Married to the Cross in Divorce

sufferingdivorceThere are times when you feel like a spectator who views in slow motion the demolition of your life. Mini-explosions rock the foundations of everything that gave you meaning and purpose. Maybe it happens when you stare at the surreal spectacle of a coffin descending into raw earth, or the X-rays of a brain tumor, or the officer standing at your front door serving you papers for divorce. At those moments, it’s not like something inside you dies; it’s more like all of what’s inside you dies. What remains is a thin shell veiling a rapidly diminishing life.

There are no funeral rites for the corpse of a marriage, no official way to lay it to rest. So most of us make up our own. I did. Mine was a liturgy of whiskey and promiscuity, alternately screaming and crying toward heaven, and seeking salvation in every new girlfriend. One step forward, two steps back…or three, or four. All the while I was sinking a little deeper into the quicksand of sorrow.

I wish I were blowing things out of proportion. But I’m not; I’ve really only scratched the surface. For some of us, following divorce there are a string of debaucheries, flirtations with suicide, and grisly plans for revenge. Others self-medicate, hole up and lick their wounds, shun the opposite sex. Everyone reacts differently, but most of us react in ways we later shudder to recall. And like so many of life’s heartaches, unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the pain and the foolish things you’ll do in your quest for relief.

Maybe you’re thinking that I’m going to tell you that divorce made me a “better Christian.” But I don’t even know what that means. Better than what? Better than I had been? Better than other people? Better how? I wish I could tell you that through divorce I became a stronger person, but thank God I didn’t. If anything, my perceived “strength” is what paved the way for the destructive decisions that caused my divorce in the first place. If the death of my marriage revealed anything, it was my profound weaknesses.

What I do know is that divorce was for me, as it is for most of us, a process of unmasking—a slow peeling away of various lies. Unlike a Halloween mask, I had worn these masks for years, so long in fact that they had grafted to my skin.
The mask of “thank God I’m not as bad as those people are.”
The mask of “I have a happy marriage.”
The mask of “I never have any doubts about God.”
The mask of “I’ve fallen short, but not way short, of the glory of God.”
And my favorite mask: “I have everything under control.”

As the truthful realities of divorce scratch away at the face we exhibit to the world, one by one the layers diminish. What I discovered beneath was what I’d always claimed I had but never really believed: the face of a liar and cheat, a face pockmarked with pharisaism, a face as dirty as the filthiest sinner. What others discover beneath their chosen masks are faces flushed with anger, eroded by the weather of worry, or gargoyle-like monsters of hate. Whatever we find, they are faces only a God can love.

I don’t pretend to speak for everyone. But divorce was for me a blessed destruction, a splendid disaster. God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), to be sure, but through it he revealed other things he doesn’t think highly of either: like a haughty spirit, hypocrisy, lust, self-reliance, and on and on it goes. It took time, long dark years, for this blessed destruction to have its way with me, but God is more of a marathoner than a sprinter. I was in a hurry to be healed but he was not.

Who I ended up being was not a better Christian (whatever that means), not a better person, not a stronger person, but simply this: a man who grasps more fully that, in and of myself, I am nothing. I have zilch to offer God. I have nothing of my own to claim, except my faults. I have no strength, no righteousness, no moral pedigree to wow heaven. I am Jonah, sinking beneath the waves. I am Lazarus, dead and decomposing in a grave. I am a corpse in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. I have and am nothing. And come to find out, once we realize that, be it through divorce or any other suffering in life, we are in the perfect position to gain everything.

In divorce God married me to the cross. I didn’t want it; indeed, I hated it. But upon my shoulders God laid it. The ring of nails. The veil of darkness. The kiss of death. When we are stripped of all the good we think we are and have, we come face to face with the evil within. We fight and wrestle and gasp and die and become nothing.

