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Kissing the Past Goodbye

It had been a long night, one of those that shapes every day of your life thereafter. The eastern horizon was blushing as she and I walked side-by-side up a hill onto a ridge. From there most of the city was laid bare before our eyes. Streets and intersections and businesses and homes that we knew, full of people whose names and lives we knew, whose children had played with our children. We just stood there, looking, reminiscing, regretting, in a flow of words that made no sound. There was no going back. It was past time to part ways. But how do you say Goodbye when the Goodbye is mandated by forces outside your control? The past—it’s a wonderful, damning, beautiful bitch of a thing. You look back and what do you see? You can almost taste the happiness of the times that still sends thrills rocketing through your body. The memories bounce around inside you, bells and whistles sounding in your heart and mind and other parts of your body. It was good, very good, while it lasted. But who are you fooling with selective memories? As if the trembling angst that shook you, time and again, did not forever warp your psyche. As if while living in the squalidness of evil, you could escape the stench sinking into your skin. It was the best and the worst of times, but ultimately, the worst of the worst.

I don’t know what she thought would happen. I didn’t even know what I thought would happen. You get to the point where you live not day by day, not even hour by hour, but sin by sin. Every hand on the clock is one that strokes iniquity, easing along time until the next hand is ready to massage it further around the dial. The future is so frightening that to ignore it is your only chance at maintaining some semblance of sanity. So you walk backward into the not-yet, savoring the what-has-been, and staying as drunk as possible on the wine of the now.

As the sun stretched its rays further and further, the predawn dark dissipated. I looked at her, but she wouldn’t look at me. Her eyes were transfixed on some distant object—the city? a street? a house? a person? Who knows.

It was just like her to be standing here, ignoring me, lost in some inner world to which I would never be granted access. It was her world, she the solitary resident. Whether that inner world was more akin to heaven, or hell, only she could say. But she never spoke of it, except in silences that betokened speeches I didn’t have the heart to hear.

The moment had come. The past, its weal and woe, was being left behind. And into a future fogged with uncertainly, but veiled with vestiges of hope, I would trek.

I moved in front of her. I kissed her lips. And that taste, the sting of the salt, I’ll never forget. I turned my back on her, and moved on to catch up with her husband, Lot, and their two daughters, who had never looked back.

An Allegory on Repentance, on Losing Life and Keeping It.

Just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. Luke 17

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The Bible Story That Goes All Wrong

I wasn’t wearing fig leaves for underwear, but I’d just as well have been. That day I felt more like Adam than I ever had before, or since. The forbidden fruit, far from digesting, sat like a rock on the bottom of my gut. The man who stood before me was my boss. I was in his office to come clean, to tell him what I’d done. I’d lied to him before, lied to his face. And I was afraid. O dear God, was I afraid. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of the truth. I tell you, I was afraid of damn near everything. Most of all, I was afraid of how he would react. I soon found out. I told him what I’d done. How I’d lied. How I’d broken the commandment. How I’d listened to the serpent, plucked the fruit, and loved the taste of it so much that I’d gorged myself. I had prepared himself for his anger. I knew it was coming. And I deserved every bit of it. If he had wagged his finger in my face, shoved me out the door, and told me to get the hell out of there and never come back, I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I think I would have been a little relieved. At least then, I would have convinced myself that I’d paid for a tiny bit of my sin by suffering such rejection.

His reaction was totally wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When I’d finished confessing, he didn’t start yelling. Out of his mouth came words like forgiveness, grace, Christ, clean slate. He was saying all the wrong things. This isn’t how bosses are supposed to speak. They’re supposed to hammer out words like deserve, punishment, consequences, disappointment. He didn’t. He shocked me by being gracious to me. He spoke as a father would to his son. And this son, who heard those paternal words of grace and absolution, would, to this day, relive that moment time and again as one of the most defining moments of his life. That day, instead of getting what I deserved, I received nothing but love.

I may have walked into that office wearing fig leaves, but I walked out clothed in the skin of the Lamb of God.

The story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to go, either. It’s all wrong. When God enters the garden that infamous day, he’s supposed to march in with an iron hand and a tongue pulled back, ready to lash. After all, he had given his children everything; they wanted for nothing. Yet these stupid, selfish people do what stupid, selfish people always do: they go and ruin it all. What they needed was punishment—swift, complete, merciless justice. They had it coming. That’s the way things were supposed to go.

But they don’t. In God’s first question to fallen humanity, he asks, “Where are you?” And in that question—merely one word in Hebrew—is packed a whole theology of who God is.

Where are you? God wasn’t seeking information; he knew where they were. He was fully aware of what they’d done. He was also fully aware of the fallout from this fall. Yet he asks, “Where are you?” Just as he will later ask murdering Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” or hating Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” or persecuting Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” In these questions is the answer. The answer is a confession, a repentance, an embrace of the forgiveness offered and bestowed by the God who seeks and saves the lost.

The story of Genesis 3 doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, the way I expect it to, because God works contrary to my expectations. I expect wrath and he pours out mercy. I expect judgment and he speaks absolution. I expect the end and he gives me a new beginning.

The Lord does indeed go on to tell Adam and Eve that things will not be in this world as they were before. There will be pain in childbirth. There will be thorns and thistles and sweat on the brow. When I left my boss’s office that day, there were still pains in my life; I still bear the scars of the thorns and thistles. But I bear something better, too, as did our first parents. I bear a promise from the God who is love, that in love he has provided a Seed who crushed the head of the lying viper, a Seed who sucked up into his heel the death that I deserved, that he might pour into me the life that I don’t deserve.

That promise makes all the difference. It is the promise that God in Christ does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his evil way and live. It is the promise that God does not deal with us according to our sins, but is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I hope one day that God asks me, “Chad, where are you?” I know what I’ll tell him, “Father, I am right here, in your Son, Jesus Christ. That’s where I am.”

