Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Matthew 12:18-21 (Isaiah 42:1-4)

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

To wish, to hope, and to dream. Since these occur so naturally to us from childhood, the practice is most often associated with childish flights of imagination. In fact, we encourage and celebrate the fancies of innocent children especially in a season such as that ahead of us ripe for such yearnings. The wish lists of boys and girls and the eager expectations of little ones cause their elders to smile and often work to fulfill those dreams. No one wants youngsters to set their hearts on something only to have hopes dashed. So, make a wish and dare to dream, children, before reality sets in.

Yet, somehow we never outgrow or shed our weakness for hopes and dreams. Imprudent and impracticable as it may seem, and hardly adult, there isn’t one of us who doesn’t yearn for something or someone. Even the most grizzled pragmatist bears his secret wishes. Admit it. You dream too—a lot. You may believe yourself to have learned to manage such naïveté without letting wishes run away with you. Yet, like a climber clutching for a handhold or a doctor’s patient waiting by the phone, the hunger for something good to happen is universal.

Our inclination as Christians may be to separate ourselves from wishful thinkers and pride ourselves in grounded hopes. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

It is not our idea of Christian belief to dream the impossible dream, to wish upon a star or cross our fingers. Of course not. Yet, let us be cautious not to reduce our Christian hopes and dreams to dull practicality. Christian faith does not mean we simply man up to the realities of life, put aside childishness, and begin some tedious wait. Advent joy is not in a Gospel merely sensible or serviceable.

The coming of Christ is the uprising of outrageous hopes, radical dreams, and sweeping expectations beyond anyone’s highest imaginations. We are youngsters of a good and tender Heavenly Father who will not have his children’s hearts set on eternal life, peace and paradise only to have such hopes dashed. That is why He invites us to behold His servant, God's own servant, God's own beloved servant—His Son, Jesus Christ, in whom the Spirit of hope dwells.

The Apostle Paul does not over-speak his wishes when he writes to the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13)

Yes, compared to the comparatively mundane things of which people so often dream, our greater Christ-anchored hopes of an endless life in communion with God, of joy exceeding, and being clothed with righteousness seem unattainable. It is hope above all hope. But of this we may truly dream with soaring forethoughts of all good to happen. Our dreams are not silly nor our hopes preposterous. One cannot imagine any good beyond our Lord’s ability to supply. No thought can surpass His gifts. No dream is too lofty. No hope is too vast.

So, with the coming of Christ, should we not be wish-full thinkers and dreamers of dreams? We live in the actual days of which God declared, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

The Dear Desire of every nation comes. In the Christ of God the Gentiles have placed their hope. Dreams may fly. Our yearning faith may leap with delight as an unrestrained child foresees a perfect Christmas morning.

The fact is—reality has set in. A Christian’s dreams are not protection against reality—an outlet or escape from it—but a confession which embraces it. We dream from the certainty of Christ, hope of the world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eager Expectation

Philippians 1:18b-26

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 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. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Everyone looks to the future.


We all have expectations. We all have calendars and plans of one sort or other. As soon as you were a reality, they said your mother was "expecting."

All of life thereafter is one expectation after another.

Once you were born it was expected that about 365 days later you would take your first step. Soon you'd learn to tie your shoes. It was expected.

First Sunday School, first time to ride a bike, getting down your times tables, mastering memory of the Six Chief Parts, getting a high school diploma and a thousand other things are commonly "expected."

Sadly, there are some who never realize the expected. Alas, somewhere around 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Accidents make others, young and old, incapable of taking a step. How many children are never exposed to the Bible or Luther's Catechism, so how can they be expected to understand things of the Spirit?

Just expecting something doesn't mean it comes true. Yet everyone knows the inevitability of some kind of future.

What St. Paul rejoices over in his letter to the Philippians is not merely the fact of a future but his joy in what that future held because of Jesus Christ.

Paul didn't know whether he was to live long. He didn't know what work or courage would be required if his days were lengthened. He didn't know what travels would be his to take or by what death he would die.

But he did know to Christ belonged all the credit for carrying him safely whether in life or in death.

Ever since, Christians who ponder all the possibilities of life will always come back to this known certainty: "To live is Christ, and to die is gain." On this we place all our expectations.

Here is anchored the impossibility of losing no matter what comes. Christ is Victor in life and in death. That alone creates the eager expectancy in our lives.

