Saturday, June 30, 2018

Reds Ascending!

I didn't see the game today, but what a win! After dropping the first two in the weekend series against the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers, the Reds win big. The highlight, of course, was a grand slam by pitcher Michael Lorenzen, the second such homer in two weeks by a Reds pitcher. (Anthony DeSclafani did it last week, becoming the first Reds player to hit a slam since the 1950s!)
June could be called "Reds Ascending." They finish the month at 14-11, the first month of the season in which they've recorded a winning record. Reds batters hit .281, leading the majors. 
The key in recent weeks, apart from the hitting, has been the fact that starting pitching has begun to take hold. Starters are staying in games longer, taking the load off of our excellent bullpen.
I'm excited to see what July brings. If the Reds can win tomorrow's game, they'll split the weekend series. I'd take that, for sure.
It's been two years since I've been to a game in Cincy. I hope to find some time to make it to Great American Ball Park before the season ends. Go, Reds!

Friday, June 29, 2018

We Can't. God Can! (AUDIO)


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

Psalm 94:20-23

20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—
    a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
21 The wicked band together against the righteous
    and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress,
    and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins
    and destroy them for their wickedness;
    the Lord our God will destroy them. (Psalm 94:20-23)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Four Promises from God

[This message was shared today at the funeral for a young woman and mother of three whose death came suddenly.]

Psalm 23
Romans 8:31, 37-39
John 3:16
For all who knew and loved Kelsey, this is an unimaginably hard time. All of you, especially Kelsey’s children, are in my prayers for the days ahead. Her mother and grandmother have both told me about how Kelsey struggled in this life to find herself, to find her place. Her Facebook page confirms that. In the introduction there, she wrote: “God is life. My [babies] make it worth living.” In what little I know of Kelsey, I hear the story of a young woman who adored her three children, even as she yearned, in her own way, for both God and for some happiness in her life.

In the days, months, and years ahead, you who grieve will struggle. And you will yearn to see Kelsey. It would be unnatural for you not to grieve, even wrong. And it would be abnormal for you not to want to see her. You will also have struggles.

I’ve followed the Lord, sometimes well, sometimes poorly, for more than forty years. In that time, I’ve tried to pay close attention to His Word. Despite these things, let me begin today by telling you what I don’t know: I don’t know why this has happened.

But let me also tell you what I do know: God didn’t cause this. We live in an imperfect world in which people get hurt, desperate, and lost. That's what happened to Kelsey.

But there is hope!

That’s why today, I want to share four promises from God that you can hold onto for strength and encouragement as you face the future.

The first is this: The God we meet and can know in Jesus Christ understands all about our struggles, our griefs, and burdens. He understands what you’re going through and what you will be going through in the days and years ahead better than anyone else possibly could.

The Bible says of Jesus that He was: “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus, God in human flesh, is God’s guarantee that whatever pain, grief, or challenge you confront in life, God gets it.

He understands your grief not as some far-off observer, but as One Who has been exactly where You are today. If you will turn daily to Jesus, bringing to Him your pain, your unanswered questions, your grief, and even your sin, He will understand. He will give you strength. He will give you peace, forgiveness, and hope.

Jesus once said; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) That promise is for you today and for the days ahead.

Here’s another important promise from God: When you don’t know what to do, this God we know in Jesus can lead you in the right direction. In the passage I read a few moments ago, from Psalm 23, the psalmist writes “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3) When, in our grief, we turn to Jesus, He will lead us.

Here’s another promise I hope that you’ll hold onto today: Nothing can separate you from God. If you will fall into His loving arms, He can carry you through the grief and whatever else you face in life. I know this from first-hand experience.

In the New Testament book of Romans, we’re told: “...neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Reach out for the God we know in Jesus. As long as you want Him in your life, He will never let you go! Never.

And there’s a fourth promise from God that I want to share with you this evening. No matter how many times we break matter how many times we fail...we have a promise that cannot be taken away from those who trust in the Lord. Jesus shared it late one night with a man who came to Him looking for answers. This is what Jesus told them: “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.” (John 3:16)

Jesus went to the cross to take onto His shoulders all the pain, death, sin, and darkness that meet us in this world. He voluntarily accepted the defeat handed out to us by these things so that, in sharing them, He could lead us out of our slavery to them and into new life.

When Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday, He was making it possible for all who surrender to Him to have eternal life with God.

That life breaks into this world when we trust in Jesus and rely on Him to take us through this life.

And one day, all who have trusted in Him--believed in Him--will live in His perfect kingdom where, as we live in God’s direct presence, pain and death will be banished, all our tears will be dried, our grief will be no more, and we will know that one thing for which Kelsey always yearned: perfect peace with God...with ourselves, with others.

