Meet the Righteous Man Who Couldn’t Do Anything Right

lotsodomLet me tell you about a man who never met a challenge he didn’t fail. At least in the stories about him, he has a bad habit of making the wrong decision. Warn him about a cliff, and he’ll fall off it. Show him a snake, and he’ll get bit. His life is a painful series of unfortunate events. And because of that, I can’t help but feel a kinship with him. Those of you who’ve always chosen wisely, who’ve kept to the straight and narrow, probably won’t appreciate his story, so you can go on about your business. Everyone else, meet our friend, and fellow failure, Lot.

Lot’s first mistake was his zip code. His home was on the corner of Wicked and Sinful in the city of Sodom. No one forced him to move there. He made the decision quite willfully. When he and Abraham needed to split up because there was strife between their herdsmen, Uncle Abraham gave him first dibs. Lot surveyed the land, saw that the acreage around Sodom was “like the garden of the Lord,” so he chose to sink roots there. The grass was greener on the other side of the fence. The only problem was the other side of that fence was Sodom, where his neighbors were “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord,” (Gen 13:13). Mistake #1.

Things went to pot quickly. After Lot settled there, the rulers of the city decided they weren’t going to pay their overlords any more. So these overlords took the city behind the woodshed and gave them a thrashing. They took all the goods of Sodom, all their food supply, and—wouldn’t you know it—they took Lot and his family, too. Abraham came to the rescue. He defeated the attackers, brought back all the spoils of war, along with the citizens of Sodom who’d been kidnapped, including Lot. After all this happened, you would think Lot might consider relocating. But, no, he stayed in Sodom. And things got still worse.

While our friend was sitting at the city gate one evening, two travelers showed up. He insisted they join him and his family for dinner and spend the evening in his home. In the middle of the night, the men of the city surrounded Lot’s house and demanded he bring out the two visitors so they could have sex with them. Lot begins well enough. He says, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly,” (19:7). But he’s not finished. Lot has an alternative in mind. “Look,” he says, “I have two daughters who’ve never had sex with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof,” (19:8). Yes, you read that right. Lot is offering his two virgin daughters to a rape-hungry mob. Thankfully, the two visitors (who were actually angels) save the day. They blind the would-be rapists. They warn Lot that God is about to reduce the city to ashes. And in the morning, they lead the family out of the city to safety. So to Lot’s growing resume we can now add: utter failure as a father.

But we’re not done yet. Let’s put the icing on the cake. Lot’s wife didn’t make it far out of Sodom. Against the express warning of the angels, she paused and stared back at the city as it was being destroyed. The fire and brimstone overtook her and she became the well-known “pillar of salt.” All that remained were Lot and his two girls. But these daughters, whom Lot had offered up for rape, turn the tables on their father. They pull out the wineskin, get dad drunk as a skunk and have sex with him, one girl one night and the other the next. And both end up pregnant. Lot becomes both father and grandfather to two baby boys.

Knowing all this about Lot, it probably comes as quite a shock when, of all adjectives, Peter chooses to put “righteous” in front of Lot’s name—not once, not twice, but three times. He says that God “rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard),” (2 Peter 2:7-8). You might be wondering if Peter was reading the same stories from Genesis that we are. Lot, righteous? Really? You mean the foolish Lot who chose to live in Sodom? The heartless Lot who almost got his two daughters gang-raped? The drunk Lot who had incestuous relations with these same two daughters? That’s the Lot you’re calling “righteous,” Peter?

There’s more to Lot than meets the eye. There’s always more to a believer than meets the eye. And that’s why, as I said earlier, I feel a certain kinship with him. No, I’ve never done what Lot has done, but those who know a little about my life know that my bio is full of foolish choices, moral failures, and shameful conduct. And perhaps yours is, too. Most of us have wandered from the straight and narrow at one time or another; some of us have fallen off the map altogether. Some of Lot’s decisions disgust me, but I’d bet that if Lot knew our stories, he’d find plenty worthy of condemnation as well. As it turns out, all finger-pointing amongst sinners is in vain. Every transgressor just happens to screw up a little differently than you do.

