Archive for the month “May, 2015”

Some of the Best People Are Not Christians

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

Yet they have nothing whatsoever to do with Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

We Are All the Duggars

Yesterday this article by me and my friend, Daniel Emery Price, was published on the Liberate website. It has since had over 10,000 shares so, needless to say, readers are interested in this subject. If you’ve been following the Duggar family, then here is a biblical approach to the scandal that has enveloped them. 

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The problem is that I’ve yet to meet a family that fits into Tolstoy’s tidy categories of “happy” and “unhappy.” The reality is far messier. Put tears and laughter, love and betrayal, fights and hugs into a blender and out will come a family. Even in homes where the walls are decorated with portraits of grinning moms and dads and kids, there’s usually a closet door that’s kept shut. Last week we were reminded of that, when the media flung open that door in the Duggar family home. And the skeletons came spilling out.

we-are-all-the-DuggarsJosh Duggar, now twenty seven, the oldest son in TLC’s hit show, “19 Kids and Counting,” sexually abused five underage girls—four of them his sisters—when he was in his early teens. On the family’s Facebook page, Josh, his wife, and his parents have acknowledged this, as well as described how they addressed the abuse a dozen years ago when it occurred. Josh, who had been a lobbyist in Washington D.C. for the Family Research Council, has since resigned his position. And TLC will not be airing any episodes of “19 Kids and Counting” for the foreseeable future.

What happened within this family is many things—tragic and abusive, shameful and selfish, destructive and deceptive. It is all manner of evil, no matter how you look it. But there is one thing that it is surely not: it is not surprising. Not in the least. The only ones stunned by this revelation of abuse are most likely those who assume that the Duggar family image on their reality show does, in fact, accurately reflect reality. But there is no reason why this family’s secret should be shocking, especially to the Christian. The Duggars are not the pristine, ideal family that their television show portrays them as being. They never have been, nor will they ever be. Nor is any family. They are parents, sons, and daughters who have a civil war raging within each of them. It just so happens that Josh’s particular battles, and the pain he inflicted upon others as a result, have taken center stage.

Consider these words: “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” These are the words of Paul, the one we’ve dubbed Saint Paul. He frankly admits that he’s anything but a model of moral perfection. “I do the very thing I hate,” he admits. He’s got a civil war raging inside him, too. He’s fully sinful in himself and fully righteous in Jesus Christ, all at the same time. He is what the Reformers called simul justus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner). What Paul’s particular struggles were, what those things he hated were, he doesn’t say. He doesn’t have to. He’s simply upfront about his condition—the fallen, curved-in-on-itself human condition.

As it was with Paul, so it is with the Duggars, and so it is with every Christian: each of us lugs around an old corrupt nature that we won’t shed this side of the grave. Of course, that nature rears its ugly head in different ways with each person, sometimes in ways that must be addressed with spiritual as well as psychological help. With Josh, sadly, it was through sexual abuse; with others it’s through addictions and greed and hate and selfishness of every kind. But one thing is certain: not just Josh but all of us harbor our demons. And the sinful nature within us is daily clawing its way out to manifest itself in ways great and small, public and private. Only liars and fools pretend otherwise.

The sooner we as individual Christians, as Christian families, and as churches present ourselves to the world that way, the better. Believers face more than petty allurements, make more than “mistakes.” We fail and fall in mega ways.

Dear world, do you struggle with alcohol or drug abuse? So do we believers.
Dear world, has your family been wounded by infidelities? So have ours.
Dear world, have your children hurt each other through sexual abuse? Yes, ours too.
Dear world, do your families members commit crimes and end up in prison? Ours too.
Dear world, do you have a closet full of skeletons? So do we Christians.

The greatest witness that Christians can present to the world is not their own morality, their ideal family, or their dream marriage, but their weaknesses and sins and failures, all of which have been atoned for by the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Our witness is never, “Look at how well we’re doing at being good,” but always, “Look at the good Savior who died for our evils.”

