Unbelievable Sacrifice

The first liturgical reading for the 1st Sunday in Lent is challenging in light of the events of this past week. In Genesis 12:1-3 and 15:1-6 God had given great promises to Abram [name changed to Abraham in Gen. 17] about having a son, even in advanced age for himself and his wife Sarai.

After this son, Isaac, is born (Gen. 21), God asks him to do the unthinkable. Note specifically how God addresses Abraham:  “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” Abraham follows through with God’s instruction. But God stops him before the sacrifice of his son is done. God addresses him in the same way as v. 2: “you did not refuse to give me your son, your only son” (v. 12). God provides a ram instead for the sacrifice.

What God did not allow Abraham to complete, God eventually does. He offers His Son as the perfect sacrifice.

10 Yet, it was the LORD’s will to crush him with suffering. When the LORD has made his life a sacrifice for our wrongdoings, he will see his descendants for many days. The will of the LORD will succeed through him. 11 He will see and be satisfied because of his suffering. My righteous servant will acquit many people because of what he has learned ⌝through suffering⌟. He will carry their sins as a burden. (Isaiah 53:10-11)

The Gospel reading for Feb. 4 (Transfiguration, Mark 9:2-9) occurs in the middle of Jesus’ earthly ministry, emphasizes this sonship (and love) of Jesus again.

Then a cloud overshadowed them. A voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Note the prelude to that sacrifice in Mark 1:9-15 when Jesus is baptized (Gospel reading for this Sunday).  “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you” (v. 11).

And then the final piece of the sacrifice comes in Mark 15:34.

At three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

The beloved Son is now the rejected Son, abandoned even by His very own Father in heaven. By doing so, Jesus carried the sins, not just sticks of wood to the mountain (i.e. Isaac), but with His own suffering and death. After His resurrection from the dead, God’s approval and love is complete—Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s plan of saving sinners.

This is true because Christ suffered for our sins once. He was an innocent person, but he suffered for guilty people so that he could bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

When we believe Jesus is our Savior, then God has some wonderful words for us to hear and remember.

Before the Passover festival, Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go back to the Father. Jesus loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

Don’t love money. Be happy with what you have because God has said, “I will never abandon you or leave you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

God our Father loved us and by his kindness [grace] gave us everlasting encouragement and good hope. (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

Especially pertinent in light of the agony and affliction many have experienced recently, Paul writes about the significance of God’s love.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35 NAS)

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 NAS)

May this love be yours in Jesus Christ. May you live in light of that love, hope, and encouragement.

An unbelievable sacrifice through Jesus becomes the believable sacrifice for us, for salvation from sin, for new life, for cleansed conscience, and the promise of eternal life, with no pain, sorrow, loss, death, or tears.


Genesis 22:1–18 (GW)

1 Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!”
“Yes, here I am!” he answered.
2 God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut the wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place that God had told him about.  4 Two days later Abraham saw the place in the distance.  5 Then Abraham said to his servants, “You stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go over there. We’ll worship. After that we’ll come back to you.”

6 Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to his son Isaac. Abraham carried the burning coals and the knife. The two of them went on together.
Isaac spoke up and said, “Father?”
“Yes, Son?” Abraham answered.
Isaac asked, “We have the burning coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, Son.”

The two of them went on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood on the altar. 10 Next, Abraham picked up the knife and took it in his hand to sacrifice his son.

11 But the Messenger of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes?” he answered.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you did not refuse to give me your son, your only son.”

13 When Abraham looked around, he saw a ram behind him caught by its horns in a bush. So Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named that place The LORD Will Provide. It is still said today, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

15 Then the Messenger of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I am taking an oath on my own name, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not refused to give me your son, your only son, 17 I will certainly bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of their enemies’ cities. 18 Through your descendant all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”


Prayers for Survivors/Conquerors

I started almost three weeks ago a series of prayers for survivors of Nazzar’s  sexual assaults on hundreds of young girls and women. One prayer each day. It’s easy to be angry initially, but each of these girls and women and their families live in aftermath of the abuse. Let’s not forget them.

I marvel at their strength, courage, and encouragement each of them is for all others who have been abused.