Sure, like anyone, a Christian can make guesses about the course and chronology ahead for himself. Christians too speculate about a career path or try to forecast how things will go. Even when a doctor gives bad news, the basic question is, "Doc, what can I expect?"

There is a big difference however between expecting and actually realizing. Pediatricians can offer educated estimates about an expected child. But he can't say for sure. Gerontologists can estimate someone's longevity, but they don't always have it right. We know a lot of cancer patients doing wonderfully and for whom a prognosis was way off.

God has our lives in His hands. That's what we Christian's depend upon. Faith in Jesus.

Weather forecasters are accurate for about ten minutes. God knows exactly what's best for us forever. The guy who works as an insurance actuary computes risks and probabilities based on statistics, but nobody really knows for sure.

Nobody, of course, except the Christian.

The Christian knows from the very Word of God that whatever comes will turn out splendidly. We Christians know our lives will be useful under whatever circumstances because Christ designs, enables, and furthers them.

Like with Paul, our expectations don't ultimately rest on our own choices. He said he couldn't pick the best path to follow. He wanted to go to heaven, but he realized God had great blessing for him here too.

Paul trusted that God would bless the right or the left. He trusted Christ was with him in the living or the dying. He lived by faith.

When you live that way too, you will hear others conclude that you are only guessing on God. When you trust in Christ there will always be those who say you can't absolutely expect things like deliverance from death or the gain of a better world to come true.

But the only reason they say that is because they don't know Christ.

You do.

The Christian eagerly expects tomorrow because Christ is in his body.

The Christian expects fruitfulness in his labors because of the abundance of Christ.

The Christian rejoices--period. Come life or death, to be a Christians is supreme joy.

And the Christian even knows death will be a gain because blessed are those who die in the Lord.

These things are not wishful thinking. They are the expectancies of those who have heard, believed, and been made happy by the promises of Christ.

For if the God who gave His life for you and rose again promises it, you can expect-- and depend upon-- and look forward to-- absolutely everything the Word of God has guaranteed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Does Jesus Look Like?

1 Timothy 3:16

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body,

I overheard a conversation in which someone wondered out loud what Jesus looked like.

The thought arose at the side of a loved one not far from heaven who would soon see our Lord face-to-face. What a joyful moment that will be.

Certainly, artists have depicted our Lord in various ways. Some of those portraits, whether William Holman Hunt's depiction of Christ knocking at the door, or the Warner Sallman portrait of the head of Christ painted in 1941, or the skillful illustrations by Richard Hook in so many Lutheran Sunday School materials, have each shaped our mental image of Jesus.

Of course, the Bible doesn't give us a word sketch of Jesus' physical appearance and he never sat for a painting.

It says in the Psalms 45:2, "You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever," but this refers to Christ's glorious work of redemption.

Another Old Testament reference was penned centuries before Jesus' Bethlehem birth. Isaiah 53:2; "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" which speaks of his shame and state of humiliation.

So, Jesus' stature or the color of his eyes, the width of his shoulders or the length of his stride we cannot know.

But we do know he lived and walked among us. He was hungry, tired, happy or sad, just as all other people are.

What occurred to me when I heard the question about Jesus' appearance was that he looked, well, like you.

Jesus is as human as you or I. The Bible speaks of his face, eyes, hands -- hands that were pierced, feet nailed to a cross, and a wounded side.

But the real admiration in all this is that the Son of God became man. He took on our nature and form. We call this the incarnation. God became man. He looks just like you.

That's what matters, not the hue of his skin or the texture of his hair. We confess something deeper than family resemblance. We say the human child in the manger, the son of the Virgin Mary, is truly and fully God, the eternal, almighty, all-creating God. And yet a man. No wonder the shepherds marveled at what they had seen-- not a likeness, not a drawing, not a mere rendering-but the real God who is man.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Odd of God

Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

Picture Jesus. How do you see him carrying himself? Can you visualize his personality? Lively or deliberate? Chatty or measured? Patient or impulsive? Was he generally more cheerful or more somber? How does he come across? Single-minded or open-minded? We could probably identify times when Jesus was any one of these, but there must be a prevailing outline of the man, wouldn’t you think? If he were with us this morning for Matins the way he was commonly with his disciples, wouldn’t he be other than all the rest of us just as we know one another individually?

