Bridging the Gap

You should know there are plenty of reasons behind me taking the time to write and send out something like this every Sunday morning for the past eight years.

Admittedly, one of the chief reasons is my near-mental-illness type urge to write. I’ve shared with you before that sometimes I feel as though my head will split open and spray words all over the wall if I don’t open the valve of my fingers and release the words into and through my keyboard. Still, I have better reasons than this.

Another of my reasons is to break down certain barriers between me and the people I serve. It’s far too easy for the relationship between the pastor and the parishioners to become sterile, almost hygienically distant, especially if the parishioner is relatively uninvolved. Folks know I’m married. They know I have children. They know my style of preaching and teaching. They know lots of different things about me. However, it’s one thing to know about someone and something altogether different to be a part of that someone’s life. I write these things to welcome you in. When I become more open to you, revealing my real humanness—what marriage is like for me, what parenting is like for me, what happens to me during the week, the things I’m thinking about, the substance of things that make me smile, frown, laugh, or cry—the distance between us is bridged, even if only a little.

As I said, it’s one thing to know about someone. It’s something altogether different when you are introduced to that person and a friendship is allowed to bloom. Perhaps better, this can happen in spades when I unpack my own walk with the Lord in relation to all that is “me.” It steps past the casual conversation to the substance of a person and his or her role. In other words, you get a better sense of my integrity—that is, whether I, a man called to stand in the stead and by the command of Christ to administer Word and Sacrament, really believe what I’m preaching and teaching. By our time together here, my hope is you’ll get a better sense that I do.

Now, I sense two ways forward in this conversation. The first is the nagging urge to encourage you to give this same exercise a try in your own home. I’m not saying you need to write as much as I might, but what I am saying is to put something into words—a few sentences sharing a thought, concern, or something worth relaying in relation to your faith in Christ. Do it as regularly as possible for those closest to you. See what happens. My guess is that the results will be good.

The second is for me to continue doing the same with you right now. This morning I crossed paths with and was intrigued by the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants.”

Perhaps you already know Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany who participated in the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot was eventually discovered, and Bonhoeffer was hung by the Nazis. Still, does the knowledge of these things serve to interpret Bonhoeffer’s words? Maybe a little. But we need more. And we get it, not only from his writings but from those who were closest to him. Eberhard Bethge, a friend to Bonhoeffer, helps us greatly:

“Bonhoeffer introduced us in 1935 to the problem of what we today call political resistance. The levels of confession and of resistance could no longer be kept neatly apart. The escalating persecution of the Jews generated an increasingly intolerable situation, especially for Bonhoeffer himself. We now realized that mere confession, no matter how courageous, inescapably meant complicity with the murderers, even though there would always be new acts of refusing to be co-opted and even though we would preach ‘Christ alone’ Sunday after Sunday. During the whole time the Nazi state never considered it necessary to prohibit such preaching. Why should it? Thus, we were approaching the borderline between confession and resistance; and if we did not cross this border, our confession was going to be no better than cooperation with the criminals. And so, it became clear where the problem lay for the Confessing Church: we were resisting by way of confession, but we were not confessing by way of resistance.”

Bethge points to something worth our consideration, in particular, the Nazi’s disinterest in tangling with churches that devoutly preached Christ and yet were hardly inclined to live as Christ’s people in the world around them. The Nazis saw no need for concern, knowing all too well that words without deeds remained a toothless beast, one leaving them to continue with their agenda unhindered.

I spoke at the beginning about bridging a particular gap between people. Bonhoeffer made it a point to highlight the strange dissonance that sometimes exists in the lives of Christians, revealing how the gap between what we believe and how we live so often needs to be bridged. This was clearly the case in Germany, and so he was right to do this. Plenty of pastors talked about Christ but did not introduce the people to what it means to be His follower. Of course, Bonhoeffer was more aggressive in his language, implying that one only has the right to sing along with the Church in faith when the fruits of that faith are being worked in the world beyond the Church’s doors. Again, it sounds harsh, but what he’s saying is that faith and works are never divided. In truth, he’s saying exactly what Saint James says in James 2:14-26. And if you take a moment with the text, you’ll notice James’ tenor of encouragement to grow in this behavior. When it comes to talking about this stuff—that is, the keeping of God’s Law as a fruit of faith—I like how Philip Melancthon describes it in Article IV of The Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Among many so many great portions there, he wrote rather crisply in lines 136 and 140-141:

“Therefore, we also hold that the keeping of the law should begin in us and increase more and more. But we mean to include both elements, namely, the inward spiritual impulses and the outward good works…. We teach, furthermore, not only how the law can be kept, but also that God is pleased when we keep it—not because we live up to it, but because we are in Christ…. So it is clear that we require good works. In fact, we add that it is impossible to separate faith from love for God, be it ever so small.”

Did you notice what Melancthon said at the beginning about “both elements”? What he meant by this was the bridging of the spiritual with the physical. Bonhoeffer called this being “fully human.” As a Christian, it translates into the understanding that both are in submission to Christ, and one cannot be in motion while leaving the other behind. They do—and must—go together.

You know as well as I do that the challenges before us are ever-increasing. In the middle of it all, not only is a right confession of Christ a necessity but so also is a willingness to be God’s people in a way that results in action. Rewording Bonhoeffer’s words, and as they meet with this generation, we might hear, “Only he who cries out for the unborn may sing Gregorian chants.”

My prayer for you today is that you’ll at least consider these things. I’m hoping you’ll know I’m your servant in all of it. I suppose lastly, I’m counting on you to know that together we can be God’s confessing people who act, having trust in one another, not only as members of a church but as members of Christ’s family.

