Archive for the tag “absolution”

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

Dear Friends,

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

“The Saddest Words Ever Spoken to a Sinner”

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

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

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

“Forgive Us Our Good Works”

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginner’s Guide to Giving Your Sin a Holy Name

märchenThe first lie I remember telling revealed everything about the man I would grow up to be. In six false words I prophesied my future—and yours as well. Here’s what happened.

Half a block down from my childhood home in Jal, New Mexico, a mechanic had set up shop years before. The half-acre of ground resembled an oil spill. A rickety old tin building housed the guts of every vehicle that had ever rolled down America’s highways. Cars and pickups, some old, some new, punctuated the yard.

One day my buddy, Tom, and I decided that we wanted to break into one of those cars. Just a couple of six year old criminals, we were. In my childhood naiveté, I had also decided that in my dad’s huge ring of assorted keys there must be at least one that fit those cars. So I pocketed the keys and Tom and I snuck down to the mechanic’s yard. Hunkered down behind a shiny Chevrolet, I began systematically to try every key on the lock.

We didn’t hear her walk up behind us. But there she stood, feet spread apart, wrestler-sized forearms crossed over her imposing bosom. A giant of a woman, the mechanic’s wife was.
“What in the hell,” she spat, “are you boys doing?”
With mouths agape, we turned and looked up. She glared through eyes as cold as December. “Well?” she repeated. I looked at Tom, and Tom stared wildly back at me. Then I looked back up at the giantess.
“Um,” I stammered, “we…Tom and I here,” jabbing my thumb in his direction, “we were just…um.”
“You were just what? What are you doing messing around with this car?” she said.
And then I said it. In six words I prophesied my future: “Well, we were gonna fix it.”
And Tom and I, out of lies, exploded from the car and ran like the wind.

Luther once said that sin never wants to be sin; it always wants to be righteousness. Although I was too young to have mastered the skill of lying, I also knew that I couldn’t very well tell this woman the truth. I didn’t want this to be stealing keys, trespassing, and breaking into a car. No, I wanted it to appear good and right and downright neighborly. I didn’t want my sin to be sin; I wanted it to be righteousness. And that boyish desire to justify every action, no matter how wrong, hasn’t changed; it accelerated and expanded as I became a man.

We are name-changers, you and I. We grasp the potency of language. It’s as if we’ve all memorized The Beginner’s Guide to Giving Your Sin a Holy Name. So as I named my childish mischief “fixing the car,” we christen our greed as “wise business sense.” We dub our slander as “truth-telling.” We brand the slaughter of infants as “a mother’s freedom.” We talk of racism as “love of tradition.” We identify adultery as “looking for our true soulmate.” On and on it goes. And when we want to be really convincing, we put a stamp of divine approval on the name change. We say things like, “the Lord has put on my heart that I should…” Or, “I feel the Lord would want me to….” Or, “God would want me to be happy so I’m going to….” Go ahead, name the sin, any sin, and I’ll show you how we’ve renamed it as righteousness.

What I find most revealing about this renaming tendency is the pressing need we feel to justify our actions. Think about it. Hardwired into us is the desire to be in the right, no matter what. We cannot stand the thought of admitting that we have lied, cheated, stolen, hated, or slandered, for the moment we confess these wrongs, we confess that we are standing outside the house of justification. So instead of confessing our sins, we sanctify them. Why? So we can declare ourselves justified in the eyes of God and our neighbor. So deep is our desire to be in the right that we will do every wrong to make it seem otherwise. Our greatest fear is revealing who we really are.

What we don’t realize, however, is that our greatest freedom actually begins when we confess who we really are. When we un-name our renaming of sin, we open up the possibility of true righteousness—and along with it, true peace and forgiveness. When we say, “I am a thief. I am a slanderer. I am a murderer, adulterer, bigot,” we strip away our self-justification and admit that we stand naked and filthy before the only true judge of our actions, God himself.