Here’s what happens inside the closed doors of Christian families: sinners live together in very close proximity. And you know what that means. Husbands who are righteous in Christ, but sinful in themselves, do and say mean and hurtful things to their wives. Wives who are righteous in Christ, but sinful in themselves, do and say mean and hurtful things to their husbands. Christian children mess up big time, rebel, and yes, sometimes sexually abuse others. We do terrible things. Tempers flare, eyes lust, tongues yell. In other words, sinners act the way sinners are. We are no better than the world is. Nor should we claim to be. We are far from perfect. We are by nature sinful and unclean. And because of that, we return, again and again, to the blood Christ shed that atones for our sins—the same blood, dear world, that has atoned for yours as well.

Christians families do not live on the mountaintop of morality but at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. In his shadow is shelter from the burning sun of iniquity. Whatever repercussions Josh may experience from what he’s done, he will find at the foot of the cross a God who does not punish him, but says, “I love you. I have forgiven you. My blood has made you whiter than snow.” If this seems scandalous, then you’re beginning to understand the grace of Christ. Christ’s love is a scandalous gift. He didn’t die for the not-so-sinful portion of humanity. He was crucified for all. He died for sexual abusers, murderers, gossips, hatemongers, adulterers, pornographers, and you—whoever you are, whatever skeletons may be piled in your family closet.

But there’s still more that Jesus did. Christ took upon himself the shame that others inflict upon innocent victims. He lived and died and rose again for the girls that Josh abused. The battered wife, the rape victim, the child whose bedtime lullaby was the screams of a drunk father—these who have been physically, emotionally, and psychologically harmed by the evils of others, they too find peace and wholeness in the battle-torn, broken body of the Son of God. He didn’t just die to forgive us for the wrongs we do, but to provide us with healing from the wrongs others do to us. For in Christ, the Spirit puts us into communion with a restoring God. He gives us the peace that passes understanding. Not the evil that others have done to us, but the good Christ has done for us, is what defines who we are. We are God’s sons and daughters. We are adopted into the family of a Father whose greatest joy is loving and embracing us as the dearest things in all creation to him.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have said, “We pray that as people watch our lives they see that we are not a perfect family.” We would echo that prayer, and add to it. I would pray that as people watch their lives—and as they watch the life of my family as well—they would see families that boast only of their weaknesses, that do not deny their flaws, and that find peace and healing only in Jesus Christ.

We are all the Duggars. We are all dysfunctional sinners living in flawed families upheld by grace. There is only one who is perfect, the one who became our sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And in his wounds, bleeding with love, all of us find healing.

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

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

No Babbling on Pentecost

Today the Spirit of God who brooded over the waters of a lightless creation
Swoops down with tongues of fire to kindle faith in the re-creating work of Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who made the tower-builders into foolish babblers
Unites believers in the univocal language of the church-building grace of Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who came mightily upon the deliverers of Israel
Falls upon the apostles to proclaim the deliverance from sin we enjoy in Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who endowed with wisdom the builders of the tabernacle
Imparts the saving wisdom of the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us.

Today the Spirit who gave the law to Israel on two tablets of stone
Gives hearts of flesh for hearts of stone in the proclamation of the Good News.

Today the Spirit whom unfaithful David prayed the Lord would not take from him
Pours himself into sinners that they might sing of the faithful love of their Husband.

Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover resurrection of our Lord
When we are made holy by the holy-ing Spirit of the Christ who gives us the Father.

Today is Pentecost.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Pentecost

Can These Bones Live?

DryBonesBones, bones, everywhere and not a drop of blood, not an inch of skin, not a gasp of breath. Just bones. Just the dried out remains of a life that once was lived but now is not. Tell me, son of man, can these bones live?

Look, there are the bones of feet that once marched across a stage to receive a diploma; that walked down an aisle to become bone of another’s bone, flesh of their flesh; that ran alongside a child’s bicycle when the training wheels were removed. Yet now the bones of those feet do not march, do not walk, do not run. They have been bleached under the sun of grief, immobilized by the pain of lost love, lost life, lost hope. Tell me, son of man, can these bones live?

