The Gospel in Hebrew: How Ten Hebrew Words Preach Christ and His Work

hebrewWhen the Christian church began, virtually every believer knew Hebrew. It was the language of prayer, song, and faith among the first followers of our Lord. It was the language in which the vast majority of their Scriptures were written. In Hebrew the prophecies of the Messiah were preached, the psalms of His suffering composed, the hope of coming redemption spelled out.

Journey with me then, if you will, through these ten Hebrew words to hear this story of salvation told in Jesus’ native tongue. These words sum up the whole person and work of our Messiah. Here is the Gospel in Hebrew.

Yehoshua

We spell it Joshua, but this Hebrew name is pronounced Yehoshua. It means “the LORD is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” When Mary needed a name for her infant, she didn’t page through 100,000+ Baby Names to find one that tickled her fancy. She left the name-choosing to the baby’s Father. He said to name the boy Jesus, which is the Greek equivalent of Joshua (Luke 1:31). That name is a promise, a prophesy, a preaching of who He is and what He does. As the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins,” (Matt 1:21). As Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, so this new and better Joshua saves us from the wilderness of sin and death by transporting us across the river of baptism into the promised land of His Father’s kingdom.

Yahweh

Just as Mary didn’t get to choose Jesus’ human name, so we don’t get to choose His divine name. That’s His prerogative. He told Moses, “I am who I am…Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you,’” (Exod 3:14). That “I am” is the basis for the name Yahweh (which is sometimes written without vowels, simply as YHWH). Yahweh is the third-person form of “I am,” so it really means, “He is who He is.” So God says “I am who I am” and we confess, “He is who He is.” Okay, then, who is He? He is the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush to announce that He would save His people from slavery in Egypt. And Yahweh is the God who was born of the virgin Mary and given the name Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins. Who, then, really is Yahweh and what does His name mean? Simply this: Jesus is who Jesus is.

Mashiach or Messiah

If Yehoshua is the human name of our Savior, and Yahweh is His divine name, then Mashiach is His divine office or title. Mashiach comes into English as Messiah; it means “anointed one.” Since the Greek word “Christ” means the same thing, when we confess Jesus is the Christ we are saying Jesus is the Messiah. The Christian church is thus the Messianic Church, and Christians are Messianics. Kings and priests were anointed with oil in the OT, but it’s the oil of the Holy Spirit that flows over, into, and from this Messiah onto His people. This saving Mashiach anoints us with the Holy Spirit through water and the word to make us priests and kings before God our Father.

Bethlehem

Nothing happens willy-nilly in the life of our Lord. Even the tiny dot on the map marking His birthplace is pregnant with meaning, because Bethlehem means “house of bread.” How fitting, for here was born the manna from above, the bread of God who comes down out of heaven to give life to the world by feeding us His own flesh in the bread of His supper (John 6). Just as He was swaddled and placed in the manger in Bethlehem, so now He is swaddled in bread and placed into our mouths in the house of bread called the church. His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. We, like the shepherds and wise men, journey to the House of Bread when we kneel before the altar to worship this child who is Yehoshua-Yahweh-Mashiach, born to save us from our sins, and to feed us forgiveness and life in His flesh and blood.

Torah

Torah is often translated into English simply as “law,” but it’s much more than law. Derived from the verb “to instruct,” the Torah is “the teaching of God.” When God opens His lips to speak, Torah is what comes forth. It is the will of the Father put into words. And in the fullness of time, the Torah took on an entirely new form. The Torah became flesh and dwelt among us. Isaiah had prophesied that the Torah would go forth from Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem (2:3). This word-become-flesh, the Torah of body and bones and blood named Jesus, is the revelation of the Father, the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:2). He comes not as a law-giver but as a law-keeper, to fulfill for us what we could not fulfill on our own. Jesus is the Torah incarnate, the teaching of God made manifest, who shows us the heart of the Father who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Pesach 

On the night God’s people were freed from slavery in Egypt, the Lord’s angel passed over every home in which the doorposts and lintel were painted with blood (Exodus 12:27). This divine “passing over” is celebrated at the Pesach or Passover, which has Jesus written all over it. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7), the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), whose blood is painted on our bodies and souls so that we are made white in the blood of the lamb. His body, roasted on the cross, is fed to us in His own supper, so that we eat the very price of our redemption. His blood, poured out for the remission of sins, is painted onto our lips with the brush of the chalice. The Lord sees the blood of the lamb upon us, but does not merely pass over us in mercy. He passes into us in grace. He comes into our homes not to destroy but to heal, to enliven, to forgive.

Satan

Since the Hebrew verb satan means “to accuse, to oppose, to be an adversary,” it became the infamous noun with the capital “S.” This Satan is the adversary whom the Lord allowed to inflict untold pain upon Job (1:1-22). He is the serpentine deceiver who tempted our first parents into that ruinous fall in Eden’s orchard (Gen 3; Rev 12:9). But “this accuser of our brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been thrown down,” (Rev 12:10). When he fell like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18), the thunder of his fall resounded in hell. The Messiah resisted Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11); overcame him by His lamb-like blood of sacrifice on the cross (Rev 12:11); and sent “an angel to lay hold of this dragon, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (Rev 20:1-3). This prosecuting attorney from hell can accuse us no longer, because Christ, who knew no sin, became our sin on the cross, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

Shalom

Because Jesus, our Yehoshua, has led us across the river of Baptism into the promised land of grace; because Jesus, our Yahweh, is the God whose power is made manifest in love; because Jesus, our Mashiach, has been anointed from eternity to win redemption for us; because Jesus is the vivifying bread of God, the incarnate Torah of God, the sacrificial Pesach, and the victorious warrior over Satan—because He is all of this and more, we have shalom. Shalom is more than peace. It is wellness, wholeness, restoration, goodness. To have Jesus is to have a shalom that is not of this world (John 14:27). It is the shalom that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7). Having been justified by faith, we have shalom with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, our Yahweh Yehoshua Mashiach (Rom 5:1). We are more than right with God. We are members of His family, brothers of the Messiah, part of His very own body. The Messiah Himself is our shalom (Eph 2:14).

