Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Someone once told me that we are not scared of death. We are scared of dying—or at least the process of dying. Our bodies wear down. Illnesses come more frequently. Our dependence on others heightens, which may lead to some amount of discouragement. Having watched some relatives and acquaintances die, I am struck by how each one of them handled the anticipation. My grandpa on my mom’s side of the family said he was ready for the Lord to take him several years before his earthly life ended. Others I’ve known did not have a long time to wait between the diagnosis of terminal cancer and their body’s physical breakdown. We Christians stand in a unique position. It’s okay for us to be sad at the death of a loved-one. We have apprehensions about our family’s well-being upon our death—and I am not just talking about the amount of our life insurance policy. We care about people in our lives who would struggle emotionally and spiritually were we to die. We are in a unique position because of the hope that our Lord gives us by His resurrection from the dead. Death is not going to be our end. It will lead to our heavenly dwelling, not eternal punishment. We long to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23-24), but we also rejoice in the opportunities our Lord grants us here and now to serve others. As unique as our perspective toward death is, so the cross of Christ uniquely reassures us of everlasting life. St. Athanasius says, “If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.” (St. Athanasius, ON THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD, page 22) Let’s be honest. Dying is one of the realities we face when putting ourselves in some precarious—even enjoyable—positions. I am an avid traveler, often by air. One of the prayers I pray before each time the plane I’m on takes off is for the Lord’s protection and deliverance. If a mishap occurs or terrorism strikes, the likelihood of not reaching my intended destination runs high. Yet, I need not brace myself for every little bang or odd sound on board either. We who trust in Christ Jesus know that He holds our lives literally in His hands. In the event of tragedy here, He will deliver us to Himself. In the event of safe passage, He will give us enjoyment, ongoing sustenance in His Word, and opportunities to make Him known to others. AS our Lord has taken upon Himself the world’s sin and forgives personally all who trust in Him, His cross grants us joy and assurance that we are His now and in eternity.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
We who enjoy writing fiction make a curious distinction—showing vs. telling. When we show something, we not only describe a scene, we draw you into it. When we tell—not so desirable for painting a word picture—we bore you with needless info…more history than the story requires. So, if I’m showing you a manager is a real “bean counter,” I will show you a guy at his desk counting his new stack of dollar bills for the third time, filing in his Excel Spread sheet, and recounting the stack twice over again. Now, in the Divine Service the Pastor—in the stead and by the command of God—tells and shows our Lord’s blessing. After we publicly say what sinners we are, God’s mouthpiece--the rightly called and ordained pastor—tells us God’s grace. He shows us that same grace when crossing the congregation “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When the Pastor reads the lessons for a given Sunday, he reads with not much fanfare. Yet, when done with each—Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel—he declares aloud: “This is the Word of the Lord.” He shows us God’s unerring Word. We simply reply: “Thanks be to God.” When our pastor distributes Christ’s body and blood to us, He tells us that such is given for our forgiveness. He shows us this by placing the host on our tongue and pouring the cup into our mouths. For in the Divine service, God draws us into His story, His work of forgiving us our sins. We show Him nothing new. He sees our sinfulness even before we confess it. He tells us our forgiveness and shows us, time and again, His cross. The story, after all, is completed in Jesus. WE are recipients of everything He does for us. That’s why it amazes me how many versions of the Scriptures in English translate Psalm 116:12. They combine the question with its answer into a longer question. Literally, it says: “What shall I render to the Lord? All the benefits He has bestowed.” When we combine the two sentences into one question, we demand more of ourselves than we can give. We make up an answer our Lord does not speak. I cannot give or show Him anything “for all the benefits He has bestowed.” Rather, we can only return to Him in praise what He has first given, shown, us, in blessing.
The readings for celebrating the Baptism of our Lord are Gen. 1:1-5, Rom. 6:1-11, and Mark 1:4-11. Why was the perfect, sole-begotten Son of God baptized? He didn’t need to repent of anything, at least on His own account. Yet, Jesus was baptized to repent perfectly of our sin. For He was taking it upon Himself. He was giving us His perfection and setting our sorry, corrupted state of affairs in order. WE by nature, deserve hell because we are sinful to the core and cannot ourselves repent perfectly. Yet, Jesus obeyed the Law and now gives us heaven with life eternal. He buried our sin and, and by Baptism, raises us each day to new, forgiven life.
Since my last post, several things have happened. So, I am breaking away from the norm before resuming my daily observations and commentary. First, my family and I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas break down in Springfield, MO. Wow, my nephew and niece are growing up quick! Secondly, I returned home to finish up the first draft of my new book project, an Advent and Christmas devotion collection called THE NIGHT WILL SOON BE ENDING. I have yet to finish up layout considerations and peer review possibilities for presenting it to CPH. But, I hope and intend to do this. On alighter note—well, sort of lighter note—my Huskers got creamed in their bowl bid. It was rather embarrassing to watch. Oh, well, next year, Martinez and the Husker offense will be back in full strength as will the Husker Black Shirts (defense). Finally, I am thankful to Aardvark Alley for including my blog on the Lutheran blog roll. Blessed Epiphany to everyone. And, you can catch me daily from here on.