Friday, September 22, 2017

Dance (You See It) by Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Living Water is a congregation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

I'm a Loser by the Beatles

"Although I laugh and I act like a clown
"Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown
"My tears are falling like rain from the sky
"Is it for her or myself that I cry"

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Living Water is a congregation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Protect me, God, from the lies I tell myself

This journals my encounter with God and His Word today during my quiet time. See here to see how I spend my time with God; it may help you to keep your own quiet time.
Look: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Paul addressed these words to Timothy to explain why he had given the instructions that immediately precede them: “I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

The times that Paul describes--”when people will not put up with sound doctrine”--have arisen often in the history of Christ’s Church.

Today is no different.

For example, Joel Osteen promotes a “prosperity gospel,” teaching that if people have enough faith, they will become rich. It’s possible for faithful people to be wealthy, of course. Abraham, the earthly father of Biblical faith, had wealth. But the notion that a lack of wealth is a sign of little faith is a lie, a lie which Osteen is willing to sell you with the tickets he sells to attend his events around the country.

And then, there’s the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the body I left several years ago, who recently told an interviewer from the Chicago Sun-Times that if there is a hell, it's empty. No Christian should be anxious for a person to go to hell. In fact, our mission is to make disciples so that people can have God’s presence, salvation, and blessings now and for eternity. But Jesus is very clear throughout the gospels, as are the apostles: There is a hell and it is populated not only by Satan and his demons, but also by those who refuse to trust the God revealed in Christ with their sins and their lives.

Pernicious lies like these never lose their appeal to people. I think that’s so for several reasons:

1. Lies like those told by Osteen make people feel more in control and more self-righteous. If people have wealth, they can tell themselves that this is a sign of their righteousness. Such beliefs existed in Biblical times and Jesus condemned them. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus says in Mark 10:25. Jesus understands that wealth can delude us with the idea that we are self-sufficient and wealth can become our god. The advocates of the prosperity gospel find passages like this inconvenient. I’ve been told about Christians who truly think that if people in poverty had more faith, they wouldn’t be poor. That is a self-aggrandizing lie.

2. Lies like those told by the ELCA bishop make God seem like a liar when He tells us in His word, repeatedly, that there is condemnation for those who refuse to trust in Christ. In John 3:16-18, for example, Jesus says: “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.” And Jesus isn’t shy about speaking of hell as the place of condemnation filled with unbelieving people (Luke 16:19-31). Nor is Jesus shy in speaking of eternity with God as the reward for simple repentance and faith in Him. To the thief on the cross, dying alongside Him, Jesus said, “, you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Listen: It’s easy to see the lies that other people readily accept.

But, Lord, are there lies to which I am susceptible? As I reflect, there is one big lie that I find myself needing to guard against.

It’s this: The idea that since I’m a Christian, anything I take into my head to do must be OK. That is a big lie!

Although I would never consciously frame things in this way, the thinking here is: “I’m saved by Jesus from sin and death. So, if I decide to do so-and-so, it must be all right. After all, Jesus knows how much I love him. He’ll give me a break.”

This lie exemplifies what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It’s an expression of that “buddy God” lie. Cheap grace is what we tell ourselves God gives to us in order to wrestle with the reality and consequences of our sinfulness and our sinful actions.

This is why the Lutheran practice of “daily repentance and renewal” is so important. Otherwise, like a “lost sheep,” we rationalize our ways farther and farther away from Christ and the life only He can give.

The reality of my sin is something with which I must daily wrestle. And I need to be open to remain silent before God and His Word to show me where I have gone wrong.

Psalm 139:23-24 teaches believers to pray: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Paul engages in daily repentance and renewal when he talks about his daily struggle with the reality of his own sin and his utter dependence on God’s grace, given in Christ, to save him from himself (Romans 7:21-25).

Another subtle lie against which I want to remain vigilant is, I imagine, quite alluring for many Christians when they see things like earthquakes in Mexico or hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and elsewhere. The lie people not in affected areas might be open to accepting is, “This hasn’t happened to me. Therefore, I must be blessed and favored by God, while those facing these catastrophes are not.”

Jesus specifically called out people prone to accept such lies when, referencing disastrous events that must have happened shortly before He spoke to a crowd. Luke 13:1-5 says: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”
Unforeseen disasters happen in this world. They happen to the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45).

