It’s Really Not That Complicated

I pray all is well with you and your family as we dive deeper into the darker and colder months of the year here in Michigan. Those who know me best will agree that the further we go toward the seemingly sunless frigidity of winter, the more I’ll long for the clear blue skies and richly warm sunshine of summer. For me, summertime is not only a period for physical and mental rejuvenation, but it carries in its streaming rays a much simpler mode of life. Winter brings snow, extra layers of clothing, scraping windshields, shoveling and salting walkways—all of this just to go from one place to the next. For many, it means doing all of it in the dark, only to return home later that day in the same pitched shadows, with barely an opportunity in between to enjoy unobstructed sunshine.

Summer, on the other hand, is simpler. It means waking with the sun already nudging you with its warmth. It means walking directly to the car unhindered, driving to work in the sunlight, and returning home again with the same gleams of wellbeing caressing your face. It means after-dinner hours enjoying that same heavenly light and the beautiful landscape that light so effortlessly highlights for our viewing pleasure.

Winter has a sense of complication. Summer feels much easier.

Speaking of complicated versus easy, while at the same time still thinking about the events of our recent “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference, I’ve noticed from conversations with folks in attendance that no small number come to the event expecting the extraordinary woes of our day to be met with extraordinary solutions. And yet, when the emotion that’s almost always mixed in gets stripped away, it’s discovered that the problems themselves are often less complicated than we expected. In truth, the answers to the concerns are usually just as simple, requiring only the stamina of living every day according to one’s values, as opposed to formulating complex strategies that will, at some point, require brute force muscle.

In other words, our hearts and minds expect the astonishing when what we need is usually quite ordinary.

I more than hinted to this in my speech. I noticed Abby Johnson, Candace Owens, and Charlie Kirk all said more or less the same thing in theirs. And why? Because it’s true. While we like to complicate things, more often than not, the solutions we need are usually very simple.

That logic applies to salvation, too.

For starters, it’s not beyond us to complicate what God has done to win our forgiveness. Perhaps we find ourselves making deals with Him, promising to do this or that, all the while hoping that He’s figuring into His calculations our good deeds against our bad. Or maybe we try to avoid Him altogether, figuring we’ll never measure up to His expectations, ultimately finding ourselves in despair. But God’s simple reply to all of this is that His Son’s sacrifice on the cross was enough. No deals are necessary. No calculations are required. No need to avoid His presence. All is well between God and Man through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Believe this and all will be well with your eternity.

On the other hand, perhaps we look to our God expecting fantastical displays and magical deliverances. We ask to hear His voice. We pray for a sign. We expect a miracle. But in the end, His reaching to us occurs by way of very ordinary things. He gives us a book filled with the promises of His love (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 119:105). He sends us the Good News of our rescue through the preaching of a less-than-spectacular servant—a pastor (Romans 10:14-15). He claims us as His own by combining His Word with water to wash us clean in the blood of the Savior (Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-10; Galatians 3:27), and He attaches a promise to what He does there, saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He makes His presence among us, bringing even more of His wonderful love by means of commonplace food items—bread and wine (Matthew 26:17–29; Mark 14:12–25; Luke 22:7–38; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea, which in the end, is that your God doesn’t want you wrestling with the complication of uncertainty. He wants to assure you of His love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He wants you to be uncomplicated by the fetters of sinful human tendency, which as I said, bears the potential for making something very easy into something very hard.

My advice: Look to the cross. Be reminded of the holy One who hung there. Rest assured that what He did on that cross was the most extraordinary act of God wrapped up in the unsettling usualness of a common criminal’s death. But there amid the agony and bloody sweat, among the excruciating sighs, and finally, by His dying breath, your complicated account was settled with God. Through faith in His sacrifice on your behalf, your eternal balance reads, “Amount due: $0.00.”

Believe this. It really is that simple.

Through to the End

What an amazing “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference we experienced yesterday! And the people of God here at Our Savior in Hartland who were responsible for making it happen should take Godly pride in its success. Not only did people come from all around the country to be with us—which means that what was provided will influence more than just our local community—but the guest speakers could not stop glowing about what this congregation has stepped up to do for the sake of the Gospel. Charlie, Candace, and Abby all said almost uncomfortably more than once how wonderful it is that Our Savior provides a tuition free opportunity to the public schools, that we’re doing what we can to unquestionably be the Church in the world around us, and that circling both of these things, is the desire to remain faithful to the Head of the Church—Jesus Christ—and to His Word. Those are their words, not mine. But, of course, I knew this about us already.

Those who were in attendance yesterday will know I’ve already taken aim at next year’s event. In fact, I’ve already confirmed most of the line-up. How is that possible? Well, for starters, I’m no procrastinator.

To be frank, I’ve never been a procrastinator. I have too much to do. As a result, and by way of observing procrastinators, I’ve found myself in agreement with folks like Lord Chesterfield, which is to say how strangely convenient it is that “the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in. One yawns, one procrastinates, one can do it when one will, and therefore one seldom does it at all.”

Be sure to share that bit of wisdom with the supposedly over-stressed, and yet chore-less, video gamer who can’t seem to get his or her room cleaned, or homework turned in on time. My guess is there’s very little in the way of their success.

On the other hand, and perhaps from another angle, it was Thomas Jefferson who said something about how delay is preferable to error. Of course, contemplative delay is far from procrastination. In my humble opinion, procrastination is a paramount form of immaturity, and the purest demonstration of irresponsibility. A project with a procrastinator at the helm will rarely result in producing anything that can be tagged as much more than “acceptable.”

But enough about that. There are other things to think about this morning.

I just finished reading a brief portion from Luther, and at one point in between his wit and wisdom, he wrote so plainly, “Life apart from Christ is a wretched business.” Someone should put that on a t-shirt. I know I’d wear it.