Hallelujah

Since we have shalom with God through the Messiah, we cannot keep silent. Indeed, the Lord opens our lips so that our mouths may declare His praise (Ps 51:15). This praise of Yahweh is what Hallelujah (or Alleluia) means, literally, “praise of Yah.” To praise the Lord does not merely mean to shout “Praise!” over and over, but to praise who He is, what He has done for us, and what He will do for us. The creeds of the church, in which we confess the nature and works of God in Christ, are a Hallelujah. They “praise Yah” by echoing His own self-revelation. Every creed, ever psalm, every hymn is a Hallelujah, for in these we praise the Father who has sent Yehoshua to become our enfleshed Yahweh, the God who has won for us shalom with heaven by His crucifixion and resurrection.

Amen

Amen does not mean “this prayer is over; let’s eat.” It is the ultimate word of faith, for Amen means “yes, yes, it shall be so.” It is the word that means “truly, certainly, without a doubt, I believe that God is listening and will respond to what I say in mercy and grace.” We can say Amen with such certainty because Jesus is “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God,” (Rev 3:14). Christ is the assurance we have that God hears us, for He is the great and merciful high priest who prays in us and for us before the Father’s throne of grace (Heb 2:14-18). Amen is thus simply another name for the Messiah, for He is the one who has embodied fidelity and truth for us. To end a prayer, “…in Jesus’ name, Amen,” is to say, “Amen is the name of Jesus, the name that sanctifies this prayer and makes it acceptable before our Father in heaven.”

This is the Good News in Hebrew, the Gospel of Yahweh, who in these ten words sums up all He is for us in Jesus Christ.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Most Religions Do Lead to the Same God

allreligionsThe end of the semester was finally in sight. During the last few months, about twenty students and I had journeyed with Mohammed though the Arabian desert, sat in silence with the meditating Buddha, swam in the polytheistic sea of Hinduism, and swept even the smallest of living creatures aside as the Jains walked along. We had seen it all. And all of it was rather fascinating. To think that on this single planet there are so many religions, so many deities, so many ways of connecting with a higher power. One of the students, partly out of curiosity, partly out of sheer frustration with the volume of the subject matter, raised his hand and asked the question that many in the class had probably been asking themselves, “When it comes right down it, Professor, don’t most of these religions lead to the same God?”

Those who would answer “yes” to that question do so for different reasons. There are some who affirm that most (or even all) religions lead to the same God from sheer intellectual laziness. Rather than study various faiths, rather than read their scriptures, the lazy mind simply shrugs and says, “Oh, it doesn’t matter; they all basically believe the same thing and worship the same God.”

Others give an affirmative answer from a theological perspective. These are the folks who believe there’s only one God, but think that this one God manifests himself in a vast number of ways to different nations, cultures, and religions. He is the divine equivalent of the person in a one-actor play; he’s always running behind the curtain to change outfits, apply makeup, and reappear looking like a totally different deity on the world’s religious stage. To some he is Allah, to others Shiva, to others he is simply the Great Spirit or a higher power. But, according to this perspective, the same God is simply wearing a multitude of divine masks.

So what do you think? When it comes right down to it, don’t most of these religions lead to the same God? My answer—and I believe the answer of the Christian scriptures—is an emphatic YES. Most faiths in the world do worship the same deity; their religious paths lead to the same destination. Only it’s not the deity you might think, or the destination they have planned.

The Greatest Proponent of Religion

The deity behind most religions is, in fact, not a deity at all. He is indeed a great and mighty spirit, but he is not divine. Paul calls him “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14) and the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). Jesus calls him “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and “the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9). He is the created spirit who rebelled against heaven long ago, and was cast out (Rev 12:7-9). And ever since, this archenemy of the true God, who hates humanity with a passion, has made it his mission to get back at God by duping as many people as possible into lies that lead away from heaven.

He is cunning and calculating, this deceiver, so he puts his best foot forward. He realizes that the most effective way to achieve his goal is not through violence and abject evil, but through that which seems positive and pious. Better to coat poison with sugar. Moreover, he is well aware that people are by nature religious, so striving to make atheists of everyone would be a foolish battle plan. Therefore, instead of suppressing man’s religious nature, he heightens it, then redirects it toward the deity of his own devising.

The deceiver is the greatest proponent of religion that the world has ever seen. He is a god-maker, a religion-manufacturer, a faith-founder. Some of these religions are closer to the truth than others, but each one is designed to deceive. And although the deceptions are numerous, they are all aimed at one main goal: to keep the worshiper from belief in and confession of Jesus Christ as the Savior whom the Father has sent. In short, in all religions founded by the deceiver the Gospel is not found. And as long as that Gospel is not there, there is only death, only lies, only a divine mask behind which Satan hisses out his hatred of humanity.

What is Sacrificed to Idols is Actually Offered to Demons

The biblical writers acknowledged that the many gods and lords of the world were nothing but disguises for the deceiver. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God,” (1 Cor 10:19-20). Note the italicized phrases; the false gods to whom the unbelievers sacrifice are not gods at all, but demons masquerading as divinities. In an OT hymn as well, the poet says of the earlier Israelites, “They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,” (Ps 106:37). The Canaanite idols to whom they thought they were giving up their children were nothing more than bloodthirsty demons. And earlier, Moses affirmed this same truth, “They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread,” (Deut 32:17). The biblical witness is clear: all the so-called gods and lords and idols who are the object of people’s devotion, to whom they offer their sacrifices, to whom they pray, whom they call God and Lord, are sadly nothing but a front for the father of lies. The deceiver of the whole world has, indeed, deceived much of the world by the establishment of religions, all of which, except one, lead to eternal ruin.

