Archive for the tag “Baptism”

The Door No One Can Walk Through

arch-2764_1920If the Lord were not a gracious God, the Bible would have been a mere six chapters long. For in Genesis 6, God stands ready to take the world he had so perfectly created, and which had so imperfectly imploded in sin, and pour it down the drain. “The end of all flesh has come before me,” he said, “for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and look, I am about to destroy humanity with the earth,” (6:13).

Yet Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Because of grace, the Lord made this man the first ship-builder, the first sailor, and a sort of Adam #2 to begin creation anew. Buried in a watery grave was a world of sinners who chose death over life. Down they sank beneath the waves of woe that engulfed the world they had flooded with corruption. And above those same waves floated the ark of salvation that Noah had constructed for him and his family of seven. Nothing stood between them and certain death but the wood of the ark buoyed up by the promise of a good and gracious God.

Noah and his family entered the ark through a door in the side. And in so doing, they gave us a preview of the way in which we enter a greater ark, to be saved in a greater flood. We find grace not only in the eyes, but in the wounds, of the Lord. The portal in our ark of salvation was not made with a saw and hammer but a soldier’s spear. It pierced the side of our Lord as he hung upon the cross. Out flooded blood and water. Through that door in the side of Christ we enter the ark of saving grace.
But we don’t walk through this door.
No one can.
We are carried by waves through this door.
The water and blood that streamed forth from Christ, streams us back into him as we are buoyed up by the waves of baptism, through the wound, and into the body of God incarnate.

“Baptism now saves you,” Peters says (2 Pet 3:21), because baptism is the flood reenacted, but with a wondrous twist. We are sundered from the number of the unbelieving, pass through the pierced-portal in the side of Jesus, and are preserved dry and secure in Christ, the ark of life. “He ferries us across death’s raging flood.” He preserves us dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

As Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, we find that same grace in the wounds of our Lord. Of him the water, the blood, and the Spirit cry, “He is our ark; he is our life; he is one who is drowned in our sins that we might float safely to the heavenly harbor of the Father.”

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It quotes from and alludes to the language of Martin Luther’s Baptism Liturgy and the “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” by Stephen Starke (Lutheran Service Book, #597).

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

The Tree of Life in a Cross of Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Testament Unveiled: The River of Life

It’s a strange place for a river to begin. Not at the convergence of several streams, not at a natural spring, but under a building. Ezekiel sees a trickle of water coming from underneath the temple. As he follows the stream, it deepens and broadens into a river. The most amazing thing? Everything the water touches, lives. It even desalinates the waters of the Dead Sea.

This is the river of life–the same river that flowed out of Eden to water the garden, then split into four rivers to carry the blessings of Paradise to the rest of creation. It’s the same river that John sees in the New Jerusalem, which flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And it’s the same river that carries the blessings of Jesus Christ to you.

In my latest YouTube video, I talk about the significance of this river. Click on this link to watch the video: “The Old Testament Unveiled: The River of Life That Flows from Eden to Ezekiel to Jerusalem.” Thanks for taking the time to watch!

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

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

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

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

But I wouldn’t find it.

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

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

The Book of Life is Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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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!

Facebook and the Edited Me

font-533232_1280The world of Facebook has its own language and culture. And lies. To someone new to social media, it’s like touring around a foreign country. You’re not sure what to consume, where to go, or who to talk to. And to make matters worse, you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not.

As a rule of thumb, I suggest this: assume at least a tiny lie lurks behind everything you see. If Facebook is anything, it’s the land of opportunity for presenting to the world an edited version of ourselves.

Inside scores of smiling family photographs is a couple who’ve been sleeping in separate beds the last few months. Behind many boastful status updates about successes at work is a soul plagued by self-doubt and on the verge of career collapse. Optimistic, life-loving memes are posted right after popping the day’s antidepressant. A wife puts on her wall a picture of the dozen red roses her husband bought her, but doesn’t mention it’s been two weeks since she discovered he was sleeping with his secretary. A pastor praises the work of his congregation on their Facebook page, but edits out the fact that he gets drunk after Elder’s and Voters’ meetings because he loathes this hellhole the Lord has stuck him in.