Indeed, a life that’s disconnected from the only One capable of bringing hope into this fallen world is a life lived in wretched despair. It’s not uncommon for me to hear Christians say, “I don’t know how people get by in this life without Christ.” I hear this most often at funerals, and in reply, I’ll say, “They don’t. At least, not with any real meaning.” I should add that the people I hear using this particular phrase are not doing so half-heartedly, as if to fill conversational space. They say it because they really believe it. They’re people who know life’s heavier difficulties. They’ve been neck deep in them. They’ve faced off with the monsters of this world—beasts that have consumed massive pieces of their lives—and yet they’ve somehow found a way through to the peace that surpasses all understanding that keeps the Christian heart and mind settled—the kind of peace described by Saint Paul in Philippians 4:6. In other words, when things didn’t make sense to them, when they didn’t know what was going on, they were able to go to what they did know, which is that Christ is the final word for everything between and after our first and last breaths; or as Saint Paul says in Romans 14:8:

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

That makes little sense to the world. It makes every bit of sense to believers.

I suppose I’m sharing this with you for two reasons. The first is that our “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference this past weekend was not only filled with some really great speakers, collegial fellowship, and helpful information, but it also didn’t do much tiptoeing through the more troubling topics plaguing our nation, some of which seem almost insurmountable. It uncovered them, and it put them on plain display, leaving many people wondering how on earth any of it could be happening. The second reason I share this is because you need to know that what we’re facing as Christians isn’t insurmountable. We have Christ.

Now, I am by no means going to do what so many others do, which is to take the text of Philippians 4:13 out of context, claiming that nothing is impossible to the one who believes in Christ. There are plenty of impossible things we face as Christians. If they weren’t impossible, we wouldn’t actually need Jesus. And that’s precisely the point of that so-often misquoted text, which really needs verses 11 and 12 to complete it. The point is that while there are plenty of things we’ll experience in this life that we won’t be able to overcome, the promise is given that through faith in Christ, they won’t overcome us. Even when we’re in want, we can trust and be content. Even when we are facing our end, we have a hope that extends beyond this life’s mortal boundaries.

If you are at all like me, then you may be feeling a bit helpless by the fact that in response to the National School Boards Association referring to conservative parents as “domestic terrorists,” Joe Biden has weaponized the FBI for cracking down on parents who, out of concern for their children, are confronting their local school boards regarding the plague of indoctrinating curriculums pushing gender fluidity, Critical Race Theory, and so many other dumpster ideologies supported by the Democrat party. In other words, if you come to a meeting prepared to call them out, your president is happy to see you arrested, and ultimately, put on a watch list.

But that’s not the only sense of abandonment you may be feeling. Again, if you’re like me, you may be overwhelmed by the prospect of people losing their jobs unless they allow themselves to be injected with something they’d prefer not to put into their bodies, no matter the reason. And as if that weren’t enough, they feel helpless to do anything about the growing number of grocery stores and medical facilities denying services to anyone who can’t produce proof of vaccination. In other words, those who are currently at the helm of the federal government are pushing the standard of “comply or else,” even to the point of threatening the citizenry’s ability to care for their families.

These are terrifying things. And by the way, anyone who voted for this should be ashamed. The Word of God clearly stands against you.

Still, the Lord is with His people, and He will see all of this through to the end. And as He does, He promises to continue to equip the faithful by Word and Sacrament with the stamina for making it through. Whether that means the persecution that’s likely to come for open resistance, or it means existing in suffering in the shadows, either way, hope remains.

Remember that. And then go to church.

Sunhat

Being the lurker that I sometimes am on news media outlets, I read a comment beneath an article on the topic of transgenderism that said, essentially, all things have a hidden meaning, and it’s our duty as humans to discover those meanings.

My first thought was, “No, everything does not have a hidden meaning.” And then with my guts irritated, I reached toward the keyboard and typed, “What a remarkably Marxist thing to say.”

Truth be told, I didn’t post the reply. Instead, I held the backspace button down until I could replace the previous sentence with, “Sometimes a sunhat is just a sunhat,” which is a line from an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that Jennifer and I use with one another on occasion. Essentially, it communicates that nothing other than what was said was intended, and that the other person should just stick with the clear meaning of the words.

I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but I should probably tell you why I called the comment on the post “Marxist.” I did this because the starry-eyed notion of looking for utopian societal order beyond what can be readily observed and discerned through natural and moral law was something Karl Marx claimed as central to his own philosophy. As one would suspect, it became natural for him to see sinister ghosts behind most everything in the West. By the way, this is just a sliver-sized hint from the forest of reasons Critical Race Theory, namely Black Lives Matter, fits its Marxist label. It seeks to fundamentally transform society in order to fix problems that don’t exist.

But, anyway.

Sometimes I think that if everything in creation actually did have a hidden meaning hovering somewhere between its molecules, it’s likely the meanings would be written in some sort of unintelligible gibberish only interpretable to the kind of philosophers who struggle most of the time to communicate anything of value to the rest of us, anyway. And who might be considered a philosopher of this sort? Well, you know. They’re the kind who sit in coffee shops talking with one another about how to unweave rainbows—folks like Karl Marx. In a mindful society, the only people who’d take them seriously are themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against philosophy as a discipline. Curiosity is the instigator of genuine philosophy, and by nature, I’m a fairly inquisitive guy. But still, sometimes there’s nothing to philosophize. As a proven system for lifting people from poverty, Capitalism works the best. Marxism—which in theory involves a society stair-stepping into Socialism that it would ultimately become Communist—does not. Marxism’s greatest historical achievement appears to be its mastery for filling graves in large quantities and in short periods of time.

To that end, and to come back around to where I began, sometimes the thoughts, words, and deeds comprising a particular circumstance require simple human-to-human skills of observation and listening, with little to no deeper interpretation.

Sometimes a sunhat is just a sunhat.

Having somehow wandered into this stuff, you might be wondering what any of it has to do with anything else. Well, I did have one thought while tapping away this morning.

