Soli Deo Gloria

I wanted to take a quick moment to say thank you. It’s certainly appropriate to do so, not only because we’re still in the Thanksgiving mood, but because, like the man who wrote the chief hymn we’ll be singing today (“Savior of the Nations Come”), Saint Ambrose once said, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”

I’ve shared that quotation with you before. Sitting here at the church early on Thanksgiving Day morning, I took a quick stroll through previous Thanksgiving Day messages to the people of God at Our Savior in Hartland. In the note I sent last year, I shared the familiar quotation from Ambrose. Curious about its origin, I tracked it down. But before I get to that, let me continue the thread of sentiment I already started.

To the faithful here at Our Savior in Hartland—and in all the churches—you’re owed a debt of gratitude. Speaking as the pastor here, I should say that this congregation—how she operates, what she accomplishes, where she’s going—happens because of the faithful.

Now, don’t for one second think that I’m straying from our wonderful Lutheran legacy which knows to call out “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone be the glory)! I’m not. I’m simply doing what Saint Paul does with regularity throughout his epistles (Romans 1:8, Ephesians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1:4, Philippians 1:3, Colossians 1:3, Philemon 1:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and countless others). My thanksgiving to you is an acknowledgment that God has used (and continues to use) you for some pretty incredible things, all of which join to form a singular, bright beaming light of constancy streaming from this place. It pierces a shadowy world in desperate need of the Gospel. As your pastor, I thank you for your diligence in this. I owe this gratitude to you.

There’s another reason this is your due, and again, we consider Saint Ambrose. That same great Bishop of Milan wrote the words I quoted not long after the unexpected passing of his brother, Satyrus. Interestingly, if you read my Thanksgiving Day note sent out last Tuesday, you’ll see my words emerged from thoughts of my brother’s death, too. Reading most of Ambrose’s eulogy this morning, I can see he experienced the same nagging sense as me. Standing at the grave of his brother, he encounters a particular awareness. Ambrose understands that none among us knows the hour of our final moments together (Ecclesiastes 9:12). No one knows what his or her last words given or received in this mortal life will be. Will they be loving? Will they be cruel? Will they be inconsequential? Will they be thankful? Whatever they are, Ambrose acknowledges the finality of Death, and as a result, he writes something familiar to those of us who’ve lost someone close:

“To die is gain to me, who, in the very treatise in which I comfort others, am incited as it were by an intense impulse to the longing for my lost brother, since it suffers me not to forget him. Now I love him more, and long for him more intensely. I long for him when I speak, I long for him when I read again what I have written, and I think that I am more impelled to write this, that I may not ever be without the recollection of him.”

Now that Satyrus is gone, Ambrose feels the deepest sting of Death’s separating power. It makes sense, then, that he would urge the rest of us toward genuine thanksgiving in the here and now—that we would be glad to God for each other and that we would share this same tiding with the people in our lives. He calls it our duty. And we can agree, especially as we’re prompted by another sense hovering among Ambrose’s words. He knew something about his brother, something that stirred him to cry out, “You have caused me, my brother, not to fear death, and only would that my life might die with yours!”

Ambrose thanked his brother for being an example of faithfulness, even in Death. For a second time, this brings me back around to where I started. I’m grateful for your enduring devotion, just as Ambrose wrote that his brother “saw [Christ’s] triumph, he saw His death, but saw also in Him the everlasting resurrection of men, and therefore feared not to die as he was to rise again.”

Thank you for being a congregation filled with Christians who emit this Gospel truth in so many ways. Some of you do it through financial support of the mission’s efforts. Others do it through hands-on service. So many do it through regular prayer. Countless do it in simple conversation. All of you do it by the power of the Holy Spirit in faith. Truly, you know the value of what we have in this place—historic liturgy, binding creeds, rites and ceremonies that reach far beyond the here and now, a sturdy backbone for enduring an ever-encroaching world—things that so many churches are dismissing as unfriendly, socially stiff, or culturally irrelevant. But you know better. You’ve learned from those who’ve gone before you. Even Plato knew that “learning is a process of remembering.” And so, like Satyrus for Ambrose, you remember. You’ve learned from the examples of others to live by faith in Jesus Christ, trusting just as Ambrose did that “Death is not, then, an object of dread, nor bitter to those in need, nor too bitter to the rich, nor unkind to the old, nor a mark of cowardice to the brave, nor everlasting to the faithful nor unexpected to the wise.”

If the world had the capacity for genuine gratitude, it would owe its gratefulness to God and His Christians throughout history. Established in shiftless ways as this world’s salt and light—God’s gifts to the world in human form—the sour darkness of this life is made flavorful and bright (Matthew 5:13-15). Acknowledging this does not negate a heritage of “Soli Deo Gloria!” Why not? Well, let Jesus answer. He’s the One who said that through the faithfulness of Christians—the ones reflecting His light—the needful world around us will “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16).

To God alone be the glory for all you are and do and say in service to His Gospel.

Again, thank you for your faithfulness. Know you are loved and admired by your pastor. But not only me. By others, too. Come to think of it, may I suggest something? When you arrive for worship, take a chance at putting your arms around a fellow Christian or two you’ve not visited with in a while. Tell them just how thankful you are that they’re in your life. Remind them how their example of faithfulness is not only a delightful blessing of comfort amid so many life-terrorizing things, but it is also a simple and ongoing demonstration of Saint Paul’s words to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Being together in the Lord to receive His gifts, and taking the opportunity while we still can to commend one another for that togetherness, is a blessing once again remembered not only at Thanksgiving, but every time we gather together in the Lord’s house to receive His wonderful gifts of forgiveness. I’m glad for that. And I’m glad to celebrate it with all of you.