We teach our children to be careful what they post on social media because, once it’s online, it’s online forever. And that is sound advice. But we also teach—by our actions if not by our words—to be careful to post on social media only the edited version of yourself by which you want to deceive the world into thinking you’re better than you know yourself to be.

We’re seeking affirmation (“like” what I post), or love (PM a flirtatious message), or praise (comment on what a great job I’m doing), or attention (remark how I look pretty in this picture), or sympathy (tell me how sorry you are). Lurking behind so much of what we do on social media is the attempt to control what others think of us. We crave all the things above—affirmation, love, praise, attention, sympathy—but we know they can’t be ours unless we project just the right image. So we Photoshop our lives. We recreate ourselves online to be better, stronger, smarter, prettier, holier, or even more pitiful in order to elicit the responses we desire.

Whether we realize it or not, all these online, self-editing actions are nothing more than our admission that we believe that we are so deeply flawed that no one will love us just as we are. They will love us only if they see our good side, only if we are successful, only if we are happily married. These “only ifs” unveil a fundamental truth about us: we spend our lives in pursuit of that which is unattainable, all the while ignoring the fact that God pursues us with a gift he has already attained.

We pursue other people as god-like figures. We crave their acceptance and affirmation of us. We long for their acknowledgment, their love, their embrace. And so, online and offline, we wear our masks and do our self-editing to attain that goal. And when it comes, because we know that they accept and affirm only a fraction of who we really are, their response never really satisfies. We’re always wondering, “Yes, but what if they knew the real me? They wouldn’t like me then. Therefore, I must continue to edit, to Photoshop, to lie, to control my image in order to achieve the acceptance I desire.”

While we are pursuing this vain goal, God trails behind us with the very gift we desire already in his possession. He sees through the smoke and mirrors of social media; beneath the masks we wear everywhere from the boardroom to the bedroom; around the lies we concoct to make ourselves appear happier, healthier, and more successful than we are. He sees us as we truly are. All the self-hatred and self-love, the ugly envy, the doubt and despair, the dead relationships, the nasty fights, the pills and booze. He sees it all. And he loves us nonetheless.

But he loves us in a weird, God-like way. He loves us into death and back into life. He is a God who kills and makes alive. He finds us ugly and hurting and hateful and mean, and he wraps his arms around us and falls with us into a watery grave. There with him, in him, embraced by him, we drown. We die. We die to self. And in the shock of a lifetime, we open our eyes outside the watery grave, standing alongside our Lord, as newly resurrected people who are the apple of God’s eye.

The Lord with whom we die is Jesus, the Son of God. In that watery grave we are crucified with him. We die and are buried with him. We rise and live with him. And in so doing, who he is becomes who we are. He is the Son of God; in him we become the sons of God. He is beloved of the Father; in him we are beloved of the Father. He is holy, righteous, perfect; in Jesus we are the same.

All we sought to achieve by controlling our image was in vain. The image that brings true peace and contentment in life is not one we achieve but one we receive. It is the image of Christ, likeness to him, that we receive in the watery, crucifixion grave of baptism. There, in Christ, we are accepted, affirmed, loved, embraced by the Father. All of who we are—not the edited us—is enveloped in the Son of God, dies with him, rises with him, and lives with him. And that is no virtual reality.

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 Cross of Grace at the Rainbow’s End

The rainbow is more than a pretty ending to the ugly story of a worldwide flood. In fact, the two ends of the rainbow span the Old and New Testaments to bring them together into a united whole centered on Christ. In this latest episode of The Old Testament Unveiled, I discuss the deep and rich biblical significance of the rainbow. As it turns out, there’s not a fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there is a cross of grace.

