Archive for the month “December, 2014”

My Top Five Most Popular Blog Posts of 2014

Whether you’re a first time reader of the Flying Scroll, or if this is familiar territory, THANK YOU for being here. You are the reason I crawl out of bed every morning at 4:00, pour myself a cup (or three!) of coffee, and sit down to write. You are the reason I delete more words than I ever publish, for I’m constantly revising, editing, searching for just the right way to express the truth to you. I thank God for all of you. And I ask for your continued prayers.

As a way to wrap up 2014, I thought I’d pull together a list of the five articles on my blog that were the most viewed this past year. Perhaps there’s one or two that you’ve missed. God’s richest blessings to all of you in 2015!

funeral#1 “Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral.” There will come a day, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, when the man in the coffin will be me. They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral…(read the full article here)

theaffair#2 “The Affair” There are countless articles and books about how to “Affair-Proof” your marriage, complete with lists of five or ten or twenty things to do to protect your marriage from infidelity. And many of these have helpful suggestions. I’m not writing another such list. What I want to urge is one main point, one truth that undergirds so much of this discussion: affairs don’t begin with lust, or discontent with your spouse, or boredom in a long-term relationship. Affairs always begin by believing lies… (read the full article here)

IMG_2833#3 “The One Page of the Bible I’d Like to Rip Out” The part of the Bible to which I object should never have been there in the first place. It was a later accretion, added for pious, albeit misguided, reasons. If I could, I’d take every Bible in hand, grab this page between my thumb and forefinger and rip it out. It’s that single sheet of paper that lurks between the last chapter in Malachi and the first chapter in Matthew. It’s the page that’s blank except for three words, “The New Testament.” Let me explain why. (read the full article here)

priestcollar#4 “So You Don’t Like Your Pastor” Pastors, although they stand in the stead of Christ to minister to the people of God, are full of the same fears and flaws, loneliness and lust, desires and desperations, as the folks in the pew. Pastors are built from the same stuff as everyone else. And that’s good, and that’s bad. (read the full article here)

 

WeddingRings#5 “Love Will Not Sustain Your Marriage” Marriage is asking a lot from two people. Living together for life. Sexual fidelity for life. Parenting for life. On their wedding day, they may be on top of the world, their bodies alive with an emotional high. But that high can last only so long. Emotions wax and wane with the tides of life. The love they feel for each other, no matter how strong, will be taxed to the extreme in circumstances they never could have foreseen on the day they said, “I do.” Sooner or later, they will come to realize that love is not enough to keep a marriage alive. (read the full article here)

God’s New Year’s Resolution: Removing the Big Fat “But” Between Us and God

ResolutionsJanuary 1 marks the day I first caught a glimpse of the most profound truth in the universe. I was 18 years old. I was fighting tooth and nail with God. And He showed me, finally, through one the weirdest acts ever performed on the human body, that He and He alone makes me His son. Here’s how it all went down.

The Dark Lining in Every Silver Cloud

I had grown up believing that there’s always a “but” between me and God. “Jesus died and rose for me, but I must make Him my personal Lord and Savior.” Or, “the Father wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, but they must do their part by meeting God halfway.” Or, “you may be a Christian, but you need to show your obedience to Christ as Lord by submitting to His baptism.” Between God’s gift and my reception of His gift there always stood a but. The nagging questions were: what if my actions weren’t good enough? Sincere enough? Where would that leave me? Because that but demanded something of me, a deeply flawed human being, it was the dark lining of doubt in every silver cloud of grace.

That doubt manifested itself most clearly in my decision, when I was sixteen, to be re-baptized. During a revival at my church, I became convinced that I had been too young the first time I was baptized to know what I was doing. Plus, if I were really a Christian, how could I have failed so miserably in my life of spiritual obedience? It was obvious to me that I needed a reboot, a rededication of my life to Christ. And I must really mean it this time. So, late one night, I made the decision, again, to follow Jesus sincerely, to receive His baptism obediently, to live a Christian life wholeheartedly.

And wouldn’t you know it, even though I did all that as well as I knew how, the doubts quickly resurfaced. My old sins still whispered sweet temptations in my ears. I couldn’t go an hour, much less a day, without letting God down in some way. Maybe I was one of those hopeless causes, a son of the night, who only masquerades on Sunday morning as an offspring of light.

The Whacked-Out Church on the Edge of Town

Some times things have to get worse before they can get better. So it was with me. While I was wrestling with my doubts, God sent a friend into my life who added confusion and frustration to the mix. Bob and I began working side by side at a local feed store. And while we were unloading trucks or sweeping the warehouse floor, we began talking about our respective beliefs. He belonged to a church on the edge of town that, in my opinion, boasted some pretty whacked-out teachings. And topping the list was the conviction that babies not only could but should be baptized, just like older children and adults. I don’t think I could have dreamed up a stranger, more wrongheaded practice if I’d tried. It epitomized the opposite of everything I held to be true. Everybody knows that infants are at the mercy of their parents, and can’t make a decision for Christ, so why in the world would they be baptized?

