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.

Eerily Applicable: The Screwtape Letters

Moving into the summer months, there is a transition that occurs here at Our Savior in Hartland. We move from a typical Sunday School arrangement into what we call “Family Sunday School.” The typical Sunday School structure is as you’d suspect. The adults gather for study with the pastor, while the children are shepherded according to their appropriate grade levels to classes taught by an adult volunteer joined by one or more assistants. When summer comes around, we gather adults and children together for study, with each lesson being taught by the pastors, seminarians, and others. Last summer we studied the liturgy. In summers before that we studied our Lord’s passion, the biblical themes of our congregation’s stained-glass windows, and plenty of other worthwhile topics. This year we’ll be trying something a little different. We’ll be visiting with ten of the thirty-one letters in C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, just know it’s a stranger bit of Christian fiction, the kind that only the brilliant author of the Chronicles of Narnia series could summon. Although, I hesitate to call this unique work by Lewis fiction. In a way, its point is genuine. It observes the Christian faith through the eyes of a demon named Screwtape. An uncle to Wormwood and an undersecretary in hell, Screwtape is writing to his nephew, offering his best advice for accomplishing the condemnation of Wormwood’s “patient,” a young man in England during World War II.

I’ve read the book several times over the years, usually a few letters at a time, and only as the urge to turn a few pages surprised me. I’ll be starting this summer study, which begins today. I’ll introduce the book’s characters before handling the Preface and Letter 1. From there, I’ll turn over the remaining sessions to others throughout the summer. I’ll wrap it all up in August. Along the way, we’ll do our best to make the material graspable to all, even the youngest among us. The book does dig relatively deep. This means it will take a little extra effort to bring the kids along. That being said, I’m not one to impose upon children a list of inabilities foreign to them. In fact, I have a feeling they’ll understand far more than any of us may expect. Besides, Christ Himself reminds us that when we grow up, we need to be more like them than adults, especially when it comes to the things of faith (Matthew 18:1-6).

In preparation for this morning’s effort, there is a line in Letter 1 which reads, “The trouble with argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy’s own ground.” By the “Enemy,” Screwtape means God. Screwtape continues advising Wormwood that it’s best to keep his patient away from the exchange of opposing viewpoints, primarily because it involves genuine contemplation, and genuine contemplation is the potential pathway to discovering objective truth. An honest handling of objective truth can only lead to the divine. Equally, Screwtape discourages courteous discussion. In other words, keep it as a heated exchange of little more than emotional declarative statements fed by the distractions of what he refers to as “real life,” namely, what interests the patient personally. “And don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real,’” the undersecretary demon makes clear. This is to say, let him define reality in whatever ways he wants to. This is the essence of the old proverb, “Devil take the hindmost.” It describes someone serving his or her own self-interests at the expense of what’s right or wrong, true or untrue.

These things being the content of just the first letter (and the doorway to all the others), already the reader can see how timelessly insightful C.S. Lewis is for revealing hell’s tactics. He wrote this book eighty years ago, and yet, when we compare it to what’s happening in our world today, it seems a much more recent editorial.

Not much has changed. And why? Well for one, I suppose Satan appreciates consistency, knowing not to fix what isn’t broken. In a way, his appreciation of consistency reveals his devilish hypocrisy, too. What I mean is that it’s a nod to the only things that truly are consistent: God and His natural law. By nature, creation is bothered by shifting inconsistency, but instead takes comfort in reliability. Just ask a preschooler, someone who is the epitome of natural law at work in humanity. Try swapping story time with craft time on the schedule. You’ll learn very quickly the innate urge to abide by the natural order of things. In fact, you’ll learn it takes some pretty smooth talking to steer away from it.

Again, part of Lewis’ point is that honest observation and genuine discussion have the potential for revealing these consistent boundaries—at least that they actually exist. When one realizes objective truth exists (as Lewis makes abundantly clear in his book Mere Christianity), the likely endpoint is, at a minimum, an acceptance not only of God’s existence, but an embracing of Him as the wellspring of these truths.

