Let’s talk about sloth, predestination, and other heavy things

Lutherans aren’t big on the seven deadly sins. Maybe it’s the potlucks and gluttony.  Still, this might be the age of sloth.  Someone told me we have the wrong idea about it. Sloth isn’t just too much Netflix and not enough exercise.  It isn’t laziness.  Sloth is giving up. It is the absence of hope. Joy. Life.

The “laziness” is becoming discouraged by difficulty because we don’t think we can overcome it.  Underneath all of it is hopelessness.  Depression. It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t fix it. I can’t change it. I can’t reverse it. My choices don’t matter. So why bother?

But let’s be honest. Sloth doesn’t struggle to diagnose the problem. It just can’t find the solution.  So, it’s given up.  The world has plenty of treatments.  Hey, I know you’re depressed, but go do stuff. Exercise. Socialize. Medicate. Find a hobby. I dunno, maybe get a kitten?  Fake it till you make it.  All, except the cat, are good ideas.  Dogs are better.  But fake it till you make it only highlights the problem. We still feel pretty hopeless.

Christians have adopted the same strategies. I’m guilty of it too.  We say something that sounds inspiring at the time, but basically boils down to “Rub some Jesus on it. Walk it off.” Be diligent. Make good choices.  Do stuff.  Hope more.  There is a correlation between activity and hope.  Those who exercise do feel better, but we aren’t as good at working our way from activity to hope as we think.  One little roadblock can wreck it all. Rather, hope works our way to activity.

An object at rest stays at rest.  God didn’t give you free will.  Sorry.  He isn’t waiting for you to make the choice to live.  “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. (Small Catechism, 3rd article)”.  “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1–5)”.  If this thing starts, it starts with God, not you.

We don’t like that, because free will seems like the medicine for sloth.  The idea that God has already determined everything feels like a crutch.  If God has determined everything, and we can’t change the hour we die, the path of the universe, or anything else that matters, why bother? Might as well stop taking care of myself. I can’t change it anyway.

We hate the idea we’re not in charge.  We hate the idea we might not have free will, even if we don’t know what to do with it, and sloth takes over.  We say “If we don’t have free will we’re basically robots.  Are you saying God made me put on my red shirt today?”  We get bogged down in the silliest of things.

God didn’t choose what shirt you put on today, even if He all-knowingly knew it. You wore red because it’s game day.  God didn’t choose for you to sin either. Ever.  You can know it, because of the Thou Shalt Nots of the law.  Your sin hurts others. He doesn’t want that.  He wants your neighbors cared for. That’s why He gave them you.  The choices you make here matter to the world around you. The choices you make have consequences.  That’s what’s so terrifying.

Instead of free will, what if we called it free desire? Are you free to desire the things of God? Are you free to hope? The sloth we can’t seem to shake is evidence that we are not. You are not free to hope in God on your own.  I cannot by my own reason or strength.  You are dead in your sins.  Dead folks don’t make choices.  Sin binds the will and the conscience alike.

Rather than starting with ourselves and our situations, let’s start with our God.  Did He rise from the dead?  Did He name you holy and worthy of love in your baptism?  Has He tied you to the victory over everything you fear in the resurrection?  Start there, with the words and promises of God.  The Holy Spirit delivers hope.  Faith.  Life.  He has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified the whole church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. (Small Catechism, 3rd article).

You are what He has made you to be. Alive in Christ.  When you don’t feel it, turn to Him who gives it and hear it again. Maybe hear it daily. Maybe cross yourself as a remembrance of the baptism where He delivered it to you.  First thing in the morning. Last thing before bed.  Your identity is not the sum of what you do or don’t do.  You are baptized.

What if I fail? You might. Can your failure put Christ back in the tomb? Make you unworthy of love? If not, build.  Not for you. For your neighbor.

What if I can’t make myself stop feeling sloth? You can’t. Not by your own reason or strength. So hear the promise. Then stop staring at your own belly button and look to Christ who has conquered your entropy and sin. He is risen even from the grave.

Let’s talk about sloth, predestination, and other heavy things

Pray based on who God is

People are brought to prayer out of need.  When we’re knocked to our knees, prayer seems like the thing to do no matter how devout you are.  Even agnostics are willing to roll the dice.  We go to God in need.  In the Large Catechism, Luther says it is this earnestness that makes true prayer.

