When the Pulpit Apes the World

preacher-at-pulpit-copySomething happens inside churches where outrage over society’s immoralities seasons every Sunday sermon. It’s rather unexpected, and rarely noticed. The more a preacher makes a habit of lambasting the evils of a culture; the more he makes the necessity of a morally pure life the center of his sermons; the more he directs his flock to the keeping of the divine law as their defining characteristic—the more he does all this, the more that preacher actually urges his church to adopt the ways of the world.

It’s as sad as it is true: the more law-centered a church becomes, the more like the world it becomes.

The way of the world is the way of the law. That law may sometimes be in synch with the divine law, such as when societies prohibit murder and stealing. That law may sometimes be of the world’s own devising. Either way, these outward laws reflect an interior disposition: my identity, my self-worth, the means by which I find fulfillment in life, is determined by what I do. Maybe I follow the rules of my group within society. Maybe I become a law unto myself by making my own rules and following the dictates of my heart. In the end, it’s all the same. My self-understanding arises out of my behavior. I am who I am because I do what I do. The way of the world is the way of the law.

And the way of far too many churches is the way of the law as well. Beneath the surface, legalistic Christians are little different from those they often deride. Their identity as Christians, their worth, the means whereby they find fulfillment in life, is determined by the morality they choose and the immorality they avoid. The Christian life becomes little more than following a list of do’s and don’ts. Moral outrage over society’s evils becomes a favorite pastime because, to some degree, it boosts their own feeling of intimacy with the great Moral Divinity before whom they bow the knee. The self-understanding of the law-centered Christian arises out of his behavior. He is who he is because he does what he does. The way of such Christians, and the way of such churches, is the way of the law.

Thus, the more law-centered a church becomes, the more it and the world become kissing cousins.

What then, shall preachers stop preaching the divine law? By no means. The law must be preached. God’s commands for how we are to live must be proclaimed. Evil must be pointed out. Sinners must be called to repentance. This is what the law does; and, oh, does it do it well. It always teaches right from wrong, it always commands, and—because we are sinners—it always accuses.

And there is one more thing the law does: it never gives us what we ultimately need.

The law can tell us, day and night, what to do and what not to do, and we will never do it perfectly. The law can instruct and warn, urge and command, entice and promise, but it cannot say, “You are loved by God.” It cannot say, “You are forgiven.” The law cannot say, “You have peace with God in Jesus Christ. He has kept the law for you. He loves and embraces you as you are. He welcomes you as a brother or sister.” The law can do many thing, but it cannot deliver the good news we need more than anything else.

It is the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ that gives us fulfillment in life, for it fills us with God himself. This good news is that we are who we are because Christ is who he is: our friend, our brother, our Savior. Our identity is not that of law-keepers or law-breakers but the friends of Jesus. Who we are is swallowed up by who he is.

What we ultimately need—what everyone needs—is reconciliation and peace with God in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we have. The cross was the pulpit from which Jesus preached his love and forgiveness to the world. And that message is still to permeate pulpits every Sunday.

The more grace-centered, Gospel-focused a church becomes, the more unlike the world it becomes. And the more it proclaims to the world what it truly needs to hear.

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What 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 Expect Too Little from God

ManLookingAtStarsWhen God comes to us, He brings more than we expect. Our expectations are tiny, His gifts large. We ask for a drop, He pours an ocean; for a morsel, He spreads a feast. Such is the difference between man and God. Despite the fact that our lives are supposedly so global these days, our worlds are minuscule, their circumferences not much bigger than the decorative globes we can spin with one finger. The global financial crisis is no bigger to us than the mortgage we may or may not be able to pay this month. Global communications no bigger than the phone call from a friend that may or may not come when we need it. My world is small, full of the continents of my emotions, the oceans of my fears, the mountains of my hopes and dreams. And nightmares.

I am perhaps not much different from Abraham. God Almighty appears to him, but all Abraham asks about is a baby. His baby, Sarah’s baby, the one still but a gleam in Abraham’s dreary eyes. “Tell me about this baby, God, my baby that You promised would come. And hasn’t. You tell me not to fear, but how is an old man not to fear that he will die childless? You tell me You are my shield, but can a shield arrest all these arrows of doubt? You tell me my reward shall be very great, but the only ‘reward’ I see is me dying and leaving my inheritance not to a son but to a servant. You promise me the world, but all I see is dust falling between my wrinkled fingers back to the earth that soon shall swaddle my bones.”

So God expands Abraham’s world. He takes him by the arm and ushers him outside. He points his eyes star-ward and tells him to do the arithmetic. “Put a number on those faraway suns, Abraham. Go ahead. So shall your descendants be.” Astronomy became theology. “You want a baby? Very well, then I’ll give you a child. And I’ll give him children, and those children more children, until the stars themselves shall blink in astonishment at the number of your offspring.”

You expect too little from God. He wants to give you the world, and you beg for a grain of sand. Perhaps it is cowardice; we shrink away from God’s godness and almightiness, and so shrink down our prayers. Perhaps it is a lack of faith; we don’t trust God to give what He himself has promised to give. Perhaps it is self-sufficiency; we want to take care of ourselves, for we suppose we’re just fine flying solo.

