What Does the Blood Say?

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” – Genesis 4:10

The scripture above comes from the passage describing the murder of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain.  This might be one of the most famous stories of Scripture in the whole bible – I’d lump it alongside “In the beginning” and “For God so loved the world.”  I don’t know why, really.  Maybe we’re intrigued by murder (there’s a lot of that in the Bible).  Maybe it’s betrayal (again: bunches more of that).  Maybe it’s simply the story placement – this is about the time when well-meaning Bible readers start and then give up on finishing the text in its entirety.  In any case, I’ve heard countless people rip off the quote, “am I my brother’s keeper?”

I’ve often wondered: what exactly did Cain’s blood say?

Admittedly, I’m an imaginative guy, but there’s something fantastic in the verse above that keeps me wondering.  What did the Lord hear?  What did Cain’s blood say?  How did it speak?  What’s the significance?

The “Oldest Defense in the Book”

Call me crazy, but I like true crime stories.  I love putting my detective hat on and listening to podcasts that detail the ins and outs of true crime, all the while I’m trying the evidence in my own head and sussing out the case.  I enjoy watching Dateline or similar true crime shows and putting myself in the mindset of the investigators and advocates for justice.

What’s fascinating to me about true crime is the universal plea of the victims and their families for the truth.  In missing person cases, the refrain sounds out: “We just want him/her home, dead or alive.”  In murders, it’s the same: “We just want justice for him/her.”  In all cases it boils down to one common theme: “We just want to know the truth.”  It’s viscerally powerful, utterly gut-wrenching.  And – more often than not – victims don’t get answers.  Criminals get tried and found guilty but never confess to the fullness of their crimes or never let the truth win out.

Maybe it’s my morbid curiosity in true crime that draws me to this passage. Cain is the first murderer ever tried and yet he employs the same defense that is pretty much always used by every other modern murderer when confronted with the truth: he pleads the fifth.  If read like court notes, the exchange might sound something like this:

God: “Cain, where is your brother Abel?”

Cain: “I have no idea.  What – you think it’s my job to keep track of him?”

God: [Full bad cop mode] “What did you do!  The blood at the crime scene gives you away, buddy!  You’re going away for a long, long time.”

Cain: “This isn’t fair!  Everyone on Facebook is going to hate me now!”

I may have taken some creative liberties there.  But the truth is still the truth: The blood of the innocent indicts the murderer.

The Blood We Shed

And isn’t it true that we, like Cain, are blood letters?

Back to my original question: what did Abel’s blood say?  If you’ll permit me to guess, I’d say that Abel’s blood shouted: “Murderer.”  “Liar.”  “Sinner.”  I’d like to think that God could hear the accusations loud and clear from the very earth that drank it up hungrily, just as greedily as Cain was willing to spill it.  Except these pleas weren’t accusations; they were eye witness testimony.

We’re blood letters, quick to strike and shed blood in our own name.  I see it day to day on social media where arguments rage and end in name calling and personal attacks that cause great harm to those who suffer them.  I hear it in teenagers who are aping the behavior of the loudest talking heads of media – oh, yeah, and what they hear from the oval office – as they dig at each other in a constant battle to one-up each other.  I see it grumbled about in broken relationships in pastoral counseling – friendships, families, and marriages.

I do it myself.  That’s the hardest part to admit, especially when I reflect on the days or weeks or months and come to grips with patterns of petty blood-shedding in the way I love my wife or parent my daughter or relate to my family.

The Blood That Saves

If we’re honest, we can admit that we end up acting like Cain too often.  It’s our nature to do so, I think, the sin nature we inherited since Pappy Adam and Gramma Eve set the tone so long enough.  Cain was a bad older brother, one of history’s worst older brothers (there are some other bad ones in the bible like Amnon for example).