We are regularly aware of the curious eccentricities of people. By their different personal habits and preferences, people show themselves individually unique. There is an expression I remember hearing as a boy, “Everyone’s queer but me and thee … and sometimes even thee’s a little queer.” But if I’m the only one who isn’t queer (everyone else is—even you), is that not queer in its own right? The opposite of queer would be ordinary, but should we think of Jesus as ordinary? Just an ordinary guy?

A lot of people claim to be just ordinary folks, average, run of the mill type, but of Jesus, I don’t think that sounds quite right, do you? Actually, I don’t think we even know what the “everyman” is because even among twins or copycat siblings or the best of impersonators, no two human beings are actually alike which means nobody is ordinary. There’s no standard for ordinary. I’m not sure we even have a standard for abnormal.

Observing people is terribly interesting because the variety in people seems endless. In other words, we are all somewhat odd, are we not? Most of us, I think, would quickly say Jesus is extraordinary and special, but isn't that merely a euphemism for odd?

So, was Jesus odd? He must have been. Jesus is a human being just like us except for the corruption of sin, and sin surely is not just an oddity or curiosity in us. Sin is comprehensive. Sin is the blight on every aspect of my nature, personality, and behavior. Without Christ, sin is the singular constant of everything in me. I don’t merely display an assortment of sins. Without Christ I am the epitome of sin—the personification of sin. I am sin, and because of it, I am absolutely boring. I don’t have to my name a single uncharacteristically good works, none, or fortuitous virtue. As a sinner, I haven’t even one wild and crazy good point. To be in sin is like being suspended in a deathly, monotonous black hole. Sin doesn’t make us fascinating. Sin doesn’t make us exceptional. My sin has reduced me to the lowest common denominator. Sin has a monopoly on me and it is a monotony. Same with you.

So, morally speaking, we are all absolutely the same: all unrighteous, all corrupt (not just damaged but thoroughly and absolutely rotten to the core). Jesus was the oddball. He was the one exception. He was special. He was extraordinary. He was the only true man on the face of the earth, the only real man, the only man who was a straight up guy.

Though the Bible gives no specifics, Jesus had to have had particular physical attributes like eye color, height, weight, and features suggestive of his mother Mary’s lineage. We must assume he had either a tenor, baritone, or bass voice, wouldn’t you think? Would he not then also have his own very distinctive human psychology, emotional sensitivities, and talents? He was his own person.

Yet, what did this man with such a priceless array of human attributes, this way out of the ordinary man do. He took on our sin. He became one of us in the humiliation of no longer being special, of no longer being unusual, of no longer being distinctly righteous. He became sin.

He became sin for us, taking on the deathly, monotonous black hole of death that we might become the righteousness of God in him … that we might now become those oddball Christians who don’t conform to patterns of this world, having been transformed. Christians are the fools who not only believe the Word of God made the universe but the Word of God made us alive by faith in Christ.

We Christians are the fools who don’t care whether a man is black or white, rich or poor, able or incapable, who don’t distinguish people by their personalities or talents, their popularity or their powers. All we care about is delivering the grace of God in Christ to every last human being on earth. And that is not done on the strength of personality, celebrity, talent, amiability, exceptionality, or variety.

That is done on the strength of the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus Christ whose ways and means are as odd as it comes. A little splash of water with His Word washes away all sin. A bite of bread and sip of wine consecrated by His command and promise unite us with the living God. A declaration of forgiveness, concise to a few words spoken by a called pastor in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit instantly and permanently erases every moral flaw and transgress.

How odd that we should believe being last is to be first, to be poor In spirit is to be truly rich, to be dead in Christ is to be alive forevermore, and to gain our life we must loose it. We are a peculiar people. And we surely worship an uncommon Lord.

There is a well-known epigram you may have heard, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” Of course, it isn't odd at all if you know the mercy, love, sacrifice, faithfulness, and grace of God, if you know that Jesus chose to die in our place and elected us to be His own, not because of anything special or exceptional in us, but solely for His own Name’s sake.

I’ll take those kind of “odds” any day!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Luke 17:7-10

"Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

Outside perhaps only the military, when was the last time you heard anyone really advocate in plain words the virtue of duty?

People talk about their jobs. They talk about their endless list of activities. But what about one's sense of duty?

On October 21, 1805, at the famous battle of Trafalgar, the great British Admiral Horatio Nelson, ran up the mizzenmast a thirty-one flag signal to the rest of his fleet spelling out the now-famous phrase, "England expects that every man will do his duty."

After crippling one enemy warship, Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, closed on the French Redoubtable from which a sniper in the rigging shot down the greatest of all English naval heroes.