A Thanksgiving Note to My Congregation – 2022

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Lord be with you.

Perhaps like some of you, I have a small box in which I preserve keepsakes. Admittedly, most of the items in my box belonged to my brother, Michael. He went to be with the Lord in July of 1995. One of the things I have in the box is a handwritten note. It’s the last of its kind between us. We weren’t ones to write letters to each other. We didn’t need to. Growing up, we were best friends. Wherever he was, likely, I was there, too. And so, a handwritten note from him—and the last of the relatively few he ever jotted to me—holds incredible value.

I remember he wrote the note one Thanksgiving weekend. I suppose it’s a complete miracle that I still have it. It’s the kind of note we would get from someone and then throw away without a second thought. It’s also miraculous because I received it sometime in or around 1990. Here’s what the note said:


I borrowed a pair of your jeans.



There isn’t much to the note. I recall the context. Michael was going on a date with a girl that Saturday and needed a clean pair of jeans. It’s likely his jeans were dirty—or stuffed in unlocatable places in his chaotic room. Either way, he needed something, and he knew right where to go for it. Even with the note’s grateful closing, I probably criticized him for taking my jeans without asking. He really could frustrate me in that way sometimes. Still, his words ring differently for me now.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” On my part, and as a kid might do, I took Michael for granted. I just assumed he’d always be around. Man, was I wrong! And now, I’d give anything to call him and say, “All I have is yours, brother, even without asking.” That’s an important lesson to be learned by all of us. I keep the note for that very reason. Its scribblings remind me that even as Michael sometimes annoyed me, I loved him, and I’m grateful to the Lord for the time we had. In another sense, the note assures me that Michael knew this. Yes, he took my jeans without asking. This means he knew he could. He knew that he could count on me in the pinch of need. Even if I were annoyed, the love between brothers would always win the day. Now, whenever I read the note, I view his concluding “Thanks” through that lens. He was thanking me for the love between us, not the jeans.

I suppose, as a Christian, such an exchange can only reflect the greatest love from the greatest brother, Jesus Christ. Assured by the constancy of His love expressed through His death on the cross—which Saint Paul calls the “inexpressible gift” worthy of thanks to God (2 Cor. 9:15)—we can rest easy knowing that even in our failings, His love for us will win the day. He’ll never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), and He’ll be ready to help us in every pinch (Psalm 46:1). Do we take this for granted? God willing, no. This is why so many of us will set aside our busy happenings to attend worship on Thanksgiving Day. We’ll go to hear someone read and preach the Lord’s treasured note to us—His holy Word—and we’ll be enlivened by the joyful Gospel within for giving thanks. We’ll take this time to thank Him not only for the material gifts He has given in this mortal life—which includes the gift of one another—but for the highest gift of eternal life, which transcends this passing world. Because of that gift, abundantly doled out through Word and Sacrament, I know the note Michael left me won’t really be the final words between us. I’ll see him again. In fact, I’m so confident of this that I can’t wait to introduce him to my children, whom he’s never met. I think they’ll like him as much as I did.

To close, my prayer for you this Thanksgiving is that you would know the same expectant joy. Take time to bask in the Lord’s love with your Christian family here on earth, a love that the Lord promises will always win the day among us.

As a reminder, the Thanksgiving Day service (Thursday, November 24) begins at 10:00am here at Our Savior in Hartland. Come and be with us!

Ever grateful for Christ and for you,

Pastor Thoma+

It Will Never Happen

I had an interesting conversation with the 7th and 8th graders in religion class this past Monday. With Advent on the very near horizon, the season that will inevitably carry us to Christmas, we wrestled with whether or not Herod’s slaughtering of the infants in Bethlehem was a part of God’s plan. It’s a good question to ask, especially following Michigan’s recent election, one that enshrined infanticide in Michigan’s Constitution. In utter disbelief, people are asking, “Why would God do this?”

This, too, is a worthwhile question, primarily because Saint Matthew shows God’s engagement throughout the Christmas events by quoting from the Old Testament four times. Doing this, the Gospel writer stirs a sense of divine orchestration, especially as he remembers certain things revealed to God’s prophets. The slaughter of the innocents is one of them. Matthew tells of Herod’s troops storming Bethlehem, and as he does, he points to Jeremiah’s description of the scene six hundred years prior. It’s a dreadful one describing torrential tears, the piercing sounds of unrestrained wailing, and in between each gasping cry, a mother—Rachel—pushing back against any human words of consolation (Matthew 2:17-18).

In other words, Jeremiah knew a moment would come when the sound of inconsolable mothers would haunt a city and its surrounding hillsides. Matthew stakes the claim that this disturbing vision was relative to Christ’s birth and fulfilled in the slaughter at Bethlehem. But because God revealed this to Jeremiah so long ago, does that mean God planned and enacted it?

The answer is no. I’ll get to the reason in a moment.

The current effort in my religion class is the study of hermeneutics—the “how” of interpretation. As you can imagine, hermeneutics is taking us anywhere and everywhere in the Scriptures. It’s also taking us into what we read and hear in our culture. I do this with the students because language matters. Narratives matter. The intentions inherent to these things matter. They must be interpreted. When the broader horizon of genre, speaker/writer, context, history, and so on can be thoroughly examined, a person is better equipped for discernment leading to genuine wisdom. Simply applying hermeneutical principles to Proposal 3, its dreadfulness was easily detected. Teaching the students to do this is essential. The children who can do this as adults will be the ones worth trusting with critical things.

