“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.”

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In Memory of God’s Servant

Grandpa 7

I want to tell you one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. His name was Elmer Steenbock, my grandfather. His story might sound similar to many of his generation – born and raised in the Midwest, fought and was wounded in WWII, married his highschool sweetheart, farmed for a time and then entered the ministry. After twenty five years as a parish pastor he retired to start a mission in eastern Russia, which he worked at over the next twenty years. He fathered seven children, and from them came twenty one grandchildren and twenty seven great-grandchildren. At the age of ninety, full of years, he passed away quietly in his sleep.

These are the facts of his biography, but they don’t tell you who he was. He was a man who knew full well his need for a Savior, who understood the forgiveness and grace he had received from God, and lived fully in the joy of that understanding. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I believe that Elmer had the as full a life as any man on earth can have.

I have a treasury overflowing with memories of time spent with him and his wife. Sitting on his lap as he drove the tractor around his hobby farm. Singing “Good morning to you” (to the tune of Happy Birthday) over and over again as my siblings and cousins came to the breakfast table, and many other Gospel songs. Helping him light he fire in the fireplace on a cold December evening. Getting scolded firmly for breaking a door latch inside his camper, but then later that same day being invited up to his lap while he read a devotion to the family.

Grandpa 2
Reading to his great-grandsons a book about pirates and potty training.

He had an abundant well of patient love for his grandchildren, a face inclined to smiling, and a pleasant laugh that he let loose freely. It was as natural as breathing for him to connect an event of the day or a news item to spiritual matters. He took his role of patriarch very seriously, always ready and eager to share a prayer or some thought about Scripture. He loved his ale, always had at least one or two cans in the evening, but never once did I see him drunk.

There was a year when I was young that we were selling our house to move to a newer one the next town over. Grandpa came and helped us paint the outside of the old house to help us make a good sale. I didn’t understand then what it meant for him to make that time commitment, but being in ministry now myself, I see now that it was no small thing. But this wasn’t an anomaly; I don’t know how many times over my childhood he and Grandma came to visit, but in my mind’s eye I can see his face smiling in the congregation during the Children’s Christmas program or year-end plays.

For being a pastor, when we visited he wasn’t busy over at church while the rest of the family spent time together. I remember him being around when we were there, and if I knew he went over to church, usually it was early in the morning before we’d get out of bed that I’d hear his truck pull out of the driveway. Yet, by breakfast time or soon after he’d be back.

I remember a conversation when I was teenager about one of my girlfriends. I’d been dating a Mormon girl, and I think he must have met her once or twice. I went down and visited Grandma and Grandpa, and sitting at the table at dinner he asked me about the relationship, how things were going, how the differences in beliefs were impacting the situation. He cared, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. That made it all the more precious when years later I was able to introduce him to the woman I now call my wife.

That particular trip, my wife and I were about to be married and we had just bought a car together – a ’93 Buick LeSabre. We drove it out to Washington to pick up some of my belongings and we decided to go down and visit my grandparents, especially since my mom’s mom had not met my bride-to-be yet. When we got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, the first thing he talked about was how proud he was of me for buying that Buick, how safe and solid a car it was and how much I’d enjoy having it. “This is a good car,” he kept saying, patting it with his knuckles, his face beaming. After he finished talking about the car, he got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Say, are you a thirsty guy? I bet you’d like a beer, wouldn’t you?” It was the first time I’d visited his house after I came of age. We went inside, had ale and dinner, and then the four of us did devotion together.

A few years ago I was preparing for our annual Premarriage Seminar, and I called him and asked him what he would say is the most important lesson about marriage that he would want to communicate to young couples. He and Grandma had just celebrated sixty three years together. He said, “Let me get back to you on that.” Later that evening he sent me an email with a one page document on forgiveness. He said that if a husband and wife can remember daily that they are forgiven in Jesus, and that if they would show Christ-like forgiveness to each other every day, that there is no more sure recipe for a lifelong and happy marriage.

Grandpa 1

The last time I spoke to him on the phone was about a year ago. He’d had a stroke, and dementia was starting to show itself. But as I talked with him and Grandma, told them about my family and my ministry, he kept repeating things like, “If you just keep speaking the Gospel, that’s what counts,” and “Just keep raising those kids to know Jesus, that’s the only thing that really matters.”

