I’m One of Those Lukewarm Christians

The following post appeared yesterday on 1517 Legacy, a website “committed to informing you about and providing the finest in books and teaching materials dedicated to fueling a new Reformation.” Here is the introduction, as well as the link which will take you to the remainder of the article. As always, thank you for taking the time to read my writings! I pray they are a blessing to all of you. Chad

I’m the spiritual equivalent of the guy who packs a King Size Snickers bar and a Dr. Pepper in his gym bag. I may hit the holy treadmill for a while, but my mind keeps wandering to the sugar high awaiting me. I want to be better, I try to be better. I say all the right prayers, speak all the right confessions, sing all the right songs, but all the while my lips are moving, it’s as if my heart is mumbling only half the words. Like the Christians at the church at Laodicea, who were neither hot nor cold, I’m always afraid God is ready to spit me out of his mouth (Rev 3:15-16).

I’m just not a very good Christian.

Case in point: on Sunday mornings, when I confess my sins, I say that “I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.” But those adverbs are like two accusing fingers pointed at my less-than-heartily-sorry, less-than-sincerely-repentant heart. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not merely going through the motions. I am indeed sorry and I do repent. The problem is that there’s still part of me—the old me, the recalcitrant Adam—that clings to excuses and savors the sweet memory of ex-sins. If my heart were hooked up to a lie detector, I’d be in trouble, for my motives for confession are a motley crew.

The same goes for my love of the Lord. There’s a hymn we sing at my church: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart.” It’s a killer hymn, powerful and beautifully true. But every time we sing it I feel the need to alter the words. If I were to sing a fully honest version, it would go something like this:

Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
The world has claimed the other part.
I pray Thy name be hallowed, Lord,
But want my name to be adored.
Thy kingdom come, Thy reign extend,
And rain on me wealth without end.
Thy will be done, my lips shall pray
And curse when I don’t get my way.
I thank Thee for my daily bread,
But cakes and steaks I crave instead.
My million sins forgive, forget,
While I collect a one-cent debt.
From tempting evils keep us free
Unless I find they pleasure me.
Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
The world has claimed the other part.

Here’s the question: Where does that leave me? Or, if you found yourself nodding your head, where does that leave us?

To continue reading, click here.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Why March 25 Is the Most Important Day in History

marypregnantWe tend to assume that big problems require equally big solutions. You don’t send a child to do a man’s job. That would be foolish.

If anybody should realize this, God should. I mean, it’s not like he needs a remedial course in being a divinity. He’s had all eternity to figure this stuff out. Nothing is his first rodeo.

Yet if the Almighty is consistent in anything, he’s consistent in being Unmighty in his most important missions. In what seems foolhardy to us, he sends tiny solutions to solve big problems.

Few days illustrate this better than today. What is today? Count forward nine months and you’ll find yourself in a Bethlehem stable. So today, March 25, is the Annunciation, the Conception Day of the Christ. Today’s the day you find yourself shaking your head at the crazy, bassackwards ways of God, who leapt from his throne above and landed as a two-celled embryo inside the fallopian tube of an unwed teenage virgin. God becomes no bigger than a dot to save a cosmos. He doesn’t just send a child to do a man’s job; he sends an embryo to do a God’s job.

We certainly can’t say that he didn’t know what he was getting into. After all he engineered the female reproductive system. And we certainly cannot say that he was not really an embryo, but only appeared to be one. Nor can we claim that he was a superhuman kind of baby, for he was just as human, if not more, than we are. No, when the Word became flesh, the potter the pot, the artist the canvas, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was becoming one of us, for us, for good. Jesus did not come down to earth to walk a mile in our shoes. He chose to live for the rest of eternity in our skin. He wasn’t interning; he was incarnating.

Didn’t he know how precarious a pregnancy can be? Yes, he knew. Didn’t God know he’d soon be sucking his thumb and pooping his diaper? Yes, of course. And didn’t he know, quite frankly, that sometimes being a human being means you get treated like a dog, kicked around, hated, lied about, stabbed in the back, slapped in the face, unjustly accused, falsely tried, publicly flogged, and unmercifully executed? Oh, yes, he knew that, too. But for the joy set before him, he entered the womb, suffered through puberty, fought the good fight, endured the cross, exploded the tomb. For what joy? For the joy of calling you brother and sister, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. For the joy of your salvation.