As far as the answer to the question, again, it’s no. God neither designed nor intended for all those children to die. It happened because that’s how things work in our appallingly corrupted world. Sin has a blast radius, and no one—innocent or guilty, good or bad, believer or unbeliever—is beyond its temporal effects. Therein is the interpretive key to the question’s answer, as well as the key to its relevance for us today.

Forget God’s foreknowledge for a second. While you’re at it, stop ascribing to Him authorship of everything that happens. Instead, remember what He said at the very beginning. His words to Eve and the serpent communicate His direct action. To Adam, however, His tone changes. He speaks in a resultant way, saying that because of what Adam has done, the ground is now cursed (Genesis 3:17). In other words, from now on, life will be harder, and bad things will happen. That’s the way it works in a world infected by Sin. Did God want this for His creation? No. Did He plan it? No. Matthew expresses this same theology through each clause before the four Old Testament quotations. Essentially, he uses two kinds—a purpose clause and a temporal clause. Before the reminder from Hosea 11:1 that the Messiah would come out of Egypt, Matthew uses a purpose clause (ἵνα πληρωθῇ), which comes to us as “This was to fulfill…” (Matthew 2:15). This is to say God acted in this instance. He planned it this way. Before Jeremiah’s foretelling of the Bethlehem tragedy, Matthew uses a temporal clause (τότε ἐπληρώθη), resulting in, “Then was fulfilled…” (Matthew 2:17). While the time in Egypt was divinely orchestrated, the events of Bethlehem happened because the world is now corrupt. Because of what we’ve done, this world will now produce Herod-like devils—people like Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel who rejoice at the death of children, telling all to “celebrate December 23rd” because that’s the day abortion will officially be written into the Michigan Constitution. These are the kinds of celebrations Sin produces.

By the way, I find it interesting that the amendment birthed by Proposal 3 will be added to our state’s founding document the day before Christmas Eve. The devil is good at spitting in your eye right before poking it out.

Still, God knows all of this. By His omniscience, He sees these things coming. Did He ordain them? No. Again, Genesis 3:17 nudges us toward recalling that we’re responsible for letting these monsters loose in Bethlehem. The blame for Sin’s insatiable appetite for misery rests squarely with us, not God. Of course, we don’t like to hear that. And why? Because we are ones who, as Shakespeare mused, “make guilty of our own disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars.” In other words, we’re inclined to blame anything and anyone, even God, rather than accept the simple truth that tragedy’s guilt is ours alone to claim.

The only real blame we can genuinely lay at God’s feet is best placed at the foot of the cross. We can blame Him for doing what was necessary to fix the Sin problem. The death of Jesus is God’s beautiful crime—the absolute innocent One being sentenced to death for the dreadfully guilty.

So, what do we do now?

By the Holy Spirit’s power, we believe this Gospel. Recreated by this Gospel, we continue to stand against Herod while at the same time doing everything within our power to rescue the little ones from his bloodthirsty troops. I was recently asked on three separate occasions what this “standing” might look like in a future Michigan. The first thing that came to mind in each was something I’ve experienced before.

A few years ago, I happened to be visiting my friend, Pastor Stephen Long (now with the Lord), in the emergency room. A few stalls away from us was a robustly pregnant girl—a brave teenager who’d long ago chosen to keep her child. We didn’t know the details of her visit to the ER, but everything we heard through the curtains—the shuffling and crying and confusion—all of it communicated something traumatic. The sounds also reminded us just how overwhelming the terror inherent to any harrowing moment could be. It affects our emotions. It can shatter our wits. We can react in ways we might regret later. Listening in, Stephen and I prayed for the girl and her unborn child.

Now, let’s imagine that scene in today’s Michigan. Let’s say the trauma the girl experienced resulted in her healthy child being born prematurely. Let’s say it also resulted in the terrified and confused girl changing her mind. According to Michigan’s Constitution, if, in the middle of the traumatic scene, the young girl sees the child and decides she cannot be a mother—that she doesn’t have the mental or emotional fortitude required to raise the child—regardless of the stage of pregnancy, and also because the child likely needs extraordinary medical attention to survive, the newest constitutional amendment leaves room for the mother and the physician to choose to let the otherwise healthy child die. Let’s say I’m listening through the curtain to the terrible events unfolding. Let’s also say that I hear and understand what’s about to happen to the child, that she will be left for dead. Make no mistake. It would be time to take a stand. In my case, I would unhesitatingly walk into that stall, take the child into my arms, and walk out. If need be, I’d fight off security guards, nurses, or anyone intent on obeying the new amendment. I assure you I’d do this, ultimately letting the chips of my legal future fall where they may. I would not let that child die, no matter the legal boundaries of the situation.

Plenty of folks say these types of scenarios won’t occur. Well, whatever. Many people said the Supreme Court would never cement same-sex marriage. And yet, here we are, five years beyond the cement’s pouring. Here we are expecting the U.S. Congress to pass the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which will pour a permanent layer of concrete onto what “will never happen.”

Heaping condescension, ridicule, and disbelief upon those concerned for these things is almost always proven foolish.

