Christianity and Culture

Our Fingerprints Are All Over the Crimes of the World

Our Fingerprints Are All Over the Crimes of the World

If we make a list of the moments in our lives that have shaped us as individuals, our list will comprise good and bad things we’ve done. On the “Good List” might be getting married, having children, earning a degree. On the “Bad List” might be going through a divorce, betraying a friend, getting a DWI. Things we do, actions we take, alter the course of our lives. They shape us (and sometimes warp us) into the people we’ve become.

How Churches Become Morality Clubs of Religion

How Churches Become Morality Clubs of Religion

If there’s one thing that we in the church do extremely well, it’s ignoring the greatest threats that face us. We roll massive Trojan horses inside our sanctuary walls while feverishly battling the mosquitoes that buzz around us. And once we wake up and grasp the true danger—if we ever do—the damage done is often incalculable.

The Faulty Foundation of The Benedict Option

The Faulty Foundation of The Benedict Option

When reading a book, especially a controversial one, it’s useful to treat it like a house we’re considering buying. From the curbside, it may bedazzle the eyes, but there’s more to a house than its walls, windows, and roof. So we step inside. There too we may see some attractions: fresh paint, new flooring, fancy fixtures.

Justification by Facebook

Justification by Facebook

One of the reasons social media works so well is because we all like to talk about ourselves. It’s a basic, universal fact of communication. The difference in social media is this: we can talk about ourselves to a massive crowd inside our minuscule screens, feel our confidence balloon as “likes” multiply like rabbits, and—thank goodness!—no one is there to rudely interrupt us by talking about themselves.

The Church's Wisdom Inside the Voting Booth

The Church's Wisdom Inside the Voting Booth

The only politician mentioned in the creeds of Christianity is the one responsible for executing its founder. Of Jesus we confess that he was crucified for us “under Pontius Pilate” (Nicene Creed) and “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” (Apostles’ Creed). That is the church’s political statement every Sunday.

What's Wrong with the World--in Two Words

What's Wrong with the World--in Two Words

If I hand you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to make a list of what’s wrong with the world, where would you start? Maybe you’d reference recent headlines: assassinations of police officers, systemic racism, the rise of radical Islam. Or maybe you’d start the list with other wrongs, such as generational poverty, sex trafficking, child abuse, abortion, or political corruption.

Nice, France, and the Heart of the Human Problem

Nice, France, and the Heart of the Human Problem

Yesterday afternoon, the first reports of a terrorist attack in Nice, France, started coming in. The driver of a truck decimated scores of innocent people in the street. Eighty four people are dead, including several children, and many more are wounded. Like everyone else, I was shocked, sickened, and angered by this horrific slaughter. I also felt something else, something I can’t find a single word to express.

What Can the Church Do in Times of Violence?

What Can the Church Do in Times of Violence?

It can seem, in times of violence, when people are calling for political, cultural, and legal changes, as if the church is largely irrelevant. Worse yet, the church can make herself seem irrelevant if she embroils herself in political, cultural, and legal changes, and forgets her primary calling: the preaching of Christ and him crucified.

Violence and the Church Go Way Back

Violence and the Church Go Way Back

Gutless, spineless, yellow-bellied girly-men. Such words hardly come to mind when you gaze upon the prophets of old. These men were, well, they were men, and you knew it. Sir Robin of The-Search-for-the-Holy-Grail fame would not have made the cut. They all had their weak moments, but mere moments they were. 

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs: The Chaplain to Nazi War Criminals

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs: The Chaplain to Nazi War Criminals

They walked to the gallows together, pastor and penitent. Each step up took them closer to the abbreviated, fatal fall to come. The criminal stood above the trapdoor. Moments later, it would open to rope him into eternity. An officer asked him if he had any final words. “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul,” he said.

Planned Parenthood and Our Complicity in Evil

plannedparenthood109
plannedparenthood109

It happened during a meal. In between bites, Planned Parenthood executive Deborah Nucatola bragged that abortionists are “very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part. I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” All around her people are eating and drinking, waiters are taking orders. She lifts her fork to her mouth, talks about the best way to crush a baby so as to harvest the most commodities from his body, chews the food, swallows it. As my wife and I watched the video last night, despite all the horrific details, the thought that wouldn’t go away was this: it all happened around a table, during polite conversation, as if this were business as usual. Evil never has the face I want it to. I anticipate a gargoyle-like imp to skulk by but the girl next door fills the room with her smile. I’m scouting for a whispered huddle in darkness behind iron doors but instead three people sit around a restaurant table to dialogue publicly. Serial killers and child rapists and human traffickers look like they might show up at my family reunion as Uncle Charlie and no one would bat an eye. I don’t want evil to look that way. I don’t want it to look ordinary, neighborly, inconspicuous. In other words, I don’t want evil to look like me.