Curious, I decided to sit in on a class at Bob’s church so I could better understand, and then debunk, these teachings. Over the course of the next few weeks, his pastor talked about God, the ten commandments, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism. As he did, I became aware of a common theme that seemed to be the glue that held all their teachings together. It was this radical idea of God’s all-sufficient grace in Christ. It meant that I can’t do anything on my own to become or stay a Christian; that I can’t even take one tiny step toward God, much less meet Him halfway; and, that rather than baptism being my act of obedience toward God, it was God’s act of salvation for me. In other words, God in Christ did everything, that He and He alone was responsible for 100% of my salvation. And to make matters worse, there were scores of Bible verses that sure seemed to back up what the pastor was saying. If I were full of doubt before, now I was also brimming over with frustration and confusion.

How Circumcision Cut Away My Doubts

The class concluded, but I was far from finished. I continued to ask questions, to probe the Scriptures, and to try and make sense of these newfangled teachings. The baptism of infants, however, was the biggest burr under my saddle. How could babies become Christians? All they could do was nurse and cry and poop in their diapers, so how could they be involved, in any reasonable or willful way, in their salvation?

Everyone has their own Aha! moment, when the Spirit opens up their minds to understand the Scriptures. That moment was fairly unique for me, but God knew what He was doing, and what I needed to hear. One evening, as I was reading Genesis, I happened upon one of the strangest stories in Scripture. When Abraham was a year shy of his hundredth birthday, the Lord told him to circumcise himself. And not only himself, but his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael, as well as every male that had been, or would be, born in his household were to be circumcised. In fact, when they were only eight days old, these baby boys’ foreskins were to be cut away. Why? This was the sign of the covenant between them and God (Gen 17:11). It was a covenant quite literally “in their flesh” (17:13).

I read that chapter again. And then again and yet again. Slowly, as if that page of Scripture were the eastern horizon, a light began to dawn and illuminate my shadowed mind. The sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of Abraham were made children of the covenant when they were barely over a week old. When all they could do was nurse and cry and poop in their diapers, they received that covenant sign in their flesh. When they could not, by their own reason or strength or decision, be actively involved in their salvation, they became the children of Yahweh. God circumcised them by the hands of their parents. God made them His own. God gave, they received.

The Disappearance of the Dark Lining of Doubt

By one of the weirdest acts ever performed on the human body, God revealed to me what His all-sufficient grace in Christ really means and really does. He drew the line from the “A” of circumcision all the way to the “Z” of baptism for me. You see, God has remained consistent in His dealings with humanity. From ancient times, God let it be known that He is the one who does the work of making us His children. Circumcision underscored that beautiful truth. And baptism, in particular the baptism of babies, continues to underscore it. While we are lost, while we are at the mercy of our merciless sin, while we are dead and hopeless and unable to do anything about it, God the Father acts to change all that. He and He alone sends His Son to do everything necessary for our salvation. He and He alone pours His Son’s saving work into us and onto us in the waters of baptism. He and He alone makes us His children.

Since January 1 falls eight days after the birth of Jesus, it is the day of our Lord’s own circumcision. While the world is busy making New Year’s resolutions, the church is rejoicing in the Lord’s resolve to save us. And unlike so many human resolutions, the Lord’s resolve never has wavered and never will. Christ underwent circumcision for the same reason He underwent birth, a life of flawless obedience, a sacrificial death, and a death-killing resurrection—because His firm resolve was to do everything necessary for our salvation. And because He does it, there is no doubt as to its perfection.

Jesus tears down every “but” that people try to build between us and God. He died and rose for us, and—not but—He makes Himself our Lord and Savior. The Father wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and He does the saving and truth-revealing. He makes Christians precisely in the waters of baptism, because in that washing He does the giving and we simply receive. There’s no nagging questions about whether our actions are good enough or sincere enough, because God does the acting, and His actions are always more than good enough, more than sincere enough. So where does that leave us? With a silver cloud of grace that has no hint of a dark lining of doubt.

Whether He’s dealing with the oldest of adults or the youngest of babies, Jesus Christ saves. He forgives. He baptizes. He makes them His own. On this first day of the year, when we celebrate Jesus’ circumcision, may that act, and the grace it holds, cut away all our doubts and bring us into this new year with hearts full of peace that God the Father has adopted us as His own children. And nothing will ever alter His heart of love toward us.

P.S. If you’d like to read more about the significance of the circumcision of Jesus, check out another article I’ve written on this same theme: “Bringing Skin to the Fore: Circumcision and Why God’s Manhood Matters.”

LAST DAY OF THE SALE: If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems are on sale for one final day for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

When the Psalms Pray Me

Sometimes I pray the psalms, but most of the time, the psalms pray me.

sleepingmanI discovered this truth again last night. As my wife will testify, on most nights, as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m out. My body relaxes, my breathing deepens, and I’m off to the land of the sleepers. But not last night. My mind was a storm-tossed sea, with waves of frustration and doubt and fear and pity all lapping against each other. You’ve been there. Some of you experience that sleep-depriving storm almost every night.

