Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
I’m on the hunt for an elliptical machine. Perhaps it’s a midlife crisis. My most recent birthday, a trip to the doctor, family history, and a future beach vacation have me thinking about my health again. Time to drop a few of the extra pounds, shed the excess winter weight, and stay away from the Easter candy. This is what we do in America. We join gyms. We diet. We cleanse. We purge our pantries. We download fitness apps. We start programs. We eat fresh. We watch our weight. We have operations. And if that doesn’t work, according to the many observed clickbait ads, we create pills and magical potions so that we don’t have to join gyms and diet. We do all kinds of things and spends so much money to make ourselves healthy, to prolong our lives, and to stave off death for as long as we can. This country music lyric rings true, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” We want to stay earthbound for as long as we can; and we will do whatever we can to look good while we’re here. But the reality is, that no matter how healthy we are, we will still die. This is not breaking news, but a harsh, unavoidable reality nonetheless. For all the wonders of science and advancements of medicine and modern technology, the human race has still not been able to solve the problem of death. It still comes for us all.
The Apostle Paul bluntly states this fact too. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) Death has been an abhorrent and uninvited part of our world ever since the Garden of Eden. So, what can we do about it? Nothing. Bummer, right? This is the undeniable limit of our human ability. We can make ourselves healthier, but we cannot prevent death from coming. No matter how strong and smart we become, no matter how much exercise equipment we purchase—death still eventually calls our name.
The Christian faith does not sugarcoat death. We don’t pretend like it doesn’t hurt. We don’t minimize the grief or the sorrow. We speak directly of it as an enemy. Death is horrible; it is evil. We read about this last Sunday in our Gospel reading, from John 11, and Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. In verse 33, it says Jesus was “greatly troubled.” This is an understatement. Jesus was more than just troubled, he did more than just groan, he was more than just angry at death. A better translation from the original Greek, could say that Jesus 'snorted' with anger at death (literally to snort like a horse). Jesus was so completely agitated and annoyed at death, so angry that it moved him to physically shudder because he was filled with such intense emotion. Standing there beside his friend’s grave, Jesus looks at the havoc, separation, and mourning brought about by the evil one. Then, Jesus, as a precursor to His own resurrection, stares death down and destroys it. He looks at the grave and crushes. He takes the tomb and reverses the curse. Author Chad Bird writes, “At Lazarus’ grave, Jesus did not say, ‘Death is natural, a normal part of the cycle of life.’ No, he wept. Then he kicked death in the teeth.” Death… kicked in the teeth. I love that! Long before Chuck Norris, it was Jesus who delivered the most mighty blow to our greatest enemy.
How beautiful those life-giving, gospel words were that Jesu spoke over Lazarus. “Come out… unbind him.” Death no longer was the winner. Momentum swung. The battle raged on. The Devil was backed into the corner. And with a mighty word, Jesus took away the power that death for so long relished in. Death and the devil no longer had the final word; they were the ones defeated; they had met their match. Theirs was the unfortunate end brought about by the Savior Jesus’ and His powerful, performative word. A new day had dawned. They were knocked over, down and out. No wonder St. Paul later trumpeted, "O death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15)
Death may beat us; but it is no match for our God. And if we cling to God, through our own tears and grief, God has promised to be the resurrection and life to all who believe. Just like Mary and Martha, our sorrow will turn to joy, and we will go from weeping to dancing. This is what we will celebrate throughout Holy Week. The wages of sin may be death, but God delivers us from that permanent peril, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). God’s victory over death. Our victory. Come celebrate with us. Hope to see you in worship!