I was reading the Epistle appointed for this morning from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. In particular, I appreciate verse 9, which reads: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

God is faithful. How? Look to Jesus Christ and you’ll see. Listen to Him say he loves you—that you are precious to Him; that He went to the cross for you. It’s valuable to study the depths of this truth, and yet at the same time, don’t necessarily try to grasp at every strand of this divine mystery of unfathomable love, perhaps wondering what it is about you that might stir His affections. You’ll go off the deep end of uncertainty with that nonsense. Besides, the short answer to your wondering is, well, nothing. There’s nothing loveable about you. In Sin, we’re all pretty worthless.

But again, we’re not talking about us. We’re talking about God.

The Gospel is not about our abilities to engage Him, but rather His innate desire to engage us. He is faithful. It’s His nature to be this way. This means that even though you’re prone to letting Him down, He won’t let you down. He is reliable in every circumstance. This leaves little interpretation to His promises. When He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him, you can rest assured that He will. When He promises that no matter what His Word brings to you, it will be something you can trust, you can know this is true. When He tells you He loves you, you can believe it.

Again, don’t try to complicate any of these things by inserting some sort of hidden meaning into the mix. Take the Gospel of His faithfulness for what it is: He loves you so much that He sacrificed His own Son to save you, and now, through faith in Him, eternal condemnation is not a part of your future, but rather eternal life (John 3:16). Those are pretty simple words that are very easy to understand. Sometimes a sunhat is just a sunhat.

A Beeline to Faithfulness

That was quite the wind and rain we experienced last week, wouldn’t you say? I think it’s safe to say that autumn has arrived.

Being unable to move very quickly because of my injury, the normally simple inconvenience rain causes became a bit more concerning. At one point on Tuesday, my daughter, Evelyn, and I were standing beneath the canopy near the church’s main entrance trying to decide how we would go about making our way to the car in what had suddenly become a torrential downpour. Thankfully, I had already moved the car into the circle drive near the entrance, so it was only about fifty feet away from us. Still, she was concerned that at my pace, I would be drenched by the time I made it, and so she offered to run to the car to fetch my umbrella and then come right back, and then together we’d make our way over.

What a sweetie.

In the end, we decided just to make a run for it. Well, she ran. I hobbled with fierce determination. Although, we only did this after first calculating another option and its possible outcomes. Essentially, we measured a simple dash to the car against Evelyn running to the vehicle, opening the hatch to retrieve the umbrella, and then running back to me, only for the two of us to then return to the car holding the sail-like device amid the blustering rainstorm, stopping at one door to allow one of us to climb inside as the other then circled around to the other to get in, being sure to first close and shake the umbrella. In the end, a beeline to the car seemed the better plan. Taking a hint from Longfellow, sometimes the best thing any of us can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. In other words, sometimes things are what they are and there’s nothing we can do to change them.

I suppose another lesson to be learned by this artless scenario is that our over-contemplated attempts at avoiding the discomforting things in life often result in making things worse rather than better. Digging even deeper into the moment, I’d say we sorted through the distinction between simply talking about doing and actually doing. As Evelyn and I negotiated, the rain only seemed to get worse. Had we made straight for the car when we first came out, we’d have been a lot less wet. But we didn’t. We stood there trying to decide what we were going to do, which involved a second option involving excessive details that, the more we talked about them, the more cumbersome and toll-exacting they seemed to become. I don’t know if it relates completely, but as I type this, I’m remembering the way Saint Paul often spends time in his epistles dealing with the contours of the Christian life.

I’m guessing there are plenty of folks who, when they visit with those portions of Paul’s writings in which he speaks about genuine Godliness, figure he’s being prescriptive, that is, he’s telling his readers how to live their lives in the world. That may be true some of the time, but not always. Occasionally he’s being descriptive, which means he’s simply describing what Christians have become by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith in Christ. When he does this, there’s an accompanying sense that enough time has already been spent talking about what it all means and now it’s time to just go and be it. I suppose in a practical sense, the more time we spend being unnecessarily cerebral about all of it, the more allowance for devastation our inaction seems to prove.

Think about it in a localized sense. There’s a reason why Saint Paul urges Christians not to let the sun go down on their anger (Ephesians 4:26). He knows the tendencies of Man. He knows that the longer we wait to reconcile, the more likely it is that the rainstorm of hatred will intensify. Of course, as the hatred grows fiercer, the worse things become and the less likely it will be that the two people will ever truly dry off in peace. On a larger scale, the more sedentary Christians remain, prattling away on social media about our troubled world without ever lifting a finger to change anything, the worse things are likely to become. One only needs to look around to see the necessity of Christian action. A glance will reveal the spin-rate of this world’s undoneness is continually picking up speed. School Boards across the country are often unopposed when they introduce sexually explicit materials and Critical Race Theory curriculums in their districts, often beginning as early as preschool. Christian business owners are taken to court and oftentimes fined out of existence simply for holding to the tenets of their faith and the basic science of Natural Law. What was once the quieter, but nonetheless satanic, mantra of “safe but rare” has become the full-throated cry of “Shout your abortion!” and the call for legalized slaughter of full term infants.

The rain is falling, folks. Sure, you can take some time to examine the best way through it, but one way or the other, you’re going to have to get wet. So, stop talking about it and get going. Make a beeline for faithfulness. Of course, the best place to start is by going to church. There’s not much use in trying to weather the storms if you haven’t been equipped accordingly to do so. You need what Christ gives by His Word and Sacrament gifts. Strengthened by these, may I suggest your next few steps for steering into the downpour be ones of faithfulness in your vocation as parent, child, friend, or worker? A lot can be accomplished simply by teaching your little ones while standing true to Christian conviction before family, friends, and co-workers. As you pick up speed in this, think about getting involved with your local Pro-life organization. Or perhaps you might help register Christian voters before the next election. Heck, I say if the Spirit is carrying you along with a brisk enough stride, take a chance at running for office. I already hinted at how holding a seat on your local School Board could make all the difference in the world to the next generation of citizens.

Whatever you’re thinking about doing, don’t think too long. Get out there and be who God has already made you to be. Yes, you’re going to get wet. That comes with the territory. But no matter the outcomes, the calculations for a beeline to your eternal life were already made by Christ through His life, death, and resurrection. By His victory, the courage you need for the first few steps has already been delivered. The words “It is finished!” (John 19:30) are the clarion call.

