Who do the Worms Eat?

jar1A jar of dirt. A pickle jar filled with dirt from your back yard, sitting on your desk or mantle, reminding you of your origin as animated dust, as organic matter which has received the breath of God. As it stands, a good reminder. A speaker at a conference I attended recently made this the climax of his speech. Keep this jar of dirt in your study, he told us pastors.

A jar of dirt. A reminder that we will end up there as well, once the chemicals dissipate and the water enters the vault. With time and time again, back to dirt and dust we will go. It’s the call to repentance of Lent, from dirt to dirt. It’s the order of things after the Fall, after the primordial days of old. It’s all we knew.

And if that it were it, then the cry of the hedonist sounds loud: eat and drink! It would be worth the stress and worry and concern of hanging onto this life, if it were only dust and ashes punctuated by these brief days of light and joy. It would be worth the lust of gold and pleasures of the flesh. It would be worth stabbing your friend in the back with steely knives if it were all darkness at the end. Pass the bottle and stoics be damned. The worms will win in the end and I’ll at least die with a smile.

But there is one whom the worms did not receive. There is the one who defeated decay and death and worms and corruption. He is my Lord. He defeated the worms and nitrifying processes of aerobic bacteria. He defeated the power of the grave. For me, the worms do not win. The water and bacteria and destruction and thermodynamic heat death of the universe does not win. My Lord broke that system and I belong to Him.

This jar of dirt or flies has no bearing on the Christian. Yes, we should memento mori and dust to dust, but not to dwell. There is more. There is forever.

Give Thanks Today

We have it so good. I wonder how much tougher people used to be, who faced so much and worse.

St. Denys, Bishop of Alexandria wrote this, “At first they drove us out and…we keppt our festival even then, pursued and put to death by all, and every single spot where we were afflicted became to us a place of assembly for the feast–field, desert, ship, inn, prison.” As Dom Dix describes, the Saint wrote this of Easter 250, when, above the persecution, there was also a civil war, famine and plague happening at the same time (Dix, Shape of the Liturgy, 153).

Seriously? As if hounded by the mob who hates you, tortured by the authorities weren’t enough, God added war, famine and deadly disease to the mix? How could they bear such things? We who rank marriage as one of the most stressful times in life, who think that being yelled at by your boss ruins your day, or week could not bear even one of those disasters. But if we examine history, we’ll find that we are the exception by far. You don’t have to go far in time or space to see those who deal with war, death, disease, persecution. Across the globe, back 60 years and it becomes more and more common.

So give thanks this day and pray for your children and grandchildren, and remember it all ends in victory for those who have died with Christ already.



What You’re Waiting For

We all go through those time periods when life is on hold. We are waiting for the end of the semester, for the baby to be born, the building to be finished, the month to end, the move to happen, the wedding. The worst hold times are those when there is not a cotton-picking thing we can do to prepare–those times when we wait to find out what’s coming next. You put in the job application and wait. You put in the college app and wait for the letter. The work is done and now you sit and twiddle your thumbs and think of all you might have done differently or what will happen and when.

We went through all this last summer, as Marjorie was waiting on this University and that University to decide what she had to do to finish her degree. She made the calls, submitted the applications, did everything she could and meanwhile, we had decisions to make for our family, but everything hinged upon what this and that University would tell her.

If you’re neurotic, these times will kill you. They will eat you from the inside out. And while you wait you miss out on everything else. On life. On the moments of joy that happen every day. You miss out on all these things while you stare at the clock or the calendar.

The trick to surviving these times of waiting and fidgeting and gross neurosis is to remember that all of life is this way. We are all waiting.  “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:22-23 ESV) All creation is waiting and longing and groaning with transitional labor for Christ to come and renew all things. This is life. This is creation. Waiting for the results, for the job offer, for the house to sell, these are simply flies of frustration compared to the contractions we and all this world, visible and invisible is suffering. They are hunger pains while we suffer the true labor of delivery, of the consummation of all things.