May these four promises from the God we know in Jesus--that He will always understand us; that He will lead us when we turn to Him; that nothing can separate us from His love given to us through Jesus; and that He will give eternity to those who dare to believe in Jesus--give you strength, encouragement, peace, and HOPE in the days and years ahead. God bless you. Amen

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Help Me, God, Not to Forget You!

This is the journal entry for my quiet time with God this morning. To see how I approach quiet time, which I learned from the Navigators, see here.

Look: “And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” (Luke 2:49-50, ESV)

When Jesus was twelve, He went with His extended family from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover. This was a yearly pilgrimage.

The Passover ended, the Nazareth contingent packed up and headed for home. But Mary and Joseph, having assumed that Jesus was with other members of their family, discovered one day into the trip that Jesus wasn’t among them. The went back to Jerusalem, where they spent three days looking before they stumbled on Him in the temple.

There’s a note of chastisement in Mary’s words to Jesus at the moment she and Joseph find Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? [she asks] Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” (Luke 2:48)

Mary’s concern is understandable. But her concern for Jesus quickly gives way to concern for herself (and for Joseph). Jesus, she says, has caused the two of them “great distress.”

Jesus’ response foreshadows the one He would have to the distress the disciples exhibited when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asleep in the stern: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He asks the fishermen. (Mark 4:40)

The twelve-year-old Jesus is mystified that Mary and Joseph would have spent so much time frantically looking for Him when it should have been obvious to them where He would be: in His Father’s house, the house of God the Father.

But it wasn’t obvious to Mary and Joseph: “And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.”

I read those words and am tempted to laugh at Joseph and Mary. I mean, they were both told fairly emphatically by the witness of angels and circumstances and the Word of Old Testament Scripture that their Child wasn’t really their Child: He was God in the flesh, the Messiah, the Christ.

Yet, they seem to have completely forgotten Who Jesus was or their role in the drama of God saving all who trust in Jesus as their Savior and King. Mary had once exalted God for regarding her as worthy to play her small part in God’s salvation plan, bearing and nurturing from infancy God the Son as He made His journey from manger to cross to empty tomb (Luke 1:46-55).

But, in the course of twelve years, she seems to have come to see Jesus as her kid, like all the other children to whom she’d given birth. The others came about by the usual means. But this Child, she seems to have forgotten, was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit before she had ever had sex.

Listen: When you get involved in everyday life, it gets easy to forget God.

We take our blessings for granted.

We take our role in God’s plans and God’s kingdom for granted.

We turn ourselves into the subjects of our lives’ stories, forgetting that we’re objects loved by the One Who gives us life, gives us life made eternally new and makes this earthly life worth living.

We get caught up in ourselves and our daily to-do lists.

I find myself easily drifting into this mindset and the resulting behavior all the time.

After I had the heart attack seven years ago, it was clear that God had intervened to spare me.

“You shouldn’t even be here,” more than one cardiac care nurse told me.

“I can’t explain why you had the heart attack and I can’t explain why you survived it,” my able cardiologist told me.

“You must still be here for a reason,” my GP told me.

“Yes,” I thought. “They’re right. I’m just me. But there must be a reason God has spared my life.”

So, I set out to get into the best physical shape of my life. I ate right and lost weight.

I resumed my role as a pastor with a renewed sense of call and devotion to being a faithful minister of Word and Sacrament with a passion for reaching those who don’t know life with God with the good news of eternal renewal and freedom from sin and death for all who believe in the crucified and risen Jesus.

But some days, I forget.

I eat too much.

I eat too much of what I shouldn’t eat.

I fail to pray for or use opportunities to share the gospel with the spiritually disconnected people I encounter every day.

I get lulled into spending less time in God’s Word and less time in prayer in Jesus’ name than I need to if I really want to bear good fruit for the God I know in Jesus, if I want my life to glorify the God Who saved me in a cardiac cath lab and more importantly, saved me on a cross..

I waste minutes and hours and I waste the salvaged body that God has given to me for His purposes, by pursuing trivial ends.

Yet I know for sure that it's only in pursuing God’s purpose for my life that I lead a purposeful existence.

It’s way too easy for me to get distracted, which I’m sure breaks God’s heart and delights the devil.

But God also understands my (our) penchant for forgetfulness about Him. It’s why He commanded ancient Israel to constantly remind themselves of Who they were and Whose they were. Speaking of His Torah, His commands, God told Israel: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8)

Ancient Israel was told to constantly remind themselves and each other of God’s undeserved grace: how God had made Him His own people, a light to the nations, not because of the people’s goodness, but because of God’s goodness; how God had delivered the people from 430 years of slavery in Egypt not because of their goodness, but because of God’s goodness; how God intended to use His people to bring His saving good news--in Jesus--to all the world; how God stood (and stands) by those who believe when they (we) go through dark, painful, or tragic times; and how God, out of concern for the well-being of His people, had given them the Torah, the law, the way, His commandments, to show them the best way to live their lives in grateful response to His undeserved grace.