One of the most frightening truths to embrace is that we are complicit in the atrocities of this world. We decry the horrific selfishness of the murder of unborn infants. We oppose all manner of societal evils. And we are right, indeed, duty bound, to do so and to continue doing so. Yes, by every godly means possible, let us labor and fight with unflagging zeal, with truth, with love, against injustice of every kind.

And as we do, let us also recognize that if we go far enough back, we’ll discover that the Deborah Nucatolas of this world are our sister. According to the Bible, we all have the same father and mother. And in this world, east of Eden, that parentage oozes sin from our inmost selves, at times graphic, at times prosaic, but always evil nonetheless. The human population is a family gone wrong. And still going wrong. And none of us are innocent.

In some ways I understand, and in other ways too profound for me to grasp, I have fed the flames of the ongoing corruption of the world. The ripple effect of my callousness, my self-absorption, my demand for preferential treatment, my glory-lust, my pride, my selfish ambition, my perversion of sexuality—the ripple effect of all these extends to my family and friends and often to complete strangers.

Let me give you an example. Last week, a delivery driver for one of my customers zipped in behind me and cut me off when I was backing up to their dock. I lost my cool. I was pissed off. So I confronted him inside the dock area. I told him, in no uncertain terms, just what I thought of his stupid, unsafe action. Unbeknownst to me, his boss was standing nearby. He took me aside and asked me what had happened. So I told him. And he said that he would take care of it.

Now what if that other driver had lost his job because I, in my anger, confronted him the way I did? And what if he stormed home to his wife and children, furious because he was fired. And he and his wife got into a screaming match, the children cowered behind their bedroom doors, and he slammed the door behind him to head to the local bar. And suppose he got wasted that night, climbed behind the wheel, and didn’t see the red light, nor the semi coming from the other direction. And the next day, after a long chain of events begun by my loss of temper, a man wound up in the morgue, his wife a widow, and their little children left with the final memory of their father being an angry, unemployed, embittered man.

This is far from an unrealistic possibility. This stuff happens. And it is but one tiny example of a world in which the web of evil is entirely connected at every juncture. As my friend, William Cwirla, put it on my Facebook page, “We’d like to rid the world of evil. But then, we’d have to rid the world of ourselves.” As long as we continue to sin, we feed the monster of a creation curved inward.

That is why, when I watched the video of the executive talk about harvesting body parts from aborted children, I not only thought, “This is horrific. This must be stopped. This must be exposed.” I also thought, “What have I done to help create a world in which these things happen? What evils have I done that have contributed to such evils within my human family? How have I failed, in love and compassion, to help my brothers and sisters who offer, procure, and even profit from abortions?” No matter how loudly I decry an evil in society, let me even more loudly decry the evils in my own soul.

Dexter Morgan talks about the dark passenger whom he cannot flee. I wish he were right. But that darkness is not a passenger; he’s behind the wheel. He’s within us. He has infiltrated every part of who we are. So as much as we lament abortion, let us lament our lack of love for the neighbor, our hatred for those who do us wrong, for all our aborted attempts to do good. As much as we lament rape, let us lament our perverted fantasies, our lustful desires, our abuse of others for our selfish satisfaction. As much as we lament racism, let us lament our inflated opinions of our own moral superiority to others.

The longer I stare into the face of evil in the world, the more clearly do I see the reflection of my own face. And the more clearly do I do see my need for Jesus Christ, who is the only hope for us all. In him we have forgiveness and in him we have peace. We also have love for our neighbor, who is our brother and sister. It is a love that calls us to confront evil of every form, beginning with the evil inside us and extending outward to all.

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

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

When the Pulpit Apes the World

preacher-at-pulpit-copy
preacher-at-pulpit-copy

Something happens inside churches where outrage over society’s immoralities seasons every Sunday sermon. It’s rather unexpected, and rarely noticed. The more a preacher makes a habit of lambasting the evils of a culture; the more he makes the necessity of a morally pure life the center of his sermons; the more he directs his flock to the keeping of the divine law as their defining characteristic—the more he does all this, the more that preacher actually urges his church to adopt the ways of the world. It’s as sad as it is true: the more law-centered a church becomes, the more like the world it becomes.