It all began inside a virgin, when her womb became the new Holy of Holies, where an embryo named both Jesus and Yahweh rested beneath the wings of those two virgin breasts. There God became man while yet remaining God, in order that we might become sons of heaven while yet remaining sons of earth.

And, in some ways, it ended there, too, for what remained to be accomplished? Yes, he would go on to be born, live, die, and rise again, but already in that womb, when he joined himself inextricably to our nature, we were assured victory. If there was ever any doubt about God’s commitment to humanity, the incarnation removed that doubt. God became a man forever. And thus he is our brother, our kinsman redeemer, the God who would move heaven and earth to save us.

In that unmighty dot of a human embryo dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And that’s all we needed.

I suppose God knew what he was doing after all.

A Prayer for the Annunciation of our Lord: We implore you, O Lord, to pour forth your grace on us that, as we have known the Incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel, so by his cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Lutheran Worship, 107).

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Pastors Don’t Always Want to Go to Church Either

I like the psalms, but I can’t pray some of them with a straight face. Psalm 122 is a prime example. David is a little too cheerful for me as he exclaims,

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

sleepinginchurchThat certainly doesn’t roll off my tongue when I roll out of bed on Sunday morning. Maybe my wife and I stayed out a little too late on Saturday night. There’s still yard work and grocery shopping and laundry and a hundred other things that need to be done before Monday comes around. There’s a voters’ meeting after church that I’d like to avoid at all costs. I’m likely to get corned by Mr. Meddler or Mrs. Gossipalot and have to find a way politely to excuse myself from their logorrhea. Or maybe I’m just bone tired. I want to chill. I don’t want to see people. I just want to stay home on Sunday morning, drink coffee, and do as little as possible. I’m not always smiling at the thought of going to the house of the Lord.

What may surprise you is that your pastor or priest doesn’t always want to go to church either. Maybe between sermon and Bible Study preparations; hospital visits; committee meetings; counseling sessions; visitor follow-ups; late night phone calls; and typing, copying, and folding the bulletins, he’s worked his butt off the last six days. He’s sick of being cooped up in church; he could really use a day at the beach or a long walk in the park. He tried to write a good sermon, but, in all honesty, this one he’s going to preach today is a total flop. He might even fall asleep in the pulpit while he’s preaching it. He doesn’t want to see Mr. Changehater, who’s been bellyaching for three months straight about the church not singing his favorite hymns, who sits there with his arms crossed over his chest during every song. He knows Mrs. Gossipalot is probably going to corner him, too, and express “Christian concern” about the fact that she just happened to notice that the nice young unmarried couple who sit in the back pew are living together in sin and wants to know if pastor is aware of this fact? Honestly, some Sunday mornings he doesn’t even want to be a pastor. He wishes he had a different vocation. He has zero desire to stand in the pulpit or at the altar. For once, he’d like to leave his alarm clock unset on Sunday morning, sleep till the sun’s up, and do nothing but be lazy. The last thing your pastor would pray is, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” What would make him very glad, however, is to stay at the house he calls home.

I’m not saying every Sunday, or even most Sundays, are like this for him. Nor am I saying that this is true of every pastor and priest—though I suspect most of them have been here more than they’d care to admit. But, for many, there are days when they’re as excited about going to work on Sunday morning as you are about going to work on Monday morning.

But here’s the point: he goes anyway. Glad or not, willing or not, he gets out of bed and gets himself to the house of the Lord. And in so doing, in a most unexpected way, he fulfills another duty of his office: he sets an example for his flock.

Nobody, not even your pastor, goes to the house of the Lord for entirely spiritually pure motives. Yes, he goes to church to hear the Word, but he also knows he has a mortgage and car payment due, not to mention tuition for his children, and those are hard to pay if he’s unemployed. Yes, he goes to the house of the Lord to receive the Supper, but he’s secretly glad to get out of his own house early since he and his wife had a disagreement the night before and there’s a bit of chill in the air. Indeed, he enjoys singing praises to the Lord, but the handshakes and pats on the back as his flock leave church leave him feeling a bit better about himself, too.

So, is he glad to go to the house of the Lord for the Lord’s sake or for his own sake? Yes.

