Archive for the category “Theological Reflections”

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.

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

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The 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
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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!

Will There Be Animals in Heaven?

animalsheavenGo as far back into history as you can, and you’ll find that there’s always been a bond between people and animals that is closer than our connection to any other part of creation.

It began at the beginning. God didn’t ask Adam, “What is this rock’s name? This plant? This body of water?” But he did bring every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to Adam so that he could name them (Gen 2:19). Indeed, this served a dual purpose: not only did Adam name them, but he also searched for a possible mate. Scripture says that, of all these animals, “there was not found a suitable helper for him,” (2:20). Thus, Eve was subsequently crafted from Adam’s own body as that suitable helper. In the beginning, therefore, human life and animal life were intertwined.

Go forward a few generations and this bond is underscored once more. When the flood destroys all but eight people in the world, Noah and his family are kept safe in a boat that looks like a floating zoo. When they emerge from the ark, people and animals set foot within a kind of “new creation.” God saw fit not only to preserve humanity for this fresh start, but also the animals.

And one more story. When God threatened to demolish Nineveh unless they turned from their wicked ways, the citizens were so zealous in repentance that the king commanded a citywide fast in which neither “man, beast, herd, or flock” should eat or drink. Indeed, he went on, “both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth,” (3:7-8). When Jonah pouts because things didn’t go his way, God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are not more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:11). That last phrase—“as well as many animals”—highlights that God was not merely compassionate toward the people of Nineveh. Those fasting, sackcloth-clad animals were in need of mercy as well.

But how far does this mercy extend? To the limits of this life or beyond? Will there be dogs and horses and birds in heaven? Or are these animals only part of the gifts of this world?

There’s a twofold answer to that question. First, no, there is no promise that there will be animals in heaven. But heaven is not the ultimate goal of humanity. When believers die, they go to paradise, in the presence of Christ, but there they anticipate the climactic gift of God: the resurrection of the body. From now until the return of Jesus on the last day, believers are waiting for God to raise and glorify their bodies. When that happens, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heart, and the earth and its works will be burned up,” (2 Peter 3:10). Then, according to his promise, God will give us “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells,” (3:13).

What will this new heavens and new earth be like? Isaiah describes it as a place where there is no more weeping and crying, but rather rejoicing (65:17-19). People shall build houses and live in them, plants vineyards and enjoy their fruit. All will be well again, better than Eden. Indeed, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” (65:25). Elsewhere, when the prophet describes the blessings of the new creation in Christ, he says, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them,” (11:6).

So, will there be animals in heaven? No, we are not given that promise. But will there be animals in the new heavens and new earth, where we will reside in resurrected, glorified bodies? Yes, that is the way our Father has described the new creation which we await.

Our final resting place is indeed a physical, created place. We will not strum harps as we recline on fluffy clouds in a spirit-like existence. Rather, we will have bodies. We will eat and drink. We will enjoy a creation even better than what Adam and Eve enjoyed. As our first parents had a bond with the animals, as Noah had animals with him in the reboot of creation after the flood, so after the fire-flood that brings the old creation to an end, we will enjoy a new creation that includes animals.

All of this will be because in Christ, God our Father is making all things new (Rev 21:5). His resurrection is the source of life in the new creation. In him and because of him, our Father is well-pleased with us. And he is pleased to give us a place where we might dwell with him, in harmony with creation. There we, the children of Adam, will once more enjoy the companionship of the animals our first father named so long ago.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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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!

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
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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!

Improving the Cross

There’s a woodworker inside us who won’t let the cross of Jesus remain the cross of Jesus; it’s raw material for a new, “improved” creation. And here are two of his favorites.

sawingwoodThis woodworker within us unfastens the two beams, takes his hammer and saw, and goes to work. Soon the cross has been transformed into a ladder. Jesus is on top and we’re on bottom. And all we must do is climb up to him. Hand over hand, one rung at a time, we move up from a life of rebellion to an obedient life of discipleship. One rung at a time, we ascend from being immoral to moral, bad to good, unholy to holy. The closer we climb to Jesus on the cross-ladder, the more he blesses us. All he asks is that we give it our best shot. Climb slowly or climb quickly; it doesn’t matter. Just set your heart on the climb to Christ. He’s standing up top, cheering us on, shouting down advice and encouragement.