Autumn through a Christian Lens

As is always the case, when I arrive at the church early on Sunday mornings, I dive into my usual routine. The first part of that routine is to do a little bit of reading from a smattering of sources. Of course, I always start by visiting God’s Word, but after that, I take a few minutes with the news, maybe a short portion from a book, perhaps a quick dip into email, but always a scan of social media. As those who know me best might guess, it’s from any or all these moments a morning epistle to all of you emerges.

I am, for the most part, disinterested in talking about the first thing I stumbled across on social media this morning, which was a back-and-forth between two mostly like-minded people throttling one another’s individual views on the Afghanistan withdrawal. But I will briefly confess to having observed and learned something about human character, and strangely, it’s something we can actually thank social media for uncovering. Having met these people in person, I learned by their online exchange that perhaps you don’t really absorb as much as you might think of a person’s character through face-to-face conversations. However, it seems you may be able to tell a lot more from his or her swiftly typed responses threaded together with misspelled words and doled out during a sketchy online argument. These remarks seem to be written in a hurry, and most likely, reflect a person’s first thoughts, making them an unobstructed window of sorts.

Still, I don’t really feel like going any further with that lesson, and so, take from the observation what you will. I’d rather talk about what I see through a different window.

Apart from the unusually summer-like warmth of the early morning air, it would appear that a handful of leaves on the bush just outside my office window are beginning to tinge with red. You know what that means, right? It means the changing of seasons is once again upon us.

For all my talk of love for the summertime sun, I’ll admit there remains in my heart a secret compartment devoted to autumn. A minute or two examining its landscapes are all that’s needed for understanding why. Every year it’s an ensemble of visual delights—abundant greens having turned to variations of bright yellows through to deep scarlets, flowers that were once reaching skyward now bent and hidden beneath leaves being kissed by a cooler autumn sun, those same leaves often being stirred up suddenly in a swirl by a wailing wind, as if following along on the tail of an invisible kite. For anyone willing to consider the beauty of God’s well-ordered world, even in its tiniest parts, autumn’s scenes are moving.

There’s an emotional richness to autumn, too. It carries in its frosty breezes a strange combination of melancholy and gladness. It bears the crisply hollow feeling of something’s absence. Take a stroll through one of fall’s naked forests and you’ll see. Life itself seems to be sleeping so deeply that nothing can wake it, and all around is damp and dying. And yet, visit that same scene wearing your favorite hat and your coziest coat. Be ready to sense the child-like urge to kick through a leaf pile before leaving to visit the nearby orchard for cider, cinnamon doughnuts, and a chance at picking the best pumpkin for carving.

Autumn is made paradoxically thick by these competing portraits. Through the lens of the Christian faith, perhaps more so than any other season, I’d say autumn silently communicates some of the most important things about life in this world.

For example, autumn more than presents the fall into Sin and the cruel nakedness of regret. It brings the indisputable reminder that our shame is uncovered. It tells us everything has changed and it’s completely beyond our capacity for returning things to what they once were. It whispers the sweeping reality of Death—the inescapability of its laying all things bare before the Creator, its far-reaching aim toward an oncoming winter of eternal condemnation, its frosty residue of guilt that covers everything it touches along the way, the penetrating chill of its finality that can shiver any and all of us to tears.

These are the stanzas of autumn’s dirge-like song. That is, unless you have Jesus. Again, through the lens of faith in Christ, autumn’s singing can turn to something altogether different.

By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, believers know they are not without Jesus in these autumnal-like moments of bleakness. He’s with them (Matthew 28:20; Psalm 23:4; Joshua 1:9; Hebrews 13:5; Romans 8:38-39). He’s strolling alongside, countering gloom with hope, drawing Christian eyes to His glorious purposes nestled and germinating among the leaves, clothing His people in a thickly warm baptismal robe of righteousness that covers Sin and repels the wrath that Sin deserves, exchanging their melancholy for joy, and promising the certainty of a heavenly spring—the resurrection from Death.

Side by side with Christ, trusting in His life, death, and resurrection for our transgressions, we know in all of our naked forests and rotting leaf piles the same thing we know while drinking cider, eating cinnamon doughnuts, and carving pumpkins: Spring is coming. It cannot be stopped. It’s approaching like a juggernaut from another sphere and it will break through winter’s borders, consuming the entirety of its kingdom. It’s only a matter of time.

While the world keeps spinning, and the people in it continue to reveal the disappointing character of Sin’s nature, isn’t it wonderful how the Gospel for faith can bring a reminder of Christian hope simply by way of a few tinted leaves outside an office window? Indeed, the Bible rings true regarding the assertion of God’s love ever-resonating even among His well-ordered creation (Matthew 6:25-33; Psalm 19:1; Psalm 96:11-12; Romans 8:19).

May God grant you comfort by these words.

Settling in with Christ

Glancing around my office while sitting here, if you were to ever stop by for a visit, apart from the books on my shelves, you’d also discover a strange variety of things scattered across the space, eye-candy type things I keep on display that make me smile.

Of course, I have things you’d expect—crucifixes and various Christian images, both on the walls and on the shelves. But I also have a few full-sized Star Wars helmets. These are accompanied by statuettes of Winston Churchill, the Ark of the Covenant, R2D2, and other things sharing space with matryoshka dolls, wood carvings, and Russian military hats. I have a replica of a 9th century Teutonic knight’s helmet serving as a bookend to my books on the liturgy. A few paces away and perched beside my computer printer is a Yautja’s bio mask from the film “Predator.” A few feet from that is a disposable M72 shoulder-fired rocket launcher from the Vietnam era—no longer usable, of course. Strewn among all these things are watercolor portraits my wife has painted, pictures of my family, photos with friends, and greeting cards from so many people I cherish.

Let it be said, there’s a lot in my office besides books to explore and enjoy. And while it might all appear somewhat out of place and weirdly disconnected, together it forms a comfortable matrix for me—a peaceful asylum, of sorts—a physical context apart from the world’s swirling spaces where it so often feels like everything is coming undone. It’s a place where I can settle in and get my bearings for keeping my head about me.