In other words, your pastor is just like you are. He’s a deeply flawed human being, with an inflated ego, potentially thin skin, lust in his heart, selfish ambitions, and plenty of other nastiness hidden beneath his Sunday best. And for all those reasons, going to church is the best thing he can do, regardless of his motives. Because in church he’ll hear about the God who loves him despite his flaws, who calls him to repentance, and who stands ready to wash him in the waters of forgiveness. He’ll hear, in his own sermon(!), about the Christ who died and rose for him and Mr. Meddler and Mrs. Gossipalot and the young couple in the back of the church without wedding rings on. He will kneel at the altar and hear Christ say, “Take, eat, this is my body,” without ever questioning what his motives are for kneeling there. In the house of the Lord, the Spirit will apply the cleansing blood of Jesus to his heart full of bad and twisted and self-serving motives, so that his heart is pumped full of nothing but the pure, saving blood of Christ. And what God does for your pastor on Sunday morning, he does for you, regardless of whether you’re there for entirely right reasons or not.

Part of the vocation of your pastor is to go to the house of the Lord even on those hard days when he’d rather stay home. He sets an example for us who’d like to stay home many Sundays as well.

One thing is certain: when we’re not glad to go to the house of the Lord, the Lord is glad to have us there. And that’s really all that matters.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

It’s Okay to Pray for Oreos and Ice Cream at Breakfast

You can say one thing for James and John: they took Jesus at His Word. “Ask and you shall receive,” our Lord promised, so they asked with the full expectation of getting what they wanted. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” No hemming and hawing around. Not even a “Thy will be done,” thrown in to sound pious. Just this: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Simple enough, a straight-to-the-point request to the One they believed is the giver of all good things.

It’s easy to wag our fingers at these two brothers. “Just look at ‘em, elbowing their way up to the top. Good grief! Ought to be red-faced, those two, but there they are, not a smidgen of doubt, chests puffed out like they’ve already plopped down on those two seats.” But notice, if you will, who else is wagging their fingers in this story. It’s not Jesus. He has a few words of correction to say, all right, but the only accusatory fingers that are shaking are those belonging to the other disciples. They are the ones all put out by James and John. In fact, Jesus is the essence of patience with them. Correcting? Yes. But chewing out? No. Those indignant are the ones who feel ambushed, who not-so-secretly covet those seats for themselves and who just hadn’t got up the gumption yet to ask.

oreosTo their request that day, Jesus replied that they had no idea what they were asking. And, in that, James, John, and all of us are stuck in the same boat. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought. We’re like five-year-olds, begging for Oreo cookies and ice cream at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We want what is sweet; we want comfortable lives, happy families, secure jobs; we want our sports teams to win, to get a close parking spot at Wal-Mart, just enough sunshine and just enough rain. And, if it’s not asking too much, we wouldn’t mind a little more money, a nicer car, college degrees for our kids, and smiles on the faces of our grandchildren. Although we might not voice prayers for such things, if our hearts spoke to heaven, these are some of the things they would say.

And—hear me well—there is nothing wrong with desiring and praying for these things, for they are well and good, in and of themselves. James and John may have been told “no,” but they weren’t chided for making their request. Bold and audacious though it was, it was indeed a prayer of faith. They may not have known what to ask for, but they knew who to ask. And that’s what matters. Knowing exactly what God wants us to ask for isn’t what matters; what matters is that we ask Him. What matters is that we know that God invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that boldly and confidently we may ask Him as children ask their father, even if that request is for Oreos and ice cream for breakfast.

When you make such requests, know that God is going to give you what you ask for, or He’ll give you something better. Something better for you. My three-year-old son might not think oatmeal is better than ice cream, but I, his father, know that it is. So I give him what is best for him, because I love him. Now if I, an evil sinner, know how to give good gifts to my child, how much more will our Father who is in heaven give good things to you who ask Him?

To James and John, our Lord gave the cup from which He Himself would drink and the baptism with which He Himself would be baptized. To their lips would be pressed the chalice of martyrdom; they would receive the baptism of blood. The sword of Herod baptized the body of James. He was the first of the twelve who died as a witness to Him who died and rose again. And in that, James truly is preeminent. He received his crown.

In so doing, James received something of an answer to his request. What James really desired was to be beside his Lord Jesus. He wanted to sit not twelve seats away, not six, but smack-dab beside him. And so it was, yes, even better. For not only was James beside Christ, he was in Him and Christ was in James. He was conformed to the death of Jesus. He died in Him and rose in Him. He was crucified with Christ so that it was no longer James who lived, but Christ who lived in him. James learned what it means to come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a testimony to Him who gave His life as a ransom for many, as a ransom for you. James did not sit down at the right hand or the left hand of Christ; he sat down on the throne with our Lord, as do all those who are baptized into the body of the king of kings and the Lord of lords.

