Downtown Hospital Radiology Waiting Room - it's all about the formalism. by p0ps Harlow

Marie sat down next to me in the waiting room of the radiology lab where I was waiting for my Mom to finish with one of her treatments for her lung cancer.

I asked Marie, “So what are you in for?”

She told me that she has a tumor on her pancreas. She she that the doctors told her that there’s not too much hope, but that maybe they could slow the growth with radiation. Tears started to come to her eyes….and mine.

I told Marie that she was God’s liitle girl ( nearing 80 years old). I told her that in her baptism, the Lord Jesus had adopted her and made her His very own little girl.

I told her that Jesus never forgets or goes back on His promises and that someday she will be with Him in a Paradise, and that it will be so unbelievable that she’ll wonder why it took God so long to bring her there.

There was no need to give Marie any law. She was already enveloped in the law.  Death is staring her in the face every moment of every day.

To ask her to make a decision for Jesus would just be throwing another demand, or law at her. She didn’t need that. She needed to hear the gospel.

I asked her if she went to church. She said she was Catholic and hadn’t been in church for about 40 years.

I told her that she might want to go back and receive Communion and hear the promises of God again.

She said that she thought it was too late and I assured her that it was not.

I didn’t try to sell Lutheranism to her. What would be the point in that at this stage of the game?

Please pray for Marie…and my Mom.


Thank you. 






Grace Trumps the Law

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s true.

We are inveterate ‘doers’. The law is wri tten upon our hearts. We want to justify ourselves if it kills us.

Ignorance of, or inability to distinguish God’s law from God’s gospel is a plague in the church.

“Well, it says right here in 2nd Macedonians 11 that we really ought to be doing good works to please God.”

So, then why aren’t you?

Why are we so consumed with what the Bible has to say about good works and then utterly ignore them unless it is to tell our neighbor to do them?

Have you noticed that?   The do’s and don’ts of the law are never really taken seriously by the one who speaks of them. But the accusing finger is wagged in every direction but back at the self.

There is law language all over that Book. And there is gospel language all over that Book.

Should we, as Christians, ignore the law and ignore the needs of our neighbors?

Of course not!  We ought jump in with both feet! We ought do all we can!

But not to aqcuire anything at all for ourselves. We already have all that is needful…in Christ. We have put on Christ in our baptisms! (Gal.3:27)

How can doing good works make you any better of a Christian than that?  They can’t!

But if you mix up doing good works for the neighbor and doing good works to gain some elevated status in God’s eyes, then you may be a modern day Pharisee, and you may be in the process of cutting yourself off from God’s grace.

“We’ll then, how am I to know that I’m really a Christian?”

Remember 4/4 …  Romans 4:4&5 ,  that is.  “Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

Grace trumps Law… and it trumps it every time.

By the way, you are now free (because of Christ) to go out and do all the good works you want, without having to fear messing up in any way.

  Your friends, family, neighbors, homeless people, old folks in nursing homes, young people in cancer wards…they could all benefit from your desire to do good works.

So…have at it!



Are you a godly worker?  Or are you an ungodly truster?

Sometimes it is a hard thing to admit. But when he hung on that cross and asked the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do”, he was speaking about you and me, also. Not just those there in front of him.



‘Law’ used the wrong way…or ?


OK.  A lot of law there. Was it a proper usage of the law?

What could he have done differently to make this a better message?

Or, was it great just the way he said it?




What to listen for in a sermon

God’s Word speaks to us in two ways. In law and gospel.

God’s law helps to keep us from disintegrating into ch aos, personally and corporately, and (theologically) it kills us off, brings us to our knees in repentance and drives us to Christ. The law is demand… pure and simple.

The gospel is what gives us life. It is promise, pure and simple. The gospel isn’t the law and the law isn’t the gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is not gospel, but law. There is no life in it. 

