Thursday, February 08, 2018

Piano Moving

A friend wrote today about helping with a move, but deciding with others involved to call in professionals to move a piano. It reminded me of this short by my favorite film comedians, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The Music Box won an Oscar and still makes me laugh out loud.

My friend also reminded me of my own piano-moving story.

Back when I was young and stupid (as opposed to older and stupider), we had a cleaning day at our church on Harris Avenue in Columbus. Someone told a group of us that the pastor wanted a piano moved from the balcony down to the front of the sanctuary. The stairwell had a landing and a turn. But we did as we'd been asked.

A little while later, the pastor was in the sanctuary and asked, "Why is this piano here?" It turned out his words had been misinterpreted.

So, we moved the piano back up the stairs to the balcony.

This turned out not to be my favorite day.

I think my friend and his fellow movers made the right call in bringing in professionals.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Gloria Copeland, put a lid on it!

In late January, it was Gloria Copeland’s husband Kenneth defending his private jet and materialistic lifestyle based on his heretical prosperity gospel.

This week she spouts nonsense about flu shots. She says that instead of getting flu shots, believers should inoculate themselves with the Word of God.

I believe in the power of God's Word. I believe Saint Paul's words to Timothy: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

God's Word calls me to faith in Christ and into life in God's kingdom. It does not call me into a superstition that ignores the advances in medicine God allows diligent researchers to uncover.

Copeland should be reminded of the time when the devil tempted Jesus to jump off the temple pinnacle on the bases of God’s promise to send angels to minister to His people. The devil cited Psalm 91 as his proof text:

"...he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

Jesus said that it was wrong to test God. In other words, God’s promises aren’t a license to do stupid stuff or to try His patience.

God guides the medical profession in finding cures and treatments. While this year's flu virus is not of the same strain as researchers had anticipated for this flu season, it still can be helpful and will remain in our bodies for future flu seasons when a different strain returns.

You wouldn't drive without fastening your seat belt.

You wouldn't play football without a helmet.

You wouldn't drive at 90 on a mountainous hairpin curve with a posted speed limit of 10.

Don't expect God to clean up your messes when you make dumb decisions. Testing God isn't proof of faith, but of a religious superstition inconsistent with Christian faith.

Please, if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, do so.

And, Gloria and Kenneth, please shut up. Enroll in a good Bible study program where you might pick up on the truth. You harm the Church's witness for the God we know in Jesus Christ every time you open your mouths.

Monday, February 05, 2018

A Second Cold War

Thanks to Ann Althouse for posting this on her blog.

When these 10,316 days began, we may have naively supposed that, given the democratic movement sweeping Russia, that post-Cold War life would be less problematic. In fact, what we see is that the same paranoia, desire to conquer, and national inferiority complex that have driven Russia since the days of Peter the Great, make that country and the thug who leads its government the United States' greatest national security threat.

It's good that the Soviet Union fell, along with the Berlin Wall. But, in some ways, we are living in a second Cold War in which the Moscow Gangster is undermining American democracy and influence, whether our leaders know it or not.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Set Free to Play Our Parts

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Mark 1:29-39
On a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, John Leland, a reporter for The New York Times, talked about his book, Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old. He was asked, “So what are some of the examples of ageism that you see around you that really irritate you the most?” His answer: “I think that every person over a certain age can tell you that they hate being called sweetie or hun or dear…”

Boy, is he right!

As someone in my sixties, I loathe it when a restaurant server or a grocery clerk calls me, “Honey.”

Any person over sixty who gets called “honey” by anyone other than mothers, sweethearts, spouses or friends ought to be able to call the violator out.

When the words honey, hon, sweetie, or dear are used in this way, they reflect a view that the person being addressed is not quite fully an adult, not quite with it.

No one deserves to be treated in this way even if physical infirmities have limited their abilities to do all that they once took for granted.

When you grow older, you still have a place.

You still have a part to play.

You still deserve to be treated like an adult human being.

You still deserve respect and dignity.

I bring all of this up because of one verse in today’s gospel lesson, on which I want to focus, Mark 1:31. It says: “So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.”

Jesus has entered the home of the brothers Simon and Andrew. Also living there is Simon’s mother-in-law. Because of her age and relationship to her son-in-law, she has been the matriarch of the household, the one who took charge of caring for visitors.

Hers was an elaborated role, one formulated by centuries of custom and habit. For her to be unable to fulfill her duties would have been a sign that her prime had passed. This fate would have been a brutal event for the old woman.

When Jesus arrives, He finds her ill, unable to perform her role in life. Maybe her daughter-in-law told her something like, “That’s OK, honey. You just lie down. I’ll take care of it, dear. Don’t worry yourself over it, sweetie.” Even if the words had been offered solicitously and with the kindest of intentions, they would have felt like knives to the old lady’s heart. You can almost imagine her thinking: “I’m no longer needed. I can’t do anything. I’m a nobody. Why am I living?”

In fact, in the thirty-eight years since I started doing visits to nursing home residents and shut-ins, I’ve heard words like these many times.

As Christians, we know that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not by our works. We know that when Christ went to the cross for us, He verified our infinite value to God no matter what our capacity to do things.

Yet, when we’re no longer able to do things, we feel that pieces of us are dying off.

We wonder, “If I can’t do that or this, am I really me any more?”