Then our Lord, who created everything out of nothing, says, “Now I have you exactly where I want you.” The only material that God really works with is nothing. He brings to nothing the things that are (1 Cor 1:28) that through this nothing he might show us that our everything is that one who is the source of our life, Christ Jesus, whom God makes our “wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” (1:30). He opens our eyes to see that we are not dead on a cross alone. We are part of a thorn-crowned Savior who became our everything. We die in him and life returns. We have no hope in ourselves but in him we receive hope of cosmic proportions. Our face, which only a God can love, the Father of love bends down and kisses. He bathes away our filth. He lifts up our downcast eyes. He gives us his own name. We are married to the cross, and there meet the bridegroom of our souls.

Like so many of the hardships in life, it is only in hindsight that we realize the hidden hand of God at work in our deepest woes. He is not making us stronger but is making us dead, that we might truly live in the strength that he provides. He is not making us better people but unveiling how bad we are that we may find in Christ the riches of our Father’s goodness.

Some people talk about life after divorce, but I prefer to talk about death after divorce: the death of self, the death of masks, the death of a sham existence in which we pretend we’ve got this life thing figured out. Unless we die, there is no resurrection. When we die to those things worthy of death, we find him who is the resurrection and the life. And we find in him all those things—and more!—that we searched for apart from him. Things like joy. Things like peace. Things like hope and healing and love and meaning and purpose. All these are in Christ, and they are ours.

If you are facing a divorce, going through one, or recovering from one, let me tell you the most important thing: Christ will not and cannot sever you from himself. The sun will lose its light, the water its wetness, the night its dark before that happens. He counts the hairs on your head, every tear you shed is so precious to him that he collects them in a bottle (Matt 10:30; Ps 56:8). Like Zion, your image is engraved on the palms of his hands (Isa 49:16), your name tattooed on his heart. You will not always feel his love, but his love clasps you in its strong arms. You will probably feel abandoned by God, but he will never leave you, never forsake you. As you bear this cross, you bear it not alone, but in him who is the crucified and risen Savior. He is for you. He is faithful. He has married you to himself with a love larger than heaven.

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!

Even Heterosexuals Are Welcome at My Church

jesuswelcomesallHer story had all the makings of a modern medical nightmare. Not for one, not for two, but for twelve long years this woman had suffered from a hemorrhage. You don’t have to be a female to imagine how this condition would have defined her everyday existence, especially in a first century Jewish culture where such bleeding would have rendered her perpetually unclean. She had tried doctors. And what did they do? We’re told she “suffered much” from many of them (Mark 5:26). I don’t even want to know what that means. Use your imagination. And just like today, it’s not as if doctors collect a fee only if they cure you. No, you get charged an arm and a leg even if you stay sick, even if you die. So with her, she “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”

Finally, having exhausted every other option, she crafted this outrageous plan that bordered on sacrilege. Imagine if a prostitute, her body teeming with STDs, snuck into your church one Sunday morning through a back door, crawled in her miniskirt unseen behind the altar, reached up, dipped her finger in the chalice, and touched that sacred wine to her lips. And imagine if, at that very moment, she was discovered and stood, in all her unclean glory, before the pastor and congregation. That scenario, as shocking as it would be to us, is not as audacious as our friend’s plan was. This woman, who wouldn’t have even been allowed in the courts of God’s temple because she was ritually unclean, snuck up behind Jesus in a mass of people, and touched the hem of his garment. An unclean woman touched the holy, holy, holy God. If she’d made a wild dash into the temple’s inner sanctum, she wouldn’t have been closer to Yahweh than when she got her hands on Jesus.

What is even more astonishing is what happened next. I’m not talking about the fact that her hemorrhaging stopped. I’m not talking about the fact that Jesus felt power going out of him. No, the most astonishing part of this story is the Son of God’s response. He says, “Who touched me?” And when she comes forward, fearing and trembling, and tells him the whole truth, he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” (5:34). He utters not one word of rebuke. He doesn’t go all fire-and-brimstone on her for daring to put her unholy hands on him. In other words, Jesus does what he always seems to be doing: he welcomes the outcast, embraces the pariah, and gladly and willingly pours into her his holy and healing love. What to others might seem sacrilege, to Jesus is just one more opportunity to exhibit his scandalous, transformative, sanctifying grace.