Yet along comes Peter and calls us righteous. Lot, me, you—all of us who, by faith, have a borrowed righteousness. It belongs to Jesus but he lets us have it. We wear his clothes. We are covered in his goodness. It’s a righteousness with no gaps. In it the heavenly Father easily mistakes you for Jesus. Actually, he sees you as nothing but his son. That’s how completely covered you are. Like Jacob received the blessing of his father by dressing in the clothes of his older brother, so we are robed in the garments of our elder brother, Christ, and thus receive the inheritance of the Father.

There’s more to Lot than meets the eye, as there’s more to us than meets the eye. But what ultimately matters is what meets the eye of God. When he sees us, he sees the child whom he loves. He sees one who is deeply troubled by the evil in the world. He sees one whose life is not one long string of failures but an unbroken chain of obedience. For when God sees Lot, and when he sees us, what meets his eye is the one who meets us at the cross, folds us into himself, and cloaks us with a compassion that envelops all of who we are.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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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!

The Story of the Better-Than-Good Samaritan

goodsamaritanThere are Christians who kiss the crucifix, but I’ve yet to see reverential lips laid on the Ten Commandments. No telltale lipstick markings on Moses’ two tablets of stone. Some hate them, others mock them, most ignore or endure them—present company included. We certainly don’t kiss them in adoration and love. Why not? Because the law always condemns, that’s why.

But it only condemns because it is good. It won’t excuse the bloody corpse of Abel lying at your feet; it refuses to justify your adulterous fling with Bathsheba; it will not pardon your golden calves, your loot from Jericho, your scheming for Naboth’s vineyard. It is too good for that. The law wants what is best for you, and what is best for you is not divinizing money, seducing your secretary, or fixing the books to fatten your wallet. What is best for you—what will make you truly joyful, truly content, truly blest—what will do that, is doing the law.

Doing the law is what the lawyer wanted to do; he simply asked for a clarification on who his neighbor was. So Jesus answers him in a Jesus sort of way, in a parable. The neighbor, it turns out, is the one who stands in need of your mercy. The neighbor is the one whom God places before you so you can do the good of the law in doing good to him. But your neighbor is not just the wounded man left half-dead in the ditch. Your neighbors are the thieves, who stand in need of your prayers and admonition. Your neighbors are the priest and Levite, who stand in need of your example, your patience, your loving rebuke. Your neighbor is the innkeeper, who stands in need of your two denarii, your encouragement, your promise to help even more. Your neighbors are all of these, whomever the Lord places before you to love, even when they are unlovable, to be merciful toward, even when they themselves are merciless.

This you are eager to affirm, at least, when others are commanded to be neighbors to you. You expect your spouse to stomach your bad moods, your short temper, your pettiness and selfishness. And you get all bent out of shape when she doesn’t. You think your boss should wink at your half-baked work, your ninety-minute lunch breaks, your “borrowing” from the office. And how defensive you get when no wink is forthcoming. You are quite upset when visitors aren’t lined up outside your hospital room, when your friends aren’t bubbling over with joy that your kids made the honor roll, when someone sneaks into that close parking spot you were clearly about to pull into. But you demand what you never give. You always expect others to do for you what you rarely, if ever, do for them. And worst of all, you’re hurt, you sulk, you’re downright ticked off when others aren’t the neighbors to you that you have never been to them.

Even though the law is good and holy and wise; even though it has your welfare in mind; and even though keeping it will make you truly joyful, truly content, and truly blest; yet you have puckered your lips before the two tablets—not to kiss them, but to spit into their stony faces. Wipe away the spit, wipe away the smirk, and pray, “God be merciful to me, and wipe away my lack of mercy for my neighbor.”

He is quite willing to do this for you, because the God who gave the law that is good, is Himself also good, and His mercy endures forever. How long? Forever: longer than you have selfishly loved yourself, the Father has selflessly loved you; longer than you have been faithless, Christ has been faithful to you; longer than you have ignored, despised, and laughed at your neighbor, the Spirit has gazed in compassion on you both.

