Vacation for Vocation

Like many of you, I have vacationing on the brain.

Memorial Day is meant to remember those who gave their lives in service to the country. Still, judging by the weekend’s typical worship attendance, it’ll be akin to a test run of the forthcoming summer’s getaway potential. In other words, it’s a practice vacation. It doesn’t offer much time to rest, but it gives a sense of what rest could be. And if not rest, then at least the liberty to spend a long weekend with friends and family—some we like and some we don’t—doing something…or nothing.

I just used the word liberty.

I’m not above reminding anyone why the rest they enjoy in America is possible. People died to provide it. Considering that Thomas Jefferson once called religious liberty “the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights,” I’m not above reminding folks to consider churchgoing as one of liberty’s best exercises. A far more critical death sits at its center—the death of God’s Son. His death won far more than freedom from earthly tyranny or foreign threats. His death stole you away from eternal condemnation and the power of Death. That’s certainly worth a day or two of any vacation.

At our Church Council meeting last week, our new Youth Board chairman, Jason, spoke about future opportunities for our youth to enjoy fellowship together and serve in the community. As he explained, I drifted back to my days as the youth leader, a time when we were heavily invested in international mission efforts, going to places like Russia and Lithuania. I share this because later that night, on the treadmill, I visited a travel website to check on airfare prices to Lithuania, figuring it might once again be a possibility. Of course, Russia seems like a stretch right now. Anyway, while ticket shopping, one of the side advertisements was scrolling quotations about vacationing. I don’t usually pay much attention to advertisements. The sayings caught my eye in this case, probably because the Thoma family is precisely 20 days away from our annual two-week getaway to Florida.

The first quotation I jotted down was from Robert Orben. He said, “A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” Another from Hal Chadwicke offered, “A vacation is a sunburn at premium prices.” I also saw one by Susan Sontag. She wrote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Finally, there was the following from Gustave Flaubert: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

I know who Robert Orben was. In fact, he died just this year. He was a comedy writer who later became a presidential speech writer. I only know this because he managed to do something I’d appreciate doing, which is speech writing for political candidates. Other than that, I’ve never been a fan. I don’t know who Hal Chadwicke is. I’ve never heard of him. I’ll probably look him up after typing this. Known or unknown, he said something insightful that was worth sharing. Susan Sontag was a leftist crazy. She did all she could to depict America as a villain. For example, she was the kind of person who could visit an orphanage in Africa built by Americans and figure out how to blame America for the local warlord’s murdering the children’s parents. I’m not a fan of Susan Sontag. Still, she wrote at least one thing worth sharing.

Gustave Flaubert’s observation resonated with me the most. He was a nineteenth-century French novelist. He wrote Madame Bovary. I’ve never read it. It’s a classic, so I probably should. I guess I’ve never been that interested, mainly because of its reputation for having a class-envy theme. Still, Flaubert’s words about travel are pinpointedly accurate. Stepping beyond the front door of our lives has a way of revealing the uniqueness of one’s place in the world.

Vacations are inherently good for this.

Relative to this ramble’s start, I think I’ve sorted out a few things. One lesson learned concerns my being completely disinterested in spending a Memorial Day weekend with any of the authors I mentioned. However, even though I might not be fond of particular people, situations, or tasks, I can garner something of value from almost anyone or anything if I’m paying attention. Even Saint Paul found value in the pagan poets. With that, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, pay attention to what’s happening around you, even when you’re doing absolutely nothing. You’re bound to discover something worthwhile. This leads me to something else.

I suppose vacations are designed to provide rest. But they’re also supposed to be rejuvenating. Rejuvenation isn’t necessarily a do-nothing event. It’s restorative. It’s a creative act. It’s also self-contemplative. It takes in information and applies it to the self. It has a heightened awareness, one that’s undistracted from the usual day-to-day bustle and capable of looking around at life for new ways of making one’s regular days healthier and, perhaps, more productive. I can promise you that’s one of the only reasons I try new things while on vacation. I rarely do nothing. But I rarely do something to say I’ve done it. I eat food I’ve never eaten or try activities I’ve never tried so that I can decide if I want to add them (if possible) to my life back home. I discover things about myself and my everyday routines as I do this. As Flaubert hinted, I’m reminded how small my corner of the world is compared to the rest of God’s beautiful creation. The older I get, the more aware of this process I become. And it really is a splendid process.

