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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

joseph-and-his-rib-biblepictures-net

Joseph, a young man from the house of David, was probably like every other soon-to-be husband: nervous, but excited all the same.  That is, until his fiancée came to him with shocking news.  Mary was pregnant, but Joseph was not the father.  The world, as Joseph knew it, had collapsed around him.  He felt betrayed, hurt, angry.  Break the engagement, whispered his pride, and walk away from this woman.

Everything had changed.  Plans were ruined.  Reputation was at stake.  Unchartered territory lay ahead.  At this precarious moment in his life, Joseph had nothing to hang on to… nothing, that is, except the Word of the Lord.

The Word gave Joseph courage.  “Don’t be afraid!”  It was the word that showed Joseph how to be faithful.  “Take Mary as your wife.  She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Perhaps, in holding on to the Word, Joseph remembered the experience of his ancestor, Adam.  Perhaps, in a moment of truth and with eyes focused, Joseph could picture Adam standing next to his wife, Eve.  Perhaps, with wisdom only from the Holy Spirit, Joseph recognized the significance of Eve’s creation by God from man’s rib.

God made (literally: “built”) woman using part of man.  With this, He established their relationship within the order of creation.  A rib is structural; it supports.  A rib guards and protects the heart and breath of life, yet it is vulnerable.  Under attack, it can easily be fractured or even broken.  Satan despises the order of creation that God uses to protect the man and woman He so loves.  So, that day in the Garden, Satan set his target and went straight to Adam’s rib.  The man was responsible for using God’s Word to cover his wife, yet he did nothing.  Joseph knew the consequences that followed.

Perhaps, with discernment only from God, Joseph understood that he must not repeat the sin of his ancestor and do to his rib what Adam had done to his.

Perhaps, in remembering what Adam had failed to do, Joseph was given the courage to cover his wife, Mary, and lead her to safety.  Let the village talk!  Adjust carefully-made plans!  Trust the Word of the Lord!  Although it meant leaving his zone of comfort, Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do.  He covered his rib by taking Mary as his wife.  And, when Mary’s child was born, Joseph named Him Jesus.

God wanted Joseph to make a difference – a difference that would impact the world.  But, such a difference could be made only by being faithful.  Such faithfulness required that Joseph leave all that was familiar and put his life and the life of Mary into the hands of God.

Today, when a young man pressures his girlfriend to have sex, he is leaving her physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable.  He has placed his “needs” before hers and, in so doing, left her open to attack.  When a man does not promise to love, cherish, and cover a woman with his name, but simply share living quarters and a bed, he is leaving her open to attack.  When a man fathers a child but does not accept the privilege and responsibility of being a daddy, he is leaving both mother and child uncovered and vulnerable to the world.

But, when a man remembers God and His call to leadership, he is able to make a difference.  A young man who guards his girlfriend’s virtue makes a difference.  A husband who remains true to his wife makes a difference.  A dad who understands the privilege, responsibility, and generational influence of fatherhood makes a difference.  Men of faithfulness have a grand opportunity to defend against chaos and leave a legacy of hope.

Convenience told Joseph to walk away from Mary.  Self-defense told Joseph to think of “number one.”  Pride told Joseph that he could do better.  Fear told Joseph to hide.  But, God told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He covered Mary, his rib, and the unborn Child whose heart beat under her own.  And, after the Baby was born in the most humble of circumstances, Joseph named the Child Jesus.  Through all the frightening days ahead, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And the Lord did not forget Joseph.  In the midst of danger, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph.  When uncertainty abounded, the angel of the Lord directed Joseph.

It’s true that life wasn’t ever the same for Joseph.  It certainly wasn’t what he had planned.  But, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And, in doing so, he received courage to do what was asked of him.  Joseph was faithful to cover Mary, his rib.  He raised her Son Jesus in a godly home and took Him to worship.  Some 2000 years later, the Boy who grew to be a Man in the house of a carpenter is still changing lives.

Joseph made a difference.

by Linda Bartlett
Revised 2010
(image: biblepictures.net)
“Joseph & His Rib” available from LFL

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50 shades of greyold fashioned movieIt has been said that good is opposed to evil in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.

This Valentine’s weekend, we have the opportunity to choose a good thing and, in doing so, help eliminate evil as far as we can. I can promise you that our sons, daughters, and grandchildren will be better for it.

Fifty Shades of Grey, based on the book trilogy, will be showing this weekend in theaters across the country. But, in my hometown (and perhaps in yours), so will the movie Old Fashioned. The contrast between the two is black and white. The one slides into evil. The other strives for what is good.

