Archive for the category “Bible Study Resources”

364 Days of Thanksgiving: A New Book for Sale

364daysSeveral months ago a title on social media caught my eye: 364 Days of Thanksgiving. My first thought was perhaps the same one you’re having right now: Why 364 instead of 365? What’s this book about? Little did I know then that the author would contact me later to tell me about his book.

In an effort to get the word out about his book and the story behind it, I’ve included an excerpt from 364 Days of Thanksgiving, as well as a brief bio of the author, Pastor Andrew Schroer. I encourage you to follow the links in the article to find out more about how to purchase a copy. Thanks!

An excerpt from 364 Days of Thanksgiving… 

Why Write a Book about Being Thankful?

A few years ago, a young mother tried to commit suicide. By God’s grace she was unsuccessful. Because of a connection her family had with our church, the husband called me the next morning asking me to visit her in the hospital.

As I spoke with her, it became obvious that she was deeply depressed about her marriage and family. The doctors ordered she receive medication and professional counseling. She also asked that I visit her once a week.

Feeling overwhelmed by the situation, I asked a psychologist friend for help. He explained to me that depression is often anger turned inward. He suggested that she was so angry about the problems in her life she couldn’t see the good God had given her. Among other things, he advised me to have her keep a notebook by her bed.

Every morning and every evening, the young mother was to write down one good thing in her life – but each time it had to be something different. She couldn’t repeat the same blessing even once.

Over the next few weeks, as her list grew longer her attitude grew brighter. She began to notice all the blessings God had given her, especially God’s greatest gift of forgiveness. She began to see that even the problems were a part of God’s gracious plan for her life. She began to smile again. Soon she was weaned off the antidepressant medication.

That young mother was the inspiration for this book.

Are you depressed? Are you frustrated by the problems and struggles in your life? The secret to happiness isn’t to rid your life of problems. The secret to happiness isn’t getting what you want. The secret to happiness is recognizing what you have in Christ.

This book is about seeing what God has done for you.

Pastor Andrew Schroer has been a Lutheran pastor for over 15 years, serving congregations in Mexico, Florida and Texas. He is a contributing editor of the national Christian magazine “Forward in Christ.” He also writes a syndicated devotional column which appears in a handful of newspapers in Texas. He is also a frequent blogger at 364DaysofThanksgiving.com. His new book “364 Days of Thanksgiving” is now available on Amazon.com and at NPH.net

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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.

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!

Meet the Righteous Man Who Couldn’t Do Anything Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

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

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

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

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

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

fusionsufferingservants

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

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

fusiontrees

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

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

The Missing Verse in the Creation Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

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

Birds in the Pulpit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

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

The Story of Sodom Is About Much More than Homosexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

When Rumpelstiltskin Teaches Bible Class

rumpelstilskinThere are parts the Bible that should have “Rumpelstiltskin Required” written at the top. As that little man spun straw into gold for the miller’s daughter, we could use his assistance to spin biblical straw into spiritual gold. Take your pick. Maybe it’s one of those Leviticus chapters that sounds like it’s written more for veterinarians or butchers than Christians. Maybe it’s a chapter from Exodus or Ezekiel that’s as exhilarating as staring at a blueprint. Yes, “all Scripture is breathed out by God,” but in all honesty some of it leaves us snoring (2 Tim 3:16). And perhaps nowhere is that more true than with genealogies.

They’re planted throughout the OT and NT, these family trees. So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so. Exhausting lists of tongue-twisting names. They’re evidently important, for otherwise they wouldn’t have been included. In fact, the NT itself kicks off with the genealogy of Jesus. If all Scripture “is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16), then how are genealogies profitable?

Let’s take one example, from Genesis 5. It’s a list of the ten generations from Adam to Noah. It covers 1686 years. You may be surprised that you don’t need Rumpelstiltskin at all when reading Genesis 5. This chapter doesn’t need to be spun into anything; it’s already gold.

