Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Husbands, Lead in Love



Husbands and Men Seeking Wives,

First, I address this to "men seeking wives" because if you are a boy, you should not be seeking a wife, and if you are just dating around "for fun" then you are not a man, nor are you seeking a wife.  You have some growing up to do and some decisions to make before this advice is really applicable to you.

For those of you still reading, husbands are to lead their wives.  Men seeking a wife are to lead the woman of their interest into a godly decision for or against marriage.  And once married, husbands are to lead their households.

In Ephesians 5:22-33 Saint Paul tells men that they are to lead their households in love.  Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.  They are to follow him as the Church follows Christ.  Husbands, then, are to lead.  And they lead by loving their wives as Jesus loved the Church.

The part about the wives gets a lot of attention because the word "submit" sounds like Paul is telling women to shut their brains off and simply answer "yes, sir" to whatever their husbands say.  (Ironically this is pretty typical marriage advice to men.  What are the two most important words to learn when you are getting married? "Yes, dear.")

Paul, however, is not suggesting that women become doormats in their marriages.  He does not imply that they are becoming second-class Christians when they say "I do".  Rather, to submit means to follow the lead of another.  In this case, the wife follows the lead of her husband.  Therefore the type of leadership that he offers is vitally important.

And his leadership is love, laying down his life for her just as Christ did for all.  The husband is called by God to nourish and cherish his wife as his own body.    

Leading with love is difficult.  Pastor Anthony Voltattorni has written (here) about the need for men to be leaders in the courtship process.  Young men should not be running around dating "for fun".  It is not loving to attach yourself to woman after woman leading them on but never closing the deal with a ring.

To lead in love means that you have marriage always in your mind as the goal of your dating or courtship.  It means treating a young woman with the highest respect and taking orders from the other man in her life, her father.  It means keeping your hands off of her until you are properly wed.

Once the wedding day arrives the bridegroom leads by taking the hand of his bride from her father and leading her to the altar where God will join them in the union of one flesh.  He leads her to the reception to celebrate.  He leads her to the bridal chamber to consummate.

From that day forward it is the husband's responsibility to take the lead...in everything.  There is this strange idea out there, that the husband is the "spiritual head" of the household.  I suppose that is meant to suggest that it is ok if his wife takes the lead on physical, emotional, or financial issues.  But the Bible knows nothing of this.

The husband has responsibility for the operation of the household, all of it.  Therefore he is to manage it well, with love.  Every decision is to be made in love, sacrificing his own desires for the good of the household.

But leading with love is not always going to make him popular with his wife.  There is a great difference between loving someone and making someone feel loved.  You can feel loved, and actually be given hate.  You can feel hated and actually be given love.  Your wife will not like every decision that is made.  It may take some explaining on your part.  It may take a lot of trust and patience on her part.  But love you must.

When considering a new job opportunity the husband must ask if this is what is best for his entire family, not just for his ego.  When contemplating a move to a new city the man sets aside his desire to be close to his favorite baseball team and thinks about how this will financially impact their family.

And yes, if it ever does come down to it, the man must be willing to literally die for his wife, to shed his blood, to put his flesh on the line for her sake.

And this also means that whatever sort of love he wishes to receive from his wife, he must first be giving.  Does he want a passionate romance?  Then he had better be passionate and romantic.  Does the man desire sacrifice from his wife?  Then he must sacrifice himself for her.  Does the groom need patience and understanding from his bride?  Then he shall be patient and understanding with her.  Does he need forgiveness on a regular basis (and you had better believe that you do)?  Then he will forgive freely.

Jesus does not lead his Church by barking orders over and over.  He leads by laying down his life, shedding his blood, cleansing us from sin, and giving us new life.  He leads with grace and mercy.  He gives us forgiveness, faith, hope, and love.

So husbands, and all men seeking wives, lead as Christ has led the Church.  Lead in love.

[Check back next Monday for the calling from God to fathers.  For the first post in this series click here.]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We Are Bored Because We Are Old




G.K. Chesterton had an interesting observation about boredom:

"The sun rises every morning.  I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction.  Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising.  His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.  The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy.  A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.  Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.  But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon...It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." [Orthodoxy; emphasis added]

We have sinned and grown old, and so we get bored with the good things that God gives us.  Yet God, because He is eternally young and vigorous, delights in repeatedly giving us His good gifts time and time again.  

Breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat, our Father provides all that we need for life in this world.  Week after week He absolves our sins, proclaims His promises, raises us to new life, and feeds us Christ's body and blood.  God never gets bored with giving.  Why should we tire of receiving?

We get bored with God and His repeated giving because we have sinned.  We have grown old.  

Thank God that He is younger than we. 




Monday, July 21, 2014

Men, Manage Your Household Well



Gentlemen,

It is long overdue that the Church takes a closer look at what it means to be a husband and father.  We have decried the devaluation of men.  We have lamented the dearth of leadership on this subject.  We have moaned and complained, but no one seems to be doing much about it.

One major issue is that we too often take our visions for manhood, husband-hood, and fatherhood from the culture, particularly the popular culture, and not from the Scriptures.  Martin Luther started us off on the right track when he filled his Table of Duties in the Small Catechism with Scriptural references that concern our various vocations.  It would be fitting for us to expand on that work, to consider what the Scriptures say concerning the roles, duties, and vocations, of husband, father, and man.

The importance of all this was highlighted to me this past year when preparing to teach a lesson on I Timothy 3.  In 7th and 8th grade religion class we were marching through Paul's first letter to Timothy after we had finished walking through the Small Catechism toward the end of the school year. 

In I Timothy 3 Paul gives Timothy a list of qualifications for men who desire to be "overseers".  In other words, Paul tells Timothy what it takes to be a pastor.  While there is a long list of things, the one that stands out the most, the one that receives more than a brief mention, is the management of the household. 

"An overseer is to be above reproach, the husband of one wife...he must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"  (I Timothy 3:2-5)

It is essential that a pastor manage his household well.  But pastors are not an exception.  It is not as if God only wants the men leading his churches to be good husbands and fathers.  The pastors are to set an example for the other men of the congregation, but all men are to manage their households well.

This pulled me back to a stop as a pastor.  It shook me to realize that something I had treated as peripheral to pastoral ministry was really essential.  Men are called by God to be the managers of their households. 

This will work itself out in different ways for different men in different situations.  Every man will have a different management style, as well as distinct responsibilities.  Yet this cannot change that fact that he is responsible for the things that go on in his own home.

Notice that this is precisely the opposite of the way we think about "traditional" household responsibilities.  In the traditional modern scheme the man is responsible for the things that go on outside of the home: working 40 hours at a "job", mowing the lawn, changing the oil in the car, re-roofing the house, etc.

The women of the traditional modern scheme are supposed to be responsible for what goes on inside the home: cooking, cleaning, child-rearing.  She is the overseer of hearth and home.  But according to the Scriptures this is not so.

While the division of labor inside and outside the house may fall along these lines at times, it certainly does not have to.  And either way, the man is the one responsible for what goes on inside and outside the home. 

There is no walking out the front door and forgetting the home front during the day, no telling your overwhelmed wife to "suck it up".  The man of the house is just that: "of the house", even if he cannot do it all himself.  The Lord provides him with help, indeed a "help meet", but it remains his responsibility.

This is our calling Christ who manages his household, the Church, as a loving bridegroom, a gentle husband, and a gracious father.

[This is the first in a series of posts that will focus on the callings of men in the world.  Tune back in each Monday to explore our callings as husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, and more.]       

Monday, July 14, 2014

Your Sin Killed Jesus

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Can a Lutheran say, "My sin killed Jesus"?  Or is it better to say, "The wrath of God the Father killed Jesus on the cross"?

The question was posed by a fellow pastor on Facebook a few days back and stirred up a few answers from various people.  Here is my response: If my sin did not kill Jesus then the Gospel is null and void.  Not only is this statement "ok", it is a necessary aspect of the proclimation of God's Word.

The concern raised by several pastors was that by placing the blame for Jesus' death upon my sin I might be attempting to take some credit for the redemption of the cross.  This is, of course, not the case as anyone could easily tell you.  Saying that my sin caused the death of Jesus does not give me any credit from the positive effects of that death and more then saying that my drunkenness killed three innocent bystanders gives me credit for the foundation started by their family to combat drunk driving.  When I say that my sin killed Jesus I am accepting nothing other than the guilt of his murder.