Here is the list of the first 19 prayers. On Twitter here is the key phrase:


Day 1 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, I lift up to Your throne of mercy Kyle Stephens. You know the pain & hurt, the challenges that lie ahead for her. Therefore grant her comfort, peace, & safety, & healing. Raise up the right people to walk w/her; thru Jesus Christ, Amen

Day 2 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors O, Lord our God, how majestic is Your name. Today l lift Jessica Thomashow to Your throne of mercy. May You comfort, heal, and strengthen her each day. Grant her peace and joy in You, as You as she move forward; thru Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Day 3 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors The next person on the list I have: Victim D. Lord God, bless and protect this woman. Reassure her of Your love and grace. Embrace her with people who know you and love her. Whatever her needs, may you meet them thru Jesus

Day 4 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Chelsey Markham: Lord, look with favor upon Chelsey as she continues this journey. Grant hope in the midst of the worst trials, encouragement when the world wants to discourage. Continue to bless her with friends who walk with her. IJN. Amen

Day 5 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, may You raise up Jade Capua by healing, strengthening, and encouraging her today. The challenges are still present even tho they take different forms. But You have led her this far, continue to bless her that she might live in Your freedom, thru Jesus. Amen

Day 6 Alexis Moore #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God, You strengthen of weak, You comfort those who mourn You are with them daily. I pray for Alexis Moore today as she continues to live in light of her freedom. May Lam. 3:21-23 be her daily reminder; IJN. Amen

Day 7 Olivia Cowan #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, Your love never ends. Give to Olivia Cowan a special outpouring of Your love & comfort today. Where she has needs raise up people to provide that for her. May Your peace abide with her. IJN. Amen

Day 8 Rebecca Mark #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, You are the God of grace and mercy. Continue to work in and through Rebecca as she heals from her abuse. Surround her with people who love and support her. IJN Amen

Day 9 Bethany Bauman #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, You know the devastation that Bethany has faced, silently & publicly. Raise up people to care for her, encourage her, and strengthen her. May Isaish 40:29-30 be a lifeline. IJN. Amen

Day 10 Kate Mahon #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors O Lord, our God, You know the pain, heartache, & destruction Kate has faced. Raise up the right people @ right time to care for her, walk w/her, cry w/her, & support her always. IJN. Amen

Day 11 Danielle Moore #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Gracious Lord, look w/favor on Danielle. You know the pain & agony she has faced. Bless her family as they also move forward. Bring healing to hers & their hearts. IJN Amen

Day 12 Marion Siebert #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Loving God, Your mercies are new every morning. May that be true 4 Marion today & this week. Give her strength & hope for each day. Raise up people to speak love & compassion to her. IJN Amen

Day 13 Annette Hill #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God in Your love uphold Annette in the aftermath of abuse. Strengthen her, raise up people to care for her & her family. The needs are great, You are greater. INJ. Amen

Day 14 Taylor Stevens #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Jesus, You know what affliction is, You know what Taylor has endured. Even more You know what comfort is & You comfort her in Your love for her. Strengthen her each day; IJN. Amen

Day 15 Victim 55 #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord God, You are more than sufficient for every person. For Victim 55 we ask Your mercy, strength, comfort, and hope. Heal her brokenness for what she endured. Be her fortress, IJN. Amen

Day 16 Amanda Cormier #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord of life, bring to Amanda Your mercy through people who can love, support, encourage her. Grant her strength 4 each day so that she might stay strong 4 the challenges ahead. IJN. Amen

Day 17 Jennifer Rood Bedford #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Lord, the road to stability can be difficult—at times impossible. You promise to walk w/us thru the deepest valleys—to never leave us. Reassure Jennifer today. IJN Amen

Day 18 Nicole Soos #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Memories may be very bad, Lord. But with Your memories change with Your healing, loving, comforting presence. Help Nicole to begin new memories not marked by the past abuse. IJN. Amen.

Day 19 Ashley Erickson #PrayerSurvivorsConquerors Heavenly Father, Your love never ends. Ashley & many others live in reality of pain, sadness of what happened. May You strengthen & comfort her as well as her family. IJN. Amen.