It’s almost like a bad joke: You’re impatient in waiting? Hah! If you only knew what you were really waiting for! But it’s no  joke. We wait for Christ and for the new heaven and earth, for resurrection of all flesh. We wait. And when we look for this, for this divine re-ordering of all things, we can begin to see the good that is now, the good that will only be better, the bad that will be redeemed, the frustration that will be filled, the beauty that will be beautified.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Easters Here, There and Everywhere

Easter Sunday was hard. Seeing all the faces of those I’ve known, the widows whose husbands I’ve buried, the hands held out that I had confirmed over the years, knowing why she doesn’t kneel but he does–seeing this and knowing it is my last Easter here. But at the same time already moving ahead, thinking of my new congregation kneeling, communing with them already together with the angels and the archangels, with Peter and John and Mary and all the company of heaven.

Haven’t had one like that in years–stressful and sad and expectant and disappointing. Yes, disappointed that I will not be here again for this Feast but disappointed I’m not yet there either. It was a limbo on Easter Sunday. But it’s also saying goodbye. It’s the reason I am dreading visiting the shut-ins for the last time. Saying goodbye.

This is the way of life in this fallen world. We say goodbye. Nothing lasts forever here. Sometimes you know when you are leaving, when they are leaving, and other times you don’t, but it is the way.

But we who have life in the kingdom have yet another promise: there is no true goodbye for us in Christ. We commune with all of them as we gather around the lamb who was slain. We receive the same body and blood, we gather together, separated by distance and dimension, but not death. Space, but not spirit. We move to the next room, the next town, the next place, but we never leave our Lord–or He never leaves us.

Christ the Life of All the Living

Christ, the Life of all the living,
Christ the Death of death, our foe,
Who Thyself for us once giving
To the darkest depths of woe,
Patiently didst yield Thy breath
But to save my soul from death;
Praise and glory ever be,
Blessèd Jesus, unto Thee.

Thou, O Christ, hast taken on Thee
Bitter strokes, a cruel rod;
Pain and scorn were heaped upon Thee,
O Thou sinless Son of God,
Only thus for me to win
Rescue from the bonds of sin;
Praise and glory ever be,
Blessèd Jesus, unto Thee.

Thou didst bear the smiting only
That it might not fall on me;
Stoodest falsely charged and lonely
That I might be safe and free;
Comfortless that I might know
Comfort from Thy boundless woe.
Praise and glory ever be,
Blessèd Jesus, unto Thee.

Heartless scoffers did surround Thee,
Treating Thee with shameful scorn
And with piercing thorns they crowned Thee,
All disgrace Thou, Lord, hast borne
That as Thine Thou mightest own me
And with heavenly glory crown me.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

Thou hast suffered men to bruise Thee
That from pain I might be free;
Falsely did Thy foes accuse Thee,
Thence I gain security;
Comfortless Thy soul did languish
Me to comfort in my anguish.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

Thou hast suffered great affliction,
And hast borne it patiently,
Even death by crucifixion,
Fully to atone for me;
Thou didst choose to be tormented
That my doom should be prevented.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

Then, for all that wrought our pardon,
For Thy sorrows deep and sore,
For Thine anguish in the garden,
I will thank Thee evermore;
Thank Thee with my latest breath
For Thy sad and cruel death,
For that last and bitter cry
Praise Thee evermore on high.

In its Narrow Chamber Keep

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart;
With tender mercy cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share,
Yea, Heav’n itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me.
And should my heart for sorrow break,
My trust in Thee can nothing shake.
Thou art the portion I have sought;
Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.

Yea, Lord, ’twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in every place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And serve and help my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile,
Let Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’am’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end!

(Mar­tin Schall­ing, cir­ca 1567 (Herzlich Lieb hab’ ich dich, O Herr); pub­lished in Kurtze und son­der­liche Newe Sym­bo­la et­lich­er Fürst­en (N�rn­berg, Ger­ma­ny: 1571); trans­lat­ed from Ger­man to Eng­lish by Ca­ther­ine Wink­worth, Lyra Ger­man­i­ca, se­cond ser­ies, 1858, alt.)