Look, there are the bones of hands that once played with toy trucks or dressed Barbie dolls, but those hands grew. And as they grew, the fingers on those hands gripped bottle after bottle, pushed needle after needle into their skin, until those hands lost all control and did unspeakable things that marred and scarred them. In the valley of their addiction their bones bake under the heat of a relentless sun. Tell me, son of man, can these bones live?

Look, there are the skulls of women who have been abused by men, others who have used men, and still others who have simply given up on life and crouched down to die in this valley of despair. There are the swollen skulls of men whose pride has puffed them up and the flattened skulls of men who have beaten their heads against the wall in frustration with a dead-end life. In the middle of this valley of abuse and hopelessness and pride, these skulls sit. Tell me, son of man, can these bones live?

O Lord God, you know. You know whether these bones can live. You know whether there is hope for the hurting, forgiveness for the failures, resurrection for the dead. So, tell us, Son of God, can these bones live?

O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus he says to these bones. Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord. I will fill my lungs with the breath of life, and exhale that Spirit into your lungs. I will lay upon you the sinews of my salvation, and will cause the flesh of forgiveness to come upon you, and graft upon you the skin of my love.

Look, here are the feet of the Son of God who walked a lifetime in our shoes, who did for us what we could never do for ourselves. His feet walked the straight path of the Father from which we have gone astray. His feet did not trample others, did not run to shed innocent blood. And he walked this path for you. What he did, he did that his doing might be credited to you. Oh how beautiful are the feet of the Son of God, who walked in the law for you; the feet pierced by a spike for you; the feet that stomped upon the head of the ancient serpent that you might be victorious over your foe.

Look, here are the hands of the Son of God who reached out to touch the leper, the pariah, whom no man dared to touch. Here are the hands that would not pick up a stone to cast at the woman caught in adultery. Here are the hands that stretched out on the cross to receive the nails, and then stretched out those nail-scarred hands to beckon Thomas from his doubt. These hands heal your hands. These hands of the Son of God reach out to lift you up, to make you new, to love you back to the wholeness of the children of God.

Look, here is the head of the church, who died at the hill called the Place of the Skull. Here is the head who humbly bore a crown of thorns to crown you with life. Here is the head struck by the soldiers that you might be embraced by the Father’s peace. Here God bows his head and gives up his Spirit that the Spirit might uplift your weary heads, forgive you, and raise you to new life with Christ on Easter Day.

O dry bones, can you live?
You will live!
You do live!
You live now in Christ!

There is now no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus. The skeletons of your past, the skeletons in your closet, are all gone. Christ has taken them away. He has wrapped you with the muscle of his mercy, clothed you with the skin of his salvation, poured into your veins the liquid of his love, and breathed into you the Spirit of life.

You say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.
But God says: Behold, you are not dried up. You are washed in the waters of my saving blood. You hope is not lost for, look, I myself am your hope. You are not cut off for nothing can sever you from my love. Nothing.

In Jesus Christ your bones do more than live; they thrive in his grace. For he raises you from the death of your sin, makes you part of his resurrected body, and pours his Spirit into you. You are forgiven. You are alive.

You are in Christ, his Spirit is in you, and you are the Father’s child.

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

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

Where’s Drunk, Naked Noah on the Sunday School Felt Board?

noahfeltboardPerhaps you can help me. I’ve visited every church website I can think of in search of a felt board for Sunday School that includes the story of Noah from start to finish. There’s plenty of them, but they all are missing a piece of the story. They have the little figures of Noah and his sons; cows and camels and goats and other animals; the water and the ark and, of course, the rainbow. And they’re all very cute. Children can reenact the story by putting the figures on the felt board.

What I’m missing, however, are the pieces from the last part of the Flood account. All I need to complete the story is the little felt tent, and the little felt figure of a drunk, naked Noah that the kids can place inside the tent.