Now, I didn’t set out at the beginning to sound like some new-age therapist bent on meditative self-help techniques. Instead, I’m thinking about my upcoming vacation, realizing I’m going away to a place that’s not my home. I will return to the real world and its seemingly endless tasks.

I’m also thinking about what I read in Ecclesiastes 3 this morning. Chapter 3 is that memorable portion from King Solomon that talks about how there’s a time for everything under heaven. I noticed vacationing fits into what Solomon wrote.

Interestingly, after Solomon lists various seasons in life, some good and some bad, he appears to connect all of them to man’s general toiling—his day-to-day vocation. In verse 13, he summarizes that God wants man to take pleasure in his work. His phraseology implies that the toil and its fruits are God’s gifts to us, not simply a package of things we endure until retirement. They’re proof of God’s love.

In verse 22, the final sentence of the chapter, Solomon adds one more thing. He once again restates that man should rejoice in his work, but then he ends by asking the rhetorical question, “Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” I won’t dig too deeply into this question because I’ve already been long-winded. In light of everything Solomon has written, it sounds like he’s assuming a life of labor in gratefulness to God produces a job well done. A job well done benefits those who come after us.

Finally, reading Solomon’s concern for times of laughter and healing—and knowing they’re relative to our daily labors—I think one of the “vacation” takeaways is that we shouldn’t necessarily be thinking about our time off as an escape from work. Instead, we vacation for the sake of our vocation. In other words, we take time to rejuvenate—we grow and learn and take in new mental and physical resources—so that we can return to our daily labors better equipped for faithful laboring to the glory of God and the good of the neighbor.

Returning to the real world after vacation can be depressing for some. I get it. Still, I think Solomon is telling us there’s a way to take a little bit of it with you. My advice: pay attention. Ask yourself while away, “What can I bring back to my corner of the world that’ll make my vocation more of a joy in thankfulness to God and a blessing to my neighbor?”

Now, if I can only figure out how to fit Florida’s sunshine, a few palm trees, and a swimming pool into my suitcase. I’ll bet that would make everyone in Michigan happy. Florida can keep its sharks.

The Possibilities

It has begun. Multiple times a day, the Thoma children announce how many days remain until the last day of school. I bet they’d be ready with the hours, minutes, and seconds if I asked any of them. I’m certainly not annoyed when they do this. I know why they do it. For youth, summer and freedom are synonyms. Besides, I did it, too. As a kid, I counted the days until my only schedule-consuming responsibilities would be jumping ramps on my bike, hunting crawdads in muddy creeks, playing army in the forest behind my best friend’s house, participating in socially recalibrating neighborhood scuffles, watching late-night scary movies, and just about anything else summer could conjure.

Thinking back to those days, even though I stayed up pretty late almost every night, I don’t really remember sleeping in the following day. I remember wanting to get as much from my summer as possible. And so, I’d hop out of bed no later than 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., throw on the cleanest clothes from my floor, have a bowl of cereal, and then fly out the back door to the rusty shed where I kept my bike. I’d throw up a dust trail speeding down our gravel driveway or go off-roading through our bumpy backyard, my bike clanking and rattling all the way. But whichever direction I went, the horizon’s possibilities were limitless.

Some of the summer’s possibilities were great. Others, not so much. I remember one summer hearing that my friend, Todd Smart, fell from the tree in his front yard and died. It was July of 1983. I was ten years old at the time. My dad told me the news. I certainly knew the tree. I’d climbed it, too. If I had to guess, I’d say it was at least twenty feet tall. Although, things seemed so much bigger when you were a kid. As the story goes, Todd had just about reached its peak when the branch he was standing on broke, and he fell to the ground, hitting branch after branch all the way down. A couple of days later, my friend, John, told me he’d heard Todd looked like a pinball bouncing off the bumpers as he fell. Oddly, John and I had that conversation about ten feet from the ground in a tree near my grandmother’s apartment.

It’s strange the things one remembers from childhood. Before telling me the news about Todd, I remember the look on my dad’s face. It was uniquely unordinary. I knew I was going to hear something I didn’t expect. I remember the tree near my grandmother’s apartment. I remember which branches a kid needed to grapple with to climb it. I remember my friend John’s home phone number. I just typed it into Google. A woman with an extraordinary name—Drewcylla—appears to own it now.