There are two Scriptural points that I would like to make here.

First, Peter clearly places the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus upon the people of Israel in his preaching in the opening chapters of Acts.

"Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Acts 2:36

"The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.  But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.  To this we are witnesses." Acts 3:13-15

Here Peter asserts that his hearers killed Jesus.  Peter is not, however, preaching to anyone directly involved with the crucifixion.  His audience is not the Roman soldiers who drove in the nails, nor is it the priests, scribes, elders, and Pharisees who condemned Jesus to death.  He preaches to common hearers, some of whom were nowhere near Jerusalem on Good Friday. (Acts 2:8-12)

More than this, Peter indites "all the house of Israel".  It is not merely the Jews close at hand, but all the people of God, all the descendents of Abraham, who bear the guilt and shame of Jesus' death.

Second, peppered throughout Paul's letter to the Romans, and stated explicitly in chapter 11, is a theology of the salvation of the Gentiles.  Gentiles are saved by being "grafted in" to Israel, the people of God. (Romans 11:17-20)  Those who were once not God's people are now God's people.

If we are to be the people of God, if we are to receive that identity in faith, then it means accepting not only the redemption of Israel, but first its guilt.  If Israel is responsible for the death of Jesus as Peter proclaims, and I am grafted into Israel, then I am grafted into the sin of murdering the Author of Life.  As with Dante, if we want to enter heaven we must begin at the gates of hell.   

What happens if this guilt is not applied to me?  I gain a false sense of arrogance.  I can say to myself, "I am not as bad as the Jews because they killed Jesus.  I only acted in ignorance."  By being grafted into Israel, both its guilt and its redemption, all boasting is taken from me.  I stand equally guilty with all sinners.  I stand equally forgiven with all Israel.

Another negative, and perhaps the real issue, is that the "for me" is taken out of the Gospel.  If my sin did not kill Jesus then who did Jesus die for?  Did Jesus die for the Father?

No, Jesus died for me.  If I were not a sinner, then Jesus would not have had to die for me, just the rest of the world.  I would, however, be exempt from the guilt of his death.  This is clearly not the case.  Christ died for all! (II Corinthians 5:14-15)  By God's grace that includes me.

What we have lost a bit in Lutheran circles is the ability to simply affirm what the Scriptures profess.  In our dogmatic organization of theology we sometimes lose the language of the Bible.  We are more comfortable with systematic language, Lutheran formulas.  The Bible is not a systematic text.  It does not speak in simple formulas, but it preaches the word of God to sinners as they need to hear it.  We need to be ready, not to explain away the Scriptures, but to gladly affirm them.

The proclamation of the death of Jesus functions as both Law and Gospel.  It must.  His death is caused by my sin in the sense that I bear the guilt for his murder.  His death is caused by the Father in the sense that God has sent Jesus for this purpose, to be the sacrifice for my sins.  Therefore from Israel's greatest sin God works his greatest salvation.

It is not, it cannot be, an either/or.  It must be both/and.

My sin killed Jesus.  I bear the guilt.

God the Father sent Jesus to the cross for the atonement of my sin.  I receive the forgiveness won there and God in Christ gets all the credit.

Your sin killed Jesus, but Jesus died to appease God's wrath for you.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++                

(Photograph from bigfoto.com)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Jesus Gives an Easy Yoke


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Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit the question for humanity has been: “How can I avoid death?”  How can I fix the fact that I am no longer what God created me to be?  How can I become right with God?

                From these questions spring forth every doctrine, every religious practice, every value system on the planet.  We have asked the question, and there are always plenty of teachers out there ready to give us an answer. 

Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

                The yoke was an image that rabbis in the days of Jesus used to describe their teaching and the teaching of the law.  A true yoke is a wooden crosspiece that fastens two animals together so that they may pull some heavy load, like a wagon or a plow.  

                The yoke of a teacher, then, is the burden that you bear when you follow their teachings.  Jesus says that His yoke is easy.  His burden is light.