The Old Testament shows the sorry history of how ancient Israel forgot God until it lost its land and, once more, became wanderers without a home.  

Respond: Help me, Lord, not to forget. Help me to remember this day how much you love me, how much you have done for me, how much you love all my neighbors, and how you have deputized me as your baptized disciple to share the good news of new life for all who turn from sin and surrender to Jesus.

Give me the chance to share Your gospel with a spiritually disconnected person today.

Help me to take the time to pray for the needs of the whole world and get my focus off of me, onto You and Your purposes.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

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

The Psychopath Capital of America?

Ryan Murphy, a Southern Methodist University economist, recently set out to determine which state, (including Washington, D.C. as a fifty-first locale) is the "psychopath capital of America."

His study used what is called "the big five" major personality traits as evidenced in people's actions.

According to, a psychopath is "a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc."

Murphy's study says that Washington, D.C. is America's most psychopathic place. One of the big reasons for this, per an article from Politico, is that the denser a population (denser as in more people per square mile, not denser as in thick-headed), the more psychopaths there tend to be. It's a simple matter of demographic odds.

But, Politico also points out that wherever there are more people deemed "successful," inevitably there will also be a higher number of people with psychopathic know, the kind of person who would walk all over their grandmother to get what they want.

D.C. must have a lot of grandmother-stompers, because Murphy's study says that it has twice the psychopathic rating as the next two states on the list, Connecticut, and California, combined.

Before any of us who live in flyover country start bragging about how nice we are, it should be pointed out that there's a tie for fifth in psychopathy between two states, New York and Wyoming.

The five least psychopathic states, according to Murphy, are West Virginia, Vermont, Tennessee, North Carolina and New Mexico.

I don't know if I buy all of this, although as a pastor through the years, I've observed that different communities have different prevailing personality traits and worldviews. Whether that bears a relationship to psychopathy, I wouldn't know.

But, speaking for myself, I like Washington, D.C., Connecticut, and California. And I love New York. Some of the friendliest and kindest people I've ever known were from these states. I've never been to Wyoming and spent little time in New Jersey, which also made the top five. But I'm sure that there are nice people there too.

But the Murphy study will give some people the fodder they need to criticize places and people they don't like.

By the way, Ohio is ranked the country's 21st. most psychopathic state, while Michigan comes in at 26th. Maybe Murphy's study is onto something. (Only a joke.)

To see, Murphy's paper, go here.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. I am a sinner saved by grace. I'm trying not to be a psychopath.]

Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Can't. God Can!

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

Mark 4:35-41
In today’s Gospel lesson (and really in all our Bible lessons for today as well), Jesus confronts us with a simple question: Do we want Him or do we want to be comfortable? Do we want the God we meet in Jesus Christ or do we want easy trouble-free lives?

Some of the religious hucksters on TV sell a brand of Christianity that tells us if we believe in Jesus and stay positive, we’ll be flush with cash, healthy, and successful. The problem, of course, is that Jesus never promises any of this to those who follow Him

Jesus does promise wonderful things. 

Christ’s people have the hope of the life for which we are made--a life which at present we can only see as through a mirror dimly, a resurrected life in which tears are dried, bodies restored, work is meaningful, and joy is complete.

But not once does the God we know in Jesus Christ promise that following Him will make us comfortable in this world. 

Not once does he say that turning from our favorite sins to follow Him will go without a hitch. 

Not once does He say that decisions will be easy. 

Not once does He say problems will go away. 

Not once does He say that the life of discipleship--of following Him, of sacrificing ourselves and our own comfort out of love and worship for God and out of love for neighbors will be easy. 

In fact, Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our first lesson for today comes to us from the Old Testament book of Job. It’s thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. In it, Job, a man who strives to follow God, who repents not only for his own sins, but also those of his children, is struck down by some of the horrors that this world can bring. All his property and livestock are destroyed. All his children are killed. He is stricken with a horrible disease. Job had worshiped God and played by the rules. But in one fell swoop, his world was decimated. Following God had not brought Job a comfortable life.

Job's friends try to tell him that had he been more faithful, these bad things wouldn’t have come to him. He insists he doesn’t deserve his suffering and angrily challenges God to explain Himself. At the end of the book, God chastises Job’s so-called friends. 

Faith in God isn’t a pass to easy street and Job’s distress wasn’t caused by Job being sinful

But, as we can see from our first lesson, neither does God explain Job’s suffering. Job suffered in spite of being a follower of God because we live in a fallen world in which bad things happen even to faithful people.