The way of the world is the way of the law. That law may sometimes be in synch with the divine law, such as when societies prohibit murder and stealing. That law may sometimes be of the world’s own devising. Either way, these outward laws reflect an interior disposition: my identity, my self-worth, the means by which I find fulfillment in life, is determined by what I do. Maybe I follow the rules of my group within society. Maybe I become a law unto myself by making my own rules and following the dictates of my heart. In the end, it’s all the same. My self-understanding arises out of my behavior. I am who I am because I do what I do. The way of the world is the way of the law.

And the way of far too many churches is the way of the law as well. Beneath the surface, legalistic Christians are little different from those they often deride. Their identity as Christians, their worth, the means whereby they find fulfillment in life, is determined by the morality they choose and the immorality they avoid. The Christian life becomes little more than following a list of do’s and don’ts. Moral outrage over society’s evils becomes a favorite pastime because, to some degree, it boosts their own feeling of intimacy with the great Moral Divinity before whom they bow the knee. The self-understanding of the law-centered Christian arises out of his behavior. He is who he is because he does what he does. The way of such Christians, and the way of such churches, is the way of the law.

Thus, the more law-centered a church becomes, the more it and the world become kissing cousins.

What then, shall preachers stop preaching the divine law? By no means. The law must be preached. God’s commands for how we are to live must be proclaimed. Evil must be pointed out. Sinners must be called to repentance. This is what the law does; and, oh, does it do it well. It always teaches right from wrong, it always commands, and—because we are sinners—it always accuses.

And there is one more thing the law does: it never gives us what we ultimately need.

The law can tell us, day and night, what to do and what not to do, and we will never do it perfectly. The law can instruct and warn, urge and command, entice and promise, but it cannot say, “You are loved by God.” It cannot say, “You are forgiven.” The law cannot say, “You have peace with God in Jesus Christ. He has kept the law for you. He loves and embraces you as you are. He welcomes you as a brother or sister.” The law can do many thing, but it cannot deliver the good news we need more than anything else.

It is the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ that gives us fulfillment in life, for it fills us with God himself. This good news is that we are who we are because Christ is who he is: our friend, our brother, our Savior. Our identity is not that of law-keepers or law-breakers but the friends of Jesus. Who we are is swallowed up by who he is.

What we ultimately need—what everyone needs—is reconciliation and peace with God in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we have. The cross was the pulpit from which Jesus preached his love and forgiveness to the world. And that message is still to permeate pulpits every Sunday.

The more grace-centered, Gospel-focused a church becomes, the more unlike the world it becomes. And the more it proclaims to the world what it truly needs to hear.

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

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

Even Heterosexuals Are Welcome at My Church

jesuswelcomesall
jesuswelcomesall

Her story had all the makings of a modern medical nightmare. Not for one, not for two, but for twelve long years this woman had suffered from a hemorrhage. You don’t have to be a female to imagine how this condition would have defined her everyday existence, especially in a first century Jewish culture where such bleeding would have rendered her perpetually unclean. She had tried doctors. And what did they do? We’re told she “suffered much” from many of them (Mark 5:26). I don’t even want to know what that means. Use your imagination. And just like today, it’s not as if doctors collect a fee only if they cure you. No, you get charged an arm and a leg even if you stay sick, even if you die. So with her, she “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” Finally, having exhausted every other option, she crafted this outrageous plan that bordered on sacrilege. Imagine if a prostitute, her body teeming with STDs, snuck into your church one Sunday morning through a back door, crawled in her miniskirt unseen behind the altar, reached up, dipped her finger in the chalice, and touched that sacred wine to her lips. And imagine if, at that very moment, she was discovered and stood, in all her unclean glory, before the pastor and congregation. That scenario, as shocking as it would be to us, is not as audacious as our friend’s plan was. This woman, who wouldn’t have even been allowed in the courts of God’s temple because she was ritually unclean, snuck up behind Jesus in a mass of people, and touched the hem of his garment. An unclean woman touched the holy, holy, holy God. If she’d made a wild dash into the temple’s inner sanctum, she wouldn’t have been closer to Yahweh than when she got her hands on Jesus.