The Single Way that Leads to the One, True, Saving God of Love

Most religions do lead to the same god, the god of this world, but there is one that leads to the true God. That true God, Jesus Christ, is the God who has come down from heaven to defeat the work of the deceiver by bringing humanity into a saving communion with Himself. He is the way for all who have gone astray, He is the truth for all who have swallowed the lies of the evil one, He is the life for all who are caught in the grave of sin and death. He has not come to condemn the world, but to save the world—to save you.

That saving work of Jesus brings souls caught in the darkness of other religions into the light of divine truth. For instance, recently four former Muslims in Germany were baptized into the God of truth. During the baptism, they publicly rejected their former faith, saying, “I renounce Islam and confess that neither is the Koran God’s revelation nor is Mohammed God’s prophet.” In that baptism they became one with Jesus Christ, heirs of heaven’s kingdom, and found peace that only comes from the one who has destroyed the work of the devil.

In Jesus Christ, and in Him alone, the Father has manifested His heart to humanity. In that divine heart beats a love for you that knows no bounds. It is a love that is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, a love that is as big as God Himself, for He is love. And that love is all for you. It is a love that saves you from the lies of this world by uniting you to Jesus Christ—the friend of sinners, the Savior of the lost, the God of truth.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

The Church of Regal Entertainment: Does Where We Worship Matter?

“I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home….” So begins an old country song. Fed up with her husband perched on a bar stool every evening, drinking away his paycheck, then stumbling home three sheets to the wind, this resourceful wife decides to transform their home into a bar. So she hires an alcoholic to assist with the redecoration. They take out the dining room table to make room for the bar. She hangs a neon sign that points the way to the bathroom. Her husband and his buddies can cash their paychecks at the house, and while they’re sleeping off the booze the next morning she’ll deposit the money in the bank

Her whole strategy is summed in the chorus, “I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home, so you’ll feel more at ease here and you won’t have to roam…” If she erases the boundaries between home and bar, her husband will feel comfortable, his friends will feel welcome, and she’ll have money in the bank. She will make some sacrifices, but since she’ll regain her husband, it’ll all be worth it.

To Decorate or to Destroy?

But will it be worth it? And will she really regain her husband? The truth is that she hasn’t really made the bar and home equal; the bar wears the pants in that family now. The pub culture, which her husband loves, in which he feels comfortable, has much more control over his thinking, his actions, and his heart, than does the culture of his home. She sacrifices the intimacy of their household in a failed attempt to win back her husband. And, yes, she’ll have him there, but in a space that does nothing more than perpetuate the very lifestyle that is wrecking her home and marriage. Her intentions may be golden, but she’s doing nothing more than enabling his beer-guzzling, family-avoiding lifestyle. She hasn’t so much hired a wino to decorate their home as to destroy their home—to destroy any chance it might be a place where that man is transformed back into the husband he needs to be.

I’m Gonna Hire a Theological Wino to Decorate Our Church

The wife in this old country song bears a strong resemblance to lady church in many parts of America. She is motivated by the desire to connect with people who don’t feel at ease sitting in a pew, surrounded by stained glass, the cross of Jesus sitting atop the altar. They’re not comfortable with organ music, sermons preached from pulpits, songs sung from hymnals. Where are they at ease? In a movie theatre, or a sports stadium, or a bar. They are comfortable jamming to a band full of drums and steel guitars, listening to comedians and other entertainers, and hearing soloists or groups sing to them during concerts. They can kick back with a cup of Starbucks in their hands, wearing their favorite blue jeans, reclining in stadium seats with a big screen in front of them. So lady church hires the equivalent of a theological wino to decorate her church home, so these people will feel more at ease.

Worship in a Movie Theatre

Movie Theatre ChurchFor instance, Regal Entertainment Group offers churches the option of renting one of their theatres for worship services. In their ad, they boast that “clients have even said that holding their services in a theatre was a no-brainer for them because they wanted to reach the unchurched and the theatre was in a familiar, culturally relevant place.” Besides the perks of “ample parking, spacious lobbies, plenty of bathrooms” there is the “perfect view of the screen from a comfortable seat (cup holders included!).” And, of course, they add that “there’s no more powerful way to share your message.”

Yes, but what powerful message is really being shared? What message is the church communicating that chooses a movie theatre for its worship space? Or what message, for instance, is Joel Osteen’s congregation communicating when it chooses a former sports stadium for its gathering space? It’s the same type of message that the frustrated wife in our country song is communicating. Only in the case of lady church, it is this: the church does not have a message that is radically different from that of the world. It is not so radically different as to require a radically different space in which to communicate it. It is a comfortable, entertaining, non-life-altering message. The Gospel is as American as apple pie, Chevrolet, and Regal Cinemas.

Only it’s not. The Gospel is a radical message. It is as contrary to the ways and thoughts of the world as a home is to a bar, as a temple is to a theatre. And because of that, the church where this Gospel is preached dare not ape the architecture of the world. If she does, if she transforms the church into a theatre of entertainment, then she will teach the world that the Gospel is about titillation, feeling good, kicking back and being comfortable.

Holy Worship of a Holy God in a Holy Place

As the Old Testament tabernacle and temple were, so the New Testament church is: a holy place where the holy God dwells to meet with His holy people. I want to feel uncomfortable in church. I want my family and friends and fellow worshipers not to feel at ease, but to feel in awe when they enter the sanctuary of God. I want them to exclaim, as did Jacob, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,” (Gen 28:17). I don’t want them to say, “How cool is this place! This is none other than the theatre where I watched ‘Annabelle’ last week, and here’s the cup holder where I put my Dr. Pepper while I ate popcorn.”

The church is a place of radical transformation. God meets with His people in this place to speak a law to them that reveals their selfishness, the bad man in all of them, the death that lurks within them. And through that law He kills. He puts them to the death of repentance in order that He might resurrect them through the good news of Jesus Christ. In Him they are not made comfortable and at ease, but are changed. They are made alive, truly alive, in the Son of God who loves them, who gave up His life for their own, who burst forth from the grace triumphant over death. That resurrection proclamation is transformative. It makes living saints out of dead sinners. It gives hope and healing to the wounded and bleeding.

