The Storm King

He is considered the Rock Star of meteorologists, a face and name synonymous with extreme weather. He became famous for reporting on the scene of major weather events – and he may even be credited with making bald look cool.

But while Jim Cantore has developed a reputation for reporting for The Weather Channel no matter what the conditions are, Jim Cantore never stopped a storm.

Jim Cantore may be an extreme weather rock star, but there is only one man in the history of the world whom even the winds and waves obeyed.

The disciples were on a boat on the sea of Galilee, and a violent storm had blown up, and it was extreme weather. Had Jim Cantore been there reporting, he would have been sliding back and forth on the deck of the boat, wondering how anyone could possibly survive this, let alone sleep through it.

But while the disciples were fighting for their lives to keep the boat upright, Jesus was asleep. And once the disciples realized the situation was out of their control, they woke Him up: “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Now, if it wasn’t weird enough that Jesus was sleeping through the storm of the century, what happened next is beyond weird.

First, Jesus rebuked the disciples: “What are you so worried about?” And then… Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves.

What do you think He said?

“Hey! I’m sleepin’ here!”

Whatever it was, it worked, because it was immediately…completely… calm.

Rain, wind, thunder, clouds, waves, everything. Stopped.

The Bible says “the men were amazed.”

You think?

That is power we can’t even begin to imagine.

It’s the kind of power that only the God who created the winds and the waves could possibly have over them.

It is power that is kind of scary to think about.

And we don’t like to think of the scary side of Jesus. It’s not an easy aspect to consider, and it’s certainly not as nice or comfortable as the fully human Jesus. We love human Jesus: sitting on a rock surrounded by children or carrying a lamb on His shoulders with a comforting smile, He makes us feel good about having a God who loves us.

And those aren’t wrong images. They just don’t tell the whole story.

The problem with picturing Jesus only in ways that make us feel safe and comfortable is that we are essentially attempting to tame Jesus – to domesticate Jesus. And that is not Jesus. Yet we often treat Him like He has been house-broken – like the family dog everyone loves having around, as long as He loves us unconditionally and never needs anything from us…

But Jesus is not the family pet – He is the Lord and Savior of all Creation! The Bible calls Him our “advocate with the Father,” which means He is at the Father’s side in heaven, arguing on our behalf – fighting for us (1 John 2:1). He is the Good Shepherd, who tends to His flocks (John 10:11-15). And yes, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” says the 23rd Psalm, but the shepherd carries a rod and a staff to defend the sheep against wolves and lions and anyone else that would endanger them!

So the picture of a Jesus who is calm and serene and loving is a beautiful and right and biblical picture of Jesus. But it is not the whole picture of Jesus. And the problem with not seeing the whole picture of Jesus, is that unless you see all of Jesus, you don’t really see Jesus, at all.

Muslims talk about the same God we do. The name in their holy book is Allah, the name in ours is Elohim, but both mean “God,” the title we use. But when God chose to reveal Himself as His Word become flesh, His only Son, Jesus Christ, our eyes were opened to the fullness of the picture of a God who would become one of us to save all of us. Muslims, along with many others, shut their eyes to that picture, and reject the name above all names. And so Islam is a Christian heresy: a false teaching about God.

When you refuse to see the whole picture of Jesus, you aren’t seeing Jesus, at all.

On that first Palm Sunday, the crowds all waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna,” “Save us,” to Jesus, who they thought was their coming King.

But when the Jesus of reality failed to match the picture they had in their minds, they stopped shouting “Hosanna,” and started shouting “Crucify Him!”

They were scared of the Jesus who didn’t fit inside their little box.

Just like the Pharisees, who saw the Jesus who turned their self-righteousness inside-out and began to plot His murder. Just like the money changers in the temple, who saw the Jesus who flipped their extortion businesses upside down and chased them away with a whip. Just like the demons, who saw the Jesus who scared them so much they begged Him to cast them into a herd of pigs just to escape.

And just like us, if we are not careful to consider the real Jesus. If we really want to know Jesus, we need to be courageous enough to see the whole picture of Jesus, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

It’s time to stop pretending that being a Christian is supposed to be easy and comfortable. Because the hardships we experience in our lives is nothing compared to facing those same hardships without hope. And it is our friends and family and neighbors in our community who face this world and an eternity without hope if we do not introduce them to the Jesus who humbled Himself to die on a cross for them. And He is the same Jesus who will return at the end of days, when it will be too late for introductions.