As far as the Emergency Room scene I described, MLive published an article on November 11 entitled “The abortion rights and potential legal fights coming after Michigan’s Prop 3 won.” In it, Robert Sedler, a law professor at Wayne State and an avowed abortion advocate, mocked the pro-life movement’s concerns about such possibilities. He called them “nonsense.” And yet, the article’s equally progressive author, Ben Orner, commented that the “amendment allows lawmakers to regulate after ‘fetal viability,’ according to its text, when the attending physician believes ‘there is a significant likelihood of the fetus’s sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.” In other words, protection laws only apply if the doctor determines the child can survive without assistance. Orner caps this by quoting Sedler, again, writing, “The idea is that abortion is only prohibited when a doctor determines that the fetus is viable, capable of living outside of the uterus.”

Three things. Firstly, before taking action to preserve a healthy child’s life, the doctor must affirm that the child can survive outside the womb without extraordinary medical help. What does this mean? What are the boundaries? My 13-year-old daughter has Type 1 diabetes. She cannot survive without extraordinary medical care. Secondly, “when the attending physician believes” is a subjective statement. For every physician who believes one thing, five others believe something different. But objectively, even rationally, a physician’s oath is to do no harm—to provide treatment to the ailing, to preserve life rather than end it. Thirdly, I agree with Sedler, who said the amendment’s language isn’t complicated. It’s deliberately open-ended to allow for as much “reproductive freedom” as the state can provide. The law’s subjectivity is intentional. Now, will most humans in our midst choose to abandon the helpless child I described? Hopefully not. But remember, the ground is cursed. It produces Herods—monsters who write laws providing opportunities to those who’d be happy to let the child perish.

“Nonsense. It will never happen.” Those are the most notorious of all last words. It has happened. Now it will happen beneath the protective banner of the law.

I didn’t share this particular MLive article with the 7th and 8th graders during religion. But I do share articles like it. Maybe I’ll share this one. Either way, we apply hermeneutical principles to what we read. Relative to Matthew 2:13-18, these principles helped the students to dig deeply in search of objective truth. They learned where and when God acts, what He ordains, how He operates in and through His Word, the difference between His revealed and hidden wills, and so much more. In one sense, it was a refreshing discussion for me, especially as I continue to wrestle with accepting whatever God is allowing to occur in America. In another sense, and considering the answers given by the students along the way, the conversation was proof that the 7th and 8th graders at Our Savior are becoming capable of navigating America’s shaky future. Again, the recent elections in Michigan resulted in quite a few Herod-like individuals taking office and arming their troops for grim ungodliness. Was God behind this? Mindful of God’s Word, knowing what I know, you’ll never convince me that He was, not even by pointing to God’s employment of ungodly rulers in the Old Testament or by dropping Romans 13 in my lap. God did not and does not purposely establish or license authorities to exist in contradiction with His will for governance. He does not ordain for governments to murder their citizens. Human beings are the ones who scribe and sign such licenses.

The students are learning to discern these things. God willing, they’re also learning they need to step up and be what God has created them to be, if only for the sake of their children. I believe they’re on their way to being this, and in that sense, I leave class comforted, knowing God will use them—deliberately—for His good purposes.

For Their Deeds Follow Them

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I do a lot of writing while walking on the treadmill in my basement. It’s safe to say that many of the sermons I’ve preached over the years were tapped into existence at an average of about four miles per hour on a slight incline. I can do this because I built myself a keyboard tray that attaches to the treadmill. It’s not pretty, but it works.

I suppose the “how” to this strange scene is far less interesting than the “why.”

In short, I’m the last person on the planet who’d ever want to walk but not actually go anywhere. The idea of a treadmill has always seemed ridiculous to me. The fact that I’m getting some much-needed exercise doesn’t placate the mood. Listening to my favorite music doesn’t, either. Neither does watching TV. I’ve always felt that if I’m going to be in motion, I’d better have something to show for it when I’m done.

This comes to mind because of a quotation I just read from Ernest Hemingway. He warned, “Never mistake motion for action.” Hemingway said these words to his friend, A. E. Hotchner, as they traveled together. It would seem Hemingway’s point was to say that, in general, motion happens no matter what. Things move. Action, on the other hand, is intentional. It involves an element of desire, of willing engagement. It employs the science of motion to accomplish a goal. Perhaps in Hemingway’s case, being the adventurer he was, it’s one thing to go wandering through the woods looking at the trees. It’s something altogether different to go hiking, stop at a tree, and climb it to get a better look at the whole forest.

If I’m going to be in motion, I prefer that something be accomplished. And so, I write while I wander stationarily. I hike through my mental forest. I find a tree and climb it to get a better view. When I do, I often discover something I didn’t know before.

In a way, I’m up one of those trees right now. Up here, I can see there’s also a bit of backward truth to this thought concerning action that leads to accomplishment. The fellowship of sinful humanity moves endlessly forward in search of accomplishment. It’s constantly doing and making and executing, much of it aimed at this or that end goal. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with desiring to achieve. As human beings, each of us is wired to do this at one level or another. And yet, in a spiritual sense—the realest sense—we’re all in motion toward accomplishing one final thing: death. Except this accomplishment is the result of another power’s deliberate motion. When it acts on us and carries us away in its undertow, we discover just how impotent we are for accomplishing or producing anything that can stop it. We come face to face with the realization that everything we’ve achieved in this life—all of our tangible accomplishments while walking on life’s treadmill—stay here.

Our house? It stays. Our money? It stays. Our favorite things? They stay.

This might sound somewhat depressing, but please don’t take it that way. Instead, climb up this tree with me. You’ll discover a better context—a better view—of something else.