So now James, along with all the heavenly host, prays for you. They enjoy their Sabbath rest, but they also know of you who still labor, who still ask for Oreos and ice cream, who still don’t know what to pray for. So they ask the heavenly Father to give you what is best. And He does. He gives you Himself. He gives you a baptism with which to be baptized. He buries you into His flesh and resurrects you via that same flesh to a new life. He places a cup to your lips and bids you drink of the blood given and shed for you. He has given His life as a ransom for you, so that you are now His own. He has bought you at a price. You are His. Bold and impetuous as James, meek and bashful, young and foolish, old and foolish—it doesn’t matter who you are, but whose you are. You are His, His beloved child. And nothing in heaven or on earth can change that.

**A slightly revised version of this reflection appears in Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, which you can read more about below.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

What’s an Anchor Doing in the Holy of Holies?

The following article was published on the website Christ Hold Fast. It’s the story of a newly composed hymn sung to a dying woman, an anchor, and the Holy of Holies. At the end of these introductory paragraphs, there is a link you can click to read the entire article. Or simply click here to begin reading at christholdfast.com. Thank you!

Some of the last words our Lord spoke were addressed to a man who stood on the precipice of eternity. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” It was no time to blabber some sentimental nonsense. No occasion for chitchat. The words to a dying man must be words pregnant with life. These were. This man, who could taste the bitterness of death, swallowed the sweetness of life in these dying words to a dying man.

Edward Mote got this. When he paid a visit to the bedside of his friend’s wife, who was staring death in the face, what would he say? He would say what the Lord had given him to say earlier that day. On the way to work, he had penned a short chorus. By day’s end, he had four stanzas written on a scrap of paper folded in his pocket. His friend liked to sing hymns to his wife to comfort her, but that evening he had misplaced his hymnal. Out of his pocket Ed pulled the scrap of paper. Into this dying woman’s ears he sang,

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

And he continued to sing until he came to these words:

When darkness veils his lovely face

I rest on his unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil.

These stanzas were of such comfort to the man and his dying wife that he left a copy of the hymn for them—a hymn, written in 1834, that would wind up being one of the most beloved songs of the church.

If your words give hope to one who is dying, no matter how simple or how elegant they are, those words are poetry to the soul.

I wish every pastor, when he preaches to his flock, would look upon them as the thief on the cross, or as Edward Mote’s friend, and speak accordingly. Physical death may not befall them that day or that week, but death wears many a mask, and he comes calling in manifold ways. The death of a marriage. Death in addiction. The demise of hopes and dreams and friendships and careers. And in all these deaths, darkness veils Christ’s lovely face. When we need him most, he seems most absent. We are tossed about in the darkness, like a ship caught in a midnight storm, searching for him, for hope, for something stable…

To continue reading, please visit ChristHoldFast.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Tapping Snake Cages

NGS Picture ID:398783All it took was a quick tap on the wire cage. Though the back of my cousin’s hand touched that mesh for but an instant, an instant was all the rattlesnake required. He exploded from his coil, struck, inserted the fangs, injected the venom—all in a split second. As my cousin stared dumbfounded at his hand, two telltale red marks, like glowing crimson eyes, gloated on his teenage skin. Rapidly, the poison did what poison does; it spread. Over the next few hours, his hand and his arm expanded like a balloon. Finally, in a last ditch effort to prevent his skin from bursting, the doctors eased some of the pressure by cutting into his skin. He lived, but those knife lines on his hand, years later, remained as scars to remind him that the mouths of snakes have a storied history of wreaking havoc amidst humanity.

Of course, tapping the cage was foolhardy. But my cousin didn’t roll out of bed that morning with the intent to do something that would send poison coursing through his veins. Not every disastrous decision is premeditated. But consequences couldn’t care less about whether you planned your action or not. They simply follow. And like snakes, opportunities for evil are fat with poison, coiled, and ready to strike.

We’ve all tapped our hands against snake cages of one variety or another.

You really didn’t want that last beer but, hey, your buddy was buying and what harm could one more drink do anyway. And you knew you shouldn’t drive but it was late and you needed to get home. And you didn’t see the stop sign. And you didn’t see the mom with her two-year-old son in the back seat. But now, every day, every night, replayed over and over in your mind, you see the flashing lights and hear the screams.