What is even more astonishing is what happened next. I’m not talking about the fact that her hemorrhaging stopped. I’m not talking about the fact that Jesus felt power going out of him. No, the most astonishing part of this story is the Son of God’s response. He says, “Who touched me?” And when she comes forward, fearing and trembling, and tells him the whole truth, he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” (5:34). He utters not one word of rebuke. He doesn’t go all fire-and-brimstone on her for daring to put her unholy hands on him. In other words, Jesus does what he always seems to be doing: he welcomes the outcast, embraces the pariah, and gladly and willingly pours into her his holy and healing love. What to others might seem sacrilege, to Jesus is just one more opportunity to exhibit his scandalous, transformative, sanctifying grace.

We can add this woman to the long list of others rejected by many but whom Jesus welcomed with open arms. The hated, traitorous tax collectors. The “sinful” women who sold sex to put food on the table. The woman nabbed in the act of adultery. Those with horrific skin diseases. The Gentiles. Indeed, Jesus says that he did “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 6:32). He invites the “weary and heavy laden” to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28). He doesn’t travel around Israel looking for the right kind of people to believe. If anything, he seems to be calling to himself the wrong kind of people. Gathered around him are people with enough skeletons in their closet to stock a cemetery. They flock to him because they see in him what they never dared dream before: a God who has no qualms about sitting down in the gutter with you, a Savior who’s happy to have a prostitute weep on his feet and dry them with her hair, a Friend who’ll share a meal with the most infamous folks in the community.

The church that Jesus founded is where he’s still doling out this scandalous grace to everyone. There is no list on the front door that spells out the requirements for entrance. All are welcome: addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes and pimps; lawyers and politicians; the homeless and mentally ill; runaways and castaways; the LGBT community and the haters of gays. Amazingly, in his church Jesus even welcomes sinful heterosexuals, happily married couples, and—believe it or not—even religious leaders.

Jesus preaches the same message to all of them: repent and believe the Gospel. Leave behind a life that is a lie, the life in which you pretend you can be your own god, establish your own truths, earn your own way to heaven. You’re lost. You’re unclean. There is no hope for you inside of you. But there is abundance of hope in someone else. There is cleansing and forgiveness and peace and wholeness in the one who bleeds and dies for you. He will turn no one away. How could he? He died for them, one and all. His grace heals all wounds. His love welcomes all sinners.

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

Hollywood, Nashville, and the Lord's Supper

Jubelnde Konzertbesucher auf Rock-KonzertThis past fall, Willie Nelson’s hair braids were sold at auction for $37,000. A tissue into which Scarlett Johansson blew her nose on the Tonight Show fetched $5,300 on eBay. And X-rays of Marilyn Monroe’s chest—just the X-rays, mind you—once brought in a whopping $45,000. If you’re lucky enough to be the proud owner of any item once worn or used by a celebrity—and the more intimate the better—then you’re sitting on a mountain of cash. People crave this stuff; and they’re certainly willing to open wide their wallets to add it to their collection. I don’t know about you, but I like to think that I’m above all that celebrity worship nonsense. But I like to deceive myself about a whole host of other things, too. My home is right outside San Antonio, TX, not far from the stomping grounds of George Strait. I guarantee you that if I ran into George and he invited me over for a BBQ at his place, then I’d be a name-dropping, Facebook-boasting, Twitter-bragging fool for the next three months. Everybody I know—and probably total strangers—would get to hear all about how George and I drank a cold Shiner Bock together late one evening on his back porch in the Texas Hill Country.

What is that magnetism that pulls us toward celebrities? Why do people stand in mile-long lines, worm their way into throngs of people, or pay big money simply for the chance to rub shoulders with the famous? No doubt the motivations vary from individual to individual, but I would suggest that at the core of these motivations is the desire for intimacy with one we deem greater than ourselves. Such closeness, such confidentiality, one might even say such communion with a person exalted by fame or fortune makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s like we share a little in what they have. While we’re with them, we’re more “them” than “us.” Our identity, however briefly, migrates into the sphere of their identity. I am no longer just Chad; I am a guest, one might even say, a friend at George Strait’s table.

The Good Picture Behind the Warped Image

Many of the basic human desires that God formed within us have, like bent arrows, gone in directions the Creator never intended them to go. Hunger becomes gluttony, thirst becomes drunkenness, love becomes lust, worship becomes idolatry. Nevertheless, if we look behind the warped image that man has revised we find the good that God has devised. And that good is indicative of the gifts God gives, the people He has made us to be, and the image in us He wants to restore.