Funerals and Resurrection

What I love about Lutheran funerals is the primacy given the Resurrection. In the prayers and liturgy, the Resurrection of Christ is dominant, coupled with the hope of our own resurrection. What bothers me is that resurrection does not take center stage at all times. What is our last enemy, after all? Is it is sin? Is it it the lack of forensic justification? Spare me. The last enemy is death, but we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Death is our problem and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of the resurrection of all the dead and the life everlasting is the Gospel. It is the good news.

I’ve taken the “Jeff Gibbs” approach and try and try to always bring the hope to the life and the resurrection, not leaving it in some platonized, gnosticized heavenly existence in the Great Beyond©. The problem is so much of Pop-Christianity can only address the forgiveness theology that “gets us into heaven” and leaves it at that. We speak resurrection, but every preacher and Thomas Nelson Book © just talk about Jesus in the clouds and hereafter and they drown us out.

All the more reason to keep crying in the wilderness.

Ashes and Ashes

Dust and ashes.

It doesn’t feel like that today, though. The sky is bright and blue, I’ve got two brand new baby clownfish in my new saltwater tank (properly cycled, thank you very much), my Flonase prescription is in the mail, but even without it I can breathe for the moment.

Meanwhile a train is howling as it crosses town and the training jets from the Air Force Base are roaring by like they do every day, Monday through Friday. The hard-hatted men are pounding away on the sanctuary and secretary is typing away in the next room.

So where’s the dust? Where are the ashes?

Oh, M* knows it. Her husband is lying on a metal table right now.  J* sees them. He’s recuperating from a heart cath and stint and is thinking about the bypasses he had a few years ago.

If you look, you’ll see them. If you look inside, they are there. The dust and ashes of death that appear on foreheads once a year but are always there until the End.

The Resurrection and the Life

Phillip raised an important question in his comment on the previous post: what is the relationship between bad–or no–teaching and rejection of teaching begin?

First, church members need to make sure they are reading Scripture. Pastors can teach all they can till they are blue in the face, but if Christians are not reading the Word of God, actively attending to it, then all kinds of falsehood and wrong impressions can fester. Bible study is an important tool as well.

Second, Pastors need to make sure they are speaking Scripturally when it comes to speaking about death and the resurrection. I try to avoid saying that we will “go to Heaven when we die” because Scripture does not speak like that much. It can be misunderstood as well. We need to make sure we speak about the resurrection and speak about the work of Christ in terms of resurrection, not just forgiveness and Heaven, as if that is all there is.

So what do you do if your pastor is not teaching well? Ask him, in a loving way. You could say, “Hey Pastor, it seems to me that I don’t hear much about the resurrection of the dead in your sermons. Am I missing it? What do you think about it?” Stating it this way puts the fault in the hearer and invites him to teach you there on the spot and to share what is on his mind.

Any other ideas?

The Resurrection of the Dead, Part Ia

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (1Co 15:12-18 ESV)

This passage is often used to support the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That it does. But it is actually addressing the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead in general, not just Jesus’. In fact, the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day is primary, according to St. Paul: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” And most importantly, if you do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, then your faith is in vain, he writes.

So what? Don’t all Christians who recite the Apostles or Nicene creed believe in the resurrection of the dead de facto?

They speak it, but how do we live it? How do we express it? By finding our “comfort” in the fact that the spirit of Uncle Charlie is alive in some Platonic wonderland of fishing without having a body, or fish or even rivers? That Aunt Sally is even now sewing and bossing around the children, even though she has no body to sew with, nor fabric to sew, nor needles, unless they are some kind of “heavenly fabric” which in fact is pure imagination? Let’s be serious for a moment: just what is Grandma Heaper experiencing right now? Is she living a bodily kind of life eating liver and chicken necks and playing King’s Corner even though she has no body with which to eat?

We need bodies to eat with, to drink with, to play with, to run with. If there is no body then we can have awareness and perception and thought, but not true bodily experience. Take the resurrection appearances of Christ. When he appeared to the disciples he had to prove that he was not an incorporeal spirit by eating with them, by allowing them to see and touch His beautiful wounds of our redemption. Jesus would not be eating fish if he’d left His body in the ground.