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!

Who Are You? Why Are You Here?

This is my article that was published yesterday at Liberate.org. If you're not familiar with the website, check it out. It's an invaluable resource for the church.  Mark Twain would have been proud of me. He once quipped that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. Not only had I figured out why I came into this world; my answer defined me. It furnished me with an identity. It told me what was most important in life. It oriented my relationship with everyone from my God to my boss to my wife. I had figured out why I was born into this world. But, in a sad irony, that answer that identity that purpose, eventually led to a day during which I wished that I’d never been born to begin with (more on that in a moment).

Why are you here? Why did God knit you together in your mother’s womb? What is the goal or purpose of your existence? To those questions, I would have responded that I was born on May 30, 1970 to be a doer, an achiever, and a go-getter. There was work to be done, and God put me here on earth to do it. That was my chief end, the reason God made me. God created Chad Bird in order that he might have another person to labor. Because of that, my work defined me. If I wasn’t actively doing something, I felt useless. And the things I did, in particular, serving on the faculty of a seminary, gave shape to my self-understanding. If you’d have asked, “Who are you?” I wouldn’t have said, “I’m a child of our Father in Heaven,” but “I’m a servant of the sovereign Lord.” To work was why I was here; work gave me purpose; work gave me identity.

Maybe you’ve been there. You worked your fingers to the bone to build a successful business from the ground up. You poured your life into a ministry that now serves hundreds or even thousands of people. You got married, started a family, and now juggle carpools and meetings and backyard BBQs. All of these are good things. But what if they are taken away? What if that business goes belly up? Your ministry falls apart? You find yourself widowed, or in divorce court? What happens to your identity when the work, the service by which you defined yourself, is in ruins?

One option is to pick yourself up from the ground, begin again, and find a new career or a new relationship or a new ministry by which you can redefine yourself. In so doing, you’ll return to work, to service, as the goal of your existence. Or while you’re lying in the dirt, you can pick up a handful of that dust, let it fall between your fingers, and see therein the stuff from which Adam was made. And you can ponder, in a new and fresh way, why God not only created him, but you as well.

That, in essence, is what happened to me. Through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault, the perfect little world I had created crumbled around me. The career, the job, the marriage, the reputation—what I’d worked my whole adult life to attain—everything was gone. That is, all of my answers to the whys of life were gone. I was a man lost, lying in dust, wondering, “Who am I now? Why was I even born? What good can I do amidst these ruins?” But let me tell you, I ended up learning more about myself, and my God, in the dirt than I ever did at academic institutions. It turns out that suffering and loss and the demolition of self-created identities are a special kind of sanctuary of theological learning.

While lying for years in the dirt from which my first father was made, I discovered the reason that I was created, too. Adam was created, and I was created, and you were created, all for the same reason: because our Father willed us, spoke us, into existence. “Let us make man in our image,” God said (Gen. 1:26). “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:27). Of course, there was work to be done, as there still is today: being fruitful and multiplying, exercising dominion, and whatsoever labors God gives us to do in this life. But that work is not the reason we exist. We are not here because God needed servants. We are not here because God needed glorifying. We are not here because God needed anything. We are here because the God who is love, who is our Father, who created all things in and by his Son, willed us to be hisbeloved children.

That realization is more than a game-changer; it’s a life-changer. At least it was for me. Before, I had thought that work was why I was here; it gave me purpose; it established my identity. But I was dead wrong. Sometimes the best way to discover our true identity is to experience the loss of our false identity. To have it “stolen” by a heavenly hand that takes away precisely in order that he might give something better in exchange. The identity God has given me is not that of a worker but a son. Because God is, I am. He who is love loved me into existence. If there’s one word by which my purpose in life is defined, the goal, the end, it is this word: Beloved. I am the beloved of God, the recipient of his grace in Jesus Christ, the son upon which he lavishes gift upon gift upon gift. He created me; he created all of us, in order that he might have children upon whom he could bestow his blessings.

Of course, we labor. We marry and raise children. We have jobs and careers and hobbies and do volunteer work. We glorify God and praise his name. We serve our neighbor. We do lots of things. But these things do not define who we are. Take them all away—family, career, job, friends, health, everything—and leave us naked and homeless and jobless and friendless. Who are we then? What defines us? We are who we were all along: we are the children of our heavenly Father in Christ Jesus.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. Well, not quite. The two most important days are the day you are “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), and the day you figure out that you were redeemed for the same reason you were created: to receive the good gifts of a good God who has done all good for you in the crucified and resurrected Son of God.

Who are you? Why are you here? You are the beloved of our Father in Christ. That’s why. And that makes all the difference in the world.

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!

Christ Hold Fast: A New Website, an Ancient Message, a Life-Changing Gospel

christholdfastJust as in everyday life, so on the internet, there's plenty of people telling you what to do. Do this to lose weight and look ten years younger. Do this to secure happiness and financial security for yourself and your family. Do this to overcome all obstacles in your walk with God and lead a victorious Christian life. The problem with every Do-List and Don't-List is always the same: eventually, we mess it all up. Something defeats us, or we simply defeat ourselves. And we are left broken. If you're a regular reader of the Flying Scroll, you know that this reality of a broken world full of broken people is a constant theme in my writings. And again and again, I point to the One, the only One, in whom we broken and defeated people find healing and hope: Jesus Christ.

Bringing this grace-centered, Christ-focused message to hurting people is also what the new website, Christ Hold Fast, is all about. I'm thankful to be a part of the work that's going on there. Here are a few of the resources that you'll find:

1. Weekly Blog Posts. Every Monday we'll publish a blog post written either by myself or one of the other contributors to Christ Hold Fast: Daniel Emery Price, Brandon Hanson, and Michael Salinas. My post, "Losing That Holy Feeling," was published last week, which you can read in full here.