Of course, Christians equipped with the Word of God already know the deepest of all these things, which is the two-fold thread woven into and through the entirety of objective truth’s fabric. It’s God’s gracious warning of our dreadful condition—our unalterable predicament in Sin (Romans 3:23). And yet, He pierces the hopeless situation with the bright-beaming light of His love, revealing to us that He has sent and accomplished the solution to this humanly unsolvable problem. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who by His incarnation became one of us and atoned for the Sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

Interestingly, Screwtape references his disdain for Christ’s incarnation right away in the first letter. Referring to the patient’s humanity, he reminds Wormwood, “Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s!) you don’t realize how enslaved they are….” Amazingly, Screwtape speaks to humanity’s bondage in Sin while at the same time expressing frustration that Jesus, out of great love, stepped into it, submitting Himself to the same bondage.

As the book goes on, these types of theological premises expand. As they do, we get an inside look at just how frustrating they are to the old evil foe, Satan. At the same time, we become more attuned to the vile tactics he uses for obscuring our view of God’s loving effort to save us. As you get deeper into the book, I guarantee you’ll sense their familiarity.

And so, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to read The Screwtape Letters. It’ll be well worth your while. Although don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself being distracted from reading it. Again, even though it’s technically fiction, I doubt the devil is too appreciative of it. It’s far too accurate a depiction for his liking.

It’s Complicated

Have you ever had one of those moments when you suddenly realized you’d matured in your understanding of something? Usually, the process of mental maturity is a gradual one, moving along so slowly that you don’t necessarily realize the things you are realizing. Every now and then I’ll observe what feels like sudden realizations with my kids. They’ll use a word they’ve never used before, or they’ll ask a question in a way that proves a much deeper awareness of a certain subject. In those instances, it’s as if I saw them leap from one of life’s steppingstones to the next. I enjoy such moments. They’re milestone flashes for any parent.

I rarely notice these moments in myself. I usually just move along knowing what I know. Of course, I’m always learning as I go, and as my knowledge base grows (or is cultivated), God willing, I’m faithfully employing every fiber of its muscle as possible. Still, there are those moments when I realize I’ve changed, that I’m not processing things as before. I’ll give you an example.

Today, Our Savior in Hartland celebrates the Festival of the Holy Trinity. Each year, Holy Trinity Sunday is an opportunity to meet with the wonderful, and yet ungraspability, of our Triune God. Hopefully other churches are blessed to do the same. I suppose they need to care about such things, first. We certainly do. Following along with the historic lectionary, we’re always so incredibly blessed to wade into certain occasions that eventually pull us into the deeper waters of divine truth. We’re not guided by the “sermon series” whims of clergyfolk who, perhaps being huge fans of Star Wars, want to spend the whole summer donning various costumes from the nine films all the while complicatedly imposing the Gospel upon each.

For as interesting as that sounds… (yawn). But hey, you do you, I guess.

Anyway, having revisited the texts appointed for today, most especially John 3:1-17, I realized I’ve become someone geared toward and appreciative of simplicity. In other words, I used to be someone prone to spinning my wheels in the mud of over-analysis. Nowadays, I’m comfortable seeing things through very simple lenses, and the simplicity is providing a clarity of sight about complex things that I don’t recall having before. Of course, I’m not saying that life doesn’t require contemplation. It does. What I’m saying is that with the Gospel for faith as the essential interpreter for pretty much everything, I experience what the Lord described in Matthew 18:1-6, which is a childlike sense.

Interestingly, John 3:1-17 is a reminder that while our God may be thoroughly unsearchable in His being, He really isn’t that hard to figure out. In short, sin is real and identifiable. It is condemnable. Everyone on the planet is infected by it. But God’s desire toward sinful man is one of love. It really is that simple. He loves us and wants for our salvation. It’s only when we complicate His desire for our rescue communicated straightforwardly by His Word that we complicate His desire’s reach into the world, sometimes negating it altogether. Nicodemus proves this repeatedly as he attempts to interpret Jesus’ words according to his reason. Doing so complicates his grasp at holy things and produces some pretty ridiculous conclusions, even one statement about climbing back up into his mother’s womb to be reborn, which seems almost a snide poke at Jesus’ simple preaching.

Thinking about all of this, I can’t help but recall what the month of June has become—LGBTQ+ pride month—along with all the denominations of Christians around the world who’ve somehow reasoned their way into believing God’s okay with the lifestyle.

