Archive for the month “September, 2015”

When Valleys of Trouble Become Doorways of Hope

valleyshadowdeathMy first Sunday School teacher was a pale, squat, balding man who retold dusty old Bible stories with a nasally voice and a moralistic heart. The more he taught me to be good, the more I wanted to be bad. So I’d hide from him. Under tables, behind curtains, inside closets. Sometimes he’d find me, sometimes not. When he did, he was certain to sit me down and teach me about everything except the thing that really mattered. Only when a stoned thief became my Sunday School teacher, did I learn that inside those dusty old Bible stories was a hidden treasure named Jesus the Christ.

This other teacher, his name was Achan. He lived long ago, and was executed for thievery long ago, but neither time nor crime hindered him from teaching me about the God whose greatest talent is turning death into life, despair into hope. Take a moment and sit with me at the feet of Achan. Let us learn his story, and, in so doing, learn the story of Jesus.

Crime and Punishment in the Valley of Trouble

This is what happened. When God brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down, He laid down the law that no man was to stuff his pockets with the loot of the city. These spoils of war belonged to God and God alone. But, wouldn’t you know it, there was this beautiful robe just lying there, and this gold, and this silver, all of it free for the taking. And Achan, victorious in battle, was vanquished in temptation. He coveted, he caved. He stuffed the treasures under his robe, hid them under his tent, concealed the matter under his heart. Not a soul knew.

No one, that is, except God. And He wasn’t keeping hush-hush about it. When Israel was massacred during the next battle, the Lord informed Joshua that their defeat was punishment for a secret theft that had been perpetrated when Jericho was laid low. By casting lots, Joshua narrowed down the nation by tribe, by family, by household, until the last man standing was Achan. He confessed; he really had no other choice. The stolen property was brought forth and the sentence against Achan pronounced.

Beneath a hill of rocks that the Israelites piled high that day, at the doorway to the holy land, was the stoned, burned corpse of my teacher. It bears an infamous name: the Valley of Achor, which means the Valley of Trouble. And it remained there, for generations to come, as a mournful monument to sin, defeat, and death.

Achan and Jesus: The Valley of Trouble Becomes the Doorway of Hope

My law-loving Sunday School teacher licked his lips over the moralistic morsels he thought he spotted within this story. Here was a cautionary tale, he assumed, about the punishments awaiting those who resort to a life of crime. Well, okay. This story can indeed be used to teach the commandment, “You shall not steal.” But if all you’re looking for in the Scriptures is law, then law is surely all you’re going to find—law by the truckload. But in that quest for thou shalts and thou shalt nots, you’ll miss what really matters. You’ll trample the cross while racing for the tablets of stone. From the tale of Achan’s theft, you’ll rob yourself of Jesus.

Hosea, he got this story. He spied Jesus in Joshua 7. He prophesied the day when the Lord would lead His bride, Israel, back into the wilderness. He would speak to her heart, woo her, show her His love. She would respond by calling Him her husband. He would betroth her to Himself forever, marry her in righteousness and justice and love and compassion. She would again enter the holy land, but not as in days of old, when that entrance was marked by a mournful monument to sin, defeat, and death. There would be no tears or moans, as when Achan brought all Israel to her knees by his rebellious act. Rather, Israel “will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.” Hosea foretells this day of salvation, which is the day of the Messiah, when “the valley of Achor [will become] as a doorway of hope,” (2:15). Do you see what Hosea just did? He read Joshua 7 through cruciform eyes, and he bids us do the same.

Jesus changes everything. He turns your valleys of trouble into doorways of hope. He turns His death upon the cross into life for the world. He changes your unrighteousness into His righteousness; your sin into His forgiveness; your mournful monuments consisting of the stones of death into a joyous monument consisting of an empty tomb from which the stone has been rolled away. The valley of Achor becomes the doorway of Jesus, who is the way into the heavenly promised land.

Beginning with Moses and with All the Prophets…

All of that good news is in the story of Achan, for every story in the Old Testament is the story of Jesus. Remember what Christ did for those depressed, bewildered Emmaus disciples as He walked with them that first Easter afternoon? Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He “explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” (Luke 24:27). He taught them that all of Scripture, everywhere, deals only with Him. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, along the way, he retold the story of a stoned thief named Achan, whose sad story blossoms into the best of stories when you realize that even Joshua 7 is part of the Gospel of the Old Testament.