Yes, of course, mission congregations often gather in spaces that are less than ideal. But I pray that even then they choose as neutral a space as possible for their temporary sanctuary, and transform that room or building on Sunday morning into as church-like a setting as possible. Why? Because the architecture, the furnishings, and the decorations of the church are not peripheral to this message. They too preach Christ. Stained glass and icons preach in color and symbol the good news of Jesus. Crosses and crucifixes focus the viewer on the heart of the church’s message of Christ crucified for you. The altar and communion rail beckon the worshiper to the feast of Jesus’ forgiving flesh and vivifying blood. Incense proclaims to our sense of smell the pleasing aroma of Jesus’ sacrifice and the rising smoke visually portrays our prayers that rise to heaven’s throne of grace. Pulpits and altars root the believers in the divine Word that comes down from heaven to feed our souls with words of truth. All together, architecture, sacred furnishings, and holy décor proclaim the Christ who radically transforms us into the children of God, citizens not of this world but a divine kingdom, worshipers who experience heaven on earth every Sunday morning.

You like to drink beer? Fine, enjoy a pint at the pub. You like to watch movies? Me too, so let’s go to the theatre. But when we’re meeting God face-to-face, leave the beer and the popcorn outside, for that place of divine encounter is none other than the house of God, the gate of heaven, the church of Jesus Christ.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

The Affair

theaffairThere are times when a man and a woman, even though they’re good people, even though they’re both married and committed to their respective spouses, even though these spouses love them, find themselves falling in love with another person whom they think is their soulmate. It isn’t planned. They’re not looking to cheat. But out of the blue they meet someone else and begin thinking, “I might be happier with this other person.” Then they have a choice to make.

That, at least, is the premise of the new Showtime drama, “The Affair,” which began airing earlier this month (October 12). One of the co-creators of the show, Sarah Treem, told Hitfix, “The idea [for the show] was that you’re in a marriage, you love your wife, she’s a good woman, you’re a good man. You have kids and then you meet somebody by chance who [sic] you think is your soul mate. What do you do?”

Yes, that is the pressing question: what do you do? To begin with, you drop the pretense that you’re still being faithful. You’re not. If you:
(1) “fall in love” with another person;
(2) confuse “falling in love” with real love;
(3) know the other person so well that you think he/she is your soulmate;
(4) are already imagining that life with the other person might make you happy
then you may not have opened your bedroom to that person but your heart is already a mess of tangled sheets. So it’s not a question of whether you will begin an affair, but whether you will escape from the one you’re already in.

There are countless articles and books about how to “Affair-Proof” your marriage, complete with lists of five or ten or twenty things to do to protect your marriage from infidelity. And many of these have helpful suggestions. I’m not writing another such list. What I want to urge is one main point, one truth that undergirds so much of this discussion: affairs don’t begin with lust, or discontent with your spouse, or boredom in a long-term relationship. Affairs always begin by believing lies.

Falling in Love is Not Love

Chief among these delusions is that “falling in love” is the same as loving the other person. As I’ve written about elsewhere, “falling in love” has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with love. No exceptions. It is not the prelude to love, nor the foundation of love, nor the ongoing nurture of love. What we term “falling in love” is stumbling into a state of emotional bliss with another person. True love, on the other hand, is the willful choice to act selflessly for another person, to commit yourself to that person, regardless of the emotional ups and downs. A man and woman who commit adultery together cannot love each other. It’s impossible. That’s like saying two people who are stabbing each other are giving life to each other. If they loved each other, they wouldn’t be harming each other through adultery, harming their spouses and children, and living a lie. Adultery begins in selfishness, continues in selfishness, and breeds yet more selfishness. It is not, and cannot be, a relationship of love. They may mouth the words, “I love you,” but what they really mean is, “You are meeting my selfish emotional needs and I am meeting yours. We are using each other.” In “The Affair,” Noah and Alison will “fall in love” but they cannot, by definition, love each other.

With a Soulmate Like That…

A second delusion, so often believed by men and women who travel the adultery road, is that they’ve found their soulmate. They think that fate has led them to that one person, within the vast sea of humanity, whose soul is a perfect match for their own. Now, leaving aside the fact that soulmates are a figment of a romantic’s imagination, that no such thing even exists, let’s assume for a moment that they do. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that all of us have this soulmate out there, just waiting for us to meet them. Would such a person, so intimately bound to you, presumably wanting only what is best for you, actively encourage and participate with you in breaking the oaths you swore to your spouse, assist you in ripping your family to shreds, and become one flesh with you in a union God Himself condemns? If that’s what these closest of confidants do, then perhaps C. S. Lewis should have named his bestseller The Soulmate Letters. If you’re married, you have a mate. And that mate has a soul as well as a body. Your spouse is your bodymate, your soulmate, your heartmate—the whole shebang. No one else is. You left your father and your mother to become one flesh with your husband or wife. You are no longer two, but one. To look elsewhere for this fictional soulmate is to deny that God has joined you to another person already in holy matrimony.

Fantasizing About Adultery is Adultery

Finally, the third delusion is that you can fantasize about having an affair without actually committing adultery. You can live out your fantasy vicariously through Noah and Alison in “The Affair,” or Robert and Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, or through the million other books and movies that revolve around this theme. But, of course, you don’t need media for these mental games. You can daydream about what you’d like to do with that guy from work who is always flirting with you. You can close your eyes while you’re having sex with your wife and imagine she is that newfound friend that’s stirring feelings within you that you thought had died long ago. The heart is the bed where most adultery takes place. As Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart,” (Matthew 5:27-28). If you’re imagining that life with the other person might make you happy; if you’re romanticizing about him or her; then you have already betrayed your spouse. You have willfully chosen to adulterate in your heart. And your heart has your body on a leash; where your heart goes, your body is sure to follow.