I also read the text of Revelation 14:13 this morning. At first glance, it seems contrary to what I just wrote. In it, the Apostle John scribbles obediently, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

These words arrive after three separate announcements from three different angels. The first angel promises that the Gospel will never be overcome (vv. 6-7). The second announces God’s final judgment against His enemies, all of whom are consolidated into the title “Babylon the Great.” The angel continues by calling Babylon the Great the one “who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” (v. 8). The third angel announces the terrible punishment awaiting those who worshipped at her altar, describing them as being given “the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger….” The angel says this torrential rage will pour down on the accursed while Christ and all of heaven watch (vv. 9-11).

But then we arrive at verses 12 and 13. In 12, John announces the endurance of the saints “who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” What are they enduring? It’s already been described earlier in the book. Great suffering. Terrible persecution. Cruel martyrdom. Verse 13 caps the entire discussion. Where the angels were formerly speaking, now God speaks for Himself. He booms through all creation the eternal rest to be had by those who believed in Christ while walking life’s treadmill. Their walking wasn’t for nothing. Death did not suddenly snuff out their endeavors. Their deeds followed them. Which deeds? The faithful and productive deeds born from the greatest deed of faith—the chief deed worked by the power of the Holy Spirit through the unconquerable Gospel that produces all other deeds deemed blessed by God. These deeds didn’t save the ones performing them. The text says the deeds followed the believers.

I imagine this “following” will be along the lines of high-fives from Christ and His angels, moments in heaven when they’ll say something like, “Hey Chris, remember when that woman in Washington D.C. spit on you just because she knew you were a pastor by your clerical, and then she couldn’t believe it when you turned to share the Gospel with her? Yeah, we saw that. That was great.”

Another thought directly relative to this one is the peaceful assurance God gives us right now on the treadmill. We don’t have to wait until death to enjoy the rest God proclaims. Yes, the Church on earth—the Church Militant—is an endeavor in perpetual motion. And yet, while the nations rage around us, our faithful God whispers to His own with an earth-shattering tenderness, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). By the power of the Holy Spirit for faith, He nudges us to stop what we’re doing to take a few notes. He points to Moses as he shouts by divine inspiration to the frightened Israelites facing certain death at the mouth of the Red Sea, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent (Exodus 14:13-14).” Following an election in which it certainly seems like Babylon the Great won the day, God pumps the brakes, bringing our motion-filled life to a halt to hear His Psalmist say, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices” (Psalm 37:7).

We stop and ponder this. And then we get moving again. We get back into action, sometimes at four miles per hour, sometimes at what feels like the speed of sound. But always at a slight incline, always uphill. The fight of faith ends when we do.

Until then, we endure. We remain faithful (Matthew 24:13). We do this knowing God has everything well in hand. The One who began and achieved the greatest accomplishment in us—the deed of trust in the Son of God, Jesus Christ—will bring that work to its final completion (Philippians 1:6). It will follow believers into eternal life. As it does, there may even be a few high fives here and there to enjoy—maybe even one from a woman who spat on you but was later changed by the same powerful Gospel that took you from being God’s enemy to being one of His friends.

Mid-term Elections, 2022

I would imagine some of you are expecting me to weigh in on the recent election. I suppose one thing I learned this past Tuesday was best described in a parallel way by Thomas Henry Huxley. He labeled science’s greatest tragedy as “the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” I went to bed on Tuesday evening bearing a hypothesis—a hopeful estimation—that Michigan wasn’t capable of enshrining murder in its Constitution, that the majority of people in this state would know better than to hallow death in this way. I also expected that one plus one would continue to equal two; that people would be more inclined to embrace candidates intent on upholding natural law while refusing candidates proffering wokist foolishness, backward science, and “for-me-but-not-for-thee” principles of governance.

Ugly facts slew those hypotheses. The passing of Proposal 3 is proof. The re-election of Gretchen Whitmer and her demonic associates is, too. For the first time in forty years, the worst of the worst—the ones who openly despise all things Godly—own the governor’s chair and both chambers.

So, what now? Well, something else comes to mind.

For starters, it must be realized that God ordains civil government as an extension of His purposeful authority to humanity through humanity. According to His design, the offices established are not ones of self-serving privilege, nor are they to be abused through tyranny. They are established for the well-being of the citizenry—to maintain order and protect the ones they serve. The ordination is not limited to Christians. Unbelievers can occupy the seats, too. However, the leader must remain within God’s framework to keep the ordination. When he or she doesn’t, the relationship between the government and the governed changes. Saint Paul shows his understanding of this in 1 Timothy 2:2, explaining that we pray to God and intercede with all in authority so that we can live peaceful, reverent, and godly lives. God does not want these things to be disjointed. Verses 3 and 4 provide the reason for this desired harmony: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In other words, a government within the boundaries of its ordination provides the best context for the Gospel’s perpetuation in the world. When the Gospel is free to go forth, the salvation of souls is the result.

This is religious liberty.

The word “religious” seems far from Michigan right now—unless, by the term, we mean self-devotion. Religion requires the determination of good and evil, right and wrong. This discernment is necessary for measuring government. I’m willing to concede that most in Michigan appear disinterested in doing this, let alone capable. Instead, they regard government as a power to be harnessed for personal gain. As long as they get what they want, the government is good. When they don’t, the government is bad.

So again, now what?