To calm the waters, I tried to pray. “Who knows, maybe God can help,” I thought.

I tried to channel my frustration and doubt and fear and pity into a prayer. I needed one that communicated exactly what I was experiencing, that could translate my emotions into the language of petition. I know a few psalms by heart, so I decided to give them a try. But none of them said exactly what I felt. It was like I was praying someone else’s prayer, reading someone else’s mail.

I went looking for a prayer to pray, and, along the way, I found a prayer that prayed me.

Over and over, I forget what prayer is. It is not so much me speaking to God, as it is the Spirit within me speaking to the Father through the Son. Yes, I pray, but it is the Spirit who prays for me, in me, through me. I no more make up my own prayers than I made up the English language. I inherited my native tongue; it was taught to me, word for word, sentence by sentence, as I grew up. So it is with the language of prayer. It is my speech but it is truly God’s speech, divine language.

Thus I never truly pray alone, for prayer is always God talking to God in me.

Last night, the Spirit helped my lips form the words to the third psalm. In it, David laments how his adversaries have increased. Tens of thousands of his enemies surround him. They mock him and his God. And how does David react? Does he brandish shield and sword to fight them? Does he lay out a strategy, launch counter-attacks, mow them down? No, he says that God is his shield, his glory, and the one who lifts his head. Then, he goes to sleep.

I went looking for a psalm to pray, and found a psalm that prayed me, that transformed my liquid emotions into its solid truth.

David closes his eyes and slumbers. It’s an amazing act. While his adversaries increase, while they mock him and his God, while they threaten his life, David says—or, rather, the Spirit says in David to the Father through the Son—“I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.” He becomes as a babe in the arms of his father, who is so certain of paternal protection, that he can sleep through the fiercest storm.

So Psalm 3 prayed me, even as I prayed its words, and those words had their way with me.

I lay down and slept, for the Lord sustained me. He told me that He is my shield, who protects me from the fiery darts of the evil one. He reminded me that He is my glory, despite my shame, despite my fears, despite everything, He is the one who is my victory. He will arise and smite all my enemies on the cheek. He will shatter the teeth of the wicked. Indeed, Christ has defeated them all in the battle to the death upon the cross, for when He died, He took down all my foes, including death itself.

This morning, I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. And He has taught me, once again, through His Spirit, that I am His child, and He my Father in Jesus Christ, my Lord.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

The Plastic Jesus: Reshaping Christ to Match Our Expectations

When the twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem while his parents headed home to Nazareth, He knew what He was doing. He knew that Mary and Joseph would assume that He was somewhere in the large crowd of family and friends who’d made the pilgrimage with them. He knew that eventually they’d realize He wasn’t in the group, and that they’d retrace their steps in search of their missing boy. That first surprise, then disbelief, then fear, then full-blown panic would attack their hearts—these things also Jesus knew. Yet, knowing full well what He was about to put Mary and Joseph through, He still stayed behind in Jerusalem. Why?

You can imagine the frantic conversations these parents had as they rushed back to Jerusalem. “Is He okay? Herod had hunted Jesus down when He was a baby; was His disappearance now somehow politically motivated? Had someone kidnapped Him, or hurt Him, or worse?” They replayed the last few days, “Where all did we go? Maybe Jesus is where we stayed, or with our friends there, or with other boys in Jerusalem?” And when they arrived back in the holy city, you can hear them asking over and over again, to everyone they knew there, “Have you seen Jesus?”; and to other boys His age, “Have you seen our son?”; and even to strangers on the street, “He’s about yay tall, with this color hair, wearing these kinds of clothes. Have you see Him? Have you seen our Jesus?”

The first day of searching would have been awful, but surely they’d find Him by sunset. The second day of searching would have been heart-wrenching, but surely…hopefully…maybe they’d find Him before dark. And the third day of searching, as hour upon hour slipped by with no results, would have been catastrophic.

boyJesusintempleThen finally, on that third day, after scouring the city, as a last ditch effort they finally decided to check the temple. And, lo and behold, there Jesus is, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions,” (Luke 2:46). It doesn’t take much imagination to detect the frustration and fear and relief and anguish all blended together in His mother’s words, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” At this point we’d expect a sheepish apology from any other boy; or, at the very least, a string of excuses. But no apologies, no excuses, fall from His lips. He who had been questioning the teachers now questions His mother, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

Jesus had known what He was doing. He put Mary and Joseph into a situation in which they thought they’d lost Him, in which they searched for Him, but in all the wrong places. Why? In order that, when they found Him, He might disclose to them more clearly who He really is. Did you hear what Mary said? “Your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And did you hear how Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Yes, Jesus was the son of Mary and His foster-father Joseph, but He was far more than that. He was the true Son of the Father, born into a human family precisely in order to be about His Father’s business. Mary and Joseph needed a sharp reminder of who this twelve-year-old boy really was, of why He was born, and of what mission His Father sent Him to fulfill.