Because the Jesus who is coming back is not a safe or comfortable Jesus – He is the One about whom it is written,

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).”

That’s a scary Jesus. But see, that Jesus is coming for us – to save us!

And like the disciples in that boat, we are never in danger when He is with us!

C. S. Lewis writes of Aslan, the great Lion who stands in for Jesus, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver. “Why, don’t you know?  He’s the King.  He’s the Lord of the whole wood…”

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” Beaver said sternly.  “Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.”

It is tempting to domesticate Jesus.

I mean, a lion is an awesome animal – a majestic beast – and if you had one of those as a pet, you’d be the coolest person around.

No more unwanted guests, no more door-to-door salesman – and you can forget about the Jehovah’s Witnesses!

There’s just one problem: lions are not tame.

You cannot domesticate a wild beast.

Roy, of Sigfried and Roy, was attacked by their tiger.

The Crocodile Hunter was killed by a Sting Ray.

The Grizzly Man was eaten by a bear.

You can’t tame Jesus.

He said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

But He also said “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

You can’t tame Him, but you would never want to, either.

The real Jesus conquered death and promises everlasting life – to you.

He is the only person in the history of the world whom even the winds and waves obeyed.

Because He made the winds and the waves.

So remember that, the next time you feel like your life is out of control.

Like you are being tossed about by the wind and the waves.

Our Jesus made the wind and the waves, and you are more precious to Him than silver or gold.

Tumnus said to Lucy, “Don’t worry. We’ll see him again.”

“When?”

“In time. One day he’ll be here and the next he won’t. But you must not press him. After all, he’s not a tame lion.”

“No,” Lucy said, but he is good.”

How to Stay Married

As my incredible wife Heidi and I celebrate 21 years of marriage (!), I thought I would pass on some advice – the thoughts that I share in my wedding sermons, actually. If you have been or will one day be called into marriage, I hope you find some truth in it. And if it is too late for your marriage to be saved, I am truly, truly sorry. Thank God for His forgiveness and healing, and I pray both upon you.


A lot of people have false expectations about marriage.  Some people expect way too little from it.  They see marriage as simply a piece of paper – a legal contract – and a contract that’s only binding as long as the two people in it happen to feel like it.

But marriage is a lifelong commitment.  And that commitment is critical, because there are times in a marriage when either or both parties will not feel very loving or charitable. But love is a verb, not a feeling – it’s a choice you make as husband and wife to keep working at your marriage, no matter what.

And while some wrongly believe that marriage is just a contract and nothing more, others believe that marriage changes and fixes everything, beginning a storybook romance for the ages.

But marriage is work – hard work – never ending work. A husband and wife come into a marriage as two individuals who arrived at an intersection on their journeys through life, and decide to continue on that journey together. But two people becoming one and learning to put the other before themselves takes hard work, sacrifice and forgiveness. Lots of hard work, sacrifice and forgiveness. Never stop communicating – if it’s a challenge for you to talk, make yourself talk, and if it’s easy for you to talk, shut up and listen. Let your strengths complement each other’s weaknesses. You will both grow and change as people, and it takes hard work, communication, sacrifice, trust and grace to grow and change together. But through it all, don’t forget to laugh together and be friends.

Marriage isn’t easy because life is never easy.  You will fail each other.  You will let each other down.  You will make mistakes and you will hurt each other.  There will be times when a husband will give in to the temptation to wound his wife by failing to show her the love she needs; and there will be times when a wife will wound her husband by stripping away the respect she knows he needs.

But when these times come, don’t run away from each other, run to each other. Admit your faults, and forgive easily. Never let the lines of communication break down. Build him up, love her and forgive each other.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love never gives up.  It is not selfish, jealous or arrogant.  Love is not quick to anger and does not keep track of hurts.  It protects, trusts hopes and maintains.  These are not just nice-sounding words; they are a high, high calling.  In declaring your love for each other today before God and the rest of us, you are making a commitment to love like that.  Those verses don’t give you a way to measure or judge another’s love for you, they tell you how to love.

Forgive early, forgive often (sounding a bit repetitive? It’s that important). And never, ever believe the lie that you are better on your own than together with your spouse. It only seems that way because it seems easier to be on your own than to have to consider someone else all the time. But you haven’t just found each other; God has brought you together, and for that reason you are stronger together than you are apart. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  This is why the man and the woman leave their families and in marriage form a new family.