But God doesn’t appear to Abraham, or to you, as a tightfisted miser. He’s anything but that. To Abraham He promises a soon-to-be-born baby, a world of descendants, the Holy Land, and his family’s rescue from Egypt when that day comes. He’s going to give it all and then some, and then some more. And just when you think He’s all out, He’ll show up once again and surprise you with grace.

You may or may not believe this. But your belief or the lack thereof changes nothing. You can believe the earth is flat or that politicians will soon stop lying, but your belief won’t alter reality. Reality is that God is good. His goodness knows no bounds. Your unbelief will not bind Him. Your un-great expectations of Him will not bind him. He will be bound by no man from being good to that man, whether the man desires, expects, or curses the gift of God when it lands in his lap.

Abraham, bless him, was eager for something tangible by which to know the Lord would do what He promised. I can’t blame him. Even though taking God solely at His word is admirable, thankfully for us God makes that word visible. We are creatures of earth, and so in earthly guise our God comes to say, “See, I mean what I say.” To Abraham God appears as a smoking oven and flaming torch that passed through the bloody gauntlet of sacrifices that Abraham had hacked in two. A rather weird sight it must have been, but our God has been known to do some rather strange things. This was His way of making a covenant, a pact, with Abraham. As much as to say, “I’m as good as my word. And if I’m not, then may my fate be as one of these butchered beasts.” But God was to be no butchered beast because He does stick to His word, come hell or high water.

But, ironically, God was to become a baby, much like the baby He promised to Abraham. The Lord became His own promise—the gift-giver became the gift. And that gift is enough for you, for that gift is all there is. Abraham was to get his son, grandchildren, the Holy Land, the whole shebang. All we get is a baby, yet that baby is our world and much more. He made those stars that Abraham could not count. He knitted together in their mother’s wombs all those babies who would call Abraham father. He came to reveal, that God cannot stop giving the very best.

Jesus explodes our small conceptions of a small-giving God. There is no war within you that Jesus cannot end with peace. There is no wound in your soul so deep that He cannot heal it with His love. Your life may be as bloody and sickening as those cutup corpses through which God passed as the oven and torch, but God will still pass through. In fact, He’ll do better. He’ll stop in the midst of the slaughter your life has become and start putting you back together again. Only He can do that. And He does it well, for being good and doing good for you is what He’s all about.

Come outside and stand beside Abraham. Count those stars. So shall your gifts be. Go to the beach and count the grains of sand. So shall be the number of times God blesses you. Travel to Bethlehem and stand before the manger. There you shall see, in a new and living way, the oven and torch of God. That baby become man become sacrifice become victor become almighty king at the Father’s right hand—He shall pass through the bloody mess of your life and bring healing. He cannot do otherwise, for love compels Him to do only what is good for you. Love him, as Abraham did. Befriend him, as Abraham did. Believe in him, as Abraham did. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall be your shield, your very great reward.

This meditation is an excerpt from my book, Christ Alone (see below).
Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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What 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!

Families in Turmoil

I know a family in turmoil. The mom and dad are at odds over the children; the younger brother has lied to and stolen from his older brother. He’s so crazy with rage that he’s plotting to murder his kid brother. And this same older brother, mad at his dad, too, finds out what really gets under the old man’s skin and sets out to do that very thing to spite him. And the younger brother—the thief and liar—is so scared for his life that he runs away from home.

I know this messed up family. And you probably do, too. Their names are Isaac and Rebecca, Esau and Jacob. Broken homes such as theirs, full of broken hearts, broken promises, anger, spite, guilt, and all kinds of nastiness, are nothing new.

Here is Jacob, the younger brother, the man on the run. Asleep with a rock for a pillow. Alone between a past full of deceit and a future fat with fear. And there, in the midnight of his sleep, he dreams a dream no mortal had ever dreamed before. A ladder stretching to the stars, the stairway of angels. Up to heaven and down to earth the angels go. From Jacob to God they ascend, from God to Jacob they descend. Here is a living bridge from creature to creator. And the Lord speaks, “I am the God of your grandfather, Abraham, the God of your dad, Isaac. And I am your God, too, Jacob.” He is a God with a past full of promises and a future full of their fulfillment. He doesn’t scold this sleeper for having had a deceitful past. He doesn’t give him a tongue-lashing for his theft. He promises him the very land on which Jacob lies; descendants as numerous as the grains of dust that are his bed; and most importantly, the God at the top of the ladder says, “I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Wow, that sounds sweet, doesn’t it? All these grand promises. But maybe you’re thinking: “Where’s God when I need a dream like that? Where’s God when my real life feels more like a nightmare—one that goes on and on and on? Jacob had it bad I suppose; but I tell you what, that runaway and I could compare scars. Let me tell you about my dysfunctional family. Let me tell you what it feels like to crave love from those closest to you and not get it. Let me tell you what’s it like to lie in bed at night and pray you don’t wake up in the morning just so all the pain will be over. Let me tell you not about my dreams but about my fear to dream, my fear to hope. Let me show you my scars.” Maybe that’s what you’re thinking.