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).

Musk, Depp, and the Final Court

There’s quite a lot happening in the news these days. Do you have some time this morning for thoughts on some of it? Go get some coffee, because I have a few.

Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter was accepted. Admittedly, this was a bright-beaming ray of sunshine in my newsfeed. A few more beams poked through the dreariness of April’s war between chill and warmth when I saw the mainstream media folks throwing fits on live TV over Musk’s stated intentions, which were, essentially, that he wanted Twitter to be a true public forum for free speech. An important lesson here: the folks at MSNBC, CNN, and other such drivelous news agencies betrayed their ideological innards when they became enraged over Musk’s determination to halt the banning and shadow-banning of alternative points of view (namely, conservative viewpoints) so that genuine conversation can once again occur.

I mentioned online earlier this year—much to the repulsion of some—that I was starting to admire Elon Musk. This is one reason why. He may be eccentrically different from me in so many ways, and yet, he seems to have a good grasp of certain fundamentals that matter, one of which is the First Amendment. Yes, the Gospel will go forth with or without the freedom of speech. Still, the First Amendment is in alignment with Saint Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy 2:1-3, which includes engaging in the public square for the sake of maintaining a civil context that preserves the freedom to preach and teach Christ crucified. That being said, we should be on the side of anyone pulling for the First Amendment.

Interestingly, a few days after Musk’s purchase was announced, the Biden administration established the DGB or the “Disinformation Governance Board.” Hmm.

Political Commenter, Steven Crowder, pointed out another notable government in history that did the same thing: The Nazi Party. Crowder didn’t mention the Nazi board by name, but students of history will remember it as the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Public Relations). It was established in 1933, not long after Hitler came to power. Its stated goal was to “protect” Germans from disinformation. Joseph Goebbels was the ministry’s director. If you’ll recall, Goebbels was a principal architect of the “Final Solution,” that is, the extermination of the Jews. In other news, and perhaps strangely relevant, Holocaust Remembrance Day was this past Thursday in Israel. The whole country came to a literal standstill to remember the six million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime. I watched a video of the event. It was eerie; cars stopped on the freeways and their occupants standing outside the vehicles perfectly still. On the sidewalks, people stopped mid-stride, as if frozen. Maybe someone could do a quick PowerPoint presentation on this at the next DGB meeting.

Anyway, I could go deeper into this, but let’s just say for now that I hope Musk’s effort with Twitter is a success. What’s more, I may even rejoin the platform. I left Twitter a few years ago not only because I was being shadow-banned, but because Twitter was taking it upon themselves to delete my followers. I had several thousand, and then one day the number was cut by half. The very next day, the remaining followers were cut by half, again—and so on. On top of that, the “cancel” brigades were becoming exceptionally wily with my account. Believe it or not, the final straw for me was when Donald Trump’s account was permanently canceled, while Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran (and visceral sponsor of global terrorism and hatred toward America and Israel), his account was preserved. It remains to this day.

I’m also hoping that what Musk is doing with Twitter makes the folks at Facebook at least a little bit contemplative, if not nervous. Facebook owns Instagram. Right around the time I left Twitter, I was permanently banned from Instagram for posting a meme that stated men are men and women are women. Someone reported my post as hate speech. I was jettisoned from the platform. I tried opening another account a few weeks ago, but somehow, they knew it was me. I received messages reminding me I’d been banned permanently for violating platform policies.

I’m not so worried about this stuff, which I’ll get to the reason for in a moment.

So, what else is in the news?

Well, believe it or not, I’ve also been following the court case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. I don’t normally care all that much about celebrity trials, however, this one caught my attention. Why? Because while we hear so much about abusive (toxic) masculinity (i.e., the “Me Too” movement, and other default mantras), Johnny Depp was insisting on an alternate narrative. After a bit of reading, my gut began telling me we were finally seeing a man in Hollywood push back against abusive femininity. Having listened to several hours of the broadcasted trial (which is far less than the content of what I’ve read), I’m definitely rooting for Depp. He isn’t perfect by any means. He’s wrestled with drugs and alcohol. He’s been a neglectful father on far too many occasions. Admittedly, He’s been a lousy husband. But among these things, he’s never been one to abuse a woman. He appears to be the kind of man who, when verbally and physically abused, will never respond in kind—even if it means being belittled daily or having one’s fingertip sliced off.

Heard, on the other hand—someone who was known by her bodyguards to destroy Depp’s personal belongings, put feces into his bed, and whose friends testified that she hit them, too, for seemingly no reason—has been tested psychologically and deemed quite the opposite. I’m not surprised. Her documented behavior is hard to explain away, no matter how skilled the attorney may be. Perhaps worse, a recording played before the court proved her willingness to abuse Depp all the while hiding behind the current Hollywood (and dare I say, worldwide) mentality that men are, by default, toxically abusive and overlording. Heard’s recorded words were chilling. She implied that everyone would believe her before ever believing Depp simply because he’s a man and she’s a woman. In other words, he should just expect by default that her testimony would be considered true and his would not. She accentuated her arrogance by insisting that no judge or jury would ever side with a man in such a case, saying, “Tell the world, Johnny, tell them ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim, too, of domestic violence… And see how many people believe or side with you.” When asked by his lawyer about his response to Heard’s taunting, Depp said rather simply, “I said, ‘Yes, I am.” What he meant was that he was, in fact, a man who was also a domestic abuse victim.”