For four hours Nelson retained consciousness, but soon after the battle ended in British victory, he died. His final words were, "Thank God I have done my duty."

In our current age of entitlements, rights, and personal prerogatives, the topic of duty sounds almost old-fashioned, downgraded to the timely performance by Fido out in the back yard.

However, duty is a churchly and admirable word.

Duty is about principle. It suggests that one's beliefs are the marrow of his bones and not just a cosmetic.

Duty is more than having a job. To go "on duty" is to give service. It’s not just having an obligation to take your turn punching a clock. Truly giving service is dutiful. Just putting in your time means nothing.

I'm afraid in America we have gone a long way to devalue the honor of vocation and the sense of duty which is part of being truly human. Work too often is seen just as the means of getting the money to do things to please oneself. The job becomes just a necessary evil.

But when that happens, service loses all sense of duty and honor. Too often, ownership is only seen as having the financial reins or being the guy who holds title instead of the significance of making something consequential even if I'm only assigned the lowest rung of the ladder and someone else possesses me.

I would suggest that Horatio Nelson in his message to the fleet wasn't just sending a work memo to the seamen in nearly thirty ships under his command. His appeal to every man to do his duty was meant to inspire in them a remembrance of their privileges as free-born Englishmen.

The call to duty was to dignify the sacrifice they would be called upon to offer. Duty wasn't about being in the audience, being a spectator or bystander. Duty was the recognition that one's role has meaning and worth beyond the almighty dollar or getting something like the Stanley Cup where 30 guys are on the ice while 30 million are on the couch.

Don't get me wrong. I watch the Redwings and like it when they win.

But I'm talking about the loss to Christians who may not take their Christian duty seriously. The church in too many quarters has become a spectator sport where sanctuaries are being converted into arenas and pastors are cast as performers. Ministry is outsourced to other missionaries rather than me! Sermons are rated by the clock, and congregations become just another local convenience store.

But what are we Christians except servants with real duty to perform. There is nobility in the role God has given every Christian, but if we think we deserve to the thanked, ought to be indulged, or are worthy of the Name we are given just because we're on the rolls, think again.

We have a Captain who is Jesus Christ. We have a Master and Commander who knows what duty is. The Father sent his Son to be the savior of the world. (1 John 4:14). Jesus said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me." (John 9:4). Christ Jesus undertook our salvation as a call to duty. It is what he had to do. It never occurred to Jesus that he had options, rights, or ought to be entitled to something better than what His Father asked him to do.

Jesus is not a pro-choice kind of guy.

He was a man of duty and accountability. The Servant of all.

Yes, his motive was gracious, but His performance he took as obligation. He humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:8)

From the teachings of Christ comes this question, "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

Unworthy servants. That is what we are.

Our worth is not in what we can do for God, but in the privilege He gives us to serve others in His Name.

It is from privilege that duty springs. We have the honor to serve, the distinction of even coming last if that is God's will.

Quite frankly, we expect something from those who call themselves Christian. We expect Christians to do their duty just as we expect a good tree to produce good fruit. We expect someone who is a member of the body of Christ not simply to function but to have this service of Christ, the living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) of our bodies deemed as pure privilege.

May you come to the end of your life and be able to say, "Christ fulfilled all God's commands for me. He set me free to serve. What I have done was only my duty. Thank God, I have a Savior who did His.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy Home

Genesis 16:1-6

Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, "Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!" But Abram said to Sarai, "Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please." Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

In Eden, the first man and woman created by God lived a blissfully happy life. The unity and harmony of one man and one woman in the divinely established bond of marriage was holy, lovely, and sweet.

They didn't have a pre-nuptial agreement. I doubt there were many occasions even for compromised because both lived for the happiness of each other, glad to yield in love at every turn. Before the Fall, our first parents didn't resort to power or expediency. They had no call for marriage counseling because they knew nothing of shame, embarrassment, bickering or quarrelling. They loved each other as God in Christ loved them. What rights they had were always at the disposal of each other, never jealously held because they knew themselves to be one flesh.

Few today believe such a marriage is ever possible.

The editors of Ladies Home Journal, commenting on marriage wrote, "Every marriage has problems. The pressures are real and never let up . . ." About marriage, Garrison Keillor says: "Marriage is a good thing. But as for the sanctity of it, you shouldn't look too closely. Every marriage has its profane moments." The documentary, "Married in America" concluded, ". . . every marriage, by definition, will experience bumpy times."