If you are, let me tell you something. You may not believe it; you may even scoff at the claim, but here’s the truth: God hears your roar of pain on the other side of your silence. He counts every tear you let escape, or refuse to let go, from the ocean of anguish inside you. He is your God, too, as much as He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and that deceiving, stealing, runaway Jacob. And since He is your God, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, neither things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate you from the love He has for you in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing and no one.

And here’s the thing about God: He actually keeps His promises. For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. When you’ve made more stupid mistakes than even you can remember. When you’ve hurt virtually everyone who’s tried to love you. When you can barely stand to look at your face in the mirror because all you see is shame and failure staring back at you, mocking you. When it feels like you’ve wallowed in the mud of hell itself, you have a God who loves you. You have a God who cares. You have a God who will stand up publicly beside any man or any woman, embrace them, forgive them, and say to the world, “This is my child. I love him. I love her. And I defy you to say otherwise.” You have a God like that. You have a God who cannot and will not stop loving you and keeping you and dying to make you right.

These are grand promises, and they are as real as your pain and doubt and fear. But they are better, and stronger, because they are God’s grand promises, and He stands behind them. You want a dream like Jacob’s? You want a ladder and the pretty angels and God up top all strong and talking to you? You want too little. You need more than that. You need more than a dream. You need something concrete. And you got it.

You need a God who pushes the angels aside and climbs down the ladder. You need a God who doesn’t just make promises, but also keeps them, and who Himself becomes promise and fulfillment. You need a God who not only comes down that ladder from heaven, but also brings heaven with Him, who pulls heaven downward and lifts earth heavenward, and fuses the two together in His very own body. The God of heaven, the Man of earth, in one person, Jesus the Son of Mary, the Son of the Father.

You see greater things than Jacob saw. You see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. You see people with broken lives, from broken families, with broken and bleeding hearts, welcomed into the kingdom where they find peace that they dared not even dream existed this side of the grave. You see people whom society has rejected, whom friends have shunned, called friends of God, heirs of the kingdom, sons and daughters of the king. Do you see yourself there? There you are. That is who you are because of Christ Jesus.

Show your scars to Him and He will show you His. His scars endured to heal your own. He will take your scarred heart in his scarred hands and love you, and love you, and love you still more, until all that matters is not the scar upon your heart, but the scar embedded in His hand. All that will matter is not how hellish life can sometimes be, but rather how heaven itself is grasped in this God who came to earth to be Himself that ladder by which we ascend to the Father. He will wipe away your tears, cleanse you of your shame, embrace you as a member of His family, and tell you, “I am with you. I am Emmanuel. I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and your God, now and unto ages of ages, and even forevermore.”

This meditation is an excerpt from my book, Christ Alone (see below).
Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

What 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!

Christianity Is Not for Everyone

Let’s face it, Christianity is not for everyone.

saintstickmanIf you’re a religious person who has made such huge strides in holiness that you deem grace a crutch for those still handicapped by sin, who can detect the faint applause of angels clapping their wings at your record of obedience, who has led such an exemplary life that you’ve landed a spot on heaven’s honor roll, then you’ll feel like you’re slumming in Christianity, for Jesus calls poor, miserable sinners, not those who sport homemade halos.

If you’ve clawed, rung by rung, up the ladder of life and now, kicked back on a pedestal of success, look down your nose on the masses of good-for-nothings who’ll never be your peers, then you’ll have no use for the God of failures who bled between lawbreakers.

If you’re strutting around with a trophy wife on your arm, chest puffed out as you eye the envy of your inferiors, and ever on the prowl for the next conquest in business or bed or boardroom, then the God who kisses the loser in the gutter will only disgust your elevated sensitivities.

If you’ve walled yourself in so you don’t have to rub shoulders with people that could use a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a handout now and then, a listening ear, a whispered prayer, then the God who calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves will seem hopelessly out of touch with your insulated life of self-sufficiency.

If you smile at the man in the mirror because by not smoking and drinking and womanizing and gambling and swearing, you’ve built up a moral bank account so fat with cash you could open a pawn shop of piety and lend out your righteousness to others, then you’ll be scandalized at the Father who sprints like a madman to throw his arms around the neck of the returning prodigal.

Yes, Christianity is not for everyone.

But if, rich or poor, you realize that your moral bank account is penniless, that you have no righteous riches to fill the wallets of others, much less God, then let me tell you about the God who, though he was rich, for your sake became poor, that he might enrich you with golden blood minted in divinity’s veins.

If your life is one screw-up after another, if your closets are so packed with skeletons that you’ve had to rent space at a storage facility for the overflow, if you’ve served time for your crimes, if you’re afraid the ceiling will collapse if you darken the doors of a church, then let me tell you about a Savior who went out of his way to hang with society’s pariahs so as to earn the nickname “friend of sinners.”

If you’re at the end of your rope, if the dark walls are closing in, if you’ve walked onto that bridge ten times with the goal of making a final dive into the black waters, then let me tell you about the God who knew that you were so important and so precious to him; who has such crazy, wild love for you; that he smiled at death and said, “Take me,” in order that he might take you in his arms, make you alive, and love you back into hope again.