And, as Dave, a disciple who is part of the congregation I serve as pastor, mentioned to me the other day: “Disasters come all the time to people.” He went on to mention things like heart attacks. We could also name traffic accidents, cancer diagnoses, deaths.

To believe that because particular disasters haven’t struck us yet, we’re exempt by reason of righteousness, isn’t just a delusion, it’s a lie.

Respond: Protect me today, God, from my impulse to believe my lies, the world lies, or Satan’s lies rather than Your truth, revealed definitively in Christ and in Your Word. Help me to hear You clearly throughout my day and help me to call on You constantly so that when I start to wander, I return to You. Help me to remember always the truth:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I place my life is in Your hands, and not mine.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Living Water is a congregation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Forgiven and Forgiving: Living in Jesus' Kingdom (AUDIO)


[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church. This message was shared during this past Sunday's worship services.]

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saved for a Life Lived On Purpose

I begin most days in quiet time with God. To see how I approach this time, see here. Below is my journal for today's quiet time.
Look: “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. (2 Timothy 1:9)

If Paul were a televangelist, I suppose you’d expect him to write here that we have been saved and called to live with God for eternity, focusing more on the sweet-by-and-by beyond death.

But that’s not what Paul writes. He says that God in Christ “has saved and called us to a holy life.” It’s an accomplished fact. Right now in this messy world.

The follower of Jesus is saved for and called to a different way of living in this life. Believers in Jesus aren’t waiting for their own resurrections to start living like people who have been called and saved by the God of the universe. They can do it right now.

Listen: That the implications for everyday life in this world is what Paul has in mind here is underscored by what he writes in verse 7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

God doesn’t give the Holy Spirit to believers just so that they can have goose-bumpy experiences with the wild and uncontrollable Holy Spirit. God’s not a junkie whose aim is to sell us a dose of Holy Spirit-religion, our fix until the next time we need to feel something.

The God we meet in Jesus Christ is uncontrollable by human beings, even wild as perceived on this side of the resurrection. He is the Lion and the Lamb (Revelation 5:5-6). Lewis has it right when several characters in The Chronicles of Narnia say of Aslan, the Christ-figure in his books, “He’s not a tame lion. But he’s good.” But God does not set us free to be Jesus addicts.

To all with faith in Jesus and through our Baptism, He gives us the Holy Spirit, Who bears down on the chaos of our lives (Genesis 1:1) of jumbled motives and self-serving actions to make us new (2 Corinthians 5:17), set free from the tyranny of sin and our selfish motives. As we attend to Christ faithfully, we can no longer be tossed to and fro by the latest craze, impulse, religious fad, or need to feel “relevant” (Ephesians 4:14).

Instead, we hold steady, filled with the strength of God for living.

The Holy Spirit empowers us with the boldness to live out our trust in Jesus by giving us “power, love, and self-discipline.”

He saves us to live holy lives, lives set apart for God’s purposes for our lives, according to the blueprint He set for us when He formed us in the womb.

I find that when I’m seeking to live in tune with the Holy Spirit, in submission to Christ and the will of God, I become more myself, not less. Jesus died and rose to save me for just this: to be myself, not the person my sin-darkened heart and mind sometimes imagine that I should be. I become more straightforward, less ambiguous, less complicated. Not simplistic, simple. Self-disciplined, more dependent on my Creator and therefore more the bold, powerful, loving, and self-disciplined child of God I am meant to be. Liberated to be my true self.

This isn’t passivity. I don’t stop dreaming or having ambitions. But my dreams and ambitions are set on being the me God sets me free to be.

Respond: Lord, You know how I wander from You and want to be my own god and become disappointed by dreams that come from my ego, from Satan, and from the world, rather than following the path of freedom to be all that I am made to be in Christ. Help me to live like a new creation and not an old Adam, mired in sin.Today, help me to live like a disciple of Jesus. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Forgiven and Forgiving: Life in Jesus' Kingdom

[This is the message that was shared during both worship services with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 18:21-35
At the end of last Sunday’s gospel lesson, Jesus describes how people living in His Kingdom, the people of His Church, are to resolve things when we believe we have been sinned against.

As today’s gospel lesson begins, we can almost read Peter’s mind as he asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

“I’m willing to forgive someone who’s doing me wrong,” Peter seems to be saying. “But. Lord, if they keep sinning against me, when do I get to stop forgiving?”

Jesus tells Peter how many times he is to forgive a fellow believer: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).

