Monday, September 18, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Groot from Guardians of The Galaxy, Volume 2

My sister-in-law sent us Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 hoping I'd write something about the movie, so I'm obliging.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" is a team of Marvel Comic heroes; and Guardians - Volume 2 is the second movie that features this group of characters.

Guardians - Vol 2 is an action-packed movie, filled with fighting, explosions, and impossible-to-survive situations.   

But the opening scene, with '70s pop music, sets the tone for this to be an enjoyable and lighthearted story.  And I like how the music continues throughout the movie, and enhances the story.

In thinking about life and faith from a Guardians' framework, I gleaned two truths from the story.

My favorite movie quote, that best portrays the Guardians' relationship with each other, is:
All any of you do is yell at each other.  You're not friends.
You're right, we're family.
I laughed!  How least for my family.  At home, with just family, the mask is off.  We're family, and we fight.  We're free to say what's on our mind, yell at each other, and know that we're still loved.  

I think there's a lesson here for the church too.  The church is not a group of friends with masks on - it's a family of believers, acknowledged sinners, with messy relationships.

The Guardian theme that I appreciate is the humor associated with the tree-like person named Groot.  Groot is 10-inches tall, and not too bright.  However, the movie has two scenes in which Groot is expected to be the hero and "save the day."  

For the final battle, Groot is entrusted with placing and arming the "killer" explosive.  This is a funny scene, in which one character, knowing Groot is their only hope, playfully says, "We're all going to die." 

But little Groot comes through, and the Guardians save the Galaxy.

In thinking of Groot and his mission, I'm reminded of Christians and the gospel message.  The gospel is meant to save the world and... the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...Romans 1:16
And, just like the Guardians trusted Groot with the killer explosive, God has entrusted His power, His gospel, to us Christians.  

And we're just like Groot - small, weak, not too bright.  And we get it wrong, at least I do.  But somehow, it works.  God uses even weak me to love and bring the gospel to the hurting, to bring people into His family, His church.
...not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful...But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”                                  1 Corinthians 1:26-31


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Rebuke me not in your anger?

I'm currently working through The Devotional Challenge Book by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller.  The book is a 16-week daily workbook and is intended to help Christians "build strong devotional habits of daily hearing the Lord's Word and praying the Scriptures, back to God."

The 1st week's prayers start out easy with The Apostles' Creed, The Lord's Prayer, and Martin Luther's Morning or Evening Prayer.  During subsequent weeks, short Bible passages are added, and then whole chapters and various Psalms.

Along with the Bible readings, Pastor Wolfmueller includes:   
1) questions meant to help one think about the passage, and
2) instructions on praying the Psalms in your own words, starting with praying just one verse from that day's Psalm.

The other day, I read Psalm 6, one of the Penitential Psalms.

I read the Psalm a few times and was thinking about which verse I would be asked to pray.  Would it be:
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. Psalm 6:2
Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. Psalm 6:4 
In fact, I read through the Psalm, praying almost all the verses, in my own words.

Then, I read the assignment - "Pray verse 1."
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.  Psalm 6:1 
What?  Rebuke me not...nor discipline me?  That doesn't sound fun or comforting.  How do I pray that?

I wrote the verse down to spend some time thinking about it. 

The next couple of days, I kept thinking, "Don't be mad at me or mean to me.  Don't be mad or mean."

But why? Do I need to pray that?

When faced with God's law and my position, my only response is despair.  In fact, my conscience knows my own guilt and God's anger.

And it came to me:  Luke 18 - Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Luke 18:13
Of all the things and people I could pray for, including good situations and good relationships...really, it's God's mercy that I need to pray for, His forgiveness, His love...which bring me His peace, no matter the situation.  

"Forgive me for my sins which deserve punishment, not mercy.  Don't be mad at me.  Don't be mean to me."   

And He answers my prayer...
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Sinner and Dirty Rifles

When I was a Marine Officer, serving as a Series Commander at Parris Island, the recruits received infantry field training, which included firing blank rounds from the M16 rifle.

A "blank" is a bullet casing that contains gunpowder, but has no projectile. 

And firing blanks causes carbon residue to quickly build up in the barrel, making it difficult to clean.