The most devastating thing that a human being can think of themselves, no matter their age, is that their life is good for nothing.

Not only is it a devastating thought, it’s a lie!

Jesus underscores that truth by what He does for Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Mark says: “...he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.”

Jesus restored the woman’s dignity, her place.

He demonstrated that every human life matters, that everybody matters to the God Who made them, the God Who shared their frailties, suffering, and death on the cross, the God Who rose to give new life and new purpose to each of us.

Simon’s mother-in-law was healed and she resumed her life of service.

There is a fundamental principle of the Christian life that we must not fail to notice here. Here it is:

Christ saves all who believe in Him not just for our sake, but also for the sake of those we are called to serve, love, and disciple.

It’s so important, I’m going to repeat that principle again:

Christ saves all who believe in Him not just for our sake, but also for the sake of those we are called to serve, love, and disciple.

This past week, I decided to spend some of my morning quiet time simply praising God for Who He is. Not thanking Him for what He’s done for me, although I do that. Not acknowledging answered prayers, though I do that. But simply praising God for Who He is: holy, wonderful, loving, powerful, perfect, gracious, unfathomably great. I’ve decided to use a few passages of Scripture in which God is praised to “prime the pump” for my own praise of God.

Yesterday, I considered a few verses in Revelation 5, addressed to Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away our sins: “Worthy are you...for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9).

These words praise Jesus for making it possible for all who believe to be set free from sin and death by Jesus through their faith in Him.

But then we’re told of another reason that Christians of every tribe, language, people, and nation can praise Jesus: “ have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).

Jesus sets us free not just from our own sin and death, He also sets us free to play a role in His Kingdom.

Each of us.

Everyone who confesses Jesus as their Lord and Savior!

Jesus makes us His priests, people who serve both God and others, people who will lovingly reign over this earth as Adam and Eve were once intended to do. Jesus has given those who have been saved by God’s grace through their faith in Him the right and the power to live a life like His. (Think of that!)

Jesus once described what that life looks like: “...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28) We are never more like Jesus when we engage in useful, loving service!

On that day in Capernaum, Jesus set Simon’s mother-in-law free to fulfill her life’s calling, the calling of every disciple of Jesus. She was set free to be a servant, exercising rule over her portion of the Kingdom of God through service and love given in Jesus’ name.

“But, wait a minute,” you might say. “Are you saying that the old woman kept on functioning the way she always had ad infinitum? She never tired? Never aged or deteriorated?”

No. I’m not saying that.

No doubt there came a time when the old woman couldn’t run the household as she always had.

Just as there must have come a time when the wine that Jesus had made from water at Cana ran out. (And what a bummer that must have been!)

Just as Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead by Jesus eventually died. (And what an even bigger bummer that was!)

The disease of original sin courses through the veins of each of us and the wages of sin is still death.

But what Jesus did that day was a sign of His Kingdom.

In His Kingdom, there will come a time when there is no more aging, no more dying. We will keep serving and keep reigning with Jesus in His kingdom.

A time when God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, [when] the old order of things [will have] passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

Every miracle Jesus ever performed was a sign of what life in His Kingdom beyond the gates of death would be like.

And every one of them was a call for those already made part of His kingdom by grace through faith to fulfill their purpose as Christ’s disciples, whatever our limitations.

Our call as Christ’s disciples was well expressed by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

My dad is eighty-eight years old. He can’t do everything he used to be able to do. But this past Thursday, he invited his kids over to the house for a dinner he spent the entire day preparing. There was roast pork, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and dessert. My dad couldn’t do that every day. He was tuckered out on Thursday night. But he did what he could do that day.

Before we ate, we held hands in a circle and gave thanks to God for our dad, for each other, and for the meal that dad had prepared. And we asked God to use it for the purpose for which we all were made, a life of service in God’s kingdom.

And we can live this life of service, this life of discipleship, no matter our age or limitations.

These days, many of our Living Water children are raising money to help feed children in Haiti. They’re setting tables, dusting, vacuuming. Many are following their parents around the house asking what they can do so that they can do their part. They’re being disciples, serving to share Jesus.

Others find other ways to serve. In his book, Prayer, Ole Hallesby tells about a man from his home village in Norway, who had been significantly disabled from birth. Jörn became increasingly immobilized during his life and eventually, in the last years of his life, was bed-ridden.

But that didn’t stop Jörn from doing his life’s ministry: “...through the school of difficult experiences,” Hallesby explains, “[Jörn] learned the holy art of prayer.” He prayed “for his home community day and night.”

Over the course of time, Jörn came to be a man others in the community sought out for his counsel because they understood his closeness to God. They would come to him to ask for prayers for themselves and for others.

Often at night, near the end of his life when the nights were long and he couldn't sleep two elderly women who cared for him reported that he would pray for every man, woman, and child in the village by name, even the babies he would never see. And as he learned of people’s specific needs, he brought those needs to God.

Hallesby says that Jörn’s funeral was the largest ever held in his community, even though Jörn didn’t have a single relative in the area. Even people who cared nothing for God wept at his casket.


Because he served as God allowed him to serve in God’s kingdom.

Our call in response to God’s truly amazing grace given to us through Jesus, no matter our age or situation, is to do the same: God has set us free to serve just as He set Simon’s mother-in-law free.

May we all be the servants Jesus has set us free to be.


[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]