Escaping from the Lies

Affairs always begin by believing lies. They dress themselves up as sexy lies, beautiful lies, fun lies, but beneath this lovely veneer there is the stinking, rotting, worm-infested corpse of adultery that your lips seek to kiss.

Affairs are all about lies—lies that ultimately destroy. Christ is all about truth, and true love, the kind of love that pursues even the rebellious to bring them finally to repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. He did that for me. And He wants it for all who have entangled themselves in the web of adultery. There is healing, and that healing is in His wounds. There is new life, and that new life is in His death and resurrection.

If affairs always begin by believing lies, then repentance always begins by believing the truth: the truth that you are in the wrong, the truth that you have a God who loves you in Jesus Christ, and the truth that He and He alone can save you not only from adultery but from every sin that seeks to lead you down the path of destruction.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Deathbed Defeats: Five Failures I Hope to Achieve Before I Die

deathbedWe don’t spend enough time talking about death. It’s the subject that everyone is thinking about, everyone will experience, and very few bring up in polite conversation. Even when they are terminally ill, or have a loved one who is near death, people tend to avoid saying anything about what is uppermost in their minds. Death may be staring them right in the face, but they make small talk about everything from the weather to the Dallas Cowboys.

Let’s change that. And let’s start by talking about your deathbed. Most of us will know, or at least have a good idea, that our death is near. Picture yourself there. As you near the end of this earthly life, what would you like to look back on? What kind of legacy would you like to leave your family and friends? I have my list. It may seem strange to you, but, when I think about my own death, I often think in terms of positive failures. I invite you to read through them, think about them, and ask yourself, “When I’m on my own deathbed, what will I regret, what will I cherish, what will have defined me?”

On my deathbed, as I look back over my life, I hope I can say that I have failed in these five ways.

  1. I’ve failed to follow my heart. If there was ever an untrustworthy guide, it is the human heart. With good reason the prophet Jeremiah says that “the heart is deceitful above all things,” (17:9). My heart will steer me toward temporary emotional highs that land me in fathomless pits of suffering. When I’m standing at crossroads, the heart will always choose the broad and easy way, for it is a lazy guide, fat with emotion, drunk on the liquor of what-feels-good. I hope on my deathbed, I can say that I failed to follow my heart and instead followed the word of God. That word cannot deceive. It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. It may direct me down a way that is narrow and steep and emotionally grueling, but it never leads me astray. And it is that divine word that not only guides me through life, but prepares me for leaving this life, for life in Christ beyond this world.
  1. I’ve failed to be one of whom all people speak well. If all people speak well of me, then I have not been the person God wants me to be. Jesus Himself once said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you,” (Luke 6:26). If I have stood up for the underdog, if I have come to the defense of the slandered, if I have spoken the truth when it was unpopular, then I have will enemies. Blessed is the man who makes enemies because he does what is right, no matter what the consequences. But woe to the man who tries to please everyone, who speaks out of both sides of his mouth, just so that everyone will like him and speak well of him. Speaking the truth got Jesus murdered. Speaking the truth will often turn people against you. But a life well lived will mean doing and saying unpopular things. I hope, on my deathbed, that there will be some who are glad that I’m dying, because that will likely mean I’ve been bold and faithful enough to speak God’s truth.
  1. I’ve failed to live a life devoted to the pursuit of happiness. We all want to be happy; the question is whether we pursue happiness or those things that lead to joy. If I live a life devoted to the pursuit of happiness, I will be chasing after an emotion. And that chase will drive me to make selfish, destructive choices that ultimately ruin the very thing I seek. Happiness is a cruel god; its worshipers spend their lives chasing it, and never truly finding it. Happiness is good—indeed, it is a divine gift—if it is found in those things that God desires us to have. To pursue a faithful marriage, rearing godly children, fostering friendships, remaining diligent at work, being a faithful member of a congregation—hidden in those pursuits is true joy. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be happy, but it does mean that you’ll be where God wills you to be. And where He is, there joy and happiness are found. When I look back over my life, I hope I can say that I have failed to pursue happiness but pursued God and His gifts instead.
  1. I’ve failed to believe in myself. True confidence in life is not found in believing in yourself, but believing in God—believing that Jesus is on your side, by your side, working in you to accomplish His will. To believe in myself is to believe in a sinner. The Scriptures tell us not to “trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no salvation,” (Psalm 146:3). And if I am not to trust in princes, how much less am I to trust in myself. I will screw something up. I always do. But God, who is always faithful, will work in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight. He will forgive our screw-ups for the sake of Christ. He will grant us confidence by granting us His Spirit. To live a life in which I fail to believe in myself, but believe in the Christ who dwells within me, who is for me, is the kind of life I desire.
  1. I’ve failed to be a first place winner. At the end of my life, I hope to look back and rejoice in the accomplishments of others. I hope to look back at how I have helped others succeed, placed their interests ahead of my own, cheered them on as they finished in first place. We live in a culture that celebrates winning the gold, getting ahead of everyone else, being first. God celebrates losing, being behind everyone else, finishing last—for, paradoxically, only there is true victory. Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all,” (Mark 9:35). And Paul writes, “with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself,” (Philippians 2:3). This is the way of our Lord, who although He was God, emptied Himself, took on the form of a servant, and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). In that service Christ did for us, we win; we win what Christ has won for us by His loss. His death is our life. His death is our sure victory. As I lie on my deathbed, I hope I can see how Christ was at work in my own life to transform my defeats into victories for others, how being last put others first.