The contrast, I think, is best illustrated by the leading man in each story. Men fascinate me, perhaps because I believe that God has created them to be the defenders of life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve carefully listened to men and watched what they do. Do they lead women and children to the edge of the abyss or keep them far from it? In Fifty Shades, Christian Grey uses manipulation, jealousy, intimidation and violence to control Ana. In Old Fashioned, Clay Walsh gives up his reckless carousing of college days to practice the patient and self-disciplined love of God and, in so doing, honor Amber Hewson.

Ideologies and behaviors are in contrast all the time. This weekend, ticket sales may tell us a lot about the ideology we claim and the behavior we choose to mentor. Choices have consequences. In this case, Hollywood is glamorizing violence and abuse, then tacking on an unrealistic fairy-tale ending. There is evidence to prove that real life is different.

A study published last year in the Journal of Women’s Health shows the relationships between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women. Researchers from Michigan State University studied more than 650 women aged 18-24. Compared to participants who didn’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, those who did were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours. Those who read all of the books in the Fifty Shades trilogy were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink—or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month—and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime. (Excerpted from “Reading Fifty Shades linked to unhealthy behaviors,” by Carolyn Moynihan, http://www.mercatornet.com, 3 February 2015)

Society pays a price when we teach men to inflict pain and sexualize violence. It pays a price when women are taught that abusive sex is “normal.” Remove the glamour and deception from Christian and Ana’s relationship. What is left but hopelessness?

The price is too high, especially for children and grandchildren. It is a price that does not have to be paid. I wonder. With its aggressive marketing campaign and unashamed attempt to romanticize sexual violence, has Hollywood unintentionally challenged parents to do the right thing? To help their child resist evil and seek what is good? Miriam Grossman, M.D., thinks so.

“Don’t underestimate [Hollywood’s] hard sell on your kids,” writes Dr. Grossman. “Even if they don’t see the film, they are absorbing its toxic message, and need your wisdom and guidance.” She explains that even with the darkest of clouds, there can be a silver lining. “While the ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey are vile,” she observes, “they present a precious opportunity: to explain truths your children must know, but won’t hear anywhere else. Every image of those handcuffs and each TV trailer hold that chance.”

Dr. Grossman is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She considers it her professional responsibility to help parents deal with the implications of Fifty Shades. I encourage you to visit her website where you will find a series of blogs exposing what might become a blockbuster film. Dr. Grossman includes talking points for every mom and dad who wants to keep their child from harm. She notes that parents talk to their children about junk food, cigarettes, and bullies. Parents, she says, need to warn children about dangerous ideas, too.

Dr. Grossman guarantees “you will have a significant influence on your child. What you believe matters. Your expectations matter. This is so regardless of any poor choices you may have made through the years. Even if your teen shrugs off everything you say with a roll of her eyes, I promise you, she hears every word.”

There is nothing grey about physical or emotional abuse. It is never ok. “A relationship that includes violence is disturbed,” explains Dr. Grossman. “The people involved have emotional problems. A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She seeks a relationship that is safe, supportive, and trusting; she wants to feel cared for and appreciated. If there is any hint of danger, she runs.”

There are those who consider Fifty Shades a “romantic love story.” But, “when Ana agreed to be abused, she made a terrible, self-destructive decision,” says Dr. Grossman. “Only in fiction would such a ‘romance’ end happily. In the real world, Ana would pay for her poor choice of a partner.”

It doesn’t have to begin—or end—this way. There are, well, old fashioned thoughts and behaviors that have always led to a much safer and more hope-filled life.

This Valentine’s weekend, some people are daring to bring these old fashioned ideas to the polling place of a theater near you. You have the opportunity—as parents, high school and college students, dating couples, and newlyweds—to “vote” with your ticket in favor of patient, kind, and selfless love (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

Will it matter? I think so. Good is opposed to evil in such a way that even choosing Old Fashioned can be the good thing that helps eliminate evil as far as it can.

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Robin Williams with maskIn searching among the many photos of Robin Williams, I’m surprised by my emotion.  I’m in awe of this creature of countless expressions and I believe that God mourns his apparent suicide.  The Potter of William’s life took such care to shape a vessel for esteemed use.  Surely, Williams brought laughter, posed questions and made us think.  But what did he think of himself?  Could he no longer laugh or find joy because his identity was so precariously unsure?