Whether winter, spring, summer, or fall, each season holds more across its horizon’s boundary than what’s right in front of us at any given moment. What we experience in those lands will be with us well into the future—well into forthcoming seasons. Some things we’ll remember in detail. Other parts we’ll forget. Some we’ll observe from this side of life and realize how we didn’t fully comprehend the event’s particulars because of our immaturity at the time. Remember, my friend died climbing a tree, and a few days later, another friend and I discussed the tragedy while climbing a tree. I’m well past ten years old, and I only recognized the irony just now as I typed this. Still, the Christopher Thoma tapping on this keyboard this morning is the same one who dangled from that tree near Valleyview Heights Apartments in Danville, Illinois, forty years ago. And yet, I’m not the same person. I’m entirely different after meeting each season’s moments. That’s life. That’s development. That’s growth. And it’s normal.

Seasonally speaking, I’m absolutely certain that growing up in the 1970s and 80s barely compares to childhood today. For one, I don’t remember any of my classmates identifying as cats. (Honestly, the neighborhood scuffles I mentioned before would’ve fixed that weirdness in a hurry.) I don’t remember any of my teachers encouraging me to explore my gender identity or encouraging anyone I knew to consider gender reassignment surgery. The 70s and 80s could get crazy, but not this kind of crazy. I certainly don’t recall any of my teachers attempting one of the worst kinds of crazy: to undermine my Christian faith or divide me from my parents. For example, my son, Harrison, came to me this past week to tell me that his AP US History teacher at Linden High School overheard him talking to a friend about a scene from the Monty Python film “The Life of Brian.” Harrison hasn’t seen the movie, but I have shown him a few of its more hilarious scenes. The conversation unfolded something like this:

“Isn’t your dad a priest or something?”

“He’s a Lutheran pastor,” Harrison answered.

“He actually let you watch that movie?” the teacher pressed.

“No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve only seen a few scenes. They don’t really want me watching it.”

“Of course not,” the instructor replied. “He probably doesn’t want you watching it because it’ll challenge what he’s taught you to believe and teach you another way to look at the Christian religion.”

Nice try. But most certainly a hit and a miss. Jennifer and I haven’t kept the movie from Harrison because we’re his cruel overlords. Thankfully, he knows this. And thankfully, he talks to us openly about things like this. For the record, Mr. History Teacher, his mother and I don’t want him to watch the movie because it employs a few choice words we’d prefer for him to avoid and has full frontal male and female nudity. Other than that, it’s hilarious. And if anything, the “I want to be called Loretta” scene makes you and your dreadfully woke automaton colleagues look imbecilic by comparison.

Right now, even as Harrison is sixteen, he’s developing. It’s our job to help him along. We do this by ensuring he knows we love him more than anything, second only to Christ. When Harrison’s beyond this season of our responsibility, we’ll be happy to let him take the helm. That’s how it works. He’s already proving his ability to make his way without us. He’s already showing that he’s seeing and enjoying the world in ways far different than what the world would prefer. I’ll come back to this in a second.

In the meantime, as sure as I am of the vast differences between the 1970s/80s and today, I’m just as confident that the nature of humanity hasn’t changed all that much. Kids are developing—spiritually, socially, physically, and psychologically. What happens right now—how we talk to them, what we allow to happen to them, whom we allow in their circles, whom we allow to teach or influence them—all these things might seem irrelevant in the moment. And yet, like it or not, every one of the atom-sized occurrences relevant to each situation is affecting them. Twenty years, thirty years, forty years from now, each situation’s truest impact will be remembered and likely demonstrated. As I already said, that’s life. That’s development. That’s growth. And it’s normal.

But know this: The Lord’s normal differs from the world’s normal. And so, with Christ as one’s north star, “normal life” itself is affected. Both the good and bad seasons meet first with the One who promises to go before us, pledging to never leave nor forsake those who are His own (Deuteronomy 31:8). With that, all things meet the child quite differently. In any given moment, recognizable or not, this Gospel will be doing what our faithful God says it’ll do: cultivating joy, resilience, and a necessary endurance that will only strengthen as one matures toward a final breath and then enters eternal life (Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 6:7; Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 29:11; Matthew 19:4; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; and the like). As parents, we bear no insignificant role in this exchange. God included us in His baptismal mandate, insisting that we teach our little ones the Christian faith and support them in it (Matthew 28:19-20).