2. Podcasts. We have two podcasts: "Christ Hold Fast Cast" and "40 Minutes in the Old Testament." The first one is hosted by Daniel Emery Price and Brandon Hanson. I co-host the second one, along with Daniel and Brandon. You can find the "Christ Hold Fast Cast" here on iTunes and "40 Minutes in the Old Testament" here. If you're interested in hearing a distinctly Christian, Gospel-focused approach to the OT, then you'll definitely enjoy "40 Minutes."

3. Sermons and Other Resources. New sermons from Pastors Chris Rosebrough, Matt Richard, Donavon Riley and Daniel Emery Price will be uploaded to the “sermons” page every week. These guys know their stuff. They know how to diagnose our problem with the law, but more importantly, how to heap on the Gospel. For a sample, check out Pastor Riley's sermon on "This Is Christianity."

Just to be clear, I will keep on writing at the Flying Scroll. Nothing is going to change here. I did want, however, to point you in the direction of these additional resources. Check out the blog, listen to the podcasts and sermons. You won't find there anyone telling you what to do, but you'll certainly hear plenty about the Christ who has done everything for you--and the Christ who continues to hold you fast.

My Top Five Most Popular Blog Posts of 2014

Whether you're a first time reader of the Flying Scroll, or if this is familiar territory, THANK YOU for being here. You are the reason I crawl out of bed every morning at 4:00, pour myself a cup (or three!) of coffee, and sit down to write. You are the reason I delete more words than I ever publish, for I'm constantly revising, editing, searching for just the right way to express the truth to you. I thank God for all of you. And I ask for your continued prayers. As a way to wrap up 2014, I thought I'd pull together a list of the five articles on my blog that were the most viewed this past year. Perhaps there's one or two that you've missed. God's richest blessings to all of you in 2015!

#1 "Please Don't Say These Six Things at My Funeral." There will come a day, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, when the man in the coffin will be me. They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral...(read the full article here)

#2 "The Affair" There are countless articles and books about how to “Affair-Proof” your marriage, complete with lists of five or ten or twenty things to do to protect your marriage from infidelity. And many of these have helpful suggestions. I’m not writing another such list. What I want to urge is one main point, one truth that undergirds so much of this discussion: affairs don’t begin with lust, or discontent with your spouse, or boredom in a long-term relationship. Affairs always begin by believing lies... (read the full article here)

#3 "The One Page of the Bible I'd Like to Rip Out" The part of the Bible to which I object should never have been there in the first place. It was a later accretion, added for pious, albeit misguided, reasons. If I could, I’d take every Bible in hand, grab this page between my thumb and forefinger and rip it out. It’s that single sheet of paper that lurks between the last chapter in Malachi and the first chapter in Matthew. It’s the page that’s blank except for three words, “The New Testament.” Let me explain why. (read the full article here)

#4 "So You Don't Like Your Pastor" Pastors, although they stand in the stead of Christ to minister to the people of God, are full of the same fears and flaws, loneliness and lust, desires and desperations, as the folks in the pew. Pastors are built from the same stuff as everyone else. And that’s good, and that’s bad. (read the full article here)

#5 "Love Will Not Sustain Your Marriage" Marriage is asking a lot from two people. Living together for life. Sexual fidelity for life. Parenting for life. On their wedding day, they may be on top of the world, their bodies alive with an emotional high. But that high can last only so long. Emotions wax and wane with the tides of life. The love they feel for each other, no matter how strong, will be taxed to the extreme in circumstances they never could have foreseen on the day they said, “I do.” Sooner or later, they will come to realize that love is not enough to keep a marriage alive. (read the full article here)

The Green-Eyed Monster: Putting Jealousy in its Place

You don’t send a mouse to check on a group of cats. But that’s exactly what Jacob did. He sent Joseph, saying, “See if it is well with your brothers and with the flock,” (Genesis 37:14). Oh, sure, not a problem. I mean, if you ignore the brothers’ hatred against Joseph because he was their father’s pet; if you’re oblivious to the fact that the brothers despised Joseph even more when he relayed two dreams of his whole family bowing down to him; if you are so clueless about human nature as not to realize that the green-eyed monster of jealousy mocks the meat it feeds on (as Shakespeare puts it), then by all means send the mouse Joseph to check on the ten fraternal cats who were hungry for a pound of their little brother’s flesh. What happened, horrible though it be, is hardly a surprise. Since Joseph was so high and mighty, the brothers decided to teach him humility by tossing him into a pit. Since he was their dad’s favorite, they faked his death and duped their dad into believing a beast had ripped him to shreds. Since he had dreams of superiority, they turned his life into a nightmare of exile and slavery. The cats did what cats do: they toyed with the mouse. These green-eyed monsters mocked the meat they fed on.

Jealousy: it’s one of those forces within us that can manifest itself as protector or destroyer. Jealousy can be good—a “divine jealousy,” Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 11:2). It compels us to shield our loved ones from outside forces that seek to lure them into destruction and ruin. So the Lord our God is a jealous God, for He will have all of us—all our love and fidelity—and not share us with a soul-destroying idol. So my wife is a jealous wife, for she will have all of me—all my love and fidelity—and not share me with a marriage-destroying adulteress. Yes, jealousy can be good, when, prompted by love, it zealously protects the beloved from evil.

But jealousy, far more commonly, is a kissing cousin to envy and covetousness. It is the hand that’s attached to the arm of narcissism, snatching at what the self-lover yearns to have as his own. It is the jealousy of brothers who want what Joseph has. It is the jealousy of husbands who demand a slave they can control rather than a wife they can love and trust. It is the jealousy of coworkers, who, rather than rejoicing when their fellow employee climbs the ladder of success, secretly despise him for faring better than they are. In the case of Joseph, jealousy conceived hatred, which was born as rage, which, when fully-grown, became murderous, deceitful, family-destroying violence. Jealousy, like all vices, never crashes a party alone; it brings along its gang of hellish friends.