The Bible is by no means unclear regarding God’s displeasure for the LGBTQ+ sexual ideology. It also doesn’t deny God His rightful due as the supreme determiner of right and wrong. In other words, when we stand before the throne on the Last Day, it will be according to His standards, not ours. What He considers godly and ungodly will be counted as such. Nevertheless, there is an aspect of the sinful nature that tries to wiggle free from God’s definitions so as not to be counted guilty for sinful behaviors we’d prefer to overlook or maintain. When we do this, the baseline of God’s Law appears cloudy—is made complicated. We no longer believe we’re doing anything wrong because, well, life in this world isn’t that easy to compartmentalize, right? The Bible might present itself in clear terms, and yet, there are plenty of reasonable explanations for people being the way they are and doing what they do. Surely, God understands this and is likely to be flexible with His boundaries. I mean, perhaps people were born a certain way—with certain inclinations—and if God created them, surely He won’t be justified in condemning what He created. 

When we complicate our thinking this way, not only do we lose sight of God’s right and wrong, but the Gospel He put in place to meet it becomes clouded, too. In other words, if the LGBTQ+ lifestyle is not as God describes it in His Word, that is, it does not have God’s Law leaning against it, then two things in particular must be true. Firstly, God’s Word cannot be trusted—or at a minimum, we appear to have the freedom to take from it what we want and to forget about the rest. Secondly, it seems logical that the Jesus described by the scriptures as the Word made flesh—the One who came to save us from real, genuine, inescapable Sin—isn’t to be trusted, either, or again at a minimum, He isn’t as necessary in certain circumstances as we suspected. Saint Paul said that God’s Law has no hold on righteousness (Galatians 5:16-26). So, if I’ve convinced myself that what I’m doing isn’t sinful, but rather is acceptable to God, I won’t for a second believe I need a Savior’s rescue from it.

That’s not good. To do this is to deceive oneself and confuse truth (Romans 1:25, 1 John 1:8). What’s more, it’s an overly complicated and eternally terminal way to interact with God.

I say keep it simple—or as I discovered myself whispering alongside Saint Jerome this morning, “O, holy simplicity.” Honor God’s Word as reliable and true, and then stick with His definitions. Trust His desires, not yours. If you’re at all like me, when you keep things simple, being sure to view things through the lens of the scriptures, desiring to align with God’s desires, you’ll often discover the cultural fog beginning to dissipate, and with it, the fear of facing off with just about everything that might crawl out from beneath its cover.

Unguarded

Even though summer doesn’t technically arrive until mid-June, for many, it has already begun. School is out. Graduations are underway. Schedules become shapeshifters ready to consume each newly liberated hour the season promises. I don’t know what this means for you, but for the pastor of a church with a school it means arranging my day in a way that gets me to the office much earlier in the morning than usual with the hope that I can find my way home by mid-afternoon. Doing this allows time I don’t normally have with the family before needing to venture out for anything church-related in the evenings.

As it is every summer, I intend to use a portion of the morning’s quiet time for reading. Hardly moved by the criticism of my fellow pastors, I rarely spend much time in the summer with anything distinctly theological, but instead, whatever is enjoyable in the moment. Although, technically everything is theological—or better yet, Christological. I’ll give you an example.

I’ve already started my summer wanderings by picking away at a collection of letters from Charles Lamb, an essayist and poet of remarkable style from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I stumbled upon the compilation in Google Books while looking for something else.

One thing is for sure, you can learn a lot by reading from a historical character’s personal correspondence. Not only do you discover the superficial things relative to culture—such as favorite foods, pastimes, manners, colloquialisms, and the like—but you learn quite a bit about the person’s hidden qualities. For instance, a rather famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a letter to Lamb, one in which he described summer setting in “with its usual severity.” Coleridge’s point was to complain about England’s unfortunate (but not unusual) coolness in May and June. Apparently, he didn’t like it. Interestingly, Lamb didn’t acknowledge Coleridge’s complaint in his reply, but instead carried on about how the painter who’d recently completed a portrait of Lamb had captured him in “one of those disengaged moments… when the native character is so much more honestly displayed….”

From what I know of Coleridge, which is that he was a delightfully expressive man, one who could hardly be characterized as a complainer, Lamb’s words to his friend seemed almost out of place. Or better yet, if they were intended as a subtle response to a very wise Coleridge, then they were pointed. In other words, they appeared to suggest that just like everyone else, the real Coleridge could be betrayed by an unguarded moment. For as beloved as Coleridge was by the public for his eloquent appreciation of all things, his secret dislike for English summers slipped through to Lamb.