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

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“The Saddest Words Ever Spoken to a Sinner” and “Forgive Us Our Good Works”

Dear Friends,

This past week I had two articles appear on different websites that you might find of interest. One is “The Saddest Words Ever Spoken to a Sinner” on Christ Hold Fast and the other is “Forgive Us Our Good Words” on 1517 Legacy. Here is an intro to both of them, along with a link where you can read the rest of the article. Both websites are full of great, Christ-centered material. I encourage you to explore both of them. Thanks and, as always, God bless all of you who are such great encouragement to me as I continue to write about the grace of our Lord Jesus.

“The Saddest Words Ever Spoken to a Sinner”

Jesus said it would have been better for this man not to have been born. Shocking words, sad words. But they are not the saddest words in Scripture.

This man, Judas, said to the religious leaders that, for a pocketful of coins, he would betray his rabbi. Loveless words, sad words. But still they are not the saddest words in Scripture.

The saddest words in Scripture were not spoken by Jesus, nor by Judas Iscariot. Men who were entrusted with the holy things of God spoke them—priests who were called to offer sacrifices for sins, to teach people of Yahweh’s laws and his love. Yet when a conscience-stricken man stood before them and confessed, they told him that his sin was his own responsibility. Judas confessed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” (Matt 27:4). And they replied with the saddest words ever spoken to a sinner, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And Judas saw to it himself, alright, by walking away, slipping a noose over his head, and ending his life….  Click here to continue reading

“Forgive Us Our Good Works”

If you want to be popular, get good at preaching against the world. It will win you friends. It will curry favor with the pious. I’m not talking around peccadillos; focus on mega-sins. The more popular they are in contemporary culture, the better. Good people like fist-pounding on the pulpit about the bad things that bad people do in this bad world of ours. It makes them feel better about themselves. It makes them seem more religious. And the more their religious souls are stroked, the better a preacher you’ll seem to them. Jesus himself might have had the Pharisees clapping if He’d have railed against the traitorous, money-hungry tax collectors instead of joining them for supper. What got Him in hot water was preaching against righteousness.

Preaching against righteousness is dangerous. Folks not only find it ludicrous; it’s a slap in their face. Such preaching is a frontal attack upon what everyone assumes is true. You sound as crazy as a man who refers to a beauty contest winner as a dog ugly tramp. Nobody in his right mind does that.

But somebody in his right theology does… Click here to continue reading

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

I Don’t Know How to Pray

PrayerWhen I need to pray the most is usually when my tongue tucks its tail and runs away. I’m left wordless. Rather than a prayer warrior, I feel like a prayer deserter.

It happened again this week as I stood with a young widow beside the open casket of her husband. The church is awash with tears. Hearts lay broken in pieces all about me. Death, in all its fierce ugliness, struts about the room. And I stand there, searching my mind for words to talk to our Father about the pain and loss. Yet those words, so needed, seem to have fallen through an unseen hole in the bottom of my mouth.

What can I do? What can we do when our friends beg for our prayers, but we don’t know what to say? Maybe we’re so mad at God we don’t want to talk to him. Maybe we’re so confused we don’t have a clue how to arrange words into a religious-sounding plea for help. Maybe we’re just run down by life, and praying feels like one more task we don’t have the heart to do.

I don’t know if there are any words in the Bible that are truer than these: we do not know what to pray for. The apostle says that to the church in Rome: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought,” (Rom 8:26). Standing beside coffins, in unemployment lines, in jail cells, in lonely bedrooms, with crying children, with aging parents—we do not know what to pray for. So thank God for Paul’s words after this: “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

How strange and yet how comforting: God prays to God for us, the Spirit to the Father. He sees through the fog of our emotions to what we truly need. He has the words we have lost, and these words are in the language of groans that reach heaven’s ears.

Of course they reach heaven’s ears, for those ears are always pressed against our hearts. God in Christ is as close as our skin. He stands with us at those funerals, in those jail cells, with those we love, as the constant presence of compassion. As the Spirit intercedes for us, Christ too prays on our behalf. As he hung dying on the cross, he interceded to the Father for us. And as we bear his crosses even now, and as we die our own deaths, he still intercedes to the Father for us. Heaven can’t stop talking about us.

