Election 2016 Commentary

Elections are intense, and they capture the attention of the whole nation. I kept a running commentary on Facebook of my thoughts on the whole process over the last 36 hours or so, but if you didn’t catch that, here it is in handy one-post form.


Monday, 11/7/2016, 9:52 PM: Tomorrow we elect an earthly ruler. Whether or not our country makes the “right” choice is a question for the historian. The theologian knows that the heavenly ruler remains, and that he is good. Rest at peace, my friends. Tomorrow is not such a big day after all.

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Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 7:21 AM: Went for a good hard run to start the day. Who knows, maybe we people of God will need our practice doing so. Thought about how Abraham, father of the promise, got his wife’s maidservant pregnant (at his wife’s insistence!), but then when his wife got pregnant, sent the maidservant and her child off into the desert to die. Scandalous! But Jesus still came.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 8:10 AM: Just cast my vote. It’s out of my hands now! Thinking about Abraham’s grandson Jacob, a guy so slick his name actually means “Deceiver.” But his uncle tricked him into marrying two women, and swindled 14 years of labor out of him for it. Scandalous! But Jesus still came.

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This might be favorite moment of the whole day.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 9:06 AM: What can get a whole group of nuns into a Lutheran Church? Voting! Thinking about how God used Moses to lead his people out of slavery, even though he killed a guy and ran away, and later on literally broke God’s Law – smashed the two tablets to bits because he was angry. Scandalous! But Jesus still came.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 11:10 AM: What if today doesn’t go “your way”? I’m not actually sure that any way it can go is all that great. But there are bigger things at work than political machinations. I was just thinking about Samson – blessed by God with super-strength, but he slept around, married a couple different women, and was brought low by a woman’s feminine wiles. Scandalous! But God used Samson, and Jesus still came.

 

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 1:51 PM: RealClearPolitics is currently predicting a Clinton win by only 6 electoral votes, while ElectionProjection is predicting a Clinton win by 20. But news sources are also saying that these results could swing wildly as the day progresses. My Facebook news feed is just SWIMMING in goofy memes and people wearing their “I Voted” stickers. I’m thinking about King David. Here’s a guy who had multiple wives, but took his friend’s wife to bed with him (while his friend was off at war) and got her pregnant. He tried to cover it up, but that didn’t work, so he had his friend killed. Scandalous! But God called David a “man after his own heart,” and Jesus came anyway.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 7:20 PM: Polls are closing along the east coast and reports are coming in with some kind of results. My computer is protesting the election by refusing to anything until I restart it, but the restart is going on 15 minutes so far. Whatever. I’m thinking of King Solomon, wisest guy who ever lived. Unless you count the 300 wives and 700 concubines. Scandalous! But Jesus came anyway.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 9:36 PM: Still too early to tell who’s going to win this thing, though stuff is starting to really list toward Trump. But lots of people are also talking about the really big upset, which is the change of Toblerone’s shape to include LESS CHOCOLATE! I’m thinking about a regional governor named Pontius Pilate, who could find no fault with a man called Jesus of Nazareth, but had him publicly tortured and put to death anyway, just to appease the crowds. Scandalous! But Jesus came anyway.

Wednesday, 11/9/2016, 6:59 AM: I went to bed still uncertain of the outcome, but with a prediction in mind. All night I dreamed various scenarios. I woke to the news that Donald Trump is our next president. I don’t know if this is good for America or not. I don’t know what I’d feel if they had gone the other way. What I do know is that the sun is rising, I still have breath in my lungs, and God is still good.

There have been many scandalous people in positions of power throughout history. It is no coincidence that the names most often associated with human horror were also people in government leadership. Such is the way of the world.

Yesterday I repeated the refrain “But Jesus came anyway,” but that’s not the most accurate way to phrase it. See, Jesus didn’t come in spite of scandalous human leaders. He came because of them. He came for them. And for us, with all our own scandalous sinful lives. Jesus came precisely because he alone can solve our problems, can remove our scandal, and can give us hope and a future.