Williams was somebody.  And while we can no longer help him recognize his true identity, we can help ourselves and our children.

Our identity is not actor or senator or founder and CEO of Microsoft.  Our identity is not Victoria’s Secret model or teacher of the year or Supreme Court justice.  All of these are types of vocations or things we chose to do that affect the world around us.  Our identity is not heterosexual or homosexual.  These are behaviors and ways to grow–or not grow–the family tree.  Our identity is what God says we are.  To the baptized Christian, He says,  “You are my adopted child in Jesus Christ.  You are my heir.”  Nothing–no, not one thing save our own rejection of this identity–can change who we are in God’s eyes.

Our value comes not from anything we do, but from what Jesus Christ did for us.  The Savior of our lives has covered us with His Robe of Righteousness.  Now, when God looks at us–even when we’re suffering sin and depression–He sees the treasures for whom Jesus gave all He had.  Did anyone tell this to Williams?  Are we sharing this truth with family members, neighbors and friends?  Or are we reluctant to speak this truth because we, too, are deceived about who we really are?

In her post “Murderous Mendacity of Depression,” Elizabeth Scalia wrote,

Depression is a hissing false witness. It lies and tells someone there is no hope; it lies and declares, “you’re a fraud”; it lies when it warns you to hide your feelings, because people won’t love you if they know how terrified and alone and desperate you feel; it lies and sneers that you’re weak — that you can just snap out of it, anytime, if you really want to; it croons the lie that love is not real, and hope is for suckers; it whispers the most insidious of lies: that your pain will never ebb, cannot be transcended, and has no value at all.

After a while, the pain begins to feel like all you are and all there is: a worthless, pointless void. And when your life becomes just pain-without-end, suffering-without-meaning, tomorrow seems like less a promise than a prison.

When depression wins, it is such a damned tragedy, no matter whether it has carried off a big rich somebody, or an ordinary nobody, because it is the victory of an incessant liar.*

Jesus knows the liar.

He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV).

We all hear the hiss of satan.  The evil one tempts: “Did God really say . . . ?”  The question stirs doubt.  In doubt, we put ourselves in God’s place and assume control.  After we do what we want and suffer the consequences, the tempter becomes our accuser: “Did God really say He can forgive you?”

Both questions are intended to separate us from the one who knows us better than we know ourselves.  The one who calls us by name.  The one who promises a future of hope.

It is right to mourn the loss of people who, in darkness or desperation, take their own lives.  Then we must ask: In light of my true identity, how shall I live?

Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or  nakedness, or danger, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-38 ESV).

 * I am appreciative to Sheila Liaugminas
who quoted Scalia in her Mercatornet article of 8-13-14

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mother & daughterLet’s keep rolling with opportunity #5…

#5 — MENTOR SELF-CONTROL
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us . . . to purify for Himself a people . . . who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:12-13).

Take a step toward happiness by learning to control your nature. In a fallen world, men and women must daily fight our natural tendency to sin. Parents in civilized societies have always known the wisdom of helping boys suppress two of their natural tendencies: strong sexual desires and a predilection to aggression or even violence. Likewise, parents in civilized societies have understood the wisdom of helping girls suppress their natural tendency to be ruled by emotions. Why is a woman who lives by her feelings and emotions less likely to be happy or content? What is the effect on others when a woman lets her emotions dictate her behavior? Visit Titus 2 for Life.

Resist following your heart. Ponder the following statements: “When it’s time to make a decision, I’ll trust my heart.” “He told me he loved me. The moment felt so right and my heart said ‘yes’”. “Some people say he’s not right for me, but I’m following my heart.” Can we trust our heart? What does God say in Genesis 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9; and Matthew 15:19? How can we help younger women train their hearts and minds? See Psalm 119:41-48; Proverbs 16:20; and Matthew 22:37.

Stay in training and run the race. St. Paul encourages believers to “run the race”, not “aimlessly” but with self-control (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). The world convinces women that we have the right to dress, speak, or act however we please. At what point do our “rights” hinder others? Can our lack of self-control put the faith of others at risk? A pastor’s wife used the ten-lesson Bible study I wrote entitled Dressing for Life: Secrets of the Great Cover-up with her volley-ball team at Christian camp (#LFLDFL, downloadable PDF from Concordia Publishing House). Her goal was to help the girls “exercise self-control in all things”, including their dress and behavior, so that they could be of help and not hindrance to young men who are also trying to “run the race” of faithfulness. Another resource for moms to use with daughters is Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre (Amazon).