How can that be!  Jesus is speaking those words to us!  Remember…God speaks to us in law and gospel. In the Sermon on the Mount, it just so happens that Jesus was using the law to kill us off to any foolish notion that we will be made right by anything that we do. The life was not in the demand of the law that Jesus was giving, but in the person of Himself.

It’s not always easy to distinguish the law from the gospel for people not taught to do so.

Since the law is demand, one ought listen to hear that. If it sounds like someone is using scripture, or other words to get you to do something, or to think something, or to feel something, then you have just heard the law. “Now that you are in Christ Jesus you should read your bible more, attend Bible studies, help those in need.” That is law. Are those bad things?  No they are not, we ought try and do those things. But they will never make us  right with God, or make us a better Christian. Can those things be bad things? Yes they can, if they are emphasized to the point where one believes that he or she will be gaining something towards Heaven if they are doing them.

A preacher needs to proclaim God’s law. But not to spur people on to be ‘better Christians’. That will backfire. That will create different congregations. That will create despair in those who finally realize that no matter how hard they try they can never get there (sometimes the kind of despair where they will never again enter a church door). And that kind of ‘how-to’ preaching will create phonies. Those that know that they cannot live up to what is being asked of them, but not wanting to look less than Christian’ or out of place, they will fake it. They will play the game and look and act the part. The last group of people that you will end up with are those that actually believe they are doing what the preacher is telling them they ought be doing. Now, these poor folks are guilty of pride, and that may be the worst place to be.

So, if a preacher understands the purpose of the law correctly, he will not use it to spur on better behavior towards making people better Christians (that is totally  not necessary since we can never become better Christians than at the moment we were baptized), but will use  the law it was intended in it’s theological use, and that is to kill people off to their self-righteousness project.

If you leave a worship service and you now realize that you’d better get busy with X,Y, or Z, otherwise you are not a very good Christian, then you ought reconsider going back there because you probably won’t hear the gospel there.

The gospel is ‘yes you are a sinner, yes you do not do, say, feel, or think the right things, yes you engage in the wrong things, often at the expense of your neighbor…but Jesus Christ loves you and forgives you. He died for people that are just like you (and that is everyone). Because of that cross and resurrection, and in your baptism, He has promised to you new life and the forgiveness of your sins, and salvation.

That is the gospel.

It’s not a little of both, either.

It’s not a little law mixed in with a lot of gospel. One drop of poison in a glass of water ruins the whole glass of water. (the Galatian letter)

So hear the law, the full law, the hard, unmitigated law…and die to yourself. Die to your religion project.

Then hear the gospel, the sweet, pure sound of the love and forgiveness of the One  who knows what you are up against and who has done something about it in the person of Christ Jesus. And in that new found freedom in that Word of forgiveness, go into the world and do what you will to express that love and freedom that Christ has won for you and given to you.

By the way, the law and the gospel are not something that you apply, God is applying them TO   YOU.  He IS DOING them to you…for His purposes…for those that by God’s grace, have ears to hear it.



I know that this is a radical notion to many of you, and that many of you do not like having ‘what you need to do’, taken away from you.

But when you realize that what I(the scriptures actually – God actually) am saying is the truth, and that it is biblical, and that God is the one that wills to make you whole and righteous totally on His own…without your help…it is liberating like nothing else is liberating.

Can you handle that kind of freedom?  It’s not always easy, you know. Living by faith and not by sight is a very tough way to live.

What do you say?

“No Justice, No Peace”

That is a line used by a U.S. Congresswoman after the Rodney King trial.

The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya uses the same line, now.

It is used as a threat to get what you want. If you don’t give us X,Y, or Z then we will riot, destroy property, burn things, and maybe kill or mame a few of you.

But what people often miss is the fact that in this world, there is no perfect justice. A good job of it is done for the most part, but things are run by people and with people come problems. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes when you get particularly corrupt people in places of power, you may have very little justice. And believe it or not, we all play a role in this. We all have things that we will not give up for the sake of the other. We are all pretty much concerned with ourselves first and foremost.