It’ll eat you alive, won’t it? We begin to think we’re victims, as if the whole world is conspiring against us to deprive us of what we deserve. How come she married such a good guy and I’m stuck with this pig? How come mom and dad always take his side and dote on him, while all they do is criticize me? Why can’t I ever seem to get ahead, and my neighbors never seem to fall behind? I’m a victim of fate, a victim of the bad choices others make, victimized by my family, victimized by the universe. On and on it goes, as jealousy makes a meal of our soul.

Let me tell you a better way. This better way does not involve you doing something to become a better person. This better way has no five or ten or fifty steps you can follow to become a happy, satisfied child or spouse or coworker. Rather, it’s a way of putting jealousy in its place, of watching as it sinks down into a wet grave to die the death it deserves. For if there’s anything cats hate, it’s water, and that’s exactly what this green-eyed monster needs: to be grabbed by the neck and held under the water until its lungs fill with liquid and its body grows limp. What jealousy needs is a swim from which it will never return.

Baptism is not just a one-time cleansing to which we can never return. The font becomes our daily companion. And into that fountain of water Christ Jesus daily plunges everything in us that is contrary to Him. He takes us, filthy with jealousy, stained by envy, smeared with covetousness, and shoves us down into those waters and brings us up again clean with holiness, spotless with gratitude, flawless with love. In other words, daily Christ creates us anew, daily fashions a clean heart within us that rejoices with those who prosper, thanks God for what we have, enjoys a life in which we are not victims but victors through Him who overwhelmingly conquered for us on the cross.

The solution to jealousy is not “don’t be jealous.” The solution is a Savior—a Savior who zealously pursued us, even to the point of crucifixion, that He might claim us as His brothers and sister, fellow children of our heavenly Father. He indeed has that divine jealousy, that saving zeal to have us exclusively as His own. And so He does. In His eyes you will spot no green, but rather the warm glow of love. It is a love that saves us from ourselves, that saves us from every vice, that saves us for a life in which Christ lives through us as a new and greater Joseph, delivered up out of jealousy to be the Savior of the whole world.

If this reflection was helpful to you, and you’d like to read more–many more–like it, then take a look at my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

How to Reach Your Full Human Potential

ImageI’ve yet to meet parents who want their children to grow up and become penniless beggars. When our nest is empty, we want their joy to be full. We urge them to keep their nose in the books. Hone a skill. Earn a degree. Land a good job. And, when the time is right, and they find Mr. or Ms. Right, we want them to marry and eventually give us grandchildren we can spoil. We want our children to grow up and lead happy, fulfilled lives in whatever vocations the Lord gives them. No parents want their children to mature into something less than their full, human potential. I am the father of two teenagers, a son and daughter. Now, I’m sure that if I were to sit down with God and have a discussion about the future of my children, we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on lots of things. I’m a selfish, short-sighted mortal, after all, and He’s, well, all-knowing and all-holy and all-that. But disagreements on details aside, we would concur on the One Big Thing: both God and I want my son and daughter to reach their full, human potential.

How will they reach this magical moment, this milestone on the journey of life? Perhaps by chasing their dreams, pursuing their passions with a heart wholly devoted to the attainment of whatever goals they set for themselves in life? As good as that might sound, no, that won’t get them there. Perhaps by devoting their lives to the service of others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, putting every person’s interests ahead of their own? As wonderful as that would be, no, that won’t get them there either. Perhaps by becoming a voice for the oppressed, a defender of the life of the unborn, an advocate for victims of hate and prejudice and violence? As worthy as that would be, no, that won’t help them reach their full, human potential either.

To become everything God wants them to be, my children must first become the one thing they don’t want to be. They must become dead. But it’s a special kind of death; it’s not so much the omega of life as the alpha of life. To become that complete human being, my children—indeed, every person—must be united in death to the only complete human being who has ever lived. Full human potential is not a trophy achieved; it is a gift received. And it is received by bodily unity with Jesus Christ, with the one, unique man who is everything God wants a human to be. That unification takes places by a watery death that miraculously joins us to this complete man who gave His complete self for the complete salvation of a world gone completely wrong. Full human potential is reached when a person is embodied with the man who is also God by baptism into Him.

It is a fully true but also fully hidden reality—this unity with God in Jesus via baptism. It is fully true, for “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:2-3). And “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it is also a hidden reality, for “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory,” (Colossians 3:3-4).

This is the now-and-not-yet reality of the Christian life, the is-and-will-be-ness of the faith. In Christ we have already reached our full, human potential. We have partaken of the divine nature by being grafted into the human nature of that one man who is also God (2 Peter 1:4). And yet we await, with all creation, the day of resurrection, when the resurrection of Jesus will have its way with us, when His coming back to life will restore life back to us. On the Last Day the full reality of what happened on our baptismal day will be unveiled.

My son and daughter reached their full, human potential when they were mere babies, a few days old, when they were united to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a simple baptismal font at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, in Wellston, Oklahoma. Whatever they grow up to be, to pursue, to achieve, I know that the most important thing that could ever happen to them has already taken place. They became children of the heavenly Father, partakers of a gift that they, and I, will fully see revealed when Christ returns in glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Ticking Taskmaster

I have 30 minutes for lunch. As I type these words, the ticking clock whittles the seconds away. Numbers are the god of my business. They demand tight routes, quick deliveries, heavyweight freight in lightweight time. Every day my job performance is judged by my numbers. Too low for too long, and I'll be looking for employment elsewhere.