Places of the Passion

Today we begin the Lenten journey to Jesus’ death on the cross and to His resurrection from the dead.

Our Lenten journey takes us to the Places of the Passion:

Feb. 21 The Upper room
Feb. 28 Gethsemane
Mar. 7 Court of the High Priest
Mar. 14 Court of Pontius Pilate
Mar. 21 Way of Sorrows

Tonight for Ash Wednesday we are introduced to our Guide: The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

While the observance of Ash Wednesday is not required, it has a long history in the Christian Church. But further back in history we can see two links in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament):

I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and petitions, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

But even earlier, after Adam and Eve sinned, God spoke judgment upon them for their sin:

[God said to Adam:] “By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)

Those words are often spoken by the pastor as he applies the ashes to the forehead.

So there is Biblical support for Ash Wednesday practice, but there is no requirement that is must be done. The marking of the forehead is not a “sign of spirituality” for the person receiving the ashes for others to see. Rather, it reflects the person’s acknowledgment of sin and its affect on the person. Ashes in the form of a cross also remind the person that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law for living and satisfies the demand of death for sinning. The cross of ashes then reminds us of the great debt of sin and the greater payment of that debt by Jesus.

Ash Wednesday observance

Isaiah 40:21-31

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, according to the Three year series. Here is the Old Testament reading.

Isaiah 40:21-31

These are just preliminary thoughts about how to approach the text. Isaiah speaks to a people who have become downcast, discouraged, and from their perspective all seems lost, no evidence that God is in control. Thus, we find the refrain: “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” (v. 21 and v. 28).

In both cases, Isaiah begins the answer with “God is…” and “The eternal God…” specifying first God’s strength/power and then His character. Then God provides the ultimate comfort in vv. 29-31

29 He gives strength to those who grow tired
and increases the strength of those who are weak.
30 Even young people grow tired and become weary,
and young men will stumble and fall.
31 Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD
 will be renewed.
They will soar on wings like eagles.
They will run and won’t become weary.
They will walk and won’t grow tired.

When Jesus Christ fulfills all things, it includes these promises of God. If you are tired, then God strengthens you, sometimes in surprising ways, sometimes unseen. This who wait with hope in the Lord—they will be renewed. May this comfort, encourage, and strengthen as we live in this time.

Review of Unbroken by Madeleine Black

Unbroken: Used, beaten, but never broken. My story of survival and hope. Madeleine Black (2017).

Rape is horrible, no matter how we describe it, no matter what words we choose—rape is still horrible. Madeleine Black in her book uses words, graphic words, to tell the story of her rape and close brush with death. As difficult as the book is to read, this book needs to be read—by survivors of rape, by families of those who have been raped, by friends who want to help but may not not know how to respond.

And it needs to be read by those who get impatient, frustrated, and exclaim “Just get over it!” If only it were that easy. Madeleine takes the reader through the process of dealing with rape and all the associated emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of rape and survival.

At the end the reader discovers that the road to “get over it” is something each rape survivor wants to do. But it can’t be done with an impatient shout or frustration from a friend, family member, or even the survivor. There is so much more to it. Madeleine writes:

I have been a victim of a crime that leaves you silent, and there is so much that stays hidden in that silence. It not only protects the perpetrators, but it also keeps the victims in the shadows, drowning in their inappropriate guilt. Now, my strength is my voice and I intend to use it, not just for me, but for others who aren’t able to speak up yet. (p. 266)

As you read the book, Madeleine walks you through the horrifying details in essentially chronological order. That means at the beginning she will generally describe the rape and associated death threats and degradation. But it isn’t until much later in the book that she gives the full details—and it is so bad that she provides an appropriate warning about the graphic nature of the events surrounding the rape. Why that approach? Because Madeleine is living with the reality of the rape, which means some events are blocked from her memory as a defense mechanism. The frustration and despair of rape includes gaps in memory. She couldn’t get past it, because she didn’t and couldn’t have the entire story in mind. The reader takes the journey with that hole in her memory—she lived that way not having answers, fighting at times to remember, thus, the reader experiences it that way, too. Consider how many years Madeleine endured those struggles to get to this point in 2017. A one week immersion in her book does not fully give the reader the understanding of what it means to “get over it.”