“But God raised [Jesus] from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24)
“Jesus didn’t escape from death; he conquered it and opened the way to heaven for all who will dare to believe.” (Steven James)
I have a new vice. No it is not wicked or immoral. But it definitely distracts and sucks up way too much of my time. Here is how it started… At some point, several weeks ago, I took the bait and clicked on a nature video, “Angry Hippo Attacks.” I couldn’t help it. My curiosity was peaked. It was only a two-minute video. Allow me to set the scene... Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa. A pack of wild dogs chases a poor, defenseless, young antelope. The savage dogs are biting, trying to tear it apart. Suddenly a huge hippo comes to the rescue of the young antelope and chases the horrid dog pack away. Good riddance to those ruthless scavengers. But then, the hippo turns his gaze to the antelope now stuck in its mud. The territorial giant glares and then charges at it, swiping at it several times with its ginormous head and eventually crushing it in its massive mouth, killing it and leaving it for the same dogs to come in and devour. The ugly side of nature on full display. The footage gives a gruesome glimpse into the realities of animal life in the wild. Ever since I first viewed that video, my social media and homepages are regularly enticing me with more animal videos. “Buck Swims for its Life from Crocodile,” “Lions Attack Elderly Leopard,” “Hyenas Eat Baby Buffalo Alive,” “Cheetah Waiting for Baby Zebra.” Each one is as captivating as the next. Heart-breaking and hard to stomach. I should just close the page or put down my phone. But I continue to fall victim to the clickbait. I watch and cringe, and then watch another. From these videos, I’ve since learned many things. Here are just a few of them— Hyenas are nasty creatures. Komodo dragons have a huge mouth. Never, ever mess with a hippo. And most profoundly, thanks be to God that we humans are atop of the food chain!
Nature is quite literally a dog-eat-dog world. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Always watch your back. Always be on your guard. You can never be too paranoid. As humans we are indeed blessed to be on top of the food chain. Our God did us a major, underrated solid when He created us in His image and gave humans dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26) But though we sit comfortably as apex predators in this world, it does not mean we can let our guard down. Why? Not because there is a pride of lions lurking in our backyard or a polar bear camouflaged in a nearby pile of snow. Because, as the apostle Peter reminds us, that “… Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Using the unsettling, yet incredibly effective, image of nature, Peter stresses our need to be aware (be watchful) of the viciousness by which the devil tries to tear us away from our God. The devil is our enemy; he is our predator. There is a spiritual battle underway; and we are in the crosshairs. During our own moments of suffering and hardship in this broken world, the devil is trying to get us to abandon our faith. He sees the followers of Jesus—at times, weak, vulnerable, and alone—and he pounces with an entire array of weapons. He attacks with the intent to destroy, to smother our faith and suffocate our trust in the Lord.
So, how do we resist? How do we stand firm? How do we fight back? How do we withstand the attacks of the crouching, demonic lion? Peter gives counsel in this too. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7) Apart from God, we are easy targets for the devil. But like a mother antelope, fervently protecting her young, our God steps in to valiantly and triumphantly fight our battles for us. The Lord cares for you. He fights for you. He protects you. He saves you. When we come to the Lord in prayer and devotion, in worship and in scripture, He continues to follow-through on His promise to uphold His people. He will not let us be destroyed. In John 10:28, Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We are safe in the arms of Jesus—no matter how wily or relentless the devil is. Safe in the arms of Jesus, we will never become the prey of Satan. He will not pluck us out. He cannot win the day!
Ope! Facebook just alerted me to a new video... “Buck Fighting Wild Dogs & Hippos Gets Caught by Crocodile.” Sounds like a good one. Glad I haven’t eaten my lunch yet.
Did I mention it’s good to be atop of the food chain? 😉
This past week, I spent three days in St. Louis. Why? Not to avoid the snow, although the timing was wonderfully convenient. While most in our area were shoveling out and enjoying a snow day, I was in 60-degree temps with sunny skies. Plus, if I’m going to flee the snow, it will not be to the middle of the country where there is no beach in sight! It also was not, primarily, for the delicious St. Louis BBQ, fresh Anheuser-Busch brew, or local Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. The actual reason that I was in St. Louis was for the Set Apart to Serve (SAS) initiative that you’ve seen mentioned several times over the past many months in our weekly blasts and church bulletins. Our church body, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has its headquarters located in St. Louis and they hosted all members that are part of this pilot group for an onboarding conference.
So what is Set Apart to Serve? Again, it is a synod-wide, intentional commitment, and meticulous approach to raising up, educating, and sending new church workers. There is an incredible shortage of full-time church workers. For example, we currently have about 6,000 active pastors in our synod. If nothing is done, due to retirement and low enrollment at our...
Pastor Steve Vera