But that’s not all our woodworker likes to do with the cross. Sometimes, when he’s finished sawing and carving and hammering, the cross has been transformed into a pair of crutches. We know that none of us are perfect. All of us, in various ways, wind up wounded and broken. But we must somehow stumble our way along the path of life. And the cross-crutches are there to help us on the limping walk of faith. We can’t support our whole weight; we need help. The cross becomes that help, that stability, that pair of crutches. We do our best; that’s all anyone can ask. Life is a long pilgrimage toward God. And whatever we’re lacking in strength for this pilgrimage is made up for in the cross. Jesus and his cross fill in the gaps. But someday, when we reach Christ, we’ll throw those crutches away and be complete in him.

There’s something very attractive about both the cross-ladder and the cross-crutches. In fact, there’s something about both of them that the woodworker within us finds eminently more appealing than the simple cross of Jesus. Both the ladder and the crutches let us keep skin in the game. They both include us in the process of salvation.

Even if I’m climbing slowly up the rungs to Jesus, at least I’m the one doing it. God is helping me, but it’s still me doing it. Christ assists me in salvation; he doesn’t take it over and do it himself. I climb to him, he doesn’t come down to me. Similarly, even if I’m stumbling along the pathway of life with the cross as my crutches, I’m the one limping. It’s a long road to heaven, but I’ll get there, with God’s help. All I have to do is try my hardest; he’ll make up for any of my deficiencies. Both the ladder and the crutches keep me in control. Ultimately, if I try hard enough, make myself good enough, then I’ll make my goal. And I’ll be sure to give glory to God for helping me achieve success.

The cross of Jesus, however, calls the lie on both these fabrications. It will tolerate neither the ladder nor the crutches. The cross will be the cross, and only the cross of Jesus. It refuses to assist us in our labor. It refuses to lend us a hand as we limp. The cross is there for one reason and one reason only: for us to die on it with Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says. Sinners don’t need help; they need to die. The sinful nature within us—that cross-hating woodworker who dwells in our hearts—doesn’t need assistance or improvement or encouragement. He needs death. He needs the nails and thorns and blood of the cross of Jesus. This is why we revolt against the cross and try to make it something else. We don’t want to relinquish control, admit there’s nothing we can do. We don’t want to die. But death, death with Christ, is the only way.

And it is the best way. When we die with Christ, we die to ourselves and live in him. We are given what we always lacked. He fills us with the peace of knowing that God is happy with us as a father is pleased with his children. He adopts us into the divine family and bids us call him Abba, Father. All the stupid mistakes we’ve made, the evil we have participated in, the shame we feel for what we’ve done—all of that dies on the cross as well. Jesus takes it away. He wraps us around himself. We are clothed with him. We wear Jesus. His name and identity become ours. We are no longer alone; we are his family.

The cross is not a ladder by which we climb up to heaven; Jesus came down from heaven and climbed onto the cross to give us everything we need and more. The cross is not a pair of crutches by which we hobble our way toward salvation; on the cross, Christ won our salvation perfectly.

The cross is the cross. It will be nothing else. It cannot be improved. For on it the Lord of life gave us himself, and gives us to himself for eternity.

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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!

Your Future Is Behind You

pastfutureLet’s talk about time. To the friend who refuses to move on from a broken relationship, we say, “You’ve got to put the past behind you.” To the brother or sister who’s upset because of a lost opportunity, we say, “Stop worrying. You’ve got your whole life in front of you.”

Put the past behind you.
Your whole life is in front of you.

For years, I parroted these same things to build up others. I assumed the future was in front of me and the past was behind me. And all the while, I had things backwards.