What the law demands—perfect love—and what you have never given: that is precisely who God is and what God gives. He is the God who is love and who does love, who loves each of you. Christ came not only to suffer, die, and rise again, but to keep, in your stead, the law which He Himself gave. He came to trust His Father, to call on His name, to keep His Word. He came to be a sinless Cain for the sinful Cain; a faithful David for the faithless David; a pious Achan, a perfect Ahab, a holy man for you and all unholy men of old, of now, and of the future.

He is the better-than-good Samaritan–the perfect Samaritan. Attacked by sin, robbed by Satan, lacerated by death—there we lay, unable to help ourselves. Yet He helps us who can never help ourselves. He washes away the blood with His own healing blood. He cleanses our wounds from the chalice of life. He strips Himself and wraps us in His own garments of righteous love.

But we are not just the wounded man. For we have attacked those who angered us, we have stolen what we craved, we have lacerated others with our razor-sharp tongues. Yet for us robbers, the perfect Samaritan freely gave all. He has restored what we have stolen from others. The Father looks upon us as those who gave and sees us as those who restored, for what the Son did, He did while wearing our skin.

Likewise, for all those times we have walked away as the priest and Levite, not lifting a finger for those who needed our love, the perfect Samaritan did not turn away, but came, knelt down, and extended mercy. He is the perfect priest, not passing by the other side, but stopping, loving, interceding. He is the good Levite, not just coming up and stealing a quick glance, but coming and seeing and doing.

What will make you truly joyful, truly content, truly blest is doing the law. And that law Jesus has done for you, from A to Z. “All the commandments are kept when what is not kept is forgiven” (St. Augustine).

This meditation is adapted from my book, Christ Alone (see ad below).

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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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!

Christ in the OT: Bible Studies on Trees, Water, and Suffering Servants

One of the foundational confessions of Christians is that the Old Testament is all about Christ. He is not merely prophesied here and there in a few scattered passages, but is the fulness and fulfillment of everything that Moses and the prophets wrote. Jesus himself taught this: “Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to [the Emmaus disciples] the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” (Luke 24:27). Whatever OT narrative we may be reading, whatever proverb or prophecy or psalm, in one way or another it points to the Son of God. Who he is, and what he has done for us and for our salvation, is what fuses the OT and NT together. He is the glue that binds together everything from Genesis to Revelation.

A number of you have asked me for resources on a Christ-centered interpretation of the Old Testament. A few years ago, I wrote a series of Fusion Bible Studies that might be of interest to you. I took several themes–trees, water, and suffering servants–and traced these through the Scriptures. Each chapter deals with narratives from the OT which culminate in Christ. The studies are easily adaptable to everyone from youth to adults.

Here are the three studies with a link to Concordia Publishing House, where they can be purchased.

fusionsufferingservants

“In Suffering Servants, students learn how the suffering servants are used throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament to communicate the message of salvation. Discover how the lives of these suffering servants foreshadow the life, death and ressurection of Jesus Christ:

  • The Dreamer – Joseph
  • Inside Egypt – Joseph
  • Out of Egypt – Moses
  • Satan’s Target – Job
  • Chosen Leader – David
  • Persecuter and Preacher – Paul”

fusiontrees

“In Trees, students learn how trees are used throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament to communicate the message of salvation. See how tress take root in the Bible with these topics:

  • Two Trees in Paradise
  • The Burning Bush
  • The Staff of Moses
  • The Serpent Pole
  • The Root and Shoot of Jesse
  • The Trees of the Cross”

fusionwaterIn Water, students learn how the element of water is used throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament to communicate the message of salvation. The Old Testament is full of events involving water that connect to the New Testament, specifically Holy Baptism. See how water washes through the Bible with these topics:

  • Creation
  • Noah and the Flood
  • Crossing the Red Sea
  • Naaman’s Baptism in the Jordan
  • The Baptism of Jesus
  • Jesus and Peter Walk on Water”

Thanks for checking out these resources. I pray they continue to be a blessing to the church as we confess Christ as the one in whom all God’s promises are Yes!

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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!