We can add this woman to the long list of others rejected by many but whom Jesus welcomed with open arms. The hated, traitorous tax collectors. The “sinful” women who sold sex to put food on the table. The woman nabbed in the act of adultery. Those with horrific skin diseases. The Gentiles. Indeed, Jesus says that he did “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 6:32). He invites the “weary and heavy laden” to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28). He doesn’t travel around Israel looking for the right kind of people to believe. If anything, he seems to be calling to himself the wrong kind of people. Gathered around him are people with enough skeletons in their closet to stock a cemetery. They flock to him because they see in him what they never dared dream before: a God who has no qualms about sitting down in the gutter with you, a Savior who’s happy to have a prostitute weep on his feet and dry them with her hair, a Friend who’ll share a meal with the most infamous folks in the community.

The church that Jesus founded is where he’s still doling out this scandalous grace to everyone. There is no list on the front door that spells out the requirements for entrance. All are welcome: addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes and pimps; lawyers and politicians; the homeless and mentally ill; runaways and castaways; the LGBT community and the haters of gays. Amazingly, in his church Jesus even welcomes sinful heterosexuals, happily married couples, and—believe it or not—even religious leaders.

Jesus preaches the same message to all of them: repent and believe the Gospel. Leave behind a life that is a lie, the life in which you pretend you can be your own god, establish your own truths, earn your own way to heaven. You’re lost. You’re unclean. There is no hope for you inside of you. But there is abundance of hope in someone else. There is cleansing and forgiveness and peace and wholeness in the one who bleeds and dies for you. He will turn no one away. How could he? He died for them, one and all. His grace heals all wounds. His love welcomes all sinners.

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!

Reading Braille in the Wounds of God

We don’t just call him Thomas; we call him Doubting Thomas. Why he, of all the apostles, had an insult attached to his name, I don’t know. Peter denied Christ three times, but no one calls him Denying Peter. Even Judas, who committed treason against Jesus, is not given the epithet Betraying Judas. But poor Thomas cannot rest in peace as just Thomas. No, he is Doubting Thomas, forever branded.

thomaswoundsI do not deny that Thomas doubted. That much is certain. He did, and with great gusto at that. He wasn’t there with his fellow disciples when Jesus appeared to them that first Easter evening. When they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replies, “Unless I see in His hand the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hands into His side, I will not believe.” He demands visible, tangible proof before he’ll budge a fraction of an inch. He is pig-headed, recalcitrant, a mule of a man. A dyed-in-the-wool skeptic.

And for all that Thomas is, I thank God. Yes, for his pig-headedness, for his doubt, for his denial, for his dyed-in-the-wool skepticism – for all that, I thank God. Why? Because, as St. Gregory put it, “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe, than the faith of the disciples who believed.” I thank God that Thomas doubted, for when he later “touched the wounds in the flesh of his master, he healed in us the wounds of our unbelief.”

What was Thomas’s hang-up? He wanted something “real,” something you can sink you teeth into—or, rather, in his case, something you can sink you finger into, like that hole left by a crucifixion nail. He had seen the blood drip from Jesus’ dying body; he had seen the steel penetrate that body; he had seen the wood smeared crimson; he had seen the stone rolled in front of the tomb. He had seen it all. And for Thomas, seeing is believing.

