, she knows, is the only hope for her demon-possessed daughter.

By faith, she knows the truth of what the Bible repeatedly teaches: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32)

Let’s take a look at our gospel lesson, Matthew 15:21-28. It begins: “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.”

Jus before our lesson's narrative begins, Jesus has been teaching His fellow Jews that it’s not the outward rituals that people perform that make them right with God, it’s a faith that turns to God in humility, repentance, and faith that God uses to build righteousness within us.

Most of His fellow Jews didn’t care for this message. They thought of their religion in transactional terms: They offered sacrifices, did good things, or pointed to their pure Jewish ancestry as their part of the bargain and they thought that in return, God had to give them favor.

Jesus said that unless they (and we) turn to God in surrender and faith, we will still be dead and separated from God. No matter how many good things we do. No matter how religious we are.

Not a popular message. Even today. People don’t like to think that their relationship with God or their salvation aren’t under their control, but God’s control.

So, Jesus left His homeland for a bit. It wasn't that Jesus was afraid of unpopularity or of dying. He had come to be rejected by the people and go to the cross. He had His face set for Jerusalem for precisely this reason. He would go to a cross, but it wasn’t the right time yet (John 7:6, 30). He and the disciples go to Tyre and Sidon, a pagan area filled with Gentile unbelievers.

Verse 22: “And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’”

Back in Old Testament days, God decided that because of the Canaanites’ idol-worship and injustice, He was going to take their land from them and give it to Israel, the Jews, His people. That’s what God did. Canaanites were still, at the point when Jesus meets this woman centuries later, idol-worshipers. They were also hated and mistrusted by the Jews. And yet, here’s this Canaanite woman, approaching Jesus, calling Him by the title that Jews associated with the Messiah, “Son of David.”

See what happens next, verse 23: “But [Jesus] did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ [Jesus] answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’”

Some people look at this passage and think that Jesus is being heartless.

I’ve even heard some preachers suggest that the Canaanite woman came along and taught Jesus a lesson. According to these people, Jesus was a bigot who had to be set straight by this petitioner.

Please! Jesus is both God and man. He knows exactly what's going to happen before it happens. Jesus was not surprised that this Canaanite showed up.

And there is no bigotry in Jesus! God does not hate what God creates. The God Who is love, Who commands loves, and Who is sinless, doesn’t need to be taught how to love. (1 John 4:8)

So, how do we explain Jesus’ words then?

For one thing, they’re the truth. Although in the Great Commission, Jesus would later command His disciples to go to all peoples, Old Testament promises from God said that, during His time on earth, the Messiah would go to Israel. Jesus knows, as Paul writes in our second lesson, “God did not reject his people...” (Romans 11:2) And so, while Jesus would encounter Gentiles (non-Jews) in His ministry and even make a Gentile, the good Samaritan, the hero of one of His most famous parables, the Messiah had to be proclaimed among God’s people before Jesus died and rose.

I think Jesus also said this--"I was sent only the lost sheep of Israel"--because Jesus had things to teach His disciples, including you and me. Jesus always knew the teachable moment!

Verse 25: “But she came and knelt before him [Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

Most English translations of the Bible do an inadequate job of rendering this passage. The verb knelt translates the Greek word proskuneo, which is the word that Matthew used when writing this verse in the Greek. Proskuneo means worship.

It’s the same word Matthew used of the eleven disciples who meet the risen Jesus, about to ascend to heaven in Matthew 28:17, literally, “Having seen Him, they worshiped Him...”

This foreign woman of the wrong race and ethnicity, from the wrong side of the tracks who is hated by Jesus' fellow good Jews, worships Jesus!

She sees Him not only as a human descendant of King David, she sees Him as God.

And she offers no evidence that she’s a good person deserving of what she begs Jesus to do for her daughter. She just believes and is completely helpless.

And belief and helplessness, as our mentor Ole Hallesby has taught many of us here at Living Water, is what we need to be every time we approach God in Jesus’ name. As Hallesby points out, without belief and helplessness, it's doubtful that any of our prayers are really prayers. The Canaanite woman truly prays!

“Lord,” she says, “help me.”

Jesus accepts her worship because He is God. You may remember that in the book of Acts, the Christian missionaries Paul and Barnabas were being hailed as gods by Gentiles. They were horrified and told the crowds to stop, that there was only one God, the one revealed in Jesus (Acts 4:12-15).  Jesus accepts the woman's worship. How could He not? He IS God!

It's hard to imagine what the disciples who were with Jesus must have thought of all this. But Jesus lets things go on a bit still: He has a lesson to teach we disciples.

Verse 26: “And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’”

Many Jews used the term dog for Gentiles the way that white racists use the N-word to describe African-Americans today.

Most Jews regarded non-Jews as subhuman trash.

Now, we must always let Scripture interpret Scripture. And what we know from the rest of Scripture about Jesus totally precludes the notion that He shared His people's prejudice against Gentiles.

I believe that, as one Bible scholar has said, Jesus used this term with a twinkle in His eye, a bit like a comic tweaking prejudice. Humor is always a good tool for demolishing prejudice

Make no mistake about it though, Jesus saw this woman’s desperate, audacious faith. He was about to perform a sign showing that He is the Messiah and God of all who have a desperate, audacious faith in Him.

And the Canaanite woman is in on Jesus’ joke. Verse 27: “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.’” 

“Yes, Lord,” she’s saying, “I know that the Jews are God’s people and that salvation will come into the world through the Jews. That’s the first thing I know. But I also know a second thing: that You are the Lord of heaven and earth and that through You, salvation will come to all who believe in You. Even those with the wrong color of skin and those with the wrong ethnic background. Just as the dogs get the crumbs, You have grace enough to spare for everyone!”

In verse 28, Jesus explodes with the same kind of joyous exclamation that must come from God every time we turn to Him with desperate, audacious faith. “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

God receives all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus as their only hope, the only way to life, the only way to God.

God receives all who turn to Him with desperate, audacious faith.

God hears all who trust Jesus with desperation and helplessness, who know that Jesus is our only hope for this world and the next!

God will, through Jesus, even receive you and me and all the other Canaanites who trust in Jesus.

The only in-crowd in the Kingdom of God is the crowd who confess that Jesus is Lord and then follow Him wherever He leads!


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message this morning.]