Well, technically, as ones owning the corner market on good and evil, Christians face a grave theological question here in Michigan. By writing into the Michigan Constitution a person’s right to murder another person, the document has, in a sense, become invalidated. The Magdeburg Confession, a remarkable document published in 1550 and born from clear-thinking Lutherans, offers something worth considering:

And so, by the force of this precept [Matthew 22:22], the things which are God’s are not to be rendered unto Caesar, just as the Apostles hand down this rule and precept, “We must obey God rather than men.” And by refusing obedience to superiors in those things which are contrary to God, they do not violate the majesty of their superiors, nor can they be judged obstinate or rebellious, as Daniel says, “I have committed no crime against you, O king.” For two reasons free them from this charge: First, because those who wield the magistracy do not demand this obedience as magistrates by the ordinance of God, but as men, that is, having no superiority from the Word of God. The Apostles appear to have wanted to judge this case by their own dictum. Then, even if they remained true magistrates, even still, as in human ranks, the law of the superior power trumps the law of the inferior, so divine laws necessarily trump human ones. Secondly, as Christ does not want the things of God to be ascribed to Caesar, so He does not want to see any things ascribed to him [Caesar] that are others’ and not his, whether according to divine laws or even the laws of his own empire. If, contrary to these laws, Caesar should demand my life or some other man’s life, or the chastity of a wife or daughter, or property etc., I ought not to allow them to him. (The Second Argument, 63.)

So, there’s this. I know some will argue this point. They’ll rub their Church-and-State lamp and out will pop the genie named “Obey!” with the text of Romans 13 in hand. That’s fine. When that ill-interpreting apparition emerges, hand him the following rhetorical discussion from the faithful men of God who scribed The Magdeburg Confession:

If God wanted superior magistrates who have become tyrants to be inviolable because of his ordinance [Romans 13] and commandment [The Fourth Commandment], how many impious and absurd things would follow from this? Chiefly it would follow that God, by his own ordinance and command, is strengthening, nay, honoring and abetting evil works, and is hindering, nay, destroying good works; that there are contraries in the nature of God Himself, and in this ordinance by which He has instituted the magistrate; that God is no less against his own ordinance than he is for the human race. All these things are most plain, nor can they be denied by anyone: If God has granted such great impunity to the greatest tyrant by His own ordinance and commandment, who will prevent him from laying waste all of nature, even if he could, and being innocent before God? Who will not provide his substance, his body, and even his life itself to the one who demands them for the occasions, ends, and nourishment of tyranny, because of the commandment of God? Who will do what is right contrary to the will of a tyrant, and be a survivor? Who will be left of all men as the only one doing right? (The Second Argument, 67.)

Again, sometimes a Christian cannot obey. This is not promoting rebellious anarchy. It is being faithful. It is to accept the fact that a document enshrining a person’s right to murder another person has swerved beyond the boundaries of the government’s ordination, leaving the faithful in a terrifying predicament. The Lutheran pastor, Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, understood just how scary it was. Of course, he learned the hard way what it really means to apply oneself wholly to the challenge. A gentle and mindful man, he was hung for his resistance to Hitler. His faith was forced into action, and he discovered a willingness to say, “You’ve gone too far, and I intend to stop you, even if it costs my life.” Are we as courageous as Bonhoeffer? The question begs another hypothesis that will, like the others, be tested and slayed by facts.

On Wednesday morning, I shared these heavy concerns in conversation with Bishop Hardy. Wisely, he asked the probing questions, “Why dissent now? What has changed between the era of Roe V. Wade and the passing of Proposal 3?” As Christians, we need to be prepared to answer. For starters, Roe V. Wade was not law. It was an interpretation of law. Here in Michigan, we have laws on the books relative to abortion’s prohibition. Admittedly, the interpretation tripped up their application, yet it did not nullify them. When Roe V. Wade was overturned, these laws engaged. Laws that defend and protect life are fundamental to the government’s ordination. In that sense, Michigan was already poised to exist in stride with Godliness. On November 8, the Michigan citizenry voted to amend the Michigan Constitution. As a result, the highest legal authority for a representative republic gives license for murder, thereby nullifying the previous laws of prohibition. All statutes established in our state must be in agreement with the Constitution. If they do not, the statutes are abolished. This means that even if one day we were to have a pro-life governor supported by a 100% pro-life legislature, any law they could formulate outlawing abortion would be illegal by default and, ultimately, unenforceable. As of November 8, 2022, the Michigan Constitution establishes unrestricted access to abortion at every stage of pregnancy. Period.

Again, now what?

Well, there’s plenty of discussion to be had. That will come in time. Meanwhile, we do what we’ve always done. We pray. And when we’re done, we get up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work. Hopelessness is not on the menu. Neither is quitting. Faithful endurance is the order of the day. A cause is only ruined when its fighters determine they can’t go on. We can go on. And why? Not because of anything relevant to us. We’re humans. Humans are limited. We can go on because the One we trust—Jesus Christ—goes on. This same Savior has promised His believers an enduring strength that surpasses the might and muscle of the temporal spheres (2 Corinthians 4:7-18). Existing in these realms, with eyes fixed on Christ’s ghastly but all-encompassing victory on the cross, with hearts attuned to the eternal glory Christ promises to those who love Him, the passing terrors of this world and its monsters seem less problematic, less fierce.

And we can go on.

Trusting Christ, I intend to keep at it. It’s going to be more complicated now, but that’s okay. I’m a pastor. I’m more than familiar with complicated. There’s a saying that the success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed. Proposal 3 is a significant setback. It’s going to take a while to change what’s happened. Still, I’m playing the long game. I’ve set aside the rest of my life, however long that may be, to do what it takes to move the ball down the field. Will I see us score before the divine Coach decides to put me on the bench? I don’t know. But until He does, I’ll continue to show up for practice, study the fundamentals, learn the plays, research the opposition, and eventually, when it’s game time, come ready to play the game and to play it hard.

Consider this your invitation to the tryouts.