If you’d like to read more about the rainbow, here’s an article that provides more of the background:

Bows, Arrows, and Baptismal Fonts

One of the perks of growing up in the Texas Panhandle was that I could see most of the United States from my front porch. It was that flat. Sunsets there transform the whole horizon into a vast canvas of color. And if you’ve ever wanted to actually find the end of a rainbow, then that’s the place to be. You can spot where both ends of the arch kiss the earth.

Speaking of rainbows, they were the stuff of my Sunday School years, along with candy and campfire songs. Noah, the animals two-by-two, and finally the multicolored memento that God wouldn’t liquidate the earth again. The rainbow made for a pretty ending to an ugly story, but, honestly, I’d lost as much sleep fretting about worldwide flooding as I had about being mauled by a Texas polar bear. The rainbow was just one more biblical footnote in that jumbled mess of story after disconnected story in the Old Testament.

Or so I thought it was. Now, when the rain has ceased, and I happen to spy that bright bridge shining in the sky, I see God at work, finger-painting in the heavens a picture of salvation. Here’s why.

The Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, has no word for rainbow. Yes, I realize that in your translation of Genesis, it might read something like, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (NIV, 9:13). But the word often translated as rainbow, keshet, simply means a bow. What we see in the heavens is none other than a weapon of war.

But this weapon of war, two peculiarities set it apart. First, the bow is not drawn back. It’s suspended there, hanging in the heavens. Second, even as it hangs there, it’s pointed upward, not earthward. The bow of the divine warrior, the almighty judge, by which he shot oceans of arrows into the rebellious human race, has been retired. The instrument of execution has been changed into an emblem of peace–a hawk become a dove, a sword hammered into a plowshare. Now every time God sees His bow, He who never forgets will nevertheless remember His oath never to draw it again to punish the earth by a cosmopolitan flood.

But hold on, because the story gets even better. In two prophetic visions, Jesus appears wrapped in the radiance of this beautiful bow of peace. Ezekiel saw Him first, a man-like God, whose radiance was like “the bow in the clouds on a rainy day,” (1:26). John also saw Him, this God-become-man, enveloped by a rainbow that surrounded the throne of God (Revelation 4:2-3). Thus, as the story in Scripture unfolds, not only does the bow remain a token of God’s promise, iconic in the heavens; it also becomes associated with the manifestation of Jesus Christ, enthroned in glory.

And there’s yet one more wrinkle to this story. That ancient flood, which drowned the unbelieving world, but through which Noah and his household were saved, was a foreshadowing of the flood of regeneration and renewal which God works in the font. Peter says that “baptism, which corresponds to this [flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3). The flood, which both killed and kept alive, was a predecessor to baptism, which drowns the old Adam within us and makes us alive by uniting us to Jesus Christ.

Now when we assemble all these parts of the biblical narrative, we see that, unlike I supposed in my Sunday School days, the rainbow is not just one more biblical footnote, disconnected from a seemingly disconnected story. In many ways, the two ends of the rainbow join together the two ends of the Bible, uniting Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between. When you are baptized, the Lord drowns you in that flood, but then raises you alive out of those waters to enter a new and better ark, the door of which was hewn open by a Roman spear in the side of Jesus the crucified. A rainbow envelops with its radiance our saving Lord. This colored arc betokens that He is the one who has put an end to the wrath of the Father, made peace between God and man, and ushered you into a new creation.

I’ve never walked into a church in which the baptismal font is adorned with a bow, pointing heavenward, hanging above it. But if I ever do, if you ever do, then we’ll know why.

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

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

The Nameless Little Girl Who Changed a General’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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 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.

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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!

The Gospel According to Noah

This reflection was published yesterday on the website Christ Hold Fast

When Lamech named his newborn son Noah—which means “rest”—he said, “This one shall give us comfort from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (Genesis 5:29). Making what Luther calls a “pious mistake,” Lamech thinks his wife is nursing the promised seed, the new Adam who will undo the doing of Adam #1. Although Lamech missed the messianic bulls-eye, he was certainly on target in another way, for his son would indeed point forward to the life and ministry of the Christ.