The bills kept piling up, your husband got laid off last month, and the kids kept getting sick, kept needing more visits to the doctor. And when you got to your second job that evening, there was some loose cash just lying there on the edge of the desk. And you didn’t take much, just enough to help at home. And you planned to repay it when you got back on your feet. And you didn’t see the other employee watching you from across the store as you slipped it into your pocket.

You didn’t run out of the room, Joseph-like, when things got out of hand and the woman came onto you. You didn’t think about the fact that one little lie would require ten more lies which would demand a hundred more lies—all to cover for the first one. You didn’t plan to try drugs at the party.

You didn’t wake up any of these morning and think to yourself, “Today, I’ll tap my hand against a snake cage. I’ll drink too much and take a life, steal and wind up in jail, have an affair, lie, do drugs. I’ll give that snake, coiled and ready, the opportunity he needs to strike at my heart, inject his poison, and send my life downward toward death.” But planned or not, premeditated or not, it happened. And now you find yourself full of a venom and in dire need of an antidote.

I’ve been there, more than once, and felt the venom choking out the life within me. I made the same excuses you’ve probably made yourself. Initially you blame it on others. You blame it on circumstances supposedly outside your control. Maybe you even blame God. But eventually you face the fact that there’s no one to blame but the person who tapped the snake cage. Premeditated or not, you and only you invited this venom into your body, this evil percolating in your soul, and now you don’t know where to turn.

Let me tell you about someone who suffered from a snakebite as well. Only he didn’t tap the cage. With full premeditation, knowing exactly what was about to happen, he slid off his shoe, shoved his foot in the face of an uncaged snake, and let that serpent strike his heel. Not only that, he held it there and let the snake strike again and again and yet again, until every drop of venom passed from that serpent into his heel, into his body. It worked its way upward, through his calf to his thigh to his abdomen to his chest and finally to his head. His whole body pulsed with poison. Indeed, he became so fat with venom it seemed he would burst. And just at the last moment, before death finally came, he raised his foot as high as the heavens, and slammed down his heel upon the head of the snake. He crushed that serpentine skull beneath his stricken heel. And, his mission accomplished, he collapsed in death. The snake slayer died, and the snake and all its poison died with him.

Long ago, when evil first made its appearance in this world, God promised this snake slayer. He promised Eve that one of her seed would crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent would strike his heel (Genesis 3:15). And the Lord stood behind that promise. When Christ Jesus came, he shoved his foot in the face of the coiled devil. As the nails pierced his hand and feet, the fangs of your sin, your death, your evil pierced his heel. Every drop of venom that could harm you passed from you to him. What’s more, he put his mouth upon all those spots where the snake has struck you and sucked out every bit of the poison from your body. He made your sins his own. Your lies and your lust, your murder and your theft, everything. And when he cried out, “It is finished,” evil was finished, too. Your sin was finished. In death he crushed the head of evil, he smashed your sins into oblivion. They are no more.

It is to him we turn for the cure. He is the antidote. In Christ Jesus you will find no accuser, only a forgiver. In this snake slayer, you will find the one who gives you only life. He who sucked away all your poison will pour into you the blessed liquid of peace and absolution. He is lifted up on the cross to lift you up to himself. You die there with him and rise with him to newness of life. You are a new person in him who makes all things new.

For God loved the world, he loved you, in this way: He sent his Son to slay the serpent, to suck away all the venom from your veins, and to fill your veins with his pure and holy blood, that you may not perish but have everlasting life.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

What Bible Story Has CSI’s Fingerprints All Over It?

crime-scene-tape-fingerprintIf the CSI crowd delves into Bible stories, I bet there’s a knowing gleam in their eyes when they cross the yellow crime scene tape that hangs in the middle of Genesis 4. The murder case is pretty much a no-brainer. The victim is one of a total human population of four. That certainly narrows down the suspect list. He was last seen heading out into the field with his older brother. And we know there’s been bad blood between them. It’s an open-and-shut case.

What I think would pique the interest of the CSI folks is the interrogation of the perp.

God: “Where is Abel, your brother?”
Cain: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
God: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”

If there’s a verse in all of Scripture that could be chiseled in stone above the offices and labs of Crime Scene Investigation units, this is it: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Our blood has loose lips. It’s no good at keeping secrets. By analyzing the pattern of blood stains at a crime scene, investigators can recreate the events that led up to the murder. And the blood itself tells our inner story, everything from our DNA to our diseases. Our veins conceal secrets of which we ourselves are not even consciously aware. If Abel’s blood is spilled all over the ground or if a mere speck had been lodged in the fabric of Cain’s shirt, that blood cries out. It has a voice and it will speak to whomever is willing to listen.