Marriage is a high calling and a lot of work – but it is totally worth it. I cannot imagine who I would be were it not for the incredible woman by my side. We both realize that we each come with our own set of challenges, but we both know that we are blessed by each other in so many ways. Remember that God is there with you in your marriage. If you keep Christ between you as the heart of your marriage, your marriage will be strong and lasting.

If you are called into marriage, may Christ be always at the heart of your marriage, and may your journey be filled with joy and forgiveness.  May your marriage shine as a beacon of love to those you meet, and may the love of Christ be evident in your love for each other, Amen.

 

 

 

What Happens When We Die?

It’s a fascinating question, and a question that has fascinated people for as long as people have been around. We barely like to admit we are aging, let alone deal with our own mortality, so the idea of immortality – living forever, living again, or living in paradise – is one that at least give us hope that this life is not all there is.

And while the Christian understanding of what happens after death has also become muddled by an assortment of ideas from other religions, philosophers, confused preachers and pop culture, the biblical idea of everlasting life is actually pretty straightforward:

We (human beings) were created in God’s image as both body and soul, beautifully intertwined. Death is the separation – the tearing apart – of eternal soul from mortal body.

For Unbelievers, this is the loss of all hope.

When the wicked dies, his hope will perish Proverbs 11:7

At death, until the Day of Resurrection at Jesus’ return, their bodies are in the grave, but their souls are kept “in prison,” in a place of punishment.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey. I Peter 3:18-20

On the Day of Judgment, the bodies of unbelievers will join their souls in hell.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day. 2 Thess. 1:9-10

It is unpleasant and horrifying to think about anyone spending an eternity in torment, and even many Christians want to believe that a loving God would not allow anyone to go to hell. God’s Word, though, says otherwise. All who go to hell go there of their own desire to exist without God’s presence, and all have had countless chances to repent of that desire.

And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly… then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime… Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 1 Peter 2

God has made clear the cost of our sin, and the cost is one we cannot ever repay. But God makes available as a free gift a substitute payment for what we owe: Christ pays our debt.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

To reject that payment is to welcome hell. In this sense, God doesn’t send people to hell, people condemn themselves there – and God grants them their desire to be without Him.

But the story is different for Believers. At death, our bodies rest in the grave, awaiting the Last Day, when body and soul will be reunited. Our souls, along with the souls of all who die in the faith, are immediately in the presence of Christ, where they have peace and joy until the Day of the Resurrection of All Flesh.

And (Jesus) said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”       Luke 23:43

The Bible uses comforting images to describe the death of a believer – phrases like “gathered to his people,” “depart(ing) in peace,” “sleep,” “rest,” “pass(ing) out of death into life,” and “gain.”

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Philippians 1:21-23

Through death, the baptized child of God passes into life – into an eternity of peace and joy with our heavenly Father. Far from being the final loss of all hope, the death of a believer is a homecoming; the moment when sorrow and suffering end and they are glorified with the saints in heaven.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:13

And yet their joy is not yet fully complete until the resurrection:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-54

The final restoration of all things will be on the Day of Christ’s return. On that Day, all the dead will be raised, bodies and souls will be reunited, and believers will receive glorified bodies free from pain, suffering, sickness, aging and tears. They will be perfectly renewed and glorified resurrection bodies, in which we will spend all eternity in a new heaven and new earth, in the joy of the presence of God and all the saints, forever and ever.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

Some say death is natural, that it is just a part of the circle of life. Others even say death is a friend! But in truth, Death is the enemy; it is a horrible reality of this sinful, fallen world in which we live. Death is part of the curse of sin.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26

God did not create human beings to die; He created us to live! Death was not part of our created nature – it came about because of our sinful disobedience; a disobedience passed down to every human being since the first.

The message of Christianity is not about good people going to heaven and bad people going to hell. The message of Christianity is simply the Good News that whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve failed to do, God sent His Son to pay the price for all of it – and to conquer death forever. And if you can believe that there is a God who loves you enough to save you in spite of yourself, then death is not the end.

And if this post makes you angry, then I am truly sorry. No Christian truly wants anyone to go to hell for eternity – it is our desire, as it is God’s desire, that all would hear the good news and believe it in order that we may all live without sorrow and pain and hate and bigotry – as we were meant to live when we were created.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17

“Good” Friday?