Depp’s lawyer described Heard’s behavior as gross bullying—the kind that was only fed by Depp’s already burdensome sadness over his failings. It reminded me of Publius Syrus’ words: “Cruelty is fed, not weakened, by tears.” Indeed, Depp was already hurting. Heard used the tears of that hurt to increase her cruelty’s potency.

Shannon Curry, a clinical psychologist, testified against Heard using the term “code 36” to assert she has a personality disorder. Curry described this code, saying, “The 36 code type is very concerned with their image, very attention-seeking, very prone to externalizing blame to a point where it’s unclear whether they can even admit to themselves that they do have responsibility in certain areas.” She went on to say Heard is self-righteous, judgmental, and full of rage, with all these characteristics emerging from a deep, inner hostility. I think one place to see this is in the difference between Depp’s defamation suit and Heard’s countersuit. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million, which is what he believes he’s lost as a high-profile actor now considered toxically unemployable by most film studios. Sounds fair. Heard, however, is countersuing for $100 million, which is Depp’s total worth. In other words, Depp wants justice. Heard wants to completely decimate Depp. When someone can’t just walk away, but rather seethes with the desire to destroy another person’s life completely, that speaks volumes about what’s going on inside them.

As I said, I’m rooting for Depp. Equally, I’m hoping that the judge mandates for Heard to get treatment. Although, narcissistic personality disorders like hers are hard to cure, mostly because the one bearing them typically refuses to admit to needing help. Either way, and as I like to say on occasion, “The divine lights always come on in the end,” which means, do and say what you want now, but remember, the time will come for settling scores. That’s why I mentioned earlier that I’m not so worried about being slighted or maligned. God, namely, Christ Himself, will be the Pantocrator occupying the bench in the only courtroom that matters. It’ll be just as the Creed declares: “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” He’ll settle things according to His standards, not ours. And no matter how right anyone thought they were, His “right” will be the final rule of measurement for all things and all people of all time.

That might sound scary to some. It probably should. That’s the benefit of God’s generous forewarnings. However, it doesn’t have to be menacing. Through trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, believers can only ever be found guilty of one thing: saving faith. Jesus said as much in John 16:8-11 regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. He mentioned that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will bring three distinct counts of conviction. Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (v.8). The conviction in sin is an easy one. Jesus explained this will happen to those who “do not believe in me” (v. 9). In short, unbelievers remain trapped in sin. Skipping ahead to the last one mentioned—judgment—the Lord takes direct aim at the devil, saying that we can count on final judgment being leveled against Satan once and for all. It’s right in between verses 9 and 11 that the Lord says the Holy Spirit will convict “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v. 10). In other words, we can’t see Jesus, and yet, we believe. These words Jesus is speaking on Maundy Thursday sound an awful lot like the ones He spoke to Thomas a few days later on Easter Sunday:

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).

The points here: Firstly, saving faith is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, on the Last Day, all believers in Christ will be accused and found guilty of faith in Jesus before the highest court in heaven and earth. And so, if you’re going to be convicted of anything before God, let it be that.

Between you and me, knowing my many failings, I’m counting on God’s justifying promise found in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Confessing my sins and clinging to His righteousness, even as things could be rough in this life, I know everything is going to be okay for the next when the divine lights come on and all is revealed.

They Saw Jesus

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

There is a special sort of energy to this saying, isn’t there? When a believer says it, there is a sense of the world spinning in the opposite direction, as if what was once undone is now being turned back, as if our view of Eden has become a little less blurry.

Amen. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.

“He is risen” is the cheering of the Church of all ages. She sings out to the world in praise of her Savior who died, and yet, did not fall short of His goal, no matter the apparent dreadfulness of the Good Friday wreckage. Jesus gave Himself over into Death. He did it willingly and without our asking. He turned His face toward the events with an unmatchable steadfastness, and like a juggernaut, He could not be stopped. He pressed through and into Death’s deepest hideousness, ultimately defeating it for all time from the inside.

Saint Paul makes clear for those who may still be wondering what the resurrection has to do with God’s plan of redemption, saying, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). He says this so his readers will know there’s nothing left to be accomplished between sinners and God. Christ has done it all.

How do we know? Indeed, Paul warns of the concern if Christ hasn’t been raised, having already announced, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17).

But Christ has been raised. Paul is a witness. And not only Paul but hundreds of others were visited by the bodily-resurrected Jesus (15:3-8). Would Paul lie? Would he trade his life of promise and ease for prison and execution? Would they all lie? Would they all be able to maintain such deception, keeping the story straight among such a large number? Perhaps like Paul, when the lives of these firsthand witnesses, and the lives of their families, were found teetering at the edge of grisly death, with their only safety being found in recantation, would courage built on a lie be able to see them through the moment?

Of course not, because they saw Jesus.

So, rejoice. It’s all true. Christ is risen, and your Easter faith is secure. You have staked a claim in the Lord who faced off with Death and won. His labor removed your Sin, and His resurrection victory justified you before the Father (Romans 4:25), granting to you the first-fruit spoils of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:20).

God bless and keep you in this peace, not only today but always.

Sure of His Courage

There is the saying that goes something like, “Until it matters, no man can be sure of his courage.” I appreciate those words. Indeed, one can hardly be considered courageous from ease’s protective tower. Knowing this, I suppose that’s why each year on Good Friday, the words by the Gospel-writer Mark to describe Joseph of Arimathea are piercing. Each year they find their way deeper into my contemplation of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross.

It’s not long after the Lord’s final breath that we read:

“And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (15:42-43).

