Darkness’ Tongue

Do you want to know something I learned this week? Well, maybe I’ve always known it and it’s that I’ve discovered a new way of understanding and then communicating it. I learned that both genuine Christian honesty and sinful dishonesty function in similar ways. I know that sounds strange, but what I mean is that they both engage in the search for mistakes made because neither can bear the burden of wrongness.

As this meets with dishonesty, a person committed to falsehood will actively seek out his or her shortcomings, but usually for the sake of defending them. The reason? Well, as I already said, they cannot bear the burden of being seen as wrong, and so they do all they can to recraft their wrongness to appear justified, or even worse, righteous. Christian honesty seeks out its mistakes, too, but it does so with a completely different goal in mind.

Christian honesty (which I’d say includes the barometric of integrity) is a direct descendent of truth, and as such, it digs deeply in search of its mistakes. When it discovers one, like a stone in the farmer’s field, it labors to dig it up and remove it. Why? Because like dishonesty, it cannot tolerate being wrong. However, instead of turning toward excuse-making, honesty longs for wrongness’ death. It wants to be uninfected by anything contrary to truth.

Oscar Wilde was a strange bird, and yet, he wrote something interesting about excuse-making. He wrote about how experience is often the name people attach to their mistakes. He scribbled those words mindful of the human capacity for dismissing bad behavior. In other words, we do what we do, good or bad. When things go well, we pat ourselves on the back. When things go awry, we chalk it up to the importance of experience—not necessarily saying it was wrong, but rather, it was a valuable lesson. Sure, there is some truth to that statement. “We’re only human,” we say, disaffectedly; or “Well, we learn from our mistakes, right?” And yet, where does this begin and end when we know full well what we’re doing is wrong? Is sleeping around until getting a venereal disease a valuable lesson learned by experience? Is your moment before the judge for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars the best moment for admitting theft is wrong. Will saying to the judge, “Well, your honor, I sure learned my lesson” really be worth anything at all?

In disgust for wrongness, genuine honesty is aggravated by excuse-making. As a result, it is completely unwilling to lend even its weakest finger toward dismissing one iota of its crimes, no matter their severity. Even further, its threshold for continuing in sinful behavior is proven minimal. Once wrongness is discovered, it wants to be rid of it—like, yesterday. And why? Because by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Christ, fidelity to Christ far outweighs fidelity to self, and so, as soon as the Christian realizes he has wandered into shark-infested waters, he begins swimming like crazy to get to safety.

Christians know well what I mean by all this. This is true because they know the sin-nature in relation to contrite faith. They know Saint John’s words from the first chapter of his first epistle aren’t all that complicated:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10).”

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie.

Saint John’s description of dishonesty’s will is emphatic. The word he uses here for walking—περιπατῶμεν (peripatōmen)—is an active subjunctive verb. It by no means allows for accidental or uninformed behavior, but rather communicates what the subject knows and wants to have happen. In other words, the willful desire to conduct one’s life according to darkness stands in contradiction to the God who is light. And so, to claim fellowship with God while willfully—intentionally, deliberately, consciously—pursuing what one knows without question to be Sin, and then even worse, to vigorously resist correction through excuse-making, is to stand before God as the worst kind of liar. I say the worst kind because as Saint John notes in verse 10, what we’re really doing by our efforts is staking God as the deceptive one—accusing Him of being the One who doesn’t understand the differences, of mistakenly mixing up good and bad.

“Sure, the Ten Commandments are helpful,” we say, “but what God doesn’t realize is that they’re often not very practical.” Continuing, we explain using darkness’ tongue, “I mean, sometimes abortion is the better solution, especially when chances are greater the child will be born into an unloving family.” Or perhaps we suggest with shadowy sincerity, “We all know it’s best to test-drive a car before buying it. It’s the same with a potential spouse. We need to test-drive him or her in every way possible before marriage. Shouldn’t we want to steer clear of making a mistake? Shouldn’t we want to learn by experience if he or she is truly the right person for us?”

And the list goes on and on.

Foolishness. Plain foolishness.

How about this instead: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

Simple. Better.

Why is this better? Because even as you may not understand the finer, and sometimes more difficult, details of God’s gracious leading by His holy Law, He certainly has already proven His pathways worthy of trust. Knowing we could not save ourselves from Sin, He didn’t have to reach into this world to save it. But He did. His first inclination toward us was love. From this love, He sent His Son to win us back from darkness (1 John 4:19). By the power of the Holy Spirit for faith in this sacrifice, we love Him in return, and we are convinced that His will for our lives—no matter how any particular aspect of it might seem out of step with the world around us—it will always be best. Planting our flag in this promise, more often than not, we’ll find ourselves at the top of Mount Honesty. From its peak, we can search for and discover our mistakes, not for the sake of running down the mountain to hide or defend them, but to target and uproot them—to actively flex the muscle of the saintly nature against the sinful nature, doing so with the knowledge that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

So, consider my words. Where you are apart from God’s holy Law, repent. Turn to the One who loves you for eternal relief. He’s no liar. He’s truth in the flesh—the kind of truth that will set you free (John 8:32; 14:6).