The Lord certainly listens. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. And the spilled blood of his saints is a language to which God is all ears. The martyrs of ISIS may be led to the slaughter as silent as lambs, but the lips of their severed veins utter words that pierce heaven’s veil. He hears them as he hears babies slaughtered in utero, teens with slit wrists, and soldiers whose homecomings are never to be.

But not only does the Lord hear bleeding bodies; he hears the bleeding hearts of children who feel rejected and unloved, lonely women whose hearts have been fissured by the infidelity of men, men whom the world has wadded up and thrown into the garbage heap. The voice of the blood from their broken hearts cries out from alleys and empty beds and dead-end lives. And that voice travels upward, to the Lord who is all ears, all heart, all the time.

The author of Hebrews says that the blood of Jesus speaks a “better word than the blood of Abel,” (12:22).  The well-known Lenten hymn would have us sing,

Abel’s blood for vengeance,
Pleaded to the skies,
But the blood of Jesus,
For our pardon cries.

But I think the poet may be mistaken. What if Abel’s blood not for vengeance but for pardon pleaded to the skies? Cain’s little brother is a model of fidelity, whose faith was manifest on earth and witnessed from heaven at the altar. Like the crucified messiah, Abel the martyr pleaded for heaven to forgive Cain, for he knew not what he did. And since the life is in the blood, that blood continued to cry out to God, even as Abel’s body lay lifeless in the dust. It sought not vindication but mercy, forgiveness for the crime of which he was the victim. The blood of Jesus speaks a “better word than the blood of Abel,” for it speaks in a superior way. It grants in full that which Abel’s blood only gave in part. For the blood of Jesus finished the prayer for mercy that the blood of Abel began.

The blood of Jesus refuses to be silent. It speaks on your behalf. It is your voice, your advocate before the Father’s throne. The blood of Christ says that you are his brother. He has adopted you into the family so that you are a child of our Father in heaven. So do not think, even for a moment, that your wounds are unknown to the Lord. If even the hairs on your head are numbered, then certainly so are your scars. The voice of your blood, your hurts, your losses, cries out to God, for your voice merges with the voice that once cried out, “Father, may these children be with me wherever I am…sanctify them in the truth…forgive them…it is finished….” Your blood mixes with Christ’s blood, your hurts with his pains, your losses with his death, your all with his all, so that in one mass crimson choir the voice of Jesus and all who are his rises unified to the Father and reverberates in his throne room. He hears; how could he not hear those who are his very heart? He acts; how could he who is love not act in love for his saints?

The Lord who is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He is near you, he will save you, for you are in Christ, whose blood cries out for mercy, at all times, for you.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

We Need Less Goliath, and More Bathsheba

I wrote this article for Liberate.org, the website associated with the ministry of Tullian Tchividjian. If it piques your interest, please click on the link below to read the rest of the article. And check out Liberate’s website while you’re there. Loads of grace-centered resources on those pages.

five-stones-a-sling2When I was a kid, I roamed the alleys and nearby fields with a pocket full of pebbles and a slingshot in hand. My grandfather had carved me the slingshot from the fork of a mesquite tree, native to our New Mexico soil. I’d even burned my name into the wood using the sun and a magnifying glass. As you might expect, my favorite Sunday School story was David and Goliath. In my make-believe world, I was that boy from Bethlehem, and sparrows the Philistine giants. It felt good to be the hero who takes down the foe. I was but a boy. I was new to the world. I loved Bible stories about saints who conquered.

When I became a man, I roamed the highways and byways of this world with a pocketful of dreams and a degree in my hand. There were ladders to climb, and I climbed them. I carved out a place for myself in this world. I had a bright, secure future. My favorite Bible story remained David and Goliath, for I saw myself in him, conquering this, and overcoming that. I was the boy from Bethlehem, only now a man, and giants were my prey. It felt good to be on top, making my place in the world. I still loved Bible stories about saints who conquered.

You know where this story is going, don’t you? You can feel it in your gut. Who knows, maybe I’m in the middle of telling your story. Let’s make it our story, why don’t we. And let’s tell it like it is.