Prepare young women to practice self-control with the goal of guarding their body, mind and soul. Mothers of daughters will find a great deal of biological wisdom in the book Unprotected by Miriam Grossman, M.D. (Amazon). As a campus psychiatrist at UCLA, Dr. Grossman treated some 2000 young women whose physical and emotional lives were impacted by sexually-transmitted infections, depression, abortion, and fertility issues. Fed up by the feminist ideology that insists that women are the same as men, Dr. Grossman left her position to tell the world why a woman’s body is more vulnerable and how to avoid physical, psychological and spiritual harm caused by unnecessary behavior. Purchase copies of the book for your local pregnancy resource center and young women in high school and college.

Be faithful in times of waiting. It’s not easy to wait for something wonderful. Too often, times of waiting stretch out for months and even years. While we wait, we can choose to be foolish or wise. A foolish woman anticipates good things but is not prepared to wait and does not have extra oil for her lamp (Matthew 25:1-13). A wise woman anticipates good things to come by keeping her lamp of faith burning brightly. When the waiting gets long, she doesn’t need to fear darkness and despair because her hope is sustained by the means of grace, namely God’s Word and Holy Communion. She remembers her Baptism and trusts her identity as a daughter of God in Christ Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she lives for Him rather than herself. Why do you think that “patience” and “self-control” are fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? While a young woman anticipates something wonderful in her life—most especially Jesus’ second coming—how might an older woman help her bear “good fruit” in her attitude, work habits and love for her neighbor? Does your congregational family intentionally mentor from one generation to the next?

What’s Next?  #6: Mentor the Vocation of Motherhood

Ezer’s Handbook is a resource developed by
Linda Bartlett and presented at Titus 2 Retreats

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Joseph and MaryJoseph, a young man from the house of David, was probably like every other soon-to-be husband: nervous, but excited all the same.  That is, until his fiancée came to him with shocking news.  Mary was pregnant, but Joseph was not the father.  The world, as Joseph knew it, had collapsed around him.  He felt betrayed, hurt, angry.  Break the engagement, whispered his pride, and walk away from this woman.

Everything had changed.  Plans were ruined.  Reputation was at stake.  Unchartered territory lay ahead.  At this precarious moment in his life, Joseph had nothing to hang on to… nothing, that is, except the Word of the Lord.

The Word gave Joseph courage.  “Don’t be afraid!”  It was the word that showed Joseph how to be faithful.  “Take Mary as your wife.  She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Perhaps, in holding on to the Word, Joseph remembered the experience of his ancestor, Adam.  Perhaps, in a moment of truth and with eyes focused, Joseph could picture Adam standing next to his wife, Eve.  Perhaps, with wisdom only from the Holy Spirit, Joseph recognized the significance of Eve’s creation by God from man’s rib.

God made (literally: “built”) woman using part of man.  With this, He established their relationship within the order of creation.  A rib is structural; it supports.  A rib guards and protects the heart and breath of life, yet it is vulnerable.  Under attack, it can easily be fractured or even broken.  Satan despises the order of creation that God uses to protect the man and woman He so loves.  So, that day in the Garden, Satan set his target and went straight to Adam’s rib.  The man was responsible for using God’s Word to cover his wife, yet he did nothing.  Joseph knew the consequences that followed.

Perhaps, with discernment only from God, Joseph understood that he must not repeat the sin of his ancestor and do to his rib what Adam had done to his.

Perhaps, in remembering what Adam had failed to do, Joseph was given the courage to cover his wife, Mary, and lead her to safety.  Let the village talk!  Adjust carefully-made plans!  Trust the Word of the Lord!  Although it meant leaving his zone of comfort, Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do.  He covered his rib by taking Mary as his wife.  And, when Mary’s child was born, Joseph named Him Jesus.

God wanted Joseph to make a difference – a difference that would impact the world.  But, such a difference could be made only by being faithful.  Such faithfulness required that Joseph leave all that was familiar and put his life and the life of Mary into the hands of God.

Today, when a young man pressures his girlfriend to have sex, he is leaving her physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable.  He has placed his “needs” before hers and, in so doing, left her open to attack.  When a man does not promise to love, cherish, and cover a woman with his name, but simply share living quarters and a bed, he is leaving her open to attack.  When a man fathers a child but does not accept the privilege and responsibility of being a daddy, he is leaving both mother and child uncovered and vulnerable to the world.