Perhaps this post will seem a little late. Good Friday was months ago, so perhaps it’s not very timely. But I wanted to write about it, because I’ve seen and heard it said jokingly for years now:

“What do you mean ‘Good’ Friday? It wasn’t very good for Jesus!”

So, why do we call it “Good” Friday, the day Jesus suffered and died upon the cross?

It’s about blood.

Blood and water, actually. Continue reading “Good” Friday?

Freedom

Independence Day.

It’s an awesome thing, to celebrate freedom.

But the truth is, freedom is an awesome responsibility.

Because true freedom is not limitless; true freedom is only freedom within limits.

Have you ever gone swimming by yourself in a lake – the water feels good, you feel really peaceful, until suddenly you look up and you are a long way from shore? Not only that, but you can’t figure out where on shore you came from and need to get back to? Suddenly the freedom you felt a moment before turns into a fear that makes you feel lost, alone and very, very vulnerable.

The same thing can happen when you’re alone in a field and you lose sight of the house, or when you’re alone in the woods and you suddenly feel like someone – or something – is out there with you. That’s when you realize that you would feel a whole lot more comfortable – a whole lot safer – a whole lot more free to relax… if you were protected by a fence, or four walls and a door with a deadbolt.

Because freedom requires safety. And safety requires limits.

And sure, we think of limits as bad because well, they are limiting, after all…

We feel trapped within limits, like prisoners, subject to someone else. This is the very reason so many people resent and reject God – the very idea that there is someone or something greater than themselves who knows better and places limits on them is galling.

But the freedom we think we want – freedom without responsibility – in actuality becomes a prison for us.

Cheating on your husband or wife isn’t freedom from a boring marriage; it’s a complicated web of lies and deception and guilt and shame and resentment.

A life addicted to prescription drugs is not freedom from pain, it’s an intricately complicated system of fooling doctors and family as your body and mind and spirit break down and the meds become too familiar to have the same effect they first had.

Lying to your parents isn’t freedom and independence; it’s a lonely and pointless existence filled with bitterness and hurt because you’ve put up a wall between yourself and the only people who truly want what’s best for you.

And living a life that denies God and denies the reality of sin isn’t a life without religion and rules; it’s a life with a hole in it – a life that desperately seeks to feel accepted and to be known by a loving God.

Without Jesus Christ, we are enslaved to our fickle ideas and desires and tastes that are always changing, constantly contradicting each other and never giving any satisfaction.

But freedom in Christ means that we are free to be the people we were called to be.

No matter how much I may want it, I am not free to be a billionaire televangelist with a private jet – any more than I am free to be Justin Verlander. I am also not free to be anyone else I might be jealous of, or to have what they have.

But when I live according to my calling and not someone else’s – when I learn to be content with the limits God has placed on me – then I experience the freedom of being me! I can stop worrying about what everyone else has, or what I don’t have, and start seeing clearly all of the many wonderful things I do have.

And then, maybe, if I live in God’s Word, I can stop hating myself and start seeing myself as He sees me – and Maybe I can even start loving myself. And the same is true for you.

Freedom is knowing that you’re not God! Freedom is knowing that someone truly greater than you – someone all-knowing, all-powerful, unchanging and perfectly good – holds your life in His hands! Freedom is knowing that all of your pain, all of your hurts, all of your wounds and all of your scars will not last forever.

Freedom is knowing that all the hurts you’ve caused, all the mistakes you’ve made, all the shameful things you’ve said and done have been washed away by the blood of Christ.

One of my absolute favorite passages in all of Scripture is This:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Our freedom – true freedom – comes in knowing God, studying His Word and living by His commands – trusting that He wants what is best for us and knowing we are forgiven when we fail.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-32, 36

Yes, the Trinity is in the Bible

One of the many uninformed criticisms of the Christian faith is that:

  1. Christians claim to base their faith on the Bible.
  2. Christians profess the Trinity.
  3. The Trinity is not in the Bible.

Obviously, points one and two are not in dispute. Point three is the misinformation – a part-truth that is intentionally misleading. So perhaps it’s not all that uninformed; however, it gets repeated by those who are uninformed.

All lies contain a portion of truth. In this case, the truth is that the term ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible. The concept, however – the idea – better yet the description and assumption of God as triune, or one God in three persons – is everywhere; woven throughout the Bible.

Of course, someone might argue that Jews do not acknowledge the Trinity, so perhaps it is strictly a New Testament concept. Modern Judaism and even the Judaism of Jesus’ day, however, are very different from the religion of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible.