Still, when we pray focusing chiefly on what we want, prayer takes some dark turns.  The more I need something, the less picky I am about where it comes from. Those really serious prayers? Cure him.  Fix this. Make them love each other again.  I’ll take answers to those from some awful ungodly places.  It’s not just the idolatry of it all, but it’s who I’m willing to see hurt in order to see mine taken care of.  That’s the thing about super villains.  It usually isn’t that they want to see others hurt.  It’s just that they want something else even more.  So they mutter something about making omelets while they destroy the world to get what they want.   Would I steal to feed my starving family? Yep, but that doesn’t make stealing good. My daily bread is supposed to come from God, not at the expense of someone else starving.

But even when we look only to God for help, when the answer to our prayer is all we have in mind, it still leaves God looking like the bad guy.  Prayer becomes oppositional.  God has it. I need it. How do I get it? All the while I’ll wonder about why He hasn’t already given it to me.  Is there a plan? Because He’s not telling me what it is, and I’m scared.  Is He not paying attention, lazy, or just not a good God?  I better pray a lot, and really mean it this time to convince Him to actually help me.  If that doesn’t work, I better get lots of other people to pray for me too.  I’ll ask strangers on Facebook for prayers with the assumption they love me more than God does, because they’re willing to take 2 seconds to throw up a prayer, but the God who could fix this with just a word doesn’t seem willing.  Let’s pester Him or wrestle Him or outnumber Him into actually being a good God.  Really?  You can trust in the power of prayer all you want to, but if you trust prayer more than you trust God to love you in the first place, it says more about you than the God you’re afraid isn’t answering.

We go to God in need, and sometimes that need becomes our idol.  Our everything.  The thing we fear, love, and trust in above all things.  So much so that we forget who our God is in the first place.  So we aren’t taught to pray based on what we need, but based on who God is.  When Jesus teaches us to pray, He doesn’t say start with what you need, but start like this: Our Father who art in heaven.  With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

 Pray based on the character of God.  Pray based on the apostle’s creed. Pray based on the God who would not just create us, but come into our world broken by our sin and suffer our wants and our ills and our death upon a cross, only to conquer sin, death, and the power of the devil and rise again.  Pray based on the God who is present in the Holy Christian church, who doesn’t just sit in heaven and drop prizes down to the kids who get enough shares on some facebook prayer chain, but bears with us in this world and carries us to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Pray based on the God who is present in His word and sacraments to help and save, to tie us to something bigger than ourselves and our current want.  Because prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind.  It isn’t about getting stuff from God.  Prayer is about comfort.  Comfort that God is not far away.  He does care. And He has already answered.

You pray to the God who would not abandon you, but would die for you and conquer what we thought was undefeatable.  Death is destroyed.  In the resurrection, cancer has claimed 0 victims.  Wade through broken relationships all you want, the cross speaks forgiveness louder.  You have a Father in heaven who actually loves you.

Prayer is a reminder of who Your God is.  It is a recounting of all the ways He has helped, is now helping, and will continue to do so.  Prayer tunes us into the idea that God actually loves us, so we have something to hang on to in the face of losing so much else. The Small Catechism shows the Lord’s Prayer to be a retelling of God’s own promises, and a remembrance of where the answers are given.  It shows prayer isn’t a burden, but a gift.  We pray to the God who actually loves us.

Sometimes He says yes.  Sometimes He doesn’t.  But He is our Father, and we are His children, and God takes care of His kids.  Maybe when I tell my own children “no” it isn’t out of malice, laziness, or incompetence, but something else. Maybe when I say it, it breaks my heart too, but I love them too much to subject them to what they’re asking for, or what having it all the time would turn them into.  Maybe if I can manage that, the God who’s much smarter and much less evil can do way better.  And maybe God doesn’t need all the things we think He does to get us through this life.

I won’t pretend to know why He hasn’t healed the people closest to you.  But I do know that He’s already conquered death and given us that life in the very baptism that made us His children in the first place.  God’s will is life, and if He has to work it in the face of death, He will.  God’s will is to care for you, and He’ll get you through with or without the stuff we think we need.  God’s will is done even without our prayer, the comfort is that God’s will is actually good, and God’s will is even now done among us also.   Not just that it will be done someday in heaven after we don’t need help anymore, but that He works even here and now among us also.  We pray based on the character of God so that we would have this comfort in the face of need.  Because as great as my need is, my God is greater. We have a Father in heaven who loves us.