There’s only one problem: believing is not seeing. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, faith is believing the exact opposite of what you see, for that is how God reveals Himself to us. God always wears a disguise. Jesus looks like a man, lives like a man, dies like a mere man. Yet faith says, “Jesus is God.” You do your daily work, you sweat, you put up with rude customers, you deal with unruly students, you do the ho-hum work of the daily grind. Yet faith says, “My labor is holy, divine work, for I am God’s tool that He uses to take care of others.” Yet you get sick, you lose weight, you hurt, you cry, you wonder how long you can last. Yet your faith says, “I am a blessed child of God, well-pleasing to Him, and I will live forever in Christ.” Believing is not seeing. To believe is to confess that God is where God seems not to be, to confess that God is good when God seems to be bad, to confess that what is really real is the God hiding behind the exact opposite of what you see. That is faith.

And that is why faith is a gift. Because you can’t do it. Like Thomas, we deem these things to be real: a freshly dug grave at the cemetery; a bank account fizzled to near nothing; a child who just won’t listen; a spouse who doesn’t care; peers who mock; friends who betray; a conscience that won’t shut up; a job that doesn’t satisfy; a sickness that grows stronger and more vicious day by day. Those are the things we consider real, as real evidence that God is holding out on us, is mad at us, doesn’t love us as much for us as He does for others.

Repent. Repent of expecting God to conform to your warped standards. Repent of craving after constant “proof” that God is on your side. Confess your own blindness, you self-interest, your self-infatuation, you woe-is-me attitude. Repent and beseech God for the gift of true sight—the gift of faith—which sees that which is unseen, which sees the love of God in Jesus Christ poured out on the cross and raised from the tomb for you.

And that is why I thank God for Thomas, for Thomas was as we are. Yet Christ doesn’t appear and slap him for his doubt; He holds out His scarred hand for Thomas to see. “Reach here your finger,” He says, “and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas, like a blind man reading braille, reads the scarred message of love inscribed on the Savior’s skin. He believes. He sees with the eyes of faith who Jesus really is, “My Lord and my God.”

That is the way of our Lord, the way of grace. He doesn’t abandon Thomas to drown in a sea of doubt; He stretches out His nail-scarred hands and pulls him in. And so He does for you.

He takes your doubts and your fears and your shame and your bitterness and He makes them His own. And He takes His faith and His hope and His life and His joy and His glory and He makes them your own. He doesn’t remove your outward troubles; He gives you something better: inward peace. He may leave in place your dysfunctional family, your disease, your addiction, your pain, but He will not leave in place a heart empty of peace. For that’s what He’s all about: giving to you the peace that passes understanding, the kind of peace that knows that no matter how unfaithful you have been, God will never be unfaithful to you. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love is always greater. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how bad this world may get at times, any suffering here is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. That’s the kind of peace Christ gives: peace of heart when surrounded by ten thousand enemies.

Along with Thomas, we know these things to be really real: the mercy of the Father, who never denies His baptized children; the love of Christ given and shed for you in body and blood; and the grace of the Holy Spirit, who gives you the peace that passes all understanding.

**This reflection is included in my book, Christ Alone, which you can read more about below.
**I am indebted to the hymn by Thomas Troeger, “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real” for much of the imagery in this meditation. 

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!

This Is the Night of Light

eastervigilThis is the night when the earth is without form, and void; and darkness is over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters. Then God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. The seal of the darkness is broken and the morning of the first creation breaks forth out of night. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that Thou didst create us to have someone upon whom to bestow Thy blessing; that Thou didst create light that in Thy light we may see light; that Thou most wonderfully created human nature and yet more wonderfully redeemed it.

