Martin Luther once said: “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off on the other side.” These are the chronicles, thoughts, and questions of a Lutheran pastor just struggling to stay on his theological horse, and not fall off one side or the other.
The Pastor Challenge
The Pastor Challenge
The Assist Pregnancy Center's Walk-Run-Ride for Life is coming up in May and this year I am challenging myself in order to challenge all of you! I am challenging myself to ride a "Metric Century" (100 kilometers) in four hours, and if I can ride farther than I ever have at one time before, I challenge all of you to support me more than ever before. I set my goal this year at $5,000, and our team (Lutherans for Life) at $7,500! If I can do it, you can do it. Assist helps so many mothers and babies, and they are expanding their facility to help even more - and so need our help more than ever, especially coming out of this pandemic. So please help! CLICK HERE to go to my sponsor page to sponsor me, or you can sponsor anyone else who joins the team, or the team as a whole.
v. 1: My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?
Frail flesh. We’re seeing that quite clearly these days. How frail our bodies and health can be. Even a tiny germ can be a deadly virus. It just needs a way in, but once in can bring a normally healthy person into the dust of death. Scary. We need to realize that’s what sin is, too. A particular sin can sometimes seem so little, so minor, like just a little germ. But it’s deadly. And it’s in you. Like some diseases, this is passed on to you at birth. But there is a cure! Our Lord came down from heaven, took on our frail flesh, and allowed Himself to be infected for us so that He could also be the cure for us. He would have to die to do that, so die He did so that we could live. What love to do that for us! A love quite unknown in this world. For maybe you would do that for a loved one, but what about an enemy? Jesus died even for those who put Him on the cross. He wants to save each and every person from this deadly virus of sin. He is the cure, and He offers Himself to you. Not because we’re loveable, but because He is pure love. Hard to believe! Yet true.
Christ is all in all to me;
All my wants to Him are known,
All my sorrows are His own.
He sustains the hidden life
Safe with Him from earthly strife.
Are you familiar with the term NIMBY? It means “Not In My BackYard.” It is a term given to someone who supports something as long as it is located in someone else’s neighborhood, as in “Yes, I support that store, as long as they build it somewhere else.” So, what if the chief of sinners moved into the house next door to you? How would you react? Would you be a NIMBY? Well, that’s kind of what happens with us - except Jesus bought the house next door for us, furnished it, stocked the pantry, moved us in, and said “Welcome to the neighborhood!” He wants us with Him in His kingdom. He knows all about us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our sins, our wants, and our sorrows, and makes them His own; that is, He takes them away from us, forgives us, provides for us, and gives us joy. So we can have life. Life now, and life with Him forever. And when earthly strife comes our way, He is there for us in that, too. No wonder the hymnwriter could say, Christ is all in all to me! Knowing all that He has done for us, how could He not be?
We often think of life with God as “going to heaven.” But we dare not forget that life with God is already ours here and now! For the Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords, came down from heaven and was born of Mary for us. And that same body and blood that Mary held in her arms, that nursed at her breasts, that walked on this dusty earth, and then hung on the cross is the very same body and blood now given to us as heavenly food. Heavenly food on earth! Only that body and blood is risen from the dead and glorified. And being fed by it, we too will not only rise from the dead but be glorified as well. Knowing that is what is being given to us in the Supper, how can we not but keep silence and with fear and trembling stand in the presence of our awesome God who gave Himself for us and now gives Himself to us. That we have life from Him and life with Him, now and forever.
To live the faith our lips declare;
Bless us in our baptismal calling;
Christ’s royal priesthood help us share.
Turn us from ev’ry false allegiance,
That we may trust in Christ alone:
Raise up in us a chosen people
Transformed by love to be Your own.