Whether or not this was Lamb’s point isn’t exactly clear. Still, I have the nagging sense it was. Either way, like everything else in life, it can be viewed through theological lenses. In this circumstance, it first serves as a reminder that no one is perfect. It’s also a lesson to the would-be narcissists among us. For as complete as one might appear to be, the unguarded moments eventually come around, and when they do, our incompleteness breaches the surface. And this is a good thing. It brings about the opportunity for honest confession—the opportunity to recognize one’s need for rescue from Sin’s deathly grip.

Lamb wrote something else of interest in his reply to Coleridge. Having included a small facsimile of the portrait with the letter, he scribbled, “Whatever its pretensions, I know it will be dear to you, towards whom I should wish my thoughts to flow in sort of an undress rather than in the more studied graces of diction.”

Did you pick up on Lamb’s inference? He offered two things that, if thinking theologically, are likely to resonate with Christians. The first is that no matter our failings, we can be counted as dear to one another. This is true because God’s grace is holding us together as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). With this as the connective tissue for our friendships, the second thing Lamb said becomes incredibly clear. He notes his hope for genuine honesty between he and Coleridge—that the things troubling, worrying, or haunting either of them can be made bare, rather than remaining guarded by a “studied” carefulness with words. This means as brothers and sisters in Christ, we don’t need to hide our real selves, as though needing to project an image of having it all together. We don’t even have to exist in a way that stays within the easy boundaries of cordiality. Instead, we can be real friends—folks ready to walk together through both the complete and incomplete parts of life.

In short, Lamb implies what the rest of us already know by King Solomon’s words, “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). This is the epitome of Proverbs 27:17, which reads: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,” and certainly it’s at least a molecule in the Lord’s formula fueling the encouragement to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

My prayer for you today, and always, is that you will remain part of a Christian church family that truly enjoys such collegiality. We can do no better than to be surrounded by genuine Christian friends as much as possible, knowing full well that a “friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

Genuine Friends

I know I’ve broached the subject of friendship before, but I’ve been wondering lately what constitutes a genuine friend. So many in history, most especially the philosophers, have attempted to define the term “friend.” Cicero called a friend a “second self.” Aristotle said so famously that a friend is a “single soul dwelling in two bodies.” I think his is one of the better depictions. This is about as close as it gets to what I was feeling when I asked Jennifer to marry me. I knew that without her, I was only half of what God made me to be.

Of course, the poets serve us just as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reminder that “the only way to have a friend is to be one” has adorned the walls of elementary school classrooms for who knows how long. Jaques Delille insisted that while fate chooses our family, we choose our friends. There is great truth in that statement, along with the reminder that both fate (tongue-in-cheek) and free will have a sense of humor. Anaïs Nin wrote with incredible profoundness that a “friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” This is profound in the sense that so much of who and what we are, both good and bad, would never have been stirred into existence without the prompting of others. Perhaps that’s why Marie de Sévigné warned, “True friendship is never serene.”

If we’re willing to be honest, we can agree with her. Indeed, friendships can be a source for some of the most joyful times we’ll know this side of the grave. They also hold the potential for some of the most agonizing moments we’ll ever experience, some resulting in painful and penetrating wounds that injure in ways few other things can.

I mentioned at the beginning I’ve been wondering lately what makes for a true friend. Perhaps more precisely, I’ve been wondering which hurts more, a friend standing against me or a friend who deceives me.

I suppose before even arriving at such a question, it pays for Christians to be mindful of the caliber of the ones we’d call friends—that is, what they believe, the language they use, how they live, and so many other determiners. And, yes, this is being judgmental. Even Saint Paul warned pragmatically that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Paul had good reason to write these words, especially since one of God’s wisest—King Solomon—already insisted a thousand years prior with the same practicality, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20), and “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Proverbs 22:24-25). In other words, no matter how secure in your identity you might believe yourself to be, the ones we surround ourselves with will influence us. They will change us. Since this is true, let the ones we call friends be inclined toward righteousness, not unrighteousness.