A major part of the recruits' final inspection was for the series rifles to be clean enough to return to the armory. 

So, every series my drill instructors would make grand plans and spend precious time cleaning rifles, hoping the rifles would pass inspection.  And they never did.  

Always, after every Battalion Commander's inspection, we'd scramble, reschedule training, and spend an afternoon at the armory cleaning weapons.  

Finally, I got smart.  I told the drill instructors to spend a fair amount of time on the rifles, and no more.  Instead they spent time on other aspects of the inspection 

This worked The rifles were still dirty; we still had to schedule extra cleaning.  But we started receiving positive comments on other parts of the inspection.  

I often think of this when I consider tasks and priorities.  

But it just dawned on me that a dirty rifle barrel is just like our old Adam.  

Even though, as Christians, we are born again, given the Spirit in Baptism, and not under condemnation, that dirty sin still clings to us and won't go away, just like carbon in a barrel.  
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Romans 7:15
No amount of my effort or my will can make my sin nature be clean.  In fact, oftentimes, the more I try to be and do better, the more I notice my own sin, the blackness of my heart.  
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Romans 7:18-19
Martin Luther correctly states what the apostle Paul is saying here about himself - that our nature is, at the same time, both saint and sinner.   

And by recognizing the sinner, I also recognize and rejoice in the work of Christ, who gives me His righteousness and gives me that other title - saint.

And in recognizing and rejoicing, at some point, I just have to "put up with myself" and not get caught up in something I can't fix, and turn my focus to stuff that needs to get done.  

And that stuff that needs to get done - loving and serving others.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Mark 12:31
...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Mark 10:43-45

Monday, August 28, 2017

Don't Be Tricked

I just heard an ad on the radio for a financial business and it went like this:
Do you have large credit card debt that you can't pay?  Don't let the credit card companies trick you and make you think you have to pay.  We can save you money.  Don't be tricked.
I cracked up!  The message is saying, "You can buy whatever you want, spend all the money you want...doesn't matter.  You don't really have to pay for what you buy."  

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  As I heard that radio ad, it occurred to me that the Reformation had and still has the same message - Don't be tricked.

First, don't be tricked into believing that sin doesn't cost, that you can sin with impunity.  
For the wages of sin is death...Romans 6:23
It started with Adam.  His sin led to disease, decay, death.  It's the reason for the messed-up world that we live in.  Don't be tricked into thinking that you can do whatever you want, that you can just pursue your own happiness and all will be well. 
...there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God Romans 3:22-23
Second, don't be tricked into believing that you have the ability to pay for your sins.    

Before the Reformation, Martin Luther recognized that people were being misled into thinking that their own good works could somehow make up for their sin, or that they could make monetary payments for sin.

Works and money can't save.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Galatians 3:10
Third - It's not a trick!  That's the good news. 
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.                 1 Corinthians 1:18 
You can't do anything to earn or buy your salvation It's free.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
And it's given by grace through faith based on blood, the blood of Jesus. 
...knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  1 Peter 1:18-19 
It may seem foolish, but it's not a trick.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Packing Heat

As a Marine Lieutenant stationed at Camp Pendleton, I was often assigned a 24-hour shift as Area Guard OfficerAt Pendleton's 12/14 Area, I was required to check-out and carry a pistol while on duty.  I thought nothing of it, since wearing the pistol was required.

So when I transferred to the 24 Area at Pendleton,  and was again assigned Guard Officer duty, I checked-out a pistol from the Guard Armory and strapped it on

The Marines on 24 Area Guard were puzzled, thought I was a bit too "gung ho."  None of the other officers wore a pistol, and standard procedures for that area didn't require the Guard Officer to be armed.

But my own Marines, from my Supply Office, were delighted.  Once, while on duty, I ate with them at the chow hall, and they were proud that their Lieutenant was "carrying a pistol."

Truth be told, while on duty, I didn't feel properly dressed or equipped without that pistol.   

Fast forward to the Christian life...

As Christians, no matter our calling, we are always "on duty."  We continually face challenges and are open and vulnerable to sin, Satan, and the evils of this world.  

Likewise, we continually have opportunities for good, to do good works.