Strength and courage. That’s not just something we need in these pandemic days, but every day. Strength and courage not just to confess but to live our Christian faith in the midst of a world hostile to the Christian truth. That is our baptismal calling: to hallow God’s name in all that we say and do, and to trust in Christ alone. False allegiances abound. We look to many things in this world for what we need: the government, medicine, science, technology - but Christ alone can give us the life we need. Life now and life forever. And He does in baptism! He raises us from being dead in sin to alive in Him. And remembering our baptism every day, we start every day anew, with life, transformed by Christ’s love. The Son of God came and offered Himself as the Lamb of God for us. Now, filled with His love, life, and forgiveness, we can share in Christ’s royal priesthood and give ourselves for others.
v. 5: Through long grief-darkened days help us, dear Lord,
To trust Your grace for courage to endure,
To rest our souls in Your supporting love,
And find our hope within Your mercy sure.
I’m not sure this virus qualifies as aimless violence, but it might. It is aimless in the sense that it attacks all ages, all nationalities, all people. It does violence to the body, even in some cases bringing death. When faced with such things we turn to the Lord. First in repentance for our sin that brought such things into this world created perfect and death-less and violence-less by God. And then second in trust, that our hope is in the Lord who provided us rescue from every enemy that seeks to harm us - even death. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have His grace and with it the courage to endure, His supporting love, and His mercy sure. Or in other words, we’ll come out of this okay, either to continue life in this world or to enter into the next. Knowing that, we have confidence and rest in our Lord, even in such turbulent times. Even When Aimless Violence (or Viruses!) Take Those We Love.
v. 5: God said to His beloved Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever.”
There is a verse in Galatians that says: “At just the right time, God sent His Son” (Galatians 4:4 NIV). Not too soon, not too late; at just the right time. I’m sure there were a great many people in the Old Testament - patriarchs, prophets, and normal folks like you and me - who thought He came too late and should have come much sooner! But no. God knows what’s best. We do not. And when the Son of God came, He didset us free from sin and sorrow, He didslay bitter death for us, through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Now, we have the promise of eternal life with Christ. So no matter what happens now, we have a promise we can rely on and a Saviour we can depend on. And at just the right time, that Saviour will come again and fully and finally set us free from all sin and death. What a great day that will be! Just like what a great day it will be when all the changes caused by this virus are over. God will end that at just the right time, too. But the God who had compassion then, has compassion now, and has compassion always. That’s why we, dear Christians one and all, can rejoice, even in tough times.
Gladly suffer. I don’t know about you, but those are two words I don’t usually use together! I am not gladly suffering all that is going on in our country and world right now. I am more whining and complaining. It makes what Jesus did for us all the more amazing. For He who did “gladly suffer” all this for us and for our good went through an awful lot more than we are! He was, as the hymnwriter put it, laden with the sins of earth - all the earth. Led to slaughter. Bearing stripes, wounds, lies, and mockery. Hung on a cross for you and me. But, ah! That’s exactly why He could “gladly suffer” all this - it was for us. It was so that we could be His own. His love for you so great that He would do this for you. That’s incredible, isn’t it? Think of people today who go to great lengths for the people they love. Yet that is not even a drop in the ocean of what Jesus did for you as the Lamb of God. Remember that the next time you are feeling down or unloved. Yes, you have a Saviour who loves you that much. So that you could be with Him forever.
This verse is from a hymn of Martin Luther based on Psalm 130. The psalms are poetry, and so words like morning and night aren’t necessarily literal, but signify the darkness of the woe we are enduring, and then the morning when the sun comes up and the woe is past. So here. Though our woe (and for us, this virus!) tarry for a while, the morning of its end is coming. We will not doubt His might to bring this to an end. And though it tarry - and maybe go on much longer than we’d like! - we are not forsaken. The Lord has not turned away from us. We are His new Israel, His people, born again of water, Word, and Spirit. So in this night of woe, fear, and dread, we wait for the morning of His appearing. Waiting is hard! But it can also be good. It all depends on how you wait. If we wait with impatience, accusing God of being uncaring and unloving, that is not good. But if we wait with repentance and prayer, seeking our safety, refuge, and all good in Him, then this can be a time of growth and blessing for us. Yes, even in this the Lord is still our Good Shepherd.