In the case of celebrity worship, behind the almost idolatrous fascination that some fans have with a person of fame, we discover a desire that, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is the desire to connect with one who is greater than we are. We feel small but they make us feel big; we feel unimportant, but our connection with them makes us feel like we matter, we have purpose. To be singled out by them, to take a seat at their table, invests our lives with a sense of worth and transcendence.

That hunger to connect with one who is greater than we are will be satisfied only in the one who created that hunger within us in the first place. We may look for it in people of power or fame or fortune, but they will all fail us because, in truth, they are pilgrims traveling the same road we are. The stars of Hollywood and Nashville are searching for the same goal. Like we are, they too are restless until they rest in the one who finally and perfectly completes them.

A Down-Below-Divinity

The reason we so easily miss the God who is greater than we are is because that great God comes in such an unexpectedly tiny, humdrum package. We are staring up at the stars while the star is pointing down to the no-account town of Bethlehem, to a baby that looks like every other baby. We are looking up for a big and awesome God while the little and humble God is looking up as well—only He looking up at us from down below, wanting us to turn our eyes downward. None of us are really near-sighted or far-sighted, we are all up-sighted. Our eyes scan the heavens for the great one while we’re blind to the great one humbly hiding within arms reach.

But I’m not just talking about Christmas and how easy it is to miss God since He comes into our world as a baby. He remains in our world, He remains active in our lives, as a down-below-divinity. You won’t find Him in heaven’s version of Hollywood glitz and glamour. You won’t find Him riding in limos and hounded by paparazzi. If you’re searching for a God with razzle-dazzle, who’ll knock your socks off with His cool awesomeness, then you’re in for a lifetime of deceptive disappointments. In this world, God is hidden in His opposite. He is cloaked in the simple, the down-to-earth, the seemingly boring and unawesome stuff of this world.

The Old Rugged Table

One place we find not only God, but intimacy with this one greater than ourselves, is at a table. The thing is, the table is kind of like that manger in Bethlehem or the old rugged cross. To the eye, there’s nothing attractive or awe-inspiring about it. In fact, on the surface it’s downright disappointing. A little bread, a sip of wine. Why, even when you invite your friends over, you might have bread on the table and wine in glasses, but along with them you serve ribeyes and baked potatoes and steamed vegetables with pecan pie for dessert. Not God. The great and powerful king of all creation puts bread and wine on His table. That’s all you get.

No, that seems like it’s all you get, but it’s not. Like in that rough and simple manger lay God hidden as a common newborn; like on that bloody and gruesome cross hung God hidden as a common criminal; so in this inconspicuous and everyday meal is God hidden in common food. In that bread He has placed His Son, Jesus, so that when you eat that bread you take the body of Jesus into you. When you sip the wine, you take His blood into you. The Lord almighty is swaddled in bread and wine, the old rugged cross becomes a table. And here, while eating and drinking, you receive intimacy with God above and beyond anything imaginable. He and you merge as one. You take Him into you even as He takes you into Himself.

The Meal That Tells Me Who I Am

This is a closeness, a confidentiality, a communion that does infinitely more than a friendship with George Strait could do for me. It does more than make me feel better about myself. This meal of God, with God, consuming God, establishes my identity. Much as the act of marriage means that a man and woman are now one flesh, so this meal means that I am now one flesh with God. I am bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. My identity as Chad has been subsumed into His identity so that I can no longer understand myself except in connection with Him. I am a son of our Father. I am the brother of Jesus. I am part of the bride of Christ. And all these are not mere figures of speech but statements of reality. This is who I am, this is who you are, in God through Jesus Christ.

There’s no need to stand in mile-long lines, worm your way into throngs of people, or pay big money to achieve intimacy with one greater than you. Simply take and eat the body of Christ; take and drink the blood of Jesus. Here is the costliest treasure on earth given to you free of charge. It cost Jesus His life, but that life He gives to you gratis. And with that life, comes all that God is and all that you need.

Looking down at Jesus’ humble table, at His humdrum food, I see that as His guest I will be more than an admirer, closer than a friend. Since I will consume Him, it will be no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And that life in and of Christ gives me infinitely more than worth and transcendence; it gives me peace and wholeness and joy of such enduring quality that it spills over from this life into the life to come.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out my two books: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. They are both also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you!