The Missing Verse in the Creation Account

Sometimes the Scriptures trip us up. We’re walking along the biblical road, as it were, and our foot catches in a pothole. There’s a gap in the narrative. So we pause, we look, we ponder. We note what’s missing and wonder what it might mean. What the Bible does not say becomes just as fascinating as what it does say.

torahscrollThere’s such a gap in the creation account. Six times we read that “there was evening and there was morning, the _______ day.” The first day, the second day, and so forth. Genesis 1 has a predictable pattern; it’s a smooth road to walk. Until we get to the end. There our foot catches in a pothole. We read that God finished all his work on the seventh day, that he rested on this Sabbath day. But never does it say “there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” It’s like there’s a missing verse in the creation account. Why? It’s as if this day never ended. It’s waiting for something—or someone—to bring it to a close.

In many ways, the story of Christ is mysteriously hidden in the opening chapters of the Bible. He is the word by whom the heavens and earth were made; the light of the world; the true image of the invisible God; and so forth. He is also the one who finally can say, “there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” Jesus brings this first Sabbath to a close when he rests within the tomb on the Sabbath day. He has done the work of recreation, the work of saving us. Having worked himself to death, he rests from his labors on the Sabbath. When Jesus rises again, that old seventh day is over. Indeed, the old creation has come to an end. When the Creator emerges from the tomb after his Sabbath rest, he ushers in the eighth day. It is the first day of the new creation in Christ. And it is a day with no evening, for this day shall never end. The sun never sets on the new creation in Christ, for there is no darkness, only light in the Lord. In his Genesis Lectures, Luther remarks on this,

“In an allegorical sense the eighth day signifies the future life; for Christ rested in the sepulcher on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it no other day is counted. For through His death Christ brought to a close the weeks of time and on the eighth day entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted but there is one eternal day without the alternations of night. (AE 3:141)

The Old Testament had already foreshadowed this eighth day salvation we have in Christ. On the ark, there were only eight people. After the flood, these eight disembark into a kind of new creation. God had rewound the world, as it were, to Genesis 1 again, where waters covered the surface of the earth. When the earth is dry again, Noah and seven others step into this purged creation as the human nucleus of a new world. St. Peter tells us that the flood was an image of baptism (1 Peter 3:20), whereby we are saved. In baptism we enter the ark of Christ’s body through the door in his side, hollowed out by a Roman spear. In Christ, we become part of the group of eight on the ark. The eight does not increase to nine or ten but swells to contain us all. God recreates us in this saving flood of baptism. We enter the new creation in Christ.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, infant boys were circumcised on the eighth day of the lives. This was a preview of the true and full circumcision that was to come in Christ. In Jesus, all of us are “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead,” (Col 2:11-12). We were circumcised with Christ in baptism. Not just a tiny bit of flesh—the foreskin—was cut away, but the entire person has been circumcised away by those cutting waters. In baptism we are buried and resurrected with Christ. We rest with him on the seventh day. And we rise with him on the eighth day as new creatures who enter an eternal day. Yes, we await the resurrection of our bodies, but by baptismal participation in the resurrected body of Jesus, we already have the down payment of our own resurrection. And, as Luther says, on the day our bodies are raised, we shall be “perfectly circumcised, in order that we may be free of every sin of the world,” (AE 3:141).

On Easter, Jesus finally finished writing Genesis 1-2. He stepped out of the tomb, took pen in hand, and wrote on the Torah scroll, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” He began the eighth day, after which there is no other. It is the everlasting day of an everlasting kingdom which we enter on the ark of baptism, circumcised into Jesus, made new and whole in him who accomplished a re-genesis of the world for us.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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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!

Will There Be Animals in Heaven?

animalsheavenGo as far back into history as you can, and you’ll find that there’s always been a bond between people and animals that is closer than our connection to any other part of creation.

It began at the beginning. God didn’t ask Adam, “What is this rock’s name? This plant? This body of water?” But he did bring every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to Adam so that he could name them (Gen 2:19). Indeed, this served a dual purpose: not only did Adam name them, but he also searched for a possible mate. Scripture says that, of all these animals, “there was not found a suitable helper for him,” (2:20). Thus, Eve was subsequently crafted from Adam’s own body as that suitable helper. In the beginning, therefore, human life and animal life were intertwined.

