Saturday, June 06, 2020

'The Other America,' a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This 1967 message, delivered at Stanford University by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is sadly as relevant today as it was when he first made it.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Lord, Give Me Self-Control

[This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God earlier this morning.]

Look: “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

In ancient times, cities were places of refuge from thieves and muggers who waited to assault the innocent from hiding places beyond city walls.

It’s open to debate whether walls provide much protection for cities and nations today. But the point of the proverb holds: When we lack self-control, all manner of sins and struggles ensue. Chaos fills our lives.

I have trouble controlling my mouth, my appetite, and my ego/desire for affirmation,  among other things. They are the sources of abiding sins for which I’ve asked God for help and the violation of which, in mind and/or action,  I have repeatedly repented over the decades.

Listen: The vivid imagery of the proverb shows how serious the lack of self-control is. Personally, I’ve seen people destroy their lives because they had no self-control.

And lack of self-control in one area seems to set off a domino effect in people’s lives. Because of one breach, incessantly indulged, all self-control breaks down. Such breakdown separates us from God and others, blowing us in every direction, filling our lives with chaos and noise that prevent us from hearing the soothing, eternity-transforming Word of God about Jesus.

According to the Bible, self-control is the gift of another “wind,” the Holy Spirit. (1) Paul says, “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

If I try willing myself to control my natural impulses and appetites, I may have momentary “success.” But the success usually breaks down. The fate of New Year’s resolutions on about January 3 testify to that.

Far more accurate is the insight on which the first two steps of all 12-Step programs are built. The first step is recognizing the destructive or sinful impulses we have that are beyond our control. The second step is understanding that a “Higher Power” can restore us to “sanity.”

Of course, the Twelve Steps, were directly derived from the steps propounded by the Oxford Movement, a Christian movement meant to help people get free from slavery to alcohol. It applies to anyone seeking freedom from the finite things of the world that rob us first, of our self-control and then, of our lives. And the Oxford Movement recognized that the only source of freedom from an out-of-control, chaotic, enslaved life is in the God we meet in Jesus. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to free us to live with self-control.

Self-control is, according to Galatians, the fruit of a life that’s persistently planted in and gains its growth from the God revealed in Jesus.

Respond: Father, I come to You again today in the name of Jesus. Conquer more of my life so that I can live more fully in Your grace. Grant, by Your Spirit at work in me, the fruit of self-control. Amen

(1) In both the Old and New Testaments, the word Spirit can also mean wind or breath. The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is ruach. The Greek word used in the New Testament is pneuma.

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of First John, Chapter 5

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of First John, Chapter 4

Because I was unable to log onto Facebook Live last night, the study was moved to Zoom and the recording wasn't very satisfactory for sharing here. But we were able to meet tonight as we considered 1 John, chapter 4. The word for the night might be, assurance, as you'll see.

When Evil People Are In Control

These days, I'm reading Proverbs for my daily quiet time with God. (I'm using The One Year Chronological Bible and am once again be reading the Bible over the course of the year.

Today, I was struck by several passages that, despite not being situated together, seem to go together, each successive couplet of two proverbs building on the previous one and forming a more complete picture.

Take a look at them here to see what I mean.

"Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off." (Proverbs 23:17-18)

Anyone who seeks to humbly follow God and love their neighbor has had those moments when, like Jeremiah, in one way or another, they ask God, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jeremiah 12:1)

We can ask these questions self-righteously, seeing the splinter in our neighbor's eye without acknowledging the log in our own, as Jesus says. (I know that I do anyway.) We wonder why some people seem to "get away with murder," doing cruel things, saying cruel things, and yet enjoying ease and sometimes, the approval of the world.

But what the verses from Proverbs tell us is that we shouldn't fall prey to anger at the evil people in the world for their prosperity or other advantages.

We need to remember that all who daily repent of sin and keep on trusting in the God we now meet in Jesus, God the Son--all who keep pursuing Christ and endure in trusting in Him--have infinitely and eternally more than the arrogant rich and powerful of this world.

The apostle Peter says that believers in Jesus have "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:4-5)

To waste our time on envy of the evil people who gobble up more of the dead and dying stuff of a world ticketed for destruction doesn't make sense.

(By the way, as our current Facebook study of 1 John reminds us that some of these evil people we might be tempted to envy claim to be Christians themselves. They're the folks who twist the truth of the Gospel or exploit Christians to get the earthly things they want, like power, wealth, and advantage. John says that people like these are among the "many antichrists" that do evil in these last days [1 John 2:18-29] and who we need to ignore.)

The next couplet of verses from Proverbs that seems to go with the one mentioned above is Proverbs 24:1-2: "Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble."

While in Proverbs 23:17-18, we're told that it's ridiculous for those who trust in the God now revealed to all in Jesus to be envious of evil people because we know that God stands with those who trust in Him always, here we're told to stay away from the wicked because of the rotten things they say and do.