Where is the drunk, naked Noah for the Sunday School felt board? He’s probably in the same place as the little felt figures of Lot’s two daughters getting their dad drunk and having sex with him while they were hiding out in the mountains after Sodom was destroyed (Gen 19:30-38). Or maybe it’s in the same place as the felt figure of the Levite who chopped his dead concubine into a dozen pieces after the men of the city had gang-raped her all night (Judges 19). Or it could be where the felt figure of Elisha is when he sicced the two momma bears on the forty two boys who mocked him as a baldhead (2 Kings 2:23-25). Come to think of it, there are lots of missing felt figures. Where could they be?

They are all in the same place: they are boxed away in a secret place lest children, and adults, get the impression that the Good Book is stuffed with stories of bad people doing bad things. And this is truly a shame. For the less we tell these stories of sin, the more it seems we are ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of bad people.

Yes, Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; he walked with God (Gen 6:9). And through God, Noah did some great, holy things. Most notably, he was a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and “by faith…he constructed an ark for the salvation of his household,” (Heb 11:7). But after the waters of the flood had dried up, Noah planted a vineyard, drank of the wine, became drunk, and lay naked in his tent (Gen 9:20-21). So was Noah an ark-builder or a wine-bibber? Was he a righteous man or a drunk man? Was he a saint or a sinner?

Yes, he was. He was all of the above. And so is every believer.

But you wouldn’t know that from Sunday School felt boards. Nor from the sections of Scripture that many churches choose to read during worship. Nor from the content of many adult Bible studies. And you certainly wouldn’t know it from listening to the majority of songs and hymns based on biblical stories.

And in so far as that is true, we have deprived the children of God of much comfort. The comfort is not in knowing that bad people do bad things, but that our Father is not a deity that trashes people when they do. Rather, he is patient with them, seeks them out, calls them to repentance, and embraces them with his forgiving love in Jesus.

Speaking of Noah’s drunkenness, Martin Luther notes this story is recorded because God wanted those who “know their weakness and for this reason are disheartened, to take comfort in the offense that comes from the account of the lapses among the holiest and more perfect patriarchs.” In the stories of men like drunk Noah we “find sure proof of our own weakness and therefore bow down in humble confession, not only to ask for forgiveness but also to hope for it.” To hope for forgiveness, and to be certain that in Christ all is forgiven, all is well.

If we’re going to focus on any stories in the Scriptures, let us highlight those in which the weakness of people and the forgiveness of God in Christ are made manifest. Given the choice, I’d rather my children learn in Sunday School that drunk, naked Noah was forgiven than that the animals came into the ark two by two. I’d rather them, from the earliest age, learn that the Scriptures are not a long story of good people doing good things for a good God, but that the Scriptures are the story of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us.

If we are not ashamed of the Gospel, then let us not be ashamed of teaching that God forgives the shameful acts of all those who are in Christ, including me and you and our friend—drunk, naked Noah.

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

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

How Do I Know I’m a Christian?

question markThere are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions that present more of a challenge.

If someone asks me, “Are you a husband?” I can show them my ring, present my wedding certificate, point to the woman standing next to me who shares my life and my last name. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m married.

If someone asks me, “Are you an employee?” I can show them where I work, present my pay stubs, point to the truck with which I make deliveries. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m an employee.

Other questions are not so easily answered. If I’m asked, “Are you a good husband?” what immediately comes to mind are the times I’ve failed my wife, acted selfishly, and been anything but a good husband. I have no real external, tangible, objective way to answer that question. I must rely on feelings and speculations. Similarly, if someone asks, “What kind of employee are you?” my mind goes to the labor I’ve put in, but also to the times I’ve slacked off yet expected a full paycheck for a half-hearted performance. What if I think I’m doing an okay job but my boss thinks different and fires me?

There are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions about ourselves where we have to explore our hearts to test their sincerity, take account of the good and bad things we’ve done, focus inwardly to find the answer.

What about the question, “Are you a Christian?” Does this one belong to that second category, where we must explore our hearts, test our actions, focus inside ourselves to get to the right answer?