These are the five failures I hope to achieve before I die. I know that I will do none of them perfectly. But that’s okay, because I have a Savior who has done all things perfectly for me. On His own deathbed, which was the cross, He poured out His life for us that we might be able to face our own deaths with confidence, for we know that all those who believe in Him, even though they die, yet shall they live.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Looking for the Church? Follow the Trail of Blood

bloodtrailIt is not hard to track down the Church; just follow the trail of blood. It begins in the wet soil beneath the body of Abel, murdered not by a stranger but by a brother, slain by one who hated the believer because he hated the believer’s God. And onward it winds, this haunting crimson road. The blood flows from the veins of the very old to the very young, from the infant boys in Egypt and Bethlehem to the gray-haired men and women whose tongues would not be tied by a tyrant’s decree. In this world the Church never has peace—peace as the world understands it. Yes, wherever she goes, the Church leaves—or, rather, is forced to leave – the telltale sign of her passage through that place. Just follow the trail of blood, and there you will behold the lineage of the Church.

whisperinginearSee to it that no one leads you astray from such a path, painful though that path may be. Many come to tell your itching ears what they crave to hear: “It doesn’t have to go on like this. We can have peace. No more blood need be shed. Wink at the golden calves and mind your own business rather than throw down the law and insist on only one saving truth. Much favor will be won if we learn how to compromise, to play our political cards right, to sweeten our speech with opinions rather than confessions, to crawl about like a theological chameleon in today’s multi-colored religious landscape.” If these lies were true, then the world would smile and sheathe its sword, the demons would retract their claws, and the haunting crimson road would come to an end. But then, so would the Church.

Deep guile is the weapon of the one who masquerades as an angel of light, but who is truly the prince of darkness. It is he who opened Eve’s eyes to “a better way,” unencumbered by a Word from God that deprived her of what could only make her life better and more fulfilled. So she thought. It is he who persuaded Solomon that it was more prudent to build temples for the gods of his many wives than risk losing family tranquility and political capital by insistence on the only true way of divine worship. It is he who shows you that it’s fine to applaud our spiritual forefathers for their bold stance in their own historical context but to chuckle and poke fun at any serious attempt to follow that teaching and practice in our own.

O such is the crumbling fortress of the god of this world, but how it entices our flesh! It looks like a house of candy to the Hansels and Gretels who wander lost through this world. And we all have tasted its seeming sweetness. For it is always easier to rest inside the devil’s crumbling fortress than to trudge on alone in a dark and friendless world. It is always easier to hold hands with unbelievers inside those walls than risk public defamation by declaring the Gospel from without. It is always easier to file away the 95 Theses until a more politically expedient time; to bite your tongue so long as no one else speaks up; when standing before governors and kings to say, “Here I stand…and there and there and there and wherever else you wish, whatever keeps my neck out of the noose. Yes, such is the fortress built by the devil’s deep guile. And woe to the believer and woe to the church that passes through its gates; so deceptive and seductive are its inner charms that few are those who escape. For it is not really a fortress; it is a dungeon—dark and dank and reeking of death.

See to it that no one leads you astray from the narrow way, the straight way, the only saving path, for it alone leads to the Jerusalem above. Though the road that frees you from suffering for the truth may seem broad and easy, in reality it is a road that leads only to greater and unending suffering. Though the narrow path is bloody, and though the way is steep, and though the trail of truth seems impossible to follow at times, only on that path does our Father feed you and clothe you and fill you and flood you with true and lasting peace.

davidgoliathFor we travel not alone—far from it. At our head is the Son of David, the severed head of hell’s Goliath dangling from His hand, blazing the trail that leads to the heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, for us fights the valiant one, whom God Himself elected. Though weak and frail and frightened you may be, it matters not, for it is not you who fight but God who fights for you. He parts the waters so you may pass through, while engulfing your foes behind you. He topples the walls of Jericho; He turns the swords of your enemies against each other; He fights and He wins and He places the crown on victory upon your head while you merely stand by and see the salvation of your God.

O little flock, fear not the foe, for at your head is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for you. For all your compromises, He made the good confession before Pilate. For all your shirking of the cross, He bore His own for you. For your silence in an effort to save face, He turned His face toward the spit and the fists and the blood and the gore. And willingly He did it, all for you, that you might be His own, bought at a price.

Just follow His trail of blood, the blood of the crucified one, and there you will behold the life of the Church, your life. The Church’s life is in nothing and no one else. Not in glory nor in fame; not in numbers nor power; but in His holy, saving blood, in the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The wounds of His hands and feet and side open like lips to proclaim, “Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden by the heat of this desert world. Drink deeply from my cloven side! Come to me, sit at my feet, all ye who have gone astray, and I will show you my heel, with which I have crushed the head of the serpent of old! Come to me, all ye Adams and all ye Eves, who with guilty hands have tried to cover your shame—come and taste the fruit of my body that your eyes may truly be opened and you may see that I have clothed you with my own flesh.”

Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, because for you there is a strong city, which has lasting foundations, whose builder and architect is God. Salvation unto you has come—salvation from sin, from falsehood, from false hopes, from false and crumbling fortresses. A mighty fortress is our God, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging; though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us—we will not fear. The kingdom remains ours. The forgiveness of sins is ours. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Fed with manna from on high. Compassed about by legions of angels. Christ before us and behind us. Christ on our right and Christ on our left. Christ above us and Christ below us. We all believe in one true God who will ever remain true to us. So be still and know that He is God, and you are His children; nothing will separate you from Him who shares your flesh and blood. He will grant you endurance to the end.

ChristAloneCoverThis sermon, written for Reformation Sunday, is included in my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Joseph and St. Patrick: God’s Unexpected Missionaries

stpatrickWhen Patrick was fourteen years old, he was kidnapped during a raid on Britain and taken to Ireland to serve as a slave. After six years in captivity, he escaped, made his way back home, and eventually was ordained into the priesthood. Then, in His own ironic way, God sent Patrick back into the land of his former captivity to proclaim the freedom of the Gospel. The boy who had been a slave was used by God to bring His word of salvation and life to a people who had been living in the darkness of pagan unbelief.