This is the night when the earth is without form, and void; and darkness is over the face of the deep. And the Ark of Noah moves upon the face of the waters. And while all in whose nostrils was the breath of life died, we float safely in the Ark of Salvation, with the one whom his father named “Rest” as the captain of our vessel. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that as Thy wrath burned for the evil of men and Thou didst bring this deluge upon a wicked and perverse generation, Thou didst save eight souls; that likewise through this saving flood of Baptism all that has been in us from Adam and which we ourselves have added thereto, has been drowned in us and engulfed, and that sundered from the number of the unbelieving, we have been preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

This is the night when the earth is without form, and void; and darkness is over the face of Egypt. And the Angel of death moves upon the face of the firstborn. And while we, with loins girded, feet shod, and mouths full of the Passover Lamb stand quietly in our blood-painted homes, the Egyptians with loins burning, eyes weeping, and mouths full of shrieking stand wailing in their homes now painted with the blood of their firstborn sons. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that as the Angel of Death executed the firstborn of the Egyptians, He passed over our houses baptized in the blood of the Lamb; that Thou didst provide the Firstborn Son of heaven to be slaughtered in our place and we to be painted the color of divine innocence with hyssop dipped in the bloody font.

This is the night when the earth is formless and void; and darkness is over the face of Thy people. For Thou hast led us into the jaws of death, trapped between the waters of the Red Sea and the chariots of Egypt. But oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that Thou didst set Thy Son as a pillar of fire between the camp of the enemy and the camp of Thy Church; that Thou didst send Thy Spirit to move upon the face of the waters, to split them open, to tear the liquid veil in two, that we might walk through dry shod, from death to life, from slavery to freedom, while Pharaoh with all his host are drowned in the collapsing flood.

This is the night when the earth is formless and void; and the darkness of blood is over the face of Thy Son. And the Spirit of God moves out of His body as He gives up the Ghost. This is the day when it is night; when the Son of God is drowned in the Flood that rains down from the storm cloud of divine justice; when the Passover Lamb is skewered to the cross and roasted over damning flames; when the body of Israel’s Redeemer is sunk by the weight of your sins to the bottom of the Red Sea; and when the first creation comes to its omega on the evening of the 7th day, as the God-made-Man rests in the tomb from all His work which He has done – all for you.

These are the nights when you are spared, O sinner, so repent and believe. How holy are these nights when the Lord God of Israel acts to save you, calling light out of darkness, arks out of water, free men out of bondage, dry feet out of sea floors; calling His Son out of heaven, into the womb, onto the cross, down into the bloody dust – all to save you, His people Israel, to save you from yourselves, to save you from the hellish Pharaoh, to save you for His own Name’s sake.

But this is the night from when all those nights receive their light. For this is the night when Christ, the Life arose from the dead. The seal of the grave is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth out of night. This is the night when the Lord leads Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, David and Bathsheba, you and you and all of you out of the blackness of the tomb and into the brilliance of the 8th day sun. This is the night when we receive more from Jesus than we lost in Adam; when we are clothed in the skin of the Lamb of God; when death’s dread angel sheathes his sword to beckon us with open arms back into the Garden of heaven.

This is the night when night is buried under the soil of resurrection. God says, “Let there be light” and there is, and there is, and there always shall be, sunshine without end. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that as Thou didst say, “Let light shine out of darkness,” even so Thou hast shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of Thy glory in the face of the resurrected Christ.

How wonderful and beyond all telling is this most holy night!

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!

Passion Poems: Christ’s Yom Kippur and Uninjured Tongue

As we continue to consider our Lord’s Passion and await his resurrection, here are two poems that reflect upon his saving work accomplished for us. Both are included in my book, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, available through Amazon.

christcrucified

Christ’s Yom Kippur

Within that lightless vestibule
that Roman claws would raze,
See Aaron’s brood with crimson gifts
through wafting incense gaze,
To paint a throne where God unseen
beholds the fruit of veins,
And with the soap of severed life
removes his people’s stains.
‘Til comes the Priest clad but in skin,
no lamb or goat his gift,
Upon the cruel and gory throne
his offering to uplift,
To pave the way, with flesh and blood,
for all those bathed in grace,
To stand as priests within the veil,
before the Father’s face.