And so, back to my question. It’s one worth answering, not necessarily in a theoretical sense, but because no matter how hard we try to do what Paul and Solomon suggest, we’ll always find ourselves in broken relationships. We’re human, and all humans are broken, which means practical self-analysis is always a good thing. In this regard, I’m still wondering which is worse, an opposing friend or a deceptive friend?

I’m of the mind that a lying friend is likely to generate the most pain. Being lied to or about harms in ways other sins cannot. On the other hand, a friend taking a position against me might be doing so for my good. Again, Solomon, having a good grasp on the nature of Godly friendship, reminded that wounds caused by a true friend are faithful and worthy of our acceptance (Proverbs 27:6). Having never read any of the books, that reminds me of something I saw in the only “Harry Potter” movie I’ve ever watched. An element of this truth found its way into a scene in which the character of Dumbledor, while awarding house points at the end of the film to a young boy, said something like, “It takes courage to stand against one’s enemies. It takes more to stand against one’s friends.”

Not as profound as Solomon, J.K. Rowling’s point is still a good one. Faith at work through genuine self-analysis will discern the dimensions of the offending friend. What he’s saying, is it leading you to Christ? If so, give thanks to the Lord for his courage. He cares enough to put himself in harm’s way, namely, the possibility of your rageful retribution. Now, repent and amend. On the other hand, is what he’s saying coming from ill-intent designed to lead you away from Christ and into harm? Are his words being crafted to give credence to his own Sin? If so, mark and avoid him. He’s not a friend—at least not in this particular episode.

By contrast, a deceptive friend—one who betrays or dupes those closest—is a completely different story. A deceptive friend has parentage, namely, the devil (John 8:44). Such a friend grows gross tendrils, all reaching out in countless directions with moldable excuses, all designed to preserve the self. I feel sorry for this kind of person. Self-analysis seems beyond his or her reach. I suppose I have equal sorrow for the people ensnared by such folks, especially since there’s little examination needed for deciding if the behavior is good or bad. It’s bad. If you can’t see it, then your deceptive friend has changed you, just as Paul and Solomon warned.

And so, what to do?

Well, for starters, align with truth, putting your trust in the One whom Solomon fore-described as sticking closer to you than a brother: Jesus (Proverbs 18:24). No one knows us like our siblings. No one knows us like the divine sibling, Jesus. Let Him be your lens for observation. Holding fast to Him, remembering His description of the truest compatriot (epitomized in Himself) as the one who lays down His life for his friends (John 15:13), you’ll have all you need for discerning a true friend from a false one. Finally, heartened by your friendship with the greatest Friend, Jesus, enjoy the newfound freedom for facing off with the sinful world around you. Enjoy the Spirit-endowed voice of faithfulness to call out and gather other allies into your collegium, shouting as Iachimo did in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, “Boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity!”

A friend with the bold audacity for faithfulness to Christ, no matter what, is the best kind to have and be. Although, if you find yourself averse to such people, it might be time for self-analysis, that is, if you haven’t been changed by others in a way that has made you incapable of such things (1 John 1:8-9).

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.

Crucification?

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been watching old episodes of “Knight Rider.” I must say again that it’s great fun, not only for the horrible special effects and equally terrible dialogue but also for the 80s reminiscence it stirs. I say this mindful of a recent episode in which KITT, the show’s futuristic talking car, insisted on Christ as the only sensible reason for celebrating Christmas. Even better, a little further into the episode, Michael Knight, the main character, casually assumed out loud to another character that anyone unfamiliar with the contents of the Bible must be part of a very strange minority.

I found those perspectives refreshing. Although, when I returned to real life, I suddenly found them disheartening, having realized we’ve drifted far from such comfortable vantages. Today’s ethos makes 80s TV show language feel more like the vernacular of an alien planet than an echo of earthly history. If you think I’m exaggerating, then consider the Gallup poll from the 1980s that determined a little less than 75% of Americans were biblically literate. In 2021, the number came in at around 11%. That’s not an annoying but nevertheless inconsequential sign that we’ve lost our national footing in this regard. It’s an indication we’ve gone over the cliff and are in free-fall.

A passing conversation I had about two weeks ago with our Kantor, Keith Vieregge, comes to mind. We were talking about how so many words in the English language are mauled with regularity. When someone says “supposebly” in our presence, there’s a good chance we’re cringing internally. But it gets worse. Keith mentioned how words are being completely reconfigured, having recently heard the word “conversate” used in place of “converse”—as in, “The teacher needed to conversate with the parents regarding their child’s behavior.” I agreed and then volleyed with the made-up word “crucification,” which I’d recently seen used in place of “crucifixion” in an online forum.