The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with her beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. No wonder, then, that the pelican became a symbol of Jesus, who really did pour out His blood to give us life. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for the life of the world is now available to us in the Lord’s Supper to keep us from spiritual starvation. Through His Word, Jesus gives His Body and Blood to us to eat and drink. This is the food we need above all other food. For this is food that sustains us not just for this life, but for eternal life. And as the hymnwriters pens, there is great power in each and every drop of Jesus’ blood because this is not just the blood of a man, but the blood of God shed for us! Therefore it gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to us. Thank you Jesus for such a wonderful, wondrous gift!
v. 4: Death, you cannot end my gladness:
I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness
To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine
To make life immortal mine.
This beautiful hymn proclaims the victory of Christ given to us in baptism over sin, death, and the devil. As God’s own child, we have nothing to fear from any enemy in this world. Baptized into Christ, they can kill us but they can’t take our life. Now, death is but the gate to eternal life. That freedom enables us to live in a way not before possible. In confidence, not fear. With joy, not sadness. In hope, not despair. Which is how Jesus lived. And with His life now given to us in baptism, it is our life as Christians. That doesn’t mean we won’t have our “moments” - we most certainly will! The things of this world and life may overwhelm us at times. But it means we have a way out - Christ! Relying on His words and promises given to us in Baptism, we can move forward in forgiveness and not dwell on the past. Jesus has taken care of that for us, as well as the present and the future. All that we need He has, and will provide. No wonder, as the hymn writer put it, death, you cannot end my gladness - nothing can! In Christ.
Easier said than done, right? Easier said than believed and lived. We like to take matters into our own hands and not wait; not leave them in God’s hands. Perhaps one area this is true these days is with the restrictions and recommendations we are hearing from the government during this crisis. We may be tempted to ignore them, think we know better, and do what we want anyway. But as Christians, we know that however imperfect, God’s uses people and offices to help and guide us. Our Christian responsibility according to the Fourth Commandment is to obey them. So while we may not like living under the current guidelines, to do so is to trust our heavenly Father and leave things in His hands. He loves us at all times and in all that we’re going through. Will I get this virus? Will you? How long will this go on? How bad will things get? Lots of unknowns! And if everyone did what they thought best, there would be chaos. So instead pray, help as you can, and rejoice! Yes, rejoice! You have a God who loves you and sent His Son to save you. We wouldn't have thought to do that! So yes, His tender love is true, I know. The cross proves it. So we can leave all things to His direction, and rest in His love as His children.
How many are seeking and searching to find a way through this current world crisis to their salvation - to being saved from this dangerous virus. But after this crisis is over there will be another. Then another. Then another. Maybe different. Maybe worse. Life in this world is always on the edge and uncertain. And at such times, our hearts beat faster and harder as they are filled with doubts and fears. But as a Christian, as the hymnwriter says, my heart is stilled - at peace - for on Christ I build. He is the foundation that endures all and will last forever. Built on Him, the world can fall to pieces and our life will still be safe and secure. For He has already defeated all our foes through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, so through Him I more than conquer. How good to hear such words these days of great distress! How good to know, even more, than they are true. As true as the empty tomb. So we no longer have to seek - we know the way: Christ! He is our life, our hope, and our salvation.
v.1: Christ, the life of all the living,
Christ, the death of death, our foe,
Who, Thyself for me once giving
To the darkest depths of woe:
Through Thy sufferings, death, and merit
I eternal life inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. All life comes from Him and is sustained by Him. And to say that “God” created is to say that all of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were active in that creating. Or as this hymn begins, Christ, the life of all the living. But He is even more than that! For when we sacrificed the life that He gave by sin and plunged ourselves into death, He did not just accept that. Jesus came and gave Himself to restore life to His creation. How? By becoming the death of death! What a great line that is. By His own death on the cross and then resurrection from the grave, Jesus dealt death itself a death blow. And if death is dead, then it has no power over us anymore. Which means life for us again! And not just life, but eternal life. So this verse concludes Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, Dearest Jesus, unto Thee. Indeed! Yet even far too little is our thanks for all that God has done for us.
v. 1: When in the hour of deepest need
We know not where to look for aid;
When days and nights of anxious thought
No help or counsel yet have brought.
v. 2: Then is our comfort this alone
That we may meet before Your throne;
To You, O faithful God, we cry
For rescue in our misery.