Is that so?

Marriage, we would argue, by definition is holy. God gives marriage for blessing and delight. Such marriages do exist.

We don’t say there are some perfect few people just lucky or compatible enough to have the rare fluke of the one ideal marriage in a thousand. Rather, there are many marriages where Christ is the center and substance.

In such unions, sanctity is real because the Lord's forgiveness is applied. Problems are occasions for faith in the love of Christ and are actually welcomed by couples who see the benefit of resolving whatever comes on the basis of God's Word. Unity is authentic from being joined together by God, not by power or practicality.

Sorry to say, we don't have a very good early example in Abram and Sarai.

Abram's wife, Sarai, had a heartache in her marriage. No children. A decade into their years in Canaan, and more years prior to that in marriage, but still she was childless.

Not wanting to look bad, however, Sarai holds God at fault for her barrenness and unfulfilled feelings. "The Lord has prevented me from bearing children." And so, Sarai seeks to solve the emptiness in her life by a dubious method, albeit legal in the ancient world—a form of surrogate motherhood.

She uses power which is never intended by God as the bond for marriage.

An Egyptian slave girl named Hagar is the tool under her control. Sarai then gets Abram to go along with a morally unsanctioned sexual business of obtaining a son through Hagar. The slave is twice maltreated: sexually (because "it was not to be this way from the beginning; Matt 19:8b), and then through the "legal" loss of her son.

Abram, for his part, chooses expediency. He substitutes his own common sense for God's Word. Abram is impatient with God even though he knows full well the promise of a son God had given him (Gen 15:4). Here was Abram's distortion of marriage on the flip side from Sarai's. Marriage is not an entitlement for our convenience but a gift of God for our blessing.

Waiting for a son may have been an inconvenience for Abram, but it would not invalidate God's Word. He should have remembered that.

The same is true in any of our marital tensions or even in the wreckage of a marriage. God's Word applies. Christ is our safe harbor.

The Gospel is the foundation on which those who are married can repeatedly study the love of Christ for his bride, the church, and then reflect that love.

"Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph. 5:25-27) Just so, husbands ought to love their wives.

As it happened, a son, Ishmael, was born from Hagar, but the sad price was domestic strife and tragedy. The hurt in Hagar led her to be rude and disrespectful of Sarai. Hagar acted superior now that she was pregnant which Sarai was not.

Sarai counters with an appeal to her own "sacrifice" she thinks Abram should appreciate, now blaming him for what she herself instigated.

Everybody is miserable.

Sarai wants God to act as judge in the matter (v.5) which is exactly the opposite of what they need. Abram leaves the mess to Sarai only to address it with more "power" (v.6), exactly the opposite of what they needed. Hagar is simply mistreated further, so much that she leaves altogether (v. 6), exactly the opposite of what was good for her. According to ancient law, a slave-mother was not to be banished, but Sarai made things so wretchedly horrible that she got the job done without appearing guilty.

These horrible kind of things sinful husbands and wives do lead to those blanket statements that every marriage is flawed.

Of course, if we only look at two people, even if they are notables like Abraham and Sarah, then every marriage is bleak.

But marriage is fundamentally a divine union created by God. What God has joined is a marriage made in paradise.

First it is the perfect joining of Jesus to those whom He loves and has redeemed. Christ is indeed The bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20) who regards his bride (the church) as flawless and pure. He covers her sin, pronounces her cherished, vows never to leave her, and presents her to the world perfect.

If even that mess in Canaan was healed by God's mercy, so also can our lives be.

God had a plan for Hagar sending her the angel of the Lord. Though the record of Genesis tells other episodes of household conflicts, each time the Lord remained true to His Word. One day Abraham and Sarah received the son God had promised. They named him Issac.

One day the friction and rivalry is past. In the Day of the Lord, marriage is again holy, lovely, and sweet.

In that day the beloved of Christ live for the happiness of each other. They have no call for power or pragmatism. They live by faith. The Lord has taken away their shame, embarrassment, bickering and quarrelling. God in Christ loves them, and they in turn each other.

Where is that day and happy home?

The day is today. The happy home is right here where Christ binds lives to Himself and never lets us go.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bright Light at Midnight

Matthew 4:12-16

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Jesus Christ is the light of the world who has come to obliterate the darkness, to demolish the blackness of sin and the gloom of death. His light is hope for the lost, liberation from blindness, and the morning after a nightmare.