But, centuries before, the Lord had established this saving precedent. He used another teenager in another country to do His work. When Joseph was seventeen, his brothers sold him into captivity in Egypt. After thirteen years as a slave and prisoner, he was elevated to Pharaoh’s right hand. God used Joseph to preserve the life of Egypt, as well as the life of his own family, during a seven year famine.

But more importantly, the Lord sent Joseph into Egypt to bring the light of divine wisdom into that darkened land. Led by God, Pharaoh made Joseph “lord of his house and ruler over all his possessions, to imprison his princes at will, that he might teach his elders wisdom,” (Ps 105:21-22). Joseph, who was full of the Holy Spirit (Gen 41:38), taught Egypt about the wisdom of God. He instructed these Egyptian pagans about the one true God; Joseph became a missionary to his former masters.

In his commentary on Genesis, Luther speaks of how Joseph became God’s spokesman of Egypt:

“David [in Psalm 105:21-22] looked more deeply into this account and saw how salutary it was for the kingdom of Egypt. How many fine people Joseph must have influenced! He taught the princes themselves and the king, and even converted the whole court to the faith. He showed them the true worship of God. He likewise appointed priests to lead the way for others later and to instruct them. In short, he is a Christ in Egypt and even more, as Christ Himself says, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these he will do,’ (John 14:12). Christ converted one little nation in a corner of the one land of Judah; He fed several thousand people with a small amount of bread. Joseph fed all Egypt and the neighboring nations and kingdoms, both physically and spiritually.” (Lectures on Genesis, AE 7:136).

In both Joseph and Patrick we see the Lord of life at work. As we see Him at work in our own lives. The God who can take two slaves, both of whom seemed destined for nothing but death, and use their lives to bring wisdom and light and salvation to the lives of so many others—this same God can and will work in our own lives. We may seem destitute of hope, but the hope of Christ is stronger than our weakness. As He was for Joseph and Patrick, so He will be for us: our companion in suffering, our life in death, our resurrection in the grave, and the Lord who uses us in His own way to bring blessings into the lives of others.

ChristAloneCoverIf you liked this article, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

The Grateful Dead

dry-bones-liveWhen I cut my finger I don’t dial 9-1-1. I slap a Band-Aid on it and I’m good to go. A while back, when my son and I were wrestling around, I ended up with a broken rib. My family didn’t put me on the first flight to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I just swallowed a few pain pills over the next few days, prayed I wouldn’t sneeze, and let the bone gradually mend on its own. Bodily injuries call for a variety of responses. You don’t call EMS when you stub your toe, nor do you reach for aspirin when your friend is unconscious and bleeding inside his wrecked car.

There’s a little test I like to give people when we’re talking about things like sin, salvation, and Jesus. They tell me how spiritually messed up they think humanity is and I try to guess what kind of solution they think God provides. There is, in fact, a direct correlation between how bad you think people are and how good you think God is.

Maybe you think people’s minds are darkened; they’re confused and spiritually uninformed. They need a teacher sent by God. Jesus is indeed a rabbi, a teacher, who has the words of eternal life, who instructs us in the ways of His Father. We do need a teacher, but because we are worse than confused, we need more than a teacher.

Maybe you think people are lost, like sheep gone astray, wandering away from divine care. They need a shepherd to lead them home. Jesus is indeed a pastor, a shepherd, whom the Father sent to seek and to save the lost. We do need a shepherd, but because we are worse than lost, we need more than a shepherd.

Maybe you think people have a sickness of the soul. They are weak and frail. They need a physician to give them medicine from heaven. Jesus is indeed a doctor, a healer, whose touch restored sight, cleansed lepers, made shattered souls whole. We do need a physician, but because we are worse than ill, we need more than a physician.

Or maybe you think people’s problem is that they are in rebellion against God. Enemies of heaven—that’s what they’ve become. So they need a peace-maker. And Jesus is indeed just that: He stands in the gap between God and man, making peace between His Father and humanity. He transforms foes into friends. We do need a peace-maker, but because we are worse than rebels, we need more than a peace-maker.

You might be thinking: Okay, so we’re confused, lost, sick, and rebellious. What could be worse than that?

Here’s the thing: if those were our only problems—major problems though they are—we would still be in a situation where we could partner up with Jesus to make things right. The teaching Jesus could help us overcome our ignorance; the shepherding Jesus could assist us in finding our way home; the healing Jesus could enable us to get back on our feet; and the peace-making Jesus could gently urge us to be reconciled to God. We may really need Jesus because we’re really messed up, but it wouldn’t be as bad as if, say, we’re dead.

But death, that’d be a game changer. Dead men don’t get taught. Dead men don’t get un-lost. Dead men don’t heal. And you can try all day long to make peace with a corpse, but all it’s going to do is lie there, gradually decomposing into dust.

“You were dead in your trespasses and sins,” Paul says (Eph 2:1). And when he says that, everything changes. We finally see just how bad off we are. And we finally see just how good God is toward us. “Even when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with Christ, having forgiven us all our transgressions,” (Col 2:13).

I love that phrase, “Even when you were dead…” When a persons dies, there’s nothing more we can do with them. We can’t teach them, heal them, or help them in any way. All we do is bury them. Not God. The #1 skill on the divine resume is raising the dead. That’s what He does best. That’s what He does for you in Jesus Christ.

Even when you were dead, the Father united you to the death of Jesus Christ, made you alive together with Him, and raised you up with Him (Eph 2:5-6). God gave, you received. Even when you were dead, the Father poured the Holy Spirit into you, purged away all your sins by the blood of Jesus, and adopted you as His child. God gave, you received. Even when you were dead, God made you an heir of heaven, a brother of Christ, a friend of the angels. God gave, you received.

I am part of the grateful dead, for precisely because I was dead, God did for me what He does best: He made me alive in His resurrected Son, Jesus the Christ.