These verses sound appropriate for what our nation and world are going through right now with the coronavirus, don’t they? Yet this hymn isn’t talking about any illness, but the virus of sin that we all have. And the virus of sin has a 100% mortality rate. If you have it, you will die. This Lenten season began by reminding us of that fact, telling us that dust you are, and to dust you will return. But that doesn’t mean we have no hope! On the contrary, there is a cure that is also 100% effective: the forgiveness of our sin by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for us. So we come before God, confess our sin, and receive His healing absolution and His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. With these we can be confident and sure we will live! And not just now, but forever. This is our deepest need. And our Lord responds with His great rescue.
Gloomy haunts of sadness. That’s what sin and death have brought into our world. That’s where many people are trapped. But as we hear at Christmas, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light!” Our Saviour comes to lighten our darkness with His presence. But not only at Christmas, and not only when He walked this earth, but still here and now as He comes in His Body and Blood to feed us. When we approach the altar, there He is to lift us up out of the gloomy sadness of sin and death with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Even though He is “heavenly, high, and holy” there is no place He’d rather be than here with lowly you and me. Isn’t that a wonder? A wonder than can make us glad, even in these days of great fear and distress. Our Saviour is with us! And we will be with Him forever.
Yes! Something really, truly happens in baptism! Not because of what we do, but because God has put His Word and promise with water, that when baptism is done in His Name, He is the one doing something truly wondrous here. He is the Good Shepherd taking this child up in His arms as His little lamb. Day and night, He will watch over, protect, and keep His lamb. We sleep, but He never does. And so this child (or adult!) now baptized is different, changed. No longer just a child of nature, but now reborn as a child of God. Did you see it? Not with your physical eyes. Physically, baptism looks of less use than a bath or a shower at home. But there is more going on here than meets the eye! It is the reality that enters our ears, so that we see spiritually that no bath or shower could do what baptism does - for it washes away not just the dirt of our body, but our sins! The dirt of our souls. That is the washing we need, no matter what age we are. And we have it. Always. Believe it! I am baptized! A precious child of God.
v. 1: Entrust your days and burdens
To God’s most loving hand;
He cares for you while ruling
The sky, the sea, the land.
For He who guides the tempests
Along their thundrous ways
Will find for you a pathway
And guide you all your days.
This seems like a most appropriate hymn to meditate on especially in these days of fear and panic because of the coronavirus. Entrust your days and burdens to God, your Father; to His loving hands. He cares for you. He does not cut and run when the going gets tough - the cross shows us that! He stays. He loves. He gives. He saves. The things that are out of your control and not out of His. So rely on Him. This hymn was written by a man who lived through very scary times himself, with disease, war, and a lot of death. But it is especially in those times of fear and uncertainty, times when our faith is tested and perhaps shaken, times when we see how weak and vulnerable we are, times when we are forced to turn to God because there really is no where else to turn, that our faith grows and is strengthened. And so those turn out to be times of trouble that God turns and uses for our good. So in the days of worry and distress and uncertainty, turn to Your loving Father and Your Saviour Jesus. Entrust your days to Him who has made your days, and your life, eternal.