So, where am I going with this? Well, I suppose one point of intersection is that not only are we thoroughly lacking in biblical literacy, but with our current culture’s reworking of words, we may discover breakdowns in the fundamental transmission of the Bible’s contents. Anyone who cares about language will tell you that when words become confused, the only way forward is chaos. I mean, consider the current confusion regarding gender. The terms “man” and “woman” mean different things to different people. In relation, the word “sex” no longer refers solely to biological gender and reproduction processes. It has become ideological, and as a result, no longer holds a firm footing for easy communication. I proposed not all that long ago that the practice of confusing terms spilled over from academia’s already-poisoned river into the streams and creeks of America when Bill Clinton, in response to a question in front of a grand jury while under investigation for perjury, said rather ridiculously, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Clinton went on to mumble almost unintelligibly, “If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement. Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

What a rambling word-salad of ridiculousness. If we don’t know how to properly handle the two-letter verb “is,” we’re in big trouble.

This reminds me of something else.

There is a memorable line in act 2, scene 3 of Macbeth that reads, “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.” If you know the story, then you’ll remember these words being spoken after Macbeth murders Duncan, the King of Scotland. The point is to communicate the impending chaos on the horizon for a rulerless kingdom. When no one is in charge—when there’s no certainty for direction—things come undone very quickly. Maybe this line applies to 21st-century communication, too. When the crispness of language is murdered, regardless of the unkillable nature of objective truth, the ability to actually transmit objectively true things becomes untenable, burdened by the absence of universally accepted fundamentals.

Take for example the important topic of marriage. Marriage, and the families it produces, are the fundamental building blocks of every society throughout history. In a simple way, without the hardened commitment established by marriage, societies would dissolve into little more than chaotically self-indulgent gatherings overflowing with orphans. But how can you talk about marriage in any meaningful way if the variables of its equation are undefinable?

“Marriage is to be between a man and a woman,” someone might say.

“I agree with you,” is the possible reply of a transgender woman married to a man.

But they don’t agree on marriage. A transgender woman is a man married to another man, and by such a combination, cannot begin to meet the basic parameters of natural law God has cemented into marriage, one of which is the procreation of children. The frustrating breakdown here leads to giant tech companies, with all seriousness, creating emojis of pregnant men. It leads to schools teaching children gender dysphoria is something to celebrate along with phrases like “birthing person.”

In short, words matter. What’s more, holding the line on their structures and meanings matters, too.

Truth be told, I’m only sharing with you what came to mind after reading Proverbs 21:23 during my devotion this morning. The text reads, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” I suppose the text is somewhat relative to the direction of my thoughts. The word used in the text for “keep” (שֹׁמֵ֣ר) means more than just to control something. It means to guard it for the sake of preserving it. A commentary I visited with this morning compared the guarding to someone who cares about the language they use, inferring someone who says “no more than is right and fitting.” This is both contextual and residual. In other words, aware of the precise meanings of words, a righteous person also knows the long-term damage that comes when those words are misused. Misuse leads to confusion. Confusion can result in a tangling that brings incredible harm.

Come to think of it, Jesus spoke to these things in a way when He said in Matthew 5:37 to let one’s yes be yes and one’s no be no. In context, the Lord is referring to taking oaths. But His broader teaching is not only to understand what is meant by the terms but to be so certain about them that you can speak with simplicity in a way that has binding strength. You can say “yes” and be fully invested in your answer, or you can say “no” and never feel the tug to question your resoluteness.

I don’t know about you, but on my part, I’m not only doing everything I can to be careful with language but to protect the terms that make communication through language of any value, especially as it meets with God’s Word. I don’t want confusion anywhere near the Gospel. Confusion, as John Milton chimed so poetically, brings nothing less than “ruin upon ruin, rout upon rout.”

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.

Apologizing to Thomas

There is the rather elementary saying that one thing leads to another. It’s elementary because it’s true, and I have the perfect example to share.