When we see the wicked exploiting others for big bucks or manipulating people to get or keep power, we may be tempted to befriend them. We may think that we can get some of their money or power for ourselves.

But these aren't good people. They spend their time devising ways to hurt people or stir up chaos to their own advantage. If we associate with people like these, they're likely to exploit us or, even worse, influence us to become like them!

Proverbs warns us to stay away from evil people who view others either as objects they can use or can discard.

We can pray for people given over to evil like Proverbs is talking about, asking that their hearts will be changed.

But we should never envy them.

We shouldn't do business with them.

We shouldn't trust them in any way.

We shouldn't emulate them and we shouldn't even mention their names in public.

And we shouldn't, by entering into their orbits, allow them to take us to hell with them.

The third couplet of verses from Proverbs that seems to go with the previous two is Proverbs 24:19-20: "Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out."

The idea here seems to be: Don't spend a moment stewing over the advantages that evil people may have in the world. Fight for justice and fair treatment for your neighbor, by all means. That goes with loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

But our call is to get on with lives by trusting in Jesus, Who empowers us to live in love toward God and others and to share the good news of new and eternal life for all who entrust their lives to Jesus.

For us to spend any time being resentful of the evil is a waste.

They're on the losing side of history no matter how much they may think they're winning.

Do what you can to keep these types from hurting your neighbor.

Pray that God will bring them to faith in Christ.

Pray even that you might have the chance to share Christ with them.

Otherwise, give them no thought. And don't be envious of them!

These six verses seem especially appropriate for me to heed today.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of 1 John, Chapter 2

The Holy Spirit, Living Water

Below, you'll find online worship for yesterday, Pentecost Sunday, from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below that, is the text for the message presented during the service. Have a good week. God bless you!

John 7:37-39
When I woke up a few mornings ago, my mouth was so dry I felt my lips were cemented together. I couldn’t wait to get a drink of water! I screwed open a bottle of Ice Mountain and practically poured it down. It tasted so good! It was exactly what I needed.

When Jesus, truly God, but also truly human, lived on the earth, He did so in an arid land. Among His last words from the cross, hanging beneath the harsh Judean sun, were, “I thirst.” Jesus knows what it is to thirst, to crave the life that water gives.

That’s part of what gives such power to what He told the Samaritan woman at the well. She was tired of going to the village water source under the midday sun. Jesus tells her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)  

And in John 6:35, Jesus tells the crowds He has fed with a bit of bread and a few fish, “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 

In passages like these, Jesus uses the need we all have for water for life to talk about something we need even more desperately than mere water, now and in eternity.

Our short Gospel lesson for this Pentecost Sunday finds Jesus in Jerusalem on the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths. It was one of the three great festivals of the Jewish year. It lasted, as it even does today among modern Jews, seven or eight days. 
In ancient times, it celebrated several things: the just-completed harvest, God’s provision for His people during the forty years in the wilderness, and the giving of God’s Law, the ten commandments, at Mount Sinai. 

The Mishnah, a collection of Jewish rabbinic oral traditions about the Old Testament, tells us that one of the most important temple rituals each morning of the Feast of Tabernacles was “the celebration of water libation.” Priests would circle the altar in the temple, carrying freshly drawn water from the pool of Siloam. This was done with prayers that God would provide the water needed for a good harvest the next season.

This helps to explain why Jesus expresses Himself as He does in today’s lesson. Take a look at it now: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

When Jesus cites Scripture here, He seems to be referring to a number of different passages of the Old Testament that refer to life-giving water, life-giving wisdom, and even the life-giving Spirit. 

One place is Isaiah 43:19-20 in which the prophet quotes the Savior Who would come hundreds of years later in Jesus as saying, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen…” God promises refreshment and renewal--living water--to people born dead in sin, like you and me. 

And in Jeremiah 2:13, God tells ancient Israel: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” In other words, God’s people had gone to their idols of choice rather than drawing life--living water--from its only true source, the God now revealed to all in Jesis.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that it’s God the Holy Spirit Who quenches our greatest thirst. It’s a thirst that every human being has...

  • a thirst for hope and peace amid the suffering and uncertainty of our world, 
  • a thirst for life where death seems to have the final say, 
  • a thirst for forgiveness for the sin with which, we know--deep down--we’ve broken God’s heart and harmed ourselves and others, 
  • a thirst for the meaning that every busy day seems sometimes to drag right out of us. 
In a clip from the classic movie, Key Largo, that I shared with our weeknight Facebook Bible study this past week, Edward G. Robinson plays a murderous thug named Johnny Rocco. When asked by another character what he wanted, he admitted that he wanted, “More! Yeah, that’s it. I want more!” 

This desire for more that we all have has its roots in two human desires, one legitimate and one illegitimate

On the illegitimate side of the ledger is the desire, like Adam and Eve, to “be like God.” We think that if we take on more experiences, more money, more financial security, more health, that we’ll be gods unto ourselves: independent, strong, self-sufficient. If we don’t learn the futility of this fantasy when we’re young, growing older has a way of forcing the lesson down our throats. Yet we're born with this desire to be like God.