I have known people who have experienced horrible circumstances. Neighbors fought in World War I, one was a Bataan Death March survivor, my father, uncle and father-in-law all fought in World War II. When I was in the Navy I met several former POWs of Vietnam. Our commanding officer came to the squadron the same month I did. He was a POW for 6½ years, severely injured and was in the hospital for 15 months upon his release. I persuaded him to tell of his experiences. So every week for a year he walked us through captivity and torture chronologically from the time he was shot down until he was released. As a pastor I have ministered to and cared for rape survivors, so I was not a newcomer to the agony of many who had endured severe trauma and major accompanying (often hidden) issues.

Yet, even with that background, this was a difficult read for me. I was surprised when I got about half way through the book—I had to stop. I didn’t read for two weeks. Very uncharacteristic for me. Puzzling: how could I be hung up on reading it? After considerable reflection I finally discovered why it was so hard for me. I thought I had the answers to “help Madeleine.” But what I was really doing was trying to re-write her book, from a different perspective so that it would get to the point where I had all the answers. Yeah, I know—how arrogant and disappointing! I had failed at the one point that had always been a strong point of my ministry— listening to the person on his/her terms.

That seems so obvious but I wonder how many critics of rape survivors approach it the same way, hence the exhortation “Just move beyond it!” By doing so, we fail to understand what really happened and what the teller of the story is presenting to us and lived through. Once I came to this realization, then I could go back and read the book, in other words—let Madeleine tell the story on her terms in her way. And then I could finish the book.

While reading, I gave Madeleine updates on my progress (or lack of). She wrote several times “It gets better, stay with it.” I did stay with it, and I am glad I did. My heart aches with what she endured, my heart rejoices that she came through decades of profound struggle. And now she has a voice to add, an important voice, a strong voice through her book and through public speaking. If you or someone you know (male or female) has been raped, seek help. There are many resources. Madeleine’s book is a valuable resource for every person.

Thank you, Madeleine for your story, your perspective, and your encouragement. Well done!

“I have seen Your salvation”

In tomorrow’s Gospel reading, Luke 2:22-35, we come across a startling statement.

it had been revealed to him [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26)

But that isn’t the startling point, because in a few minutes he sees the baby as promised. What is startling is Simeon’s public profession:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32 NKJV)

Notice that Simeon does not say “I see the infant child, this must be the one.” Rather, “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” This infant had not yet lived the (complete) perfect life. This infant had not healed anyone. This infant had not forgiven anyone their sins. This infant had not taken on the sins of the world while on the cross. This infant had not risen from the dead.

And yet Simeon says, “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” This means his faith was such that since God promised all of that work in sending this infant, he believed that God would accomplish all of this other stuff through this infant. In that sense, his faith was exactly Abraham (Gen. 12; 15), Isaac, Jacob, David, and all other believers in the Old Testament.

How are we doing with believing God’s promises?

We who lived after the fact of the incarnation have not seen Jesus in the flesh. He accomplished the salvation of the world before even our great-great-great grandparents ever came on the earth. Our faith is the same as Simeon’s—he looked ahead in faith to completed salvation in this infant, we look back in faith to the completed salvation in this same infant/man/crucified-resurrected man.

Thus, this First Sunday after Christmas is a reminder that what we celebrate in Christmas is not a tradition, nor a seasonal shopping frenzy, family oriented gatherings—all good things, but not what this season is about. Rather, the infant in front of Simeon has indeed accomplished all, including the Lord’s salvation, is still living as the Savior who came for all people:

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (Timothy 2:3-4 NKJV)

May we join with Simeon in confident faith that God promised and accomplished everything especially salvation through this infant.

Today, we don’t see the infant, but we see the Savior as he comes to us through the Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. They are signs and seals (that do what they proclaim to us) of what this infant accomplished.


Christmas Story Continues

22 When the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he came into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he received Him in his arms and blessed God and said:

29 “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
30 for my eyes have seen Your salvation
31  which You have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel.”

33 Joseph and His mother were amazed at those things which were spoken about Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Listen, this Child is destined to cause the fall and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign which will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

(Luke 2:22-35 MEV)