I now have 18 minutes left for lunch.

Would that at work alone my life were ruled by numbers. But when I get home, there are bills on the table with demanding numbers on them. My wife and I are in the middle of buying a home. Talk about numbers: square footage, interest rates, closing costs, how many inches away from the house bushes must be trimmed. At work, at home, these numerical ghosts haunt my existence.

I now have 15 minutes left for lunch.

Tomorrow will be a number day for me as well; I will turn 44 years old. That's a bit over 16,000 days that I've lived. Each one brings me closer to another number, the number that will determine the year on the right side of the dash engraved on my tombstone. Perhaps that year will be 2014. I pray it will be a bigger number, but my number is in the hand of the Almighty.

I now have 7 minutes left for lunch.

Each second, each day, each month and year, each number in this life that ticks away so quickly is a gift from the eternal One. He who is above time, born in time, to redeem us in time, that we might live with him in eternity. My life is in the hand of the one who gave up His life for me. And that is enough. Let numbers come and go. I rest in that one of whom Israel says, The Lord our God, the Lord is One.

I have 1 minute left for lunch. But no big deal. I have an eternity with Christ to look forward to.

This Holy House of Gospel: A New Hymn for St. John Lutheran Church, Beardstown, IL

ImageToday, May 4, the congregation of St. John Lutheran Church, Beardstown, IL, will give thanks to God for a century of blessings that He has showered down upon them in the holy space where they gather to hear His word and receive His sacraments. Though St. John's was officially organized in 1848, the people have been worshiping in the current sanctuary for the last hundred years. The extensive renovations it has undergone the last few years are finally complete. The theme of their celebration is Psalm 80:19, "Restore us, O Lord." The focus is upon a two-fold restoration: first, the restoration of the sanctuary, where the glory and beauty of God are reflected architecturally; second, the restoration of sinners through the mercy and grace of the Father in Christ.

The pastor at St. John, the Rev. Doug Evenson, was one of my students at Concordia Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Lisa, contacted me a few months ago to ask if I would write a hymn for their celebration, a request I was eager to accept. The text of the hymn is below. I would like to thank the Evensons, along with the congregation of St. John, for the privilege to pen a special hymn for their celebration. May our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, continue to watch over this baptized flock.

Hymn for St. John’s Lutheran Church, Beardstown, IL Celebration of One Hundred Years in St. John’s Church Building Tune: Ewing (e.g., “Jerusalem the Golden," LSB 672) Author: Chad L. Bird May 4, 2014

This Holy House of Gospel

This holy house of Gospel, This home of Sabbath rest, Where Christ our Lord restores us, Where His name is confessed, These many years has sheltered The baptized flock within, Whose shepherd is the Lord’s lamb, The sacrifice for sin.

This church is built securely On Christ our cornerstone, Restored to mirror beauty That shines from God alone. Midst wood and brick and mortar Constructed for the King, We gather in His throne room Where saints and angels sing.

Within Your house, O Jesus, Where heaven hallows earth, Restore us in the fountain, The waters of new birth; Restore us from the pulpit, Through words of truth and grace; Restore us at the altar, Where we behold Your face.

May praises to our Father Within these walls resound. May Christ and His salvation For sinners here be found. And may the Holy Spirit, That true and gentle dove, Work in us and among us, True faith and hope and love.

+++If you would like to read more of my hymns and poems, check out the book I recently published: The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Included are approximately 20 hymns and 80 poems through which the believer gives voice to the trials and blessings of a life lived in Jesus Christ.

Reading Braille in Divine Wounds

We don’t just call him Thomas; we call him Doubting Thomas. Why he, of all the apostles, had an insult attached to his name, I don’t know. Peter denied Christ three times, but no one calls him Denying Peter. Even Judas, who committed treason against Jesus, is not given the epithet Betraying Judas. But poor Thomas cannot rest in peace as just Thomas. No, he is Doubting Thomas, forever branded. I do not deny that Thomas doubted. That much is certain. He did, and with great gusto at that. He wasn’t there with his fellow disciples when Jesus appeared to them that first Easter evening. When they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replies, “Unless I see in His hand the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hands into His side, I will not believe.” He demands visible, tangible proof before he’ll budge a fraction of an inch. He is pig-headed, recalcitrant, a mule of a man. A dyed-in-the-wool skeptic.

And for all that Thomas is, I thank God. Yes, for his pig-headedness, for his doubt, for his denial, for his dyed-in-the-wool skepticism – for all that, I thank God. Why? Because, as St. Gregory put it, “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe, than the faith of the disciples who believed.” I thank God that Thomas doubted, for when he later “touched the wounds in the flesh of his master, he healed in us the wounds of our unbelief.”

Read the full sermon on the Alien Righteousness blog here

Why I Don't Want to Go Back in Time Anymore

ImageIf I had a dollar for every time I’ve wished I could travel back in time to fix all my screw-ups, then I’d have so much money that I could really screw up my life. Still, I have wished it. Indeed, I still wish I could go back and redo things. And I bet you do, too. Shift time into reverse, hit the gas, and burn rubber all the way back to “that day.” You know, that day. We all have one, or two, or a few hundred. I bet if an outsider were to spy on you during that momentous day, he might not see you doing anything outrageously evil. But his eyes lie; you see what that outsider doesn’t. You know that on that day you took the first hesitant step that led to the next confident leap that led finally to the all-out sprint toward the cliff of self-destruction. It was the first squabble with your spouse that never got resolved, gradually escalated, and finally grew into a bitterness that makes widowhood look like a dream come true. It was that juvenile moment when you caved to peer pressure and smoked that marijuana, that over time led to cocaine, which ultimately landed you in rehab fighting for your life. It’s your own personal “that day” you wish you could relive and fix. You’d rearrange your life the way it should have gone, the way you had it planned. You’d orchestrate a better existence for yourself in this world.