The Israelites understood the oneness of God, and yet they also understood the limitless nature of God. God is described as spirit, as Word, as wisdom. There is even an incarnate Word of God who shows up several times in the Old Testament, though that is a post for another time…

At any rate, however difficult it may be to understand the Trinity (and it is impossible to fully understand the nature of God, limited as we are in our capacities as “not God”), it is how God describes Himself, and is therefore foundational for the Christian faith. If we do not take God at His Word, then we elevate ourselves above God, and make gods of ourselves.

OK, so proof time:

Helpful Bible Passages on the Trinity

God the Father

There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:6a

For this is what the LORD says– He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited– He says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other…and there is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:18, 21b-22

(There is) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:5-6

God the Son

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14

(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:15-17

After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.  And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.” John 17:1-5

God the Holy Spirit

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

(Jesus said), “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:1, 3b-6, 11a

One God in three Persons

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6

By the way: once you understand (or at least accept by faith) that God is triune (one God in three persons), the Bible starts to make a lot more sense. After all, who hasn’t asked why God talks to Himself in the plural so often in Genesis?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26a

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:5-7

So the people who say that the Trinity is not in the Bible are taking the absence of a word and using it as evidence that there is no teaching. But the Bible does not work this way. Scripture interprets Scripture. We don’t take a single verse out of context to prove a point – we read all of Scripture as the Word of God written to different and various contexts. When all of the Scripture is taken into account, then the reality that the Word of God takes for granted that God is one God in three persons becomes evidently clear.

The Answer

If you were to die tonight and find yourself standing before the great judgment throne of God Himself, only to have Him ask you why He should let you into heaven, how would you answer?

It’s an old question, meant to terrify a little and prompt you to clarify whether and what you actually believe.

So, what would you answer?

Have you been good enough to deserve heaven?

Most people, after all, believe that good people go to heaven. But what does it mean to be good? And what qualifies as “good enough?”

The question scares us – because we don’t know the answer. Do we deserve heaven? Are we good enough? Is our faith strong enough to save us? How can we know?

Most people believe good people go to heaven, but let’s think about that for a minute: what does it mean to be good? Are we talking Mother Theresa good? Or just not-Hitler good? A lot of people think it’s about keeping the 10 Commandments, but a lot of those same people probably couldn’t name 5 Commandments, let alone keep them perfectly. And by the way, Jesus made the 10 Commandments even more impossible to keep perfectly: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:21-29).

To make matters worse, the Bible is pretty openly opposed to the “good people go to heaven” view. In fact, according to the Bible, good people do not go to heaven. To begin with, there is no such thing as a good person: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).

And Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that “good enough” is not good enough. In order to earn heaven, you have to be better than perfect: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

So if good people don’t go to heaven, who does?

Good people don’t go to heaven; forgiven people do: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

So how do we know if we are forgiven? To (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).

But we want assurances. We want to feel forgiven. I get it, because I’ve been there. There is something wonderfully reassuring about the emotional high of an altar call, where the music soars and you pray that sinner’s prayer for all you’re worth. In that moment, the tears flow because you feel saved. It’s awesome…

Until you walk out the doors, go back home, back to work, back to school, and find that you are still the same person. So you start to wonder if it “took.” What if that wasn’t it? What if you still aren’t really saved? How can you be sure?

You can quit looking to your feelings, which can change with the weather. You can stop trusting your gut, which is directly related to how long it’s been since you last ate. Instead, try looking to the only stability in this crazy universe: God and His Word.

And God’s Word says you are saved: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s done. Finished. Completed on the cross, on a very Good Friday 2,000 years ago.

Are you worried, though, that you might not truly believe it? Well, do you want to believe it? Does it make sense to you? Do you want saving faith to be your own? Then it already belongs to you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t care.

Saving faith means believing that you are not a good person, but you have been rescued anyway by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. To believe there is nothing you can do to make God love you more – or to make God love you less.

Do you want to know the answer? Do you want to know how to be sure you’re saved? It’s because God said so. And God never breaks His Word. Ever.

Do you want an assurance?

  • The next time you’re in the shower, feel the water running over your head and be reminded that you were baptized.
  • Make the sign of the cross to remind you of your baptism.
  • Make the sign of the cross in the mirror and tell yourself, “You are a baptized child of God.”
  • When you take communion, remember the body that was sacrificed for you. As the wine passes over your lips and tongue, remember the blood that was shed for you.
  • When you are tempted to beat yourself up for your failures, wash your hands and remember you have been washed clean.
  • When you are tempted to look down on others because you think you’re better than them, instead look up and remember that you both stand under heaven.