Once as a boy, I did one of those juvenile things boys stupidly will do. As a kind of initiation, I slithered with a couple of friends down a storm drain that fed off into a huge sewer intended to carried rain water off the San Gabriel mountains above our homes in Altadena, California. Each of us lay down in the street gutter and squirmed our way quite a few feet underground until dropping ourselves into the massive tile which must have been at least eight feet high. We had no flashlight and had to hold each other’s outstretched hands to grope along in pitched darkness.

As I remember it, Mike Geibel was touching one side wall and maybe Steve Perry the other. One or two others of us walked in the middle. It was so black that our eyes never adjusted. There was no light whatsoever. I worried about possible drop-offs. Thank God it didn’t start to rain. An awful lot of water can come off those mountains, and this was no minor storm pipe.

I don’t know how far we walked. It seemed a long way. We certainly weren’t going to be doing any slithering out the way we came in. Any other street conduits, if we could have seen them, were high on the wall. I had my eyes wide open, but eyes, open or shut, don’t produce light.

But that night I saw a great light. Suddenly ahead of us, I saw a vivid brightness. How great it was to see a beam so propitious. We guys walked straight toward it. It was an auroral and striking light. And then we walked out into the dry reservoir.

Know what? It was near midnight, but until then I hadn’t realized how bright even starlight is. From the region and shadow of death even the glint of a single star gives hope.

To the land of Zebulun and the land of Nahtali beyond Jordan God gave the people dwelling in darkness a great light a wonderful and boundless light. Christ’s coming was not a single shaft of light as though through a crack. He is not just a glimmer of hopefulness or mere spark of optimism. He is the light beyond all suns or infinite candle power. He is Himself the light.

God gave a great light. He sent the full-blown dawn of a brand new day, radiant with the blaze of his own countenance. The promised Christ, the light of the world, was come.

In the closing promises of the Old Testament, God spoke through Malachi of that day when God would act, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

You should have seen us boys in that dry basin that night. Minutes before we were walking like frail old men holding onto the wall or tentatively testing each step with indecision and constant doubt. The light changed all that. The clock said midnight, but we had light.

We let go. Like idiotic ninnies we ran, skipped, and were young again … like calves from the stall. I hope to never underestimate light again or take it for granted.

When St. Matthew quotes Isaiah, “… for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death” he is speaking of all of us. Underground where the dead are buried, where this is no light or life, he broke in. To shine on us, Christ would come into the region of our death. God didn’t just train a spotlight on us. He came Himself into the darkness and overcame it.

A light has dawned. The darkness is ended. And for us who bask in Christ’s light, upon whom His countenance has been lifted, even if the clock says midnight, even if others say we Christians live in a gloom of naiveté and gullibility, even if darkness threatens and the dark lord would have us think Christ’s doctrine be a murky fog, you and I know differently.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Psalm 27:1a) Egypt may be plunged into darkness, but we live in the land of Goshen (Exodus 10:21-23), the region where God's people, as the church of Jesus Christ, are light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tain't .........

Acts 23:1

And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God's high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

Of all the words in common English, there is one I have come to loathe. There is nothing wrong with the word itself. It isn't profane or obscene. There is nothing offensive in the dictionary’s definition of it, but I still detest it. It is a “four-letter-word” but not in the sense of what that usually means. It is not a politically incorrect word for which I would be criticized by the language police.

But I come very close to hating this word. It scratches my eardrums and nearly always makes we wince. Inside I churn and grind my teeth. It just “gets to me.”

Oddly enough the word has a definition most think honorable people would appreciate. I don’t. I feel bad about it because the word fits right into the wheelhouse of our American sense of decency. These days President Obama seems to use it in nearly ever sentence he speaks on the campaign trail. He hopes to secure a second term as president on the strength of this single word.

In the passage from Acts cited above, the word isn't exactly used, but the concept is at the heart of an exchange between St. Paul and the Jewish religious authorities. Paul had an entirely different footing than they did.

Ananias, the high priest, presumed to live on this word, to have it define his life, office, and conduct. With it, Ananias believed he could justify any behavior and exonerate any personal faults of his own just by invoking his own interpretation of it.

St. Paul on the other hand considered the word so toxic that he would use it only when absolutely necessary, and knowing its dangers, just as quickly back away from it.

I went looking through various Bible translations and never found the word used except in a few places with an entirely different meaning—a meaning something like a balmy breeze or a bonny day.