At that moment we are exposed to an astonishing truth: that God doesn’t want sin to be sin either. He too wants us to be righteous. What he does, however, is not rename our evils or excuse our sin; he removes it. Or to say it more accurately, he transfers it. He takes our lying and cheating and all other wrongs and wraps them round the body of a substitute. He says, “Jesus, take these away. Do for your brothers and sisters what they cannot do for themselves.” And he does. He assumes ownership of our wrongdoing; he willingly becomes our scapegoat. He says, “This transgression and that transgression are mine. All evil is mine, past, present, future. It is no longer yours. And I won’t ever give it back.”

But Christ does even more. Not content merely to pay the penalty for our crimes, to give us a clean start, he invests us with the riches of his own righteousness. We assume his identity, wear his clothes, are called by his name, are treated as royalty. Jesus dies, and we in him, and so our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Who he is, we are, and who we are, he is. Is Jesus perfect? So are we. Is Jesus holy and righteous and pleasing to his Father? So are we. Is Jesus the heir of heaven, the Father’s child, the beloved of God? So are we, for it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. All of this—as crazy and outlandish as it sounds—is as true as the fact that the sun shines and the rivers flow. Christ has done it all for you.

As for the book, The Beginner’s Guide to Giving Your Sin a Holy Name, you don’t need it. In quite another kind of book you yourself are renamed as the Father’s beloved, the brother and sister of Jesus, the temple of the Spirit, a forgiven and justified saint. And those new, God-given names now define who you are. And will, to all eternity.

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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!

Police Dispatched at Midnight to Loud Party at Local Church

fireworkschurchWhen residents near Holy Trinity Church were rattled from their sleep Saturday night by the sounds of drums and laughter and fireworks, they didn’t know what was happening. “It was like a full blown Mardi Gras had erupted next door,” one neighbor complained. The church, usually a gentle giant of a structure, dark against the midnight sky, was ablaze with a rainbow of lights and echoed with sounds of whooping and singing.

Two police officers were dispatched to the scene.

Witnesses later recounted what they’d seen. Earlier in the evening, the parking lot began to fill with cars and pickups, which soon spilled over onto side streets. Men and women and children piled out of the vehicles, each one carrying plastic bags bulging with hamburger buns and streamers and bottles of every variety. A large van backed up to the fellowship hall and began unloading drums and guitars and sound equipment. The fire pit was soon roaring with flames and the three or four portable grills were fired up for a BBQ. And this was just the beginning.

By the time midnight rolled around, they’d gone whole hog. The center of the fellowship hall had been pushed clear of tables and chairs. As the band played, the dance floor swirled with everyone from white-haired retirees to mini-skirted teens. Children, some in pajamas, one toddler bare-butt naked, squealed and ran about the room with chocolate cake smeared on their faces. A couple of guys had gotten their hands on some fireworks and soon rockets were hissing heavenward to paint the night sky with exploding colors. The corks flew off champagne bottles and brimming glasses were passed around the room.

When the blue and red lights on the patrol cars flashed around the parking lot a little after midnight, no one seemed to notice. Or care. The pastor met the officers at the door and welcomed them in with a smile. After considerable effort, he got the band to stop playing, the dancers to stop dancing, and the general din of laughter and shouting subsided to a whisper. Finally, it was quiet enough for them to hear each other.

“What exactly is going on here, Pastor?” one of the officers asked.

“Follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you.”

He led the two men through the mass of people to the back corner of the hall. There was a makeshift stage on which sat an oversized chair. Confetti was strewn all about and streamers dangled from the ceiling. Sitting as if enthroned was a man in his late 30’s. He had three days worth of stubble on his face and his clothes were badly in need of a wash. But he sported a tinfoil crown, used a few months earlier in the Christmas pageant for one of the three magi; had a turkey leg in one hand and a Guinness in the other; and on his face was a smile that hadn’t faded all night.