The good news is – we have a much better older brother than Cain.  We’ve got adopted into the family of God by the work of our spiritual older bother, Jesus.  Paul lays it out in Romans 8:1-17, a chunky but important passage of Scripture that punctuates this concept of our inheritance through the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:16-17 goes like this:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I think this is what the author of Hebrews had in mind in 12:24 when Jesus is credited as “the mediator of a new covenant” whose blood “speaks a better word than that of Abel.”  By the blood of Jesus, the accusations of our guilt cease.  “Murderer” is replaced by “New Life.”  “Liar” is superseded by “Truth.”  “Sinner” is traded for “Redeemed” and “Beloved” and “God’s Children.”

Don’t let the blood you’ve let speak louder than the blood you’ve been washed in.

Ridding and Craving

John’s my favorite apostle, hands down.  I’ll get into this more another time but for now I want to put that on record.

Having said that, I find Peter absolutely fascinating.  His up-and-down behavior, his wild and heartfelt faith, and his ultimate redemption throughout the Gospel narrative draw me in.  Every single time.  There is some doubt through modern scholarship on whether or not he’s the true author of 1 Peter (he almost certainly didn’t write 2 Peter) but if you are willing to indulge me I would like to treat him as the author for the sake of this blog post.

Continue reading “Ridding and Craving”

In Defense of Hospitals, Not Museums

What is Christian confession and why should we even care about it?

“Dear friend you don’t have to lie to me
When I ask you what’s going on
Are you doin’ right or are ya doing wrong
If you do right will there not be a lifting up
You misbehave
Sin is crouching by your grave
We can begin to make amends
Fill your sails full with wind
I know you’re tossed and tempest turned, but make no mistake
I’ll never sleep on your faith
But don’t you pull the wool over my eyes
Don’t you pull the wool over my eyes.”
– G. Love & Special Sauce, ‘Pull the Wool’

An ancient and influential theologian in church history put it this way: “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”  In another place he restates the theme like this: “God gives where he finds empty hands.”  It’s like the kid who reached down into his mother’s priceless vase and then couldn’t get his hand out.  The family tried and tried and tried but it wouldn’t come unstuck.  Finally they surrendered to their situation and broke the vase only to find that the child’s hand was balled into a fist and so couldn’t fit through the mouth of the vase.  They asked the young man what he was holding onto that caused the loss of this family heirloom and he opened his hand to reveal a single penny.

I find the metaphor of holding tightly to something of lesser worth and missing out on a greater gift useful when thinking of confession of sin.  The Scripture is clear that Christians must confess sin – this theme is carried from the Psalmist to Apostolic teaching.  There is a physical transfer of energy when sin is confessed.

Do we need to confess?

One popular statement I bump up against is, “my sin is between God and me.”  Although I agree with this in a principled sense, and I think there are very wise boundaries concerning who and how and what we confess, confessing sin to another human being is an important part of the spiritual journey of our faith.  Don’t take this at my word – take it from Jesus.

In John 20, after Jesus has risen from the dead, he appears to his disciples (one of several occasions that occurs between the time he rose and the time he would ascend into heaven).  Take a look at the text for yourself before I offer comment:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:19-23

Notice the order of events.  Jesus first breathes the Holy Spirit onto them (whatever that means, but that is an entirely different blog post!) and then gives them this directive to forgive sins, going so far as to say that if they don’t forgive the sins of others, those others are not forgiven.  Here’s what I don’t think Jesus is doing.  I don’t think he is conferring the power to forgive sin from God to man – that power is God’s power alone imputed, by grace, and through the completed work of the Son.  I also don’t think that he’s claiming that any person is sitting in the seat of judgment over another.

Rather, what I think Jesus is saying is that we are to serve as the physical conveyors of God’s forgiveness here on earth, the vessels by which God gives reassurance of forgiveness.  We’ve been given each other for a reason as the physical body of Christ on earth.  One of those reasons is to be witnesses to each other of God’s forgiveness and to offer both verbal and physical reminders of God’s forgiveness.