If you’re lost and hurt and guilty and trapped and can’t seem to do a damn thing about it; if you’re basically happy with life but still feel a biting hunger within you that no earthly delight can satisfy; if you’re bored with your existence and keep thinking that there must be something else to life; if you’re straight or gay, divorced or married, addicted or clean, young or old; then Christianity is for you.

And Christianity is not a religion; it’s a person. It’s Jesus, the God of flesh and blood, who is looking at you even as you read these words, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I forgave you before you even knew you needed forgiveness; died for you even before you were born; rose for you even before you knew you were dead and needed my life. I am your God—all yours— and you are my child—all mine.

That’s Christianity; it’s all gift, and that gift is Christ for you.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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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!

Christianity That Jesus Doesn’t Believe In

tightropeAs he walked up to get another box from my hand, he said, “It seems to me that all religions do is constantly argue over whose god is the biggest.”

Most of my deep theological discussions take place not in ivory towers or musty libraries, but at the tail end of a semi. This was no different. I was delivering to a cabinet shop. We had two pallets to break down. So I pulled away the shrink wrap, cut the straps, handed down the boxes, and talked God with a young atheist.

Our conversation had—as conversations are wont to do—meandered. We drifted from video games to fantasy books to dragons to Satan to the Bible, all the way to the time his mother slapped him for questioning something in the New Testament. Part of his backstory involves his ex-wife’s parents—a “devout Christian family”—hampering all of his efforts to reconnect with his children. Bad experiences with believers and growing up in a legalistic church have largely formed his view of Christianity.

“Not my God,” I replied. “My God is the smallest.”
He stopped midway to the warehouse and turned to look at me.
“He came down from heaven and became a baby in Mary’s womb.”
He smiled. He knew the story.
“I don’t argue over whose god is the biggest. Listen, my God loves you so much he was willing to die for you. That’s the simple message of Christianity: You are forgiven in Jesus Christ—the God who died for you.”

My atheist friend said, “I wish more Christians thought like you do.”There is a christianity that Jesus doesn’t believe in. It surfaces in cathedrals of stone and store-front tabernacles of praise, all the way from the papacy to the pentecostals. It has oozed its way through all Christianity. It masquerades as the child of truth, but it’s nothing more than the offspring of a hook-up between religiosity and reason. It’s the christianity my young atheist friend grew up with.

The goal of this christianity is to keep folks on the straight and narrow by poking and prodding them with the cross. Its creed is: “Jesus died for you so that you’d live for him.” The blood of Jesus is fuel in the tank of your soul for a life lived to the glory of God. The focus of this christianity is to get you saved and then for the real work to begin—the work of gradually transforming you into a law-keeping, sin-avoiding, Bible-toting, tithe-giving member of the kingdom of good people that God applauds. At its essence, this christianity arises from the perceived need to get right with God; the belief that Jesus came to show us how to do that; the view of the Bible as the instruction book for life; and the understanding of the church as the temple of moral formation.

All that’s missing from this christianity is everything that’s important. When Paul summarized his ministry, he didn’t say, “I determined to know nothing among you except the Ten Commandments and right living.” He said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:1). Did Paul preach the law? Of course he did. Should pastors today preach the law? Of course they should (and do).

But if Jesus Christ and him crucified are tacked on to the end of sermons like a P.S. to a letter, then most of the ink on that page is not the crimson of grace. If Jesus Christ and him crucified does not permeate the Bible classes and Sunday School rooms of a congregation; provide the content for all pastoral care and counseling; and trumpet forth from the hymns and songs; then what is there? You know what’s there: admonitions to holy living, lists of spiritual principles, goals of a godly life. No wonder that when young people grow up in a law-saturated, grace-dry church, they leave the faith by droves for all they’ve heard their whole life is a life they can never live up to.

That’s the full story of what happened to my young friend, who labels himself as an atheist but I suspect is merely one more victim of a church in which the true Jesus is unwelcome. So I try, conversation by conversation, to show him that Christ doesn’t believe in the christianity that he grew up with. Jesus himself doesn’t believe in the god who tells people that they must somehow win heaven’s approval by toeing the line.

Christianity is Jesus Christ. It is not a body of doctrine but a body crucified and risen for you. It is the God who became small, died, and rose again to make you right with his Father. That’s a Christianity worth believing in.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

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 Is the Theology of the Cross?

crucifixWhen Christians talk about the theology of the cross, they contrast it with the theology of glory. What’s the difference between the two? Here’s a brief explanation. It’s taken from my booklet, Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing.

In Theses 19 and 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther separates the wheat from the chaff, the true theologians from those in the ranks of the wannabes.

Thesis 19: That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [or, “have been made” quae facta sunt].

Thesis 20: He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. (Luther’s Works, American Edition, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31, ed. Harold J. Grimm [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], p. 40)

In other words, no man deserves to be called a theologian unless the entire corpus of his theology is crucified. The sham-theologian, Luther says, fools himself into thinking that he can perceive who God really is in those things which are accessible to human experience, investigation, and reason. He presumes to recognize the invisible things of God (i.e., His “virtue, godliness, wisdom, justice, goodness, and so forth”) in the visible things of creation, but “the recognition of all these things does not make one worthy or wise” (AE, vol. 31, p. 52). “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross” (AE, vol. 31, pp. 52-53). The uncrucified god is a false god for the true God cannot be known, cannot be recognized, cannot be confessed until and unless He is comprehended in the crucified Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Because “true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ,” the crucifix is not only the ultimate but the ongoing epiphany wherein God reveals how He comes to His people and brings His people into Himself (AE, vol. 31, p. 53).