But otherwise, our modern use of it is virtually unknown in the scriptures. The right biblical term would be the word “just.”

But the word I hate is the word “fair.”

President Obama on the other hand, loves it. He adores it. He uses it all the time. The rich have to pay their “fair share.” The little guy has to be given a “fair shot.” More federal regulations will give folks a “fair deal.” You voters are not being given a “fair shake.” You’re being robbed of “fair value.”

Whiners love to claim, “Tain’t fair; tain’t fair; tain’t fair.”

Tain’t fair what the corporations are doing to you. Tain’t fair that someone should have more than you. Tain’t fair that you’re not a winner. Tain’t fair that you don’t get what other people got.

The word “fair” in that spirit means something entirely subjective. Something isn't fair just because I say so. Such “fairness” is one-sided and exactly the opposite of the actual meaning of the word. Fairness used to mean free from bias or injustice. Most griping about fairness today is selfish.

St. Paul got slugged right in the mouth for declaring his innocence against charges made against him. He was accused of speaking against God's Word, God's people, and the temple. When Paul declared his clear conscience, the high priest ordered somebody to belt Paul right in the kisser.

Paul didn’t whine about it. Undoubtedly, he didn’t like it, but you have to look carefully here. Paul didn’t use the law of fairness to defend himself. He didn’t bellyache over his treatment and simply bawl, “Tain’t fair, you bully.”

Notice what the apostle actually does. He uses this lethal weapon of the law—real justice—and gives it back to Ananias in spades, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall.”

It was as though Paul was saying to Ananias; You look fair. You look fine. You look bonny and nice and whitewashed, but you make a perilous choice to mock justice when you can't bear it’s scrutiny on yourself. “Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

Mind you, Paul was not defending himself with the Law. Paul’s words were not a defense. They were offense. Paul had just said his conscious was clear. “I have lived my life before God in all good conscience.” Paul’s footing was the righteousness of faith in Christ, not righteousness through the law. He didn’t need to plea the law. Paul’s use of the law was the proper use—the exposure of sin even if that sin comes from one holding the highest office in the church.

And yet, when it was pointed out to him even by his opponents that he was bound to show consideration for his rulers, immediately Paul realizes the parallel duty he has to show respect. He quickly retreats from the law, not because he disavows its proper use but because he knows his own vulnerability under the dominion of the law. The apostle knew he had been treated unjustly, but he cares little for that. His conscience before God rests on the merit of Christ in whom he trusts.

But Ananias is a different matter. Here is a man alleging the use of the law without actually knowing it. So, Paul gives him a lesson. He absolutely nails Ananias with the law because that’s what Ananias needed. But Paul knows how quickly and justifiably that same law, like a sin-seeking torpedo can just as quickly turn and seek him out.

That’s why I hate the word “fair.”

Not that there isn't a proper place for evenhandedness, impartiality, and fair dealing in the affairs of men. But we can be all too cavalier with this potent material of the law. When it is used as cover for oneself or as a club against somebody else, it is more dangerous than handling nitroglycerin.

The law kills.

No one ever heard Jesus say, “Tain’t fair!” The opposition, the slander, the abuse against him; the unjust arrest, the maltreatment, the unwarranted verdict, the castigation, the scourging, the cross— Did Jesus ever cry, “Tain’t fair”?

Christ Jesus was the only truly righteous man who ever lived, and he had a right to cry, “Foul!” But He didn’t in order to bear the full force of the law’s condemnation against our sin which He had taken as his own.

That’s why today’s stunted appeals to what is “fair” so often grinds me. For example, if God or man gave me what is really fair, I would be on the receiving end of unspeakably harsh and objective justice. Not that God wouldn’t give me a fair trial. He would.

But I would lose!

And I would receive a whole lot worse than a bloody mouth.

Thank God he is not putting us believers on trial. The verdict is already in. And God's sentence is mercy to us for Christ’s sake. You and I have already received in Christ by our baptism that which is entirely unfair … clemency, kindness, and grace. Let’s not return therefore to invoking a right to fairness in light of that. In short— mercy it isn't fair, but that’s the glory of it.

Meanwhile, I’m convinced the eternal hellish cry of the damned will be, “This ain’t fair!” Oh, no. Justice is indeed fair, eminently fair, and those who invoke it will be getting just what they ask for.

As such, let us not get in the habit of saying here that odious complaint of hell, “Tain’t fair.”