“Officers, this man is the reason we’re here. His name’s Landon. He grew up in this congregation. To make a long story short, he went off to college, got in with the wrong crowd, made some bad choices. His life began to unravel. He’ll tell you all the details if you’re really interested. We’d lost track of him for years. Rumors were he was in prison or living on the street. Nobody really knew. But for as long as I can remember, when I’ve stood at the altar on Sunday morning to pray for folks in need, his name has always been among them. Then, lo and behold, he shows up on my doorstep early this morning. Says he’s come home. Says he’s been through hell and back. Says he don’t know if the church would welcome him back or not, but hopes they will. So I started calling folks up. Word spread. And we decided to show Landon what ‘welcome home’ means to us Christians. You see, officers, this son of our congregation was dead, and has come back to life again; he was lost, and has been found. We had no other choice than to throw a party. That’s just what we do. That’s how the church welcomes home a sinner who’s lost his way.”

The officers listened. The older of the two simply asked that the church turn down the volume a bit for the sake of their neighbors, and please lay off the fireworks for the rest of the night. They all agreed. The officers left. And the party for Landon went on and on and on.

I suppose everyone has his dreams. I have mine. And one of them is to read a story like this in the newspaper someday. A story about a church that knows how to welcome home a lost son.

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 award-winning 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!

Absolution: There’s Now an App for That!

iphoneappIn addition to reading the Bible and listening to Christian music on your mobile device, you will now also be able to confess your sins and receive divine forgiveness, all with the tap of a few buttons.

Relevant Ministries International (RMI) unveiled their latest app, “Absolution,” this past week at the conference of Christian Entrepreneurs in Las Vegas. Spokesman Harry Miles praised the app as “the most revolutionary sacramental advance that the church has made since the 1960’s.” He explained, “Look, we all know how much time people spend glued to their phones. What we at RMI are all about is redeeming that time, so that in addition to scrolling through Facebook and tweeting, believers can also enjoy a spiritual experience while online. Our goal is to transform every phone into a handheld church.”

Instead of wasting precious time driving across town and sitting through an hour long church service, or, worse yet, being forced to confess embarrassing sins privately to a pastor or priest, the Absolution app allows for the instant gratification of grace, wherever you are, when something is bothering a person’s conscience.

Here’s how it works: simply tap the Absolution icon on your screen. When the app loads, users will be asked three simple questions: “Is something bothering you?”; “Would you like to confess it and receive forgiveness?”; and “What would you like to confess?” If you select “yes” to the first two questions, the third question will then allow you to type in the sins that especially bother you. Once you hit “Submit Sins,” the App will send you a message that declares, “God has heard your confession. Your sins are forgiven! Go in peace.” It’s that easy.

Praising its spiritual sensitivity and personalized feel, Pastor Jimmy Taylor of Life Community Church, in this past Sunday’s sermon, urged his congregation to make use of the App as frequently as they needed to. “Say you got a little worked up on your commute and screamed obscenities at other motorists; or drank a little too much at the company party and got too cozy with a coworker; or just feel like you’ve really screwed up as a parent lately; then pull out your phone and confess those sins. God is everywhere, including in your mobile device. Type in those sins, tap that button, and feel the peace this App can bring.”

Online Christian blogger, Cindy Jackson, perhaps said it best in her blog post on Monday when she wrote of the Absolution app, “This app is more private than a priest; closer than your nearest church; much shorter than any liturgy; and ecumenical enough to allow even Jews, Muslims, and people of other religious persuasions to receive divine absolution. It’s like having your own personal God in your pocket.”

 

ChristAloneCoverIf you’re sick and tired of all the spiritually disastrous material that’s flooding the church, such as what I’ve alluded to in this satire, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

I Stab it With My Steely Knife but I Can’t Kill the Beast Within

steelyknivesHe hadn’t sinned one single time in a whopping 24 years. We were standing at the gas pumps, late one Saturday night, in my home town of Shamrock, when he informed me of this biographical detail. I was a teenager, fueling my pickup for a night on the town, when this stranger approached me and struck up a conversation. He was a preacher, in town to lead a revival at one of the gazillion churches that dotted our Bible Belt community. I suppose he was out doing his own kind of evangelizing that evening, and, for some reason, I had the look of a potential convert. I asked for clarification, and, he affirmed, straight-faced, vehemently confident, that it had been one score and four years that he had lived sin-free. To this day, looking back, I wish I’d have had a flash of inspiration, and hauled back and bloodied his nose right then and there, just to test his ability to withstand temptation.