We don’t need to be afraid of whether or not salvation “took,” or whether or not we have been good enough, because our Heavenly Father gave us His Word that His grace is enough.

The Truth is, you already knew the answer. You probably learned it a long time ago, when things seemed much simpler:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

How can you know you’re really saved? Because God said so. And that is enough.

Worship Is…

A common misconception (because it is wrongly taught and spoken of in that way) is that worship refers only to the songs we sing when we are in church: the musical portion of the church service. In fact, most “Evangelical” churches (Evangelical meaning non-Catholic, Protestant, conservative and Bible-based) separate their church services into two parts, often referred to as “worship” and the “word.” Services typically consist of 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of preaching, followed by an altar call.

But worship is so much more than just the songs we sing. It is everything we do together as Christ’s church, gathered in the presence of God to receive His gifts. And yes, I said to receive. Worship is not about what we do or give to God. We do that in response to the great and generous gifts He pours out on us – and in turn He pours out more blessings upon us as we try to give Him what little we have. You cannot out-give God, no matter how hard you try. Even the financial offering we bring is simply an acknowledgement of all we have received from God, and it is an offering which pales in comparison to the generous blessings He pours out on us before, during and after our puny tithe.

And since everything we do is worship, a much better differentiation between parts of the service than “Worship” and “Word” is “Word” and “Sacrament*.” Because the music we sing, play and listen to is a part of the service of the Word. In fact, the music is there to reinforce the Word as a part of the Word. The songs we sing are not an offering that we bring; they are a teaching tool.

How often have you left church singing a hymn or praise song from that morning? Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation and remembered the words of a Bible verse or a hymn/song that gave you comfort? Found yourself looking at a beautiful sunset and thinking to yourself, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder”? No? Never? Maybe you need to spend more time in church…

The Word is there from God. Read to us in the daily Scripture reading(s). Explained to us and applied to our lives in the message/sermon. Reinforced in the words of the songs/hymns we sing, the words of the confession or the prayers. This is all taken into consideration in the planning and constructing of the worship service – or at least, it should be, if the Pastor and staff members are being faithful…

The word for the order of the service is liturgy. It is an ancient word that means “the work of the people.” Today, it is associated with traditional churches with a “high church” order of service, as opposed to the 30 & 30 style mentioned earlier, but liturgy simply refers to the order of the service. Even 30 & 30 is a type of liturgy, it’s just an especially simplified one. The purpose of the liturgy is to lead the people through the corporate act of worship by constructing sentences within a greater paragraph, or as phrases within a greater conversation.By the end of the service, you may not be aware of how all the parts fit together, but you should leave knowing whatever the thematic point was for that service (for example, that God’s grace is free, or that we are called to love our neighbor).

The worship service is a conversation between God and His people, between Christ and His Church. When we are planning worship, we are writing the dialogue. This is why it is such a high calling, such a tremendous responsibility, such an incalculable honor to do it. If the different parts and pieces do not fit together, then it’s like having a disjointed conversation. You risk the people missing the point of the service; you lose the heart of the communication. But just as the many parts of the body join together to form one being in ourselves and in the church, the many parts of the liturgy join together to form one worship service.

We need to make sure we don’t fall into the habit of dividing the worship service into the things we do (worship) vs. the things we learn (word). God pours at least as much out on us through our music as we could ever give to Him. And the sermon is more than a teaching: it is the timeless Word of God Himself, spoken into our lives in the here and now. If the message doesn’t somehow convict you of your sin, remind you that you are forgiven, and push you to live out your faith in a way that applies to your life, your pastor isn’t doing his job.+

The point is, don’t view worship as something God needs from you, or something you owe Him (though technically, we do). See it as something you need in order to be healthy. Come to worship to be filled up again. To be surrounded by a family of believers who is struggling with some of the very same things you are. To be told that you are not OK, and that’s OK. To be reminded that you are forgiven, really, truly and completely. Come to worship to grow as a person. Come as you are… but don’t stay that way. And yes, come to worship – don’t watch it on TV or live stream it unless you are physically unable to go in person. Worship happens with God’s family, in the church, where the Word and Sacrament are distributed freely, lovingly, and indiscriminately.