The thing is, not only is fixing our past impossible; who’s to say we wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes? In fact, who’s to say we wouldn’t make matters even worse? Perhaps the most deeply embedded self-delusion we practice is that we learn from our mistakes and thus don’t repeat them. Sure we do. Almost on a daily basis we duplicate our downfalls. Lying got us into deep water once, but not a day goes by when we speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Lust wrecked our marriage, but still we cast wanton glances at women, undressing them with our eyes. So, do we learn from our mistakes? You betcha we do; we learn how to mitigate their consequences, or relish the desire but avoid the deed. For sin dies hard. Sin is like a cockroach: hit it, swat it, slap it, squash it, stomp it, but somehow it manages to scurry for cover in the dark folds of our souls.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I realize now, more fully than ever, why I’ve wished I could go back. It’s because I want to chart the course of my life; because deep down I believe what that poem of self-determination says, that “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” No I’m not. All I’ve mastered is servitude to sin. And the only vessel of which I am captain sank in the harbor, before it ever set sail.

Now, every time I want to shift time into reverse to go back to “that day,” I run smack dab into a huge stone that’s been rolled away from a vacated tomb. And there I stop. I get out and peer into the gloom of that grave, but there’s nothing to see but some ancient, folded linens. Not a corpse, not a single, solitary bone. It’s empty, as empty as my desires to fix the past. I realize that the past has already been fixed. What I wanted to do, and what I would doubtlessly have screwed up, someone else has done perfectly. He has taken “that day” and bled away its very existence. All other days have collapsed into a Friday, onto a man, who hung upon a cross. There, he fixed the past by destroying its dominion over us. All the regrets, all the stupid decisions we’ve made that we wish we could go back and change—they cease to matter. All that matters is that man, that God, that Jesus.

Easter is a time for ceasing to care about times past. The void of that tomb renders null and void every past accusation against us. Christ has redone our lives. He has redone everything. If I could go back in time to fix all my screw-ups, I wouldn’t find a single one. They have vanished into the body of that crucified man, who on the third day rose again, and brought with him from the grave me, and you, and a world that is now filled with hope.

*****

If you enjoy my writings, please take a moment to check out the book I just published: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. Here you will find page after page of reflections upon the Christian life, its struggles and pains, its joys and hopes. Most importantly, you will find Jesus at the center of this book, even as He is at the center of the Christian's life. Click on this link to view the book. Thank you for your interest!

My New Book of Meditations and Sermons!

Image I’ve wrestled over the title of an article or blog post for days. Maybe I’m looking for something with irony, or humor, or just the right metaphor to catch the reader’s eye. Because titles matter, don’t they? They should make the reader say, “Hey, now there’s something I want to read.”

The title of my newly published book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is not ironic. It’s not humorous. And there’s not a single metaphor in it. But this title says it all. It lays it all out there. Like St. Paul, who told the Corinthians he had determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, this is a book that focuses unapologetically, unflinchingly on Christ alone.

It is written for everyone.

It is written for mothers and fathers, plumbers and pastors, truck drivers and students. It speaks to your struggles and sins, temptations and downfalls. And it points you to the healing and life and forgiveness found in Christ alone.

It is written for preachers who are always in search of new ways of communicating age old truths. In language that is earthy and colorful, vivid and sharp, poetic but not highfalutin, it delivers the Gospel to the soul sunk in the muck of this world.

It is written for seminary students who are just learning how to preach. Homiletics textbooks are useful, but I remain convinced that if you want to learn how to preach, then study sermons that preach the law with clarity and the Gospel with sweetness. Immerse yourself in sermons that preach without using the vanilla verbiage and asthmatic affirmations that your listeners have yawned at a thousand and one Sunday mornings. In this book is fresh preaching of timeless truths.

And, lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is written for me. I am a woebegone sinner with a past stained by the scarlet of a million sins I remember, and a million more I’ve forgotten. But even as I read the words of this book, I hear the Good News being preached to me, by me. It says, “Chad, there is hope even for you. It is not found in your efforts to be a better person. It is not found in your repentance, or even your faith. It is found in Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. That crucified and resurrected God–He is your everything. In the blood of that Lamb your scarlet sins are made white. Your hope, Chad, is in Christ alone.”

I wrote this, dear reader, for all of us. So here it is. Follow this link (Christ Alone) to the site. And thank you. Thank you for your interest, your prayers, your encouragement, your love. My fellow Flying Scrollers, I daily thank God for every one of you.

Yom Kippur: A Poem for Good Friday

Within that lightless vestibule that Roman claws would raze, See Aaron’s brood with crimson gifts through wafting incense gaze, To paint a throne where God unseen beholds the fruit of veins, And with the soap of severed life removes his people’s stains. 'Til comes the Priest clad but in skin, no lamb or goat his gift, Upon the cruel and gory throne his offering to uplift, To pave the way, with flesh and blood, for all those bathed in grace, To stand as priests within the veil, before the Father’s face.

This poem, along with almost one hundred others, is included in my book, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. To purchase your copy, simply click on this link. Thank you for your interest!

I Haven’t Made Jesus My Personal Lord and Savior

I grew up in a religious community in which making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior was a big deal. That phrase, or any of its verbal cousins, was thrown about almost as much as Lutherans talk of “law and Gospel” or “means of grace.” I suppose every Christian denomination has them—this ingroup speech. Though the church of my youth was Southern Baptist, they are far from alone in using this phrase. Making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior is the focus of much of the evangelism and preaching in Protestant Christianity.

The thing is, although I am a Christian, I have never made Jesus my personal Lord and Savior. I haven’t because I can’t.