Why are these words so resonant? Because they describe a man who, for the most part, has kept his faith in Jesus an unchallenged secret. And why would he do this? Because as a member of the Sanhedrin—the primary human force in opposition to Jesus—Joseph knew what would happen to him if it was ever discovered. He and his family would be utterly undone economically, socially, and religiously. But then suddenly, none of these things appear to matter anymore. Mark writes that Joseph “took courage,” having been moved to act beyond the boundaries of his fears and request custody of the Lord’s body from Pilate.

What caused this? He witnessed the death of His Savior, Jesus.

The actual deed—the very intersecting act of God’s redeeming plan in this world—that’s what sits at the heart of faith. Joseph saw it. Whether or not he fully understood what had happened, it would certainly appear that his faith knew the significance of the gory details. In that moment, his faith became a daring powerhouse more than ready to flex the divine muscles the Holy Spirit had granted it. It moved him to go before Pilate and do something that would very soon thereafter become public knowledge.

What does this mean for us?

If anything, it means none of us ought to take Good Friday for granted. It means there’s something to be said for a day that’s spends itself thinking on the epicentral event of our Lord’s work to win us back from Sin, Death, and the power of the devil. It means if ever there was a day for doing something that might unmask our oft-hidden commitment to Christ—such as missing an extra-curricular activity or asking for time off from work to attend worship—Good Friday is that day. In one sense, that’s what the Greek word for “took courage” (τολμήσας [tolmēsas]) insinuates. At its root, it means to take a chance, to dare, to be bold in a way that lowers one’s defenses, maybe even in a way that provokes evil to attack.

Joseph took courage. He did this knowing that to do so could result in trouble. But he did it, anyway. Maybe you can, too. You certainly have less to lose than Joseph, even if only to give up some time to attend one of the two services occurring here at Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. The Tre Ore service occurs at 1:00pm, and the Tenebrae service is at 7:00pm. I’m preaching at both, and I can’t wait to do so.

God bless and keep you by His grace.

Credibility

I coined a phrase a few years back, one I’ve never heard anyone else say. Since its realization, I share it with regularity among the students in my theology and catechetical classes, both young and old. It almost always comes up while studying the 8th Commandment and its explanation in Luther’s Small Catechism.

Before sharing it with you, I think the best way to tee up the phrase’s instantaneous formation in my mind is to compare it with the process of information transference in the film “The Matrix.” If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know what I mean. In one scene, Neo doesn’t know Kung Fu. In the very next, he’s a Kung Fu master. Everything necessary was instantaneously downloaded to his brain.

In my case, the phrase came to me in the middle of realizing a troubling situation had grown beyond my abilities to solve it. All along the way, my intentions were good, even Godly. I had followed the Word of God the best I knew how. I’d maintained confidences. I’d spoken to the right church leaders. I’d reached to both friend and foe alike through steady communication, all along the way doing what I could to navigate toward peaceful shores. But things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. The harder I tried, the worse things seemed to get, eventually coming undone altogether. As it would go, there was one moment when I knew I’d become infected by the undoneness.

It happened in a small meeting room in our school. It involved me and three other people. In short, what started as a calm conversation became heated, and at one point in the fray, a rather nasty word was used to describe my wife, Jennifer. Almost without hesitation, I rose from my seat, put my finger in the face of the person who’d spoken the word, and with a shout, I warned that if such a word used to describe my wife ever passed through the lips of that individual again, the results would be unforgettably severe.

In all my twenty-three years in ministry, that was the first and last time I ever lost my cool and shouted at anyone.

Unfortunately, the room and its uninsulated door are along a primary thoroughfare for church and school staff traffic, and it just so happened that a longtime staff member was passing by the room. Having no idea what I said or why I said it, but only that it was me who was shouting, the word spread quickly among my detractors, serving as evidence that I was a ruthless dictator more than capable of measuring the pastoral office against others in a threatening way. Less than a day later, when I realized what that single moment had produced among the people I was attempting to bring to repentance, a thought surged into and through me as if I’d touched an electrified wire. I was alone in my office when I heard my voice say as if in conversation, “Chris, your reputation is the only thing you own that everyone else keeps for you. Guard it.”

Since that moment, I fight for my reputation and the integrity that underpins it as if they were gold. Say something nasty to me. No problem. Post derogatory comments about me across the span of social media. I’ll brush it off and continue forward. But recast my credibility in a way that undermines my ability to serve, and things are going to get rough between us. Why? Well, not only because God’s Word describes pastors as ones who must be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), or because one of the lessons I’ve learned in ministry is that the people willing to exert energy in this way must be dealt with firmly, but primarily because, as I already said, if my credibility becomes questionable, who am I to bring God’s authoritative Word of correction to anyone? For example, who am I to say that shouting at someone in anger is sinful if I live my life doing the same thing? With that, I’m a firm believer that one’s credibility is tied to his or her own integrity; or as I was moved to write on social media this past week in response to Will Smith smacking Chris Rock, “An act’s integrity is relative to the moral soundness of the one performing it.” I wrote this because Will Smith hit a man who insulted his wife, Jada. And yet, Will Smith lives in an open marriage, meaning he and Jada allow one another to have sex with others. Because of this, I’d say Will Smith has very little credibility when it comes to defending his wife’s honor.

This is an incredibly important thing for all of us to consider as sometimes we, too, discover ourselves required to rebuke someone else’s behavior in defense of what’s right. What’s more, it has me thinking about something else.