Go forward a few generations and this bond is underscored once more. When the flood destroys all but eight people in the world, Noah and his family are kept safe in a boat that looks like a floating zoo. When they emerge from the ark, people and animals set foot within a kind of “new creation.” God saw fit not only to preserve humanity for this fresh start, but also the animals.

And one more story. When God threatened to demolish Nineveh unless they turned from their wicked ways, the citizens were so zealous in repentance that the king commanded a citywide fast in which neither “man, beast, herd, or flock” should eat or drink. Indeed, he went on, “both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth,” (3:7-8). When Jonah pouts because things didn’t go his way, God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are not more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:11). That last phrase—“as well as many animals”—highlights that God was not merely compassionate toward the people of Nineveh. Those fasting, sackcloth-clad animals were in need of mercy as well.

But how far does this mercy extend? To the limits of this life or beyond? Will there be dogs and horses and birds in heaven? Or are these animals only part of the gifts of this world?

There’s a twofold answer to that question. First, no, there is no promise that there will be animals in heaven. But heaven is not the ultimate goal of humanity. When believers die, they go to paradise, in the presence of Christ, but there they anticipate the climactic gift of God: the resurrection of the body. From now until the return of Jesus on the last day, believers are waiting for God to raise and glorify their bodies. When that happens, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heart, and the earth and its works will be burned up,” (2 Peter 3:10). Then, according to his promise, God will give us “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells,” (3:13).

What will this new heavens and new earth be like? Isaiah describes it as a place where there is no more weeping and crying, but rather rejoicing (65:17-19). People shall build houses and live in them, plants vineyards and enjoy their fruit. All will be well again, better than Eden. Indeed, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” (65:25). Elsewhere, when the prophet describes the blessings of the new creation in Christ, he says, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them,” (11:6).

So, will there be animals in heaven? No, we are not given that promise. But will there be animals in the new heavens and new earth, where we will reside in resurrected, glorified bodies? Yes, that is the way our Father has described the new creation which we await.

Our final resting place is indeed a physical, created place. We will not strum harps as we recline on fluffy clouds in a spirit-like existence. Rather, we will have bodies. We will eat and drink. We will enjoy a creation even better than what Adam and Eve enjoyed. As our first parents had a bond with the animals, as Noah had animals with him in the reboot of creation after the flood, so after the fire-flood that brings the old creation to an end, we will enjoy a new creation that includes animals.

All of this will be because in Christ, God our Father is making all things new (Rev 21:5). His resurrection is the source of life in the new creation. In him and because of him, our Father is well-pleased with us. And he is pleased to give us a place where we might dwell with him, in harmony with creation. There we, the children of Adam, will once more enjoy the companionship of the animals our first father named so long ago.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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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!

Birds in the Pulpit

ravendoveWhen the preacher steps into a pulpit, he may carry a few things with him. A Bible. A sermon manuscript. A bottle of water. Perhaps a little something that’ll serve as an object lesson as he preaches. But whatever he brings, I hope every Sunday he includes two birds. For without these two birds, his pulpit, no matter how full it may be of other things, will be but an empty vessel. More on that in a moment. Let’s first talk about a story from long ago.

Near the close of his one-year-and-ten-days voyage on the ark, Noah sent out two birds: one a raven, the other a dove. And these two birds, in their own way, became emissaries that conveyed two different messages to Noah.

The raven “flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth,” (Gen 8:7). This bird did not return to the ark. It came back with no good news. It winged its way here and there around the surface of the earth, but it remained outside the ark. It was not a herald of peace, completion, and comfort. All it did was fly and noise abroad its caw.

The dove was sent out three times. The first time she “found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to the ark,” (9:9). The second time that Noah released her, she returned to the ark at “evening; and behold in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth,” (9:12). And the third time she did not return to him. The message was clear: the flood was over, the wrath was abated.

I have always found it intriguing that “pulpit” can also mean a raised platform on a ship. Here the vision is clearest. In this pulpit, as on the ark, Noah-like preachers stand to speak to those of us who await words from God. And flying from the mouths of these preachers are raven-words and dove-words.