To hear another’s confession and to place our hand on that believer’s shoulder and utter the words, “in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven” is immensely powerful.  God designed it that way – it’s a means of grace and I consider it tantamount to a sacrament in itself.

What are we scared of?

Confession has been widely held over the years as a spiritual discipline – a behavior or ritual or act that Christians do or take part in that has a proven track record of producing spiritual fruit.  For a modern collection of spiritual disciplines as a whole see Richard Foster’s classic text Celebration of Discipline.  However, in most Protestant circles today, confession is viewed as a “Catholic thing.”  In my experience serving in Evangelical Protestant ministries this is essentially a curse word.  “Isn’t that where priests eavesdrop on your sins and then make you say ‘Hail Mary’ a bunch?  Empty ritual.”

I think the discipline of confession is much more robust and infinitely more valuable to the church that simply dismissing it as some optional (and unnecessary) tradition of some branches of the faith is unwise.  Bonhoeffer said it like this: “all sham ended in the cross.”  He goes on to describe how, in view of Jesus’ suffering and death, we all stand on equal ground as sinners.  When we recognize this we shine a light into the dark corner of our hearts where we judge the missteps of other believers and think things like, “well, I’m not that bad, at least.”

Confession is Freedom

Here’s the bottom line: confessing releases the overbearing burden of carried sin.  There is a redemptive power in opening our spiritual hands and letting go of the things we are holding onto – and unconfessed sin is a doozie.  It is then that God is able and willing and waiting to put good gifts inside our hands to use both for our benefit and in his service.  Don’t hear this as a “name-it claim-it” theology; hear it for what it is and for the spiritual law that Augustine was driving at.

What confession doesn’t address is reconciliation – giving and receiving forgiveness, admitting wrongs and righting them, and repairing relationships.  These are equally sacred in our faith walk but I see them as the things that come after (or at least congruent with) we are able to confess, to humble ourselves before God and before a brother or sister and receive divine forgiveness. We can confess in confidence, knowing that we are loved first by a God who relentlessly forgives.

Sympathy for the Heretic

Sympathy for the Heretic

I heard old St. Nick once punched you.
But I’d like to think
that he’d admit it was
an overreaction.

Did he even know you?

I don’t think you wanted the world
or power
or money
or sex
[and those are the things that get bishops’ ears].

I think you just wanted to
neatly fold things like
a napkin, on your lap
but not only your lap, not for you
but for your people to eat at the Table.

with your pastor’s heart.

But then again.
I wasn’t there.
I really don’t know your heart.

When The King Comes to Visit

“Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” – Psalm 45:6

“When Jacob was told, ‘Your son Joseph has come to you,’ Israel rallied his strength and sat up on his bed.” – Genesis 48:2

When the King comes to visit

I’ll do my best to sit
I’ll rally all my strength and
I’ll make a show of it

Because the the throne of the King

lasts forever
lasts forever.

When the King blesses my sons

You know – I won’t say a thing
I’l bend the knee, I’ll bow my head
I’ll kiss him on his ring

Because the scepter of the King

Is justice and peace
It’s justice and peace.

When death finally knocks on my door

I’ll take the keys to my tomb
I know I won’t be sleeping there long –
It’s just another borrowed room

Because the King, he went on and beat death

And I’m gonna stand up, too
Someday I’ll stand up too.

What Are We Waiting For?

This is the second in a series of blogs for the 2017 Advent season.  Find the first reflection here.

It’s hard to ignore the glaring conflict between the American dream and the Kingdom of God.  Unlike love and marriage or a horse and carriage you can, in fact, have one of these and not the other.  Some would even warn that these two things are mutually exclusive, that they cannot be held side-by-side or co-valued in harmony.

The problem with the American dream is that it is subject to its own little-g god.  This god does have a name and that name is mammon.  Jesus is clear that it is impossible to be a slave “owned” by two competing masters and I think this is the case with the American Dream and the Kingdom of God.