buddyJesusAnd we need that same reminder. It is all too easy, and all too common, for us to make of Jesus what we want Him to be, to worship a plastic Jesus that can be shaped into whatever image we desire. And isn’t it strange how the Jesus we end up with bears such a striking resemblance to ourselves? Our Jesus thinks as we do, acts as we act, speaks as we speak. He espouses our causes. He cheers on our races. He furthers our dreams. Rather than challenging us, our Jesus He coddles us. Rather than calling us to repentance, our Jesus calls us to revel in whatever we enjoy. If we’re white Americans, our Jesus is a white American, too. If we’re conservative Republicans, then our Jesus is too. If we’re anti-this or pro-that, then our Jesus is too. What’s really going on? Nothing more than this: we’re making Jesus into what we think He should be instead of what He really is. And what are we in need of? The same thing Mary and Joseph needed: a wake-up call, a reminder of who Jesus really is, of why He was born, and of what mission His Father sent Him to fulfill.

You must lose your false Jesus in order that you might find the real Jesus. And the real Jesus won’t be thinking and acting and speaking as you do. He won’t be where you naturally think He ought to be, doing those things you assume He should be doing. The real Jesus will be about His Father’s business.

The business of Jesus, the business of the Father, is always quite the opposite of business. There is no buying or selling, no exchange of merchandise. There is only grace-giving and grace-receiving. There is the Father, so loving the world that He was giving His Son for the life of the world, for your life. The Father’s business is giving His Son at no cost to you. He gives Him into the womb of Mary, into a world gone wrong, into the vortex of suffering and bleeding and dying that happened in a far different temple in which the altar is a cross, the priests are Roman soldiers, and the sacrifice is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He gives Jesus into the splash of water that drenches you in grace on the day you’re baptized, and floods you every day afterward with the Father’s grace-giving love. He gives Him into the temple constructed of nouns and verbs and adjectives, into the temple of His word, in which the Spirit speaks life into your worn and weary soul. The Father gives Jesus into your mouth, into the quarter-shaped piece of bread that’s stuffed with the golden grace of heaven, into the sip of wine that’s been fermenting in the veins of God.

The Father’s business is always giving the Son in order that you might always be receiving the Son, and with Him, everything the Father wants you to have. He wants you to have a clean slate, a personal history purged of every wrongdoing, no matter how big or how small—and that’s what you receive in Jesus. The Father wants you to have
wholeness, no matter how broken you are;
peace, no matter how conflicted your life;
hope, no matter how overshadowed you are by despair.
And that’s what you receive in Jesus. The Father’s business is pouring Jesus into you, until you’re overflowing with Christ, in order that you might have and be all He wants for you.

Who is Jesus, really? He is one who’s about His Father’s business—the business of making you the Father’s child by uniting you to Himself, that who He is, you also may be.

This devotion is based on the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday after Christmas from Luke 2:40-52. It is written for LINC–San Antonio, which posts weekly devotions on its website for the upcoming Sunday.

BOOK SALE ALMOST OVER! If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

Christmas Isn’t God Slumming with Humanity

swaddledJesusThe heavens do not turn three shades of red when God is born a babe. They sing. Glory to God in the highest, whose birth room smells of manure and hay. There lies the swaddled creator, all wrapped up in the things of creation—infant holy yet infant lowly, a diapered divinity.

But you’re wrong if you suppose this is beneath God, as if He’s slumming with humanity. The incarnation is not so much God-made-small as it is man-made-big. The God who made man in His own image outdoes Himself: He makes Himself into His own image and thereby exalts us. Jesus becomes what you are—a woman’s child—that He might make you what He is—a son of the Father. That’s what this is all about. One small step for God, one giant leap for mankind. He becomes no less, but we become infinitely more in Him. Within the womb of Mary, something new happens under the sun. A woman is pregnant with God, by God, for us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, Jesus issues forth as the first man of a new race. This race calls God Father, and means it. For in the fullness of time, He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

That is what you need: redemption, adoption. You don’t need a god who strokes your ego with applause from on high when you “do good.” You don’t need a deadbeat deity who’s so busy caring for his universe that he shows no concern when his children go astray. You need the God for whom nothing matters more than to save you, to adopt you as His own flesh and blood. You need the God who cares enough to tell you the truth, to say, “Apart from me, you are depraved, dead, and damned. But I love you. I want you. I desire you to be my child more than anything else. So I have done all and everything necessary for you to be mine.”

This is the God—the God-made-man—you need. He is the Lord you have. He gives purity to the depraved, life to the dead, salvation to you under hell’s thumb. He did not come to save the trees or the spotted owl. He was not born to rid the world of hunger or stop the ravages of war. He came to be for every man what no man has been or could be for himself. Born under the law, Jesus fulfilled the law He Himself had given. He was the perfect infant, perfect teenager, perfect adult. He bore your flesh and blood along through every stage of life, bearing it to the cross, bearing it out of the grave. And all of it is credited to you. You—perfect infant; you—perfect teenager; you—perfect adult, all in Jesus. For God so loved the world, He strapped the world to the back of His Son, so that where He went and what He did, you went and you did also.