Pray based on who God is

We’re embarrassed by Pentecost

The church today largely sees itself as post-Jesus, and we’re deeply embarrassed about it. There is no bearded guy in a bathrobe healing sick people or turning water into wine. The older generation insists on singing songs about Him walking with us and talking with us, but we’ve never seen it. We just wish we had and we’re trying to convince ourselves He’s there and we can totally feel it. Most of us can’t, though a lot claim to. If you really equate a tingly feeling to the God who took flesh to heal lepers, your standards are too low. You should expect more from God. His word demands it.

The Bible talks about miracles and a Jesus who says ”I will not leave you as orphans (John 14:18)”but then ascends into heaven and we haven’t seen Him since. We’re getting so desperate a funny shaped potato chip is close enough…as long as we squint. We just want to know God’s there, but we can’t shake the feeling we’re on our own in a post-Jesus church.

We’ve tried to rebrand ourselves. “The church of Jesus lite: it’s not like you really have a better option.” It comes with catchy tweets. Jesus didn’t charge a copay to heal lepers. Of course…we can’t heal anyone at all, but it fits an agenda. Roll with it.

Charity is good. You should love your neighbor, but if you think you’re only doing it because God isn’t, it’s hard to maintain the concept of a loving God. The post-Jesus church still talks a lot about Jesus, but it’s about as satisfying as talking about a cheeseburger when you’re hungry. If anything, it makes the problem worse.

Even as Christ gets ready to begin the passion that would end in His ascension, even as He promises not to leave us as orphans, He says something else. Something important. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16–17)

1460141451232.jpgPentecost. The sending of the Holy Spirit. The great miracle where God spoke to all nations at once through His apostles as tongues of fire danced on their heads. I’m not sure it was all that impressive, though. Most people just thought they were day-drunk at 9am.

Still, God worked. In the waters of baptism, He carved 3000 souls out of the city that kills its prophets and stones those sent to it. God hasn’t abandoned His church. If anything, He’s closer to it. Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit, at work wherever God’s word and sacraments are given to sinners.

The problem with the post-Jesus church is that it assumes God has given up on the physical world. He hasn’t. Pentecost means we’re not the post-Jesus church. The Holy Spirit works here. He brings Jesus to you. He doesn’t walk with you or talk with you. He sits on your altar under bread and wine because feelings come and feelings go, but to commune is to live with Him forever. Don’t lower your standards to a Jesus shaped potato chip or a tingly feeling that only exists until the next bad thing happens. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper, where God lives up to His promise to strengthen, forgive, nourish, and save no matter how bad things look.  He conquered death. He’s here for you to carry you through whatever’s killing you.

God cares about this place enough to fix it. He loves you so much that He was willing to die and rise to forgive your sins, and that love means He refuses to be far away from you now. The church isn’t the place where we talk about Jesus. The church is where Jesus insists on being truly present for you. Don’t be embarrassed by Pentecost. Rejoice, because Pentecost means you can know God is here for you.

We’re embarrassed by Pentecost

pray because God says so.

When I was 16, I swore to myself I would never be the kind of parent that says “because I said so”. Then I tried to argue with a 3-year-old about how to use a public toilet. Reason sometimes fails. “Don’t touch that. Get off the floor. Because I said so.” 16-year-old me was very disappointed.

One reason God gives us His law is because sin makes us stupid. 10 commandments. Thou shalt not, because sin always breaks stuff. Sometimes you see the damage because it’s right in front of you and unavoidable. Sometimes you don’t, because the damage was passed on to someone else to carry in secret. Either way, sin is illogical, destructive, and always seems like a great idea at the time. Reason sometimes fails.

So God commands us to do what is not just good, but profitable. The law is a light to our path. Prayer makes the list by the 2nd commandment. He commands us to pray in the same way He commands us to obey our parents and not murder each other. Life goes better that way. God works through these things, even when sinners are involved. God calls us to obey parents, even when they’re sinners, because He works through them. He calls us not to hurt or harm each other. We still do. It always seems like a great idea to fight at the time. Still, it almost never works out. But God’s commands are coupled with promises. He is at work behind the scenes within our families and communities, even the ones broken by sin.

He commands you to pray and attaches a promise to it. Call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Because He works there too. We need to be reminded that God’s name is profitably employed, even by sinners. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes, “the human heart is by nature so despondent that it always flees from God and imagines that He does not wish or desire our prayer, because we are sinners and have merited nothing but wrath.”