But the legitimate side of our desire for more lies in the fact that it makes us realize that there’s something missing in our souls, a yawning need, that persists no matter how much money, security, health, acceptance, or strength we have, no matter how many amazing experiences or friendships we attain in life. Saint Augustine expressed our common human yearning for more in this way: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You.”

It is God the Holy Spirit Who fills the holes in our souls

The Holy Spirit quenches the thirst we all have, the emptiness that can only be filled by the God Who made us and Who saves all who trust in God the Son Jesus from the sin, death, and futility that marks the lives of those Who don’t trust in Jesus

It was the Holy Spirit Who emboldened the praying, but still frightened, first disciples of Jesus to speak the Gospel Word that all who repent and believe in Jesus have everlasting life with God on the first Christian Pentecost. 

It’s this same Holy Spirit Who enables us to believe, despite the horrors of a world dying in sin displays each day, that God is with us and will have us with Him for all eternity

It’s the Holy Spirit Who gives us God’s Word in the Bible and Who creates and sustains faith in Christ through the humble witness of loving parents, children, friends, co-workers, and even inadequate, ineloquent preachers. 

The Holy Spirit is living water for souls dying of thirst for Jesus, even for the souls of those who already know Jesus and realize with special clarity just how desperately and constantly we need Him!

In 1 Corinthians 12:3, the apostle Paul tells us, “ one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 

If you can confess that Jesus is your Lord, even on the days when you’re not feeling it, then you know that the Holy Spirit is filling you with the Living Water, with life with God through Christ

And if that’s so, you also know that each day, whatever your circumstances, whatever you’re feeling, you can turn to the Father in Jesus’ name and be filled again and again with the Holy Spirit Who brings you all that we confess the Spirit brings in our Creeds and Confessions: 

  • the Word of God, 
  • the life of God, 
  • the Baptism by which God claims us as His own, 
  • the Communion by which we abide in God and His people and they in us, 
  • the assurance that Jesus, God the Son, is with you always, the resurrection of the dead from God, and
  • the life everlasting with God. 

Each day, bring your thirsty soul to God in the name of Jesus and the Spirit will fill you again with Living Water! Amen

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Language of the Unheard

Some food for thought and prayer.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, "A riot is the language of the unheard." King, the leader and architect of the non-violent Civil Rights movement, said this by way of explaining the pent-up grief and rage of African-Americans in the mid-60s that led to riots. King wasn't condoning rioting; he was explaining it.

The murder of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street has set off a variety of reactions: peaceful demonstrations at the killing of another innocent black man; rioting and looting by some genuinely aggrieved and harmed by a system of justice that puts targets on the backs of African-Americans, with whites often facing no punishment for perpetrating murder; rioting and looting by opportunists, white and black; and, as so often happens, those effectively condoning systemic racism by saying things like, "What happened to George Floyd was wrong, but what 'they' did to that Target store was awful."

I do not condone rioting and looting. But to put that on the same plain as the systemic, constant, and historic danger to which African-Americans are subjected each day is a false equivalence. For African-Americans, it's dangerous to walk on the street, drive in a car, go to a restaurant or a store, do bird-watching, or pray in their church, among other things. The sin of racism causes white people to threaten and call the police on African-Americans engaged in the innocuous activities of everyday life and to see many George Floyds, although not so publicly, killed with sickening frequency.

Can we white Americans muster sufficient empathy and can we who confess faith in Christ, ask God to create enough love for our neighbor for us to see how centuries of being unheard could lead to grief, sadness, distrust, anger, rage, and even rioting?

There ARE opportunists among those who have been stealing merchandise, destroying and defacing buildings, menacing people, and, in at least one case, with the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, destroying history. Some of those opportunists are white, many doing their desecrating work as part of a "cause" while blacks beg them to stop.

But if we allow our minds to wander from the real issue here, we only stoke the fires of more frustration, anger, and rioting in the future.

The real issue is that it isn't safe for African-Americans to live in the United States.

It isn't safe for my great-niece and my great-nephew, whose father is African-American, to live in the land of their birth, where they've already achieved so much. All they have to do is be at the wrong place at the wrong time--African-Americans who dare to live and breathe--and they can be harassed, arrested, or worse.

How do people speak who haven't been heard, when all the modes of expression that others enjoy are blocked to them?

It's long past time for we white Americans to listen.

And for Christians, the act of listening is a faithful way to heed our Lord's call to love our neighbor.

We need to demonstrate by our commitment to love and justice that we value life more than we do property or convenience.

Every life.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost Thoughts: Learning to Speak with One Another

During the pandemic, we're celebrating online Holy Communion synchronously with members of our congregation. This evening, I read Psalm 51, David's great psalm of repentance, and a portion of the Biblical account of the first Christian Pentecost, Acts 2:1-4. Then, I shared the thoughts contained in the video below.

Below that yet, you'll find the Malcolm Guite video I mention.