                But it is a little more than that, or rather, a lot more than that.  The yoke of which Jesus is speaking, as well as the yokes of other teachers who came before Him, were not just about following one teacher.  It was about following their teachings as a means to attain salvation, as a way to please God and enter into His kingdom.

                The yoke you bore, if you bore it well, would give you eternal life.  The problem is that these yokes are heavy.  They are difficult.  The teachings of the rabbis are no light weight material.  They are burdensome, each teacher seemingly trying to outdo the previous one with more stringent instruction.

                Rather than talking about what the teachers were yoking their disciples with in Jesus’ day, I want to talk about the yokes that are prevalent in our age and every age.  What teachings are there that attempt to make us right with God?  What burdens are we told to take up and carry if we are to impress God, be on His good side, and earn life eternal?

                First, there is the true and real burden of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments.  Do these and you will please God.  In fact, do just one and you will please God.  It is the first one.

                “You shall have no other gods.”  “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  Do this and you will live, forever, in paradise.  Do this and you will be the very definition of human perfection.

                Despite the differences between them, all world religions essentially teach this one thing: keep the commandments and you will be saved.  Do as you are instructed and God will grant you His favor.  Do the Law and live by it.

                Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and New Age hipsters all agree.  Just do what is good.  Obey the will of God.  That is all there is to it.  That isn’t so tough.

                But let us go back for a moment.  Last week we talked about putting Jesus first, about worshipping and serving Him alone.  Yet family, our own goals, our own sins, tend to get in the way.  

How did you do this past week keeping Jesus out ahead of your other concerns?  Did you meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus more than you worried about your children’s future?  Did you put more money in the offering plate or in your retirement account, on into your cell phone bill?  Did you stop sinning because Jesus hates sin, or have you still fallen into temptation?

See, obedience to the commandments is not as easy as it sounds.  Love God above all things.  Love my neighbor as myself.  That all sounds easy enough, that is until I learn that love requires action, not just emotion.  “You mean I actually have to do something?  Well, then forget it.”

The yoke of God’s Law is not easy.  It is not light.  It is harsh and oppressive, always reminding us what we are doing wrong, always bringing to light our faults and failures, our evil actions and wicked desires.  If we attempt to bear the yoke of the Law we will be crushed beneath its burden. 

But then there is this other yoke, one that we have fashioned for ourselves.  This yoke is not made up of rules from the Bible.  It is made up of the unspoken, assumed rules that we live with every day.

The yoke of this “little law” seems more trivial, but it can actually be more terrifying than God’s Law at times.  It comes from the pressure of society, to measure up to what other people expect of us, to do what will please the movers and the shakers.

We see this reflected in our societies obsession with books filled with “steps”.  7 steps to be a perfect father.  8 ways to be a better mother.  27 things you can do to maintain a spotless kitchen.  489 ideas for achieving a higher degree of success!  

We must constantly be on our guard, always looking over our shoulder, always trying to better ourselves, trying to impress someone, even if that someone is not God.  

The yoke of self improvement and success is burdensome.  Its weight is heavy.  You will always be a disappointment to someone.  As a pastor that is a reality that is constantly in my face.  You just can’t please everyone.  And the reality is that you shouldn’t even try.

In stark contrast to these two burdensome yokes stands Jesus Christ calling all people to rest under His yoke, His light and easy burden.  Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart and He gives us rest for our souls, our souls that are beaten and battered trying to impress God, trying to impress others.  His yoke is, not of the Law, but of the Gospel.  

To know Jesus Christ is to know the rest that God wishes to give you.  Jesus takes up the burden of the Law, God’s Law.  He kept perfectly the commandments, He flawlessly obeyed God’s will. 

And He bore the weight of our punishment.  Jesus carried our cross to Golgotha and died in our place.  And He did it all without caring one little lick about what others thought of Him.  His aim was to impress God, not man, and He succeeded.  He triumphed.  And so do we.

Jesus carried the full weight of God’s Law so that you and I could be filled with His strength, His righteousness, His goodness.  He bore the burden of sin so that we might receive the yoke of forgiveness.  He suffered the weight of death so that we could be given the yoke of life eternal.  

The Church is called to be this place of rest, this place where the cares and burdens of the world can be removed, laid down for a bit and forgotten.  It is a place where we learn from Jesus, that He is gentle and lowly in heart, that with Him we have rest for our weary souls.