I suppose one reason I’m probably thinking about these things leads back to where I began. We’re coming to the end of the school year. My kids are counting down. As I look around at the children in this congregation’s school, I’ll bet they are, too. Even so, I’m hopeful for their forthcoming summers. I can be. For any of our good or bad seasons (which every community experiences), each child and his or her family has enjoyed the opportunity to meet first with the Gospel of our faithful Savior. Myriads of parents and children in countless schools worldwide don’t enjoy that. In our little corner, on this fractional portion of each of our students’ developing timelines, they do—and in abundance. Forty years from now, when I’m ninety—if I’m still alive—I expect to hear retellings of the memories associated with these things. I’m sure it’ll make me smile then, just as it does right now.

Invalidate the Lie

A few weeks back in religion class, I asked the 7th and 8th-grade students to tell me about the behaviors among friends that hurt them the most. Some said cliquish activities. Others said cruel words. Not sure how to define it, one student described self-absorbed and egotistical behavior. I told her the word she was looking for. It’s “narcissism.”

The kids asked me the same question. I told them I despise lying. You can mock me, belittle me, and curse the day I was born. Plenty have. Interestingly, some of those friendships have survived to this day. They’re testaments to God’s grace. However, from a human perspective, if a person lies to me, it’s only then that our relationship is likely to change in unrecoverable ways. It’s not that forgiveness won’t win between us. It will. It must. And, certainly, we can still be friends. It’s just that, from where I stand, we’ll have become distant friends.

Of course, the problem with this particular personality trait is that I’m just as guilty of deceit as the next person. In my mind’s eye, I sometimes imagine a singular door marked with a burnt placard bearing three letters—L, I, and E. In Eden, the devil unlocked this dreadful door, we turned its knob, and Sin stepped through, infecting humanity. Not just a few of us, but rather, all of us. If you doubt this, the 18th-century philosopher, Denise Diderot, offered an intuitive and very personal way to prove the premise, one relative to deception’s truest nature. He said rather precisely, “We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”

Truth is bitter to Sin. It prefers to gulp from deceit.

Conversely, God despises untruth. He dislikes it so much that He wrote truth into the very fabric of mortal existence. In other words, His natural law is unbending. Its veracity is unbreachable. Even though it can be misunderstood, it will never lie to us. A man can lie to himself in every conceivable way. He can believe himself to be a woman. But he’ll never be a woman. Despite our misunderstanding, natural law won’t allow it. A man can believe himself to be a bird. But if he jumps from a building intending to soar without first applying the mechanics of natural law’s rules for flight, he won’t fly. He’ll die. Natural law will judge, convict, and sentence all its offenders.

Truths like this are all around us. The only real way to obscure them is to lie. Nevertheless, the truth will meet with the lie. It always does. From a human perspective, I’m guessing one of two things happens when this meeting occurs. Either the deceitful course is realigned with what’s true, and the course’s travelers are spared, or the travelers are foolhardy self-worshippers, choosing to steer straight into the lies and ultimately into destruction. I’d say this says something about the nature of lying. It hints at its sway.

I’ve probably shared with you why I always spell the word “Sin” with a capital “S.” I believe Sin is no small thing. I believe it’s a very real power at work in this world that deserves special attention. We wouldn’t have needed the divine Son of God to wage war toward its defeat if it didn’t. Perhaps I should start spelling “lie” with a capital “L.” Lying isn’t an insignificant vice. Mark Twain said, “The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.” He’s right to say this. Lies are innumerably perpetual. If they’re not stopped, things only get worse. And when they’re believed, the trajectory of deceit’s worseness skyrockets. Take a look around. You’ll see. Horrible untruths are being perpetuated and believed. These untruths are washing across our globe like an oily tsunami, destroying countless lives in unimaginably dark ways. I read an article on Monday about how gender reassignment surgeries are being performed on two-year-olds. A pastor friend of mine in Canada, his son was arrested and fined $10,000 for reading the bible and praying across the street from an LGBTQ demonstration. A few weeks ago, I watched a video blog from a fellow Lutheran pastor who more or less accommodated the ever-growing “furry” movement, considering it harmlessly comparable to ComiCon costuming. I read a news story about an after-school Satanic club in an elementary school. I read another about an after-school drag club. They’ll have catwalks and everything.

I suppose I ought to ask if we should be surprised by these things. If you are, then that means you haven’t been paying attention. Although, I doubt too many Michiganders are surprised. Our own Attorney General, Dana Nessel, gave a speech in which she said she’d like to see drag queens in every Michigan school. Michigan is more than gulping from deceit. And by the way, if you’re a Michigander who voted for Nessel, you’re one of the foolhardy ones I described before. Like it or not, you’re rooting for the tsunami.

So, what do we do?