All theology must therefore be crucified. For instance, God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, is not known as God the Father in the created things of heaven and earth by themselves. Visible creation certainly testifies that there is a Maker (Romans 1:20), but that God remains nameless and unknown as God our Father until He is known in His incarnate and crucified Son. The theology of creation must therefore be crucified for the God of creation truly to be known. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is unknown and unknowable except in the crucified Son, for the Spirit “bears witness of” and “glorifies” Christ (St. John 15:26; 16:14). The theology of the Spirit must therefore be crucified for the Holy Spirit truly to be known.

Who God is and how He deals with us is made known “through suffering and the cross,” as Luther summarily says. In other words, God is who and God is where man by nature supposes He is not. Luther was fond of quoting the prophet Isaiah in this regard: “Truly, Thou art a God who hidest Thyself” (Isaiah 45:15). God camouflages Himself beneath His seeming opposite: His glory is hidden beneath the inglorious cross, His strength hidden in weakness, wisdom in folly, exaltation in humiliation. Yet, this divine concealment is simultaneously divine revelation: His glory is made known precisely in the cross, His strength in weakness, His wisdom in folly, His exaltation in humiliation. These are revealed, however, solely to those have “seeing ears,” who behold what their ears are told in the Word of Christ. Only those who heed the Word of Christ see through these masks of God, that is, only they see God behind His seeming opposite, His outward disguise. Only those who know God in the crucified Christ know the God who hides Himself, and so only they will seek and find Him where His Word has promised He is and will be. On the other hand, those who heed not the Word of Christ, but their own natural experience, investigation, and reason will search for God and even possibly think that they have found Him. But, alas, they will be gravely disappointed. For all those who think they have laid hold of God where God is not, have really laid hold of an idol, an idol which is the mask and jaws of the devil himself (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).

The God who hides and reveals Himself in His crucified Son also hides and reveals Himself in the ways and means whereby this crucified Son comes to us. Everything by which God imparts Himself to us and brings us into Himself must bear the cruciform image of the Christ. Therefore, in virtually the same breath St. Paul calls the cross and the preaching of this cross “foolishness” to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21). Just as the sin-blinded world cannot see God in the crucified Christ, so the world cannot see God in the means whereby the crucified Christ comes to us: in preaching. And so it is with every other way and means by which the hidden God comes to us. The God who is hidden in the “foolishness” of the cross is hidden in the “foolishness” of Baptism’s water, the Eucharist’s bread and wine, the Absolution’s human voice and touch. The offense of the cross now rests within the pulpit, upon the altar, in the font, at the confessional chair. Everything that belongs to God must be crucified, that is, it must hide God so that only those who heed His Word will find Him there, revealing and giving Himself.

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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!

Sodom and Gomorrah and St. Louis

firefallingaThe Lord looked at me and said, “Shall I hide from you what I am about to do?”
And I said, “What are you about to do?”
He said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, London and St. Louis, Moscow and Sydney, and all cities of the world, is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.”

And he did. And he saw that the outcry was true. And he decreed punishment.

And I drew near to the Lord and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous who are in the world. Will you then sweep away the world and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put to death the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?”
And the Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous in the world, I will spare it for their sake.”

I answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I am who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty are lacking. Will you destroy the whole world for lack of five?”
And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

Again I spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.”
He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”

Then I said, “Oh let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.”
He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”

I said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.”
He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”

Then I said, “Oh let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak again this but once. Suppose ten are found there.”
He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

But ten righteous people were not found in the world.

And I too was found among the unrighteous.
So I took my place among them to await the fire and brimstone.

And suddenly I heard a new voice above me. It was saying to the Lord, “If you find one righteous man in the world, will you spare it?”
And the Lord answered, “If I find one righteous man in the world, and that man is willing to stand in the place of all the unrighteous men in the world, and suffer the penalty all the unrighteous deserve, then I will spare it.”

And the voice said, “Behold, here am I.”

And there was silence in heaven.
And the sun stood still in the sky.
And the world ceased its spinning.
And all creation ground to a halt.

And there was felt, all around the world, the heat from falling fire. And there was smelled, all around the world, the burning of brimstone. And there was heard, all round the world, the boom of a pounding hammer. And there resounded, all around the world, the cry of a righteous man who prayed for an unrighteous world. And, finally, three words from that voice echoed down the streets of Sodom and the alleys of Gomorrah and the skyscrapers of New York City and the fields of Iowa.

The voice said, “It is finished.”

And the Lord looked down from heaven and said, “I have laid on the one righteous man the iniquity of the world. I made him who knew no sin to be sin so that in him you might become my righteousness.

I spare you.
I forgive you.
I love you.”