My dog hides in the basement when she does something wrong. Adam and Eve hid in the bushes from God after eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jonah hid in the bottom of the boat because He didn’t want to go to Nineveh. We usually aren’t so dramatic. Still, we shrink back from God. It’s hard to come to worship when we feel like trash. We don’t want to kneel before Him in the Sacrament when we can’t put aside anger and shame. It’s hard to pray to God when we don’t feel worthy.

That’s why God commands you to pray. It’s not about how you feel, it’s about His command. You. Sinner. Pray. God loves you so much He calls you out of your despair and tells you to pray this way. “Our Father who art in heaven”, because you have a Father who loves you no matter what you’ve done. You are not known by your sins, but by your baptism, through which God has adopted you as His own.

God commands you to do what’s good for you, not because He likes making you dance to a song you hate, but because it’s healthy for you. Maybe you don’t understand it. That’s ok. Maybe God’s smarter than you. I kind of hope so. Maybe I know what I’m talking about when I don’t want my kids to sit on the floor of the bathroom at the gas station. Maybe because I said so was never about winning a fight, but helping sinners who can’t help themselves, which is sort of our religion anyway.

pray because God says so.

Love fills in the cracks

Jesus rose with holes in His hands. If He really did conquer death, why does He still wear its scars? If God loves me enough to die for me, why aren’t things better? Because we’re all carrying the same scars Easter Sunday as we did on Good Friday. It feels like there’s some things even the resurrection from the dead can’t fix.

I spend a lot of time imagining the perfect life. Except, for all the hours wasted daydreaming, most of the time these fantasies lack clarity in the background. The only things in focus are the places I’ve imagined over my scars. I can imagine a better job, but the day to day stuff is blurry. The only thing I’m sure about is that it doesn’t involve the things I hate here. I can imagine a perfect group of friends and us having fun somewhere, but the only thing I’m sure about is that I’m not insecure there. I’ll tell you how my perfect family turns out, but the story always gets hung up on making sure everyone’s clear I don’t have the problems I do now. The rest fades into the background. It’s all some variation of the same. What if I didn’t have scars? When every last dish in your kitchen is broken, what do you do but wish them whole while you eat off the floor? But I guarantee you’re thinking more about the plates than the food you’d be eating on them.

I’ll tell you a secret. Everyone loves the idea of perfection, but nobody actually knows what to do with it. Even when it comes to God. We can only deal with a being so perfect one of two ways. First, define Him by what He is not. He is not messed up the way we are. He is not like the things we hate. Ignore your own biases and prejudices for a second, because they’ll cloud your imagination more than you want to admit, just try to describe an elephant by only talking about what it isn’t. Second, God can be known in the stuff He would give us. Except, a God who is no bigger than your Amazon wishlist and a sitcom troupe for a job and family isn’t that impressive.

God had to become man before we could deal with Him at all. Nobody comes to the Father except through Me, says the Jesus who will carry our scars through the grave and back out. Want to know God? Look to Jesus. He is risen with holes in His hands.

You have a God who would rather be with us and bear our scars than live in a perfect world without us. So He redeemed us. He paid for every sin that lead to our scars by bearing them Himself. He was crucified for you and He is risen, scars and all.

Imagine a life with no broken dishes and no scars all you want, God only wants to sit on the floor and eat with you. That’s called love. It changes how we deal with scars and broken dishes and everything else we try so hard to imagine away. It even changes how we deal with each other.

Peter says keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. A few verses later, he tells us not to be surprised at fiery trial, but rejoice as we share in Christ’s sufferings, that we may also rejoice and be glad as His glory is revealed.

We have this idea true beauty can only exist where there’s nothing ugly to pollute it. If the only life worth living is a perfect one, there’s no room left for love. Love means there’s a lotta beauty down in the pit. Love is what covers sins, fills in the cracks, and leaves the piece unique and beautiful. I’d rather have love than not need it because everything’s so perfect. Keep your mass produced stuff.

I’ll still have scars, and talking about them romantically won’t make them beautiful. The holes in Christ’s hand will always be a shock, but to Thomas, they’re a joy. God died for us, and that’s enough to cover sin. As much as I manage to hate myself and my situation, God gave me people that love me more. They embody His love for me, even if they don’t do it perfectly because of their own sin. He gave me His gifts of Word and Sacrament to cover my own sin and let me look in the mirror and see what God sees. I’m baptized. I’m holy. I’m someone worthy of love in the first place. Love has covered everything wrong, and that’s beautiful.

