Complaining

As I type this, a bag sits on the chair across from my office desk. The bag has puzzles inside. I don’t know who placed it there, but I’m assuming it to be a kindly gesture by someone who knows my family likes such things. Somewhat of a betrayal of my observational skills, I think the bag was delivered to my office this past Wednesday. I can’t say for sure, mainly because last week was a bit of a blur. A lot happened in a very short period. Some of it was easy. Other parts were more challenging. All of it is in the Lord’s hands. It’s His church. We can all sleep easier knowing that.

I should say that as grateful as I am for the gifted puzzles, unfortunately, I do have one concern about the bag. It is adorned with a wintry scene bearing a smiling snowman. Above the frosty gent are the words, “Let it snow!” Again, thank you to whoever gave us the puzzles. What a treat! Nevertheless, I need you to know I’m going to burn this bag once my family removes the thoughtful gifts in its keep. I dread the snow and everything that comes with it. I say, keep the snow upstairs in heaven’s attic, and instead, let the warm sunshine continue to gild the grassy summertime landscapes down here.

Summer is better. Summer is my thing.

Of course, this isn’t to be. Anything I might call “my thing” is never really mine to control. Nothing is. Even the things I might consider autonomic—something like breathing—will one day cease. I won’t be in control at that moment. And so, for as much as I want summer to remain, winter is coming. Beyond that, there’s no use in complaining about it—even though I’m pretty sure I will continue to do so.

Technically, I have no right to complain. I live in Michigan, a tundra-like state. I do so by choice. Well, maybe not by choice. I blame my wife, Jennifer. She’s from Michigan. I met her, fell in love, and I stayed here because I wanted to be where she was. Thankfully, God saw fit to put me into a congregation I dearly love. Or perhaps better stated, I’d die for the people of Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. Considering Joe Biden’s recent speech, it seems that’s becoming less a rhetorical statement and more a possibility.

Still, if I had the magical ability to lift Our Savior Lutheran Church and all its people from the earth and set them down on a gulf-kissed shore in Florida, I would. The place would look nice with some pineapple trees in our gardens and a few palm trees by our bell tower. I know I’m a stickler for stewardship, but if anyone suggested during a congregation meeting that we install a pool, I’d probably go for it. I mean, why not? Hey, trustees, what do you think?

But as I said, I have no right to complain. Come to think of it, at a base level, none of us has a right to complain about discomforting things we experience in this world. These things exist because of Sin. Sin is our fault, and complaining about it is a bit like turning on the stove, putting our hand in the flame, and then whining that we were burned. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, the One to whom we’re most likely directing our complaints—God—isn’t responsible for Sin. The fact that He handled it anyway says something about Him.

He loves us.

That brings something else to mind this morning: the Complaint Psalms—Psalms such as 3, 31, 44, 64, 142, and others. The Psalms of Complaint certainly are good examples of divinely inspired writers whining to God. That being said, such Psalms assume a few things.

Firstly, they assume a distinction between good and bad complaining. Bad complaining is often described in the scriptures as grumbling. Grumbling is the negative bemoaning that happens when our attention is more set on self than Christ. We want what we want. When we don’t get it, we complain. Perhaps worse, we end up blaming God for our woes rather than trusting in His divine care. I think good complaining—biblical concern—is different. God expects His people to complain to Him. He expects us, like Him, to be bothered by Sin’s darkly products. If we’re not expressing our concern in some measure for Sin’s grip on humanity and its dreadful horribleness unfolding in the lives of every man, woman, and child across the planet, then we’re far denser than we might give ourselves credit. This same assumption understands faith. It understands, firstly, that God is ready to hear the cries of His people; and secondly, we go to Him because He’s the only One capable of doing anything about Sin. Yes, we can complain about the ungodliness of abortion. We can even get involved, doing everything we can to stop it. Still, God is the only One who will see to its permanent demise. This leads to another assumption about good complaining: the anticipation and expectation of God’s love. We know God will always be ready to exchange our concern with His comforting Gospel—the wonderful proclamation of our deliverance from Sin through the person and work of Christ and the promise to strengthen us for meeting the challenges that stirred our concern in the first place.

He loves us. He hears us. He’s with us. He enlightens and empowers us, using the momentum of our Godly concerns to work through us in His world.