So shout greatly, O daughters of Zion, for a virgin daughter of Israel has entered motherhood. Humble and mounted on a manger, Jesus rides into our world, and heaven follows after Him. Hosanna to the Son of David, born in David’s town. Blessed is He who comes from the bosom of His Father to the bosom of His mother. He comes for all.

Are you bruised and battered by the cares of this world? He comes for you, this great physician of soul and body.
Are you betrayed and abused, divorced and lonely? His advent is for you, this faithful bridegroom of the Church.
Are you rich and happy, well-fed and comfortable? Yes, He comes for you, too, to show you that true riches and true happiness are found only in Him.

The nails and a spear shall pierce Him; the cross he will bear. That is why He came down from heaven, to let the earth have its way with Him that He might have His way with you. And His way is life. So be not afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born a Savior, God in the flesh, who fills you with life divine.

This reflection is included in my collection of meditations entitled Christ Alone. If you’d like to read more, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

What to Expect When Mary’s Expecting

maryelizabethAn uncreated God
Of blood and skin and bone.
A Lord within a womb
Who sits on heaven’s throne.
The Father’s only Son
Who’ll nurse at Mary’s breast.
The ever-watchful King
Asleep on Joseph’s chest.
Creator of the stars,
With diapers on his bum.
The right hand of the Lord
Who’ll suck his tiny thumb.

 

This poem is included in my collection entitled, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s now on sale to the end of 2014. Click here to purchase your copy. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for a 25% discount. Thank you!

Ashes, Mannequins, and Corpses: What Will Happen to You After Death?

The Federalist is a web magazine focused on culture, politics, and religion. I’ve written for them in the past about the funerals, marriage and divorce, as well as so-called “safe sex.” Yesterday, they published an article I wrote about after-death care of the body. In particular, I address questions about cremation. Here is the introduction and a link that will send you to the full article.

As if there’s not enough decisions to make in life, these days we’re even forced to make choices about what happens to us after we’re dead. If you’d like to go out with a bang, you can be cremated and have your ashes stuffed into fireworks so your family can ooh and aah as you’re blown into colorful smithereens in the night sky. Or your dressed and upright corpse, a stiff drink in hand, can be the life of the party as your friends gather round to drink and dance your demise away. Or, if you’re not really on the wild side, there’s always doctors and scientists eager for another cadaver. Hell, you might even go retro and be laid to rest in a coffin.

Alas, but even then, there are decisions to be made. You might opt for a funeral home with a drive-through window so the mourners—after they’ve grabbed a burger and fries down the street—can roll down their window, leave the A/C running, and take a quick gander at your remains as they dab their eyes with a McDonald’s napkin. Or if you make people actually get out of their cars and go into a church for a service, you need to decide if you want to have a Celebration of Life service or stick with the tried-and-true traditional funeral.

The long and short of this is that if you’re currently undecided as to what you’d like to happen to your corpse, know that every day your options expand. Death is not only a huge business; it’s also become quite the creative enterprise, full of entrepreneurs eager to Americanize death and cash in on your corp$e.

Before you make any decisions about your postmortem particulars, however, you might want to sit back and ponder bigger, more fundamental questions such as these: Should you even care what happens to your corpse? And, if so, why? So what if you’re cremated or left intact, celebrated or mourned, exploded in the heavens or buried under the earth? You’ll be dead, of course, so why should it matter what the living do with you?

Let me, first of all, tell you why I think it should matter to all of us. Secondly, let me spell out the practical implications that positive belief has for what we do with the body after death.

To read the full article, click here to go the Federalist website.

The One Page of the Bible I’d Like to Rip Out

IMG_2833I’m certainly not the first person who wanted to abbreviate the Bible. In the early church, a heretic named Marcion gutted the entire Old Testament as well as any verse in the New Testament that had a whiff of the old covenant about it. And one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, took a pen knife to his copy of the New Testament. He literally cut out every word that contradicted his rationalized, deist sensitivities. Others would like to rip out the bloody pages in Joshua where God’s people slaughtered the pagan inhabitants of the holy land; or the psalm that describes how blessed the man is who smashes the heads of his enemy’s children into rocks; or the many, many verses that contradict modern notions of marriage, sexuality, and other ethical issues. Whether for theological, philosophical, or moral reasons, there’s plenty of people who’d like to make their copy of the Scriptures a page or two shorter. And I’m one of them.

Before you start gathering firewood to burn me at the stake, however, let me hasten to add that the part of the Bible to which I object should never have been there in the first place. It was a later accretion, added for pious, albeit misguided, reasons. If I could, I’d take every Bible in hand, grab this page between my thumb and forefinger and rip it out. It’s that single sheet of paper that lurks between the last chapter in Malachi and the first chapter in Matthew. It’s the page that’s blank except for three words, “The New Testament.” Let me explain why.

