To marry or not to marry?


1 Corinthians 7:25 (The apostle Paul wrote) Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin.

Apparently the apostle Paul had been asked to offer his guidance for people who were married or who were considering marriage. What should they do given that Jesus was coming soon? Two things interest me about this passage.

First, I appreciate Paul’s statement in v.25 “I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”. He made a distinction between direction he received from the Lord and his own opinion. They did not carry the same weight or authority in Paul’s mind.

Second, Paul was expecting Jesus to return any day – maybe even within the week. With such a short time frame to consider, getting married or not getting married doesn’t seem that big of a deal. I’m fairly certain Paul would be astounded to learn that, over 2,000 years after this letter was written, the church was still waiting for Jesus to come again.

Lastly, though 2,000 years seems like a long time to you and me – in the context of eternity 2,000 years will seems as a tick of the clock.

Lord Jesus we await your return. Save us from the troubles and concerns of this life and receive us into your eternal kingdom. Amen.

Bitter root of unforgiveness…


Psalm 55: 12 It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me— I could hide from them. 13 But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, 14 with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng. 15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts. 

Wow. The writer is really upset. Why? Someone close to him has turned on him, embarrassed him. We expect this sort of thing from an enemy, but not from a friend. “Let death come upon them”. There’s no sense of forgiveness here or a desire for healing or restoration.

There is a bitterness to this psalm that is familiar to me. I’d like to say I’ve never experienced thoughts like the psalmist, but that would be a lie – maybe not often, but not “never” either. The danger here is not for the offender, whoever that may be, but for the wounded one. This kind of unforgiveness can plant itself deep in our hearts if we’re not careful. It can produce hate, anger, depression, and many other awful things. It can ruin our health and compromise important relationships. I once heard someone say that holding on to unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

As I’ve been thinking and praying this morning I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in the “Lord’s Prayer”. “Forgive us our sins… as we forgive those who sin against us”. It’s the forgiveness extended to us through Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, that can help us forgive what may seem unforgivable. Lord Jesus let it be so. Amen.

Make us fools for you, Lord Jesus…


1 Corinthians 1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 

This is such an interesting passage. I’m copying a comment I made about this text a few years ago,

“Make no mistake, on its face the crucifixion looks like defeat. Jesus, the so-called Messiah, died like a common criminal at the hands of the Romans and at the behest of the Jewish priests and Pharisees. All the miracles, the teaching, the predictions of greatness – gone. Done. Finished.But then there’s the resurrection. Jesus did not die forever, but took the pain of our sin to the cross. For three days. Then at the resurrection Jesus’ utter defeat became eternal victory. Of course, not everyone believed Jesus rose from the dead – despite many witnesses. But some did believe and for them the cross meant the possibility of eternal life.”

Like many of you, I was born into a culture in which the story of Jesus was taken for granted as truth. Over the years I’ve tried to more deeply understand the Jesus story and its impact on my life, but I’ve never thought for a moment the story isn’t true. I consider that a gift of God’s grace.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice on a cross, your resurrection, and your promise of eternal life through faith. If professing this gospel is foolish to some, so be it. Make us fools for you all the more. Amen.

Me, a saint? Seriously?


1 Corinthians 1:1–3 (NRSV): Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Growing up, my church involvement came through the Roman Catholic tradition. In that tradition a “saint” is someone very special. It’s a believer who exhibits extraordinary faith, including documented acts of supernatural power. There is even a special process called “canonization” by which someone is designated a “saint”.

When I came into a Protestant church, the Lutheran church, I was taught that all believers are “called to be saints” (v.2). This was a mind-bender for me. How can any old Christian be a saint? More importantly, how could I possibly be considered a saint? I mean, there is nothing special about my faith. I have good days and bad as it relates to faith.

But then I came to embrace a Protestant understanding of “saint”. A saint is one made holy, not by one’s own actions or faithfulness or supernatural ability, but by our identity as children of God via baptism in the name of Jesus. My faith may waver, but Jesus’ holiness does not. It is forever and always. And so each day we have life we are “saints” through Jesus.

If our sainthood, then, is bound up in Jesus and not my questionable actions/inactions, different questions emerge. How will we live today as saints, as those called to love others as Jesus loves us? How will our sainthood be manifest in the world God loves?

Lord empower us to be saints today, for the sake of the world you love, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A living sacrifice to the Lord…


Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is one of my favorite passages in the entire bible. In it, the apostle Paul is writing to Christians in Rome. There were many gods/idols in the ancient Roman empire, many of which received regular animal sacrifices – sheep, goats, cattle, doves, and so on. These animals were typically brought alive to the altar of a god, killed, the blood poured out, some parts of the flesh burned on a fire, and the rest sold to the masses for food. The point here is that the entire animal was sacrificed, not just a part.

Paul uses this image of animal sacrifice to speak of Christian discipleship, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. He invites us to give all of ourselves to the Lord, not just a part. And then we are not to be put to death, but to be a “living sacrifice”, a person completely committed to the Lord Jesus. In v.2 the word “transformed” comes from the Greek word used to describe the way a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A butterfly is not just a bit different, but is changed completely.

