Archive for the category “Devotions”

The Tree of Life in a Cross of Wood

adam-and-eve-60581_1920Two naked sinners, one a woman, one a man, retreat from Eden’s holy orchard with breath that reeks of forbidden fruit. See them there, once perfect, now flawed, leaving behind what would have been, to face what now is.

But see the hands of God, the left calloused with law, the right soft as grace, reaching out as a Father to clothe His naked fleeing children. He wraps their defiled bodies with animal skins. The beasts Adam once named are now named by God as sacrifices. From creator to priest, our God now moves, from forming animals to slaying them, all so that His Adam and His Eve might remain truly His.

And so it goes in this world, with every one of us born naked in a world that has long forgotten Eden. There is only one way back, only one way back to perfection, to paradise, to God. It is a way that is marked by bone and blood, skin and flesh, spear and nail, thorn and wood.

Paradise is regained by the birth of a priest who is destined for the altar. His temple is His body, His vestments are His flesh, and the blood He will sacrifice is coursing through His veins. He knows the way back to Eden, for His are the hands that clothed the two naked sinners. And now He has come, naked from His mother’s womb to clothe her and you and all His fallen children with a robe worthy of royalty.

“It is finished,” He cries from the holy of holies, His priestly voice ringing through earth and heaven. “It is finished indeed,” His Church replies. The temple not made with hands has been entered; the mercy seat has been sprinkled; and heaven is painted red with the blood of God.

And yet He stands, upright, victorious, within the holy of holies. He stands alive forevermore, the veil rent in twain lying beneath His feet. He stands in the new and better Eden, the most holy garden, where the tree of life now grows. He stands ready to clothe you, His naked children, with His own flesh and blood, pouring His robes upon you with water from the font, dressing you with His own body as He places it on your tongue.

So eat and be clothed, all you Adams, and drink and be dressed, all you Eves. Find within the cross of wood the Tree of Life with every good. The price has been paid, Eden has been re-opened, and heaven’s angels are waiting—with swords sheathed—to greet you at the gates of paradise.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of “The Tree of Life” by Stephen Starke (Lutheran Service Book, #561).

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

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes 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 God Winked

michelangelo-71282_1280Already in the opening chapter of the Bible, God is dropping hints about a Christmas to come. After he’s fashioned the sun, moon, and stars; after he’s poured out the oceans and rivers; after he’s given flight to the birds, leaves to the trees, and fields to the cattle—after every detail of creation is perfected, he makes his crowning achievement: man and woman.

But he doesn’t make us in the image of the angels, or according to the likeness of cows, cats, or crawfish. The Father says to the Son, and the Son echoes to the Spirit, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Gen 1:26f).

And in so doing, God not only reveals that we are like he is; he also is winking that he will become as we are. As Luther writes, “Because [Adam] was created in the image of the invisible God, [we have here a hint] that God was to reveal himself to the world in the man Christ,” (AE 1:87).

On the birthday of Adam and Eve, the angels filled their lungs with the breath they’d exhale centuries later as they sang the Gloria in Excelsis in the fields outside Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. And that Word with God became God with us, our Emmanuel. The Creator becomes a creature while yet remaining Creator. “Upon a manger filled with hay, In poverty content he lay. With milk was fed the Lord of all, Who feeds the ravens when they call,” (TLH 104:5).

The Word becomes flesh, our flesh and blood, our bones and sinews, our heart and soul. He becomes like us in all things, except sin, that he might redeem all of who we are.
In his body is life for our bodies.
In his heart is life for our hearts.
In his blood is life for our blood.
The Image maker becomes the image made that he might recreate us in his own image, according to his likeness. The Son of God becomes a son of man to make us all the children of our heavenly Father.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of John 1, especially verse 14,”The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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!

Singing the World Into Being

sunbeam-76825_1280The Lord didn’t snap his almighty fingers to bring the world into being. He didn’t fire up the diesel engine on his celestial bulldozer to carve out the floor of the Atlantic and heap up the Rockies. Nor did he make a deal with angelic contractors to blueprint, found, and shape everything from ants to galaxies. He alone did it, and he did it by simply opening his mouth and speaking. And at his speaking it was done. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and by the breath of his mouth all their hosts,” (Ps 33:6). As C. S. Lewis, in The Magician’s Nephew, has Aslan sing the world and all its beautiful intricacies into existence, so the Lion of the tribe of Judah, our Lord Jesus, hymns the heavens and earth into being.

In the beginning God created, and this Beginning is none other than his Word, his Son, our Savior and Lord. Jesus is the Genesis, the Alpha, the Beginning in whom and by whom the Father made the heavens and the earth. He is the strong Word that cleaves the darkness. He is God of God, Light of Light—the uncreated Light from whom all created lights beam and brighten our darkened world.