I have a two-step answer. But honestly, the answer might be too shocking to share. And why? Because employing it requires courage and commitment—the kind sorely lacking in our radically individualized, self-preserving world.

The first step is to admit that truth exists, can be known, and applies to all, not just a few. You do not have your own truth. No one does. The sooner you accept this, the better.

The second step—a daily activity—is the harder step. It’s harder because enacting it all but guarantees discomfort and the possibility of offensive division. In short, the second step involves living according to truth while being ready at every moment to invalidate untruth. I’ll give you a personal example of what I mean.

Earlier this past week, I took an online questionnaire. At its beginning, I was asked to share my gender. I was offered a multitude of choices. Thankfully one was “male,” and so I chose it. But in a small comment box meant for longer gender explanations, I took a moment to write, “There are only two genders, male and female.”

The comment will likely matter very little to the company taking my information. Nevertheless, the opportunity to invalidate deceit was before me. As inconsequential as it may have been, I acted.

Indeed, invalidating untruth becomes much more complicated and uncomfortable when dealing with real people. Still, it must be done. For example, when you get invited to your homosexual niece’s wedding, you must refuse the invitation. If you decide to go, convincing yourself it’s for keeping the family peace, understand that your presence will be considered a condoning one unless you make your position known publicly. Of course, even as you stay home, don’t lie and say you had other plans. Speak the truth and invalidate the lie of same-sex marriage.

Or when your son seeks a college degree in healthcare, one leading toward the abortionist trade, you must remove all material support. Don’t avoid the conversation, tiptoeing and saying, “Well, it’s finally time for you to make your own way.” Speak the truth and invalidate the lie that abortion could be anything other than murder.

Or, when your pastor actively perpetuates the ungodly doctrines of Critical Race Theory or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, you must admonish and refute him and say why you’ve done so.

In each of these examples, until our allegiance to Christ is stronger than our allegiance to people—until we take courage and act—the lies will continue to take ground, leaving countless corpses in their wake.

If you have time, look at Mark 15:43. You’ll meet Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a believer, or as the text reminds us, “a respected member of the ruling council.” In other words, his life was among the Pharisees, Jesus’ gravest enemies. John 19:38 tells us Joseph kept quiet about his faith “for fear of the Jews.” In other words, his concern for his colleagues outweighed his allegiance to his Lord.

But then the Lord died. Joseph witnessed it. Saint Mark records in 15:43 that Joseph “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Validating the lie that Jesus was a charlatan with his silence was no longer an option for Joseph. He took courage. This courage became action, forever changing Joseph’s public standing before friends and foes. It was Saint Chrysostom who wrote, “The courage of Joseph is greatly to be admired, in that, for the love of Christ, he exposed himself to the danger of death.”

Invalidating lies takes that kind of courage. The funny thing is, for as scary as the world tries to make these moments seem, Jesus said such courage would be available to his Christians. He said, “You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18). And while standing in these terrifying situations, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12).

Listen to Jesus. Trust Him. Take a hint from Joseph. Dig into the courage you already bear by virtue of faith in Christ. Meet with the lies whenever and wherever you can. Don’t be a jerk. Show the love of Christ. But remember, holding the line on truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, is an essential way of demonstrating the love of Christ to others. You love them by invalidating their dangerous course. It won’t be easy. But as the saying goes, few things worth doing are easy.

The World is Watching

What book are you reading right now? Maybe you’re not much of a reader. If so, which TV show currently has your attention? I don’t watch much TV. I read far more than I watch. When it comes to people, I do both. I watch, and I read.

I suppose, hypocritically, I don’t like being watched. Unfortunately for me, it happens a lot. I wear a clerical collar pretty much everywhere I go. Because far too many clergymen have ditched the traditional pastoral garb, trading it for whatever is more acceptable to the secular culture at the time, for many onlookers, a guy dressed in priestly duds is little more than a traveling relic. He’s weird and out of place. Spend five minutes in Walmart with me. You’ll see. Ask Jennifer. Ask my kids. They’ll tell you, too.

I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it, but I think Jennifer has far too much fun with the staring. For example, we’ll be walking near to one another in a store, not necessarily close enough for people to assume we’re associated. She’ll see someone watching me, and immediately she’ll come over and take my hand. If she’s feeling somewhat rambunctious, she may even give me an affectionate kiss on the cheek as she leads me past the stunned spectator like a prized bull. I don’t use “prize” as though I’m exceptional. I mean “prize” in the sense that she’s exceptional. In other words, experience continually proves that anyone wearing clerical attire must be a Roman Catholic priest. When an onlooker sees Jennifer attending to me tenderly, I’m guessing they think that she must be exceptionally divine among all women, having managed to rope a man sworn to celibacy.