When I became a man, I became a man like David. Like the David who, instead of going out to war, stayed home and fell prey to lust, to fear, to lies, to murder, to cover-up, and finally to repentance and forgiveness. When I became a man, I became a man like Noah, who planted a vineyard, got wasted, and fell asleep naked as a jaybird. When I became a man, I became a man like Abraham, who lied about his wife and put her life and chastity in danger just to save his own neck. When I became a man, I became a man like Judah the prostitute-user, Aaron the idol-maker, Gideon the doubter, and the list goes on and on. “Show me a hero,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “and I’ll write you a tragedy.” Show me a prideful man, I would add, and I’ll write about his downfall.

To continue reading, click here

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Dark Sacraments in My Jail Cell

My dad had warned me that this might happen, but I don’t suppose I fully believed him at the time. But sure enough, he was spot on. Here I was, in broad daylight, on a winding web of dirt roads I’d driven over a thousand times, and I was as lost as lost can be.

For the past two years, when the sun had set, I’d head to work. Driving a truck on the night shift in the Texas oil field means (1) you’re thrown out into no-man’s land; (2) given hand-drawn maps with landmarks like windmills, pump jacks, and trees; and (3) expected to find a handful of gas wells. After a few godawful weeks, you begin to get a feel for the dark. You familiarize yourself with the black terrain, the serpentine ruts, the landmarks on which your headlights shine. The darkness becomes your home.

Which is why, on that sunny day in the summer of 2009, I sat in the cab of my truck utterly befuddled. I had switched from the night to the day shift. I did the same work, drove the same areas. But just like my dad had warned me, none of these roads looked the same in the daytime. I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d grown to the darkness until the day I was lost in the light.

Nor did I realize, at that time, that my life had taken on the form of a parable, that I had become (what Scripture calls) a child of darkness. You may think you know what I mean, but reflect with me for a moment. I don’t mean simply that I “loved the darkness rather than the light because my deeds were evil,” as Jesus says (John 3:19). While that is true, there was deeper magic at work. I loved the darkness because I feared all the good things in the light.

It’s easier to hunker down in darkness when you want to bite at old wounds. You may hate them, but those wounds are also precious to you. They take on almost sacramental value. “Take, bite, this old wound,” you tell yourself, “given for you for the retaining of pain.” To live and relive that loss, that shame, helps define you. You are the betrayed one, the hurt one, the lost one. If you go into the light, and Jesus licks that wound for you, it will truly begin to heal. But healing will mean you lose that evil by which you understood your existence. Who you are will no longer be defined by circumstances you think you control. You will, in fact, lose your self-created identity in the Christ who swallows you into himself, so that you become as he is. In the darkness, it’s easier to be the old you; in the light, you become a new you, a member of the body of Christ. As good as that is, to a son of darkness, nothing is more frightening.

jailcellIn the darkness, it was easier to make-believe that I exercised a sort of divine control over my life. In the light is freedom, but I preferred the narrowly defined, clearly articulated, walls of my lightless jail cell. Here I could conduct my rituals of wound-biting, skirt-chasing, revenge-plotting, alcohol-forgetting, porn-watching, hope-hating, and a host of other mental and physical forms of slavery. But those were better than living in the light, because in the light I would be free—free to hope again, love again, live again in the grace and forgiveness of the God who won’t let me be god.

I loved the darkness because I feared all the good things in the light. Like that day I sat in my truck cab, lost as I looked over a landscape illumined by the sun, the man who has grown accustomed to the darkness is frightened of freedom. Freedom means I am not shackled anymore to what hurt me, or how I hurt others, but live in unchained liberty in a landscape of grace. You cannot truly get lost in the light, yet this is a frightening thing to one who likes being lost. You cannot be unloved in the light, yet this is scary to one who believes himself unlovable, loved with qualifications, loved so long as he conforms. You are forgiven in the light, yet there is a certain twisted consolation in thinking I am unforgiven, because that sin to which I’m bound is a drug to which I’m addicted.

I will tell you the truth: living in the darkness is easier than living in the light, but it is an ease that slowly chokes every ounce of life away. I know, I know too well, for that darkness was my foul jail cell for years. I scratched my creeds onto the floor. I bit my wounds. I celebrated my profane mysteries within those blackened walls. And I feared the light and freedom and love and forgiveness of life in the light, of a life inextricably bound up in the life of Jesus Christ.

