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).

Gaslighting

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Today the people of God at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan, will celebrate the 67th anniversary of the congregation’s founding. We’ll enjoy receiving Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer as the preacher of the Gospel in holy worship, and then we’ll be blessed by his faithfulness with God’s Word in the adult Bible study hour. If you know anything about Dr. Scaer, then you’ll know he’s a modest man, someone who gives himself over in humble service to the Gospel. But he’s also someone willing to go on point with God’s Word against an ever-encroaching world. I’m glad he was willing to join us. We will be blessed by his efforts.

Looking back at what I just typed, I used the word “modesty.” I did so probably because of the text I just read this morning from Romans 12:2.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

“…be transformed…”

“…discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

These words assume a turning away from “self.” They assume submission to a process designed to align a person to God’s preferences. The scriptures are clear that this submission is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in a believer (John 1:9-13; Romans 1:16; John 15:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 12:13). In other words, we don’t choose to submit to God’s will. By the Gospel, He transforms us. This transformation creates within us a humble acceptance of His will and way as better. Genuine modesty is an outcropping of this humility.

Even apart from faith, I’m guessing that modesty is a recognizable virtue and that most normal people aren’t opposed to demonstrating it. This is true in the sense of modesty’s social definition, which is most often visible when someone is praised. In such a moment, the person deflects by underestimating what he or she has done. Of course, plenty of people are modest in the way Lord Chesterfield humorously described to his son: “Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise.” I experienced this type of soft braggadocio with someone already this past week.

From another perspective, I’d say that most normal people also practice modesty in the sense that they do everything they can to avoid the appearance of indecency. But again, dwelling among those normal people are also the ones who use humility to hide their truest character, epitomizing the saying, “You have no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself—and how I, by no means, deserve it.”

I guess what I’m saying is that in both instances, modesty can be genuine, and it can be counterfeit.

Jennifer has been reading a lot about gaslighting, which is an abusive tactic that’s on the rise in our world. I’m guessing it’s always been around (because Sin, while it is very creative, tends to rely on the same essential formulas for getting humans to hurt one another), but it didn’t really get its colloquial tag until 1995 when it was coined by a columnist—and the columnist took it from the 1944 film entitled “Gaslight.” I’m betting that gaslighting is gathering a footing for normalcy today because of society’s ever-increasing run toward full blown narcissism.

Again, Jennifer has been investigating the behavior because she wants our kids to be equipped for identifying and countering it in relationships. Gaslighters are incredibly toxic people. Uneasy contention follows them everywhere they go. This is often true because they are incredibly controlling people who bear a self-perception of never being wrong. This, then, results in the meticulous reframing of reality to the point of making their victims question their own versions of reality.

“Maybe I’m not remembering the sequence of events correctly,” a person will eventually say after regular interactions with a gaslighter.

“Maybe what this person did to hurt me really isn’t that big of a deal,” another will wonder. “Maybe I’m being overly sensitive.”

“Maybe I didn’t do things the right way,” still another will self-inquire. “Maybe I actually screwed everything up royally.”

In all these instances, gaslighting weaponizes the modesty of the one wielding it, keeping itself hidden behind an artificial humility that does what it can to reshape narratives to achieve its goal with little resistance. A gaslighter is skillful at making conflict appear to be the fault of the victim, while at the same time convincing the victim that the efforts of the gaslighter are noble and in the victim’s best interest. Meanwhile, the victim discovers his or her own humility being turned backward in indictment, often resulting in some pretty ridiculous behaviors—like accepting the abuser’s false narratives as real, and then apologizing to the abuser for the hurt the victim believes he or she has caused.

I’m glad Jennifer is taking the time to gear up with this stuff and is passing it along to our kids. It’s becoming more likely they’ll experience this behavior, and if so, they’ll need to know how to deal with it—whether that means direct confrontation, or by keeping certain relationships at arm’s length.

But enough about gaslighting, because that’s not necessarily what I had on the brain this morning.

Stepping from Chesterfield’s above comment about modesty, I’m wondering if the best way to test the genuineness of a person’s humility is not necessarily by way of praise, but by accusation. In other words, when a person does something that appears good, modesty—real or fake—reacts by turning the spotlight away to others for equal credit. If the same reaction occurs when the person is accused of sinful behavior, then I wonder if the person’s modesty is as sturdy as he or she would have us believe.

Although, if I’m being honest, which of us can accept the revelation of our sins gracefully? Not too many. And why? Well, for one, I mentioned before that our society is running headlong into narcissism. Narcissists are incapable of seeing themselves as flawed. And if, for some reason, they discover an unsavory quality within themselves, it’s typically cast as someone else’s fault for being there.

“I cuss so much because my parents did.”

“I belittle my wife because she does things to irritate me.”