“In this world, there is no rest, no peace, and no victory”.  That is just the truth of it.

Does that mean that we don’t do all we can to achieve rest, peace, and victory for ourselves and our neighbors?  Of course we do what we can within moral, ethical, and legal bounds to achieve justice. And within the bounds of our own sinfullness.

But things quite often don’t work out the way we want them to. There are many disappointments in life. Some by our doing, and some are foisted upon us by others. That is just the way it is. This is what happens to sinners in a fallen world, inhabited by other sinners. There is no escaping it short of the grave, and then sadly for many there will be no escaping there either.

But that is not the end of the story for people of faith. Those with faith in Christ Jesus are promised rest, they are promised peace, and they are promised victory. He will bring these things to fullfillment for us and for the world on that last Day, or our last day.

In case you haven’t noticed, things are not getting better in the world (aside from the creature comforts that technology offers) but instead things are in a state of decay. This world, like our own lives, is slowly coming to an end.

But in Christ Jesus, all things are made new. He heals the sick and makes the blind see again. He comforts the grieving. He brings rest to the weary. He is perfect peace, perfect rest, and perfect victory. In Him perfect justice shall be evermore. He has promised this to us, and He never goes back on His promises

So, whatever it is that has got you down, whatever injustices or disappointments you may have in life, whatever illness you might have, whatever forces that are there that may drive you to despair once on awhile (or often), know that He has overcome them all. He has come all the way down to us to lead a perfect life and hang on a cross in our place. He has showed us in, Himself, what it means to be truly human in a fallen world. We won’t go that far, but He has…for us and our salvation.

He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you all your sin.

In Him you have rest, peace and victory…no matter what the world, yourself, or the devil may throw at you.

Remember that He has baptized you. Remember that He comes to you in His preached Word, and when a friend speaks of Him. Remember that He comes to you in the bread and the wine. 

In a little while our suffering will be over and we will live with Him forever and it will be more wonderful than we could ever imagine!


I could have used the ‘have you ever told a lie’ …what does that make you, question. Or the’ have you ever taken a paperclip from work’…what does that make you, question.  That proves it, you’re an awful sinner, but Jesus forgives sinners and if you place your trust in Him, He will forgive you, too.

I could have said that (a bit differently maybe)…but I wanted to expose us to the Law in another way. In a way that really hits home for many. A way that we can all relate to.

Both methods of conveying God’s law and gospel are true. But I think one method might be a more effective way to speak to those we want Jesus to grab a hold of. Especially in this day and age where Christianity is made a mockery of.

What do you think?

‘Christian Schizophrenia’

There is way too much of this going around.

I was involved with some folks, on another blog, trying t o explain to a woman how it is that we can continue to sin even though the Bible says in many many places that we shouldn’t.

Well, the Bible verses were flying thick and fast. “Paul says this. James says that. Peter says this, Jesus says that.”

OK…then we’d better do it. We’d better be saved by grace alone and stop sinning, now that we are saved…right?


There is no stopping from sinning. And there is no Christian progress from a life focused on the reduction of the amount of sin you commit.

There is no adding to what Christ has done on the cross, by you or by anybody else. It is not necessary, and it can be deadly and it can kill any assurance that they might have had at one time and it can actually cause them to lose their faith.

Of course it can! They are now trusting in themselves! In their own ability to be “good” and keep the law. What faith do you need for that, other than faith in yourself…and that is idolatry.

These  poor folks, and as I write this another young woman comes to mind who was questioning her salvation (again, on another blog), are being fed a steady diet of ‘Christian obedience’, ‘Christian seriousness’, ‘Christian do goodism’…and it is killing them.

The good part of it is at least they are struggling with it. At least someone (who has actually heard the gospel) can come along and tell them to STOP! Someone can tell them to chuck the “religious project” and be what Christ meant for them to be and that is FREE!  He wants them to be free from the religious self-improvement project and free to be able to love God and the neighbor as him or herself, without having to worry in the least about being condemned by God if you mess up along the way. 