Love fills in the cracks

Jesus loves you when you’re wrong.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but people are wrong about things you care about deeply. Some are on Facebook. Some watch different news channels. Lately, we can’t all just get along.

We could take the opportunity to lament social media or the news that gets it wrong but it’s been done. It hasn’t helped. The real problem isn’t that someone on the internet is wrong. The problem is that we seem to think being wrong makes someone unworthy of love and compassion. This week it’s guns. New topic. Same venom. New song. Same dance.

I don’t know what, specifically, to do about guns, or even the people that turn them on children. I wish I did. I know what happened is evil and I want it to stop. I want it to never happen again. I know that everyone else wants the same thing. We all want the same thing so much that anyone who’s wrong about how to accomplish it seems to get grouped in with the enemy. On both sides. Read a few comment sections. How quickly does it turn from helping the helpless into winning an argument against the enemy?

Us vs. them. We actually assign bad motives to differences in opinion. I’ve read the “we’re for freedom to protect the free, and you must be for tyranny” posts. I’ve heard the “We’re for safety, and you must think dead kids are less important than the right to bump stocks” lecture. Neither are fair. But it isn’t about fair anymore. It’s about winning now.

We make this thing someone’s wrong about into their whole identity and then hate them for it. Call them a lib or a racist or a bigot. One dimensional enemies are the easiest to attack. There’s no nuance, so just dismiss them entirely. They are no better than their worst opinion. Why bother to see what they mean or where they’re coming from? Then get really hurt when it happens to you too. After all, if people really loved you, they’d agree with you all the time, right?

This isn’t about letting go of the issues and playing nice. We ought to fight for what’s important. We ought to strive to see our neighbors, especially the least of these, cared for.

Christianity isn’t actually a call to be kind and get along with people. Love isn’t an affirmation of sin, but a sacrifice to forgive it. Christianity isn’t a call to turn the other cheek and ignore wrong, but to see sin as already punished, and enemies as those already reconciled to God.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)

Christianity is the hope to be close to the cross of Christ, where He suffered for sinners. We turn the other cheek because we’d rather suffer for sinners than call down wrath upon them. Christianity is the trust that because Christ rose from the dead, we’re actually made holy by His sacrifice for us. We’re not known by our sins, but by our savior.

Jesus didn’t die for those who were on the right side of the argument. He died for enemies. The wicked and the unbelievers. The sinners. You, and whoever you’re arguing with both. Jesus even loves you when you’re wrong. So much that He doesn’t dangle salvation to one political party or another, but to every last sinner in the world. To the victims and the monsters, to the right and to the wrong. We were all enemies of God, reconciled by His death, and united in His mercy. He calls us to love, not by ignoring sin, but by forgiving it and striving to help each other as we were first helped.

This lets us look deeper than the sins, anger, and pain on the surface. Christ did. He saw you as worthy of love even when you were an enemy of God. Your sin merited death. So He died for you. You’re holy now. Not by your works, but by His sacrifice.

Hold two ideas in your head at the same time. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong, but Jesus died even for people on the wrong side of your argument. You aren’t a Christian by being right about guns, but by being forgiven. The people you’re arguing with can be wrong and worthy of love and compassion, even when we can’t find a common solution to a problem.

We’ve got a lot to figure out. There is a right answer, even if I don’t know it. We need to do something. Just keep in mind it isn’t to win an argument. The other side isn’t the enemy, death is. But Christ has conquered even that.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)

Jesus loves you when you’re wrong.

The Father isn’t fair.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  It would be easier to stop there.  We’re here now. Let’s make the most of it.  The thing is, if God made us in 6 days, but knew all along we’d rebel against Him, fall into sin, and drag His entire creation down with us…why would He do it in the first place? Why make us if He knew all this would happen?

Love.  Love needs an object. God is love, and that has consequence.  He made us in order to care for us.  That only raises harder questions.

What does this mean?

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.

All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

Pick out the most important part of the explanation.  It’s hard to miss the giant list of stuff we’re supposed to have.  It would probably be the things in that list we want most.  It most certainly is the couple of things in there I don’t have, but someone else does.  If there is a loving God, why does it look like this? It’s not fair.

Usually when we deal with God we try to measure His favor by how much stuff we have.  Usually we come up short of the full list, either the Catechism’s or our own. It’s easy to find someone who has more than me. It’s easy to find reasons that’s not fair.

Love isn’t about what’s fair. If you’ve changed “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” into “Come to me all who have their lives together and I will give you money”, there’s a reason your religion isn’t working.