Noah grew up in a world “corrupt in the sight of God” and “filled with violence” (6:11). He, however, “found grace in the eyes of the LORD . . . was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (6:8-9). Many children’s Bible Story books put it this way: “People everywhere were bad, but Noah was good.” But Noah was “good” not because he wasn’t “bad,” but because he believed in the good One whom his father had mistaken him for—the promised seed. Noah “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” because faith planted him in the apple of the LORD’s eye, the Son of the Father.

Noah was six hundred years old when he, his wife, his three sons and their wives—eight people in all—entered the ark. No doubt the neighbors thought Noah, along with his family, had lost their grip on sanity. But it would soon be those neighbors who were clinging like barnacles to the outside of the ark.

The outside of the ark. There the world was transformed into a cosmopolitan font. There the waters drowned a world of old Adams and old Eves who had not found grace in the eyes of the LORD for they feasted their eyes on nothing but the stuff of earthly life. Outside the ark, creation shifted into reverse as man and beast drowned; sun, moon, and stars became invisible; trees and dry land vanished. Back, back to Genesis 1:8 and day two of creation, when the waters above were separated from the waters below, but water, water everywhere, was all there was to see.

But, of course, that wasn’t all there was to see in Genesis 7. There was the ark. There were eight people. There were the animals. And finally, after about a year, there was a freshly picked olive leaf in the beak of Noah’s dove. Though Noah was not the new Adam, there was more than a faint echo of God’s words to our first parents when He told Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (9:2). Noah may not have lived up to his father’s expectations, but this man of rest, who built an ark for the salvation of his household (Hebrews 11:7), certainly foreshadowed a Son who would live up to His Father’s expectations, the true man of rest, the new and better Noah, who built an ark for the salvation of His household, a household of which you are a member.

It was the new and better Noah, wet with Jordan’s water, upon whom the Spirit’s dove landed, marking Him the true man of rest. He is the one who finally fulfills Lamech’s messianic hopes, for He comes to fulfill all righteousness for Lamech, for Noah, for you. But His way is not a mere re-run of the old, for if Noah condemned the world (Hebrews 11:7), then Christ was condemned for the world. In the Jordan, Christ stepped into the place of—what children’s books call—“bad” people, people like us. The water that trickled off His back in the Jordan foreshadowed a greater baptism with which He was to be baptized, the baptism in which the world’s sins were poured out upon Him, in which He was flooded with divine wrath. The bad person you are, Christ became. Your pettiness, your selfishness, your the-world-be-damned-as-long-as-I’m-okay attitude—all your badness engulfed the good Son of God. The apple of the Father’s eye was so filled with your rottenness that the Father turned away from Him as if it were you.

And so it was that the new and better Noah became, on the cross, the old and unbelieving world, precisely in order that you might be pulled from the waters of death and planted within the ark of His resurrected body. For as the one just man, Noah, exited the ark after the flood, so the one just man, Christ, exited the ark of His tomb after the baptismal flood of crucifixion. And just as eight people lived through the ancient flood, so on the eighth day, Christ lived again, the new Adam who had come to undo the doing of the old Adam, and to re-genesis the world in the new creation of His Church.

The body of this new Adam is now the ark of the Church. He is the ship of salvation whose door, pried open by a soldier’s spear, still stands open. His side is open so that you can enter therein and find life. You are baptized into the ark of Christ no better than a beast; but whereas the beasts that entered Noah’s ark remained beasts, you are made a son of God upon entrance. No longer an unclean beast, you are a clean, holy, forgiven child of your heavenly Father, safe and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, the body of the new and better Noah.

Outside the ark there is only death, but within the ark of Christ’s body the Church, there is life, salvation, and hope for you. Like Noah, you have found grace in the eyes of the LORD for you have been found within that One who gives you true rest.

A version of this reflection is included in Chad’s book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, available from Amazon.