Do you remember that commercial from the 80s in which a mother shouts at her son after discovering drug paraphernalia in his room? Essentially, she asks him in a rage where he got the stuff, but more importantly, how he learned about any of it. Frustrated by her hypocrisy, the boy shouts back, “I learned it from you!” The camera then pans and refocuses on her bedroom, revealing a bag of marijuana beside an ashtray full of ashes. For as hokey as the acting in the commercial was, the message was stingingly true. If you’re doing it, you have no credibility for dissuading a child from doing it, too. And this matters to more than just drug use. If you are willfully living together with someone outside of marriage, don’t be surprised or angry if your child does the same one day. And if you try to dissuade them from doing it, what can you say to them when they reply, “I learned it from you”? Not much, that’s for sure. The list goes on from here. If you swear a lot, don’t be surprised or angry when your children swear a lot, too. If you speak abusively to your spouse, don’t be shocked when your daughter-in-law reveals the man she married, your son, is verbally abusive to her.

By now, I’m guessing that some, if not all of you have already whispered to yourself something that sounds a little like, “But I’ve done these sorts of things, so what credibility do I have for steering anyone else toward what’s right?”

Well, the answer to this is relatively simple. When your sinful deeds are your only history, then you have no credibility. However, when through confession and absolution your sins are snatched away from you for all time, having been instantaneously consigned to the shoulders of Christ through faith in His sacrifice on the cross, you are no longer who you were before. Things begin again. You are remade. Or better yet, re-created as one whose credibility is not his or her own history, but Christ’s. Such newness has no baggage, at least nothing God could ever conjure up to use against you. Don’t believe me? Listen to the Psalmist speak of God’s forgiveness in a remarkable way, saying, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (103:12). Just as potently wonderful, God reminds us by His Word that when He forgives us, He also forgets the sins completely (Hebrews 8:12). Do you know what that means? It means that the only way for God to recall them will be for us to remind Him. And why? Because He looks upon us through the blood of His Son. He sees us adorned in the white baptismal garment of His love fashioned from the threads of the Law-fulfilling credibility of Christ’s perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:27; Revelation 7:14).

Knowing this, no matter what you’ve done, through humble contrition met by God’s mighty redemption, you can say to an onlooker accusing you of having no credibility due to the same sins, “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that. It was a sin against God and the ones involved. I know this. Thanks be to God that my Lord paid the price for this and all my failures by His death and resurrection. Now, by the power of His Holy Spirit, I want to be faithful to Him. This faithfulness moves me to want to warn you from falling into the same destructive traps I fell into. I don’t want that for you in the same way Jesus doesn’t want that for you.”

Believe it or not, such a confession can be disarming.

Of course, even such sincere communication might not win the heart of someone holding tightly to his or her transgressions. Trust me, I get it. And yet, that’s where the right handling of God’s Word, the divine courage promised to believers by that same Word, and the viscera for trusting that God will bless your efforts for faithfulness all come into play.

I need to remind myself of this regularly, especially as one who works to guard his own credibility with ferocity. The fact remains that no matter how hard I try, I won’t always succeed. I’m a sinner. But through genuine confession resulting in absolution, the script gets flipped and I can keep on keeping on. As I do, I know there will always be people out there laboring to defame me, doing all they can to bring me into the same state of despair and lostness in which they dwell. In the end, I don’t have to take it sitting down. But I also know that no matter what happens, ultimately, God’s forgiveness cements my credibility to Christ. With that knowledge, my work becomes less about trusting myself, and more about being confident in Christ, the One who’s always running point. From my perspective, that’s an impenetrable place from which to launch an offensive against this world and its terrible armies.

I’m Not Buying It

I probably shouldn’t admit to it, but I’ve been watching TV, mostly Netflix, far more than I should these days. Honestly, I should be working on homework, or perhaps, looking ahead to the sermon texts for Holy Week and Easter. I have a couple of papers coming due at that time, so it would be wise to get a jumpstart on sermon preparation. The problem is, by the time I roll into the garage most evenings, the level of my zeal only seems capable of a routine involving a two-finger pour of whisky, a seat beside Jennifer, and an hour-long visit before bedtime with TV shows of the past.

For the record, our current reminiscence is Knight Rider.

I loved Knight Rider as a kid. Watching it now, I can attest to the terrible acting, not to mention the very little effort that appears to have been placed on the scripts and special effects. Apart from the real reason Jen and I have gravitated toward such shows, we’re also watching them for amusement. The dialogue is hilariously hokey. The storylines are riotously worse. And as I hinted, the special effects are often laughable. Take for example a particular scene that sees K.I.T.T., the artificially intelligent car, driving itself into a parking lot. As K.I.T.T. comes to a stop beside Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff), it’s easy enough to see that the car isn’t driving itself, but instead, the driver’s seat has been removed, and a man dressed to look like the seat is in its place. The man’s hands can be seen on the steering wheel.

Jen and I rewatched and laughed at that scene a few times.

In another episode, Michael gets shot in his left shoulder. While pursuing the bad guys, he covers the wound with his right hand. The scene shifts to the dashboard as K.I.T.T.’s blinking voice indicator encourages him to go to the hospital. The scene turns back to Michael still nursing the wound, except now it’s on his right shoulder and he’s using his left hand.

We re-watched that scene a couple of times just for fun, too.

I suppose apart from the humor, nostalgia is the real reason we started watching the show. We long for the days when television scriptwriters, directors, and producers knew better than to allow certain words or behaviors to be portrayed as normal. We miss the time when shows had a clearer understanding of right and wrong, truth and untruth, good and evil. I say this thinking that perhaps like me, you were troubled by the news that a man won the women’s NCAA 500-yard freestyle championship. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. A man won the women’s title. And by the way, a man won the distinction of USA Today’s “Woman of the Year.” Yes, you read that sentence correctly, too. And so, how are these things possible? Well, Lia Thomas (formerly Will Thomas) and Rachel Levine (formerly Richard Levine) are both transgender females. Or is the term “transgender male”? I don’t know, anymore. It’s becoming rather difficult to keep pace with the latest wokisms being imposed upon us by this Sin-sick world.

