Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Week Dualities

Holy week punctuates the love of God in Christ. To see Jesus' love for us is to be enabled to sing the hymn, "What Wondrous Love Is This," with sincerity and truth. The LORD's love through His passion, however, is better recognized when we see the dualities involved the climactic moments throughout the week. Consider first Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday which we observed just a few days ago. What came form the lips of the people? First were the shouts of Hosanna! To have called on Him to "save us (the meaning of Hosanna)!" was to imply, "You LORD Jesus are the One ABLE to save and who WILL save!" This was sheer laud and honor! See, however, the shift that occured. To call it dramatic is painful understatement. The shouts morphed from Hosanna! to Crucify! And while not everyone in Jerusalem knew this startling fickleness that first Holy Week, nevertheless we are reminded of the powerful duality that abides in us. To confess Jesus Christ is to daily call on Him to save -- to keep us in His life and grace -- and yet, that is not all we do, because the born-again is not all we are. Our sinful nature-flesh also cries out Crucify! Even this flesh that is to be crucified (Gal 6:24), is the same flesh that creeps out of us causing us to sin causing us to behave as those who cry Crucify! Here then is what we do: speaking and proclaiming out of both sides of our mouths. What contradiction! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God thorugh Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 8:24-25)! The Gospel is that even in this contrariness, I am still loved by Christ...that is why His love is wonderous! 

Then there is the mandatum duality, that is the one occuring on Maundy Thursday when Jesus commanded (mandatum = command) "Do this!" What was He referring to? The Holy Sacrament. But here we recognize what might cause confusion. The famous painters entitle their renditions of the first supper as The Last Supper and yet at the same time, it is what the Holy Church also knows as The Ongoing Feast. Talk about a paradox. Which is it? Last or Ongoing? Answer: Yes! It is in analyzing the first Maundy Thursday -- when Jesus was present with His disciples in His body -- that seemingly makes the memorialist argument compelling: "how can one say that the bread is His true body, when as He instituted the Supper, He was in His true body? Rather, the very fact that Jesus was in the body when He referred to the bread as His body demands that his words be metaphorical as in, 'this is the bread that represents my body.' Consider for example, someone pulling their identification out of their purse or wallet and upon presenting their picture-ID pronounces, 'this is me!' We all know what they mean: the ID is a reprsentation of themselves!" The actual text, however, will not bear these mental gymnastics. Among the many figures of speech the LORD used throughout His teaching ministry were indeed metaphor and simile, but whenever these were employed, there were accompanying textual signals and/or explanations of these. Furthermore, the context of the Supper is in the form of a last will and testament. In such a context, the LAST thing one does is use figures of speech; the testament demands straight-forward clarity and legal precision. Lastly and from a more theological consideration: consider the source. Who was it exactly speaking? It is was Jesus Christ, true God and true man. There is one afterall who can be in two places at once. It is Christ. The duality is that the Supper was once established and continually celebrated and administered! Why make such arrangments? For but one reason: to keep you in His ensure you of His real presence...constantly. The wondrous love of Christ for you was not only expressed at Calvary 2000 years ago, but it is expressed every single time you partake of the very same body and blood that hung on the cross keeping you steadfast in the forgiveness of sins. This is truly wondrous love that time cannot restrict nor restrain.

Then there was the duality of Good Friday. The most horrific, grueling, agonizing event in the history of man, not merely for the indescribable physical -- out-of-the cross excruciatiing -- pain, but for the One it was applied to, because this Innocent One was bearing upon Himself the sins of the world...thus He felt the judgment and condemnation for all sinners. On that Good Friday cross was the One who "became sin for us (2 Co 5:21)" and "a curse for us (Gal 3:13)." To confirm the drastic condemnation of this moment on the cross was the LORD's fourth word: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me (Mt 27:46)?" It was true, He became in the eyes of God sinner and curse. God had to turn away since God's eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13). And yet even in the face of all of this darkness (indeed it became dark at 3 pm), we call this day Good! Are we insane? And this is precisely where the paradox comes in: as Gregory of Nyssa and Luther also described, Christ in the Body was the "Worm" that concealed "the hook" of the Divinity of Christ so that when Satan and death swallowed Christ, they also swallowed the LORD of LIFE. That is death received a death sentence; death received a deadly virus; and its otherwise always effective darkness was overcome by the One whose light and light are utterly inextinguishable. Death was destroyed on the cross of Jesus. And this -- indeed without question -- is why the day is GOOD! What wondrous love is this? That He would die to destroy my death! This is love. This is good. This is the duality of death and life on one cross; and life won...for you, and for me.