Romans 3:10, “None is righteous; no, not one.”
Romans 5:18, “One act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

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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 Sermon Written on the Bottom of Your Pastor’s Feet

I have the privilege of contributing a monthly article to the website 1517 Legacy, which is “committed to informing you about and providing the finest in books and teaching materials dedicated to fueling a new Reformation.” Here is my latest blog post for them, in which I give a new perspective on why Jesus traveled around so much, as well as what it means when the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who brings good news.” You can find the article by clicking here.

To read any of the four Gospels you almost need a GPS. It’s hard to keep up with where Jesus is at any moment in time. First He’s a toddler in David’s hometown, then He’s growing up in Pharaoh’s old stomping grounds. Then a few years later, He’s taking a circuitous route back to the family village of Nazareth. And after John baptizes him, He’s the ramblin’ Rabbi. Into the wilderness, back to Galilee, to Capernaum, into the country of the Gadarenes, round about Jerusalem. Our Lord is here and there and seemingly everywhere. “Jesus was going about all the cities and all the villages,” (Matthew 9:35). The soles of the holy feet of God traverse the soil of the holy land of promise.

Why so much walking? Why didn’t Jesus simply set up shop at a popular crossroads village or, better yet, the capital city? Let people come to Him. After all, folks were always searching Him out so they were sure to find Him. Part of the answer to that question is suggested way back in the life of Abraham. And the answer gets us to the heart of God’s mission of love, the goal of the ministry, and why the feet of Jesus’ messengers are so beautiful.

Shortly after we’re introduced to Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, he travels to Egypt because of famine in Canaan, gets into trouble with Pharaoh, the Lord sends plagues upon the regal house, and Abraham exits Egypt laden with that land’s spoils. Sound familiar? It should. What happened to Abraham was a mini-exodus; he was blazing the trail that his descendants would take in their own exodus. When Abraham arrives back in the promised land, God tells him to look north, south, east, and west. “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and your descendants,” the Lord says (Gen 13:15). Then he tells Abraham to take a hike: “Arise, walk about the land through its width and breadth; for I will give it to you,” (Gen 13:17).

Go ahead, pull out your red pen and underline that last verse. It’s key.

A custom in the ancient world—attested, for example, in Egyptian, Hittite, and Nuzi cultures—was to claim ownership of land by the symbolic act of walking upon it. The soles of your feet wrote your signature upon the soil. We see this same language elsewhere in the Scriptures, such as when God tells Israel, “Every place on which the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours,” (Deut 11:24). God repeats the same promise to Joshua (Joshua 1:3). That’s also the reason behind the strange practice, recorded in Ruth, of exchanging ownership of property by the former owner handing his sandal to the new owner (Ruth 4:7). The shoes that had walked upon the land embody the land. To swap sandals is to exchange the land.

Thus, when God tells Abraham to traverse the length and breadth of the holy land, he’s telling the patriarch to claim it as his own. This is more than a walk, even more than a pilgrimage; it is God’s way of using human feet to demonstrate that here, in this place, on this land, he is establishing his kingdom on earth for the benefit of his chosen people. How beautiful are the feet of Abraham, for they bring the good news that this land is God’s land, where they will be his people and he will be their God.

Now let’s get back to Jesus, who never seems to sit still. Just like Abraham, Jesus also made a trip to Egypt early in His story. He had to flee when Herod was thirsty for His young blood. Later our Lord returned. He had His own mini-exodus, for He was following in the footsteps of Abraham and Israel, reliving and redeeming their lives. And just like Abraham took that symbolic journey around the holy land to claim God’s gift of holy soil as his own, so Jesus began to do the same.

Wherever our Lord walked, he was doing more than teaching and healing. He was establishing the kingdom of God. Every place on which the sole of Jesus’s feet trod, he was saying, “This is mine.” The kingdom of God, you see, is not merely a spiritual kingdom, as if physical space has nothing to do with it. We are creatures of the soil. We are rooted to the very ground from which our first father came. Thus Christ claims real dirt as His own, for real sinners reside on real soil. Wherever Christ traveled to proclaim His Father’s word, He was writing His signature upon that soil. North, south, east, and west in the holy land He traveled, everywhere pressing into that dirt the imprint of His beautiful feet that bring the Good News of salvation.

I’ve always thought it odd that Isaiah says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,” (52:7). Why the feet instead of the lips or the mouth or the tongue of him who brings good news? I think we find the answer in the life of Abraham, and the life of the Seed in whom Abraham believed. These beautiful feet belong to messengers, Isaiah says, who bring the good news that says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” In other words, these feet announce a kingdom, where God reigns over His people in grace and mercy. The mouth preaches, to be sure, but so do the feet. The feet say, “God has sent me to claim this place as His own, these people as His own, as those sinners among whom Christ reigns in peace.”

Luther once said that the church is a mouth-house, for there God’s Word is proclaimed. The church is also a foot-house, for there God claims this place for His kingdom, as the dirt upon which He announces peace to the world. How beautiful are the feet of God’s servants—no matter if they’re wearing cowboy boots or wingtips or sandals—for with those feet the Lord writes His own name into the soil of the sanctuary. The Father says, “This is the holy land. Right here is my kingdom. In this place my Son is King. These people, the sons of Abraham, the brothers and sister of Jesus, will be my people and I will be their God.”