We have all messed up, and are still messing up along the way. But our Lord (remember Him?) is right behind us with the broom and dust pan picking up after us. That’s right.  All that filthy sin that we make goes into His waste can and is done away with.

That is what that cross was all about. It wasn’t a launching pad for ‘you‘!

BUT…since “good Christians” will continue to read the Bible in such a way as to not recognize the law from the gospel, and then mix them up so badly that they make laws out of the gospel, and turn the gospel into the law…these travesties will continue to flourish. All in the name of Jesus.

One more time, for any that will hear it.  Your sins ARE FORGIVEN FOR JESUS’ SAKE.  We are not to sin…but if we do, we have an Advocate. His name is Christ Jesus.

His love and forgiveness for sinners is so great that He can handle all of your sin, all of my sin, and the sins of the whole world. The Bible tells us that  and I believe it.

Do you believe it?

Am I wrong?  Is this truly a cooperative effort of God and the sinner? 


The Law

God’s Law is more than the 10 Commandments. Way more.

God’s Law is every demand that your existence places upon you. It is the total demand that you fulfill your humanity. That you do all that you are supossed to do, and that you do it in the manner that God has intended for you to do it. And that is, ‘perfectly’.

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Are there any pressures in your life? Do you have to eat? Do you have to pay the rent or the mortgage? (no bailout jokes) Do you have to be a good employee so that you can bring home the paycheck? Do you have to pay your taxes  . Do you have to be a good parent, or a good son or daughter? Do you have to stay healthy and take care of your body?

All these things and much, much more are manifestations of God’s perfect Law.

No one, absolutely no one, from the villager in Papua New Guinea to the cabbie in Cleveland,  is exempt from these laws of nature which are given by God for our existence in the world which He created.

Do we live under the law?  You betcha we do. Every last cotton pickin’ one of us.

We all do our best to manage under the sheer weight of it. Although some do a much better job of it than others, it isn’t easy to handle for any of us. The demand of the law is relentless. It never quits demanding from us. Day after day, week after week, year after year…it is always upon us…always demanding …never ceasing.

We can escape it here and there, for short periods. We call these holidays, or vacations. A week, or two…maybe three or four. It ‘s great!  But then it is over and we must again be good  for something. The bills just keep coming and the world keeps nipping at our heels.

I saw a friend of mine yesterday. He’s 45 years old and is in the hospital, a victim of a couple of strokes. The last one severely affected his brain stem and the chances are good that he may not make it. He is dying, and there is a good chance that he may not be alive yet as I write this.

He was a very bright man with a wonderful creative mind and a sense of humor that was infectious.

That is all gone now, unless God decides that Jerry should be healed to continue the fight in this world.

Jerry had an awfully tough life in so many ways. The law started in on Jerry when he lost his Mom when he was only ten…and it never let up on him from there.

But He did the best that he could.

His pastor, who is also my pastor, went to see Jerry the other day to remind him that he has a Savior. To remind him, no…it was more than a reminder…to hand Christ over to Jerry, once again. To tell Jerry that he belonged to Jesus and that Jesus would not fail him. That Jesus will always take care of him, and that if he were not to make it, then Jesus would be right there for him… to raise him from the dead.

When I saw Jerry yesterday, he could not speak to me. I didn’t know if he could hear me. I whispered into his ear and told him that I loved him and that he could count on Jesus to give him life again. It was a promise on the cross, it was a promise in his baptism, and it is a promise that God loves to keep.

While I stood there beside his hospital bed, with all the machinery and the beeps and buzzes, and activity of people engaged in trying to save the lives of people being crushed by the weight of the law and facing the ultimate expression of that law, death…the thought struck me that soon I would be there too. The law would eventually put me down. Death would have me soon, as well.