Still, as with the rest of God’s Word, the Complaint Psalms are in place to herald Christ. They meet with the Sin problem, being sure to dole out the only hope that can soothe our visceral concerns. Take a look at some of the Psalms I mentioned above. They never leave the complainer without hope.

I’m not so sure my complaining about snow fits into the category of good griping. While I’m burning the snowman bag, I’ll reflect on what I do know—which is that if it’s the Lord’s will, He’ll see me through another season that more than taxes me holistically. This world—His world—will continue to spin. Winter will become spring. Summer will return after that. All along the way, He’ll take both my bad and good complaints and put His faithful Word before me—both His Law and Gospel. He’ll give His Law to reveal my sinful selfishness and His Gospel to forgive and strengthen me for being His trusting child who engages in the surrounding world.

In all, I’d say that will forever be a pretty good gig for whiners like me.

You’re Already Home

Having just returned to Michigan from Florida yesterday, I suppose I’ll begin this morning’s note with a simple observation. In short, one of the most enchanting qualities of “home” is that while it sometimes feels so incredibly good to be away from it, there’s very little that compares to returning. The ghostly warmth hovering throughout—the familiar smells and the favorite spaces; one’s bed or best-loved chair—all of it together is a resonant foretaste of the purest welcome to be found only in the chambers of heaven.

Indeed, as Cicero once said, “There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireside.”

I was thinking on the plane yesterday afternoon about how difficult it can be to make one’s way back into the busyness of life. After two weeks in which the hardest thing I had to do was adore the palm trees while swimming from one end of the pool to the other, just about anything else can seem daunting. Even unpacking the suitcase last night felt like a chore, especially compared to the exertion that today will require. Today, I’ll drift from yesterday’s lazy river into the swifter current of this and that and then this and that. I’ll finish tapping out this message, and then I’ll write the prayers for the Divine Service. From there, I’ll make my way toward plenty of other preparatory things before the 9:30 AM start time. At that point, I’ll preside over the liturgy, baptizing a little one at the beginning and seeing that you get the Lord’s Supper at the end. After the Bible study hour that follows, I have a couple of meetings, and then it’s off to officiate a wedding followed by another baptism.

Today will be nothing like yesterday’s palm trees. I expect I won’t find my way home until mid-evening. I’m grateful to Rev. Christian Preus for joining us this morning as a guest preacher and for taking time during the Bible study hour to talk about the up-and-coming Luther Classical College. Not only will this help, but if you’re at all concerned about sending your child off to any of today’s modern colleges or universities, his time with us will be worthwhile.

Having said all these things with an unmistakable tenor, you must know that none of them changes the point I made in the beginning. No matter what’s going on, L. Frank Baum was correct to make his character Dorothy repeat, “There’s no place like home.” Surrounded by her family and friends at the end (who echoed through the characters she discovered in Oz), Dorothy realized, as so many often do, that it’s not necessary to travel the world to find what we need. Home is where you’ll often find it. In that sense, home is more than things. It’s people. It’s routines. It’s a sense of belonging. It often requires from you just as much as it gives, and that’s okay. It’s a two-way investment that creates unique relationships resulting in lives actually lived rather than only being observed from afar. You’re not just passing through. Instead, you belong—with and for the others who are there, too. God so graciously works these things into our lives, settling the solitary in a home (Psalm 68:6) and blessing them with a wonderful synergy of both needing and being needed.

These thoughts on home bring something else to mind.

Last week I learned a new word from Rev. Dr. Scott Murray. He used the term “theologism.” If I recall correctly, he defined it as a religious statement that many people regularly say, having accepted as totally self-evident. But when the saying is rigorously tested, it’s proven to be far less than all-encompassing. In particular, he identified as an example the saying, “God hates sin but loves the sinner.” I think he’s right. Psalm 5:5 is an easy example of God’s dislike for sinners. The first chapter of the Prophet Malachi combined with Saint Paul’s handling of the same material in Romans 9:10-13 is another example. Personally, I think many Christians gravitate toward the saying because they feel God needs a little help in the Public Relations department. In other words, rather than simply accepting that God hates Sin and everything it produces—which includes sinners—we attempt to soften the blow of such things. When we do, we confuse the theology and allow wiggle room for missing the seriousness of the predicament and our need for actual rescue. When that happens, we begin redefining Sin in ways that enable us to remain comfortable with it in certain forms. I think it’s better to say that hate is an alien thing for God. His natural inclination is one of love, which is why the Gospel is far more prominent in the Bible than God’s hatred. If anything, we are to know that what’s innate to God’s very being has overpowered what He knows we’re due and what He has every right to exact. In other words, His love moved Him to do what was necessary for rescuing even the things He hates. In our case, by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, He makes us into friends.