Whatever you’re feeling this morning, whether anger, fear, triumph, gladness or sadness, set it aside for a moment. Rejoice that your good God reigns. Remember that Jesus came for this. And that Jesus is coming again to take us from this.

In the dairy barn

“Spend more than half an hour in a dairy barn and you can hardly smell it any more.”

Let me ask you: When was the last time you heard of a church pursuing “church discipline” (i.e., excommunication) for a matter that didn’t involve either sexual sin or church politics? Or when was the last time you heard of a case of church discipline for idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander or swindling?

I haven’t made any careful research on the matter, but based on just observation and recollection, it seems to me that the main reasons people come under church discipline is for one of two reasons:

  • Sexual/marital issues of some kind: divorce, cohabitation, adultery, homosexuality, or some other form of related issue.
  • Church Politics: not in the pejorative sense, but in the simple sense of whether or not a person is adhering to the church’s teaching, or if their church attendance shows faithfulness and a desire to maintain membership.

I’m not saying every case relates to one of those two things. I can think of one or two examples of those other things that I’ve heard of in my ten years of ministry. But the abundance of cases I’ve been aware of fall under one of my two bulleted categories. I’m not suggesting that those things should not be addressed. I would suggest – and I’m not alone in this – that this should be a warning sign to us.

I’m at a pastors’ retreat today. We have with us Professor Joel Fredrich, a New Testament scholar, and this morning we’ve had the opportunity to pick his brain on 1 Corinthians. Looking at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, one of the men here made the analogy I quoted at the opening, and he applied it especially to the sin of greed. Prof. Fredrich, following that trail, talked a bit about the American pursuit of wealth and material blessings, and asked when the last time any of us had heard of someone being put under church discipline because they were greedy. He concluded by stating, “This is what proves as much as anything that we are in the dairy barn, and we can’t smell what fresh air smells like.”

There are two big issues here:

  1. We obsess over sexual sins because we don’t understand sex. Every culture of every period has had issues with sex. Ours is no different. It sells us a view of sex that is the opposite direction from God’s intended purpose for it. Sadly, the church too often pushes back with an equally unBiblical view of sex, an attempt to force morality on a world that doesn’t want it. The problem is that morality isn’t the same thing as the Gospel. It’s like we say, “It stinks in this barn. If we put around a lot of air fresheners, that will fix the problem.” It is meaningless to fix someone’s sexual life without showing them the Gospel, and helping them see how beautifully the sexual relationship reflects the Gospel.
  2. We ignore the sins that are rooted in our national identity. As Americans, we are committed to the concept of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We can do what we want, say what we want, and pursue the life we want. Anyone who says otherwise is simply unAmerican. So we ignore it when we make an idol of our pleasures and entertainment, when we make a habit of gossip, and when we throw ourselves into acquiring everything the commercials tell us we can’t live without. We don’t just ignore it – we’re so steeped in it we don’t even smell that it stinks in here.

The results of this are likewise twofold: Christians appear to be hypocrites, only interested in denouncing sexual sins and blind to all other lovelessness; and worse, we don’t address these American sins adequately and souls are harmed because of it.

So what do we do about this? Start rooting out anyone who seems a little greedy and starting kicking them out of membership? Not the best solution.

Here’s what we can do:

Each of us can start with self examination, repentance, and trust in our forgiveness. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul says, “This is what some of you were.” How can I know if such a thing includes me? If I search my sinful heart, honestly and openly in the light of God’s Law, I’m not likely to come away saying, “No, actually, I’m doing pretty good here.” And in that state of repentance, I see how Paul finishes the verse: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This is forgiveness I can bask in, I can rest and relax knowing that I’m completely clean. This is fresh air I can breathe and remember what fresh air smells like.

We can live as the people of God. Just because I live and work in the barn doesn’t mean I have to love the smell. Knowing I’m forgiven for my sins of idolatry, greed, slander, and so on, why would I go back and revel in the dung heap? So much better to devote my heart to the God who saves, embrace contentment with all he’s given, and show his grace to others.