That’s certainly what some people think. So they urge folks to ask themselves if they really believe, if they really love their neighbor, if they really live a moral life. But no matter how well intentioned such an urging might be, rather than helping, it is pouring the poison of doubt into the souls of those for whom Christ died.

Look inside yourself to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find a heart that is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9); a heart from which flow evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt 15:19); a conscience that testifies that nothing good dwells in you, that the evil you do not want to do, you nevertheless keep right on doing (Rom 7:18-19).

Look at your deeds to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find that all your righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6); and if such be your righteousness, how dirty and defiled must be your unrighteousness. Look at your deeds and you will find that even when you have the desire to do what is right, you don’t have the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:18). Even if you did all that you were commanded, you must still say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what was my duty,” (cf. Luke 17:10). If such be the response of a person whose has kept all God’s commands, then we who have broken those commands are worthy of nothing but punishment, now and forever.

Thus, to answer, “Are you are Christian?” by looking inside ourselves, or by looking to our deeds or love of the neighbor, is to drink the poison of doubt. In fact, the more Christians look at themselves to see whether they are Christians, the more they will become convinced that they are not Christians.

The answer is found not within us but within Christ. Our assurance is in his objective, external work of salvation on our behalf. Not in our hearts but in the heart and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive assurance that we are the children of God.

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19)—the world of which you are a part. In Christ you are reconciled to God, at peace with the Lord, adopted as a child of the heavenly Father. God loved the world in this way: by sending his only begotten Son to die as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And if the world’s sin is taken away, then your sins are taken away. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us in order that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). His worthiness covers our unworthiness.

Your name is written in the wounds of Jesus. He has dipped his pen in the crimson ink of his veins and written your name, indelibly, in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He has engraved your name on the palms of his hands. He has tattooed his name onto your soul and heart and mind and body—you are completely and everlastingly his and his alone. In baptism you did not commit yourself to Christ; he committed himself to you. More than that, in those waters he crucified you with himself, laid your body with his in the tomb, and he carried you forth into the light of life again. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. That believing, that faith, is not a conviction you created but a gift you received. By the Holy Spirit you confess, “Jesus is Lord.”

Do we still struggle to believe? Of course we do, for we are far from perfect in this life. As a father once prayed to Jesus, so we also pray, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24). And he does. He enlivens and strengthens our faith by continuing to forgive us, to love us, to heal us, to give us himself. It is not our faithfulness that saves us, but the faithfulness of Jesus. For even if we are faithless he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).

How do you know you’re a Christian? Not because your heart is good and pure but because the heart of Christ pulses with a love for you that will never end. Not because your deeds are righteous but because he has been righteous on your behalf and clothes you with that righteousness. Not because you have lived for him but because he has lived and died and risen again for you. Not because you asked him to be your Savior but because while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you, chose you, called you, and washed you clean in his own divine blood.

If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” the answer is as simple as it is beautiful: you know you’re a Christian
because Christ has made you his own
because Christ will hold you fast
because nothing can separate you from the love of God
because Christ knows you, forgives you, washes you, and will never let you go.

That’s how you know you’re a Christian.

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

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

Don’t Tell Hurting People that God’s in Control

crosstornadoWe say it to the family who’s standing in a sea of twisted metal and broken dreams that a tornado spit out. We say it to the man who lost his job, can’t find work, and is on the verge of losing his home. We say it to the cancer patient, the pregnant teen, and our sons and daughters as they leave for war.

We mean well. We intend it as good news. We say, “God is in control,” to help them see that God is bigger than their struggles. That he has a grand and wonderful plan for their lives. That he, as the sovereign Lord, has this universe—and them—in the palm of his hand.

And we need to stop saying it.

There are things that are true of God that are not truly the good news people need to hear. There are hidden things about God and there are revealed things about God. The hidden things are of no concern to us; the revealed are our sole concern. And in those revealed things of God he discloses to us everything we need to know about who he is and what he does for us.