My book Faith That Sees Through The Culture on understanding biblical dualities so as to help us live out our faith more effectively is coming together! We are at the stage of gathering endorsements. The release date by Concordia Publishing House is still June 13th. Watch for it! Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Now and Not Yet

We are time-bound and oriented. The universe is space and time. We're stuck in it. As time goes on entropy is at work. That in itself, can seem depressing. Scripture records that "our outer self is wasting away (2nd Co 4:16 and I'll get to the good part in a minute)." Stephen Hawking of course met these things boldly. He said, "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die." With his atheistic vantage point, I suppose he said the best he could say. One can at least strive to avoid the wasted time and energy of living in fear -- at least theoretically -- while admitting desire to continue to thrive. Yes, of course that makes sense. But at a certain point the bold claim that there is no fear can appear as window-dressing. Death is scary. It robs of everything we know in life. It is a monster. To me, to say that "death is a part of life" is nonsensical. Death is the antithesis to life. I intimated above in connection to 2nd Co 4:16, however, that there is a good part. Here is the whole verse: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." My wife and I were walking by some reconstruction yesterday, a large sign said something to the effect that the key to growing old gracefully was constant renovation. It was one of those conventional-cultural ideas that betrays remnants of true and eternal wisdom. God says something to this effect, but in the sense of -- as 2nd Co 4:16 states -- "being renewed." This newness in Christ, however, is a state of being in the One who has surpassed the affects of entropy. Death didn't keep Him dead. His cells no longer succumbed to what is otherwise considered inevitable degeneration. The stuckness to time falls off in Christ who lives in time and yet also beyond it. This is true for the believer in Christ regarding their relationship to time. Further waste and weight comes from living in the past, but whatever is in your past that might lead to present guilt, or shame, or fear, or regret, or bitterness -- or whatever -- has been covered by the atoning blood of the Lamb. St. Paul says, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind...(Philippians 3:14)." Sure, we learn from the past, but we don't live in it any longer. Furthermore, the renewed life is wise to avoid "living in" the future as well. To do so takes on the weight of the future, we have enough for today. So Jesus: "do not be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34)," though this does not mean we ought not look forward to the good in the future, especially for the glorious second coming, our radiant bodies, the great reunion of those in Christ, and the new heaven and the new earth. In other words, time has been sanctified for the one in Christ. The past no longer enslaves to misery and the future no longer binds to anxiety. Instead, we have today. What of today? What of now? Right now, this moment, you have nothing but LIFE because Christ is your LIFE. How ought this reality impact our outlook? "This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 118:24)." We do so filled with the LIFE of Christ NOW and yet at the same time, the full benefits of this life of Christ are NOT YET realized (though they are absolutely guaranteed by virtue of our baptism into Christ). For us who are in Christ, the future is not for worry, but for the joy of the full results and manifestations of our lives in Christ: "we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (1 Co 15:51-52)." Life over death; renewal over entropy; faith over worry and fear are yours in Christ now and not yet. Great news: it looks like the cover for my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture has been made. It looks pretty cool. The release date is still June 13th as of now, but I'm hoping it might be released a little sooner. When the date is firm, there will be a 30-day pre-order period in which anyone can get a significant discount. Thanks for keeping this in prayer! Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 9, 2018