Before I became a believer, I was in bad shape.

To begin with, I was dead in my transgressions and sins. I was like Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who lay lifeless within a tomb. The only way he rose from the dead and walked out of that grave was by the word of Jesus. Dead people don’t decide to live again. God decides they will live again. As Jesus called Lazarus from death to life, so he called me from my grave of sin into a new life of forgiveness. He gave, I received.

I say I was dead before Jesus called me, but actually, I was worse off than that. Imagine a corpse who is at war with life, who is an enemy of the Life-giver. That was me. I was by nature a child of wrath (Eph 2:3), an enemy of God (Rom 5:10), conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). I was as messed up as messed up could be. Not just dead, not just sinful, but an enemy of the only One who could save me.

But once again, God changed all that. He loved me not only into life, but into peace. He transformed me from a foe to a friend. His word traveled across enemy lines, found me, and carried me back as an ally. And once again, the only thing I did was receive. I didn’t decide to switch sides, to leave my rebellion and make peace with God. He did that for me in Jesus.

I am a Christian who has never made Jesus my personal Lord and Savior. I am a Christian because Christ made me His personal servant, friend, and brother.

To All My Fellow Flying Scrollers: THANK YOU!

For almost the last year and a half, I've been posting my writings on this blog. To all my Flying Scrollers, I say Thank you! You rock. Every share, every comment, every private message telling me that something I wrote was a blessing to you or someone you care about, is a monumental encouragement to me. I put down my pen for years. And, when I took it up again, it was with fear and hesitation. Thank you all for showing me that through my writings I can, and do, serve the church. For every one of you, I thank Him who is the Word made flesh for us.

Rearing or Raising: Two Approaches to Parenting

Sometimes it’s the throwaway comments people make that stick the deepest in your mind.  They don’t remember saying it, but you’ll never forget it. So it was for me one summer day, in the late 1990’s, as I rode shotgun in a pickup with Ernest Stein.  Ernest was an elderly farmer in rural Oklahoma whose acreage butted up to land owned by two of his surviving three sons; the third had died in an automobile accident years before.  We hauled hay to his cattle.  He checked on the progress of some crops.  And in an overgrown tree belt, he pointed out the spot where he’d nailed a trophy whitetail early one fall morning.  We were bouncing along some ruts beside a barbed wire fence, talking about our families, when I asked Ernest what it was like to raise three sons.  He glanced over, shot me one of his unique half-smiles, and said, “Raising sons?  I didn’t raise any sons. The way I was taught was that you raised pigs but reared children.”

At the time my daughter was transitioning from the crawl to the walk, and my son was still but a twinkle in his father’s eye. Both are now teenagers. As I’ve tried—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—to be a good father to them over the years, Ernest’s words have echoed in my mind. They resound in the form of a self-examining question. I ask myself, “Are you rearing or raising Auriana and Luke?” Linguistically, of course, one could make a convincing case that the two verbs are essentially synonymous when applied to the upbringing of children. But for me, “rear” and “raise” are more than verbs.  They have come to serve as designations for two different approaches to parenting, both of which are based upon assumptions about what constitutes a human being, and, therefore, how that human being is to be reared (or raised) from infancy to adulthood.

If I believe that my child is the creation of God, endowed with a body, mind, and soul; if I believe that he, as a human being, is the crown of the Lord’s creation, distinct from and above all other created things; that his life is to be lived in faith towards God and love towards his neighbor; that, though he die an earthly death, he will nevertheless exist from now unto all eternity; and that he is so beloved of God that God himself lived, died, and rose again to save him—if I believe all that, and truths in concert with it, then I will rear my child accordingly. I will not merely provide for his bodily or mental needs, but the needs of his soul as well. I will teach him that, as the crown of the Lord’s creation, he is to image God on earth not by usurpation or exploitation of power, but in acts of loving service that imitate the way of our serving and loving Lord. To put it simply: I will rear my child as God’s child, for that is what he is.

If I believe that my child is merely the bodily product of sexual relations; that divinity played no role in his conception or growth; if I believe that my child, though loved by me, is really no more special than any other creature on earth, but merely one more cog in the vast machine of creation; that he will live here for a time, die, and then cease to exist; that this life is all there is, that God does not (or may not, or probably doesn’t) exist, and that therefore he is neither accountable to nor beloved by that divine figure—if I believe all that, then I will raise my child accordingly. I will provide for his bodily and mental needs, but not his spiritual needs. I will raise him as one rational animal raises another rational animal on a planet full of other rational animals. To put it simply, I will raise my child as my child, not God’s, for there is no God in this belief system.

What determines the kind of parent you will be? Is it your own upbringing, the culture in which you live, the influence of peers? No doubt these all play a role. But I say the single most determining factor in what kind of parent you will be is this: What do you believe? Specifically, what do you believe a human being is?

My elderly farmer friend in Oklahoma reared three sons, two of whom I was privileged to know, one of whom I will meet in heaven someday. He did well, Ernest did, with his wife, Lenora, in rearing those sons not so much as their own but as sons of the heavenly Father. May God grant all of us grace, who believe as Ernest did, that we might follow in his footsteps, that we might parent in a way that accords with who we are as human beings, and the kind of adult human beings we want our children to grow up to be.

If you enjoy my writings, please consider purchasing my recently published book, The Infant Priest:  Hymns and Poems.  This poetry gives voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world.  Whether you weep, rejoice, struggle, or hope, through these hymns and poems you can speak to God with honesty and fidelity.  By buying a copy, you will also aid mission work, for 25% of the proceeds from book sales go to benefit Lutherans in Africa.  Click here to purchase your copy.  Thanks!

“There Goes My Life”: A Father's Day Reflection

A few years ago, I made a decision that redirected the rest of my life. It was a career change, but deeper down, it was profoundly more. It was a life change.