Love Your Neighbor

I have a lot on my mind this morning. Maybe you do, too.

We’re teetering at the edge of disaster here in Michigan. I don’t know any other way to say it. Don’t get me wrong. I think the good guys can and will win in the upcoming election. Still, it won’t be easy. In two days, countless Michiganders will make their way to the appointed polling locations to cast their ballots. I know the media can be deceptive, but a relatively reliable source is predicting a 50% turnout of eligible voters, which equates to a total of about 4 million votes, both absentee and in-person combined. Our less-than-desirable Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, predicts a much higher turnout. I’m not necessarily a political pundit, so I can’t speculate either way. If it’s lower, after what happened in 2020, my guess is it’ll be because poll challengers were on high alert protecting us from zombies. In other words, fewer dead people were let through the doors to vote.

But we’ll see. Jocelyn Benson is strangely disinterested in election integrity. Proposal 2 is proof.

Beyond that, and unfortunately, other polls suggest that another proposal—Proposal 3—will pass. In other words, pollsters are confident that those who want to enshrine in our state’s constitution a woman’s right to an abortion up to and after birth will enjoy the majority turnout. The ones who want to criminalize religious objection to assisting are projected as being in the lead. The candidates who want to make sure a second grader is allowed to discern and begin his or her “transition journey” to a different sex without parental consent are being touted as the inevitable victors.

Personally, I think the conservatives are being undersampled in these polls. But again, we’ll see.

David Barton stopped in last month for a visit here at Our Savior. He was touring alongside Chad Connelly, the founder and president of “Faith Wins.” I’ve known David for a long time. There are vast theological differences between us, yet we’re on the same page regarding the topic of Church and State. David is a friend. I trust and appreciate him.

Both in public and private, David shared disheartening (but also familiar) news relative to the Church. He anticipates 25% of conservative, Bible-believing Christians will show up at the polls nationwide. This statistic has remained relatively constant for several years, and my blood begins simmering every time I hear it. I say this because the margin in most elections is usually very thin. If that 25% went up by the tiniest fraction, initiatives like Proposal 3 would lose in a proverbial landslide.

A few days before David visited us, I was handed a letter written by a fellow LCMS pastor. He’d written it to the people of his congregation. In it, he encouraged them to vote “no” on Proposal 3 and explained to them from the Scriptures why they should. I was glad for his words. But, the pastor also imposed a barrier on the Church’s advising on anything beyond Proposal 3. In other words, he said that the only reason he could write and send the letter was because Proposal 3 was a moral issue. However, everything else on the ballot—the other two proposals, the executive, legislative, and judicial candidates, millages, and the like—were to be considered political issues and the Church had no right to insert herself into the discussion.

Relative to his letter, I write the following.

Firstly, go to You’ll be able to see the ballot relative to your precinct.

Secondly, vote no on all three proposals. They’re ungodly efforts intent on giving evil a permanent foothold in Michigan’s Constitution.

Thirdly, I encourage you to vote for candidates who’ve pledged to push back against the wokeness of cancel culture; who’ve vowed to protect the unborn, the divinely established rights of parents, and ultimately, religious liberty. Choose the ones who’ve promised to fight to protect the Church from policies that would criminalize her for faithfulness to God’s Word. Who are these candidates? For starters, Tudor Dixon for Governor, and Shane Hernandez for Lt. Governor. Also, choose Kristina Karamo for Secretary of State and Matt DePerno for Attorney General. If Tom Barrett is a choice for congress on your ballot, choose him. I know him well. He’s a good man. His opponent, Elissa Slotkin, is a dreadful pestilence to natural law and would shut down every church if she could. If you can vote for Paul Junge, do so. His opponent, Dan Kildee, is Elissa Slotkin’s ideological twin. If you can vote for any of the following congressional candidates, do so: John Gibbs, John James, Mark Ambrose, and Bill Huizenga. And because our educational institutions are incredibly critical, be sure to choose Tamara D. Carlone for the Michigan Board of Education. Mike Balow and Travis Menge would help clean up U of M as trustees. Lena Epstein and Sevag Vartanian would do the same at MSU. On the non-partisan portion of the ballot, I implore you to choose Paul Hudson and Brian Zahra for the Michigan Supreme Court. If you want to keep men out of women’s sports in Michigan, we need them on the highest bench. If you want Michigan’s 1976 civil rights legislation—the Elliot-Larsen Act—to maintain the definition of “sex” as meaning biological gender, vote for these men.

Lastly, if you have questions about others on your ballot, please reach out. I might be able to help.

Do you see what I’ve done here? I advised you regarding far more than Proposal 3. Pastors can and should do this.

Now, I’d ask my fellow pastors as it relates to the presupposed ban on the Church’s engagement: What’s the point of encouraging Christians to vote no on the moral issue posed by Proposal 3 if at the same time the Church forbids shepherding those same Christians toward candidates who are in alignment with the One in whom they’ve placed their faith? Let’s just say Proposal 3 fails. Amens and alleluias will be the order of the day. However, even as it dies, if we re-elect the candidates who fought to put it on the ballot in the first place, history proves it’ll rise from the dead like the 3% of Michigan voters who voted for Biden in 2020. Get rid of these people or they’ll haunt our ballots with ungodliness every election cycle.