But, when a man remembers God and His call to leadership, he is able to make a difference.  A young man who guards his girlfriend’s virtue makes a difference.  A husband who remains true to his wife makes a difference.  A dad who understands the privilege, responsibility, and generational influence of fatherhood makes a difference.  Men of faithfulness have a grand opportunity to defend against chaos and leave a legacy of hope.

Convenience told Joseph to walk away from Mary.  Self-defense told Joseph to think of “number one.”  Pride told Joseph that he could do better.  Fear told Joseph to hide.  But, God told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He covered Mary, his rib, and the unborn Child whose heart beat under her own.  And, after the Baby was born in the most humble of circumstances, Joseph named the Child Jesus.  Through all the frightening days ahead, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And the Lord did not forget Joseph.  In the midst of danger, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph.  When uncertainty abounded, the angel of the Lord directed Joseph.

It’s true that life wasn’t ever the same for Joseph.  It certainly wasn’t what he had planned.  But, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And, in doing so, he received courage to do what was asked of him.  Joseph was faithful to cover Mary, his rib.  He raised her Son Jesus in a godly home and took Him to worship.  Some 2000 years later, the Boy who grew to be a Man in the house of a carpenter is still changing lives.

Joseph made a difference.

Copyright 2010

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prison cellThe 28th of October — three days from now — marks the tenth year of incarceration for my young friend Travis.  His life was forever changed when the jury pronounced him “guilty.”  He has no excuses.  Travis knows that he made terrible choices that led to life-threatening drug addiction.

He remembers that day in court when the verdict was read.  His mom reached for him, begging for one last hug but was denied by the U.S. Marshall who cuffed him and dragged him away.  Travis describes himself as a scared little boy in a man’s body unable to grasp the reality of what was happening, yet conscious of frightful images.  Where was he going?  With whom would he be imprisoned?  What would they do to him?  Would he be raped, stabbed or killed?

Travis writes, “I began to plot in my head how to end it all . . . life was not worth living anymore.  I thought of creative ways to use a bed sheet, or perhaps I could pick a fight and hopefully be killed in the process.”  But God was with Travis.  “The comfort I felt when I cried out to Him in one last ditch effort before I ended my life was so amazing.  God really did put His arms around me and lifted me up.”

It would be easy to languish in prison, to let the depression win and the hopelessness take root.  But there, in the most unlikely of places and under the Potter’s own hand, Travis has learned his true identity.  The world calls him a criminal.  A drug-abuser.  A law-breaker.  A bad boy.  A misfit.  But that is not how God identifies him.  God calls Travis His son in Jesus Christ.  A forgiven sinner.  A person of value.  A man with a future of hope.

Travis could remember October 28 as the end of his life.  Instead, he remembers it as the beginning of new life.   Before prison, Travis was captive to the lies.  In prison, he was set free in the Truth.  Before October 28, Travis had forgotten who he was.  On October 28, The Father reminded his child, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

It is in darkness that light shines brightest.  Travis admits to struggling with fear, doubt, sadness, anger, and depression.  But knowing who he is in Christ, Travis also knows he is being transformed.  As a son of God in Christ, Travis has purpose.

You are . . . his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light . . . once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9).

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writing a letterDear Friend,

It was my hope to write much sooner.  I hope this finds you growing in the confidence of our Father’s mercy and love.

Our paths crossed for a time on this earthly journey.  Choices you were making brought suffering to your family and those you care most about.  Those choices forever changed their lives… and yours.  Perhaps the sexual sin that held you captive for too long is part of the reason why I’ve been working on a project.  A very difficult project.  A book that I’d rather not write.  The actual writing began almost two years ago, but the experiences and lessons learned over a period of nearly thirty years laid the foundation.  For now, the working title is The Failure of Christian Sex Education: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity.  I have no idea when the last sentence will be written or, if published, who will want to read it.  But the book begged to be written.

Over fifty years ago, those who promoted the new concept of sex education in both public and parochial schools said it was necessary to decrease unwed pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  To parents and congregations they said, “Stop teaching so many ‘nos.’  Let us teach your children to say ‘yes’ to the wonders of sex because, after all, children are sexual, too.”  They promised: “Getting everyone comfortable with their sexuality will benefit marriage.”

