Friday, July 20, 2018


Below is the journal from my morning quiet time with God.

Look: “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me “my husband”; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’” (Hosea 2:16)

Hosea was called to confront Judah and Israel for their prostitution, their idolatry, worshiping the baal idols rather than the one true God Who saved and nurtured them by His grace.

The baals were sticks of wood (Hosea 4:10) that the people--God’s people--called “master,” which is what baal means.

But God wants to have an entirely different relationship with His people. He wants to be their husband.

Listen: While Biblical faith never ceases to treat the God now ultimately revealed to everyone in Jesus with respect and awe, calling Him things like Lord, Master, and King, God also, throughout both testaments, calls people to an intimacy we could never have with an inanimate stick of wood.

Jesus tells those who seek to follow Him and do God’s will (disciples, ancient and modern): “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

Unlike the ancient deities people worshiped that might take on human form in order to have sport with people or to use them sexually, the one true God revealed to Israel and then to the world in Jesus, cares about us. This is also true of all the deities we worship or may be tempted to worship today. (I like how Martin Luther explains idolatry to those of us who may think that it’s solely the behavior of superstitious ancient peoples who aren’t as smart as we moderns are: “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”)

John 3:16, of course, is one place where Jesus talks about how much God loves us: “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.”

This is stunning whenever I think about it. (And sadly, I don’t think about it enough!) God cares about me. God wants a personal relationship with me, not as opposed to a relationship with the rest of His people in the Church or with those who are outside the fellowship of the Church (with whom I’m called to share the good news of everlasting life with God that only comes through faith in Jesus), but as part of those other relationships!

God is no inanimate, implacable deity. God is the Creator of the universe Who seeks a relationship of love with His creatures, especially with those who are made in His image (Genesis 1:27). He aches for we human beings, weeps for us, loves us, gets angry with us, not for His sake or to satisfy any sick need for codependency, but simply because He wants what is best for us. God yearns for a relationship of intimate love between Himself and, in Lewis’ wonderful phrasing, “the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.”

The God of the Bible, the God we see in Jesus, is a living God and He wants us to live with Him forever. This is what lay behind the New Testament imagery of Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church, the fellowship of believers in Jesus, the only earthly thing that will survive the end of this world, as His bride.

Respond: Forgive me, Lord, for sometimes keeping you at arm’s length, avoiding intimate, quiet moments with You in Your Word and in prayer. It’s so stupid too, when I avoid You because I don’t want to be confronted for my sins--my failure to love You or love others, because You already know everything about me, yet still love me and want a relationship with You!

Forgive me for hardening my heart to all those other people you love and who you free me to love in Your name.

Today, I cherish and worship You not just as my Lord, Master, and King, but also as my Savior and Friend, Who saves me from myself, from sin, and from death by Your grace through the faith in Christ You have fostered in me. Thank You, Lord. I love You. In Jesus’ name. Amen

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

How Evil Happens, Why It Matters, and How Freedom Comes

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, on Sunday, July 15.]

Mark 6:14-29
With its account of John the Baptist’s execution, our gospel lesson from Mark today is so laced with evil that it’s disturbing.

But when you think of it, what we see in today’s Gospel lesson is a lot like what we see in life on Monday through Saturday. These are the evils—like the inhumane things that human beings sometimes do to one another—which, when you learn of them, make you wonder, “How could this have happened? How can people be so cruel?”

And I’m not talking just about murders or holocausts. I’m thinking mostly of the everyday evils, the cutting, harsh ways in which we all can diverge from the clear will of God for us to love God and love neighbor.

We all are sinners, of course. That’s the burden Jesus came to share with us, the weight He took on His own shoulders on the cross so that all who turn from sin and trust in Him will have life with God forever, a free gift from the God Who loves us. 

As Christians, we’re called to do daily battle with our sin, through daily repentance and renewal. 

The failure to hear what God’s Word says about our sin, acts as a wall between God and us, between life and death. 

We’re called to keep grabbing the strong, outstretched hand of Jesus Christ so that the power of sin and death over our lives can be destroyed by God’s powerful grace and deathless love. That isn’t always as easy as it seems it should be.

Most of you have heard about the frog in the kettle so many times that you’re tired of it. But it gets told a lot because it packs a lot of truth. A frog haplessly plopped himself into a kettle full of water that sets on a stove top. Shortly after he got there, someone turned on the burner underneath the kettle. The frog, being a cold-blooded critter, adaptable to the world around him, didn’t realize he was being boiled to death. 

Only insane people set out to be evil. Yet, like the frog in the kettle, sometimes people who should know better, are capable of evil, of cruelty to others. We allow our kettles--our environments, the world and the people around us, as well as our inborn tendency to think of ourselves first--to dictate how we will act and react in everyday life.

Herod Antipas was a man who should have known better than to fall into evil. He had been schooled in God’s will through a knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we know as the Old Testament. On top of that, Herod had good political reasons for avoiding evil: Though his family had no legitimate claim on the honor, they had for generations held themselves to be Israel’s royal family. It was so important to Herod Antipas to be seen as the “king of the Jews” that he had undertaken to build a new temple on Mount Zion, the same spot in Jerusalem where, a thousand years before, King Solomon had built the first temple. Both spiritual training and political common sense then should have kept Herod from evil.