Who saved you? The Father? The Son? The Holy Spirit? Yes! All three. All of God working for all of you. Holding nothing back. Sometimes we limit our thinking, that it was Jesus who saved us on the cross. That is certainly true. But the Father and the Holy Spirit are equally active. The Father giving His Son who willingly comes in love for us, and the Holy Spirit who takes what Jesus did for us on the cross and gives it to us. And the God who thus saved us preserves us as well. God didn’t just save us and now we’re on our own. No! And good thing. We’d never make it. You know that from your own experience. Which of us has ever kept a New Year’s resolution for a whole year? Which of us has ever kept our Lenten disciplines for an entire Lenten season? How then can we persevere in faith all our lives? We can’t. But God can. And does. Through His Word and Sacraments the God who creates and saves us, now preserves and keeps us. So our faith and hope is in Him alone. For everything.
v. 1: Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
v. 2: But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.
This hymn reflects on the connection between Jesus’ cross and all the sacrifices that were offered in the Old Testament. Even a quick read through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers reveals the volume of sacrifices and blood that were required because of our sin! Endless, countless sacrifices! That’s how great and numerous our sins. But all those sacrifices were just preparing for and pointing to the big one - the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the blood which would finally and fully wash away all sin: the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, on the altar of the cross. His blood was richer, as the hymn writer put it, because it was not just the blood of an animal or even a man, but the blood of God. And so with this sacrifice, all that needed to be done has been done. No more sacrifices needed. The blood of Jesus, the God-man, has washed away the stain! So what else is there for us to say but thanks be to God!
v. 1: To Thee, omniscient Lord of all,
In grief and shame I humbly call;
I see my sins against Thee, Lord,
The sins of thought and deed and word.
They press me sore; I cry to Thee: O God, be merciful to me!
This hymn reminds us of a couple of important realities. First, our Lord is omniscient, which means all knowing. There is nothing He does not know. There is nothing we can hide from Him. So when we confess our sins, it is not like we are telling Him something He doesn’t already know! Second, we sin by our thoughts, our deeds, and our words. If we manage to control our deeds, sometimes harsh and sinful words come out. Yet even if we manage to control them, the sinful thoughts were already there! There is no escaping the sin in us. And when we know them and the damage they do to our relationships with each other and with God, what can we do but cry out to God for mercy! Rid me of this sin! Heal me of this disease! And He does! It is the very thing He has come to do. So when we confess our sins, it is not to do something for God - He already knows them all. It is for God to do something for us - that we hear those words for which there are no equal on earth: I forgive you. A God who uses His power to help us! That good news is what this Lenten season is all about.
v. 8: “For what purpose was My dying
If not for your justifying?
And what use this precious food
If you yourself were pure and good?”
v. 10: Let this food your faith so nourish
That its fruit of love may flourish
And your neighbor learn from you
How much God’s wondrous love can do.
There is a question in the Small Catchism regarding the Lord’s Supper that asks: Who receives this Sacrament worthily? Some people think they must be worthy (or in the hymn, “pure and good”) to come and receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. But no! The Body and Blood of Jesus are here for sinners. For really bad sinners. For condemned and damnable sinners. For you and me. There is no way we could ever make ourselves worthy of such a gift. That’s what makes it such a wondrous gift! To us who only deserve damnation our Lord gives the Body and Blood of His Son for the forgiveness of our sins. What makes us worthy to receive this gift is simply repentance and faith - to acknowledge that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, and faith in the Word and promises of God that in this gift is the very forgiveness we need. That’s why Jesus came and died on the cross, and that’s why He comes and gives Himself to us in the Supper. And then as we receive such a wondrous gift, we pray that it work in us all that is pleasing in God’s sight, that we begin to live as His children, and that others may “learn from us how much God’s wondrous love can do.” Even for a sinner like me!
v. 2: The gifts flow from the font
Where He calls us His own;
New life He gives that
makes us His and His alone.
Here He forgives our sins
With water and the Word;
The triune God Himself
Gives power to call Him Lord.