This is what happened.

At the end of 2006, I drove a U-Haul from Cincinnati to Oklahoma City. I had twin goals: finish my Ph.D. and land a teaching job at one of the Christian universities in that buckle of the Bible Belt.

It seemed doable. After all, I had the education, the experience, and a few publications. Surely a position would open up.

The only drawback? I’d be living over four hours away from my two young children. My daughter was eight, my son six.

But we’d make it work. Somehow. Someway.

I transformed half of my apartment into a study. Got a part-time job loading FedEx trucks. Worked my mind during the day, my body during the night.

All the while, I was putting my career plan into action. I researched the local universities, brought my CV up to date, made contacts with the heads of various departments.

And every couple of weeks, I would drive four hours to spend a few fleeting hours with my son and daughter. Then I'd turn the car around and drive back to the city, to the apartment, to my books. 

And to my dreams.

But a strange thing was happening to my dreams.
The brilliance they once had was fading.
In fact, they were slowly being swallowed by darkness.

And the darkness, it was swallowing me, too. 

Every time I saw my children waving goodbye, inside me a dark presence was waving a blade, slowing slicing away at my heart. As I stared at the pages of my books, I saw no letters, no words, only the faces of my children.

One day I walked about that place I had tried to make home.
I realized it was a prison cell of my own devising.
So I made the decision.

It took a few months. There was a short course to complete. Moving plans. A couple of interviews to arrange. But by the summer of 2007, with a Commercial Driver’s License in my wallet, I was driving a truck.

I had found a job where the only jobs were to be found in that area—in the oil and gas field. And, most importantly, my new home was about three miles from where my children lived. I was able to take them to school and pick them up on my days off. We played in the park down the street. We swam at the local indoor pool, all year long. We made up for lost time, grew closer.

But my dreams of being a professor were dead. And I confess that, in times of selfish weakness, I still muttered to myself,
There go my years of study.
There go my aspirations.

There goes my life...

But on those mornings when I hugged my children, told them I loved them, and watched them walk from my car into the school; on those summer days when they’d run ahead of me down to the park for an hour or two of play; all those times when they’d scurry through the house, bang out the back door, and jump on the trampoline, calling for me to hurry and join them, I’d smile and say to myself, There goes my life.

There goes my daughter, overjoyed to be with her Daddy. 

There goes my son, looking up to a father as only a son can.

Indeed, there goes my life, in those two young gifts of God.

The hardest truth for me to learn is that big things are of little worth.
Big careers. Big achievements. Big dreams.
No thanks. I'll pass.

Give me an ordinary career, a simple life, time with my wife and children. Give me little dreams, little aspirations, an ambition only to try and love as best I can.

Life is too short to dreams big dreams. At the end, when we look back, let's gaze on our children, our spouse, our friends, our church, and our flesh-and-blood Lord, and say with humble joy: There goes my life.

Love Will Not Sustain Your Marriage

Asking a man and woman to live together—to use the same bathroom, sleep in the same bed, share the same checking account—is a request fraught with risk. What if his bathroom habits look and smell like they were learned at the frat house? What if he breaks his back every week only to discover she spent half the money he earned on shoes? But go beyond that. What if a man and woman are asked to have sex with each other, and only each other, and never anyone else, till their dying day? What happens when she opts for sleeping over sex, and his twenty-something, flirtatious secretary keeps dropping suggestive hints about an after-hours tryst? What happens when she can’t remember the last time he got her flowers or kissed her like he meant it, but this guy at the gym showers her with compliments every day?

But there’s still more. What if a man and woman are gifted with children, but as those children grow, so grows the chasm between the two parents? She drives them to school, shivers during their soccer games, claps after their school play, gets them to piano and football practice on time. And he’s busy climbing the corporate ladder, or bouncing from one job to another, making an appearance occasionally at a child’s sporting event, all the while with his phone glued to his ear talking business. And the kids finally leave home, and home is left vacant, except for two roommates who no longer seem to have anything in common.

Marriage is asking a lot from two people. Living together for life. Sexual fidelity for life. Parenting for life. On their wedding day, they may be on top of the world, their bodies alive with an emotional high. But that high can last only so long. Emotions wax and wane with the tides of life. The love they feel for each other, no matter how strong, will be taxed to the extreme in circumstances they never could have foreseen on the day they said, “I do.” Sooner or later, they will come to realize that love, by itself, is not enough, never enough, to keep a marriage alive.  It will not be love that sustains their marriage; it will be marriage that sustains their love (D. Bonhoeffer).

It is the God-ordained union of man and woman, into a complete and lifelong unity of one flesh, that fosters love. This is no until-someone-better-comes-along mutual cohabitation. This is not an until-we-have-problems sexual partnership.  It is not living together but life together—a life begun and sustained by the God who creates it.  Marriage is an objective, created reality into which the Lord places a man and woman, not a contractual agreement or emotional bond.  It is a gift from heaven, and it is that gift that creates an environment in which love and sharing and life can be enjoyed on earth.

If I merely live with a lover, and tire of her, or she tires of me, we pack our things and go our separate ways.  The supposed “love” we shared was dependent upon two weak, selfish people, who all too easily throw in the towel. If I marry the woman I love, I step into something outside myself. I step into marriage. I become a part of something external to myself, created by God, and (when justice and common sense prevail) strongly defended by human laws.

Within marriage, I am free to love. I am free to give myself wholly and exclusively to my wife, and she to me, and we to our children. The love we share will make our marriage not a burden but a delight. And, when hard times come—and they will, they always do—it will be marriage that protects us from ourselves. Marriage will be our strength when we ourselves grow weak. For marriage is God’s doing, not our doing. It is his love, which created marriage to begin with, that makes our love possible.

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