Amusingly, it was Jean Kerr who wrote in her splendid little book Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s possible you haven’t grasped the situation.” I find Kerr’s words so funny because in their context, they’re spoken by someone who just can’t understand how certain people can be so calm during times of crisis. Her satirical answer: They must not fully comprehend what’s going on around them. Her words are even funnier when you realize their broader insinuation, which is that unless you have a frantically unsettled mind like everyone else, you’re weird.

By this definition, Christians are noticeably weird. At least we’re supposed to be. On one hand, God calls for us to be fully aware of the world’s treacheries—to be actively engaged, and in some circumstances, found steering right into the heart of its tempests. We are not to be ignorant of the seriousness of it all. And yet at the same time, God promises we will know and exhibit a peace that surpasses all understanding, no matter what we are facing or what our mortal futures may hold.

Saint Paul says the axis of this peace is Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). But that’s just one item among many on the Biblical shelf.

Looking around, we see it was Jesus who so gently encouraged believers not to be anxious about life in this world (Matthew 6:25; John 16:33). He did this by reminding us of the Heavenly Father’s careful concern for those who are His by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son on their behalf. With Jesus Himself not only being the actual embodiment of God’s Word, but also its absolute centerpiece, it makes sense, then, that we’d continue to find this same comforting reminder taking various shapes and sizes, and being scattered across the bookshelves of the entire Bible. Every single book of the Bible, though each may be unique in its details and style, will at some point along the way bring the light of divine encouragement to the darkness of concern. Together, these reassurances make a space for us to settle in, get the proper bearings, and keep our heads about us.

If I could be certain that you’d take time to read a longer than usual note from me, I’d provide an illustration from every single book. That being said, I can at least provide a few samples.

Starting with Genesis, we’re barely into the Bible before the comforting promise of a Savior is given (Genesis 3:15). Further in, Moses records God’s heart-strengthening pledge that He will not abandon His people (Deuteronomy 31:8). Randomly glancing from shelf to shelf, we see Isaiah proclaiming peace to all whose minds are fixed on the Lord (Isaiah 26:3). Jeremiah delivers the promise that, like a green leaf in the middle of drought, God will calm the anxious hearts of His believers (Jeremiah 17:7-8). The Book of Proverbs is absolutely brimming with the same assurances (Proverbs 3:5-6; 29:25). The Psalms are, too, with so many of them being in place to lift and sustain the fearful (Psalm 23, 27, 34, 46, 56, and others). Of course, the Gospel writers never fail to keep this same comfort before us (Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 13:11; Luke 10:41-42; John 14:27). How could they not, since they bring to us the very narrative of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul continues this powerful cadence by his epistles (Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:6; Colossians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). Saint Peter and Saint John do the same (1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 4:18; Revelation 21 and 22).

As I said, I could list countless more, venturing from cover to cover, but I think you get the idea.

In the end, and I suppose as it was sparked by observing the various smile-inducing knick-knacks I keep in my office, the promises of God’s ever-present care given in various circumstances throughout His Word join to form the only sure place we can go to truly get our bearings and keep our wits about us in this world’s turbulence. Without God’s Word of comfort in Christ, we would be without hope.

But we’re not without hope. For Christians, hope is the key ingredient for keeping a level head in any situation of concern. It’s something that will forever be a species of divine confidence that can exist in any environment, no matter the climate or terrain. My prayer for you today is that this same hope born from faith in Christ will be yours in the days ahead.

Do We Have What It Takes?

The world appears to be burning, doesn’t it? I read a statement this morning in which NATO officials called Biden’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal of the United States presence in Afghanistan the biggest, most tragic debacle by a U.S. president since the organization’s founding in 1949. German Chancellor Merkel’s administration released a statement clarifying that the U.S., and the U.S. alone, owns the horrors of the situation. A nearly unanimous British Parliament made clear that the United States has lost significant credibility in the international community. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

The situation in Afghanistan is bad.

Despite the news media’s reluctance to share the information, it looks as though the first real reports of Afghani Christians being brutalized and killed by the Taliban after the withdrawal are making their way to us here in America. I read that Glenn Beck’s organization raised more than $22 million in two days to help fund evacuation efforts. I read that David Barton and the WallBuilders organization is raising significant funding, too. Praise God for their efforts.

Curiously, the reports I’ve read, mostly by way of texts and emails from pastors and missionaries to partner churches in the United States, have not necessarily portrayed the concerns of Afghani Christians as fearful cries to foreign agencies to do whatever they can to rescue them from the gory dreadfulness. Rather, their petitions have been of a far different character, and noticeably two-fold in nature.

First, their hope is that their partner churches around the world would join them in praying that all Afghani Christians would remain faithful to Christ as they face imminent torture and death; and second, that God would use the Gospel witness of their martyrdom as a means for softening the hearts of their bloodthirsty persecutors, so that they, too, would turn to and believe in Christ for salvation.

Read that again.

The Christians in Afghanistan are facing the all-consuming storm clouds of a merciless evil. Not only do the forthcoming gales promise unthinkable forms of mortal suffering, but they also pledge by their waves a vicious temptation to renounce Christ in exchange for safety, which in the end, can only result in a believer’s eternal doom. I find it astounding, then, that these Christians are not asking for deliverance from these terrors. They’re asking for us to pray that God would continue to give them the will to steer into and endure them until the end. Even more strangely, while we might expect to hear them ask us to pray for a way of escape for themselves, instead, they’re asking us to pray that by the Gospel witness of their own deaths, their persecutors would discover Christ as the way of escape from unbelief leading to eternal Death.

Go ahead and read that again, too.