"We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us" -- Walt Kelly

I was just recently contacted by the marketing team at Concordia Publishing House regarding my upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture (June 13th release date). They gave me a look at the preliminary cover for the book. It is exciting to see it all coming together. It is a book about biblical dualities and the idea is that when one becomes more aware of the real both-and's in life that one is able to more effectively live in faith, especially as we seek to navigate the culture. We need the view of the lenses that show both old and new versions of man; of ourselves who are in Christ, because both are there. The hubris, angst and acrimony of our time is stifling. And if we allow it, it puts us in a foul way in which complaint and criticism become the emanation of our souls. This is not to say we should never complain. Certainly if one reads the Psalms, we know that there is a time and a place, especially when we can give our soul's complaint to the LORD and who can overestimate the value of confession? Indeed, it is more than cathartic. It is healing when we receive the LORD's gracious response in Christ, namely His saving absolution. I am, however, not talking about that. I am referring to when the complaining and criticism become our constant speech and vibe. When this happens joy is lost, but more than that, we actually end-up contributing to the ills of a sin-parched world. Walt Kelly produced the comic strip Pogo and to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970 he presented his famous line: "We have met the enemy and he is us." He applied it to our treatment of the planet, but the concept goes far beyond that. In Romans 5 St. Paul wrote that God's love for us in Christ was and is so great that "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (v 10)," and while our old man, the sinful flesh still cleaves to us, we are to crucify this enemy status every day. It is a state that not only hates God, but it hates other people and its complaint and criticism -- though it rationalizes constructive aims -- is often just a contribution to the problem. In the original movie Ghostbusters (1984) they depict the idea of an accumulation of evil. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "there is nothing new under the sun." Were any of the writers for the movie aware of Genesis 6 which describes increasing corruption on earth? Verse 5: "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." And Jesus said, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth (Lk 18:8)?" Ever since sin entered the world, the world spreads its depression and violence; and this state puts us on the defensive. When we get this way we begin to succumb to fear and then what comes out of our mouth as well as what we do and do not do begins to counter love. Then, "we have met the enemy and he is us." Let us, however, in Christ go the other way. Ephesians 4:25-32: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Another Duality: Old Man vs. New Man (Simul)

My upcoming book Faith that Sees through the Culture to be released on June 13th, 2018 by Concordia Publishing House also addresses the biblical duality of old man vs. new man, the simultaneous battle that every true Christian knows from within. Since it is an internal battle, however, it might seem odd to treat this duality as a factor of our lives interacting with culture. When we spoke of the two kingdoms, that was a different story right? From outside of us and within the culture comes to us the Church (Right Hand Kingdom) and Family and Government (Left Hand Kingdom), but what of the internal battle? The internal battle is between the Christian's new, born-again spirit (Jn 3:3-6) and the lingering sinful flesh (Ro 8:3). St. Paul describes a real confrontation: "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Ga 5:17)." Contextually, the reference to Spirit appears to be The Holy Spirit who abides with the Christian, but having said this the born-again new man is in complete agreement with the Holy Spirit and against the sinful flesh. Secondly, Ga 5:17 is not presenting a Manichaean dualism in which the powers of good and evil are essentially equal cosmic forces. God the Holy Spirit is stronger than the resistance and rebellion of the sinful flesh. Nevertheless, the Christian is still fully aware of the internal battle. To the extent -- in fact -- that he or she can relate to St. Paul's cry, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death (Ro 7:24)?" For the Christian who becomes equipped with the Word of Christ, however, they learn that it is precisely in his or her interaction with the what is outside of them that impacts the internal battle. That which feeds and excites the sinful flesh comes from the world; and that which feeds and excites the new man comes from the Word of God (extra nos/[that which comes from] outside us) especially as it comes to us from the holy ministry of the Holy Church. Knowing this, our relationship with the culture is radically impacted. This does not mean that we now become separatists who avoid interaction with the world. Not at all. It does mean, however, that we become aware of how we may be impacted and affected going into certain environments designed to appeal to the flesh. We enter into these realms wise, alert, and on guard; prayerful, watchful, and discerning. At times, we will realize that the environment is just too severe and when we must flee immorality (as when Joseph fled Potiphar's wife), but at other times we will find ourselves with the opportunity to counter evil with good; to be salt of the earth and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16); to steer a company to service over greed; and to treat people with dignity (esp when undeserved) instead of be peacemakers and to walk in the Spirit. The internal battle will also lead us to place a much higher premium regarding life together; to seek other Christians, members of the Body of Christ who will bring the gospel of Jesus one to another; especially when gathered in Divine Service, in Bible Study, or simple fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who will not only laugh together while enjoying a game, but also encourage each other in the faith. Yes, our internal battle does indeed affect how we live in the world; it affects how we live, move, and have our being in the culture. It is for us to navigate while realizing opportunities for the gospel and love; and resources to strengthen us so that while living in the world, we are not taken over by it. Soli Deo Gloria!