All that I see proves that too many of us believe the lie that “children are sexual from birth.”  Kinsey built that lie on skewed research and criminal behavior.  He called it science.  Those of the humanist faith were waiting for such “science” to reform the whole of society, one child at a time.  But children are not “sexual” (as Kinsey meant it) from birth.  And we are certainly more than sexual beings, we are spiritual beings.  We will live forever — either with or apart from God.  The Church has forgotten to be distinctively different from the world and, in doing so, failed to encourage children and adults to see themselves as God does.  As baptized persons, we are sons and daughters of God in Christ.  That makes us holy.  Holy means being set aside for noble purpose.  We are not common, but uncommon.  As such, we are useable not just by anyone but by God.  What a difference it makes to see ourselves this way.  Sadly, the world convinces too many of us to identify ourselves as sexual beings and that — from early on — has set the stage for promiscuity, abortion, living together, homosexuality, re-definition of marriage, pedophilia, and a great deal of sin, suffering, and separation from God.  The humanists may claim some victory now, but we know Who has the final Word, don’t we?  Souls are in danger… and for that reason we need to do battle with the sinful world and our own corrupted nature even as we fall at the foot of the Cross — every day — and thank God for his mercies in Christ.

My deepest sense tells me that you know what I mean.  We modern sinners are no different from our first parents.  Eve doubted and thought she could become god of her life.  Adam failed to remember God’s Word and use it to bring order out of the chaos.  Ever since, the enemy of our lives comes to us in our weakest moments, tempting us to doubt God’s strong Word.  We think ourselves wise, but we are foolish.  We think ourselves “good” and, most certainly, we are not.  So, at the end of every day, it is a great privilege and comfort to entrust ourselves to our Savior, poor miserable beings that we are.  In the morning, all things are new and, because of His forgiveness, we can begin all over again.  You know this.  You believed this.  But wrong choices taught you how much sin hurts.  It changes lives.  Covered sin saps our strength.  It shapes us more and more into a common vessel useable by our enemy.

However, there is hope.  There is always hope!  Hope came to us in the Son of God Himself.  Harold L. Senkbeil wrote a revealing book entitled Dying to Live (The Power of Forgiveness).  It explains what the Incarnation — the Word made flesh — means for us.  Simple water, bread, wine and words work in sinful lives to make people over into new creatures.  We can’t go back to Eden.  We live in a dying world.  But God is with us!  Like Moses and Elijah, we cannot look directly at God, but God comes to us in mystery.  Senkbeil calls Jesus (who is God) the “backside” of God.  He is the part of God we can see.  He came in flesh — to teach, to sacrifice, to die — but also to conquer Satan and eternal death.  For me, this is a new way of thinking about Christ.

Consider what this means.  God comes to us in the mystery of water (Baptism), bread and wine (Communion), and His Holy Word.  Wow!  God really has come to you and me… to all who are dying to live 🙂  I think you would like what Harold Senkbeil has to say about the power of forgiveness.  May you know that power in Christ.  May I know that power in Christ.  And may we persevere — with our families and loved ones — on this journey through a strange and unfriendly land to our eternal home.  Can you imagine?  There, at the banquet table, we will be able to rest our eyes on the magnificence of God.  He will no longer have to hide His fullness from us.  We will know His glory in every way.

Your life took a dramatic and traumatic turn.  Sin never improves us but, rather, beats us up.  You have known guilt, regret and great loss of relationships.  Your family, friends and loved ones have also suffered.  But each new day is new opportunity.  The past is what it is.  We are affected by every choice that we make.  Life becomes much more difficult and painful when we fail to use the Word to bring order out of the chaos of life.  But no matter those choices and circumstances — no matter our sins, or lack of health or popularity — our identity never changes when we cling to our baptism.  We are sons and daughters of God in Christ.  Think of what this means!  We really do have hope.  New hope every morning!

May you cling to your baptism even as I will strive to cling to mine.  I am amazed that God continues to carry me.  Forgive me.  Work through me.  It is for this reason that I have grown in a deeper appreciation of the Divine Service.  God doesn’t need my praise, but this empty vessel sure needs to be filled with His Word and Sacrament.  I need to be divinely served by Him in a service distinctively different from the world… and then, in response, I can praise Him in my work, relationships and service to others all week long.  I pray that you know his Divine Service in your life so that, no matter what the days ahead may bring, you will be able to say: I am not common.  I am uncommon in the hands of a mighty God.  I am poor.  I am miserable.  I am unworthy… but I am chosen as a son of God in Christ.

May you know the overwhelming mercy that only God Himself in the humility of Christ can bring to you.  The Cross changes everything for us.  We are no longer captive to sin, but set free to leave old ways behind.  Dear friend, let us both pray for a diminished pride so that we don’t get in the way of the Spirit’s work in us, through us…

… in spite of us.

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