Slow Down

I pray all is well as your mid-summer days begin turning toward summer’s end. Mine aren’t going so well at the moment. I just went to bed about five hours ago, having enjoyed a lengthy visit in the Emergency Room in Grand Blanc. As it would go, I tore my Achilles tendon clean from the ankle last night at the Youth Group bonfire event. Right now I’m in a splint until surgery can be scheduled to repair it. God willing, that will happen in the next few days because it’s pretty painful at the moment. But not to worry, worship will happen as planned. Bishop Hardy is out west at the moment, and Pastor Zwonitzer is guest preaching elsewhere. With that, I’ll be meeting with Alden Erdman and Greg Combs a little later this morning here at the church to figure out how they can help me make this work. Whatever happens, it’s in the Lord’s hands. And you know me. I’m determined to never see this congregation go without in-person Word and Sacrament ministry. Nevertheless, you’ll just have to bear with me, especially since I’ve already discovered I’m not that skilled in the art of crutches, and again, it’s pretty sore right now.

How about we change the subject and I give you something else to chew on. I’m not fond of being the bearer of sad tidings. This all seems kind of sad so far. Perhaps worse than this—at least in the minds of some folks—in a little more than two weeks, the school year will commence, and carried along in its swirling whitewater will be the typical busy-ness.

For me personally, it was the Saturday I returned from vacation that I think summer tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Sorry I couldn’t stay long. See you in 2022, my friend.” I’m pretty sure the current situation with my tendon was summer slamming the door on the way out. Administratively, before I left for Florida, all but a few days in August were already immovably fixed with appointments. By 10:00AM my first day back in the office, once I’d gotten through a good portion of my email inbox, any of the remaining free days in August were accounted for—weekends, too. By the same time on Tuesday, after more cleaning of my inbox, I’d reached into and scheduled away pretty much everything leading into September and its weekends.

There’s a lot happening around here right now. There’s a whole lot more on the horizon. With what just happened, I’m guessing things are going to have to change a little. Still, facing summer’s departure, as it is every year at this time, I rediscovered the all-too-familiar dread that comes with knowing time would be at a premium in the forthcoming months. I rediscovered the sense that if I wasn’t careful, my wife, Jennifer, would soon be tasked with picking out my headstone. I rediscovered the likeliness she’d scribe upon it: “Here lies the body of a husband, father, and pastor who, like a genuine idiot, attempted his Lord’s omnipresence.” I’d deserve such a tagline. Well, at least Jennifer has promised to have me embalmed using my whisky collection. So, there’s that.

By the way, the next time you see her, be sure to give her a hug. She’s had just as much sleep as I’ve had. She sat with me in the Emergency Room last night, and then knowing I needed to get to the church this morning, she drove me down here, and then drove home to get the kids together for worship. She’s tired. But she knows the value of what we do here at Our Savior—of what God does here through His people.

Since I sort of steered into the topic of funerals with my previous comment, last week was uniquely bookended by them, one occurring at the church on Tuesday, and another on Friday in Flat Rock, Michigan. As you may suspect, when it feels as though your days have already been spent long before you’ve had the chance to actually live them, moving across an expanse of such days from one funeral to another holds the potential for moments peppered with clarity. Beholding the lifeless remains of someone who was once breathing and moving and making plans—their ashes in an urn or their body in a casket—can stir any of us to ask, “Am I using my time wisely?”

Another thought comes to mind.

It was Sydney Smith, a rather witty English clergyman, who said, “Death must be distinguished from dying, with which it is often confused.” Those are deep words. Taking just a fractional moment to consider them honestly will realize Death as final. And yet, in the shadow of Death’s fixed moment on the stage of our lives, the days leading toward it—which in truth, must be counted as part of the process of dying—are not Death itself.

In other words, until Death arrives, no matter where we are on the timeline of our lives, we must be about the business of living, otherwise we’ve confused things. Perhaps worse, we’ve refused opportunity’s friendly hand.

Now, when I say “living,” I don’t mean frivolously. It was the prophet Isaiah who warned against the foolhardy inconsequentiality of those who’d say, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, we die” (Isaiah 22:13). Actually, the context of Isaiah’s words points to the Sin-sick inclination in some to reject the promises of God’s Word given in the face of Death, choosing instead to live as though no real hope exists for anything better beyond this life. It’s as if it’s harder for them to believe that God loves and wants to save them than it is to believe He’s actually real. With that, living it up in this life seems to make sense to them.

But Christians know better. We know God loves us. We know that Jesus is the fullest possible expression of that love. We know that Jesus said He came so that we would have life abundantly (John 10:10). We know that the abundant life He brings—real life—is the freedom from the bondage to Sin He won for us by His life, death, and resurrection. We know that life born from this could never be a self-indulgent thing. And why? Because it’s built upon and shaped by the absolute self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the One who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom (Matthew 20:28). By the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the Gospel for faith in this sacrifice, our perspectives are altered. For one, we don’t live for ourselves anymore, laboring day after day with the expectation that each moment should be injury-free, easy, and personally beneficial in every way. Instead, we see others around us, too, and we include them in our doings, being servants who are ready to labor for the benefit of others, being ready to give them an even better seat than our own.

Still, even as we’re doing this, real life isn’t meant to be an absolutely desolate droning, either. Life in Christ isn’t necessarily designed for flying past the joys our self-sacrificing God enjoys providing. Our altered perspective knows this, too. It knows the Christian life includes being mindful of self-care. It knows to slow down and take time to enjoy family, friends, and yes, even the material blessings God has so graciously provided.

I guess this sort of brings me back around to where I began.

Summer is coming to an end. Life’s pace is about to increase ten-fold. I know this, and every year the thought makes me uneasy. There’s the impending feeling of guilt that comes with it; the feeling that certain things will inevitably fall through the cracks, that people will feel slighted, that very important tasks will be accomplished with only a fraction of the energy and care they truly deserve. It’s in these moments, as it is for so many of you, I need to repent of thinking that the world could ever be found turning by my efforts—that the church I serve will somehow come undone without me. The truth is, it won’t. That’s because it’s not my church. It’s God’s church, and He’s never once asked me to do for the Church what only He can do. Instead, He calls me to faithfulness in following Him. Even better, by His Word and Sacrament cares, He gives me everything I need for discernment and diligence in the day-to-day of this ever-swirling life.

As this meets with me personally, even before I found myself in the E.R. last night, I’d already nearly washed myself away by a post-vacation moment of tidal-sized frustration with my schedule—which, by the way, was an exercise God used in combination with last night’s events to warn me regarding the looming despair I can so easily bring into my calling in comparison to the better uplands of joy He brings. I relearned that faithfulness to God may actually mean slowing down a little. It may mean revisiting my calendar and saying “no” to certain things. Knowing myself, and knowing the expectations of others, this is never an easy thing to do. Nevertheless, as current events would suggest, God has a way of attuning us to the escapes needed for Godly refreshment and self-care designed to give us a sturdier grasp on the joy inherent to serving others. Knowing the pace of so many of your lives, I urge you to take what I’ve written to heart. First of all, remember that time with your Savior is the most valuable time you’ve been given. Slow down and embrace it. Worship regularly. Secondly, by this time in God’s grace, know you are being enabled to discern. With that, learn to say “yes” to opportunities of service—moments to give from the time, talent, and treasure God has given to you. Also, learn to say “no” a little more often to the things that would keep you apart from your gracious Savior, your family, and your Christian friends.