We want to know how God rules this world, how he is present in all things, how he exerts his control over the course of world events. We want to know why some get cancer and some don’t, why terrible things happen to the best of people, why volcanoes erupt and hurricanes strike and fires consume. We want to know whose side God is on when there are wars, why he waits so long to answer our prayers, how he’s going to sort out the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives.

Yet these questions are none of our concern. They are wrong questions that seek imperfect answers that give unstable hope. These deal with the hidden things of God. And even if the Lord gave us an answer, it would sound like Einstein lecturing on the theory of relativity to a bawling infant. The hidden things of God are hidden for a reason. They are none of our concern, none of our hope, none of our life.

Here’s what God wants us to know about him: that everything there is to know about him is Jesus. He is the sole means to the Father, the only revealer of the Spirit. He is the exact representation of God. In him all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form. In other words, the only God we know is Christ. And, equally important, the only Christ we know is the crucified one. Thus Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:2).

God does have a wonderful plan for your life, but it’s not what you think. His merciful plan is to crucify you with Christ, bury you with Christ, and raise you to new life in Christ. All this he does in baptism. Baptism unites you with the only God we know. And in that God—the crucified and resurrected Christ—God reveals who he is.

He is the God who will never leave you in your sickness, never forsake you in your brokenness, for you have been washed into his body, blooded into his veins, grafted into the limbs of his flesh.

He is the God who goes with grieving spouses to the graveside, and will one day go with you as you are carried to the place of your burial, for he is the God who is the resurrection and the life, the one in whom we live, even though we die.

Jesus is the crucified and resurrected God who gave his cheek to those who struck him, his hands to those who pierced him, his ear to those who mocked him, his body and blood to those who crucified him. And in so doing, he secured absolution for us for the most evil acts imaginable. He reconciled us to the Father by building a bridge from him to us that’s constructed out of the wood and nails of his cross. He gave us something better than answers to our questions; he gave us life for our death, heaven for our hell, forgiveness for our sin.

These are the revealed things of God—his revealed gifts to us. These gifts are not only all that matters, they are also all that satisfies. Here is hope for the hurting. Here is adoption for the rejected. Here is the God you can see and taste and touch and smell—the God whose name is Jesus Christ.

To those of you who are hurting, know that there is a God who loves you, who has always loved you and always will. Jesus Christ will not answer all your questions, but he will give you all of himself. And in the end, that’s all any of us need.

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

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

The Night We Defeated God

About once a month, I write an article for the website 1517 Legacy. Here is the beginning of my latest post for them: “The Night We Defeated God.” It is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. But it is about a greater story of a greater fight in which God is defeated that He might win us. 

I want a ringside seat at this fight. So close I can feel the spray of their sweat. It’s not every day you get to see man go toe-to-toe with God. Fight it out. Roll in the dirt. Batter and bruise and body-slam each other. But today’s that day. Finally, we get to see what God is really made of. Finally, he leaves his throne for our gutter. This is the chance we’ve all been waiting for.

Oh, yes, I’ve got a dog in this fight. His name’s Jacob. He’s not my first choice. I don’t care for Jacob. Never have. He’s got too much of me in him. He’s a liar and a cheat. He’s a coward and a user. All the men in the world who could have been the patriarch of the Old Testament church and this loser winds up on top. Married to two gals with a couple more co-wives on the side he employs as baby-makers. His family so fractured it’s the stuff of reality TV. On the outs with his twin brother for years. Here’s a man who seems to embody all my own sins. Not exactly hero material. But beggars can’t be choosers.

That God ever agreed to this fight seems the height of foolishness to me. Why come down from heaven? Why meet Jacob under cover of darkness, on the banks of this river, and wrestle with him through the small hours of the night? It’s not like He had to. He takes it upon Himself. He shows up, dressed in our skin, and picks a fight with the patriarch. You’ve got to wonder: does He have something up His sleeve?