I’ve never gone 24 days without sinning. Or 24 hours. Or 24 minutes, for that matter. And neither had that man, his claims notwithstanding. I don’t know whether he was a lunatic, or worse, a hypocrite, but he was certainly one more self-deluded spiritual type who looked at the law of God as a cow stares at a new gate– seeing but not understanding. The Lord of the law makes things difficult for us, for He not only requires outward obedience but inward obedience. Indeed, He demands inward delight in His “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Not only must I refrain from murdering someone, even my worst enemy, but I must love him, put his interests ahead of my own, nurse him back to health if necessary, and rejoice in the life that is his. Not only must I not commit adultery, I must refrain from lusting after the body of any woman, not matter how tiny her bikini, no matter how my hormones rage, and simultaneously defend and uphold sexual purity and marital fidelity amongst all. With my mouth and my hands, in my heart and my mind, at work and home and school and church, and even in those thoughts that I alone entertain, there must be complete and uninterrupted love toward God and love towards my neighbor, a selfless devotion toward the good and an utter rejection of all that is bad.

That all being said, come to think of it, I’ve never gone 24 seconds without sinning.

But each person has his particular demon, or demons, that assault him most. Perhaps it’s pride, or lust, or selfishness for you. Maybe it takes the form of drugs or alcohol abuse, or a string of promiscuous liaisons.  Maybe it’s your mouth, for gossip and slander are your bread and butter. Unless, like the preacher from my youth, you’re self-delusional, you know what lurks beneath. You know the beast within. And though you stab it with your steely knives, it keeps rising from the grave to attack you again.

Here’s the sobering truth: it’s a lifelong war. There will be no truce between the good desires and bad desires within you. Evil will wave no white flag. Don’t imagine you can arrest your demons, shackle them, put them behind bars, then spend the rest of your life in peaceful bliss. God calls you to combat, to warfare of the spirit, to holy violence against the demons within. I so often forget that. For the slothful soul within me is enamored with an easy, lazy Christianity, that says I’ll just go ahead and cave to temptation, then Jesus will absolve me. But such an attitude, that supposes the Gospel is a permission slip to sin, is nothing more than a self-taught lie. God calls you to constant vigilance, for He knows that this life is a war zone. Unsheathe your knife, and kill the beast within over and over and over, for peace is completely attained only on the other side of the grave.

As you fight, cling also to this all-encompassing truth of Christianity: that Jesus of Nazareth has paid, in His own blood, for each and every failure on your part to live up to God’s law. He forgives you, and He will continue to forgive you, no matter what, no matter how many times you fail, no matter how flagrant your trespass. He is not a “three strikes and you’re out” kind of God. When the beast within overcomes you, He will wash you in the blood of the Lamb. When your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, indeed, when it doesn’t exceed that of the porn star and meth cook, He will strip away the filthy rags of your own righteousness and clothe you in His own white, regal raiment. When sloth and lust and greed and addiction have their way with you; when, try as you might, you eventually give in to the allurements of the world and your own flesh; He stands there with a face full of love, saying, “Come to me, all you who stink and are stained and hate what you’ve done, and I will forgive you, wash you, feed you, let you sleep in my own bed, and I’ll sit beside you as you dream of the reality that is no dream, namely, that you are my own dear child.”

I stand forgiven. I stand armed. And these two truths stand in harmony, united by the Christ who dwells within me, both as Savior and Warrior.

ChristAloneCoverIf you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

Struggling to Un-Love Ex-Sins: A Long Repentance in the Same Direction

You’ve seen it happen, probably experienced it yourself. A serious relationship ultimately darkens. But the disappearance of its light is not like the flick of a switch. It’s more akin to the dying of a campfire: dancing flames burn down to collapsing embers. It takes time. After all, you invested some of yourself in that person. You swapped secrets, made memories, relished intimacies. Even if the relationship ended badly, you can’t simply unremember the happy times. So try as you might to move on, to evict that person from your head and heart, they seem to be everywhere. You drive past that restaurant where you enjoyed a meal together; there’s that song on the radio you danced to. With a mind full of memories, and a present pregnant with the past, learning to un-love an ex-love is an ongoing, long-term struggle.