But for all I don’t understand, what I do know is that Lia Thomas, someone who is dominating women’s competitive swimming, and Rachel Levine, Joe Biden’s first and favorite choice for Assistant Secretary for Health, are both biological males in every way. For starters, I can say this because when Thomas and Levine die, if their mortal remains were ever exhumed, two male skeletons would be discovered. How do I know this? Because, apart from the fact that these two men’s biologics are written into every bit of their DNA (the distinction being that male DNA contains one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, while female DNA contains two X chromosomes), but also that without some seriously inventive reconstructive surgery, a male’s bone structure is very different from a female’s. In other words, gender isn’t a system of belief. It is an objective, biological fact, no matter the clothes worn, or the hairstyle donned.

You may dress yourself to look like the seat of a car, but you aren’t a car’s seat. You need special effects and the world of fantasy to be a car’s seat.

Interestingly, Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, was asked this past Tuesday by Senator Marsha Blackburn, “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” Jackson’s answer: “No, I can’t. I’m not a biologist.”

Three quick observations in this regard. Firstly, Jackson is a woke progressive Democrat. There’s no hiding that fact. She’s on record for stating such things rather proudly. Secondly, if the term “woman” is undefinable to anyone other than biologists, then how do we know for sure she holds the honor of being the first black woman nominated to the Supreme Court? Even further, why is everyone everywhere using feminine identifiers like “she” and “her” when referring to her? Lastly, for as much as she wants to allow for truth to be anything to anyone, her answer affirmed gender is rooted in biology rather than an individual’s perception of “self.” If it weren’t this way, her answer would’ve been, “No, I can’t. I’m not a psychiatrist.”

Still, Thomas and Levine continue believing themselves to be women, which, as it meets with basic human autonomy, is tolerable to some extent. I suppose this is true in the same way that mental illnesses must be mildly accommodated during treatment. However, the problem is no longer that they’re convinced of something that isn’t true, but that they’re insisting the rest of us believe and live according to this untruth, too. Thomas has imposed his fantasy upon the entirety of women’s sports to the detriment of genuine female athletic achievement. Levine, on the other hand, has not only forced his fantasy on the entire nation, but as one of the first-face representatives of health science, he embodies the acceptance of pseudoscience. Perhaps worse still (albeit expected), the LGBTQ militia, along with its compliant voters and media, are jackbooting through America insisting that we allow ourselves to be assimilated into the mental constructs of these two very confused men. And if we refuse—if we speak up, if we push back, if we share opinions counter to the acceptable ones—we’re labeled as loveless bigots worthy only of cancellation. You should read some of the things that have been written about Senator Blackburn since Tuesday’s hearing. It’s telling if not also frightening.

For the record, I’m not buying into it. I discourage you from buying into it, too.

Last Sunday was a powerful day for understanding this here at Our Savior, especially considering the Epistle lesson from Ephesians 5:1-9, which is a text that doles out uncomplicated instructions to Christians for handling situations of sexual immorality. After six descriptive verses, in verse 7, Paul speaks prescriptively:

“Therefore do not associate with them.”

In the Greek text, the word translated as “associate” is συμμέτοχοι(symmetochoi). However, I’m not so sure “associate” is the best interpretation. συμμέτοχοι means “co-partaker.” “Associate” conveys a simple connection to someone or something, but συμμέτοχοι implies a link that includes willful engagement and active participation.

Verse 7 sounds like Saint Paul’s way of saying, “Don’t buy into it.” I’d say he gave us a hint to his seriousness in this regard when he back in verse 3 that sexual immorality “must not even be named among you.” The word for “named” is ὀνομαζέσθω (onomazesthō), which carries the sense of not even mentioning such things out loud. Paul wants Christians to stay as far from sexual immorality as is humanly possible, which means we shouldn’t even leave the slightest impression we might be okay with it. Instead, we are to give a clear enunciation of truth while also making an effort to bring the errant back into the boundaries of God’s moral and natural laws. Paul aims in this direction for a reason. Right after warning against being co-partakers, he reminds Christians in verses 8 and 9:

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.”

Paul’s words echo the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16. He teaches that because of who we are in Christ (Matthew 5:14-16), we can bring the light of goodness, rightness, and truth right into the middle of the darkness. Continuing to verse 11, we hear Paul add:

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

It’s not a Christian’s role to be silent, but rather we are called to expose the darkness. How is darkness exposed? Light. When the lights are shining, darkness is dispelled. When the lights are hidden, darkness maintains its grip.

The photo I’ve shared here, especially the uppermost image, hints at everything said so far. In it, the three young ladies who competed against Thomas have elected not to be associated with Thomas’ meritless victory. I like that image a lot. I may even get it framed. Why? Because these girls have earned my respect. Risking their reputations, they’ve communicated the difference between right and wrong in a stunningly visual way. They’re not being cruel. They’re not being bigoted. They’re conveying truth adorned with smiles to a confused and erring media that’s applauding a confused and errant man.

I’m hoping these girls, their families, and all their friends will continue along in stride with Saint Paul’s words, eventually finding the courage to put their concerns into words.