I love the raw fury of the fight. I’ve poured everything I am into that man Jacob. All my own lying and cheating and cowardice. All my own anger and frustration and fears. All the fractures of my family. All my loneliness and hatred of life and feelings of worthlessness. All the stuff about me that I hate. It’s all in Jacob now. I am him and he is me…

Read the full article by clicking here.

Will God Forgive Me for Having an Abortion?

womandespairI had an abortion. I was young and naïve. And now it tears me apart on the inside. If I could do it all over again, I would have my child. Now all I have is the heartache that I suffer for what I did. Now I worry that God will punish me and won’t give me other children. Can God forgive me for failing him, myself, and my baby? Will God stay mad at me for taking a life? Please, help. I don’t know if God will forgive me.

M.N.

Dear M.N.,

We do things in life that turn on a voice in our head that never seems to stop talking. Sometimes that voice is like a scream, sometimes like a whisper, but it’s rarely if ever silent. You’ve heard it. The words you write are painful proof. It’s a voice that has no mercy. When it speaks, it always has the tone of accusation. It won’t let your mistakes die. It shoves them in your face. Again and again and yet again. This voice says, “God won’t forgive you. He will punish you. He’s angry with you. He will always be angry with you.”

Sometimes well-meaning people try to help you silence that voice by telling you what to do. They say that if you do this or that, the voice will go away.

“If you confess your sins, it will go away.” But it doesn’t, does it?
“If you get your life back on track, the voice will be silent.” But it isn’t, is it?
“If you commit your life to God, he will make the voice go away.” But it still accuses.

There are things too big for us to change, voices too loud and too persistent for us to silence. Guilt is one of them. Heartache over what we’ve done. When you’re torn apart on the inside, you can’t do surgery on yourself to repair the damage. You need someone else to do that. You need someone else to make the voice go away.

Let me tell you about another voice. It is a bigger and better voice, a merciful and loving voice of a Father who thinks the world of you. In a voice rich with compassion, he said to his Son, “Jesus, will you go and take care of my daughter’s sin?” And in a voice equally rich with compassion, Jesus said to his Father, “Gladly I will go. I will, in fact, take that sin away from her and not give it back. I will make it not hers, not even hers and mine, but mine only. I will become the one who had the abortion. I will transfer the guilt and regret and heartache she feels onto myself. I will make the voice that accuses her, direct is accusation against me. Once and for all, dear Father, I will become the ocean into which every river of wrong empties itself. No sinner will be left in the world except me. I will be everyone. The guilt, the punishment, the anger, the judgment will all be mine and mine alone. Yes, Father, I will take care of your daughter’s abortion. And once I have, we will not speak of it again. We will not remember it again. It will cease to exist.”

It is not a question of whether God can forgive you, or even if he will forgive you. He already has. When you see a cross, you see the smile of your Father. He’s not mad at you. He’s overjoyed that you’re his daughter. He’s happy that you are part of his family. He talks of you to the angels. “Look at my daughter,” he says. “She is beautiful. She is pure. She is the apple of my eye. She is just the way I want her to be.” All of heaven resounds with angelic voices that sing songs of how dear you are to the Father’s heart, how precious your life is to him, that you are his princess.

Your Father will not punish you for something that he doesn’t even remember. Even if he did remember it, he would remember only that Jesus had the abortion, that Jesus paid the price for that abortion, that Jesus has taken care of everything. You are loved by God more than you will ever realize. His love is the voice that drowns out all other voices. It says, “You are my daughter. I loved you even before I created the world. I chose you in Jesus to be in my family. When I look at you, I do not see even a speck of wrong in you. I see you through the prism of my Son, your Savior. In him you are forgiven and perfect and clean and without shame. In Jesus you are everything I want you to be.”

Your mistakes do not define you. The love of the Father in Jesus Christ defines you. His voice alone speaks truth. It is the truth that nothing can separate you from his love. Now and always you are more precious to him than life itself.

You are free. You are beloved. You are forgiven.

Your brother in Christ,

Chad

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

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

Post Navigation