The point of the article isn’t the list of things God gives you, it’s that He does it without any merit or worthiness in you.  It isn’t in the list, but the title.  I don’t believe in stuff.  I believe in the Father.  The Father isn’t fair.  That’s probably good. He loves you, and so He takes care of you as He knows best, without any merit or worthiness in you at all.

Claiming God can’t possibly be a loving God because He doesn’t give you everything you want is every bit as childish as a kid screaming in the store because his parents don’t buy him everything he wants.  It’s every bit as ridiculous as the kid going to school the next day and claiming his parents don’t love him or he’d have every toy and piece of candy he demanded.

Children of God isn’t a compliment, it’s a promise.  God loves you so much He insists on being your Father.  He loves you sinners without any merit or worthiness in you, and will take care of you as His own family.  Not because you’ve earned it. Not because it’s fair. Because He loves you.

This love doesn’t measure who earns. It just gives.  When sinners rebel against God and destroy the creation He loves, when they attack each other, the other kids who God loves, He’s allowed to be mad.  But this same love sends forth His only begotten Son to redeem you.  This same love would rather be in a world broken by sin with you than in a perfect heaven without you.  That isn’t fair, but it is good.

So He becomes your merit and worthiness. He sends His Son to redeem you, to earn not just your salvation, but even your care in this life by bearing all the same loss and suffering and death we fear so much. to bring you through it and unto life.  The Father sent the Son to die upon the cross that you may live.  And in doing so, He not only paid for your salvation, free from the damage sin does, but even paid for all that we need in this body and life, that He may dwell with us here until the day we finally see Him there.

I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  I believe I have a Father who loves me so much that He’d rather be here with me in misery than in heaven without me, even if He has to pay the price for me to get me there. The Father isn’t fair, but He is love.

The Father isn’t fair.

we need Advent knights for today’s dragons.

While everyone else sings It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year, Advent seems to be the season where stodgy Lutherans list off all the things we refuse to acknowledge. No, you’re not allowed to sing Christmas hymns yet. I don’t care if there’s a nativity outside the church. Stop. Whatever you do, don’t mention rotund men in crimson crushed velvet or animals with illuminated noses without a trigger warning for your pastor.

Christians always have a habit of holding myths and stories at arm’s length. It gets worse in December, even though the only people not excited for the new Star Wars movie are wrong. Just wrong.

It used to be we were a little nervous around wizards named Harry. Before that, it was lions named Aslan. Oddly enough, both tell very Christian stories about salvation through death and resurrection. I wonder if we’re just trying to keep a firm handle on reality because reality already seems so farfetched. Advent in its proper sense only highlights it. Advent is the season of the church year where we celebrate a God who shows up for His people. The problem is, He always seems to do it in farfetched ways.

A child born of a virgin? He said He was going to return in glory very soon…2000 years ago? You mean that’s actually the very same body and blood of the very same Jesus that died on the cross for me in that piece of cardboard you keep calling bread and the bottom shelf wine? It’s easy to doubt a God like that in a world like this.

That’s actually why CS Lewis gave us the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He said, “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

Despite all the pretty lights, the world already looks pretty dark. Jesus points it out to us. The Advent readings tell us about nations in distress and people fainting with foreboding over what the world is coming to. They tell us about John the Baptist, stuck in prison, shaken, afraid, and doubting whether or not he made a huge mistake throwing in with Jesus. They tell us of a Jesus who calls His people to lift up their heads. Be not afraid. He promises us our redemption draws near. But I don’t see it. It’s honestly as easy to dismiss as snowmen with magic hats and corncob pipes.

CS Lewis was right, but according to Jesus, he was too late. We already believe in dragons. The problem is we’ve forgotten how to believe in knights. All our heroes are tragic, our leaders are villains, and our idols are idolaters. Hold up a picture of someone famous and we’ll find commandments broken a lot more often than virtues to be lauded.

We’re holding out for a hero, but we’re afraid to talk about them in Christian circles because we know they aren’t real. Everyone’s a sinner. There is no Hogwarts. Lions don’t talk. I wonder if we’re afraid kids might accidentally lump Jesus in with the fiction section and accidentally throw Him out with the idea that fae creatures will trade US currency for your baby teeth.

It’s scary, but Advent isn’t the season to talk about less. It’s the season that acknowledges just how awful we sinners have made this world and lifts up our heads to a God who loves us so much He’s unwilling to stand back from us in our need. Advent rejoices in all the ways God comes to us to help, save, and comfort. Jolly old St. Nicolas of Myra will ear-punch anyone who says otherwise. Seriously. Advent is the season of knights and heroes.