He sends out the raven of the law. This bird is of God yet it cannot bring us to God. As Luther remarks, “It is characteristic of the Law that its teaching cannot make fearful consciences sure, strengthen and comfort them. Rather it frightens them, because it does nothing else than teach what God demands from us, what He wants us to do. Moreover, it bears witness against us through our consciences, because not only have we not done the will of God revealed in the Law, but we have even done the opposite,” (Genesis Commentary, AE 2:158). The law always flies about cawing its accusations against us for it always finds something within us to accuse. It announces no peace, no harmony, no forgiveness, no abatement of wrath. It is from God. God wants the raven to fly, to caw, to accuse. It is a dark bird with a dark message for sinners. One we must hear that we may realize how hopeless is our situation if left to ourselves.

But the preacher does not merely send out the raven; from the pulpit flies forth the dove of the Gospel. This bird is of God and brings us back to God. In her mouth is the olive leaf, a token of peace with God in Jesus Christ. Again, Luther says, “God wanted the branch of a green olive tree brought to Noah by mouth, to make us realize that in the New Testament, when the Flood or era of wrath comes to an end, God wants to reveal His mercy to the world through the spoken Word,” (AE 2:162-163). This word that is spoken is from the Holy Spirit, who himself appeared in the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus. He announces that the flood is over, the whole world has been reconciled to God, his anger has been forever put away in Christ. The Gospel dove never caws an accusation but always coos an absolution.

When the preacher stands within the ark of the sanctuary, in the pulpit, he is as Noah, who himself was a “preacher of righteousness,” (2 Peter 2:5).. He sends forth two birds with two distinct messages. Both from God, but one declaring us sinners and the other declaring us righteous. They wing their way through our ears into our hearts and souls. And by them God reveals who we are if left to ourselves and who we are in Jesus Christ.

With these two birds, the preacher is never in an empty pulpit, but one filled with words from God, whose flights preach us into the kingdom.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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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!

The Story of Sodom Is About Much More than Homosexuality

sodomA quick scan of any map will reveal towns all around the US with biblical place names. There’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Bethany, Oklahoma and Goshen, Indiana—just to name a few. But you’ll find no Sodom, Arizona or Gomorrah, Tennessee. Towns totally annihilated by God don’t make for popular namesakes. No community wants that kind of backstory.

But what exactly is the backstory—the full backstory—of Sodom and Gomorrah? What prompted such judgment against them? Contrary to what you’ll hear in most sermons, the issue in Sodom was much more than homosexuality. It is deeper and more pervasive. The root cause of their razing was rejection of the God who is mercy.

We often forget that before God destroyed these cities, he had saved them. They were the recipients of divine mercy. When foreign armies sacked their cities, God sent Abraham to rescue them (Genesis 14). He pursued these armies with a small force of men, defeated them, and brought back all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, along with his nephew Lot and the other citizens who had been taken captive. The patriarch gave everything back to the king of Sodom and demanded nothing in return for himself. In Abraham’s own words, he wouldn’t keep “a thread or a sandal thong or anything else” that belong to Sodom’s king, lest that ruler say he had made Abraham rich (Gen 14:23). Though “the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinners against the Lord,” (13:13), nevertheless he acted graciously toward them in the person and work of his chosen servant.

So what went wrong? What happened in the intervening years between their deliverance by Abraham and the announcement of their impending destruction? The same thing that has happened over and over throughout the history of humanity. The merciful actions of God towards undeserving sinners were forgotten. Like Nineveh, which repented when it heard the preaching of Jonah, but later slipped right back into evil and was eventually destroyed; like Jerusalem, which seesawed between repenting and rebelling until it too was finally ravaged by the Romans; so Sodom and Gomorrah, one-time beneficiaries of divine deliverance, treated that gift as trash until finally their cities were reduces to smoldering ashes.

In the rest of the Scriptures, Sodom and Gomorrah became emblematic of cities, nations, and indeed a world that steadfastly refuses to believe in the God of mercy and truth and justice, and instead follow their own hearts. Isaiah calls the hearers of his day the “rulers of Sodom” and the “people of Gomorrah” (1:10). Why? Because, while going hog wild in outward religiosity, their hands were soaked in blood. He told them, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow,” (1:17). Through Jeremiah too, God says that his people have become to him “like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah,” (23:14). Why? Because the prophets of Jerusalem were committing adultery and walking in falsehood. Not only did they do nothing to stop evil; they actively encouraged it. Ezekiel too chastises the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel for acting like Sodom. Through this prophet, God says, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister, Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before me. Therefore, I removed them when I saw it,” (16:49-50).