Give me five minutes, if you will, and let me tell you the joy of a radically new—but ancient—way of thinking about time: a way in which the past is directly in front of your eyes, and along with it, incredible hope and joy for the future that lays behind you.

Walking Backwards into the Future

The foundational part of the Bible, the Old Testament, teaches this ancient understanding of time. In the language of the OT, the future is behind you and the past is in front of you. The Hebrew word for “in front of” (qedem) is the same word for “past.” And the word for “behind” (achar) is the basis for the word for “future” (achareet). Thus, if you were to ask Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob where the future was, they’d point behind them. Likewise, ask them where the past is, and they’d point in front of them.

The reason for this is as simple as it is insightful: we have seen the past, but we have not seen the future. We know what has happened. It is done, finished, and laid bare before our eyes. Thus the past is in front of us, where our eyes can see it. On the other hand, we don’t know what the future holds. We cannot see it, thus it is hidden from our eyes or behind us. Therefore, in the Hebrew conception of time, one might say that we are always walking backwards into the future.

History Is Pregnant with the Future

And walking backwards into the future is not only a good thing; it is a gift from God. Because if we want to know what will be, we open our eyes to what has been. History is pregnant with the future. It cradles in its womb the child of tomorrow. And in that fact is great hope for us as individuals as well as the church. Let me give you an example.

In one of the sacred songs of the OT, Psalm 77, the poet Asaph laments how bad things have become in his life. He’s so troubled that he suffers from insomnia; it’s like God’s fingers keep his eyelids pried open. He asks a series of painful questions, like, “Will the Lord spurn forever?” and “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” But instead of being strangled by despair, he says to himself, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” That phrase, “your wonders of old,” could also be translated, “your wonders in front.” These divine wonders of old, the ones in front of him, are when God redeemed Israel from Egypt, split the Red Sea in half, and led his people like a shepherd leads a flock. When Asaph needed hope for the future, he locked his eyes on the past. He walked with confidence backwards into the future because he saw, before his eyes, the past wherein God had heard the cries of his suffering people, saved them, and brought them joy and hope once more. And as the Lord had done in the past, he was sure to do in the future.

We Need More Asaphs

We need more Asaphs in the church today. We have an abundance of those who forecast dark days in the near future, even storms of persecution brewing on the horizon for the church in America and around the world. That may very well be so. I’m not writing to silence or downplay their warnings. I am writing, however, to remind the church that, come what may, she is marching backwards into a future rich with hope. The past is in front of us. And that past is replete with the saving acts of God in Jesus Christ for all his baptized children.

In front of us, in the past, is the hill upon which God has already defeated every foe we might face. On that bloody beam the heel of Christ crushed the head of the lying serpent. He hung upon the walls of his resurrection tomb the trophies of victory that mock death. In fact, his victory on the cross was so utterly complete that it was like the Last Day, for even tombs opened up and saints rose and walked into the holy city (Matt 28:52-53).

Open your eyes and see. Look at the past before us. There is God, our Father, smiling at us, his sons and daughters. There is Christ, our Brother, naming us his friends. There is the Spirit, our Comforter, filling the inner darkness of our fears and worries with the brilliant rays of his love and hope. What future calamity behind us shall separate us from the love of Christ before us? Shall tribulation or distress? Shall persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword? Tell me, what shall separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ? Nothing, that’s what. Nothing at all.

Then why are we worried? Why, as one of my friends wrote, do we so often act like the sky is falling? “Have no fear, little flock; have no fear, little flock?” the church sings. Why? “For the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.” He made us kings and queens on the day he poured a liquid crown upon our heads in baptism. He named us priests on the day he clothed us in the vestments of Jesus our great high priest. These gifts are before our eyes. This is what God has done for us.