Some translations render Jesus’ words as “seven times seven.” Others put it, “seventy times seven.” Various ancient copies of Matthew’s gospel can support any of those translations. But we can’t get hung up here and miss Jesus’ point.

In Jewish thought, seven is the perfect number. It was, according to Genesis, the number of days in the first week of God’s creation and it was on the seventh day that God rested from His labor. Seven is the number of completion and eternity.

So, how often are we to forgive our fellow believers, our sisters and brothers who by their confession of the crucified and risen Jesus, live in the Kingdom of heaven? Jesus says always.






While Peter stands there, undoubtedly slack-jawed and wondering why he would forgive anyone continuously and how he he could possibly do it, Jesus tells what has become one of his most famous parables. He begins: “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like…” Whenever Jesus uses phrasing like this, it’s a signal that the entire fictional illustration He’s about to share tells you what life in His kingdom is like. This is how things work among God’s people, the Church, Jesus is telling us.

Jesus says: “...the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand [The word here in the Greek in which Matthew wrote his gospel is murion, from which we get the English word, myriad...ten thousand] bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled [In fact, the word in the Greek is a form of the verb, aphiemi, literally, released, the word most commonly used in the New Testament for forgave. The king forgave, released the servant from the man who owed the king so much…] the debt and let him go.” [Matthew 18:23-27]

The first thing we learn from the parable about the kingdom of heaven is that it’s where Jesus’ disciples are set free, released! 

By the power of Jesus’ death on the cross, when He offered up His innocent body and blood in payment for the massive debt we owe to God for our sin, our debt is canceled. All who trust in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross, are set free of all we owe God for the ways our lives have violated His holiness:

  • all the gossip and misuse of God’s name, 
  • all the dishonesty and covetousness, 
  • all the adultery and failure to worship God instead of ourselves or our kids or the world, 
  • all the financial sleight of hand. 

We are set free to be the people God made us to be! As we sing in the traditional liturgy: “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”

And when we come together on Sunday mornings, confessing our sins, because of what Jesus did for us and your faith in Jesus, you can believe that when I say, “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins,” or words like these, it's all true!

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our transgressions from us!” (Psalm 103:12)

Christians needn't say, "I hope that  I’m forgiven.” You are forgiven because Jesus died and rose to bring His forgiveness to all who trust in Him. That’s the first thing the kingdom of heaven is like for those who believe!

Jesus goes on with His parable in verse 28: ““But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The second thing we learn from Jesus' parable about the kingdom of heaven, the Church, is: It’s the dominion of God in which disciples of Jesus forgive others as we’ve been forgiven.

After teaching us to pray, elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Jesus says: “...if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

If, after being assured of God’s absolution--His forgiveness of our sins--during worship on Sunday morning, we harbor grudges or hold things against others, refusing to release them from the debts they owe us, God will clap the chains and manacles back on our lives. Our lives will come back under an eternal death sentence. We will lose our forgiveness. We’ll lose our freedom.

The servant forgiven so much by the king in Jesus’ parable should have been so grateful for his freedom that he readily forgave the man who owed him so little. Instead, he used his freedom as a license to play God over his fellow servant. No matter how often we go to worship, or how many Bible verses we memorize, hurricane victims we help, or mission trips we go on, unless we forgive others as Christ desires to forgive us, we will not be forgiven. We’ll still be imprisoned in our sin.

It’s possible that after Jesus told this parable, Peter was as slack-jawed as he he’d been before Jesus told it. And maybe we find this teaching intimidating. I know that I do!

But the call and command of Jesus in this parable are simple and, if we take them seriously, liberating and life-giving.

Think of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and what the Father accomplished for us when He raised Jesus from the dead, think of all of that, as a massive, eternal blank check imparting never-depleted riches of forgiveness and new life to all who turn from sin and trust in, believe in, surrender their lives to, Jesus.

God never tires of forgiving those who genuinely repent and believe in Him. He forgives in perfect seventy-seven times fashion.

In turn, Jesus frees us from the burden of keeping score. He frees us from having to figure out who owes us for hurting us.

Jesus frees us to treat others with the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness He has given to us.

He frees us to get on with the true living of life: loving God, loving neighbor, making disciples.

By the grace of God given in Christ, we are forgiven.

By that same grace, we can forgive others.

Seventy times seven, in utter eternal perfection.

That’s what life in the kingdom of heaven is like, here on earth and in eternity.


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