To be frank, the Devil loves the Church’s confused complacency in this regard. He knows that the more he can steal from the Church and recategorize as political, the less Christians will be encouraged by their own spiritual overseers to hold the line on some fundamental issues crucial to the Church’s ability to proclaim Christ. They won’t act because they don’t think the Church holds any ownership in the issue, and they’ll do it thinking they’re being faithful. This foolishness is already happening in so many ways. We’ve certainly handed everything relative to natural law over to the lions. What’s more, the doctrine of justification has been mauled beyond recognition in many of our churches and Christian universities now embracing wokist ideologies like Critical Race Theory. Clearly, there’s confusion among us. And the lions are poised to steal more. Just give them time.

Meanwhile, if the pastors continue to stand idly by—and they teach their people to do the same—it won’t be long before the last atom of our sacred doctrine and traditions is completely outlawed, forcing the Church into the shadows.

This won’t change until the Church and her pastors begin seeing politics through a Christological lens. Almost everything in life, even politics, is in some way Christological. Almost everything put into place for maintaining human order intersects with the rule of faith and Christian conscience. No, we are not Dominionists. Christians are not called to establish a theocracy. But we are called to engage. We have a right to influence the public square just as much as we have a right to breathe air. To assume otherwise is lazy and foolish, no matter how erudite your congregational epistles might be.

I’m reminded of the Prophet Hosea’s words: “For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (4:4,6).

I’m with Hosea on this one. If pastors do not engage in the public square, if they will not teach others to do the same, then God’s people will continue to be destroyed. They’ll do self-terminating things. They’ll elect candidates and embrace policies that seal their own dreadful fate and the fate of future generations of Christians. As they do, these same pastors must be willing to accept their fair share of the blame.

On the other hand, if pastors are engaging in these things—and shepherding their people to do the same—then well and good. Thank them. Love them. Support them. Help them. It’s not necessarily an easy thing for them to do. They’ll be hated. They’ll get nasty phone calls and letters. They’ll see relationships dissolve. They may even find themselves in court. This is the war zone, and these are the trenches. Hell’s bullets will always fly against the ones raising the banner of biblical truth. Still, the orders from our Captain must be carried out. Christ’s concern in the campaign must exceed our own. As a pastor, I walk a dangerous line of offense, not only with the outside world but with the radically individualized pew-sitters. I know the attacks will come. Still, I must go. God’s people must go.

I’ve often told my wife, Jennifer, that I live each minute of my life one sentence away from ticking someone off. That translates into something I’ve often told you: I cannot truly love you if I don’t love God more. This is to say, my allegiance to Christ must always outweigh my allegiance to people. When I love Christ, I can rightly love others, being found capable of helping them in the ways they actually need it.

I know I’ve already been somewhat long-winded, but Daylight Savings Time has granted me an extra hour. With that, I have one final thought.

For any pastors who may be reading this, if you have time, take a quick trip through the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Yes, yes, I know the purest exegizing of the story is that we are incapable of saving ourselves by keeping the Law—that ultimately, we need a Savior’s rescue. Still, note the characters in the Lord’s story. They’re clergy. That should mean something to you.

One character, a priest, sees a dying man, someone assumed by the listeners to be a fellow Jew. But the priest passes by without stopping to help a believing brother who’s experiencing a life-threatening issue. Keeping with the 8th Commandment, I’ll assume the priest’s intentions were good, that he didn’t help because medical care isn’t relative to his job. Another clergyman, a Levite, sees the dying man and does the same thing. In both instances, the clergy fail. Why? Because they didn’t understand what rests at the heart of their faith: love that engages and acts. The one who succeeded—the Samaritan—he reached into a moment when action was required, even someone who couldn’t have been further from his sphere of vocational responsibility.

Brothers, stop and help dying humanity. It’s struggling with life-threatening issues unjustly claimed and then imposed by politics. There will be time for writing your sermons and preparing your Bible studies. In the meantime, do something—anything—to help the unborn, the parents trying to protect their children from gender confusion in schools, the nurse who lost her job because she didn’t want to assist in an abortion, and so much more that’s happening in the marshy ditch beside the road. Help others to navigate and push back against the treacherous social and political waters that are, even now, surging up and over the road as a tsunami intent on drowning all who travel there. You are Christ’s undershepherds. You already have what it takes to do this. You can be a beacon of truth in and for the community, even the ones who oppose you. Equipped with God’s Word, you can be the one who draws attention to the Devil surfing atop the murderous tide rising from the ditch, thwacking the skulls of bobbing corpses all along his way.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge….”

Be the source of knowledge. Understand that engaging in the public square is to engage in life’s unavoidables, where Christian love cannot help but stop and labor because anything and everything converges at its intersection. The ones who are constantly redistricting the boundaries for this intersection—the government—who they are and what they stand for should matter to Christians. Love people enough to teach them concern for this. Love them enough to shepherd them toward safety and away from danger. Love them enough to remind them that, just as you would never think of sequestering your faith before visiting the ballot box, the people in your church shouldn’t either. Love them enough to conquer your fear of their disapproval when you do this. Love them with a courage that insists the Christian faith does not license believers to choose candidates who hallow abortion, desire “drag queens in every school,” or are complicit in so many other entangling devilries the civil powers seek to impose in contradiction to God’s will. Love your people enough to prove your resolve, even being willing, if necessary, to speak these same things before the princes of this world.

I suppose in closing, remember that any pious boundaries put in place that prevent pastors or their people from helping the dying man, while good-intentioned, might actually be veiled wickedness. Be careful. Discern and pray. But don’t stop there. Engage. I doubt we’d have ever heard of the Samaritan if good intentions were all he had. We know him because he was the Lord’s example of love blossoming into action for the neighbor beyond the boundaries of his vocational borders. He steered out of his lane and helped.

Now, go and do likewise.