We can boldly and graciously confront all sin and call others to repentance. We do need to deal appropriately with sin, including those issues of a sexual/marital nature and church politics. But we also need to address all the other stuff, and we need to do so in the light of the grace we’ve been given. Then we’re not just living with the smell because we’re used to it, but actually finding a real solution to its cause.

The Power at Work in Us

I had the opportunity to present the chapel devotion at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School this week. These were the thoughts I shared:

I don’t know what Zacchaeus imagined was going to happen the day he climbed that tree to see Jesus. Did he expect that the experience of seeing this new rabbi would change him in some way, or was he just caught up in the idea of catching a glimpse of a celebrity? He certainly didn’t know he was going to be hosting Jesus in his home, and I don’t think he had any clue how much his life would change that day.

A woman caught in adultery in first century Judea would have no hope for the future. The most she could look forward to is a quick death. She certainly wouldn’t expect freedom and forgiveness. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to one woman, who was dragged out to be stoned to death, and then encountered Jesus. Where she imagined that he would, like every other religious person there, condemn her, instead he rebuked her accusers and offered her forgiveness and a new direction in life.

The mother in the little village of Nain, following her son’s corpse out to the graveyard, could not have imagined that her grief would turn to joy. At best she might have hoped that as Jesus walked up to her, he would show her some kindness and compassion. That within a few moments her son would be alive and well again would have been too great for her to hope for. Yet, when Jesus said to her, “Don’t cry,” he didn’t just mean, “It’ll turn out okay someday, so don’t be too sad.” He meant, “I’m about to take away any reason you have for tears as I prove that I am the Lord of Life.”

As these people – and so many more – encountered Jesus, they found that even the best they could hope for or imagine came short of what Jesus would do for them. His power at work in them was so much more than they anticipated.

Paul’s words that are our text for today talk about this, as he says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” What is the power he is referring to? To understand that, we have to back up a little. In the verses that comes before this, Paul writes a prayer to the church in Ephesus, and he says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” The power that is at work within us is the power of knowing the depth of Christ’s love for us, and knowing how he has shown us that love.

Paul was familiar with this power. He had lived it. Of course, there was the miraculous event in which Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, changing him from one opposed to Christ to a witness for Christ. He had been healed of blindness, saved from death a variety of times, and had multiple personal interactions with the risen Lord. But it wasn’t in those miraculous experiences that Paul saw the greatest demonstration of God’s power. It was in his grace. Paul wrote in Romans 1 that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” Paul, who saw himself as the worst of sinners, knew that he had been saved from death and given access into eternal life. To know the love of God in Christ was far beyond any earthly good for Paul.

And so he wraps up this prayer for the Ephesians by talking about the power of God’s love that is in Christ, and says that according to that power, all those who are in the church, from generation to generation, give glory to Jesus, the one who can do more than we ask or imagine.

That power is in you. Through faith in Jesus, given to you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, you know the love Christ. Maybe you know it because, like Zacchaeus, you’ve seen a change in the way you live, and the selfishness you used to hold on to has given way to love for God and love for others. Maybe you, like the woman caught in adultery, have known what it’s like to be caught in a sin and afraid of the punishment to come, only to experience grace and forgiveness and release. Maybe you’re like the woman in Nain, and at some point you couldn’t see beyond grief and sadness, but God turned things around and showed you a joyful future. Maybe you’re like Paul, fully aware of your sin, fully aware of your need for forgiveness, feeling like there is no one who has fallen as far as you have – yet you know that at your lowest, Jesus is there with his forgiveness and peace, and you know that you have been saved.

However that power has shown itself in your life, you can trust that it will continue to show itself again and again in your life, in ways you would never ask or imagine. I can’t tell you what that will look like; only God knows how he’s going to prove his grace to you. But he will do it, and he will do so for his own glory, that through your life his glory will be revealed.

And maybe right now you’re in a place where it’s hard to see it. Maybe there’s a sin that has you feeling trapped, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape it. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find freedom. Maybe your future doesn’t look so great right now, maybe you’re afraid of what you see on the road ahead. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find strength and peace. Maybe you feel crushed by guilt and can’t imagine how anyone would forgive you, let alone a holy God. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find the assurance that his love is greater than any sin. Maybe you’re just struggling with spiritual apathy, unable to feel much of anything when it comes to your faith. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and be filled, and remember that whatever you feel, God’s love for you never changes.