Church in Bed: Why Leave Home on Sunday Mornings?

churchinbedI can experience almost every aspect of church from the comfort of my own bed. I can prop up my pillow, open my laptop, and enter my very own cyber sanctuary. The music of beautiful hymns can reverberate through my computer. I can read the Bible myself or listen to an audio recording of a trained professional narrate the Scriptures for me. Preachers from across the spectrum of Christianity can squeeze their pulpits within my computer screen. I can sing, pray, read the Bible, hear sermons, all without the hassle of getting dressed, driving across town, and sitting in a pew for an hour. So why leave home for church on Sunday morning when I can receive the word of God just fine under my own roof?

Suppose that’s what I did. Honestly, what would I be missing? Only a few things.

I’d only be missing the participation of my whole body in worship. My feet worshiping as they stand on holy ground in the presence of Christ. My nose worshiping as it smells the varnish on the pews, the pages of the hymnal, perhaps even the incense as its smoke traces the upward trail of prayers ascending to the Father’s ears. My tongue worshiping as it’s painted Passover red by the blood of the Lamb who saves me from destruction. My hands worshiping as I clasp another’s to say, “Peace to you.” My muscles worshipping as I sit and rise, folds my hands, kneel and bow my head. My eyes worshiping as I view the pulpit, the altar, the lectern, the font, through which Christ forgives, heals, and enlivens His people with hope. All of who we are—body and soul, eyes, ears and everything that makes us human—has been redeemed by Christ, blessed by Christ, and worships this Christ who become all of who we are in His incarnation.

If I stayed home, I’d only be missing the community of fellow forgiven sinners whom I need and who need me. The recently widowed woman who sits in front of me and listens as I sing a resurrection hymn that her tear-drenched eyes and the lump in her throat won’t let her sing herself. The teenager who’s never said a word to me but secretly looks to me as an example. The grumpy old man whom God has placed in my path so as to give me an occasion for practicing charity and patience. My son and daughter who’ll be watching and emulating what I teach them about their place in the body of Christ. I’d be missing these fellow believers who are Christ’s gifts to me, and I to them.

In my cyber sanctuary, staring at my laptop, I’d only be missing face-to-face, ear-to-mouth contact with the man whom the Lord Himself chose to shepherd me as a lamb in God’s flock. As useful as electronic communication is, there’s a reason we call it virtual reality. I don’t have a virtual need for a pastor; I have a real one. I need real encounters with him, where he looks me in the eye to call me to repentance, places his hand upon my head and speaks Christ’s forgiveness into my ears, extends his hand to my open mouth to feed me the body broken and blood outpoured on the altar of the cross.

I’d only be missing these things, and more. I know that sometimes illness, old age, travel, and other situations in life prevent us from joining other believers around the font and altar and pulpit. But I also know that sometimes we simply forget about what we are missing when we can go to church, but choose not to attend.

Jesus never said, “Thou shalt go to church on Sunday morning.” But He did send Paul throughout the Roman world to establish communities of faith and to appoint pastors and teachers in those churches. He did admonish us not to forsake our own assembling together (Hebrews 10:25). He did call us not to despise preaching and the word of God, but to hear it and learn it gladly. Most importantly, Christ said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He will do that 24/7, anytime and anywhere, but He lavishly pours out His rest in the waters of Baptism, in the spoken words of absolution from the pastor’s lips, in the preaching of the cross and resurrection, in the consumption of heavenly cuisine from the table at which He is host and meal.

Around Jesus the church gathers as sheep around their shepherd, as the dying and wounded around this great physician of soul and body, as earth-bound believers who join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the song that never ends.

I don’t know about you, but since Christ promises blessings like that, there’s no place I’d rather be on Sunday mornings than out of bed and in a pew, basking in the forgiveness and peace and love of the God who merges heaven and earth within the four walls of His sanctuary to fill us with gifts of grace galore.

In all my writings, the grace of Jesus Christ for you is front and center. That is what we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people. 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!

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