Jesus our Creator is Jesus our Redeemer. Two sides of the same coin. For God so loved the world that he created it by his Word. And by that same Word he recreated the world in a love that bleeds and cries and dies for you. From the cross forever beameth all his bright redeeming light. It breaks forth in conquering might, to shatter the darkness of our sin, to illumine our midnight hearts with the rays of Eastern dawn. On the cross and out of the tomb Genesis 1 happens all over again—better this time, as we are recreated by the very God who created us, and loved us to death and back.

Give us lips to sing Thy glory, throats to shout the hope that fills us. To Thee, our light-Creator, Light of Light begotten, and light-revealer, be Alleluias without end. For as you have made us, so you have more wondrously redeemed us in Jesus Christ.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of the hymn “Thy Strong Word” by Martin Franzmann.

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!

How Do I Know My Name is Written in the Book of Life?

book-758384_1920There are all varieties of books. Mystery novels that keep us guessing. Histories that instruct us on the happenings of the past. Romances that explore the mazes of the human heart. But if there were a library in heaven, and I was allowed to browse its aisles, my eyes would scout for none of these. I would seek out a single volume: the Book of Life. And I would hurriedly flip through its pages until I came to the “B” section. And, taking a deep breath, I would see if the name “Chad Bird” were inscribed therein.

But I wouldn’t find it.

My life has been a tragic comedy of errors in which I chose my own twisted ways over God’s ways. But that’s not the reason I would fail to find my name there. I have struggled my whole life with doubt as to whether I truly am a Christian. But neither is that the reason. No, I wouldn’t find my name there for one simple reason: I would be looking in the wrong place.

The Book of Life is not a leather-covered volume with gold leaf ornamentation in which the names of the chosen few are written in calligraphy by the hand of an angelic scribe. It is found in no library, heavenly or otherwise. In fact, the Book of Life is not even a book. It is a person.

The Book of Life is Jesus Christ.

When God wished to reveal himself to the world, when he decided to let us read of his will for us, he published a book like no other. At first, it was a miniature volume, a children’s book, if you will, just big enough to fit inside a manger. On this book were written the words, “This is Emmanuel, God with us.”

Over time, as the book lengthened, on its pages we read more. Words such as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” God calls us to confess our sins, to turn from our wicked ways, for left to ourselves we will surely perish. But on its pages were also written, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Our Father does not bid us to turn inward, but outward, to the Son who is himself our unending Sabbath rest. And on the pages of this book we also read, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” The Lord does not say that he who is good and tries hard will be saved, but that he who believes and is washed in the waters of his grace shall be saved.

But, oh, how the Book of Life is opened and its words leap off the page on a certain Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Friday, the ink in that book bleeds red for you. The words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and, “It is finished!” resound through earth and heaven. And on Saturday, silent words, sleeping words, are recorded as the book, once laid in a manger, is laid inside a tomb where it rests from all its labors accomplished for you. And once more, on Sunday, the words of that book explode forth with, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see me, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” For this book is not a dusty volume laid to rest and forgotten, but a flesh-and-blood testament of the power of an indestructible life, raised for you.

How do you know that your name is written in The Book of Life? You do not explore the hidden mind of the Almighty on a mystic quest to read his thoughts. You do not look inward to gauge the cleanliness of your hearts. You look outward, to he who is the Book of Life. God the Father has written your name not in words but in wounds. The nail-pierced hands, the thorn-encircled brow, the spear-hewn side—in those bleeding wounds is the ink by which your name is inscribed.

Before you did anything good or bad, before you were conceived, even before the foundation of the world, God the Father tattooed your name upon the body of his Son. He wrote it in the Book of Life. And in time, he preached to you that, apart from him, you are dead and damned. But by his Spirit, he called you to repentance, he called you by the Gospel, he worked faith in your heart, he baptized you, he forgave you, he made you his child. In other words, he showed you your name, in letters bright and clear, written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Do not worry yourself with vain speculations about some hidden, secret decision that God made ages ago about who would be saved. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the one in whom God reveals his fullness to us, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the one who wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Read only this Book of Life, Jesus Christ. See your name written there in the waters of baptism, in the forgiveness spoken, in the body and blood of the Supper.

Christ Jesus is the Book of Life. In him and him alone our names are written.

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!