Having re-read my own words, I wonder if these are foolish prayer requests being made of the churches in America by the Afghani Christians. I mean, does American Christianity really even have what it takes to comprehend the substance of their pleas? The Afghani Christians are enduring apocalyptic-like onslaughts of misery. And yet, knowing full well that Taliban squads are going door to door sniffing for the slightest hints of Christianity—looking for bibles, devotional apps on phones, Christian symbols, and the like—still, and perhaps most astoundingly, the Afghani Christians refuse to abandon the most visible (and now most dangerous) sign of Christianity: gathering together for worship.

They refuse to forsake Christ’s mandate for gathering in fellowship to receive the preaching of the Gospel for forgiveness and the administration of the Sacraments for the same.

Is it really possible for any of their requests to make sense to American Christians who were so quick to close churches for fear of a virus that had a casualty rate of less than 1% at its peak? Considering only Michigan, the last I heard, around 15% of Michigan churches are still completely closed even as the state currently tracks at 21,344 deaths among 1.03 million cases. Doing the math, that’s around a 2% casualty rate. Will the Afghani Christians’ requests be intelligible for those who, even post-vaccine rollout, still refuse to attend worship for fear of this minuscule threat to personal safety? Will the phrase “faithful to the end” resonate among churches that have forsaken God’s Word and succumbed to cultural pressures just to avoid the woke attack squads? Will anything the Afghani Christians have asked for be translatable to a generation of families who’ve become so accustomed to prioritizing sports and leisure over faithfulness in worship with Christ?

Sadly, I don’t think so.

I suppose some church communities will get it. I’m guessing that for the most part, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a grip on it, although I haven’t seen much written in this regard, just yet. I’m confident that most here at Our Savior in Hartland are equipped to translate the Afghani’s requests. I know various individuals beyond our borders who are more than capable of interpreting them rightly. My friend, Jack Philips, will know what they mean. Barronelle Stutzman will get it. My Canadian friend, Pastor Artur Pawlowski, will understand. Reverend Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, will get it, too.

Nevertheless, beyond the ever-increasing ranks of persecuted folks like these, I’m concerned that the mainstream Christian churches in America just don’t have the spiritual wherewithal for understanding anything the Afghani Christians are asking. And while I certainly agree we should be praying for them, I’m hoping in secret that they’re praying for us. I get the feeling we need their prayers far more than they need ours.

With all of this in mind, I suppose I’ll conclude as the Afghani Christians began, which is by offering a two-fold request.

Firstly, I’d urge all Christians to take heed of Christ’s clarion call not to choose the comforts of safety and security in this life over faithfulness to Him. Then I’d urge you to continue past the Lord’s gracious warning to His sweeter encouragement to trust Him—to take heart in His victory over Sin, Death, and the grave, knowing by this Gospel the peace that only He can provide.

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38).

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Secondly, there is the saying that goes something like, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Pray for the Christians in Afghanistan. Do this remembering that the Church on earth—or the Church Militant as it’s commonly referred to throughout history—was not built to remain safely in harbor, but rather to set sail, no matter the temperament of the seas. She does this knowing Christ as the steady Captain at her helm. She goes into the winds and waves knowing that He’s steering the vessel toward the final shore of eternal life. As He does, it’s all hands on deck. We come up and out of the vessel’s innards to gather. We swab the decks and repair the masts. We hoist sails and mend tackle. We batten hatches and secure riggings. In other words, we come together to pray for one another and our world, to labor faithfully, to endure, to love as Christ first loved us, all the while being strengthened by the bountiful provisions of forgiveness—Word and Sacrament—being doled out in worship from our trustworthy Captain’s very own galley.

Know that I’m praying for the Afghani Christians and their persecutors. I hope you are, too. But know I’m also praying for the Church here on American soil just as fervently. Again, I hope you are, too.

Mud and Stars

God sure is good, isn’t He? I’m sure if you looked back over the years of your life, you’d agree. I’m certain you’d find plenty of moments acknowledging His gracious hand in both the good times and the bad.

I would imagine that like me, there are a number of things that have happened in your life that took a few years to make sense, even if only in part. You struggled to understand why God managed them the way He did. I’m guessing there are just as many bygone happenings on your timeline you still don’t understand, and it’s likely you never will, at least not until you meet the Lord face to face. Either way, until each of us breathes our last, each new day arrives at our doorstep, and God willing, we ripen with wisdom and are found capable of saying, “Each day is a new day in the Lord.”

Only Christians can say that. It’s a vocalized fruit of faith budding on the vine of Jesus. Its flower takes in both the sunshine and the rain, the joys and the hardships, knowing three things in particular. First, we are guaranteed to experience trouble (John 16:33a). Second, we can take heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome them all by His life, death, and resurrection for us (John 16:33b). And third, we can steer into each new day knowing that both the good and the bad are being used by God for the benefit of our salvation—for our final future in heaven with Him (Romans 8:28-39).

Imagine if this clarity of faith were hidden from us. Imagine if we didn’t know to expect both joy and sadness in this life. Imagine if we didn’t know that beneath the wing of our Savior, all these things were already well in hand and being worked in a way that gives the upper hand to the Gospel in our lives. Imagine if, when peering out toward any future, hopeless gloom was our only windowpane.

I say this knowing everybody is different, that everyone has various perspectives on things. When it comes to human outlooks, I’m one who believes the world can be divided into optimists and pessimists, with realists locating themselves in one category or the other depending on the situation. Thinking about this, I don’t know who said it, but I learned a rhyme many years ago about two men in prison. It goes something like, “Two men are looking through the same bars. One sees the mud and the other the stars.” For me, when the feeling of imprisonment sets in, and it sometimes does, I prefer to look at the stars. The more shackled I feel, the more I strive, the more I reach upward from the window of my cell looking for and anticipating a way to change my current situation. But I say this knowing that for some, the bars are often physiological or psychological in nature. In other words, no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to see anything but mud, and as a result, they have little energy for grasping at anything beyond their cell.

So, where am I going with all of this? I don’t know. I guess I’m sitting here listening to an early morning thunderstorm, thinking about the current bars of my cell, and having an unusually difficult time seeing anything but the mud.