Listen once more to the words of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and for you: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

“Because I live, you also will live.”

Christianity is more than just a philosophy or a way to live your life. The Gospel is more than simply a theory about the universe and humanity, or an idea to guide you in your actions. It is more than a set of values to live by. The Gospel is news – it is a report about a factual event, and all the implications that flow from the reality of that event. And at the center of that event is a man.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” – John 20:31

“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

I imagine that the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about. You can almost see them all huddled around him, listening closely, eyes intent, faces rapt in concentration… the concentration of those who are absolutely confused, but sure that something really important has just been said.

Maybe I’m being too hard on these guys. Then again, maybe not. Jesus has a few more things to say, about how he is in the Father and the Father is in him, about how keeping his commands is a way to show their love for him, about the Father’s love for them… but one of the disciples, a man named Judas – the other one, not the betrayer – is still stuck a few sentences back.

“But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus doesn’t really respond to the question. He keeps going on the same track he was on. It’s as though he realizes that his disciples are confused, but he has a thought to communicate, and he doesn’t want them bogged down in trying to understand something that’s going to become very clear in just a few days. He just wants them to be confident and to be at peace.

That’s the whole point. To have confidence and peace in him. Simply, he wants his disciples to believe him, and by believing have life in his name. Which is why, after explaining a little more about what is going to happen in the very near future, he says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Peace. Yes, that is a nice thing. You can see the smiles on their faces, the slight relaxing of the shoulders as their rabbi, their master, their friend, who has shown divine power and wisdom time and again says, “I give you peace.” But maybe there’s a slight lift of an eyebrow. Why would their hearts be troubled? Why would they be afraid?

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

“But wait,” you can almost hear them say, “Jesus, we do love you. We’re just really not sure why we should be glad that you’re going away, and we aren’t even really sure what all this means. We know you said something about dying and rising again, and we kinda figured that was supposed to be symbolic of something. But, Jesus… what exactly are you saying?”

“I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”

I’m sure the disciples still didn’t get it at that point. But I wonder how many times they thought back to this conversation after Jesus rose. After all the fear and trouble that would have gone through their hearts at seeing him die, in their joy at seeing him alive again, how many times did they think, “Ah, that’s what he meant! I see now! And I believe.”

That’s the effect of the resurrection. When we come to grips with the fact that the crucified and dead Jesus suddenly appeared alive – and not just alive, but whole and hale – we cannot honestly deny anything he has to say. We can only stand in awe and wonder. And peace.

Now, you can try and deny the resurrection. It’s a tall order; the evidence is stacked against you. Historically speaking, nothing that happened in the first century A.D., and for centuries since, makes any sense apart from the physical resurrection of Jesus. A fellow by the name of Adam Ford has a great webcomic that illustrates just this point. Go check it out. It’s good stuff.

Jesus told his disciples what would happen so that they would be able to testify, “This is what he said would happen, and now we believe.” Jesus appeared to his disciples so that they would be able to testify, “I saw him die, and then I saw him alive again.” He gave us their testimony so that, with them, we would believe. Believe that Jesus did truly rise from death. Believe that everything he said is true. Believe that he is who he says he is. Believe that what he has promised about our eternal future will come true.

“Because I live, you also will live.”

“It is Finished.”

Christianity is more than just a philosophy or a way to live your life. The Gospel is more than simply a theory about the universe and humanity, or an idea to guide you in your actions. It is more than a set of values to live by. The Gospel is news – it is a report about a factual event, and all the implications that flow from the reality of that event. And at the center of that event is a man.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” – John 20:31

Six hours had passed with Jesus hanging on the cross. Prior to that he’d gone through somewhere between nine and twelve hours of trial, abuse, beating, whippings, floggings. And he went through the greatest of all sufferings – complete abandonment of the loving presence of his Father, the God of heaven.

“Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30).

It is finished. A small phrase. A single word in the Greek text of the book of John. Tetelestai. Complete. Paid in full. Done forever. Accomplished.

It is finished.

Jesus had carried the weight of sin on his shoulders. The sinless Son of God had become the ultimate sinner on our behalf, and walked under the relentless gaze of his Father’s justice. He faced the unmitigated terror of earthly government and some of the worst forms of punishment it had ever devised. Finally, he had felt the burning, holy wrath of God poured out on him in all its terrible purity.

It is finished.

God’s anger was satisfied. Justice was met. The price had been paid. The power of sin was broken. Satan and all his demons disarmed forever. Mercy triumphed over judgment. Salvation had been won.

It is finished.

Those words of Jesus signaled that God’s great plan of salvation was complete, and that he had made the atonement needed to restore the relationship between God and man. That he had made atonement for me. That there is nothing I need to do to be right with God, because it is already done.

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection seals the truth of these words. Every man dies. But to say, “I’m going to die, and then I’m going to come back.” That was new. No one had done that before. No one has done it since. And by doing it, Jesus proved the truth of everything he said. Everything he said about me – that I am a sinner in desperate need of salvation, that God’s standard is perfection and that I don’t meet it, that I can only live by him – is true. Everything he said about himself – that he is the Son of God, that he is the prophesied Messiah, that he is the Savior from sin – is true. Everything he said about his death – that it brings release for the prisoners and healing for the sins of all – is true.

When he said, “It is finished,” it is true.

Because Jesus rose from the dead.

It is finished.

 

 

“This is my body. This is my blood.”

Christianity is more than just a philosophy or a way to live your life. The Gospel is more than simply a theory about the universe and humanity, or an idea to guide you in your actions. It is more than a set of values to live by. The Gospel is news – it is a report about a factual event, and all the implications that flow from the reality of that event. And at the center of that event is a man.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” – John 20:31

 

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem. Where the house was, why that room, and how that scene looked is something we will never know, and don’t need to. But on that night, Jesus gave his disciples – and us – a priceless treasure.

“As they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’” (Mark 14:22-24).

As the Gospel spread and more people came to faith in Jesus, those early Christians carried on their remembrance of this event, as Jesus had commanded his disciples. Paul wrote at length to the Christians in Corinth about the meaning of this meal, repeating the story and Jesus’ words, so that Christians for all ages would know that when they receive the Lord’s Supper, they are receiving Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins.

But this is unbelievable. It is, in the purest meaning of the word, incredible. When we eat the bread we are somehow also eating Jesus’ body? When we drink the wine we are also somehow drinking Jesus’ blood? Seems quite impossible. There’s no evidence. You can’t test the elements and find proof. There’s no logic. How can Jesus’ body and blood be given so many times to so many people in so many places?

Yet, there are his words. “This is my body. This is my blood.” Do I believe his words?

The foundational event at the center of Christianity is Jesus’ death and resurrection. If Jesus truly died, and if he truly rose to life again, then the implications are infinite. To explore just this one for now, if Jesus truly died and truly rose to life again, then it means that he is, as he said, the Son of God. If he truly died and rose again, then it means that there is nothing of which he is not capable. If Jesus truly died and rose again, then it means that whatever he says, no matter how incredible, is absolutely true.

If Jesus died and rose again, then it means that when I eat the bread and drink the cup, I receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins.

I believe Jesus died and rose again. Why? I could tell you about the empty tomb and the failure of Jesus’ enemies to produce a body or any evidence that he was still dead. I could tell you about the many witnesses who saw him alive again, and the fact they were willing to die for their testimony. I could tell you about the generations of archeologists who have tried to find proof that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax and have come up empty again and again and again.

But that’s not why I believe. I believe because a thing resounds when it rings true, and this truth echoes in all the empty places inside of me. A beggar doesn’t need proof that the bread that fills his empty stomach is truly food. To put it plainly, my soul needs Jesus, and when I hear these words, I know it, and I believe it.

And with it, I believe Jesus’ words. “This is my body. This is my blood.”