But we don't need to carry a "pistol" or some type of religious object.  We are fully equipped, although we may not think so, and we most often aren't even aware of it. 

We have His Word:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 
 We have prayer:
 ...and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 50:15
We have His Spirit:
You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:17 
And more: His truth, righteousness, salvation, gifts and talents...Our Lord promises us many times that we are not alone, that He will be with us and equip us.  He gives us all we need, all standard issue, to carry out His work.

And just like the Marines who noticed my pistol, the world sees something different and takes notice of us Christians when we walk in faith.   

We know today that many people will and do respond to us in angerAnd some are just puzzled as to why we are the way we are.  

But our fellow Christians are encouragedAnd those people who need to hear the message of Jesus, who need to know that their sins are forgiven...they'll respond, be comforted, and believe.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mrs. Hartley

Elizabeth Hartley 1892 - 1985
In 1971, when I was 9, I started attending Versailles Baptist Church with Mrs. Hartley.  She was a widow who lived across the street from the bus stop.  During the winter months, and on rainy days, Mrs. Hartley would invite us kids into her house to wait for the bus. 

Mrs. Hartley had a garden in her backyard; she drove an old silver car; she once gave me whiskey with honey to stop hiccups.

And sometimes, on the way home from church, we'd stop at the cemetery, and Mrs. Hartley would visit her husband and son's gravesite. 

But what I remember most about Mrs. Hartley was the way her eyes sparkled when she talked about reading the Bible.  As a young girl, she had memorized the Sermon on the Mount and had recited it in front of the church.

When I was 10, I bought my first Bible, a black King James Version, just like Mrs. Hartley's Bible.  I tried to memorize the Sermon on the Mount, but managed only the first chapter.  

But my inability to memorize didn't deter me for long.  Since that young age, I have consistently read God's Word.  It's a "lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."  And I have Mrs. Hartley to thank for that.

When I tell this story, most people don't realize how young I was or how old Mrs. Hartley was - she was in her 80s.  

Today's society is all about youth, success, beauty, how much something is worth.  We often fail to consider or recognize the value of old age, wisdom, and just simple kindness.  

But Mrs. Hartley did.  She passed on her faith and her love of God's Word to a young girl who lived in her neighborhood.  The fruit of her sharing is beyond value.  

And, it's a lesson for all of us.  

First, don't discount the influence and contribution of your very oldest church members.  

And, second...keep serving and sharing, even when you're old and think you have nothing of value to contribute.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

**When visiting her grave, I saw that her son, Kenneth, was a fellow Marine who was killed in action in Korea.  Semper Fi, Kenneth.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Willing and Happy Heart?

I recently read a list of tips on avoiding dementia, and I mentally checked "yes" for those items that I do.  It's almost like a report card.  I think all of us read through these types of lists, just to reassure ourselves.

Martin Luther taught that every day we should pray through the Ten Commandments.  It's easy to read those laws and to mentally check "yes" thinking I'm okay with obeying them.  I might covet now and then, but who doesn't - basically I don't really break God's laws.

Commenting on Romans, Martin Luther talks about the true purpose of the law and how people mistakenly think they can obey and satisfy His law...
...not knowing how much the law demands, namely, a willing and happy heart.
Luther's saying that it doesn't matter if you can keep the letter of the law, but your motives and intent must also be correct, your heart must be right.  And Luther didn't make this up.  He got it from Jesus. 
...everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment....Matthew 5:22
...everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.              Matthew 5:28
Looking back through the Bible...
  • Eve's sin started with delight and desire.
  • Joseph's brothers were jealous of him.
  • David looked on Bathsheba with lust.
  • Jonah was angry with God for showing mercy.
All of these sins come from a hard, sinful heart.  And so it is with us, with me.  I may keep the outward demands of the law, but my heart is not right.  I inherited that from Adam - original sin and my sick heart.

But, Jesus.  The prophets said:
I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20
It started with baptism...and continues.  The more I read God's Word, the more I recognize the sickness of my own heart.  I read through those Ten Commandments, confessing that I break them all.  It's the heart of flesh that now recognizes my sin and also sees His goodness and mercy. 
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8