In here we are reminded of all that Jesus has done to relieve that burden of the Law from us, and so we are free to love God without terror, to love and serve each other, to care less about what others might think and rejoice more in what God thinks.

Come and rest.  Learn from your Lord, your Savior, Jesus Christ, who gives rest to the weary.  His yoke is easy.  His Gospel yoke is forgiveness, compassion, and resurrection all for you. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Princess Bride...of Christ?






If you have only seen the movie you are missing a big piece of the picture.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman was famously transformed into a film directed by Rob Reiner in 1987.  The movie is a favorite of many for its delightful combination of romance, chivalry, adventure, fantasy, and humor.  What many do not know is that the book is even better.

Goldman's book claims to be an abridged "good parts version" of an earlier work of fictional author S. Morgenstern.  Goldman states, over the course of a 27 page prologue, that his retelling is what his father used to read to him as a boy, leaving out all the boring stuff about politics, economics, and history, while delighting him with the story of true love and high adventure.  One cannot help but smile when you realize that this is precisely the part of the book you are going to skip over the next time you read it.

The actual story is, obviously, far more detailed than the movie version.  In spite of this the book and film do share a considerable amount of plot points, and even dialogue.  I read the book after having watched the film for decades and had a good time remembering the voices of the actors delivering the lines as I read them.

The story centers on, as you may have guessed, a bride.  A young woman (who also happens to be the most beautiful woman in the world) named Buttercup is engaged to be married to Prince Humperdinck of Florin.  Buttercup is abducted by three men who have been paid to kidnap her, but keep her alive, at least for a little while.

As the three scoundrels sail away with Buttercup in their possession they notice that they are being followed by another ship.  Enter Wesley, the Man in Black, the Dread Pirate Roberts.

It is Westley who I would like to suggest as a Christ-figure in the book.  This can be seen in the movie, but it is far more obvious in Goldman's writing.

Westley is Buttercup's true love.  They met when he was a farmhand who worked for her father.  "As you wish" are the only words that Wesley ever says to Buttercup before she realizes that she is in love with him.  She treats him as a slave, yet he always responds with happy service, true love.

The two decide to get married, but Westley is a poor man.  He cannot support a family.  So, he decides to take to the seas to make his fortune.  While he is sailing, however, his ship is attacked by pirates, specifically the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never takes prisoners.  Westley is assumed dead and Buttercup, being as famously beautiful as she is, becomes betrothed to Humperdinck, although she does not love him.

It is Westley's character that tips to him being a Christ-figure.  Westley is a near perfect man.  Everything he does prospers.  When he feeds cows, they grow bigger and healthier than all others.  He alone survived the attack of the Dread Pirate Roberts and eventually came to replace him as captain of the pirate ship.  Westley out-fences a fencing expert.  He out-wrestles a giant.  He outsmarts a genius.

Later in the book Buttercup is describing Westley to Prince Humperdinck: He is "not so much wonderful as perfect...kind of flawless.  More or less magnificent.  Without blemish.  Rather on the ideal side."  She goes on to say that, "It's not so much that there's nothing he can't do; it's more that he can do it all better than anybody else can do it."

To all of this Humperdick responds that perhaps they should refer to him as "Divine Westley."

The plot also highlights Westley's Christ-like characteristics.  He defeats the three kidnappers in the wilderness, similar to Jesus' defeat of Satan's three temptations in the desert.  Westley suffers greatly defending Buttercup from the dangers of the Fire Swamp.  He even dies and is resurrected.

Westley converts his enemies into his friends.  He rescues his bride and lives with her happily ever after (if you believe in that sort of thing, which Goldman says he does not).

Yet there is one piece of the puzzle that is missing from the film that the book highlights.  When Westley has rescued Buttercup from the kidnappers, risked life and limb to be with her, she betrays him.  As they are exiting the Fire Swamp the two lovers are surrounded by Humperdinck and his men.  When ordered to stand down and release the princess bride, Westley shows that he would rather die than be separated from her again.

Buttercup does not agree.  She asks Humperdinck to spare Westley's life if she agrees to go away and marry the prince of Florin.  Westley is dumbfounded.  The film makes it appear as if Buttercup merely wants to save Westley's life, that she could not stand the thought of him dying again.