With His own feet Christ once walked in the Garden to seek out fearful, naked sinners. There He made them a promise, that with His own heel He would smash the head of the serpent who had deceived them. With that heel, He did just that when He destroyed death by His own death upon the cross, and suffered His heel to be injected with the venom from the fangs of hell. Those feet—spiked by nails, struck by fangs—rose again to stand upon the earth in victory. And still they stand. Those at the foot of Jesus stand within the feet of His messengers who announce that we are forgiven, we are restored, we are remade in the image and likeness of Christ.

The next time you’re in church, as you watch your pastor walk into the sanctuary, step to the baptismal font, step up into the pulpit, and walk up to feed you with the body and blood of Jesus—take a moment to thank God for those feet. They are beautiful, for they are God’s way of claiming this place as His own and you as His own.

One of the most grace-filled, comforting, eloquent sermons you’ll ever hear is written on the bottom of your pastor’s feet.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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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!

Who Needs to Be Re-Baptized?

waterSometimes the best solution to a problem is to “re” it. You’ve gone through a rough spell in your marriage, so you decide to reaffirm your wedding vows. The doctor tells you that if you don’t drop some pounds, severe health problems are on the horizon, so you renew the gym membership you let slip years ago. We’re always re-ing something: rewriting essays that are not up to par; reroofing houses with old shingles; getting reacquainted with long lost friends. Do-overs are a necessary, and oftentimes a blessed, part of our lives. We get a chance to do it right the second time.

It’s not unusual for people to feel the same about baptism.

Carol was baptized as an infant, but in later years she began attending a church where only older children and adults are baptized. She’s told, “It’s good that your parents were concerned about your spiritual welfare, but that was not a real baptism. It was more like your dedication to the Lord. But now that you have your own personal relationship with Jesus, you need to show that commitment in the assembly of believers by obeying our Lord’s command to be baptized.”

David was baptized when he was seven years old. He remembers that day in church, but he’s not sure if he was really a believer when it was done to him. He’s wondering, now that he is older and is more certain of his faith, if he needs to be re-baptized as a way of affirming that he is a follower of Jesus.

I get where Carol and David are coming from. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to re-do something in my life. Maybe I’ve messed something up that needs to be fixed, forgotten something that needs to be remembered, or just simply yearn for the confidence that comes from doing something afresh. I’ve been that lost sheep who wandered from the flock of Christ and returned covered in the mud of my wanderings; don’t I need to be rewashed? I’ve gotten angry with God, stomped off to live in the “freedom” of a rebellious life, and eventually returned with a soiled conscience in dire need of a bath. I’ve wanted to strip off my filthy clothes, ease myself into a deep pool of baptism, and simply soak for hours on end until all the dirt and grime of my iniquity has disappeared and I’m clean again.

And here’s the good news for Carol and David and all of us who desire this cleansing: God is ready and willing to give it to you. And here’s some even better news: you don’t need to be re-baptized to experience it.

The most important thing about baptism is this:
God is the baptizer, you are the baptized.
He is the giver, you are the receiver;
He is the bather, you are the bathed.

Yes, when we do things, we have a tendency to do them wrongly, imperfectly, insufficiently. We mess them up in one way or another. But when God does things, he does them right. He does them well. He does nothing halfway. If we baptized ourselves, I would be all in favor of rebaptism, but because I’m sure we would do something wrong. To err is human, right? But since we don’t baptize ourselves, but are baptized by God, our washing in the word is 100% right, 100% gift, now and forever. Every baptism is a perfect baptism. Like the crucifixion of Jesus for you, the baptism by Jesus of you, is non-repeatable. It can’t be done again because it was done just right the first time.

When we’ve gone astray from God and need those cleansing waters; when we’ve gone through a period of doubting and desire to have our faith strengthened; when we can’t even remember our baptism and need to experience its blessings anew; we don’t need a do-over. We don’t need to have the water poured over us again. Instead, God does something better for us: he shows us that the cleansing, saving waters of baptism never dry up. In fact, those waters keep us wet with grace every day of our lives.

When I got hurt as a child, I ran into the arms of my mother, into the arms of the woman in whose womb I was conceived. I didn’t look for another mother, another womb, another comfort. So when I hurt myself through my sin, I run back into the arms of the baptismal womb in which I was conceived and born again. I don’t look for another baptism, another washing, another comfort. I return to the source of my life.

Christ doesn’t re-baptize; he returns sinners to their baptism. He carries us lost sheep home to the pool in which we were originally washed. He strengthens the faith we were originally given in our baptism. He sends us pastors to speak the words of his forgiveness into us; and those absolving words are wet with baptism’s waters. Jesus tells us, “I baptized you. Through my crucifixion wounds you entered my body to become part of me. My body is your body; my blood is your blood. We are one. I can no more lose you than I can lose a limb. You are baptized. You are mine. When I look at you, I see a clean, forgiven, beloved brother and sister.”

Yes, sometimes the best solution to a problem is to “re” it. But that’s only when we’re the one solving the problem. Christ has already solved the problem of sin. He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification. He has baptized us into that crucifixion and justified us in those same resurrection waters. It is finished. He has accomplished it all for you, given it all to you in baptism, and will forever keep you in those gifts by his grace and mercy.