  1. This family tree branches toward Bethlehem. When God first gave the promise of the Gospel, he rooted that promise in the flesh and blood of humanity. He didn’t say, “One day I’ll have my Son just show up on earth.” Rather, he said, “One day a virgin will be pregnant with my Son; he will be the woman’s seed” (Gen 3:15). The family trees in the Bible send their branches in the direction of Bethlehem, where this seed of the woman—the seed of Abraham, the seed of Judah, the seed of David—will be born. Every baby’s birth in the OT puts us one baby closer to the swaddled infant at Mary’s breast. That’s why Matthew begins his Gospel with a family tree; it’s why Luke includes one as well. The roots and trunk and branches of these genealogical trees join the angelic choir to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth,” (Luke 2:14).
  1. This genealogy preaches the need for death’s conquest. Over and over in Genesis 5 the bell tolls upon the death of a sinner. “And he died…and he died…and he died”: eight times that announcement is made. Each time a check is cut for a man who was employed by evil, for “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23). “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Rom 5:12). From the demise of Adam to that of Lamech, each death declared the need for God to un-funeral the world, to put his foot on the neck of the grave and press down till death was death and life lived once more. This chapter, therefore, cries out for Good Friday, begs for Easter. It preaches the need for death’s conquest in the death and rising of the woman’s Seed.
  2. This genealogy testifies that these earliest of men were Christians. The first Christians were not Mary and Peter and Paul; they were Adam and Eve. Christianity began in Eden. When God promised to send the woman’s seed to crush the head of the serpent, Adam and Eve believed that promise. They had faith in the Christ who was to come. They were just as Christian as we are today who believe that promise has been fulfilled. Indeed, when Cain was born, Eve was so confident in God’s promise that she supposed her firstborn was already the Seed. She said, literally, “I have gotten a man—Yahweh,” (Gen 4:1). Seven generations later, the father of Noah made the same mistake. When Noah was born, Lamech said, “This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed,” (5:29). Because Noah was the first birth after the death of Adam, Lamech must have thought that now that the first man—the one whose sin had brought a curse upon the ground—was dead, God would renew the earth through his son. Both Eve and Lamech were wrong, of course, but their mistakes only underscore the liveliness of their Christian faith in the coming Messiah.
  1. Genesis 5 gives us a foretaste of Easter in Enoch. There’s one hiccup in the litany of death in Genesis 5. His name is Enoch. And he never had a funeral. We’re told that “he walked with God; and he was not, for God took him,” (5:24). By faith Enoch was pleasing to God (Heb 11:5-6). He too was a Christian; he had faith in the promised Seed. Indeed, Enoch believed not only that Christ would come; as a prophet, he saw past the first coming of Jesus all the way to his final coming, for he prophesied that the Lord will come “with many thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all,” (Jude 14-15). As a testimony to early humanity that this life is but the first chapter of an ongoing life with God, the Lord took Enoch to heaven before he died, just as he would later take Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Thus, in each stage of world history, God has testified that life does not end at death. In the pre-flood world, he gave us the example of Enoch. In the post-flood world, he gave us Elijah. And finally, in the New Testament, he gave us Christ, by whose resurrection we are assured of our own resurrection on the last day. In Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, we are given a foretaste of our Sabbath rest in Easter.

Of these ten generations, Luther says that “next to Christ and John the Baptist, they were the most outstanding heroes this world has ever produced,” (AE 1:334). “That age was truly a golden one,” he writes, “in comparison with it our age hardly deserves to be called an age of mud,” (1:342). This golden age, recorded in this genealogy, is anything but straw. It is a treasure trove of grace, faith, hope, and love. Already in this family tree, we see foreshadowed the tree of the cross. In Enoch, we see prefigured the resurrection of Easter. We observe the life of faith in these earliest of Christians. We have no need of Rumpelstiltskin to spin any straw into gold. When we read Genesis 5—and countless other genealogies—in the light of Christ, we readily grasp how these family trees preach both law and Gospel to us.

To hear a complete discussion of Genesis 5, and why genealogies are so important, listen to this episode of “40 Minutes in 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!

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
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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!

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