I’ll be having surgery tomorrow at 2:30pm. It’ll be to repair the torn Achilles tendon on my right leg—my driving leg. Forget the fact it’s already been over a week since the tear. Disregard the doctor’s promise of two weeks of post-op pain. I’m imprisoned by something else. For a guy like me who’s relatively self-sufficient and always on the move, the prospect of countless weeks of immobility entangled with the impending need to rely on so many folks for so much help for so many things is tantamount to a prison sentence. At a minimum, it is a very hard lesson for me to learn. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the help. Truly. It’s just that it goes against the grains of my personality in the most visceral ways, and this being true, I can all but guarantee I’m going to experience guilt for burdening others with my needs.

Again, sitting here observing the cast on my leg while considering the months-long recovery ahead, I must admit that regardless of my usual capabilities and feelings of general optimism, it’s always possible for something to come along and kick these props from beneath me. This moment has challenged me once again to keep my heart and mind fixed in the right place. It has reminded me that whether one is inclined to see the mud or the stars in any situation, spiritually speaking we’re all in the same cell. We’re all imprisoned by Sin and Death, and no matter what we do, we cannot save ourselves. We need help from the outside. We need a rescuer who’s cosmically more than what we might be inclined by perspective or ability to see or reach for in this life. We need someone who can actually melt away the steely bars for all time, ultimately shattering the very real chains that refuse to let us go.

Christians can say each day is a new day in the Lord because they know that “someone” is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He’s the One who meets us in the mud, submitting himself to the unrelenting murk of hopelessness in our place. He’s the One who gives His life for ours, and by His sacrifice, is found outshining even the brightest, most optimistic stars, and bringing life and light to the darkest prison cells. In moments like the one I’m experiencing right now, He proves the recalibrating power of this Gospel through His people as they brighten the lives of others around them.

I suppose that’s one reason why I began by saying just how good God is. Optimist, pessimist… whichever. Faith brings a completely different perspective, and from all the messages and help I’ve received from so many of you, I’m relearning just how over the top God can be with His goodness (1 Peter 4:10; John 13:35). This alone cuts through my sinful inhibitions and serves as a glimmering star beyond my cell window. It reminds me of a much bigger and better reality at work behind what I think I’m experiencing.

With this perspective, I assure you I’m ready to go into the forthcoming days—both the good ones and the bad ones—with gratefulness and hope, staking the claim that each day is a new day in the Lord. I’ll have my ups and downs. Still, through daily Word and prayer, I’m certain I’ll be strengthened for planting the flag of confidence every morning, trusting that God had a very good reason for not preventing my current situation, and being content to know that whatever His reason was, it was for the good of my salvation.

I pray the same confidence and contentment for you in whatever you may be enduring at this very moment.

Don’t Waste Your Minutes

Having just returned from vacationing in an area where massive crowds of people were vacationing as well, it’s an obvious saying learned by simple observation that every single person roaming the planet is unique—that no two people are exactly the same. This is true even for identical twins. Just ask their mother or father. It may sometimes be challenging to discern them in certain circumstances, but in the end, anyone who knows them well will know their distinctive features and be able to tell them apart.

The list of peculiarities between individuals is long. The standard characteristics used for distinguishing are often the things we can see, things like facial features, eye color, height, and build. While on vacation, part of my family’s efforts toward rest and relaxation involved just sitting together in the same room. Believe it or not, some of that time was spent watching nature shows on Discovery Channel. One show in particular, “Serengeti,” was incredibly well-crafted. Although, I think I liked it so much because its narrator never once blamed me for the peril of the animals. I wasn’t to blame for the weather, the swollen and treacherous rivers, the fly-infested plains, or the scorching sun causing desolate landscapes.

One thing I learned from the show is that when it comes to discerning individuals, namely family, animals rely more on smell than sight. It’s not just for purposes of predation or protection. I was amazed at how a baby zebra could find her mother in a confounding crowd of thousands; or how after years apart, peace settled between a cheetah protecting her young and two roaming male cheetahs when by their scents they all discovered they were siblings. I found it interesting that elephants will lift their trunks into the air like periscopes, and they will search the breezes to find relatives miles away. What’s more, their sense of smell is so attuned that they can even identify a relative’s remains in a pile of bones.

Perhaps a non-visual determiner between humans is an individual’s vacation threshold. What I mean is that I’m guessing most folks likely bear an inner clock with a unique alarm that tells them when they’ve had enough time away from life’s regular labors. For example, after about six or seven days, my son Harrison was ready to return to Michigan. Speaking only for myself, my alarm hasn’t gone off just yet. I think it still has about two more weeks left to tick. But no matter a person’s threshold, there’s something common to both: each only has so many minutes.

If I’m remembering it correctly, there’s the saying that while the hours will take care of themselves, the minutes are in our hands. In other words, we do well to remember that time is relentless, but as it carries us along, we have certain freedoms with the moments provided. For instance, my kids just can’t seem to figure out how I can say I’m resting during vacation when I continue to get up before the sun. But I do it all summer long because I want to squeeze as much as I can from every single day. For them, the morning’s minutes are meant for sleeping in. For me, they’re meant for accomplishing what the rest of the year is unwilling to allow. Perhaps most importantly, they’re meant for bringing me back around to remembering just how precious time is—that even as we may think we’re killing time, time cannot be killed, and a minute wasted cannot be reclaimed; or when we say so disconnectedly that time flies, we must remember we’re being carried along on its back as a passenger; or just how right we are when we say only time will tell, realizing that in time, all will eventually be revealed. Euripides is the one who said time is a babbler and that it speaks even when not asked a question.

All these things are true, and so for starters, knowing the value of every minute in my life and the lives of the family God gave to me seems to be one of the wisest routes I can travel toward my final minute—and to do so with the fewest regrets.