The biblical story, from the opening words of creation to the closing Amen of Revelation, is a united whole. Picture it as a flowing river. Its waters begin as a mere trickle in the opening chapters of the Bible as we hear of creation, the Fall, and God’s promise to send the serpent-crushing Redeemer. As you wade through the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you’ll notice the biblical waters have become knee-deep. Go farther downstream, into the story of Israel’s exodus, wilderness wanderings, and entrance into the holy land, and you’ll soon be waist-deep in the scriptural stream. As you travel still more, through the psalms and prophets and wisdom literature, the holy waters will rise farther up your chest until you’re neck-deep in this sacred river. By and by, you’ll arrive at the closing chapter of the last prophet before Christ, and what will you find there? Sadly, you’ll run face-first into a dam.

That dam is the page in your Bible that says, “The New Testament.” But it’s more than a page; it’s really a mind-set that this page represents. It’s the wrongheaded assumption that a radical separation exists between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This way of thinking dams up the waters of the first part of the Bible from the last part of the Bible. In reality, yes, the biblical stream flows deeply and freely from Malachi to Matthew, but too many Christians don’t see it that way. They see two, very distinct, often even opposing, bodies of water. They look to the left and see the “river of law” in the OT; and to the right they view the “river of Gospel” in the NT. Or they see the “river of antique stories that teach us how to live” in the OT and the “river of Jesus Christ living for us” in the NT. Rather than confessing that the writings of Moses and the prophets are Christian scripture, they treat them as Jewish scripture from which Christians might learn a few things.

So you see, it’s not so much that I want to rip the page out of the Bible that divorces the OT from the NT, but that I want to rip that mindset out of the heads of modern Christians. Over my years of teaching, both in congregations and in seminary, I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me after class to express their thanks for how I showed them that Christ permeates the entire OT. It’s a wonderful compliment, but it’s also very disturbing. Some of these folks are cradle Christians; they’ve been in Sunday Schools and adult Bible Classes their whole life. Yet what were they taught about the OT? They probably heard that there are prophecies of the Messiah in those books. They know that at least Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 tell us about the suffering Servant. But by and large, for them the OT remains a Christless book—a book fat with law and skinny on Gospel.

Those of you who are pastors or teachers in the church, I’d like to issue a challenge to you. This coming year, in Bible classes and from the pulpit, look first and foremost to the OT when you’re telling the story of Jesus. Rather than turning to Matthew or Luke to describe His incarnation and birth, direct people to Isaiah and Micah. When you’re teaching about His two natures, that He is God and man, lead people to Psalm 2 and 110, Genesis 3:15, and the host of OT stories where the Son of God appears as the “Angel of the Lord.” If you’re teaching about baptism, don’t turn immediately to Romans or 1 Corinthians, but show believers how the narratives about circumcision, the crossing of the Red Sea, Naaman’s cleansing in the Jordan, and other OT water stories instruct us about the sacrament. When you’re preaching on the Lord’s Supper, don’t say, “Open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 11,” but, “Let’s turn to Exodus 12 and talk about how the Passover is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.” And when you’re proclaiming our Lord’s sacrificial death, draw upon the near-sacrifice of Isaac, the prophecies from Isaiah, the Psalms, and many other OT verses that paint a vivid picture of what happened on the cross for us. In short, pretend that you’re an early Christian, when the only Scripture that existed was the OT. And as Jesus showed the Emmaus disciples how He Himself is the subject of every OT writer, from Moses through all the prophets and psalms, you follow suit in your own teaching and preaching (Luke 24:27,44).

The only dam that’s been erected between the writings of the OT and the NT is in the head of Christians. Let’s demolish it. These scriptural waters flow deeper and deeper the farther we move along. Splash in them all; drink of them all; let these words of Christ, about Christ, and in Christ wash over you. Once you have tasted and felt how Jesus Christ and His Gospel fill these waters, you’ll never see the OT the same.

And you too will probably begin to wonder why in the world anyone ever presumed to insert a damming page between the last chapter in Malachi and the first chapter in Matthew.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

Strong Enough to Cry: Why John Wayne is No Model for Real Men

johnwayneHollywood never made a John Wayne movie in which the cowboy broke down and bawled like a baby. He’d put a bullet in an outlaw’s chest, break some noses in a barroom brawl, and charge headfirst toward enemy lines, but he wouldn’t skulk off to cry his eyes out. He was too much of a man for that. A man’s man knows that tears are womanly, a sign of weakness. So tighten that jaw. Flex those muscles. But keep those eyes clear and dry. If tears start leaking out, just go ahead and surrender your man card. Real men, strong men, testosterone gods don’t keep a Kleenex in their pockets.