So let us, with Asaph, remember the days of old, the days in front of us. Christ has died for you. He has been raised to a life that cannot end. He has joined you inextricably to his death and resurrection in the waters of baptism. These pasts acts are present gifts. And they are the basis for the confidence by which we walk backwards into the future fidelity of the Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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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!

Christianity That Jesus Doesn’t Believe In

tightropeAs he walked up to get another box from my hand, he said, “It seems to me that all religions do is constantly argue over whose god is the biggest.”

Most of my deep theological discussions take place not in ivory towers or musty libraries, but at the tail end of a semi. This was no different. I was delivering to a cabinet shop. We had two pallets to break down. So I pulled away the shrink wrap, cut the straps, handed down the boxes, and talked God with a young atheist.

Our conversation had—as conversations are wont to do—meandered. We drifted from video games to fantasy books to dragons to Satan to the Bible, all the way to the time his mother slapped him for questioning something in the New Testament. Part of his backstory involves his ex-wife’s parents—a “devout Christian family”—hampering all of his efforts to reconnect with his children. Bad experiences with believers and growing up in a legalistic church have largely formed his view of Christianity.

“Not my God,” I replied. “My God is the smallest.”
He stopped midway to the warehouse and turned to look at me.
“He came down from heaven and became a baby in Mary’s womb.”
He smiled. He knew the story.
“I don’t argue over whose god is the biggest. Listen, my God loves you so much he was willing to die for you. That’s the simple message of Christianity: You are forgiven in Jesus Christ—the God who died for you.”

My atheist friend said, “I wish more Christians thought like you do.”There is a christianity that Jesus doesn’t believe in. It surfaces in cathedrals of stone and store-front tabernacles of praise, all the way from the papacy to the pentecostals. It has oozed its way through all Christianity. It masquerades as the child of truth, but it’s nothing more than the offspring of a hook-up between religiosity and reason. It’s the christianity my young atheist friend grew up with.

The goal of this christianity is to keep folks on the straight and narrow by poking and prodding them with the cross. Its creed is: “Jesus died for you so that you’d live for him.” The blood of Jesus is fuel in the tank of your soul for a life lived to the glory of God. The focus of this christianity is to get you saved and then for the real work to begin—the work of gradually transforming you into a law-keeping, sin-avoiding, Bible-toting, tithe-giving member of the kingdom of good people that God applauds. At its essence, this christianity arises from the perceived need to get right with God; the belief that Jesus came to show us how to do that; the view of the Bible as the instruction book for life; and the understanding of the church as the temple of moral formation.

All that’s missing from this christianity is everything that’s important. When Paul summarized his ministry, he didn’t say, “I determined to know nothing among you except the Ten Commandments and right living.” He said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:1). Did Paul preach the law? Of course he did. Should pastors today preach the law? Of course they should (and do).

But if Jesus Christ and him crucified are tacked on to the end of sermons like a P.S. to a letter, then most of the ink on that page is not the crimson of grace. If Jesus Christ and him crucified does not permeate the Bible classes and Sunday School rooms of a congregation; provide the content for all pastoral care and counseling; and trumpet forth from the hymns and songs; then what is there? You know what’s there: admonitions to holy living, lists of spiritual principles, goals of a godly life. No wonder that when young people grow up in a law-saturated, grace-dry church, they leave the faith by droves for all they’ve heard their whole life is a life they can never live up to.

That’s the full story of what happened to my young friend, who labels himself as an atheist but I suspect is merely one more victim of a church in which the true Jesus is unwelcome. So I try, conversation by conversation, to show him that Christ doesn’t believe in the christianity that he grew up with. Jesus himself doesn’t believe in the god who tells people that they must somehow win heaven’s approval by toeing the line.

Christianity is Jesus Christ. It is not a body of doctrine but a body crucified and risen for you. It is the God who became small, died, and rose again to make you right with his Father. That’s a Christianity worth believing in.

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!

What Is the Theology of the Cross?

crucifixWhen Christians talk about the theology of the cross, they contrast it with the theology of glory. What’s the difference between the two? Here’s a brief explanation. It’s taken from my booklet, Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing.