Once again proving the “Roman Catholic priest” theory, I took Evelyn to the dentist on Tuesday. Standing together at the receptionist’s desk before leaving, a high school girl watched us closely. As we departed, I heard her say to the gentleman beside her, whom I assumed was her father, “I didn’t think priests could marry and have kids.” Her dad replied, “The churches are way different now.”

He’s not wrong. Many churches are different now. I offered a subtle hint before as to how this is true. The hint: they’re becoming indistinguishable from the secular world. Regardless of your agreement, this is an important point. As people watch, they are also reading, or perhaps better said, interpreting. This interpretation reminds me of another recent incident. When I told my family about it at dinner, they were astonished.

Two weeks ago, I’d just left the self-checkout area at the Meijer in Hartland and was making my way to the exit doors. About fifty feet from full escape to the parking lot, a woman reached out and grabbed my arm as I walked by. Can you believe it? She actually took hold of my arm to stop me.

“What church are you from?” the bold woman asked, almost gruffly.

Stunned by her aggressive approach, I’m surprised I replied relatively peacefully, “I’m from a Lutheran church just down the street.” After that, she did all the talking. And her reason for stopping me, that is, what did her words directly imply? Assuming the conservative nature of my Christianity by looking at me, she needed me to know there was nothing special about my church compared to hers. In her words, all faiths worship the same God and lead to the same place. Taking a hint from both her demeanor and her “Love is Love” shirt, I interpreted her. The result: I assumed the nature of her church and the minimal likelihood that I’d convince her of its dreadful heresies. With that, I said absolutely nothing. I mean that. I did what one of my former seminary professors would do. He would meet illogically incoherent commentary with an uncomfortable smirking stare.

When the woman finished with her foolishness, the awkward nature of my grinning silence was enough for her to say, “Well, okay, thanks for chatting, and have a great day,” or something to that effect. I can’t recall for sure. The end of her final sentence met the back of my head.

Now, for all the seasoned people-watchers reading this note, had you watched this scenario unfold, you would have accurately interpreted the tenor of my response without me having to explain it. People-watchers are highly attuned to visual cues, making them adept conversationalists and skillful navigators of humanity. In other words, when a person learns to see what someone is likely thinking, the communication game changes. It elevates to another sphere.

Alfred Hitchcock once said something about how the dialogue in his films was just sound among sounds. For him, the real story was told through the characters’ movements, facial expressions, and the like. This is probably why he famously said, “If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off, and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.”

How might this principle apply to so many churches embracing a seemingly secular trajectory? What is the “perfectly clear idea of what’s going on” the unchurched onlooker will likely have?

Perhaps from another perspective, I wonder if that’s part of what Jesus meant by His words, “You are the light of the world…. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). He knew the world was watching. Saint Paul certainly knew the same. For example, in Colossians 4:5-6 he calls for behavioral distinctions before unbelievers. He urges the same in Philippians 1:27, insisting on observable behavior unique to the Gospel.

Don’t think for one second that I believe Jesus and His great apostle, Paul, are saying that words don’t matter. They do. The power for faith leading to salvation is given by way of the Word of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). However, feel free to accuse me of believing that the Word produces communicative behaviors that both carry and display it. These behaviors are distinct from the world. How do I know? The flesh gives birth to flesh while the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6). This is Christian faith. It produces visual cues, ones that, whether you’re speaking or not, transmit to others who you are in Christ and what you think is true and untrue about Him. If your church believes the LGBTQ, Inc.’s mantra that love is love—which is to say, homosexuality is perfectly acceptable before God, you’ll demonstrate it. That’s how it works.

By the way, silence is a demonstrative behavior, too. No matter the situation, it communicates. My cold silence that day in Meijer told the woman in unmistakable terms what I thought of her goofy theological impositions. On the other hand, how does the world interpret a Christian’s passive silence relative to abortion, gender confusion, and so many more gross atrocities happening in our world?

As a pastor, I know what God thinks of his pastors’ who prefer to keep a safe distance from their voices: “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” (Hosea 4:4,6).

The world is watching and learning what we believe. Our worship—the depth of its substance—demonstrates. Christian silence in the face of ungodliness does, too.