Perhaps another theologism is the saying, “We’re only just passing through this life. Heaven is our home.”

For the most part, the saying is true, especially when you consider Saint Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20. He refers to Christians as citizens of heaven awaiting the Lord’s return. Hebrews 13:14 speaks similarly, describing God’s people as awaiting the arrival of “the city that is to come.” The Apostle Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles” in 1 Peter 2:11.

I suppose I start to steer away from this saying as all-encompassing or all-interpreting when I realize how it licenses far too many for disengagement in this world’s affairs, as though they don’t belong. This bothers me, especially when I read the Lord’s words in John 17:14-16, which is a moment where He prays to the Father on our behalf, saying, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Two things come to mind in this.

Firstly, and indeed, we are foreigners in this world. The world hates us, but mostly because we do not rely on it as the source of our lives. We look to something else, that is, someone else—namely, Jesus. John 15:19 confirms this. Here in John 17, the genitive preposition “ἐκ” (which is often translated into English as “of”) implies the same thing. The word means “out of, out from, by means of, or as a result of”—which is to say the source of our lives and existence does not come from this world. It comes from God.

Secondly, the Lord digs deeper into this when He prays that we not be extracted from the world but protected while living in it. In other words, we belong here, and until the Lord returns on the Last Day bringing the new heaven and earth, this world, as a location, is just as much our home as is heaven—even as exiles, even as sojourners, even as prisoners. What’s more, God’s Word (which is also Jesus Himself [John 1:1-3, 14]) is referenced as the source of this protection right at the beginning of the Lord’s plea in verse 14 above. From this perspective, we understand our home as far more than the house in which we live or the community in which we dwell, whether in the past, present, or future. Instead, the definition of home becomes akin to Solomon’s inspired words in Proverbs 24:3-4: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”

Your truest and final dwelling is coming. But your home—both in this life as a foretaste and the next as fulfilled—is in the Word. I’m guessing this isn’t far from what the Lord meant when He said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

I suppose I should probably end this morning’s note right here, primarily because I need to get started on some other things. In the end, know that even as eternal life is yours in Christ, you’re not just passing through this mortal life. By faith in Him, eternal life is happening to you right now, too. Holding fast to Him and His Word, no matter where you are, you’re already home. He’s with you, and wherever He promises to dwell, there, too, is the Christian’s own fireside.

Vacation

A lot has happened in the past few days, hasn’t it? For one, Roe V. Wade was overturned. Praise God for this. Now, America actually has a good reason for expressing pride during the month of June—Godly pride, that is. Personally, I’d say the timing couldn’t have been better.

First of all, and liturgically speaking, the day the ruling was handed down—June 24—is traditionally celebrated by the Church as the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. I know lots of folks are jumping up and down about the ruling happening on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is a distinctly Roman Catholic devotional celebration more or less born from private revelations the Jesuits claimed Saint Gertrude experienced in the 1600s. The point of the celebration has become Christ’s love for humanity. I suppose that’s a fine theme, too. Except to say that the Sacred Heart celebration was never really a fixed feast date. It moved around throughout history based on various papal decrees. I can’t say for sure, but I think it still does. If that’s the case, then remembering June 24 becomes more difficult.

But the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is cemented to June 24. Even better, its origin isn’t speculative. It remembers events and characters actually recorded in God’s inspired Word, having been fixed on the calendar by Christians since the fifth century. This is no insignificant thing when we consider the SCOTUS ruling in relation to the date. Yes, it celebrates John’s birth, but it also digs deeper. It’s seasoned with the memory of John who, as an unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb, leaped for joy when Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, the mother of our Lord, stepped into her presence. And why did the unborn forerunner of Christ begin stirring with joy at that moment? The scriptures tell us it was because Mary was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:41-45). Even superficially, the Bible considers John and Jesus to be far more than clumps of cells as the vile pro-choice ideologues would claim.