Their exchange in the book, however, is telling:

          "'The truth,' said Westley, 'is that you would rather live with your Prince than die with your love.'
          'I would rather live than die, I admit it.'
          'We are talking of love, madam.'  There was a long pause.  Then Buttercup said it:
          'I can live without love.'
          And with that she left Westley alone."

She betrays him.  He is her true love.  He has overcome the odds, risked his flesh and bone, to be with her.  And she simply leaves him behind to save her own skin.

It was this betrayal that cemented it for me, that there is a Gospel message buried in this story, intentional or not.  Buttercup's betrayal hit too close to home, for this is what sinners like us do to Christ.  We betray Him to get what we think will be better, but it won't.

Of course Humperdinck finks on his promise and has Westley confined, tortured, and eventually killed.  But after his resurrection Westley still loves Buttercup, and he comes for her again.  He storms the castle with the help of his new friends, finds Buttercup, and whisks her away.

According to Goldman, Morgenstern's original ends with Westley, Buttercup, and their two friends riding off with Humperdinck in hot pursuit.  Yet the reader is given hope by what Westley promises to Buttercup near the end of the story:

          "'It appears to me as if we're doomed, then,' Buttercup said.
          Westley looked at her.  'Doomed, madam?'
          'To be together.  Until one of us dies.'
          'I've done that already, and I haven't the slightest intention of ever doing it again,' Westley said."

A perfect and divine Lover who is forgotten when he appears to be gone for quite some time, who overcomes great obstacles to be with his Beloved, who is betrayed by her, tortured, murdered, and resurrected, who rescues her from an evil prince, who promises to never die again; that sounds like a Christ-figure to me.  Perhaps it is one worth exploring with other like-minded individuals.

It's also a great excuse to watch a great film and read a great book one more time.

The Princess Bride; Goldman, William.  Ballantine Books, New York.  1973.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++      

  


Thursday, July 3, 2014

"The Agonie"



Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love in that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

--George Herbert

++++++++++++++++++++++

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cross and Reward



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To have faith in Jesus Christ is to bear a cross.  To believe in Him as the Son of God, to confess Him as Lord, to trust that He alone can save us from the just wrath of God in heaven, is to strap those two splintery, wooden beams to our backs and carry them to the point of death.

                We often miss that when we read passages like Matthew 10, but we need to be reminded of it.  The cross is not merely an instrument of suffering, although that is certainly included.  The cross is an instrument of death.  People die on crosses.  That is their entire purpose.

                So, to have faith in Jesus Christ is to die.  It is to die toward anything that would compete within us for our love, trust, and fear of Him.  And in Matthew 10 Jesus tells us what a few of those things are.

                Faith in Jesus entails that we die to our families.  It means that we place our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, parents and grandchildren in a subordinate position to Jesus.  Christ is number one.  I might love my family more than I love myself, but I am not permitted to love them more than God, nor God’s Son.

                A professor in college shared the story of her relationship with her orthodox Jewish family after her own conversion from Judaism to Lutheranism.  She left the faith of her ancestors for the conviction that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

                And her uncle, an orthodox rabbi, wanted her parents to declare her legally dead.  Can you imagine what risk she took, what pain she went through in conversion?  There was the possibility that her family would never, literally never, speak to her again.

                Thankfully her parents did not go through with it.  Rather, they gave her a set of rules.  She may come into their home for visits, but she must never speak of her Christian faith.  She must leave Jesus at the front door.

                So what does she do?  She brings it up anyway.  Her mother cries and her father gets angry, storming out of the room.  But she brings Jesus with her, and shares His Gospel with the family, even though it causes great strife.  She bears her cross.  She dies to family.

                Are we that bold in our own homes?  Do we dare to look an apathetic spouse in the eye and challenge them to attend worship services?  Do we have the guts to call our adult children and remind them that Jesus is calling them to repentance, even though they have rejected the faith?  Will we risk making Thanksgiving dinner a bit awkward this year by bringing up the unmentionables of the one true religion?   