You may or may not know this, but I’m a fan of 80s and early 90s sci-fi and horror films. I’ve seen them all, both the A and the B list—from Academy Award winners like “Silence of the Lambs” to straight-to-VHS gems like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Watching them now, I have to say that many are still very good. They’ve stood the test of time. Others were trash before they ever became a script, and they remain trash long afterward. The special effects were terrible, often intentionally. The dialogue was just as bad. It’s easy to tell that many were made just to be made. Trust me, “Friday the 13th” could have been put to rest after “Part IV, The Final Chapter.” Still, they gave us seven more and an attempted reboot. The same goes for the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series. “Dream Warriors,” the third movie in the series, was the last of the franchise’s serious attempts. But the thing is, even the cringe-worthy sequels remained great fun. Their hokeyness only made the good films seem better.

Not long ago I was watching a documentary series called “The Movies that Made Us.” One episode focused on James Cameron’s masterpiece “Aliens.” Anyone who’s been in my basement will confirm the film as an absolute favorite of mine. I mean, it did win seven Academy Awards, one of which was for best visual effects.

Anyway, after watching the documentary, I did a little reading about James Cameron. In comparison to his accomplishments, I was fascinated with his beginnings. Interestingly, after seeing “Star Wars” on the big screen, he was inspired to leave his job as a truck driver and take aim at making movies in Hollywood. Personally, I’m glad he took the chance.

Reading about his life, I came across a TV interview he did with a California news station in what I believe was the early 2000s. During the interview, he said something along the lines of, “If your goals are set ridiculously high and then you fail, you’ll already be well past everyone else, having failed well above everyone else’s successes.”

Remember how I said one thing leads to another? Well, here’s why I said it. That comment reminded me of the disciple Thomas. By the way, apart from Jesus, Thomas is the most important character in the resurrection narrative from John 20:19-31, which is also the appointed Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter. Essentially, Thomas is the one who continues even now to get a bad rap for doubting the Lord’s resurrection. But the thing is, his seemingly greatest failure was far above the successes of everyone else in the bunch. Here’s what I mean.

All the disciples deserted Jesus. Peter denied the Lord. Still, it would appear that after the crucifixion and burial, all but Thomas were gathered together in the upper room. The narratives say this happened because the disciples were afraid of what the Jews would do to them, too. But where was Thomas? I’m willing to bet that the answer is assumed by the ease with which the disciples retrieved him after the Lord’s first resurrected appearance among them. They went to where they knew they’d find him—at home. Thomas went back to his life, apparently having already accepted his fate concerning a failed messiah.

But Jesus hadn’t failed. And so, the disciples went to Thomas to tell him the Lord had risen. What were Thomas’ words in reply?

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

These words prove Thomas’ failure was well above everyone else’s successes. While everyone else was stowed away in fear and asking questions bent on self-preservation, Thomas had subscribed to his fate. But he did this bearing the embers of a faith that was asking for the only proof Jesus had ever promised to give. In other words, Thomas knew (whether consciously or subconsciously) that his faith could only be rekindled when he met a living Jesus with crucifixion wounds.

I was asked a few weeks ago who I’d like to meet first in heaven. Apart from the Lord Himself, and then my brother, I hope to meet Thomas. I intend to apologize to him on behalf of any human in history who ever used the title “Doubting Thomas” to describe him. Indeed, Thomas’ failure was well above the rest of our so-called successes. In the darkest hour of Good Friday and Holy Saturday’s deepest confusion, Thomas was asking the right questions. Everyone else was asking for personal safety. Thomas was asking to see the One who would eventually say by Revelation 1:18, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” He believed as Saint Paul would eventually preach foundationally: faith in Christ crucified and raised (1 Corinthians 1:23, 15:1-26).

If only we could be as clear-sighted for receiving the risen Christ as Thomas, who is also the same one who gave what is perhaps one of the most moving confessions of joyful faith ever recorded in the scriptures. When Thomas took the strangest of chances at rejoining his fellow disciples in the upper room, the Lord gave Thomas what he asked for—the opportunity to touch His wounds. And again, what were Thomas’ words?

 “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

I dare say that as we so often live our lives beneath a shroud of deeper doubt than even that of Thomas, not trusting that the Lord will care for us as He’s promised, there will come the day when the Lord shows us His wounds in the glories of heaven—wounds that will forever be the proof of His triumph in and over all things. I’m guessing there’s a good chance we’ll sound a lot like that one disciple with the millennia-long bad reputation.