It is not much different when that serious relationship happened to be with a particular sin. Maybe the addiction or the sex or the stealing or the violence—whatever your lover was—ultimately made your life a living hell before you finally severed those bonds. But there is no delete button in your brain that easily eradicates all memories of that sin-to-sinner relationship. For between the hours of pain, there were moments of pleasure. The demons know to coat their lips with sugar, so that later, even when they begin to devour us, we still foolishly taste the sweetness of their kiss. Even more complicated is when, in the very midst of sin, a gift of God is given. For example, children are a gift of the Lord, but what if a man fathers a child with another man’s wife? That son or daughter, the embodiment of their adulterous liaison, is also the embodiment of a divine gift. These situations of sin and repentance and God’s activity therein can get real messy, real quick.

So here is our dilemma: even though we have given up the drugs, or ended the affair, or stopped the stealing—severed the bonds with whatever our ex-sin may be—we ask ourselves, “Have I repented enough? Have I repented sincerely enough? Since I still struggle to un-love the ‘good things’ that happened while I was engaged in that sin, have I repented at all or am I just deceiving myself?”

As I have written about elsewhere (in “I Stab it With My Steely Knife But I Can’t Kill the Beast Within” and “I’ve Spent the Better Part of My Life Trying to Kill a Man”), the struggle against sin, any sin, is lifelong. A woman may never shoplift again or a man embezzle from his company again, but the monster of greed that drove them to steal abides in the lair of their heart to their dying day. Repentance is not an occasional emotion, but an ongoing motion. It is the motion of God’s hand, reaching down to grab the old Adam by his neck and shove his head again and again and yet again under the waters of Baptism, that the new man in Christ might arise again and again and yet again. The entire life of believers is one of repentance.

Therefore, drawing lines that demarcate where repentance begins and where it ends is like drawing lines in water. It gets even worse if you start asking quantitative or qualitative questions such as, “Am I repentant enough?” or “Have I shown sufficient contrition?” or “Am I sorry because of what I did or only because I got caught?” Such questions are not only wrong-headed; to demand an answer to them from yourself or others is likely only to drive you to question your repentance, its sincerity, and ultimately whether God has forgiven you in Christ.

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Prodigal Son Returns Home: by Edward Riojas

Here is the most important point I want to make: Absolution is never a layaway plan, forgiveness you finally get to take home once you’ve satisfied the payment plan with enough acts of repentance. That’s because forgiveness does not originate from repentance; it originates solely from Christ. The father did not forgive the prodigal son because he returned home, said he was sorry for his sins, and was unworthy to be called a son anymore. The father had forgiven his son even while that son was feeding swine in a faraway country. The father had forgiven his son before he saw him a long way off and began running toward him. The father had forgiven his son because he was his son, because he loved him as only a father can. So it is with us. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The world was absolved on Good Friday. And that forgiveness, given to you in the here and now, is not earned, or allowed, or sweetened, or strengthened, or made more real by your repentance.

Should you repent of the wrong you’ve done? Of course. Should you continue to repent as you struggle to un-love that ex-sin? Of course. You will never repent enough. You will never repent sincerely enough. But forgiveness is not based upon having enough repentance or having sufficiently sincere repentance. Absolution is based upon the atoning work of Jesus Christ. His atonement is enough. His sacrifice was perfectly sincere. His blood covers not only the sin of which you repent, but your imperfect repentance for that sin.

The entire life of believers is one of repentance, but more importantly, the entire life of believers is the life of Jesus Christ, whose love for us is always more than enough.

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If you enjoy my writings, and would like to read more of them, check out my two recently published books, one of hymns and poetry, and one of meditations and sermons. The Infant Priest is a collection of about 20 hymns and 90 poems. Christ Alone contains brief meditations and sermons that are steeped in the language of creation, the Passover, the worship life of Israel, and the Gospels. Click on either of the titles, or visit Amazon.com, to read more and find out how you can purchase a copy. Thank you for your interest!