Uninjured Tongue

That head, which angels with ceaseless praise adorn,
Is pierced with crowded thorns.
That face, which our God with grace and beauty lit,
Is marred by sinners’ spit.
Those eyes, outshining the sun’s most piercing light,
Are dull as sable night.
Those ears, accustomed to praise from heaven’s host,
Must hear his haters boast.
That mouth, whose wisdom the wisest could enthrall,
Tastes vinegar and gall.
Those feet, whose footstool is this terrestrial sphere,
To bloody wood adhere.
Those hands, which stretched out the heavens like a tent,
By spikes in twain are rent.
That tongue, uninjured, shall cry from that cursed tree,
A prayer of love for me.

Based on “An Exercise of Repentance from our Lord’s Passion”
in the Sacred Meditations of Johann Gerhard.

Whose Bones Are Buried Beneath the Cross?

I wrote this article for Liberate as a Good Friday meditation. You can view the article by clicking on this link or read it in its entirety below. A blessed Good Friday to all of you.

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Let’s take a walk together. And as we do, I’ll tell you a mystery.

We’re heading to a cemetery; I hope you don’t mind. It’s of a different variety, this cemetery, for it consists of a single grave. But a vast grave it is. It had to be. See it there? Stretching from here all the way over there. God only knows how many people are entombed therein.

Look over to your right, at the edge of the grave, and you’ll see a headstone. Let’s walk closer. The surface is weathered from millennia of exposure to the elements. But look closely. There’s still a name barely legible, chiseled into the granite. Can you read it? What does it say? Yes, that’s right. There’s only one name there: Adam.

How can there be only one name over such a mass grave? I promised you a mystery; I will disclose part of it now. This is not only Adam’s grave. It is yours also. And mine. Here are the remains of humanity. When our father died, we perished in him and with him. The corpse of our sad race was blanketed here beneath the sands of sin and the dirt of death.

How did we get here? Turn around and walk with me backwards into a world freshly made. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, all through the week, God’s been preparing our world, down to the finest detail. And now it’s day six, a Friday, and a very good Friday it is. For today creation will reach its zenith as the children for whom the Father crafted the whole cosmos will be formed. See them standing there, bearing God’s image, alive and free and beautiful on the Friday of their creation.

I promised you a mystery; I will disclose more of it now. This king and queen, our father and mother, and we in them, stood beneath the branches of the tree of knowledge. Our hands reached up to pluck the fruit forbidden to man. We filled our mouths and Eden spat us out. We devoured fruit and digested death. The Friday of our creation was followed by the day of our decimation, and we made the grave our home. “In Adam all die,” the apostle says (1 Cor 15:22). Thus this grave, in earthen tones, paints the picture of Friday’s good work undone.

But our journey is far from over. Walk back with me to that mass grave, that headstone, and look now what has been erected over the top of that morbid mound. See it there? Look at that tree whose trunk is sunk into the soil of our tomb. Look at those two naked branches painted red with the blood of the Lamb. Look at him who is nailed as a criminal but reigns as a king. And look at your calendar and tell me what day it is. It is the sixth day, is it not? It is a Friday, the Friday we call good.

I promised you a mystery; I will disclose all of it now. That man you see on the tree—he is the re-Genesis of the world. He has come to remake us alive and free and beautiful on the Friday of his crucifixion. In this new beginning it is finished, all is finished. The mass grave beneath the cross unburies its dead. The blood of God, dripping on this earth, is the key that unlocks the chains that bind us. Adam, made on Friday, is remade on Friday, and we in him. “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men,” (Rom 5:18). Good Friday’s good work is done by him who came to undo the work of sin and death.

This place is named Golgotha, “the place of the skull.” From ancient times the church understood this not as a hill shaped like a skull but, according to legend, it was the place of Adam’s skull. That is, Golgotha is the grave of the first Adam over which the tree of the second Adam’s cross was erected. Upon the skull of Adam, and all of us in him and with him, the Spirit has placed blood and flesh and skin once more, breathed into us his breath, and placed upon our newly formed brows the crown of victory and life.