I don’t know that anyone ever taught me that philosophy of life, but that’s certainly the unspoken creed I grew up believing and confessing. The men in my circles had callouses on their hands. They rode horses, drove tractors, hammered nails. Not once do I remember seeing a man weep. Bad things happens, of course, but you just suck it up and keep on going. You get ‘er done. You don’t go to your room and cry like a little baby. And if you do, heaven help you, because now everybody’s gonna know you need to grow a pair. It’s fine for women to cry; that’s just what they do. But men, no, never, and certainly not in Texas.

Now that I have a few years under my belt—along with some skeletons in my closet, scratches on my soul, and a growing number of gray hairs—I look back on that stoic philosophy of life with utter contempt. With apologies to all you John Wayne fans, that tough, dry-eyed man is far from the model man. And he’s certainly not the biblical man, the man God holds up before the world as a man after His own heart. As I’ve come to discover, the men in the Bible, especially the heroic men of the Bible, find their strength only in times of weakness and tears.

Of all the men in the Bible, who do you think cried the most? The answer may surprise you. It’s certainly not a spineless man who skirted conflicts and ran off to the shadows to suck his thumb. It’s not a weak-kneed man, or foolish man, or one of those men who seems forever stuck at the maturity level of a teenager. No, the man who cried more than any other biblical figure went through hell and back yet proved himself gifted by God with wisdom, endurance, fortitude, fidelity, and a whole host of other laudable qualities. He wound up eventually being the leader of men, indeed, the leader of a nation and a savior of countless people. The man who shed more tears than any other biblical person is Joseph, the son of Jacob.

Talk about a man who knew weakness, suffering, deprivation. Joseph was hated by most of his brothers, who sold him into slavery in his late teens. When he was a slave, his master’s wife falsely accused him of sexual assault and he wound up behind bars for years. Exiled, alone, betrayed, forgotten, Joseph was refined by the Lord’s fire. For years, his life was like one long crucifixion, with another nail and a few more thorns added every few months. Yet when the Lord finally resurrected him from the dungeon and exalted him to Pharaoh’s right hand, he was not hardened. In fact, amazingly, his first recorded tears happen after all his suffering.

When Joseph first sees his brothers again, twenty years after they betrayed him, he turns away from them and weeps when he overhears them lamenting what they’d done to their young brother so long ago (Gen 42:24). When he finally lays eyes on his younger brother, Benjamin, he loses control of his emotions, runs to his bedroom, and cries his eyes out (43:30-31). Eventually, as Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, he weeps so loudly that the Egyptians in other parts of his house hear him crying (45:2). He falls on the neck of his little brother and weeps, then afterward he sheds tears over all of his brothers (45:14-15). And when father and son are finally reunited, Joseph “fell on Jacob’s neck and wept on his neck a long time,” (46:29). A river of tears cascade from the eyes of this weak-yet-strong man. And as it happens, we learn a most important truth about what makes a real man.

Our culture teaches us that real men dig deep down inside and find there strength to face the obstacles of life. Our God teaches us that real men dig deep down inside and find there the terrible truth that we are found lacking, that “we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from ourselves,” (2 Cor 3:5). We dig down deep, like thirsty men shoveling for water in the Sahara, and all we find is more hot, dry sand. We don’t have what it takes. Supermen are phantasms of a child’s mind.

The true strength of man is discovered in the confession of weakness. As long as we are focused inward, and seek to tap within our hearts some deep reservoir of testosterone to sustain us, we are destined to live a lie. When I admit that I am nothing, only then do I begin to discover that I am something. When I confess that I have no strength of my own, God starts to reveal to me a strength stronger than I could have ever imagined. When I sit with Joseph in exile, in slavery, in the dark and lonely nights of an Egyptian jail, I find the God who sits beside me, holds me, weeps with me, and pours into me His strong Spirit.

“Our sufficiency is from God,” Paul says (2 Cor 3:5). When Paul prayed that his thorn in the side might be removed, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So the apostle confesses, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor 12:8-10). I am content to cry with Joseph, to wail with David, indeed, to weep with Jesus at the news of Lazarus’ death, for when I am weak, then I am strong. When I confess that, in and of myself, I am nothing, then Jesus, who is everything, makes me something: he makes me His servant, His ambassador, His brother.

Tears are a gift from above. Like two small fonts, weeping eyes remind us that our strength is found in the waters of baptism, for there Christ finds us. He washes away our self-sufficiency, cleanses us of our testosterone idols, and makes us strong by making us His. We die to self and rise to Christ. And in that resurrection, we discovery honesty—the kind of honesty that doesn’t need to hide behind a stoic mask, but can weep precisely because of strength, can cry only because of Christ, can truly say, “When I am a weak man, then, and only then, am I a strong man.”