But Christ really did defeat death on that cross. He really did come out of that grave. He really did everything for me that I could never even dream about doing for myself.

He did it for me.   He did it for Jerry.   And He did it for you.

It’s Worse than We Thought

‘ The Problem’ turns out to be a lot worse than we thought.

There is actually not one wit of hope. With all of our reason, with all of our know- how, with all of our striving, with all of our good will… there is no overcoming it.

“But we are making advances!” “But we now have one that is a little bit smarter than the rest!” But we are now a little more caring!”  “But we…”

But we…will all die, anyway.

There is no way out other than the grave. There is no outsmarting it. There is no outlasting it. Death will have us in the end, as it always does. We will die. I will die. You will die.

End of story… right?


That is not the end of the story. For there is Someone that absolutely loves to pull people out of the grave and breathe life back into them! Not just any ol’ life…but His Life…a life without end! A life that death can never conquer! A life that is guarnteed to be far better than anything we could ever imagine and it will never, never ever end!

Christ Jesus will wipe away all our tears. Christ Jesus is not content to have you get sick and die and stay dead. Christ Jesus is the One who will put an end to your suffering. He has conquered your sin. He has conquered the devil. And He has conquered your death. There will be no grave deep enough, or strong enough to hold us.

After all the pain, after all the suffering, after all the unrealized dreams and broken promises…this is our future…life in the One who will give us His very life!

All of this, every bit of it, He gave to you in your baptism.

It’s better than you thought!

Got ‘Smote’?

I got ‘smote’.

It happened yesterday at church. In the pastor’s sermon. In the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine (the body and blood). It happened as I lay in bed this morning examining my life. It happened as I returned to my baptism (I do it quite often out of necessity). It happens in ways great and small all throughout my life, my week, my day.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be, if you dwell on it. If you take the attitude that this whole thing depends on you. If you think that there is something inside of you that needs to be brought forth that in some way will enhance your goodness quotient. If you think that you can do better so that you won’t need God’s Word of law to smite you…then it can be a bad thing. ‘It’ is not actually the bad thing, but more aptly put…you are.

Not only isn’t it necessarily a bad thing… it is a good thing. God’s wants to smite you. He has sent forth His law to make sure this happens to you.

Having been smitten, smote, smacked, whacked, bludgeoned, killed…isn’t the end of the story for the Christian. There is another side of baptism, you know.  The side where God lifts you out of the water and breathes new life into you.  The side where the wound that the blade has cut is cauterized and you are made whole again. The joyful, redemptive side. The new and everlasting life in Christ, side.  “O death, where is thy sting?”

So don’t be afraid to get smited, smote, whacked, killed. “For if you would lose your life in this world, you would gain it.”

Thanks be to God for His law and His gospel. Thanks be to God for His death and His resurrection.

Thanks be to God that He does all this for us in our baptisms, in His supper, and in the hearing of His Word.

Got ‘smote’?

Get back to work !

Summertime is the usual time of the year for Americans to go on vacation. A well needed rest. A time to forget the cares of one’s life and get out of the mundane. A time to envision dreams and experience, if even for a little while, what it might be like to live without the demands that our existence places upon us.

Could you imagine looking out from your balcony aboard a luxury cruiselineSunset Silhouetter at the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen, while sipping champagne and eating crab cakes as the beautiful blue ocean glides past and gently spashes the sides of the ship and then a voice from the loudspeaker comes on and says, “Don’t forget, you have to go back to work on Monday!”

That voice on the loudspeaker is the same voice that loves to quote from the Book of James. “But you just can’t live any way you want!” “Faith without works is dead.” “Get back to work.”

The law demands that we get back to work…and right now! The gospel promises us champagne and crab cakes…forever!

Can you actually feel the voice of the law as it does it’s number on you? Does the voice of the law give you comfort in it’s direction and demand?  What happens to you when you hear the libertating promises of the gospel?

Now…get back to work!