There is no better summary for Elmer’s life than that. “Know Jesus. That’s the only thing that really matters.” That was the core of his life, and it was evident by the peace, joy, and love that flowed out of him. I owe so much of who I am to him and his influence.

He passed away this week. As I write these words, I’m on the way to his funeral. I already miss him so much. But I have taken to heart the lessons he taught in life, and I know I’ll see him again. I know he has gone home, and I will join him there someday.

Thank you, Grandpa, for living your life to God’s glory, and for teaching me to do the same. I hope and pray I can do it even half as well as you.

Jesus is better than Islam – and here’s why

There are certain things I’m afraid of. Heights, clowns, and tornadoes top the list, alongside the more subtle things like harm coming to my wife or children when I’m not able to protect them. I’ve been known to get a bit nervous when I get a roller coaster, because I have these unshakable images of that being the one time the whole contraption is going to fall to pieces, right as I’m on it.

But on thing that simply does not scare me in the least is when someone decides to stop being a Christian.

I don’t mean I’m not concerned for their soul – I totally am! But I’m definitely not afraid that something is going to happen to the Church as a whole, that the entire system of faith is going to collapse, or that someone’s conversion away represents any other kind of danger to Christianity.

Continue reading “Jesus is better than Islam – and here’s why”

I don’t want to be a Contagious, Purpose Driven, Radical, Relevant Christian

I was on Amazon.com today just checking out something that did not involve spending any of my money. However, Amazon doesn’t know that, so it helpfully provided me with a whole list of recommended products based on things I’m interested in. Because I have a pretty solid list of theological books on my wishlist, Amazon likes to recommend me all manner of theological books.

I noted today that many in the list of recommendations were along the lines of “How to Become the Most Infectious Christian Possible!” and so on. I might be making that title up, but you no doubt are familiar with the sort of book: Focused on how you can break the mold of hum-drum-go-through-the-motions-Christianity and become a Super Disciple who makes waves!

There’s a lot of draw in those kind of books. We all want to have significance. We all want to feel like we’re doing something special with our lives. In the words of a musician I happen to like named Paul Coleman: “Inside all of us there’s this desire, we want to be the star. Deep down we all want people to look at us and say, ‘You rock!'”

So when a book promises to tell me how I can get that, it’s awfully attractive.

It’s also a lie.

Continue reading “I don’t want to be a Contagious, Purpose Driven, Radical, Relevant Christian”

Faith of Our Fathers

Tonight I listened to “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby with my wife and kids as we went about our evening. Has to be queued up at least once each Christmas season. It was a staple on the drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house back when my brother and sister and I would pile into the backseat and my parents would make the eight-hour trip from the Snoqualmie Valley to Coos Bay, Oregon.

Even though I know he was actually kinda short, I still picture a man eight feet tall, thin as a rail, with an adam’s apple like a golf ball.

Listening to it now brings back intense images of my grandparents’ house, their church (and especially that church basement where we spent so many Christmas days), the smell of woodsmoke from Grandpa’s chimney, the cold, clean salt breeze off the ocean, and the taste of Grandma’s krumkake.

Mmmm… krumkake…

Christmas in Coos Bay still holds a lot of meaning for me, though I haven’t been there for years.

The thing that stands out most in my memories is how much of Christmas revolved around Christ. Maybe that doesn’t sound very profound, or maybe that seems like exactly the thing a minister would say. But really, when you think about how inundated we are at this time of year with so many things to distract us from the simple message of the manger, I consider it a blessing that the most powerful Christmas memories I have focus on Jesus.

Continue reading “Faith of Our Fathers”

When Life Truly Isn’t Fair

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Suffering will come in some form, and you will search in vain for a reason why. You will not find some foolish action on your part that led to the suffering. You will not find yourself clinging in unrepentance to a sinful attitude or action where you could say the suffering is God’s wake up call. You might not be so foolish as to say, “I don’t deserve this!” because you know that for your sins you deserve far worse, but you might find yourself wondering, “If Christ took my sins and bore God’s wrath for me, then why am I going through this?”

A couple days ago I posted about how sometimes we face suffering because of our sinfulness, as a corrective, disciplining action from our loving God. But sometimes the suffering we face has nothing to do with our sin, except in sideways, sin-in-the-world-causes-suffering sort of way. What then?

Continue reading “When Life Truly Isn’t Fair”