In Theses 19 and 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther separates the wheat from the chaff, the true theologians from those in the ranks of the wannabes.

Thesis 19: That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [or, “have been made” quae facta sunt].

Thesis 20: He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. (Luther’s Works, American Edition, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31, ed. Harold J. Grimm [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], p. 40)

In other words, no man deserves to be called a theologian unless the entire corpus of his theology is crucified. The sham-theologian, Luther says, fools himself into thinking that he can perceive who God really is in those things which are accessible to human experience, investigation, and reason. He presumes to recognize the invisible things of God (i.e., His “virtue, godliness, wisdom, justice, goodness, and so forth”) in the visible things of creation, but “the recognition of all these things does not make one worthy or wise” (AE, vol. 31, p. 52). “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross” (AE, vol. 31, pp. 52-53). The uncrucified god is a false god for the true God cannot be known, cannot be recognized, cannot be confessed until and unless He is comprehended in the crucified Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Because “true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ,” the crucifix is not only the ultimate but the ongoing epiphany wherein God reveals how He comes to His people and brings His people into Himself (AE, vol. 31, p. 53).

All theology must therefore be crucified. For instance, God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, is not known as God the Father in the created things of heaven and earth by themselves. Visible creation certainly testifies that there is a Maker (Romans 1:20), but that God remains nameless and unknown as God our Father until He is known in His incarnate and crucified Son. The theology of creation must therefore be crucified for the God of creation truly to be known. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is unknown and unknowable except in the crucified Son, for the Spirit “bears witness of” and “glorifies” Christ (St. John 15:26; 16:14). The theology of the Spirit must therefore be crucified for the Holy Spirit truly to be known.

Who God is and how He deals with us is made known “through suffering and the cross,” as Luther summarily says. In other words, God is who and God is where man by nature supposes He is not. Luther was fond of quoting the prophet Isaiah in this regard: “Truly, Thou art a God who hidest Thyself” (Isaiah 45:15). God camouflages Himself beneath His seeming opposite: His glory is hidden beneath the inglorious cross, His strength hidden in weakness, wisdom in folly, exaltation in humiliation. Yet, this divine concealment is simultaneously divine revelation: His glory is made known precisely in the cross, His strength in weakness, His wisdom in folly, His exaltation in humiliation. These are revealed, however, solely to those have “seeing ears,” who behold what their ears are told in the Word of Christ. Only those who heed the Word of Christ see through these masks of God, that is, only they see God behind His seeming opposite, His outward disguise. Only those who know God in the crucified Christ know the God who hides Himself, and so only they will seek and find Him where His Word has promised He is and will be. On the other hand, those who heed not the Word of Christ, but their own natural experience, investigation, and reason will search for God and even possibly think that they have found Him. But, alas, they will be gravely disappointed. For all those who think they have laid hold of God where God is not, have really laid hold of an idol, an idol which is the mask and jaws of the devil himself (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).

The God who hides and reveals Himself in His crucified Son also hides and reveals Himself in the ways and means whereby this crucified Son comes to us. Everything by which God imparts Himself to us and brings us into Himself must bear the cruciform image of the Christ. Therefore, in virtually the same breath St. Paul calls the cross and the preaching of this cross “foolishness” to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21). Just as the sin-blinded world cannot see God in the crucified Christ, so the world cannot see God in the means whereby the crucified Christ comes to us: in preaching. And so it is with every other way and means by which the hidden God comes to us. The God who is hidden in the “foolishness” of the cross is hidden in the “foolishness” of Baptism’s water, the Eucharist’s bread and wine, the Absolution’s human voice and touch. The offense of the cross now rests within the pulpit, upon the altar, in the font, at the confessional chair. Everything that belongs to God must be crucified, that is, it must hide God so that only those who heed His Word will find Him there, revealing and giving Himself.

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!

How Do I Know I’m a Christian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we need to stop saying it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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