This massive Golgotha grave in which Adam and Eve, you and me, and all humanity were once buried has in fact been emptied. Dig, dig as deep as you like, and you will find no bones. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” (2 Cor 5:19). The tree of the cross, erected over the old Adam’s grave on Good Friday, was the new tree of life, upon which reigned the new Adam, to give us new fruit that makes us a new creation. The corpse of our sad race, once blanketed here beneath the sands of sin and the dirt of death, has been raised when Christ was raised. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses,” our Father “made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6).

On this day all is good again, for on the sixth day, a Friday, the God who made the first Adam, recreated us all in the second Adam. Is it a good Friday? No, it is a very, very, good Friday. Welcome to the new world, a new beginning—in him who makes all things new (Rev 21:5).

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 Foot-Washing God

Since God is most high, He can only look down. Nothing is above Him; no one more exalted than He, so His eyes have no need to look up, only down. His eyes bend downward, earthward, to behold those who are in the depths, those such as you.

And what does God see when He looks down on you? He sees those who only want to look up, above themselves. However, the things above to which we look are not the things of God, but the things of this world. We look for money, power, honor, a life of whatever-makes-me-happy. We don’t look down at the depths of our own poverty, helplessness, dishonor, or the needs of our neighbors. We are like madmen who make believe they live on a mountaintop paradise while they drag their feet through a city slum. The reality of our selfishness and nothingness is too painful to confess, so we pretend we are someone we are not. And to give muscle to the lie, we keep our eyes pointed upward, away from whatever might remind us that dust we are and to dust we shall return.

Repent. If dust you are and to dust you shall return, then dust confess yourself to be. Drop the make-believe and confess reality. If you must be a madman, then be mad about man, mad about the pit we have dug and dropped ourselves into, mad about the city slum which we call our heart of hearts. Don’t look up; look down, for in looking down you are, ironically, like God, who has eyes only for the lowly.

In looking down you will not only see who you really are; you will also behold who God really is. For who He really is, is not the distant deity who merely gazes on us from above as we wallow in our pit. He is the God who joins us and who joins Himself to us. He not only has eyes for the lowly; but He also shares the flesh-and-blood of the lowly. The most high is incarnate as the most low.

Foot-WashingAnd He washes our feet. The fingers that crafted the universe scrub the scum from between man’s toes. The hands that brilliantly painted the cosmos wash feet painted with the filth of dirt and sweat. The One before whom all angels bow gets on His knees to labor as a servant.

And in so doing, He gives us a humble epiphany, a revelation of who He is. He is the God who makes His glory visible in lowliness and servitude. He is the God who is so poor that He must borrow a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. He is the God who slaves away at washing the disciples’ feet. He is the God who gives His cheek to the betraying lips of Judas, to the slapping hand of the high priest, and to the spit of the Sanhedrin. He is the God who gives His head to the thorns, His feet to the spikes, His side to the spear. He is the God who embraces rejection, shame, torture, and death—all for you.

And here is why: because that’s simply who God is. He is the God who is love and therefore loves you by giving to you. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son; what He gives you is nothing less than Himself.

He not only washes your feet; He washes you clean, body and soul, through the holy bath in His name. He fills the font with water from His side and kneels there to wash the dirt and sweat of your sin. He not only gives His body to the executioners and His blood to the dust beneath Him; but He also gives His body into your mouth and His blood into the dust of your flesh. And thereby you are transformed, changed from a lowly son of the dust to an adopted son of God most high. Every natural food we take into our bodies is transformed into our bodies. Only the supper of our Lord is different, for this food transforms you into that which it is. You, the Church, are the body of Christ and the blood of Christ. When you consume the Son, you assume the Son’s rightful place on the Father’s heavenly throne.

Come and eat. Come and drink. Come to the lowly God who has joined you in your lowliness that He might exalt you in Himself to the place of the most high.

**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!

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!

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