An Unmighty Fortress Is Our Life

ruins-664869_1920Not a mighty but an unmighty fortress is our life—a ramshackle pile of bricks encircled by a dried-up moat. Left to ourselves, we are like Adam and Eve; we sew together fig leaves of self-righteousness and hunker down behind trees of flimsy excuses to hide in vain from a judgment we deserve. The old evil foe, who now means deadly woe, bids us nail together a raft of driftwood instead of boarding the God-given ark of salvation. As devils all the world fill, all eager to devour us, we beat them to the punch by devouring our lives in pleasures and pursuits of egotism that only fatten us for the slaughter to come. No truer words do we sing than these: “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected.”

It is therefore the best of news that for us fights the valiant one, whom God himself elected. He strips us of our fig leaves and decks us out in the regal robes of the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. He takes us by the hand and ushers us through the spear-hewn door in the side of Christ our ark where we are dry and safe from the rising waters. He spoon-feeds us the manna of his body and holds to our lips a chalice filled with blood that streamed from the rock of his riven side. He paints the doorways and lintels of our body and soul with the crimson colors of the Passover sacrifice. He parts the sea of the font, leads us through dry shod, and brings those waters crashing down on the army of our sins that trail behind. He—our Lamb, our Priest, our Temple, our Son of David—is our Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God. He holds the field forever.

And he holds us. Therefore we will not fear. Though an unmighty fortress be our life, a mighty fortress is our God. Though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride, we will not fear. Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; take they our reputation, dreams, friends, and health; though all these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom our remaineth.

Therefore, be still and know that Christ is God. The God who is love, who loves you from eternity and back. The God dead upon the cross and alive out of the tomb. All for none other than you. The Lord of hosts is with us, the crucified and resurrected Christ is our stronghold.

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!

Enemies With Benefits

It is good for you to have family. It is good for you to have friends. It is good for you to have those with whom you can share a beer, share a laugh, share a life. Blessed is the man on whom God has bestowed these gifts. For it is not good for the man to be alone, but it is good for him to be surrounded by those whom he loves and who love him. For love is not only the fulfillment of the law; it is who God is.

But if it is good for the Christian to have family and friends, it is even better for him to have enemies. Indeed, our Lord pronounced no beatitude upon the man who is loved by his wife and cherished by his children, but He does say, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me,” (Mt 5:11). Blessed are you, O Elijah, for you had your Jezebel; blessed are you, O David, for you had your Saul; Moses, for you had your Pharaoh; and you, for you have your own Jezebels, Sauls, and Pharaohs. Or soon you shall.

It is good for you to have enemies for they provide the perfect opportunity for you to be imitators of God, as beloved children: to give food and drink to those who wish you to starve; to clothe those who would strip you of possessions or reputation; to defend those who attack you; in short, to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, never to take revenge, but to overcome evil with good. For why make such a fuss about loving those who love you back; don’t even tax-collectors do the same? But if you love those who hate you and do good to those who wish you only evil, then, O Christian, you are perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Yes, how good it is for you to have enemies, for without them, when would you ever have the opportunity to fulfill, joyfully and willingly, the law of Christian love?

But there is also another good reason for you to have enemies: their presence in your life is a constant reminder of how deeply and madly you are in love with yourself. If you ever fool yourself into thinking you’ve made great progress in virtue and are slowly but surely making headway in cleansing that dirty heart of yours, take note of your thoughts and feelings toward a person who has wronged you, cursed you, treated you like crap. Those thoughts and feelings toward the enemy are your sanctification barometer. Sorry, O would-be saint, but you’ve got a long row to hoe and the weeds of self-love just keep a’coming. It is good to have enemies, for what are they but living reminders of the death that lurks within you.

Repent, for it is not good for the man to be alone, all alone with his sin. And you are never more alone than when you are alone with your transgression. Nor do you ever have more companions than when you repent, for if the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents, then surely they rejoice all around you.

And there is much ado about everything when you confess, for if it is good for God to have saints in heaven, it is even better for God to have penitent sinners on earth. For it is in His dealings with us, who are by nature His enemies, that God shows us what His love really is. It is the kind of love that feeds you when you’re hungry, gives you who are thirsty a drink, clothes you when you’re naked, and – in paternal compassion for His children – keeps right on wiping your dirty, stinking butts while you kick and scream and fuss. Not in His celestial conversations with angels, not surrounded by His saints upon the throne above, but while living in the enemy camp of earth God showed us who He really is.

He is the Babe-like-Moses who was nearly drowned in His own blood; the Prophet hounded by queens of deceit and heresy; the Son of David whom Saul, Saul, persecuted with blinded rage. He is the Friend of sinners but the Enemy of so-called saints who will fight tooth and claw to bring Him down. But all of it He shoulders, joyfully and willingly, that He might have you as His own. He who would overcome evil with good is overcome by evil men. God in the hands of angry sinners, spider-like men who wrap him in their web of lies, tie Him to the cross, and drain His blood.