Stumbling Over David’s Confession: How to Understand “Against You, You Only, I Have Sinned”

David and Bathsheba

Bathsheba Bathing

The national media would have been blood-drunk. Sex always makes for a catchy headline, especially when politicians are involved. But this was a bonanza of epic proportions. A national leader gets caught with his pants down. Rumor is his paramour is a military wife. But the story gets even juicier. Turns out she’s pregnant, and her husband, who couldn’t possibly be the father, was all-too-conveniently killed on the battlefield recently. And, as icing on this scandalous cake, the nation’s leader makes the war widow his wife. When the scandal of David and Bethsheba leaked out, reporters would have descended upon the Jerusalem palace like locusts on a ripened field.

This story of lust and adultery, intrigue and murder, callousness and cover-up, captivates readers to this day. Perhaps that’s because it’s one of those ripped-from-the-headlines biblical stories. Perhaps it’s because the characters in the narrative make “better people” feel even better about themselves. And perhaps it’s because some of us see ourselves, and our own lurid personal narratives, reflected in this biblical story. For those of us in this latter category, a poetic outgrowth of David’s sin, and subsequent repentance, is especially meaningful. I refer to Psalm 51, which according to its heading, David penned after his affair with Bathsheba.

I have prayed this psalm more times than any other. Its confessions and laments and declarations of faith express perfectly the bitterness and sweetness of the life of repentance, of dying and rising. Yet within this psalm, one expression had always tripped me up. Indeed, when I prayed it, I seemed to utter a half-truth, at best. It comes near the beginning, where David says,

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

“Against You, You only, I have sinned.” How could you say that, David? You sinned against God, to be sure, but also against Bathsheba, Uriah, your family, your military, indeed, your entire nation. How can you possibly limit the scope of your sin, and need for confession, to God alone?

Perhaps the answer to that question is found in a parallel situation, this one related to the holiness of God. In her liturgy, the church sings, “You alone are the Holy One,” (Gloria in Excelsis), echoing Revelation 15:4, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.” God alone is intrinsically, eternally, essentially holy. Yet, God is not stingy with His holiness; He grants it to people, places, things, and times. They share in what is His. The Lord, the Lord alone, is holy. And all else that is holy is holy because it is of Him. To desecrate that holiness is to do harm to the one with whom the Lord has shared His holiness, but the desecration is truly and ultimately directed at God alone, since He is the sole source of sanctity.

Similarly, when I seduced Bathsheba, when I stole from and murdered Uriah, when I brought dishonor to my family, when I failed in my office–when I was David–I sinned against all these people. Their forgiveness I implore. At the same time, against God, God only, I have sinned and done what is evil in His sight. For it is His law I have broken, His office in which I have failed, His people against whom I have sinned. All is from Him, so all I have taken, I have taken from Him. All others against whom I have sinned, I have sinned because they are of Him.

Within this confession, there is also a hidden beauty, a secluded comfort that is perhaps only truly appreciated when it is a lived reality. There were, I suspect, people in Israel during David’s lifetime who never forgave him for his scandalous conduct, his lies, his lust, his bloodshed. He had sinned against them, to be sure, but even in his life of repentance, even as he sought their absolution, they withheld it, whatever their reasons might have been. Did their refusal to forgive mean that David was unforgiven? Did David’s absolution depend on people’s willingness to forgive? Absolutely not. For “against You, You only, have I sinned.” Just as confession is directed fully and ultimately to God alone, so absolution is received fully and ultimately from God alone, in Jesus Christ.

There is the hidden beauty in this seemingly limiting confession of King David. For David’s sin, another David would pay the price in blood. In Him, and in Him alone, would absolution for the world be earned and given. For that reason, this verse from Psalm 51 that used to trip me up, now is my greatest delight. For as much as it may hurt that others refuse to forgive, Christ does not. Against Him, Him only, have I sinned. And from Him, Him only, I receive absolution, full and free.

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