But he would not let the jail cell be my final resting place, nor will he let it be yours. He leaps into the darkness with his wild and reckless love. He enters our cells that reek of decomposing lives, and he pulls us up from the floors on which we crouch in fear. He pries open our fingers to take away the idols to which we cling. He pours over our heads a bucket of warm, soapy water, mixed with his crucifixion blood, and he washes away every smudge of sin and stink and death. And finally, he picks us up and carried us out into the light. At first, it hurts. It’s blinding. It’s too free. But he won’t let us go. He holds us there. To our trembling hearts, he whispers, “Listen, I love you. I have never stopped loving you. All is well now. You are forgiven. Your past no longer defines you. I define you, for you are mine. All I have is yours. My peace, my hope, my Father, my everything is yours. You are free.”

Yes, you are free. In Christ, our crucified Brother, we are liberated to be the children of our heavenly Father. To run and laugh on the playground of his grace. To see on his face nothing but a beaming smile of favor. To be blessedly lost in a love that knows no limitations. All this is yours, for you are of Christ, and Christ is of God, and God is all for you.

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Bible Story That Goes All Wrong

adamevefigleavesI wasn’t wearing fig leaves for underwear, but I’d just as well have been. That day I felt more like Adam than I ever had before, or since. The forbidden fruit, far from digesting, sat like a rock on the bottom of my gut. The man who stood before me was my boss. I was in his office to come clean, to tell him what I’d done. I’d lied to him before, lied to his face. And I was afraid. O dear God, was I afraid. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of the truth. I tell you, I was afraid of damn near everything. Most of all, I was afraid of how he would react.

I soon found out. I told him what I’d done. How I’d lied. How I’d broken the commandment. How I’d listened to the serpent, plucked the fruit, and loved the taste of it so much that I’d gorged myself. I had prepared himself for his anger. I knew it was coming. And I deserved every bit of it. If he had wagged his finger in my face, shoved me out the door, and told me to get the hell out of there and never come back, I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I think I would have been a little relieved. At least then, I would have convinced myself that I’d paid for a tiny bit of my sin by suffering such rejection.

His reaction was totally wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When I’d finished confessing, he didn’t start yelling. Out of his mouth came words like forgiveness, grace, Christ, clean slate. He was saying all the wrong things. This isn’t how bosses are supposed to speak. They’re supposed to hammer out words like deserve, punishment, consequences, disappointment. He didn’t. He shocked me by being gracious to me. He spoke as a father would to his son. And this son, who heard those paternal words of grace and absolution, would, to this day, relive that moment time and again as one of the most defining moments of his life. That day, instead of getting what I deserved, I received nothing but love.

I may have walked into that office wearing fig leaves, but I walked out clothed in the skin of the Lamb of God.

The story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to go, either. It’s all wrong. When God enters the garden that infamous day, he’s supposed to march in with an iron hand and a tongue pulled back, ready to lash. After all, he had given his children everything; they wanted for nothing. Yet these stupid, selfish people do what stupid, selfish people always do: they go and ruin it all. What they needed was punishment—swift, complete, merciless justice. They had it coming. That’s the way things were supposed to go.

But they don’t. In God’s first question to fallen humanity, he asks, “Where are you?” And in that question—merely one word in Hebrew—is packed a whole theology of who God is.

Where are you? God wasn’t seeking information; he knew where they were. He was fully aware of what they’d done. He was also fully aware of the fallout from this fall. Yet he asks, “Where are you?” Just as he will later ask murdering Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” or hating Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” or persecuting Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” In these questions is the answer. The answer is a confession, a repentance, an embrace of the forgiveness offered and bestowed by the God who seeks and saves the lost.

The story of Genesis 3 doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, the way I expect it to, because God works contrary to my expectations. I expect wrath and he pours out mercy. I expect judgment and he speaks absolution. I expect the end and he gives me a new beginning.

The Lord does indeed go on to tell Adam and Eve that things will not be in this world as they were before. There will be pain in childbirth. There will be thorns and thistles and sweat on the brow. When I left my boss’s office that day, there were still pains in my life; I still bear the scars of the thorns and thistles. But I bear something better, too, as did our first parents. I bear a promise from the God who is love, that in love he has provided a Seed who crushed the head of the lying viper, a Seed who sucked up into his heel the death that I deserved, that he might pour into me the life that I don’t deserve.

That promise makes all the difference. It is the promise that God in Christ does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his evil way and live. It is the promise that God does not deal with us according to our sins, but is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I hope one day that God asks me, “Chad, where are you?” I know what I’ll tell him, “Father, I am right here, in your Son, Jesus Christ. That’s where I am.”

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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