But drained it is from the corpse on the cross that it might fill the cup in His resurrected hand. Part your lips, O sinner, for your Friend, the Friend of sinners, wishes to slake your thirst, to overcome the evil within you with the good that He is, that He gives, that is all for you. So be imitators of God, drink the cup your Father gives you, for as that blood washes down your throats, heaven sings, devils weep, and once more creation eyes the epiphany that declares one simple truth: God is love.

**This meditation is in included in my book, Christ Alone: Mediations and Sermons, available at amazon.com

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

Attaching a Résumé to Our Prayers

resumeOur children learn the Sunday School song, “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham.” But we would do well to teach them to sing, “Father Abraham had many sins, and many sins had father Abraham.” For though he was a patriarch and prophet, Abraham also left behind a legacy of deceit. And it’s not as if he always learned from his mistakes. In the most glaring example of this, not once but twice he put his own wife’s chastity in danger to save his own neck. He passed Sarah off as his sister. Abraham never would have won the Husband of the Year award.

The first time it happened with Pharaoh, but it’s the second of these that proves most intriguing. While Abraham and Sarah were camping near Gerar, he told the locals, “She is my sister,” (Gen 20:2). And as in Egypt, so in Gerar, the king whisked Sarah away into his harem. At this point the story has an amusing, and insightful, twist. God confronts the king, Abimelech, in a dream with these startling words, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife,” (3). Abimelech, taken aback by this revelation, assumes the piety of a protestor. Look, he says, I didn’t have the foggiest idea they were married. He claimed she was his sister, and she affirmed that he was her brother. I haven’t taken her to bed. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.

If this were all we knew, we might applaud Abimelech. A man of integrity. A king who can actually keep his zipper up. But—to break the rules a bit—fast forward to the very end of this story. After God has taken care of this whole debacle, after Sarah is safely back with her husband, we are told that “God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife,” (17-18). So why had the king not yet had sex with Sarah? Because Abimelech was a man of such chastity and self-control? Because he was a pillar of integrity and innocence? No, because God had made such illicit intercourse impossible. An ancient form of erectile dysfunction? Some other sexual handicap? Who knows. But it worked. Despite the lies of Abraham, despite the kidnapping and sexual danger to which Abimelech subjected Sarah, this soon-to-be mother of the promised son, Isaac, was protected.

When the Lord appeared to Abimelech in the dream, and the king held up to the Lord his résumé of piety, God responded, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her,” (6). The king would not have taken Sarah had he known she was married, but it was not his integrity and self-control that prevented him from bedding the patriarch’s wife. It was the hand of God. “It was I who kept you from sinning.” Had the Lord not intervened by afflicting Abimelech, his wife, and his co-wives, this story would have to be rewritten.

The Abimelech in us looms large. We are fond of attaching our own résumés to our spoken or unspoken prayers. “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men, such as that lying, pathetic, husband named Abraham.” We have done some wrongs, to be sure, but there are boundaries that we have not crossed. Nor will we. In the integrity of our hearts and in the innocence of our hands, we have not slept with another man’s wife. In the integrity of our hearts and in the innocence of our hands, we have not put a bullet in another man’s back. In the integrity of our hearts and in the innocence of our hands, we have pretty much lived a decent, honest life. We’re not as good as some, we’ll admit that, but we’re certainly not as bad as others. Look at our résumé, Lord, it’s all there.

The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech is a healthy reminder for us that, should the Lord withdraw his hand for a single moment, we would plunge ourselves into the deepest, darkest evils our hearts can fathom. And, indeed, that’s sometimes just what happens. “Sometimes [God] even lets us fall into sin, in order that He may look into the depths even more, bring help to many, perform manifold works, show Himself a true Creator, and thereby make Himself known and worthy of love and praise,” (Luther, AE 21:301). But most of the time, that divine hand intervenes. Why have you not committed this or that outward act of evil? For one reason and one reason only: “It is I who kept you from sinning against me.”

There is only one résumé we hold up to God as we pray—the all-sufficient, perfect work of Christ on our behalf. Truly, in the integrity of his heart and in the innocence of his hands, Jesus has refrained from all evil. He has crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” in the law. And his résumé has become ours. The Father in Christ sees us doing what his Son does. His keeping of the commandments is our keeping of them. His obedience cloaks our disobedience.

Father Abraham had many sins, and many sins do we have as well. And countless more we would have should God withdraw his hand. But not only does that hand protect us from ourselves; it bids us come into his kingdom, clothes us with the integrity of Jesus, heals us, and makes us all promised sons and daughters of the King of Kings.

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!

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.

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!

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
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!

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
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!

Post Navigation