Advent is for John the Baptist to make straight the way of the Lord so boldly it will land him in jail. John is a hero, even if he is a sinner who eats weird food. He is not the Christ, but there is one coming after him who is. He is the scaffolding that is removed when the building is completed. He prepares the way.

The Lamb of God is coming to take away the sin of the world. Jesus took flesh to save. He is the true knight, born of a virgin to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Son of God slays the old dragon by sacrificing Himself on the cross for you. Advent promises Christ will return to bring us out of this mess and into the glories of the life to come.

When people confused John for Jesus, he told them the truth. There is someone greater. There is a bigger picture. Tell stories of heroes, even if they are myths. Let them be scaffolding that holds up greater truths. There is a true hero, a crucified and risen knight who vanquished the devil. Let the heroes of myth fall away to show the truth of the savior.

Jesus says this world will pass away too. God will come again in glory on the last day. When he does, the scaffolding of this world will crumble and we will finally see what God was building all along. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. When God Advents, we see it.

Do we look foolish telling myths to our kids at home and then sitting them in front of a pulpit to hear Jesus preached to them? Only to a world that thinks He’s a myth too. Do it anyway. See them as shadows of a greater picture yet to be fully seen, and lift up your heads. Know that you have a hero who has already fought for you. He will come again to save you from a world falling apart. And even now, He’s here to rescue you. He comes in body and blood under bread and wine for you. Eat. Drink. Your redemption Advents. Your hero comes to save you.

we need Advent knights for today’s dragons.

there is no war on Christmas

The virgin birth has been a joke since God first told us about it. The Lord foretold it to Ahaz, a king so evil he could tell the average comic book supervillain to try harder. When he heard it, he just rolled his eyes. “Surely, I will not put the Lord to the test. I need no signs from you.”

It’s been the go-to one-liner ever since. If you ever want to roll your eyes just like Ahaz, just mention something about how Christians are dumb enough to believe in a religion that centers on a girl who got pregnant and lied about how it happened. It’s absurd how quick people are to impugn Mary’s dignity to preserve their own. They call her a liar and a whore so they can hide from guilt and keep doing what they do. That way they can tell themselves that there’s no God to judge them for their sins, and no reason to feel guilty. They’ll tell you that folks can still give gifts on Christmas. We can still spend time together. There better still be cookies, but they know better than to believe the virgin birth. “Surely, I will not put the Lord to the test. I need no signs from you.”

On the other hand, we believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is our Lord. We know the real reason for the season. But we’ve heard the same joke told so many times in so many ways that it gets under our skin.

That anger at those people who mock our beliefs mixes with the shame we hide deep down for secretly questioning the whole thing ourselves more than once. It mixes together into something all too familiar this time of year. This monster, mysteriously fully anger and yet fully shame, lets us feel better about the nice clean line we draw between us and them. It tells us we don’t have to empathize with anyone who doesn’t believe like us. It says we don’t have to care. This thing grows and feeds and tells us that anyone who doesn’t share our beliefs must be the enemy. Never mind that we wrestle with the same unbelief more often than we want to admit.

So we give this thing a name, The War On Christmas. The War on Christmas wakes up around Halloween and shambles out of its cave looking for arguments about mangers and Christmas carols. We’re so quick to go to War over Christmas that we’ll find a fight somewhere whether anyone’s actually upset or not.

You can argue over whose fault it is. You can smugly say “Merry Christmas” to anyone audacious enough to wish you happy holidays. You can paint anyone who doesn’t believe like you believe into a corner with Ahaz and Hitler and people who drive too slow in the passing lane, then write them off as less than you. But you should know God doesn’t. He has a different name for The War on Christmas. He just calls it sin. Then He reminds us what He does to sin. He forgives it. He reminds us that the virgin birth was for sinners.

The virgin birth was a sign for Ahaz. The Lord said to Ahaz, that evil king who probably would have liked that Starbucks cup with no snowflakes, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).” Immanuel means God with us. This God promised Ahaz, an evil, sinful, monster of a human being that He would love him and make His home with him. He would even be born Ahaz’s line and lineage.