Second of all, and a little closer to home, the 6 to 3 ruling by the highest court in the land was well timed in the sense that it arrived on the heels of 14 pastoral and lay delegates who, at our recent English District convention, voted anonymously against a resolution affirming life and the important resources made available for preserving it pre and post-birth. I know that’s not very many votes, especially since there were a few hundred in attendance over the three days. Still, I struggled to stomach the fact that 14 people representing a handful of LCMS congregations in my own district had just proved themselves to be at odds not only with the church body in which they hold membership but with God’s Word. If that weren’t enough, a handful of pastors and delegates voted against a resolution affirming human sexuality as God designed it—namely, that men cannot be women and women cannot be men. A small number opposed this biblical truth, and yet, it was still quite bothersome. Another resolution decrying Critical Race Theory and its ideological promulgators, such as the openly Marxist organization “Black Lives Matter,” had a much larger contingent of dissenters. There were 44 among us who voted against that particular resolution.

For the record, I intend to do a little investigating. If I can know the voting record of my elected representatives in congress, I should be able to know the votes (and the reasons) of those who voted on doctrinal issues. I mean, if any electoral process requires the integrity of letting one’s yes be yes and no be no (Matthew 5:37), it’s in forums that discern and determine the future of the Church’s doctrine and practice.

Of course, this same thing happened in many of the other district conventions bearing similar resolutions. Thankfully, the English District passed all of the resolutions I mentioned with overwhelming support. This is proof that we still have an overwhelming number of faithful pastors and lay leaders throughout the 22 states we call home. I thank Bishop Jamison Hardy for leading the way in this regard.

Anyway, enough with this stuff. I’m writing from a bright little spot about an hour and thirty minutes south of Tampa, Florida. The sun has just arisen. There’s a palm tree just outside the nearest window. I can see the anoles are already skittering up and down the tree’s trunk as though it were a miniature highway. I don’t know what they’re doing, but whatever it is, it seems far more important than what I’m doing at the moment.

I don’t have to do anything right now. Not even this tapping at the keyboard is required. I’m on vacation.

I won’t tell you where the Thoma family is presently holed up only because I value your friendship and I’d miss you if you were gone. You know the saying: I could tell you but then I’d have to… well… you know. It’s likely those of you closest to me also know that of all the routine things the Thoma family might do in a year, the two weeks of vacation we attempt each summer are the most sacrosanct. There is no other moment amid the earth’s regular orbiting of the sun when we get to be together, just us, for such a significant stretch of time. Not even the days post-Christmas and Easter offer the kind of rest we get in these moments. In that sense, this time is untouchably holy.

It hasn’t always been this way.

It wasn’t until 2016 that we took our first real family vacation. I’ve been serving in the church since 1994, and yet, before 2016, I’d never gone away for any significant amount of personal time. The only time I can remember being out of the saddle for more than a week with family doing something that wasn’t necessarily church-related occurred in the summer of 1995 when my brother Michael died. Other than that, I had only ever scooted away for two or three days in the middle of the week a handful of times. Not much changed after Jennifer and I got married in 1997. We took two or three midweek days to visit family, but we were always sure to return home no later than Saturday night so that I could climb back onto Sunday morning’s horse.

But then, Jennifer took a chance. Without really even including me in the plans, she scheduled a ten-day vacation in Florida. She paid the airfare, reserved a house with a pool, and rented a van that seated six people. The phone conversation was incredibly brief. If I remember correctly, it happened sometime in January, and it went something like this:

“Chris, whatever you have scheduled from June 25 to July 7,” she said, plainly, “get someone else to do it.”

“Um,” I likely mumbled.

“We’re going to Florida for two weeks.”

“We are?”

“Yes,” she replied, just as simply as she began. “All six of us.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll tell you more tonight when you get home. Love you.”

That was about it. Needless to say, I first checked to make sure I wasn’t presiding at any weddings, and then I noted in my calendar accordingly.

Admittedly, it was challenging at first to step away from my duties. It felt alien to be so far out of reach. The life of a pastor is a 24/7 thing, and it’s not kept cleanly compartmentalized in public and personal boxes—at least, not like so many other jobs. It’s just the plain truth that the public’s gravity is almost always stronger than the personal. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m always within reach of anyone who needs me. This is good. But it can also be incredibly draining, not only for me but for my family. Ask them. Plenty of family moments have been abruptly altered by a phone call and my sudden departure. That’s not a complaint. It’s what I signed up for. Still, and I suppose humanly speaking, rest is needed, and if the 24/7 access to anyone and everyone isn’t kept in check, the pastor and his family can be irrevocably harmed. In a way, I’ve been forcibly taught that a vacation is one of the necessary barriers that help to preserve my family’s wellbeing.