I ask the Lord for this courage almost every day. I ask Him regularly to provide the same courage for you, too. I know so many of you are enduring challenging situations in your own families, friendships, and workplaces. As you stand in the middle of these things, I pray the Lord will strengthen you to be lights in the darkness, not seeking to disown anyone, but instead, to beam brightly for all the truth of God’s Law and Gospel—both His loving warning against Sin and His incredible promise of forgiveness and restoration through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sinner and Saint

I finished a book this past week by Andrew Murray entitled Humility: The Beauty of Holiness. It was an interesting read, although not necessarily one I’d likely recommend. My reason for dissuading you is not because the book had nothing to offer, but rather, I feel as though the author spent the energy of his zeal in some of the wrong places. It seemed that every time he got close enough to see Calvary—the truest image of God’s love and the demonstration of His humility—he jerked away from it to a synergistic interpretation, implying that Jesus was merely demonstrating something He wanted us to emulate in order to cooperate in our eternal rescue.

But that’s not what the events of Calvary were about. Jesus was accomplishing there what we could never accomplish. And to think that somehow we might be able to cooperate in any way that might compare with the salvific work of the Son of God on the cross is a gross miscalculation, a miscalculation that will have dire consequences, one of which is the dreadful pall of uncertainty regarding our eternal future.

How will we know if we’ve done enough? How will we know if we’ve held up our end of the agreement?

Admittedly, there are plenty of aspects to the Christian Faith that Jesus wants us to demonstrate. Humility is one of them. Love is one of them, too. In fact, He demonstrated both in a practical way as He washed the disciples’ feet the very same night that they would betray Him into death (John 13:1-17, 34-35). Still, He did this knowing His followers could never do it the way He could—perfectly. Even in a shallow sense, He washed their feet without ever experiencing the sensation of complaint or disgust. On our part, even the slightest hesitancy, even the minutest thought of revulsion, disqualifies us, betraying our inadequacies in comparison to Jesus’ perfect love. What’s more, the fact that we may actually follow through with such a filthy form of servitude as washing someone’s feet isn’t a testament to our goodness, but rather serves as proof of the Spirit’s influence within us as He produces the fruits of faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). We don’t want to wash someone else’s feet. But somehow, we muscle through it, anyway. Why? Because even as we’re more inclined toward “self,” Christ has promised us the Spirit to equip and enable us to serve in love.

It’s the sinner/saint on full display in everything we do.

All of this might sound somewhat critical of human ability. It’s meant to. That’s where genuine Godly humility begins—the recognition that of ourselves, none of us has anything to offer God, and even our greatest worldly achievements will always be as brittle as sun-dried autumn leaves by comparison. One touch and they break into nothing. Only Jesus has what it takes to apply an overabundance to our red-filled ledgers, canceling the debts and setting us free.

The events of Calvary demonstrate this.

On the other hand, the satirist Jean de La Bruyère said that criticizing goodness “robs us of the pleasure of being moved by some very fine things.” There’s a hint of truth to what he said. Who among us will slight an enemy for feeding a homeless person? On the contrary, observing such things through the lens of faith, such a demonstration might cause an unbeliever to see his enemy in an entirely new light, one that might even stir him to reach out for friendship.

Could that be a hint to what Jesus meant in Matthew 5 when He said that onlookers “will see your good deeds and give glory to the Father in heaven” (v. 16)? Could that be a clue to what He meant in John 13 when He said to the disciples after washing their feet that by serving in such ways “all people will know that you are my disciples” (v. 35)? Could that be a nod to what Saint Paul meant in 1 Timothy 4 when he encouraged young Timothy to keep a close eye on both his doctrine and life. “Persevere in them,” he said, “because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 16).

The good deeds a Christian performs never precede salvation. We don’t partner with Jesus in our rescue. However, the good things we do follow along as products of His grace and are born from thanksgiving. Amazingly, they are more than capable of steering the doer into acts of joyful humility that God says bears the potential for leading onlookers to the only One who can save them. This Lententide, may God grant for you to consider these things.

Predictably Unpredictable

My daughter, Madeline, mentioned being tasked by one of her teachers with reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Having two editions in my office, I shared one with her so that she wouldn’t need to wrestle with acquiring it from the school library.

I adore Charles Dickens—his skill with characters, his dexterity with language, and his prowess for telling a good story. Few writers compare. Maybe I’ve shared with you before that I have a first edition set of his complete works in my office. My favorite of his volumes is The Cricket on the Hearth. If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so, especially if you’re a fan of his infamous A Christmas Carol.

In my humble opinion, pitched against the ever-growing list of worthless garbage our present-day public schools are calling literature, Dickens’ works are golden. I was glad when Madeline told me the assignment, and I knew if she could just get through the first few pages of the story, she’d be in for a real treat. Among all Dickens’ works, it’s one we might call a thriller. It’s very much a three-part story held together by perilous action, and it all ends at the guillotine.

I remember watching a film version of it when I was a kid, except I didn’t necessarily know what I’d seen until I read the book in high school several years later. As a bored eight or nine-year-old who was, as you’d expect, thoroughly unappreciative of the value of Sunday afternoon black-and-white matinees, I recall tuning in and sticking with the film only because, as a fan of scary movies, Christopher Lee was in it. As it would go, he played the cold-hearted Marquis St. Evremonde. To this very hour, I can imagine the possibility of a fanged Christopher Lee emerging from his horse-drawn carriage to bite someone’s neck. Of course, He didn’t. But I do remember a stake-through-the-heart moment his character experienced while sleeping. Either way, the film, like the book, had an aura of unpredictability.

I like unpredictable storytelling. Just ask Jennifer. The movies I find myself enjoying most are ones that keep me guessing. When it comes to all others, I’m as annoying as annoying can be. I think this is true because, as Hollywood continues to sew its recycled and under-considered plots into the sleeves of fast-food characters, there’s a good chance before a movie’s end that I’ll have already shouted out what’s going to happen. I’m not always right, but I certainly am more than the people sitting beside me would prefer. Annoying? Yes. So be sure to commend Jennifer for enduring my predictability.