Before we get any further and you think me anti-American, let me clarify something.  I’m infinitely grateful to have been born to the people I was born to in the country I was born in.  I had no control in the matter, which amplifies my gratitude in that I can’t somehow praise myself.  I’m thankful for the freedoms we enjoy in our nation.  I’m thankful that we have a history rooted in Christendom.  I’m thankful that our values and morals have ancestral roots in the Bible.

I am not thankful for the American dream.

The American dream is an ideal that was likely founded with good intentions, something of a morality play on this idea that anyone in a free nation can rise up by their own bootstraps and make a better life for themselves.  It has evolved, grown sharpened teeth and serrated claws.  It’s spit is venomous and disease-ridden and it’s eyes are hungry and dangerous and shifty.  It has enthroned mammon“the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restfulness without any Sabbath” – and dethroned God, the God of rest.

Traditionally, the second week of advent sees the lighting of the “Love” candle.  As we embrace this season as one of longing, of waiting, of expecting, we are confronted with the question: what is it that we love?  Do we cling to an earthly ideal that mirrors the coveted American dream that plagues our churches?  Do we await the payout of mammon which costs us everything and fails to eternally deliver on any of its promises?

Or do we await the coming King who will usher in the true Kingdom of the God of rest, the Lord of the Sabbath?  We are reminded with a easily-worded but deeply difficult exhortation that requires wrestling from 2 Peter 3:11-13:

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

The way of this world has already been judged by God, who – thanks to the nature of his grace – sent us his son, Jesus who proclaimed both freedom and salvation to all who surrender their lives to him.  The fulfillment of this narrative of salvation is something theologians refer to the consummation and it’s the topic Peter is honing in on in our passage above.

Everything we know now – in its fallen way, in its broken state – won’t be mended or fixed and put back the way that it is. That’s not the message of consummation. The message is rebirth.  Remaking.  Recreation.  This is a brand new thing.  Yeah, DC Talk was right.

We reflect on Christ’s coming during Advent as the newborn king; but we also await the next time he comes to set finish what he started.  Until then we strive to live holy and godly lives – as those sealed by and empowered in the Holy Spirit.  We don’t do this so that we can transactionally earn God’s grace – we can’t.  We do this because this is the stuff of God: holiness, justice, righteousness.  We’re living, practicing for a kingdom that’s coming.  We’re accepting God’s formation as a way of aligning our own lives with the life of Jesus.  We want our loves and habits to reflect the things of God.

What is it that we are waiting for?

Are we waiting for the kinds of things that the world tries to tune our hearts to – money, possessions, power, the idols of self?  Or are we expectant for Jesus to make things right.  Are we hoping for more of the same?

A Posturing Prayer

Lately, I’ve found myself more and more concerned with my prayer posture.

There are certain physical postures appropriate to prayer, such as bowingkneelinglying face downlifting up hands, and a lot more. I think physical postures are important and they are meaningful and they should be assumed as the Holy Spirit leads.

I’m not talking about physical posture today. I want to talk about the inner posture of prayer.  Evelyn Underhill, a spiritual who lived at the turn of the 20th century, put it this way: “prayer, then, begins by an intellectual adjustment.”1  This quote stuck with me and on me like an aroma or a bandaid – take your pick.

A couple of months ago I noted a “posturing prayer” in my journal, a prayer to return to that inspires me to adopt an intellectual adjustment for prayer.  The words might not mean much to you reading this post, but perhaps the spirit of the prayer is something you can capture for your own prayer life.  I hope that it serves as a reminder of the inner posture of our life, the necessity of assuming a internal position of surrender in our hearts.

A Posturing Prayer


Let me be still.
Let me be quiet.
Let me be empty.
Let me fall dumb.

So that:

You will move.
You will speak.
You will fill.
You will wizen.

“May the words of my mouth-”

be few! –

“And the meditations of my heart-”

be pure! –

“Be pleasing in your sight, O Lord,

My Strength
and My Redeemer.


1. This is a quote from a selection found in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups edited by Richard Foster & James Bryan Smith.