In our second lesson, written in about 55 AD, the apostle Paul recounts some of the sufferings he underwent because he followed and proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus. Paul said that he and his ministry team commended themselves to people in the church at Corinth precisely because they had endured calamities for the sake of their faith in the God we know through Jesus. He then catalogs some of the horrible experiences he’d been through.
Believers in Jesus are called to keep following Jesus even when it’s inconvenient, painful, challenging, uncomfortable

When Christ commands sacrifice. 

When being faithful disciples of Jesus threatens our reputations, our financial security, our lives. 

Jesus calls us to choose between a life with Him, on the one hand, and a comfortable life, on the other.

He does this emphatically in our Gospel lesson, Mark 4:35-41. The incident narrated here comes right after Jesus gives a series of parables describing what the Kingdom of God, the kingdom He is going to die and rise to bring into being, is like. 

It all begins with a command from Jesus: “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” 

Of course, when Jesus issued His command to the disciples, they probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Most of them were experienced fishermen accustomed to sailing the Galilean waters at night, as He was now commanding them to do at sundown. “Easy peasy,” they may have thought...only in Aramaic. 

Following Jesus may often seem easy peasy, a simple thing, comfortable. But we don’t know what storms may lay ahead.

You know what happens next. Verse 37: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’”

We Christians ask a version of that question every time adversity strikes, every time Jesus calls us to do hard things we’d rather not do, uncomfortable things: confront a fellow believer with a hard truth; forgive someone who has hurt us; give sacrificially. “Lord,” we wonder, “don’t you care if we drown? Don’t you care if we lose our comfort? Don't you care if what you're calling me to do could result in killing my reputation, killing my investment portfolio, kill my health, kill me? Can’t you ask me to do something easier than surrender my whole life to You?” 

Jesus' answer to these questions, quite frankly, is, “No.” 

The God Who tells us that "whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it," the God Who went to a cross to bear our sins cares more about fitting our character for eternity than about our comfort in this death-bound world

He cares more about our learning to follow Him faithfully than He does about our ease. Our ease can come in eternity. For now, our call is to follow even in the darkest, most difficult times.

But Jesus doesn't leave us to wallow in the darkness of this world without hope.

Verse 39: “He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’”

When storms come, we wonder how we can survive. We forget that nothing can separate those who trust in Jesus Christ from the love God gives through Jesus Christ. Nothing.

A young woman, a member of our church in Cincinnati, Karen, was dying. She and her husband had two young children. She gave her testimony of faith during worship one Sunday. This was in 1999. She talked about all the things she hoped to be able to see in this world: her children grown, the new millennium. She knew that she might not see any of these earthly hopes come into being. And it saddened her. She tried to understand. (I remember her telling me once as her battle with two forms of cancer went from bad to worse, "I just can't seem to catch a break.") 

Yet she also told us that she was confident that the Lord Who was leading her through her darkest valley would not only lead her to Himself, but also lead her children. She said that she knew that Christ's Church in which her children were baptized would faithfully share Christ with them, forge their characters by the power of the Holy Spirit, and help them to know the eternity of hope we have in Jesus Christ.

When she died, she left a number of us with notes. In the one she wrote for me, she detailed some of her desires for her funeral service. But I can also recite by heart how she ended the note: "Please tell people, Mark, that just because I have died it doesn't mean that their prayers didn't 'work.' Life is so much more than having a whole and healthy body here." Jesus carried her through the storms and assured her of life, peace, and wholeness beyond the gates of death.

After Jesus had sternly spoken to the disciples, they contemplated in awe-filled fear, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him?” 

The answer to those questions can be found all through the Scriptures. But I mention just two places in the Old Testament. 
  • In Psalm 104:7, the psalmist confesses of God, “ your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight…” 
  • Genesis 1:1 tells us that God the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of primordial chaos and brought into being peace, order, and life. 

The One Who calmed the storm that so frightened the experienced fishermen sailing with Jesus that night was and is God Himself.

Storms, challenges come and go in this life. Jesus will sometimes ask us to do things, to endure things, to sacrifice things, and to trust only in Him, none of which, in our own power, we are capable of doing. 

But, listen: Whenever we can’t, God can

And after the storm, the God we know in Jesus Christ still stands. And so do all who put their faith in Him. They’re the ones who prove to be more concerned with following Jesus than with being comfortable. I pray each day that God will forge me to be one of their number.

What storms are you going through today? 

What is Jesus asking you to do that you don’t believe can be done? 

Is there a comfortable sin for which you need to repent? 

Has a spirit of fear, or bitterness, of self-worship or self-loathing hijacked your life and carried you away from Jesus? 

Follow Jesus and let the One Who can still our storms see you through and set you free to be the joyous child of God you are meant to be. 


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