Sometimes all we can say is, “Lord, have mercy.” The Spirit takes those words, bathes them in the blood of Jesus, and they expand to fill heaven and earth. The Father is all ears. He hears them as a mother hears her child in distress, drops everything, and comes running. Mercy is what he does best. Mercy is all he desires to give.

And sometimes all we can say is nothing. Yet in that nothing the Spirit is everything. He transforms our tears into oceans of prayer. He groans so loudly the celestial courts shake with his request. And our Father hears, loves, acts. He shows mercy. He gives us what we need.

Prayer, it turns out, is yet one more gift of Christ. We pray yet it is Christ who prays in us. And when we don’t know how to pray, Christ prays in us through his Spirit, who is never without words to speak on our behalf.

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

God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines

If I were granted three wishes, one of them would not be to know what the future holds. You can keep your crystal balls. I have enough trouble wrestling with today’s demons without knowing what crosses await me tomorrow. As the wise rabbi said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

And some days are so sufficiently evil that tomorrow looms like the open jaws of hell.

For some of us, that evil day was when we sat in divorce court. We can still feel in our guts the glass shards of broken dreams. The tomorrow we awaited, and the weeks and years after that, were too fear-filled and hope-empty to wrap our brains around. We didn’t even want to know what the rest of that day would hold, much less the future.

For others, that evil day was when we drove away from a cemetery with the passenger seat empty of the love of our lives. The one who shared our memories has become a memory. And we’re left with a hole in the heart out of which pours grief and anger and innumerable other agonies of irreplaceable loss. We don’t even want to know how we’re going to lay in bed that night alone, much less face a future without the one with whom we shared a past.

I don’t know your story, but I bet you have one. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken promises—they all melt into the ink of tears with which we write our stories. And the blank pages yet to be written frighten us most.

Reading back over the last ten years of my life—years that were punctuated with losses I never dreamed I’d experience—I’m so grateful that God didn’t give me the gift of foresight. It would have felt more like a curse. Nor do I want to know what’s ahead of me on the path I walk now. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, most likely it’s a cocktail of both.

I can say this: as I read back over those years, I’m reminded of the Portuguese proverb that says God writes straight with crooked lines. I stumbled down labyrinthine paths, crawled in and out of cavernous pits, got lost a million times, and somehow ended up a little farther down the road to healing. Yet in all those crooked lines I see the hand of God writing straight.

I’m not saying that I finally see how God’s plan unfolded in my life. I don’t. I’ll never understand why some things happened. All I know is that they did. They ultimately did because I’m a deeply flawed sinner, living shoulder-to-shoulder with others who are screw ups like me, and we’re all trying to limp through life in a world where stupid and senseless things happen with predictable regularity. There are crooked lines everywhere we look.

What I can tell you is that the hands that write straight with these crooked lines have everlasting scars that tell of crucified love. I can tell you that down every labyrinthine path, in every cavernous pit, wherever we’re lost, there’s a God of compassion hot on our heels. He’s leading us into death and life again. He kills and makes alive. And it hurts—damn, it hurts—but mixed with the hurt is the healing blood of God.

That blood of Jesus painted the ground beneath his cross with crooked lines that write straight these words: All for you.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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christ alone cover

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

Help Wanted: Public Relations Manager for Jesus

PublicRelationsEvery day on the job as the Public Relations manager for Jesus would have been part comedy, part nightmare. The man was born without a political bone in his body.

To begin with, he had poor taste in friends. Case in point: the Jews detested the money-hungry, backstabbing tax gougers, but Jesus marches right up to one of those traitors and says, “Follow me.” He welcomed a zealot into his inner circle, even though those guys were the ancient equivalent of domestic terrorists. And the fact that he rubbed shoulders with women in the sex trade, Samaritan heretics, leprous pariahs, and other miscreants of society is well known. If the old adage is true, that if you hang out with dogs, you’re gonna get fleas, then Jesus must have been crawling with them.

There was also the ongoing problem with his unwillingness to keep his mouth shut. He told stories that were designed as attacks upon the most powerful men in the religious establishment. Many of his parables were the verbal equivalent of slapping the pope in the face. In one of his tirades, he went on and on about how these religious elites were nothing but attention-hungry, big-headed sons of Satan. Yet these men whom he attacked were the very ones who, if properly handled, could have been used to accelerate his career.