Sometimes we need to be forcibly taught what’s good for us.

The English novelist Lisa St. Aubin de Terán said something about how taking a vacation is like flirting with actual life. I don’t know the context of her words. I only know that she wrote them. I’m guessing she meant that for many, vacationing is a brief interlude with a way of life they cannot have. In a sense, that’s true. I’d love to wake up each morning and do what I’m doing right now with a palm tree outside my window. And after a brief bit of early morning writing, I’d awaken my lovely family with the crisp aromas and crackling sounds of breakfast, all before inviting them to join me for a leisurely dip in the pool, the rest of the day being an open horizon leading toward whatever we’d prefer.

This is the life I’m flirting with right now. That being said, one day, I intend to make it a reality. Strangely, I had to be forcibly introduced to it. And now that I know it, I never want to surrender its pursuit. In fact, I’ve learned I need it. Without the rest these two weeks in a year provide, the potential weariness of the year’s remaining days would almost certainly overtake me.

I suppose this word-rambling is leading me to something else.

Take a vacation from the day-to-day and go to church. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have no time for it. You do. And you need it. Join your holy Savior in worship. To do so is to enjoy a divine romance with life—eternal life. Although, this is a flirtation that extends far beyond what I’ve already described. To be with your loving Savior each week in worship is by no means to experience something you’ll never have. Instead, it is a rest-filled foretaste and proclamation of the divine promises of God’s forgiveness that are already yours by faith, something you will fully retire into when you breathe your last breath. Unfortunately, this is something that far too many Christians appear to resist, especially during the summer months. And so, for a person’s wellbeing, Christ and His pastors must sometimes forcibly say, “Go to church. And take your kids.” They do this because they know the routine rest that worship provides is necessary. It’s fundamental to Christian health, both as individuals and as a community.

We’ll be going to church this morning. Just like a vacation itself, worship is a relationship with life—the One who is the way, the truth, and the life—we never want to surrender. We need what Christ gives. We need the rest God imputes by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel preached and administered. And so, we go. No matter where we are, we go. This year we’ll be attending Redeemer Lutheran Church in Englewood, Florida, which is a confessional congregation helmed by one of the Lord’s faithful servants, Reverend James T. Kress. Although I suppose now that I told you this, you can figure out the general vicinity of our retreat. Still, I suppose if you want to use this information to crash our time of respite, you’ll need to move quickly. Worship begins at 9:15 A.M. Also, I should say you wouldn’t be crashing anything. It would be a pleasure to sit beside you and your family in the pews, partaking together of God’s gracious gifts of Word and Sacrament with the rest of His people at Redeemer.

I’m okay with that. But I’ll draw the line there. Don’t plan on following us to our rental home after the Benediction. I love you in the Lord and all that, but rest assured I’ll be driving like a criminal on the show “Cops” to lose you along the way.

The Voice of Conscience

As it is every year at this time, I never anticipate sending these notes while on vacation. I know, I know. I’m supposed to take full advantage of my time away and leave these types of things behind. It’s just that the temptation to be a pastor—to reach to you on the Lord’s Day with something even the least bit edifying—is just too great even while I’m away. Besides, the rest of my family is still sleeping and won’t be up to get ready for church for another half hour or so. With that, I have some time for coffee, a pre-sunrise view, and a visit with you.

Just so you know, as I type this here in Florida, I’m sitting in my usual chair near the window that allows an unobstructed view of the swimming pool and my favorite summertime flora. Trust me when I say I’m relaxing. With that, don’t expect whatever comes next to be too… well… profound.

Our plan this morning is to attend Zion Lutheran Church in Winter Garden. Pastor Rojas is the shepherd there. I know him. Not well, but enough to know we’ll be well fed by the faithful preaching of Law and Gospel and the right administration of the Sacrament of Christ’s holy body and blood for our forgiveness.

How about you? Will you be well fed in worship this morning, too?

If with honesty your first inclination was to say “no,” then I suppose my question may have unexpectedly jarred your conscience to attention. That’s good. You need your conscience to be aware of its surroundings. This is true not only for knowing and understanding the looming threat of Sin and humanity’s deepest necessity for rescue, but because of the challenging days in which we live. A somnolently weak conscience, one that isn’t assisting your navigation or pestering you to stay connected to Jesus and the truth of His Word, is of little use to you. It certainly can’t match the volume of the world’s voice.