The Feast of All Saints – Go To Church

“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Saint Paul wrote those words to the Corinthian church just as he was about to begin explaining the doctrine of Altar Fellowship, which when you really get down to the nuts and bolts of it, is all about the significance of what is happening in Holy Worship, namely, the Lord’s Supper.

This comes to mind this morning because, well, Paul’s words just felt right. They form a very short statement, easily understood by any and every Christian taking time to read this note.

If you haven’t been to church in a while, there’s a Sunday on the horizon I’d like to encourage you to consider aiming for as your return date.

A few Sundays from now—November 1—the Holy Christian Church will be celebrating All Saints’ Day. If you have plans to be somewhere else—or to do something else—might I encourage you to reconsider your plans? This time, instead of arranging your schedule to accommodate moments that will only get in the way of worship—which is to be idolatrous—consider arranging your schedule to accommodate the forgiveness of sins delivered by Christ in the sure and certain location He has promised to give it: Word and Sacrament made available in holy worship. Skip those things that would get in the way of pursuing that which gives to you all that Christ has won by virtue of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

In fact, I challenge you that if you have been away for a while, make All Saints Sunday the day you return.

To accept this challenge, you’ll need to take a quick look in the mirror and recognize that you need to be there. You need to be there, firstly, because of the idolatrous tendencies you possess. We all possess them, and they’re evidenced by our creative excuse-making and subsequent absences. But secondly, know you need to be there because, by virtue of your Baptism into the fellowship of Saints, you actually belong there. It’s God’s home, and because you are a part of His family by faith, it’s your home, too. It’s where your real family lives, and you belong with your family.

Rest assured, if you’ve been away for a while, and because of this, you feel a little uneasy in returning, you won’t be alone in the uneasiness when you do finally reemerge. In fact, think of it this way. In the Confession at the beginning of the Divine Service, every Christian in the room, if they know what the Confession is all about, will drop to his or her knees alongside all the others. Together they’ll bow their heads. They’ll close their eyes. They’ll confess together that everyone in the room, by their thoughts, words, and deeds, are members of the fellowship of sinful humanity; by the things they’ve done and the things they’ve left undone. They’ll confess this together. And again, being a sinner myself, I can assure you that when we all go to our knees in this way, we’ll all have good reasons to do so. All will have plenty of causes for feeling the uneasy need to participate.

You won’t be alone. You won’t stand out. You won’t be different.

But there’s something else you should know.

After the sea of penitent voices speaking in solemn sadness goes quiet, you will hear a single voice—your pastor’s voice—and it will be for you as the Lord’s own voice announcing you need not fear. You need not be uneasy. You need not be afraid. Through repentance and faith in His merciful love, you belong with Him, and He will not push you away, but rather will embrace you as His own—because you are His own. He loves you, forgives you, and He stands ready to lift you to your feet by His absolving Word.

And He’ll do just that.

On All Saints’ Day, at least if you’re in a Lutheran Church of any substance, when you rise to your feet, you’ll acknowledge your place among all the other forgiven sinners in the room by singing the Introit appointed for the day, which is a combination of Revelation 7 and Psalm 31: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”

Sing those words with confidence. You own them as a forgiven child of God.

So, my brother or sister in Christ, hear this Gospel imperative to repent and believe in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and be moved to return. Be moved to come and get from your loving Savior what He has won for you—which is also the only thing that will sustain you in a world seeking to impose itself upon you and convince you to stay away in the first place.

Remember, in faith, you are the Lord’s saint. Aim for your special day with an eager heart. Make your way back. Join with your Christian family. Be with your Redeemer, the One who has made it possible for you to be called His holy one.

You Can’t Do Everything

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Don’t tell Jen I told you.

She got a little angry with me this weekend, and it wasn’t because I went out and around Linden and Fenton dressed as Star Lord from “Guardians of the Galaxy”—which I did, by the way. Don’t believe me? Well, then you need to click here.

The reason she gave for her grievance was that it feels like I’m far busier than I was before the quarantine and I’m giving even less time to the family, not more. Of course in response, I did what you’d expect a husband to do.

I made excuses.

I offered that when it comes to pastoring God’s people, things are much more complicated these days. Just trying to commune even only a handful of folks takes all day, and who would’ve ever believed I’d one day be ministering to a shut-in through an exterior window of her home?

Sheesh, this COVID-19 stuff is crazy.

I’m also doing what I can to be at the church every day, not only for making sure I’m on top of anything urgent—messages, pastoral care situations, and the like—but to assure I don’t fall behind on writing obligations while making sure God’s house is available to His people if necessary. I don’t want to close the doors to anyone desiring to pray before the altar of God, which I also do every single day.