He also opened himself up to slanderous accusations. Because he hung out with the wrong crowd, his enemies mocked, “Look, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” (Matt 11:19). Imagine if Zaccheus, top dog among the tax-gougers, had taken a selfie with Christ at his dinner table and posted it on Jerusalem’s social media. Oh, the outrage! Jesus was ruining his reputation by not only welcoming, but actively seeking out, the wrong people.

And I won’t even go into the public embarrassment that must have ensued when he went berserk in the temple courts, upending tables, untying animals, and giving the crowd a tongue-lashing for transmogrifying his Father’s home into a business.

In short, from a PR perspective, Jesus chose the wrong friends and made the wrong enemies; opened himself up to a smear campaign; never learned to scratch the right backs; and sawed off any and every political limb he was sitting on. From a career perspective, he was a fool. From a religious perspective, he was a troublemaker. From a streetwise perspective, he danced with death. From a public relations perspective, he was a train wreck.

And from his Father’s perspective, he could do no wrong.

I never did care much for the WWJD question because Jesus is the poster child of unpredictability. If you ask me, “What would he do?” I’d say, “Probably what you would least expect.” He would ruin his reputation among religious folk by hanging out with those with soiled reputations. He would speak hard truth when soft, white lies would make life easier. He would touch lepers; compliment prostitutes and insult priests; flaunt his freedom in the face of legalists; and eventually get himself so deep in trouble that he ends up in handcuffs, in court, and onto a cross.

The wisdom of God will always look like foolishness to men. He is the God who chooses ungodlike ways to bring ungodly sinners into his kingdom of losers who get everything by grace. Jesus matches none of our expectations. Thank God he doesn’t. He befriends all of us, no matter who we are, no matter how ruined we are, no matter how good or bad we think we are. He call us, one and all, to himself, that in him we might become part of that motley crew of redeemed fools whom Jesus calls friends.

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

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

The Nameless Little Girl Who Changed a General’s Life

We don’t even know her name. She is remembered only as “the little girl.” The little girl who was ripped from the arms of her mother and father, kidnapped and carried away to a strange land. The little girl who was forced into servitude. The little girl who remained anonymous and powerless. Yet without her, one of the great biblical stories would never have happened.

Her master is Naaman, a man with a name. He’s not just your average Joe. Naaman is a powerful man, a general, but he suffers from leprosy. You might think the little girl would secretly delight in her master’s skin disease. “Aha! He’s getting what he has coming!” But no, she says, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria. Then he would cure him of his leprosy,” (2 Kings 5:3). And so begins a series of events that lead to Naaman journeying to Samaria, visiting the prophet’s home, washing in the Jordan river, and coming out of the water with his flesh healed. His skin was restored like the skin of a little child—like the skin of the little servant girl back home. This great and mighty general, when he is cleansed by the word of God in the water of the Jordan, becomes like the small and lowly servant girl.

The little girl is easily forgotten for she is in the shadows. Not even her name is remembered. Yet without her—without her humility, without her compassion, without her taking no thought for being last—this miracle would never have occurred. The most powerless person in this story is the key to it all. God uses her who is nothing to effect everything.

Jesus might well have told this story to his twelve followers as he gathered them around himself to say, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all,” (Mark 9:35). He might have said, “You guys were arguing along the way about which of you is the greatest. Well, let me tell you. If any of you wants to be first, let him be like the little unnamed girl who served the great and mighty Naaman. Let him be nothing and then he will be something.”

Here is how God works: when he wants to make something, he always uses nothing to do it. From the creation of the world onward, he is the kind of God who reverses our expectations. With him opposites always attract: he makes beauty from ugliness, power from weakness, life from death, glory from suffering, Easter from Good Friday, first from last, everything from nothing. The moment you think you have God figured out is likely the moment you are most confused. God is not who you want him to be, who you think him to be. He specializes in the use of nothingness. With God, even math is different: something times zero is always more than zero.

Our lives could easily be characterized as a constant rebellion against the way God is, and the way he wants us to be. For like the builders of the tower of Babel, we want to make a name for ourselves. We’re always laying bricks on our little name-towers. Ambition fuels this self-interest. People become stepping stones on our chosen paths of self-glorification. How can I use this person? How can I manipulate this friendship? Which backs do I need to rub, which hands do I need to shake, which people do I need to attack, to construct my name-tower, to feel like I’m important in this world.