For example, having arrived in Florida just yesterday through the Orlando International Airport, I can affirm that had this been my very first visit to earth from another planet, I’d probably be somewhat puzzled by the flourishing population. I say this because the LGBTQ voice appeared to be quite dominant throughout the terminals and their various shops. It could lead one to assume that most of the world’s population is homosexual. And if that’s true, a logical question might be: “Where did all these earthlings come from?”

Homosexuality cannot produce people.

In short, from our gate to the tram, from the tram to the bus, from the bus to the car, my conscience contested loudly within me against the overwhelming voice around me. As it did, I understood the tragic miscommunication and I was able to tune it out. Admittedly, a sense of sorrow was stirred for the bustling people already so overwhelmed by the voice.

This got me thinking…

I appreciate the text of Hebrews 9. Take a look when you have a chance. The epistle’s author talks about lots of very important things throughout, but in that particular portion, he notes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as being all-sufficient for Sin. And then at one point along the way, right around verse 14, he makes sure we understand how the blood of Christ purifies the human conscience, enlivening it within the believer for faithfulness to God. In other words, the voice of the Christian conscience is born from the Gospel and readied for real life discernment leading to Godly action.

This, of course, walks in stride with what the Apostle James wrote in James 4:17—which alludes to the fact that if our Christian conscience is doing its job, having been fed by the Word of God, we’ll know what’s right. But if we muzzle it when it speaks, knowing what’s right but refusing to listen and then do it, we fall prey to Sin and its consequences.

Finally, I suppose all this brushes into Matthew 5:13-16, too. It’s there we learn that the voice of the Christian conscience is in place not only for the self, but for others, too. Its grammar sounds a lot like God’s Word. Its tone communicates both immovable commitment and loving care. And its goal: not only to be heard, but to be seen. It operates with the desire that others would behold and be led to give glory to the Father.

Circling back around to Hebrews 9, remember what was written there about the blood of Christ purifying the conscience for faithfulness to God—which means having the ability to discern the countless external voices. While you are recalling that text, don’t forget when and where the purifying interaction happens most powerfully.

Worship. Now, if you aren’t already, go get dressed and ready for church—just as your Christian conscience already urged you to do.

It’s Good to Be Home

It’s good to be home. Still, vacations certainly are great. They’re the allotment of time and distance you set aside for setting things aside.

But let me just shoot straight with you. I get more than a little anxious before coming home. We haven’t been taking vacations as a family for that many years, so I can look back at each of them and say with conviction that I’ve never once thought while thrashing around in the pool with Jen and the kids, “You know, I’ve had enough of vacation. Let’s get back to reality.” For me, Voltaire’s comment amount rest being a brother to boredom falls flat on its face when I’m enjoying my early morning vacation ritual of sitting at my computer drinking coffee, unrestricted, free to type whatever I feel like, and as I do, every now and then, catching a glimpse of a favorite palm tree covered in scurrying anoles just outside the window.

For me, vacationing does not share the same parentage as boredom.

You may have a different locale with different rituals, but I’m sure it’s the same for you. Still, let me dig a little deeper into the anxiousness, because I’m guessing this might be familiar to you, too.

While on vacation, we usually drive cars that are better than our own. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we troop through the rental lot in search of the Porsche section—although, I’ve pestered Jen about it once or twice. We usually get a minivan. And if we’ve paid more than $250 to borrow it for the whole trip, we consider ourselves as having been ripped off. I’m not kidding. Jen is the one who plans all this stuff, and she is magnificent this way. This year she managed to get us situated for the whole two weeks in a really nice Dodge Caravan for only $238. But more to my point, it had 115,000 miles less than the car I drive now, and as far as I could tell, not one of its dashboard warning lights was beaming steadily.

While on vacation, even though we only go out to eat about four or five times over the course of the entire two weeks, that’s still far more than we do as a family in an entire year—maybe even two years. And rest assured, our time in the various restaurants while vacationing is never wearisome. The staff is kind and equipped to serve, smiling and ready to bring us whatever we ask. We are kings and queens for the moment.