Speaking of predictability, there’s an oft quoted opening line from the third chapter of the first part of the book. It reads:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”

In a volume filled with twists, Dickens refers to something in humans that’s universally predictable. Strangely, he points to every person’s hidden, namely, unpredictable side. In other words, the only thing you can predict with humans is that they’re unpredictable. Or to dive a little deeper, for as well as you might know someone, there will always be the side you don’t know and couldn’t have expected—the secret self that would surprise you if it were suddenly revealed.

As this meets with the season of Lent—a time when we’re exceptionally attuned to our need for a Savior—my Christian mind wanders to what this means for me. As it roams, I discover how I’m more than capable of concealing my sinful tendencies. And yet, the writer to the Hebrews untangles all misconceptions of this in relation to God when he offers that “no creature is hidden from [God’s] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (4:13).

And therein is a path to something incredibly wonderful that we may not have predicted.

Yes, God knows the real you. He knows everything you’ve done. He knows all your horribleness. He knows all your dreadfulness. He knows your soiled intentions. He knows the worst of your thoughts, words, and deeds. And yet, even with all these horrendous things on display before His divine omniscience—things that He knows and sees and has every right to account as hell-worthy—still, He tells us by His Word that He looked on us in love and sent His Son to save us (John 3:16-17). He makes clear that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The predictability of God’s right to judge us accordingly is unpredictably turned on its head by His divine passion for our rescue. He does not give us what we deserve. Instead, He heaps our unfortunate dues upon Jesus, and by His wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

I already told you just how much I love an unpredictable story. Well, it doesn’t get any better than the Gospel. And by this, I not only mean the death of God’s innocent Son for the dreadfully guilty, but also the unpredictable nature of the resurrection. That itself was a world-altering event. No one expected an empty tomb. No one expected to see Jesus alive. Not even the disciples. And yet, there He was, is, and remains. Sure, I like Dickens. But his stories are fiction. The Gospel is real, which makes the Bible that carries and communicates it, with every twist and turn of both the Old Testament and New Testament, the greatest volume in human history.

Think About These Things

I happened upon a familiar portion from Saint Paul this morning. At first, it seemed strangely out of step with the season of Lent. That is, until I gave it a more thorough examination. Paul wrote:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

A deliberate thrust to Lent is its cognizance of Sin. It draws us to the admittance that we are dreadfully inadequate in every way for extricating ourselves from Sin’s lethal grip. However, it’s very important to remember that Lent doesn’t labor to adjust us in this way without a clear sight of the Gospel—the Good News that we have been rescued from all that would bar us from heaven. If we lose sight of this, the season can very easily become six weeks of debilitating gloom.

But again, Lent isn’t meant for melancholy. It deals in the solemnity of perspective. In one sense, it’s working to help us identify and understand what’s bad so that we can rejoice rightly in what’s good. This makes Saint Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8 that much more resonant. Knowing the reality of our condition—fully aware of our undeserving nature—we have a better view of the external evidence of God’s gracious care.

Here’s what I mean in a very basic way.

We don’t give much thought to the fact that the same sun that was shining on Adam and Eve is shining on us. It continues to this day with its warmth. By grace alone, God makes this happen. The earth continues to spin from one season to the next. By grace alone, God sees to this unending sequence (Genesis 8:22). The birds continue their sing-song melodies. By grace alone, God continues providing their twittering voices (Matthew 6:26). The soil continues to present each day with bouquets of splendor. By grace alone, God adorns each flower’s petals with magnificence (Matthew 6:30).

His world betrayed Him, and yet God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). When we know the depths of our undeserving nature in comparison to God’s generous care, almost everything around us becomes a gift—an unmerited bestowal teaching us of God’s love.

Since I mentioned flowers, Ralph Waldo Emerson said these dainty blossoms are the earth’s laughter. Maybe he was onto something, because he also warned the preoccupied bystander to “never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”

Paul said the same thing in Philippians 4:8, only far better. How so? By disassembling creation’s beauty to reveal its graspable materials.

Truth. Honor. Justice. Purity. Loveliness. Commendability. Excellence. Praiseworthiness. These are beauty’s divine ingredients, the scribblings of God traced on the recipe pages of goodness in this life.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul knows that by sifting our thoughts and behaviors through these filters, we’ll be equipped for discerning the bad. We’ll know hateful people using vicious words aren’t lovely, no matter how attractive they may be physically. We’ll know living together before marriage isn’t pure, no matter how sensible the world might make it seem. We’ll know that so-called critical theories that demand diversity and equity according to the premise that certain races are innately unforgivable, or ideologies that threaten people’s lives with cancellation unless they accept dysphoric behaviors, are not praiseworthy or just, and we shouldn’t commend them.

On the other hand, and extending from the same awareness, Paul knows we’ll discover ourselves attuned to and desirous of what God considers good. We’ll know the honorable nature of holding fast to truth. We’ll know just how commendable God’s design for “family” truly is. We’ll observe others through the lens of God’s Word, thereby being enabled to navigate the confusion of this age in love. And I suppose I’m suggesting an active byproduct of all of this is a Christian’s ability to behold and be uplifted by God’s grace demonstrated in so many wonderful ways throughout the natural world.

For good reason, Paul insists that we think in this way. And Lent’s fasting certainly helps us to pay closer attention. In fact, the whole season is the perfect time for practicing such behavior so that it becomes habitual.