For those baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—for those who have this divine name placed upon them—there is never a need for rebaptism. Jesus did it right, for you, the first time. And that is very good news, indeed.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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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!

Some of the Best People Are Not Christians

straight-and-narrowSome of the nicest people I know are not Christians. Many of them are followers of other religions, some of them are non-religious, and a few of them are atheists. They’re the kind of friends who always have my back. They’re gracious to me when I mess up. I couldn’t ask for better neighbors. They donate to charities, work with troubled youths, are still happily married to their high school sweethearts. They far outdo me (and many of my Christian friends) when it comes to being upstanding citizens, faithful friends, moral examples, and overall good people.

Yet they have nothing whatsoever to do with Christ.

I’m reminded of a story in Abraham’s life. He and his wife, Sarah, traveled to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Because he was afraid the Egyptians would see his lovely wife, kidnap her, and murder him, Abraham asked her to slip off her wedding ring and tell everyone he was her brother.

This she did, but the plan backfired. When Pharaoh’s servants saw how gorgeous Sarah was, they took her into the palace anyway. They didn’t know she was married, nor did the king. Pharaoh was simply doing what most kings did back then—enriching his harem with another attractive female. And, contrary to what many think, there’s nothing to suggest that the king wasn’t having sex with Sarah. In fact, he says, “I took her for my wife.”

So what did Sarah’s husband have to say about his wife sleeping with the king? Nothing. Abraham said not a word. In fact, in exchange for the “sister,” the king of Egypt “dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” Far from losing his life, Abraham’s life was materially enriched. His wallet was stuffed with Egyptian riches so long as he kept his mouth shut. Of course, it made him a de facto pimp, but still this husband kept silent.

Who knows how long this scandalous situation would have gone on had not heaven had enough. Though Pharaoh was sinning in ignorance, the Lord struck his house with plagues. We’re not told how the king found out why all this suffering was befalling him, but he did. And when he did, he was fit to be tied. He immediately ended the adulterous affair. He rebuked Abraham to his face for lying to him, but he did not punish the husband for putting him in this situation. He gave Sarah back to her Abraham. What’s more, he demanded not a single gift back from the patriarch. And he sent soldiers to escort the couple, fat with the riches of the country they had defrauded, safely out of its borders.

What kind of man did Pharaoh show himself to be? An honest man. One concerned for the purity of the marriage bed. Not revengeful. Gracious and giving. Full of righteous indignation for being deceived into sin. In other words, all the good, praiseworthy qualities that believing Abraham had not shown, unbelieving Pharaoh did. If there’s anyone in this story that comes out smelling like a rose, it’s the pagan ruler not the chosen patriarch. Abraham looks like a lying, selfish, greedy jerk.

There are plenty of Pharaohs still in the world today, as there are plenty of Abrahams too. The most charitable, outwardly righteous folks in town might be enjoying some bacon and eggs at IHOP on Sunday morning while people full of moral failures are kneeling at the rail for some bread and wine.

So what gives? Aren’t Christians supposed to be lights in the world, models of morality, loving neighbors, law-abiding citizens, and commandment-keepers? Of course we are. And many Christians do a fine job of leading ethical, exemplary lives. Just like some unbelievers do a fine job of leading those same ethical, exemplary lives.

Here’s the significant point that is far too often missed, both inside and outside the church: Christians are not Christians because they are good people. Christians are not Christians because they are better than the world at keeping laws, being faithful spouses, rearing obedient children, running honest businesses, and crossing every legal “t” and dotting every moral “i.”

Christians are Christians not because of anything that they have done but because of everything Christ has done for them.

Abraham was a Christian. He believed in the promise of the Lord to send the Seed who would destroy the work of the devil and give his life for us all. He looked forward to that saving work of Christ just like we look back to its accomplishment. And that death-destroying, life-bestowing work of Jesus Christ made Abraham a Christian, just as it does all Christians today.

Outwardly, there often doesn’t seem to be much difference between believers and unbelievers. You’ll find them side-by-side in prisons and rehab facilities and divorce courts and AA meetings. Similarly, you’ll find Christians and non-Christians together at charity events and soup kitchens and marriage seminars. We all blend together, some better than others, some worse, but all us sinners in need of the grace of God.

Our standing before God is not determined by outward obedience to any set of laws, human or divine. Our standing before God has already been determined. He has reconciled the world to himself in the cross of Jesus Christ. To every man, woman, and child; to every Abraham, Sarah, and Pharaoh; to every law-abiding citizen and convicted felon; to everyone, no matter how good or bad they appear to be, God says, “I forgive you. The blood of my son has washed away your sin. We are reconciled. All is at peace between me and you. My Son has kept the law for you, as he has paid the ultimate price for your breaking of it. I love you, every one of you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. I am your Father and you are my child.”

Some believe this, some don’t. But faith doesn’t make it true, anymore than unbelief makes it false. It is the truth of the God who loves you, no matter how good or bad you seem to be. He loves you as you are because he loves you in Jesus Christ.

And this is Good News indeed. Good News not just for the church but for the world that God so loved, that he gave his one and only Son to fill that world with his forgiveness and life.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

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!

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