Perhaps we don’t even realize it, but the underlying reason we fight so hard to get recognition is because we assume that, without it, we are worthless and our lives are meaningless. In order to count, to mean something, even to God himself, we must do something, anything, to make ourselves worthy of being noticed. We long to be loved, especially by God, whether we know it or not. But we go about it all wrong. We assume that we must make ourselves lovable before he will love us. We must be something, accomplish something, make a name for ourselves, be first—or, at least, not last. Ultimately, the lie we have believed is that God is like we are.

He is not. Thank God that he is not. He is the Lord who reverses all our expectations. He shows us that a little servant girl, nameless and powerless, is the perfect choice for him to do great things. Rather than building a tower to make a name for himself, Christ submits to death upon a cross to give his name to us. God himself becomes last of all, servant of all, that he might make us first of all, kings and queens, coheirs with him of the glory of the Father.

All this he does because we are anything but worthless to him. Even while we were still his enemies, indeed, even before we existed, from all eternity, he has loved us. With God, we count. We mean something. He does not look for people worthy of his love; his love, unmerited and unexpected, makes us lovely.

But it is a strange way he does this, for first he makes us nothing. He puts in his own Jordan, like leprous Naaman. We come with nothing in our hands but sin. And we leave with nothing in our hands but the life of God in Christ. Our leprosies of self-interest and self-glorification; our leprosies of ambition and tower-building and honor-seeking are flooded out by those waters. And in their place, God washes us into the kingdom of his Son. He makes us nothing that he might make us something greater than we could ever imagine. In the Jordan of our baptism, we become little children, sons and daughters of God. The river is wet with his grace, flooded with his mercy that flows from the body of the Son who is the spring of eternal life. In Christ, we see God as he truly is. He is the Lord who gives us his name—the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—that in his name we who are nothing might have everything.

(This meditation was written for LINC San Antonio. It is based on the Gospel reading for Pentecost 17 [Mark 9:30-37]).

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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christ alone cover

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

Kissing the Past Goodbye

It had been a long night, one of those that shapes every day of your life thereafter. The eastern horizon was blushing as she and I walked side-by-side up a hill onto a ridge. From there most of the city was laid bare before our eyes. Streets and intersections and businesses and homes that we knew, full of people whose names and lives we knew, whose children had played with our children. We just stood there, looking, reminiscing, regretting, in a flow of words that made no sound. There was no going back. It was past time to part ways. But how do you say Goodbye when the Goodbye is mandated by forces outside your control?

The past—it’s a wonderful, damning, beautiful bitch of a thing. You look back and what do you see? You can almost taste the happiness of the times that still sends thrills rocketing through your body. The memories bounce around inside you, bells and whistles sounding in your heart and mind and other parts of your body. It was good, very good, while it lasted. But who are you fooling with selective memories? As if the trembling angst that shook you, time and again, did not forever warp your psyche. As if while living in the squalidness of evil, you could escape the stench sinking into your skin. It was the best and the worst of times, but ultimately, the worst of the worst.

I don’t know what she thought would happen. I didn’t even know what I thought would happen. You get to the point where you live not day by day, not even hour by hour, but sin by sin. Every hand on the clock is one that strokes iniquity, easing along time until the next hand is ready to massage it further around the dial. The future is so frightening that to ignore it is your only chance at maintaining some semblance of sanity. So you walk backward into the not-yet, savoring the what-has-been, and staying as drunk as possible on the wine of the now.

As the sun stretched its rays further and further, the predawn dark dissipated. I looked at her, but she wouldn’t look at me. Her eyes were transfixed on some distant object—the city? a street? a house? a person? Who knows.

It was just like her to be standing here, ignoring me, lost in some inner world to which I would never be granted access. It was her world, she the solitary resident. Whether that inner world was more akin to heaven, or hell, only she could say. But she never spoke of it, except in silences that betokened speeches I didn’t have the heart to hear.

The moment had come. The past, its weal and woe, was being left behind. And into a future fogged with uncertainly, but veiled with vestiges of hope, I would trek.

I moved in front of her. I kissed her lips. And that taste, the sting of the salt, I’ll never forget. I turned my back on her, and moved on to catch up with her husband, Lot, and their two daughters, who had never looked back.

An Allegory on Repentance, on Losing Life and Keeping It.

Just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. Luke 17

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Meet the Righteous Man Who Couldn’t Do Anything Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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