But our Gospel lesson for today tells us that Herod perpetrated a horrible evil: Ordering the execution of John the Baptist, a man Herod knew to be innocent, whose only crime was speaking the Word of God

How that happened, a piece of history you know well, comprises most of the lesson. It comes in what the moviemakers would call a flashback. Herod gets reports about the miracle-working ministry of Jesus and is convinced that John has come back from the dead. We’re then told about the night Herod threw a birthday party for himself (who throws a party of himself?), how the daughter of his wife—the wife he had stolen from his brother--had danced for him, pleasing Herod, and how—probably a little more than drunk—Herod had promised the girl anything in exchange for the dance. 

How she had asked her mother what to ask for and was given the chilling reply, “The head of the prophet of God on a platter.” 

And how, in spite of what Herod knew to be right, he complied with the girl’s expressed wish. 

It was an act of evil equal to anything you might see in your news feed or on the TV news today. 

But unlike those news items, I believe that Mark’s flashback can help us to avoid falling into evil ourselves.

It does this by helping us to see that evil happens, first of all, when we want what we want more than what we want God wants. That was Herod’s problem. He wanted to please this young woman and appear to be a man of his word, no matter how sick and ill-advised his word may have been, more than he wanted to honor God.

That kind of thing can happen to us, too. Years ago, a man came to see me and explained how he bilked his company for thousands of dollars and got himself fired. I tried to understand how this otherwise upright man fell into this evil. “I just knew what I wanted and saw stealing as the way to get it. I just forgot about God.”

Second, evil happens when we’re more concerned with how we appear than with who we are. Herod kept his vow to his wife's daughter because he didn’t want to seem like a welcher to his guests.

A pastor I worked with while I was in seminary taught me a valuable lesson. One week, he made a mistake, one that the congregation needn’t have known about, not a sin, but a failure to do something which cost the church some money. The first thing that pastor did the following Sunday morning during the announcements was stand up and apologize. If that pastor had worried about appearances, he wouldn’t have said a word. But he was willing to admit his imperfections and gained credibility for it.

If to no one else, it’s essential that we own our sins and imperfections before God. It’s only when we’re open with the Lord Who knows about is anyway that He can take His holy scalpel and remove the unrepented sin that blocks His grace from penetrating into our lives. 

In Psalm 32:3-5, King David, tells God: “When I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” 

This is why in another one of the Psalms, David asks God, “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.” (Psalm 139:23-24) 

It’s only when we’re open to undergoing the spiritual surgery by which the God we know in Jesus Christ removes the power of sin over our lives and replaces it with Himself as God, Savior, King, and Friend that we can know the healing of His grace!

Third, evil happens when we ignore the Word of God. Herod, in spite of the judgment against his actions he could hear in John’s preaching, liked to listen to it. He knew that John’s words were from God. Yet, at his birthday party, he turned a deaf ear to God’s Word.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 

And 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us: “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.” 

When you and I spend time in God’s Word each day, asking God to show us the truth He wants us to see and act upon that day, we’re reassured again that this God Whose love for us is so desperate that He went to the cross, went to hell, and rose from death for us, will never leave us or forsake us. 

God’s Word gives us the power to live in the light of His Good Friday, Easter Sunday love!

But all of this still leaves us with a question: What’s in it for us? At the end of our Gospel lesson, after all, Herod was still alive, still on his throne, and John’s body was taken away by his disciples for burial. Herod had caved into evil. John had remained faithful to God. 

So, what’s in it for us when we resist evil?

Of course, there’s the obvious answer…and the true one. Those who faithfully seek to follow the God we know in Jesus Christ will, in spite of our sins and failings, spend eternity with God

But there are more immediate rewards for those who commit themselves to keeping hold of Christ’s hand and resisting the temptation to sin. They’re mentioned in our lesson from Ephesians for today. We’re given, we’re told “every spiritual blessing.” 

Herod went to bed on the night he killed John the Baptist knowing that he had killed an innocent, that he had done evil. That reality, I believe, haunted him and he felt utterly alone, evil, and foolish.
Unlike Herod Antipas, John the Baptist lived and died with the certainty that, even in the midst of things he couldn’t and didn’t fully understand, in resisting evil, in seeking to follow God faithfully, he had a Lord and Advocate Who would never desert him, not even beyond the gates of death.

If you remember nothing else from this morning, please remember this: 
The simple truth is that God is present for all who want God around.
A true story I’ve told before. She was dying and I visited her in the hospital. "Are you angry with God?" I asked her. "I was at first," she answered honestly. "But then I remembered that He's right here with me. Somehow that helped me." 

It can help us too. Knowing that, as we turn to Him and away from evil, God is with us always makes the pain and sacrifices of resisting evil worth it. 

In Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, we know this to be true! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, and a sinner saved from myself only by the grace of God given in Jesus, in Whom I trust.]