Do we have the faith to believe that even if our families were to get angry, even if they were to reject us as arrogant or judgmental or out of touch, Jesus would be enough, He would provide for all our needs of body and soul?

                Family is a great blessing.  But Jesus comes first.  

                Taking up the cross, following Jesus, means dying to ourselves.  We all have wants, desires, plans, and dreams.  We have hopes and fears, some small and others large.  But these also must submit to Christ.  He must be the driving force behind our agenda, not our own whims.

                The personal decisions that we make regarding what we will do with our time, how we will spend our money, to what sort of education we will subject our children, must first go through the test: what does Jesus call me to be, to do.  

The Christian dies to self.  You may have great dreams, good hopes and desires.  But Jesus comes first.

The Christian dies to sin.  We take up the cross and follow Jesus all the way to Calvary where we sacrifice, not our money or food or animals, but our sinful nature, our evil, our idolatry and self-centeredness.  

Today we come to the cross of Jesus.  Hold nothing back.  Have you died to your family, or do you fear losing them more than losing Jesus?  Have you died to yourself, or are you keep back a few private pleasures that you are just not ready to sacrifice?

It is time.  It is time to lay them all down, to drop them here and let them die, along with the guilt and shame that comes along with displeasing and dishonoring a God who loves you more than anything.

But how dare He?  How dare Jesus demand that we die to our families, our precious loved ones?  What gives Him the right to supplant our hopes and dreams, to tell us that a goal is unworthy?  Who does He think He is saying that all sin must die?  Why can’t I keep just the little ones that don’t hurt anyone else?

It is not as if Jesus ever had to die to His family, die to His dreams, die to sin.  Jesus never had to bear the cross!

Oh yeah, I guess He did.  Jesus bore a cross that you and I cannot possibly imagine.  He did not simply die to His own sin, but bore the sins of the world upon His shoulders.  He died with your sin and mine.

Jesus died to His own hopes and dreams.  We see that most clearly as drops of blood fall to the ground and He prays, “Father, not my will, but Yours be done.”

Jesus died to His family.  He left His mother Mary at the cross in the care of a disciple.  But worse than that, Jesus died forsaken by His Father in Heaven.  He died in a way that you or I will never have to face: alone, without God’s mercy.

Jesus took up this cross so that we would not have to.  He bore this burden in our place.  He died to family, to self, to sin, for you.  

Lay down your sins, die to them.  And take up your reward.

Jesus warns that those carrying and those receiving the Gospel will face hardship.  They will have to sacrifice strong family ties, personal wishes, and favored sins.  They will die to family, self, and sin.

But with the cross also comes the reward.  Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives Him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet, a righteous person, a little one, will by no means lose his reward.  

The reward of faith, when one has died, is to rise.  With His cross Jesus earns our reward.  With His resurrection He begins to distribute it.  And at Pentecost Jesus launches a worldwide initiative to bring that reward to all people.

The reward that we are given—the reward that is unearned, yet ours by grace—is that all sin and all guilt and all shame has been crucified with Christ.  Jesus has crucified our evil desires.  He has sacrificed our sins.  Jesus was put to death, and He took our death with Him.

The reward of faith, then, is forgiveness for all the things we have put before Christ.  But not merely forgiveness—it is forgiveness toward an end, forgiveness with a purpose.  It brings with it life and salvation.  It brings resurrection from death, a concrete eternity with Jesus and all the others who bore the cross, died to sin, and received their reward. 

The desires and hopes that cannot be fulfilled in this world will be completely surpassed in the world to come.  There you will learn to desire what is good, to desire all that God gives, and you will have it filled up and overflowing.

The family that is united in Christ, though it be through much struggle, is the family that is together forever.  Nothing, not even the grave, can tear them apart when He is their glue.  Peace sacrificed here will result in peace together with Jesus forever and ever.

To be filled with faith by the Holy Spirit is to bear a cross.  It means death to family, death to self, death to sin.  But the reward is far greater.  Like Job before us we shall receive back far more than what has been lost.

The reward of faith, given from God’s hand as a gift, is worth the cross.  Jesus Christ has crucified our sin and evil with Him so that He might reward us beyond anything we could ever hope to attain.  The reward of faith is this: we are forgiven and death is undone.  

(Photograph from bigfoto.com)