Taking a moment to sip my coffee and read back over what I’ve written so far, there seems to be a strange gap in between where I started and where I’ve ended. I began by talking about the things that distinguish people one from another, and somehow, I ended up pondering the importance of making every moment in life count. I guess that’s the danger in free-typing. Although, I suppose as Christians, the connective tissue to these thoughts isn’t as elusive as one might think. It begins to take shape when we consider that for all the natural discernments made between humans by sight, and all the natural discernments made between animals by smell, there is another sense employed in the Church that rises above all others: sound.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, Christians are born into the family of God, and by this, they are enabled for hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd and identifying Him in comparison to all others. By this, we know who to follow, and of course, this very important truth touches each of the minutes granted to us in this life, until finally culminating in the Last Day.

Listening to and following the real Jesus while battling the human will’s desire to follow false prophets and teachers is a major lesson to be taken from the three readings we’ll be hearing in worship this morning (Jeremiah 23:16-29, Romans 8:12-17, and Matthew 7:15-23). It’s a lesson that requires discernment. This discernment is an every-minute-of-the-day endeavor that takes aim toward a final day.

It’s critically time sensitive.

Don’t waste the minutes you and your family have been given, especially when you already know that one day there’ll be a final minute. In that moment, there’ll be far too much from a life lived following false hopes apart from Christ to cram into sixty seconds. Instead, feed as many of the minutes that come before it with the real Jesus—the One who has covered all your transgressions and given the merits of His work to you freely—knowing that His aim is to have you and your family by His side in a place where minutes no longer matter.

I Really Forgive You

Obviously, I’m still on vacation. And it’s been restful, for sure. Apart from a few excursions, the Thoma family’s goal has been just to be together. Although, my early-morning alone time has produced (as it always does) daily posts for Angelsportion.com. It’s been good to revisit the humorist hiding in my keyboard. Of course, knowing we’d be gathering with God’s people at Zion in Winter Garden this morning, I was thinking of you and hoping all was well back home among God’s faithful people at Our Savior.

You should know that having taken a gamble and visited with my email this morning, I was nudged by a thought that may be of some value to some of you, while for others, it may only be worth putting into your pocket for later. It has to do with forgiveness.

I’ve always thought that forgiveness costs the offended so much more than the offender, and by this, it will forever be an incredibly imbalanced exchange. Indeed, the one who bears the scars of attack must also be the one to rise from the pain to give a comforting word to a penitent enemy who, at the victim’s expense, may even have made personal gains by his dark deeds. But you must know that while we are promised plenty of challenging experiences in life, the sacred exchange of forgiveness between the offended and the offender is one of the few that truly tests the courage of both involved.

One must be brave enough to admit the behavior and its shame. The other must be courageous enough to let it pass by while facing off with the innate desire for retribution, which is to wrestle with one of the darkest parts of the human condition.

These being true, I’ll go further and say I’m not one to agree with those who’d wander the perimeter of this exchange repeating what pop-psychology teaches—which is that for peace of mind, the offended must come to terms with an unrepentant enemy by forgiving them in one’s heart.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s a teaching of Christianity.

Real forgiveness does not move from one sphere to the other without the avenue of repentance. Even as it meets with our Lord’s work on the cross, He paid the full price that accomplishes absolute forgiveness for all of Mankind’s past, present, and future atrocities. Forgiveness is there. It is available. And yet, no one receives even an atom-sized drop of heaven’s storehouses of forgiveness apart from faith. Faith is born of the Gospel, and as it is birthed, its bearer’s eyes are opened to the inescapable dreadfulness of his sinful condition. From there, trust in the sacrifice of Christ as the only rescuer is engaged. The ultimate One offended—God—works this humble faith in the offender, and in that moment, the floodgates of forgiveness are opened, and the sinner is drowned in the mercies of His divine love.

An unrepentant offender remains divided from forgiveness. Apart from forgiveness, the truth is that nothing is reconciled and the two live in completely different spheres leading to vastly different consequences.

I know some might contend that texts like Luke 7:47 and Matthew 6:14-15 are clear cut examples of the Lord instructing us to forgive everyone no matter the circumstances. With regard to Luke 7, I’d argue that we ought to pay closer attention to the love the Lord describes in that particular verse before leaning on such a loose interpretation. With regard to Matthew 6, I’d suggest an important text that comes before it: Matthew 5:43-48. It’s there Jesus describes with precision how we are to relate to devoted enemies and persecutors. The word for forgiveness isn’t used, but rather the Lord calls for us to show them genuine love and to pray for them. Christ is pressing His Christians to deeds of kindness that will serve as markers leading others to the one true merciful God awaiting the lost with open arms. By the way, you may recall He already began describing this at the beginning of the sermon in Matthew 5:16. In a way, He’ll describe the glory of the whole thing later on in Luke’s Gospel when He tells the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-24).

And so, boiling all of this down to relationships in general…

Did your husband cheat on you? Has he recognized and admitted to his wrongdoing and returned to seek your forgiveness? No? Then I’m not so sure you can just declare him forgiven and move on. From a Christian perspective, how would that lead him to Christ? What would that teach the children?

Did someone tell a dreadful lie about you, one that has spread like wildfire and devastated your reputation among others you once considered friends? Again, has this person come clean with you, doing what she can to amend and repair the damage? No? Again, I’m not so sure you can blanketly offer her forgiveness. How would that display for her the deeper value of forgiveness to be had from God?

I know all of this may sound somewhat controversial, especially as it seems to leave one person in the relationship to suffer. But that’s not it at all. None of this is to say you must move on from such challenging circumstances completely devoid of inner peace. God has given a way for going forward. For one, He has promised to comfort and uphold you in times of trouble (Deuteronomy 31:8; Job 5:11; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 46:1; Matthew 5:4; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:3). Even better, He has already drawn you to Himself by the forgiveness He has bestowed in your life, and by this, you can go from day to day with the knowledge that you are not at war with the One who matters most, but rather you exist at peace with Him (Romans 5:1-15). It’s there you can know that no matter the offending behavior of other human beings in this awful world, be it big or small, as much as it depends on you, you can speak and act in ways that have the potential for leading your persecutors toward genuine peace with God (Romans 12:18).

With that, I pray the Lord’s blessings for you this morning, namely that you’ll be richly upheld in penitent faith by His wonderfully abundant grace given through Word and Sacrament in holy worship.