Trust me: it’s good stuff.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

“On Sunday go to church.  Yes, I know all the excuses.  I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in a church.  But I also know that as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or dedicate himself.” -Teddy Roosevelt

[Notes]


*A Sacrament has three characteristics, which must all be present:

  1. It is instituted by God.
  2. It combines God’s Word with a visible element.
  3. There is actual forgiveness of sins taking place.

Because of this, we as Lutherans recognize two Sacraments:

  1. God’s Word + Water = Baptism
  2. God’s Word + Bread & Wine = The Lord’sSupper.

+Your Pastor has a hard job, believe it or not, and not every sermon will be a home run. Cut him some slack – but if none of his sermons ever convict, remind or push, you might consider that you are suffering from bad preaching. Or, maybe, an attention deficit on your part?

500 Years and a Weird Haircut

I decided to go all out, and all in, for Halloween this year.

500 years ago, on October 31st, 1517, a German priest, monk and professor of theology named Martin Luther posted on the door of the town church a document protesting the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of God’s grace. Luther based his argument on the Bible, which clearly states that God’s forgiveness, His grace, His mercy and His salvation, are all free gifts – they cannot be earned, let alone bought or sold.

As time went by, Luther wrote and said much more, calling for reform – for a return to biblical Christianity, which teaches that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He was called on by the church to recant, or take back what he said, but he refused – because to do so would have been to deny the authority of God’s own Word.

Luther is a hero of mine – he is largely the reason we can read the Bible for ourselves, the reason we play and sing music in church, and above all the reason we can know for certain – based on the Bible – that our salvation is not dependent on our own merit, understanding, or personal experience – it is wholly dependent on Jesus, and Him alone. But the reformation, like the church and the Gospel, are not about Martin Luther – it is ALL about Jesus, and what God accomplished through Luther – just as God continues to do extraordinary things through ordinary people like you and me.

Still, this being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to dress as Martin Luther for Halloween – what better time to do it, right? But I really wasn’t digging the wig. So, me being me, I just went full Marty – and Heidi gave me a monk’s haircut, which I’ve worn for our Hall-O-ween service, our Sunday worship, and finally for Halloween.

And yes, I can confirm that my natural bald spot is in the shape of a cross. To be clear: the cross is NOT shaved in, it is natural. I have nothing more to say about that.

Have a happy and blessed Reformation, and remember: it’s always been about Jesus. Grace alone through Faith alone in Christ alone. “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, Amen.”

Thoughts on Installing a Pastor

Yesterday afternoon, I was able to take part in one of my favorite worship services: the installation of a new pastor. I’m not the first to use this analogy, but the relationship between a pastor and the church he is called to much more closely resembles a marriage than a job/hiring, and the Installation service is very much the wedding.

As worship services go, it’s pretty standard fair most of the way, but the themes heard in the songs and readings chosen echo the great responsibility placed on those called to preach the Good News of salvation, as well as their willingness to walk in those enormous shoes.

My favorite part comes right after the Rite of Installation: other pastors who have gathered for this moment (some from the area, some friends who have traveled for this) surround the new pastor, lay their hands on him and bless him. Usually a scripture is given by each, along with a prayer or word of blessing, but each pastor in turn lays this blessing upon the new pastor. In this way, each pastor is visibly brought into his office not by his own desire or declaration, but by the blessing and authority of his peers. It is a powerful moment to participate in, as well as to witness.

This vocation – being a pastor – is incredibly unique. We are called to be servant-leaders. We are shepherds who are also sheep. We are asked to be Counselors who sometimes need counseling ourselves. We are blessed with the capacity to love and care about even those who refuse it or revolt against it – though we are also human and sinful, and none of us manages this at all times. We can be thanked, complimented and loved, but we will dwell on and lose sleep over a single harsh word. We balance the needs of home with the needs of the members, the staff and the business of the church. It is simultaneously beautiful, ugly, impossible, easy, overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, disappointing, frustrating, rewarding and more adjectives than are in my mind to write at this moment. It is often beyond description.

It is comforting, then, to know that we are not alone in this. We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, surrounded by the saints, held aloft by countless prayers – and supported by our peers. Even when we disagree on some point of theology or practice, we can still come together and lay hands on a brother as he enters into this sacred relationship – and let him know that we understand what he is about to take on – and that he is not alone.

God bless those who pastor His church, Amen.