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

The Dad Who Didn’t Have to Be a Dad: Even God Needed a Father

It’s one of my favorite family pictures. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on a couch are my granddad, my dad, me, and my son. A four-generation snapshot: Lee Roy to Carson to Chad to Luke. You can spy the DNA doing its thing; you can trace the lineage trickling down from face to face. Each father cradled each son on the day he bawled his way into this world. He gazed into that tiny face and saw mirrored there his own. “Here is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” we all thought. Here, in this baby, is half of me, half of my wife. The Bible says Adam fathered “a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen 5:3), and ever afterward, we dads have been following suit.

josephBut not one father. He peered into a baby’s face on the night of his nativity, but he saw there no hint of his own eyes or the shape of his nose or the contours of his jaw. That boy would learn to crawl, then to walk, but His gait was nothing like the gait of Joseph. No old woman ever said, “That Jesus is the spitting image of His daddy.” For Mary’s husband couldn’t spy his DNA doing its thing. Half of him was not in Jesus. He is indeed called the boy’s father (Luke 2:33), but Joseph and Mary and Jesus Himself knew that a paternity test would yield negative results. When Jesus met people, and they asked where He was from and who His dad was, little did they realize what loaded questions those were.

It wasn’t the seed of Joseph that was planted in Mary’s womb, but when that baby was born; when Herod sent soldiers to murder Him; when the family had to flee the country; when they made the long journey home; when they needed a roof over their heads and sandals on their feet and food on their table, Joseph was the man to get it done. When baby Jesus filled His diaper with poop, Joseph wiped the divine butt and put a clean diaper on Him. When Jesus took His first wobbly steps, Joseph laughed with Mary as those divine legs learned how to walk. He taught Him to say aleph, bet, gimel as Jesus learned His Hebrew ABCs. This carpenter showed the Lord of all how to hew down and fashion into lumber the very trees He had planted at the dawn of creation. Joseph was not the father of Jesus, but then again, he was the father of Jesus. Jesus was the true offspring of the heavenly Father, very God of very God, begotten not made, but even the Son of God needed a daddy.

That’s one of the reasons why, when I see Joseph, I see God hallowing fatherhood. The Son that He is sending into this world will need more than a mother; He needs a father. As great a blessing as Mary was to our Savior, loving and caring for Him as mothers do, Joseph was equally a blessing to Him. Call him the foster father to Jesus; the adoptive father; the stand-in father; whatever you wish: the Bible simply called Joseph “His father,” (Luke 2:33). For so he was in every way except biologically.

Joseph is God’s way of reminding us that fatherhood is not a hobby but a vocation—a calling that is both sacred and life-encompassing. God hallows fatherhood, makes it holy, something that is set apart and special to Him. For in it He both conceals and reveals His own fatherhood to us. As Joseph protected his family, led them, worked for them, cared for them, taught them, he was but a mask for the Father in heaven who used Joseph as His hands and feet and mouth to care for the Savior and His mother. So my father was to me, and so I strive to be for my own family. If even the Son of God needed a daddy, I know that my son does, my daughter does. Do I fail? Yes, all the time. Do I fail miserably at times? Yes, I most certainly do. Every father does. Since Joseph was a flawed human being, he screwed up sometimes when he was a father to Jesus. But God forgives, covers our weaknesses with the cloak of His grace, and continues to use us as His masks to care for those whom He has placed in our care.

Joseph is also God’s way of reminding us fathers that our children are, from conception onward, divine gifts to us. Whether we are their biological fathers, adoptive fathers, foster or step-fathers, “children are a gift from the LORD,” (Psalm 127:3). As such, they always remain, first and foremost, God’s children. Every child has two fathers, one on earth and one in heaven. And, no matter what DNA is woven into their cells, it is the heavenly Father that defines who they are. They are not ours to do with as we please, but as God pleases. So we bring them to their Father’s house where He baptizes them into the divine family. We bring them, perhaps kicking and screaming at times, to their Father’s house, where He talks to them in His word, tells them about Himself, tell them about themselves, and draws them ever closer to Him. We teach them at home, in the car, wherever we might be, about the Father who loves them so much that He sent His own Son to be born into a human family, to live and to die and to rise again, that they might receive the gifts of life and salvation. We are all Joseph—all masks of the heavenly Father by which He cares for the children He has given to us.

I suppose that Joseph could have divorced Mary when he discovered she was a pregnant with a child that was not his own. He could have refused to believe the angel who told him in a dream that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25). He could have hightailed it to save his own skin when he learned that Herod’s men were on their way to Bethlehem, swords in hand. He could have abandoned the family in Egypt. He didn’t have to be the dad he was, but he indeed was. He had a sacred calling. He was the husband of Mary, the father of Jesus, the mask of God.

This Christmas, as you see that man in the nativity scene, kneeling by the virgin, say a prayer of thanks for him. And say a prayer of thanks for all fathers, for we struggle, we fail, and we try again to live out our vocations. Some of us do better than others, some worse, but we all live by grace of Jesus, who lived and died for Joseph, for Mary, for all of us. If all children are a gift from the Lord, then the Christ Child is The Gift. In Him we are all the children of a Father who is truly faithful and has made us His own in that tiny babe of Bethlehem.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

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