I remember including these verses in my service of ordination in June of 1998. Entering seminary was a huge faith step for me and my family. It felt a lot like being “transformed”. Yet 25 years later I can confidently say I have not yet been transformed completely. There are always parts of me I want to hold on to. Am I different? Yes. But the process is ongoing and will likely never be quite complete on this side of heaven. It’s the sinful nature in me that gets in the way.

Lord Jesus, by your mercy, don’t give up on me but continue in me the work you’ve begun. Amen.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me…


Psalm 40: 11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever. 12 For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me. 13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. 

This is King David crying out to God for help against “evils” of many kinds. Connected to these evils are “my iniquities” which are also many. To be “encompassed” and “overtaken” is to be overwhelmed. There’s just too much coming at David all at once. I have days like that too. There are days when it seems the challenges of life will overwhelm me. Ever experienced that? It’s a terrible feeling.

The thing that caught my attention in the passage is David’s response to his challenges. Yes, he cries out for help from the Lord, but he also takes a posture of humility, owning the iniquities that have plagued him. Does he deserve God’s protection? It would seem not on account of his sins against God. Yet he asks anyway in v.11. It is not David’s righteousness which will protect him, but the love and faithfulness of God who loves him despite his shortcomings. I think that’s my prayer this morning too.

Dear Lord, you know my faults and sins. They are many. I don’t deserve your love, mercy, and care, but ask for it anyway. For Jesus’ sake have mercy on me, set me free from that which binds me up. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

My lifetime is nothing in your sight…


Psalm 39: 4 “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. 5 You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.  6 Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.” 

This is another psalm written by King David. Seems to me there are three main ideas in these few verses. First, David asks the Lord to reveal how much time he has left in this life. I’m not sure I would want to know the answer to that question. Would you? Second, whatever the answer is, it is “a mere breath”. In other words, from the perspective of eternity, it is shockingly brief. The older I get the more this resonates. Thirdly, David points out the futility in giving so much of a short life trying to accumulate material things – which ultimately end up in the hands of someone else.

Heavenly Father, life is certainly short. Give me grace to make good use of whatever time I have left. Amen.

The practice of waiting…


Psalm 38: 11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off. 12 Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long. 13 But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak. 14 Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort. 15 But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. 

This morning I’ll share with you a reflection written by a dear pastor friend of mine. I don’t think I can say it better. “The Psalmist is in distress, with friends far away and enemies near. But he recognizes his own illusion of agency (vs. 13-14), he is like the idols (see Psalm 135:16-18). Instead he waits for God. This practice of waiting is the invitation of the Sabbath, to lay aside our own sense that it is all up to us, to be mercifully stripped of the illusion that we were ever in charge of creating, protecting, providing or any of the rest. It is an invitation to wait, to let God be God.” (Pr. Louise Johnson)

Gracious God, teach us to wait upon you, trusting you will act in your own time. Amen.

Sin and illness…


Psalm 38: 1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. 2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. 3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. 

This writer of this psalm obviously connects his physical ailments with his sin against God. Jesus echoes a similar idea when he first forgives the sins of persons in need of healing before healing them. I’ll admit I don’t fully understand the connection between sin and illness, mostly because even the most righteous persons in the bible eventually succumb to illness and death. Since the original sin of Genesis chapter 3, humans have dealt with the pain of mortality.

Tomorrow we will lay to rest my father-in-law Ernest Rohlack. His loss was quite a blow to my family coming just a few days after we laid to rest my brother Chris. But unlike Chris, who died at a relatively young age, Ernest enjoyed the blessing of years and longevity. He had recently turned 89 years old – long enough to see his children and grandchildren and even a great-grandchild enter this world and prosper. Though I would be remiss if I failed to mention the loss of his oldest son Ernie a few years ago. Children are not supposed to leave this world before their parents. But mostly, the Lord blessed Ernest who is now at rest.

In the last few months I’ve been reminded that life is fragile. Our passage for today reminds me that death is part of the curse of sin for all humanity. Including you and me. So today, as a way to honor my father-in-law, I will end my post with a prayer I wrote which is printed on his funeral bulletin:

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for our dear brother in Christ, Ernest Rohlack. While we grieve his loss, give us faith to recall how death has been swallowed up in the victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Console those who mourn, and give us grace to live in the confident hope that we will one day be reunited with Ernest and all your saints in heaven. For we pray this in the most holy name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Jesus gave his life to make it so…


Psalm 37:27 (NRSV): 27 Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide forever.

So simple. Want things to go well? Want to prosper in all things? Want to enjoy the provision and protection of God the Father? Want to live in peace all your days? Me too. But how? “Depart from evil and do good”.

So simple, and yet so hard. I’m not looking to act ways that are not aligned with the will and ways of God, but end up doing so anyway on a regular basis.

Which makes me appreciate my Lord Jesus all the more. Through Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, we have forgiveness of sins and restoration of fellowship with God.

And so we “shall abide forever”. So simple. And yet so costly. Jesus gave his life to make it so. Thank you Lord. Amen.