While on vacation, we do whatever we feel like doing. Of course, with the fear of COVID-19 looming everywhere this year, it was more of a challenge when it came to getting out and finding things to do. And yet, we never grew tired of the swimming pool. We were never met with exhaustion playing board games. We were never fatigued by huddling together on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in hand and watching “Shark Week” episodes featuring our favorite underwater cameraman personality, Andy Casagrande.

My point here is that while vacations are a temporary respite from reality, we can become anxious when we find ourselves actually heading back into reality. We want the vacation to be our permanent reality. We don’t want to come back to the car that has trouble starting. We don’t want to come back to the places where we are rarely, if ever, the one being served. We don’t want to come back to the relationships peppered with conflict. We don’t want to resubmit ourselves to stress-filled schedules filled with ungrateful patrons eager to tell you how undelighted they are with you. We don’t want the seemingly impossible workloads or the pressurized deadlines.

In the final analysis, across the expanse of a year’s fifty-two weeks, we want a reversal. We want fifty weeks of ease, and only two weeks of trouble.

But consider that word “reversal” for a moment.

I did a little bit of devotional reading each day while I was away. Every now and then, Luther spoke of God as staging a great reversal in Christ. We most often hear it referred to as “the great exchange.” If you ever get a chance to read from some of Luther’s writing on this subject, do so. His excitement is palpable. In fact, I sometimes think his words are at their poetic best whenever he’s dealing with this topic in particular. And why would they be this way? Because of all people who needed a reversal, it was Martin Luther, a man who monopolized the time of his father confessor because he couldn’t find the end to his own faults in a single day. He was a man terrified that he could never do enough to find God’s favor and win eternal life. But here in the great reversal, terrified sinners discover a God who, even in our ghastliness, loves us beyond measure. We discover a God who has no desire whatsoever to give sinners what they truly deserve. Instead, we behold Jesus on the cross and we see God working hard to lose so that we might win. We see Him taking the lowliest position of a foot-washing servant, laboring to make sinful peasants into righteous princes. We behold Him striving to endow the simplest of human words and means with an extraordinary power for delivering immeasurable forgiveness from the storehouses of heaven itself. For a guy like Luther—and for all of us for that matter—the Gospel turns what was once an awful truth of our inescapability from God’s divine reach into the most comforting of truths.

There’s an interesting aspect to all of this that relates to the anxiety of wishing a two-week vacation and the fifty weeks of reality that follow could switch places. By the Gospel, in a sense, God helps us to see that in Christ, this has actually happened. He gives us the eyes of faith for seeing that in the scheme of things, life in this world is really more like the “two weeks” of trouble in comparison to the inevitable “fifty weeks” of eternal rest we’ll experience with Christ.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the midst of a stressful situation while at the same time knowing that very soon I’ll be leaving it all behind, the worry I experience in those harder moments feels a little more like borrowed trouble. With that, I can endure it because I don’t really own it. It’s the same with life in this world. I don’t own it. Christ does. He took all its troubles into Himself on the cross. He carried them with Him into the grave. He rose again to justify my freedom from their permanence, which means I can make my way through all of this world’s nonsense knowing it’s already passing away, and in less than a blink in eternity’s eye, I’ll soon be resting with Him.

I want to add one last thing.

When I returned home and found myself among so many of you, I again experienced the joy of one of God’s most generous provisions to humans for enduring the relative “two weeks” we spend on this earth. I came home to friends.

Cicero referred to a friend as a “second self.” Aristotle referred to friendship itself as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” For as insightful as these two philosophers were, they certainly spoke most handily in this regard. Coming home to friends, dwelling with you in the midst of this world’s struggles as a community of people immersed in the mercies of God and prepared to labor together, well, that helps to steer the anxiety away, too.

For that I am grateful to our gracious God who put you into my life, and I can repeat what I said at the beginning of this note: It’s good to be home.

By the way, I also began yesterday’s sermon with that sentence, and then doing something that probably seemed a little out of character to all of you, I asked Alexis Shirk (who was sitting in the first row near her parents) to snap a quick picture of the congregation for me. I had her do this because only moments before I stepped into the pulpit to preach, having just surveyed a Godly sea of 240 familiar faces, I remembered once again what a privilege it is to be the one preaching God’s Law and Gospel to people I love. It was an instance confirming for me the Christian proverb that “a faithful friend is the medicine of life; and those who fear the Lord shall find him.”