On the night before Sodom was destroyed, the men of the city, young and old, attempted to gang-rape the angels (disguised as men) who were guests in Lot’s home (Gen 19:4-5). But this attempted violence, as horrific as it was, was an outgrowth of a more pervasive evil within. The ultimate source of sin in Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh, Jerusalem, and every other city, is the ultimate source of sin in our hearts: we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We reject the God who is love itself, and instead set up idols of pleasure or power or falsehood in the shrines of our hearts. And from there, as from a poisoned spring, flow forth all the tributaries of evil in our lives and in the world.

Our more serious problem is not sins but sin itself. The problem is not what we do but who we are. We are not sinners because we sin; we are sinners and therefore we sin. This was as true for the Sodomites as for the San Antonians or the New Yorkers.

That’s why God does not merely fix us, as if we’re an old junker that just needs an overhaul. We don’t need to be fixed; we need to be recreated. What we need is to come to an end, to fall headfirst into a grave flooded with water, drown in that dark pool, and rise again to newness of life in Christ. The Father remakes us in the waters of baptism to bear the image and likeness of Jesus, who makes all things new. He removes our hearts of Sodom to give us a heart of Zion—a heart pumped full of the atoning blood of Jesus. Far from condemning us, he declares us innocent, for his Son has already become the guilty one in our place. In the eyes of God, you are pure, beautiful, loved, welcomed, perfect, for he sees every inch of you through the prism of Christ. In Christ, you are not a failure, a felon, or a freak, but a friend of God. In Christ, you are not dirty or depraved for you have been washed, you have been sanctified, you have been made new. Your past does not define you; your sins do not define you; Christ does.

The story of Sodom is about much more than homosexuality. It is ultimately about the God of mercy—the God who is your Father in Jesus Christ. The Father who rescues you as he rescued Lot. The Father who makes you saints. The Father who is patient, forgiving, and loving to all, for all have been reconciled to him in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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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!

Safe Preaching and the Prophylactic Gospel

About once a month, I have the privilege of contributing an article to the website 1517 Legacy. Here is the piece for this month, in which I dive into the story of Jonah, who is the best biblical example of “Safe Preaching and the Prophylactic Gospel.” There is a link at the end where you can read the remainder of the article. Thanks for taking the time to check it out! 

Jonah wanted nothing more than to be a safe preacher. His Lord could get carried away with love at times. He let it get the best of him. Jonah recognized this, and it pained him to see God act so shamefully. The prophet certainly knew better than to let God act that way toward such a hellhole as Nineveh. How embarrassing that would be. So when it came time to preach to this ancient Sin City, he played it safe and slipped a prophylactic over the Gospel. He showed God how to be a better, more responsible Father, one who is protective of his forgiveness. Or, at least, he went out of his way trying—quite literally. He went out of the way that the Lord had sent him. God said, “Go to Nineveh,” so Jonah hopped a ship bound for Tarshish.

Fast forward through the stormy sea, the man overboard, the three days stomached in a fish. Finally, arm-twisted into the pulpit, Jonah did preach. And, lo and behold, these sinners heeded the divine word. They fell all over themselves repenting. In what is one of the most comical scenes in the Bible, they even forced their animals to fast and clothed their cows in sackcloth! True to his word, God relented. He forgave them. The city of sinners became the abode of the absolved.

And Jonah? He was fit to be tied….. (to read the rest of the article, click here to visit the 1517 Legacy website)

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!

The Struggle to Un-Love Ex-Sins: An Upcoming Presentation in McKinney, Texas

I’d like to welcome all of you who are in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area (or farther away!) to join me for an evening of talking through “The Struggle to Un-Love Ex-Sins.” Here’s a brief description of what’s in store:

Journeys that begin in brokenness rarely follow a straight course toward healing. It is an uphill trek on winding trails illumined with sporadic winks of light. The heart wrestles to free itself from past loves that are also past hates. We limp toward healing. The struggle to un-love ex-sins is a long, blessed, torturous liberation from lies that we once embraced as truths. Along the way, we deal with denial, anger at God, addiction to grief, and much more. We learn about our own identity and the God against whom we rebel, rail, and eventually embrace as the only true source of healing.