ChristAloneCoverIf you liked this article, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

The Two Most Important Days in Your Life. And Why Mark Twain Was Wrong

purposeinlife“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

I’d like to write a series of Hallmark cards called “Tough Truths.” They wouldn’t sell, of course, because in a culture addicted to emotionalism, tough truths don’t rake in the cash. But, hey, I’d have a ball writing them. For a birthday card in this series, I’d have one reflect the quote above from Mark Twain, but with a tough truth twist. On the outside we’d print these words, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born…” then you’d open it to read these words, “and the day you find out you were conceived and born in sin and are in need of being born again.” I know, not really the sentiment you like to hear before blowing out the candles and shoving cake in your mouth. But at least it’s true.

And at least it actually gets us closer to answering the questions that Mark Twain really posed at the end of this famous quote: Why were you born? Why are you here? What is your purpose in life?

If you Google this quote, it’ll direct to site after site that uses Twain’s words as a springboard for showing you how to find your place in this world, achieve your dreams, or fulfill your life’s quest. All these blogs and online article have one thing in common; they all say that you were born to be a doer, an accomplisher. You’ll find out why you were born when you discover what you are meant to do.

The problem with all this advice is that it never questions its fundamental assumption: that your primary purpose in life is doing something. Actually, it’s not. Your primary purpose in life is not doing something, achieving a goal, fulfilling a dream, or even making the world a better place.

Your primary purpose in life is having something done to you. God created you in order that He might have someone to give to, to bless, to love, to nurture, to save, to give Himself to. That’s why you’re here.

And that gets me back to my Hallmark birthday card. That tough truth printed on the inside, that “you were conceived and born in sin and are in need of being born again,” is yet another reminder that your primary purpose in life is having something done to you. Whether you’re one day old or a hundred years old, your birthday, as wonderful as it is, is incomplete. God wants to give you a re-birthday. It’s the day He puts you back into the womb, a very watery womb, and pulls you out again. There’s no amniotic fluid in this womb, but it is permeated with the liquid of the divine word. You go in dirty, you come out clean. You go in dead, you come out alive. You go into this baptismal womb full of sin and come out full of Jesus. On the day of your baptism, the Father who gave you life in your mother’s womb, gives you new and everlasting life in the church’s womb.

On that re-birthday, our Father teaches you that the world is wrong about your purpose in life. Yes, you will go on to grow up and be, perhaps, a husband and father and electrician and member of the board of elders and local Rotary club. You may be and do lots of good things, fulfill several vocations, and maybe even check off several items on your bucket list. But, even as you do these things, they are not the fundamental reason for your existence.

God created you in order that He might be your Father in Jesus Christ. He made you to be His own. He formed you to be a receptacle for His blessings.

So, I’m sorry, Mark Twain, but you’re wrong. The two most important days in your life are the day you are born again through water and the word, and the day you find out that you are here to receive the divine gifts that flow from the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

ChristAloneCoverIf you liked this article, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Picking at Scabs: The Religion of Regret

misshavishamShe was dressing when his letter arrived. It was twenty minutes till nine. It was the day of her wedding. And it was the day, the hour, and the minute that were to cast a pall over the remainder of her life. For the man to whom she had given her heart, and dared to trust, had defrauded her, and abandoned her before the altar. Shattered and humiliated, she had every clock in her home frozen at 8:40 a.m. Her daily attire became the yellowed, tattered wedding dress of her ruined youth. And the cake, that sweet, edible emblem of joy, remained uneaten, sitting crisscrossed by cobwebs atop the kitchen table.

She is Miss Havisham, one of the most eccentric of Charles Dickens’ characters in Great Expectations. And she is a model worshiper in the religion of regret. For her devotion is to a past that will not allow her to live fully in the present, much less to delight in a future. For in Miss Havisham’s religion, hope is the unforgivable sin.

Those of you who have been so blessed as to avoid sinking into a quagmire like the one in which she found herself, might think I exaggerate when I call regret a religion. But I beg to differ. I was a faithful member of this morbid cult for a few years, and I assure you that it so envelops a person’s existence that calling it anything short of a religion underestimates the devotion it demands.

As with so many things, regret can begin as something natural, even beneficial, as you struggle to recover from a wound in your past. But over time, regret can devolve from a sadness to a sickness. It was as if I buried myself in the sands of that time of self-inflicted pain and all that marched on into the future was a shadow of my former self. Outwardly alive but inwardly deceased. For the rest of the world, time ticked on, but the hands on the clocks in my head and heart were all handcuffed to that moment.

The odd thing is that, as depressing as this captivity to regret is, we who have suffered through it tend to deify it. It becomes our lord, a god who demands, and usually gets, our all. It is a baptism of ice, which freezes us to the past. Our sacraments are scab-picking and wound-licking, our sacred text the story of our life’s undoing. We read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the bible of our betrayal. Our hearts blather out doleful songs of lament, the refrain of which is always, “If only, if only, if only….”

But the whole time that lament is sung, there is another song, full of enlivening music, that also chants, “If only….” It goes something like this: “If only you would come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And, “If only you would remove that funereal wedding dress, I would deck you out in robes of joy, for I would clothe you with my tonguewaferrighteousness and life.” And, “Trash that cobwebbed cake and, here, ‘Take, eat, this is my body, given for you; take, drink, this is my blood, shed for you, that in me you might have peace and love and more hope than you ever dreamt of.’” It is the voice of Jesus calling, not worlds but inches away, ever present in the midst of your grief, never giving up on you, ceaselessly beckoning you to life again.

The religion of regret is a religion of falsehood, for its ultimate claim is that there is no more hope in this life. But Jesus is hope embodied, the flesh-and-blood hope of a God who raises the dead. And if he can enliven even a corpse, he can certainly raise you from the grave in which you have entombed yourself under the sands of regret. But he does more than make you alive. He is your life. In him you live and move and have your being. In him you become heaven’s child, one who bears the divine image. And your clocks tick on, unfrozen from the past, counting the days and hours and minutes until you have finally passed through this life of trials, and enter into your Father’s house, where happiness truly knows no end.

 

ChristAloneCoverIf you received comfort from this article, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

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