This hymns extols all the gifts given to us by God and from whence they flow to us, and this verse that we are considering today, verse two, focuses on the gifts freely given us in Baptism. First, in Baptism God calls us His own. He names us as His children. And whatever God calls and names something, that’s what it is! So you really are a child of God if God calls you His own. Second, new life He gives. We no longer live a life that will end in death - we are now living a new life, which includes dying a death that will end in life! Because we now belong to the Lord of life. Third, He forgives our sins. Every. single. one. They were all put on Christ on the cross and so there is no sin now that can separate you from your heavenly Father. They’re gone! Atoned for. And the fourth and finally, in Baptism we can now call upon the name of the Lord. With the gift of faith in Christ we can now pray as dear children ask their dear father. We can call on God in every and any need, and He has promised to hear. What a great and wonderful thing Baptism is! Remember that, and all the gifts it brings, this Lenten season.
What God ordains is always good. Really? Do you believe that? I don’t! There are times in my life or things that happen when I ask God why and think that what I am going through is not good at all. The season of Lent would help us see differently and believe this. Especially as we see Jesus on the cross. For there is where it seemed as if everything was going wrong and nothing was good. Look! Evil had won! God is dead. And yet the exact opposite was true. Through the death of Jesus God had won, evil had lost, and so not only was the cross good, it makes everything good again. Through the cross God is restoring creation back to the way it was before the Fall - good again, through the forgiveness of sin. That’s why we can sing this hymn and maybe even believe it. Believe that God is good, that He is always working good, and that whatever He sends me is for my good. So to Him I will yield me. Not my will, but Thine be done.
John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible. This hymn is not just that verse set to music, but also an explication of what that verse means. Verse three of the hymns states “God would not have the sinner die.” That sinner is you and me and every person who has ever lived, including the very first two sinners, Adam and Eve. After they fell into sin, God was there, calling to them and promising them a Saviour from sin and death. Jesus then came in fulfillment of that promise: “His Son with saving grace is nigh.” And that all might know this great love of God for them, the Spirit now declares in the Word of God that in Christ, there is the forgiveness of sins and the promise of life - that “we in Christ are heaven’s heirs.” That, in a nutshell, is the message of this Lenten season. Promise made, promise fulfilled, promise proclaimed, promise given, promise yours. All because God not only loved the world, He loves you.
On my heart imprint Your image,
Blessed Jesus, King of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Never may Your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation!
This is a short hymn - only one verse! But it is what this season of Lent is all about: imprinting the image of Jesus on us. His image that we lost because of sin. And notice, we do not do this by anything we do or “give up for Lent” - it is the work of Jesus in us. So that is what the opening two lines ask - for Jesus to do this for us. Only He can. And for Him to imprint the image of His life and love in us so deeply that nothing can erase it. This He does through His Word and Sacraments, for these are His means of grace - that is, the things He uses to bring His cross and its benefits to us. Stamp it on my heart! Etch it into my heart! Tattoo it on my heart! What You did for me, Jesus. That You died for me, were crucified for me. For that, as the hymn writer says, is my life, my glory, and my salvation. That is what makes all the difference in the world. And not just in this season of Lent, but each and every day of my life. May there be nothing else in my heart or on my heart than Jesus crucified for me!
v. 2: Still we return, our contrite words rehearsing,
Speech, that within You warm embrace soon dies;
All of our guilt, our shame, our pain reversing
As tears of joy and welcome fill Your eyes.
This brief hymn recounts the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. He demanded his inheritance from his father and went off and squandered it all. Then he returned. What kind of welcome - if any! - would he receive? Or would he chased off? Or worse? Much to his surprise, his father welcomes him back with open arms and joy! All that matters to the father is that his son is home, safe and sound. Jesus wants you to know that is how your heavenly Father is, too. With our sin, we have squandered what God has given us and are poor, miserable sinners. Yet as we return to our Father, He welcomes us back with a warm embrace and, as the hymn writer put it, “reverses all of our guilt, our shame, our pain.” This is, of course, because of Jesus. He has paid the debt we owe and the price for our sins. So that in heaven, there are tears of joy over one sinner - each and every sinner - who repents. When you repent. That’s our joy of this Lenten season.