Immanuel means God empathizes with sinners, even when sinners have a hard time with empathy. We don’t want to see our enemy as like us. We don’t want to feel as they feel. We don’t want to be the same kind of human they are. But all of this addressed by God who does empathize, who comes down from heaven to feel what we feel, to be the same kind of human we are. He is fully God, yet becomes fully man to know the weight of our War on Christmas, the anger, the fear, the shame, and to call it by its real name. Sin. Then He does something about it. This Immanuel was called Jesus, who would save His people from their sins.

So Jesus took the War on Christmas, and every other sin we have fancy names for, all the way to the cross and paid for them. It wasn’t with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that we sinners would be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

All of this language comes to a head on Christmas morning, for to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called, among other incredible things, the Prince of Peace. Christmas means The Prince of Peace is born. The Prince of Peace, laid in a manger, will usher in His Kingdom of Peace by His death and resurrection.

The Angels who sang of His birth to shepherds in the fields sang “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Peace. Your sin is died for, and so removed, as far as the east is from the west. This peace is for shepherds, and sinners, and Ahaz, and even you. There is no war on Christmas. Only Peace. Christ atoned for that sin and every other and removed it. You are forgiven. God is pleased with you. We live in His peace, finding forgiveness for our sins and comfort in the fact that God’s love is so powerful that it takes flesh and comes down to bear us sinners unto life everlasting.

As for Mary, Blessed is she among women. God knew what she would be called, and named her blessed for it. She is the butt of the joke that birthed salvation for us sinners. She is the Mother of God, the blessed Virgin, the Queen of Peace. This peace is as real as the God-child she bore and named Jesus. There is no more war on Christmas.

there is no war on Christmas

Don’t measure other people’s problems.

My job presupposes I’ll be with people on the worst day of their lives.  I’ve seen loss, suffering, and debilitation grind folks back into the dust they came from. I’ve seen heartlessness, ego, and selfishness demolish others until the mere thought of a tomorrow is more terrifying than the last great enemy. I’ve seen the wages of sin.  I guess I’m not that special. We’ve all seen that.

Then we categorize it.  Some bad days are worse than others.  We’re pretty good at ranking them.  Why can’t we stop playing an internal game of would you rather?  Abuse or abandonment?  Disappoint the ones you love or be disappointed?  Sometimes it’s a tough call.    Cancer or late to work? Losing a child or a boy who doesn’t like you back? Sometimes it’s not.

Still, as much as we think about each other’s problems, it doesn’t give us more compassion.  If anything, it gives us less. Some people’s problems just don’t seem like a big a deal. Sometimes our own seem insignificant.  It’s easy to decide some are just unimportant.  It won’t mean a thing in 100 years. It won’t even change your plans for the rest of the day. Someone else has it worse. It’s their own fault. Who really cares?

God does.  Every worst day ever can be traced back to something we call sin.  Sin breaks stuff. Adam’s sin broke creation.  Ours destroy ourselves and each other. Abuse, abandonment, disappointment.  All if it hurts someone.  The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our lord. Christ died for all the sins of the world. The ones you’ve done, and the ones done to you. The big ones and the ones that hardly register on our radar.  Each one was enough to bring God to a cross.  When you or anyone else is having the worst day of their life, it isn’t a contest. Don’t measure other people’s problems.  Measure the mercy God has toward them.

He thought what they’re going through is significant enough to do something about, whether or not it wins that dark game of would you rather. When you see someone you’re convinced is making a big deal out of nothing, hear their complaints for what they really are. Each one is a need for help, forgiveness, and peace answered by a merciful God who had compassion enough to bleed and die to save them.  God doesn’t only die for people sinned against. He even died for the sinners. Even when they’re in a mess they made themselves.  Sometimes I struggle to have compassion, but God doesn’t.  If you want to see the depth of His compassion look to the cross. No matter how big or small you think someone’s problem is, look to the cross in there you’ll see a God who loves them so much that he would die to save them from it. It’s something worthy of compassion.

That cross isn’t just the source of compassion.  It was the worst day of your life too, where God bore every sin that broke and ruined and destroyed. Every wage from Adam’s sin that bore death and disease and calamity.  There God called the worst day of your life finished. Conquered.  Defeated. We call it good Friday.  Jesus bore the worst day of your life into the grave and rose 3 days later victorious over it. Christ is risen.  The worst day of your life can’t change that fact. So commend it all to His care. He is faithful to comfort, to forgive.  To grant life that death cannot end.  To raise us up whole long after the sun has set on the worst day.  It doesn’t matter if someone else has it worse. It matters Christ saved us from it.

Don’t measure other people’s problems.