Even more, while I’m not necessarily going anywhere when I’m at the church, time certainly moves along swiftly. I’m on the phone a lot, and I’m answering emails pretty much 24/7. I can easily spend three or four hours every day just trying to get back with people. Add to this that recording worship services has steered me into a whole new task that I’m still trying to master.

I did try to point out that, technically, I’m home in the evenings. I’m not out visiting anyone or attending meetings. But Jen was swift to present evidence that I continue the same pace when I’m home.

Once again I tried to swerve around her words, this time saying that perhaps the quarantine was getting to her and she needed to get out of the house. It was nearing dinnertime, and like a good husband trying to change the subject, I asked if she wanted to go for a quick drive. She agreed and asked where we might go. I said I needed to get over to the UPS store to ship some things, and then I mentioned one more phone call I needed to make about a graveside funeral service, but that I could make the call really quickly along the way.

She just looked at me.

The look was all I needed.

She was right about me. Even in that sensitive moment, I’d already partitioned a percentage of our time together to others.

I’m going to let you in on three more secrets. The first is that God was right when He aimed His people to confession and absolution. Using Saint Paul’s pen, He commanded, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:13-15).

The second secret is that it’s one thing when someone else knows you’re being an idiot, but it’s something altogether different when you actually arrive at this honest realization of yourself. It’s scary, but also liberating.

The third secret is that I apologized to Jen, and she forgave me.

Amazingly, just as God knew it could, confession and forgiveness born from Christian love changed the scenario altogether. An honest admittance of my stupidity combined with her gracious heart helped bring us together, putting us back onto the same page. In fact, and perhaps humorously, we still ended up finding our way to the UPS store. She wanted to help me do what I needed to do. We were living in the light of Christ’s peace. This meant that running an errand together really wasn’t all that weird. In fact, it’s never been unusual for a “Jen and Chris” date to include getting groceries at Walmart, and so now we were accomplishing something together, rather than apart. And by the way, Jen proved her gracious heart one more time by allowing the phone call. When it comes to the work of the Church, she’s well-skilled at wife-of-a-pastor stuff. She can distinguish between essential and non-essential things (far better than our Governor, that’s for sure).

Okay, one more secret and then I’m done.

My truest ailment in all of this: I can get to feeling pretty guilty sometimes. I’m not completely sure, but I think it has something to do with my self-diagnosed “completion complex.” Whatever goal I set, I need to see it through to the end. Mix into this the disappointment that comes when something doesn’t work out as I’ve planned. Add to this that I’m doing lots of different things with and for lots of different people, many of whom are more than gracious. However, there are plenty others who live by Eric Hoffer’s thought that to “have a grievance is to have a purpose in life.”

Mix all of this together, and after a while, it can become easy for just about anyone to believe their onlookers are keeping track of their deeds in two different kinds of ledgers—that they’re permanently etching the things we’ve done wrong into stone, but scribbling the things we’ve done well into the surface of water.

I do have fairly thick skin, and I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but sometimes I do, and it gets the better of me. It stirs me to juggle everything I can all the time, doing my best to not let anyone down.

It may be admirable to some, but in the end, it’s a foolish way to live. It’s far too taxing on the body and mind. And the thing is, I know it. I tell plenty of other people this. But like every good hypocrite, I rarely do it myself.

Again, confession is the key, here, and forgiveness is the cure. God used Jennifer in that moment to prompt it. With her voice, He reminded me that I don’t need to do everything—and I certainly don’t need to be afraid to fess up to my sins—which means admitting I’ve not really been home with my family even while I’ve been home with my family. And you know me. I’ve written or said a thousand times before that the most courageous among us are those who can admit when they’ve done wrong. Those are the people I truly respect. I’m not one to latch onto “self-esteem” lingo, but in this regard, I’d like to be respectable.

I should add that God also made sure to let me know that He’s ever-vigilant to show mercy, and one of the great ways He does this is through other Christians. When it comes to the family of believers, His desire to forgive the penitent heart doesn’t have an expiration date. That’s partly what He meant when He said, “Bear with each other and forgive one another…” And when two people can live in this Christian love—not necessarily human love, but Christian love—then this Gospel truth will prove itself so wonderfully true.

In the end, this was a moment when God looked at me through my wife’s eyes and said, “You can’t do everything, dummy. But you don’t have to, anyway. It’s my job to be God, the Creator. It’s your job to be Chris, the created—a husband, a father, and then finally, a pastor. Are you doing your best to be faithful in these roles? Yes? Then, slow your roll, apologize to your lovely wife, receive My forgiveness through her—because I can’t wait to give it!—and then take her for a drive. Kind of like your relationship with Me, I’ll bet if she is part of your life rather than just tagging along, you’ll accomplish every bit of the daily nonsense that needs accomplishing. You may even get those packages shipped and that phone call made.”

And so I did. I mean, we did.