The event will be Saturday, September 12, at the Ruschhaupt Reception Hall in downtown McKinney, TX, from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Here is a flier with more information. Or you can click on this link for details and registration. I hope to see you there!

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When God Drags His Feet

slowThey are the only couple in the Bible who laugh at God. Abraham first and later his wife, Sarah. And who could blame them, for the scenario is hilarious. They wait a quarter of a century for God to make good on his promise to give them a child. It seems a comedy in the making, for Abraham is seventy five years old and Sarah sixty five when he first makes the promise. People that old don’t buy Pampers. But there stood God, saying, “Oh, but you will.” So they wait. And they wait. For twenty five years these aging lovebirds do their lovemaking but no babymaking. The final time God assures them that they’ll have a son, Abraham falls on his face and laughs (Gen 17:17) and Sarah, later, giggles like a schoolgirl (18:12). Quite fittingly, therefore, when their baby boy is born the next year, they name him, “Laughter.” Or as we know him, Isaac.

I’m glad Abraham and Sarah could laugh. I think most of us wouldn’t have found this scenario all that funny. In fact, when we wait on God to make good on his promises, even for a few weeks or months, we don’t laugh. We hurt. We murmur. Often we get mad at God for dragging his feet.

It is perhaps no surprise that one of the most common questions in the Psalms is, “O Lord, how long….?” Now there’s a prayer we can say Amen to.

O Lord, how long until you take away the cancer that’s attacking my body?
O Lord, how long will I get turned away from every company I apply to?
O Lord, how long will my child be in and out of rehab?
O Lord, how long will my husband and I languish in this dying marriage?
O Lord, how long will your drag your feet while our souls are sinking in despair?

For most of us, waiting on God is not funny at all. It makes us wonder if he cares. If he has forgotten us. In our darkest hours, may even wonder if the atheists are right, if our prayers are nothing more than sick words vomited into an empty heaven.

Here is the truth: God is there. God does care. Heaven is not empty but full of a God who thinks of nothing but you night and day. As Isaiah says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you,” (49:15). God does indeed remember, but his remembering is unique. It has one ultimate goal: to join you, body and soul, to the body and soul of Jesus Christ.

Every time we pray, “O Lord, how long?” the answer is always the same: “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” (Col 3:3). You may object, “But that’s no answer!” Oh, but it is. It is a true answer, and it is the best answer.

God doesn’t give us a timetable; he gives us his Son. And for him we don’t have to wait a single second. You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. It’s already accomplished. The Father plunged you into the water wet with Jesus. In that water you joined Christ on the cross. There your old life bled away. And there your new life began as Jesus carried you in his body out of the grave on Easter. Your life is hidden the way a heart and lungs and bones and blood are hidden inside a person, for you are the body of Christ. You are hidden in him and hidden with him in the Father. And if you’re that far into God, there’s no getting you out.

So will the Father answer your specific “How long?” prayers? Of course he will. He who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; she who knocks, the door will be opened to her. The God who goes so far as to count your tears and keep them in a bottle (Ps 56:8) is certainly not going to ignore your pleas for mercy. But as you await the answer to those prayers, know that your prayers have already have been answered in Christ. Your life, your heartaches, your tears and disappointments—they are all hidden with Christ in God, too. He takes them all in when he takes you into himself.

The ways of God are hilarious. So outlandish, so crazy, so foolish that sometimes the only thing we can do is laugh. There we were, dead, and now in Christ we live. There we were, thinking there’s no way we’ll ever conceive hope again, and now hope grows within us like Isaac in Sarah’s womb. It’s funny, the weird ways of God. He’s always full of surprises, for there’s nothing more surprising in this world than a love that knows no bounds, no timetables, but that knows you and holds you tight.

Sometimes the best Amen sounds like laughter.

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!

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