Well, whatever. Just know that whether a person realizes it or not, ultimately, these excuses are aimed at God. When you blame your own sins on someone else—or worse, you claim your sins and the behavior born from them are justifiable—you are calling God a liar. God’s Word considers this to be one of the grossest affronts perpetuated by the sinful flesh because it gaslights God, telling Him that what He knows to be true isn’t (1 John 1:8-10).

Once again, today, Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland is celebrating her 67th anniversary. It’s good for us as a family of believers to remember that the deepest purpose of this congregation over the course of the past 67 years has been to wrestle against straying from truth. It has been almost seven decades of fighting the urge to lie to anyone—ourselves included—about the precariousness of the predicament we face as sinners. It has been to readily accept that while we may try to hide our self-centeredness from others, we cannot conceal it from the One who will measure us according to His divine standards at the hour of our last breath. It has been to understand that the harm we cause to others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is always a sign of something deep within us that, apart from faith, we really have no power to uproot and remove. But it has also been an expanse of years dedicated to preaching, teaching, and administering the solution to this Sin problem. It has been nothing short of 804 months of Christ crucified and raised for transgressors in order that those same offenders would be transformed and equipped for desiring God’s reality, God’s holy will (Romans 12:2). It has been 24,472 days of being remade into the likeness of the One who gave Himself over into death that we would have life to the fullest (John 10:10).

Life to the fullest.

This doesn’t mean a life of health, wealth, and ease. Sure, these things may come, but so will struggle. Life to the fullest means the ability to hold fast to Christ in joy and sorrow, Godly pleasure and pain, all the while being carried along through our years wrapped up in the truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and that Savior, Jesus Christ, has come. A full life is one that believes these things for eternal life. A full life has no end.

Modesty in this life born from and acted out according to the reality of Law and Gospel, Sin and Grace, will always be divinely genuine.

Summer is Coming

In case you were wondering, at the time of this writing, there are 184 days until the first official day of summer. You might think I’m saying this because I’m already exhausted by winter. The only problem with your assumption is that winter doesn’t officially begin for two more days. Technically, we’re still in the fall.

Interestingly, to say “still in the fall” is to speak a phrase with more than one connotation, and no matter which you mean, the evidence of its actuality is there in support.

Take a look outside. The trees are bare. The leaves are scattered and damp beneath a recent layer of snow. The air is frigid. The sky is palled with clouds. There’s no arguing that the earth’s current position in relation to the sun is more than a few spins on the planet’s axis away from summer—half a year, to be exact. For me, this is a tiresome knowledge that can only be moderated through artificial means or by deliberate distraction. I keep a sun light in my office. Its light is weirdly simulated, but in the middle of a soul-dampening season that sees the sun disappearing completely sometimes as early as 5:00pm, it helps, even if only a little. In tandem, I stay busily distracted. I find that if I’m not thinking about the sky’s blue potential, I’m not necessarily missing it, and I’m less affected by its current grays.

Of course, there’s another meaning to “still in the fall” that we shouldn’t overlook. It hearkens back to the terminally unfortunate moment recorded in Genesis 3; that swift instant when, through self-inflicted grievousness, Mankind destroyed God’s perfect creation and positioned himself as far from God as physically and spiritually possible. The evidence mirroring this fall is plentiful. It’s all around us, sometimes subtly, and other times obviously. But either way, it is as discoverable as the seasonal image I described before.

It was subtly visible to me a few nights ago while working on a puzzle with Jennifer and the kids. We’d finished a 1,000-piece puzzle, and after a day or so of admiring the fruits of our long-suffering work, within a few minutes, we’d taken it apart and put it back in the box. In other words, what took days to complete was destroyed in seconds. Similarly, it was obvious to all of us by what happened in Mayfield, Kentucky, a town founded in 1824 and home to countless generations of families. In only a few minutes, the town was all but wiped from the map by a tornado.

To be “still in the fall” means that we exist in a world that continues to prove, not only that it is horribly infected by the destructive powers of Sin and Death, but that both it and its inhabitants are completely impotent against being consumed by them. It’s a place where this often plays out in subtle, but sinister, reversals. It’s a place in which one can claim Christianity, but be perfectly fine with cohabitation. Or perhaps cohabitation is admittedly offensive, but so is telling a Christian he or she is a walking contradiction for claiming Christ but only attending worship at Christmas and Easter. This same world is a place in which the bad we hear about someone is easily believed and the good is suspicious. It’s a place where lies easily outpace what’s objectively true. It’s a place where devout self-interest outguns concern for the neighbor. It’s a place in which one little disagreement can cause long term relationships and everything that goes with them to fall like leaves from an autumnal tree, having become completely disposable. It’s a place in which so many things unfold before us as reminders that this world exists in darkness, and no matter how hard we try, there’s no man-made light that can pierce its blanketing madness. There’s no artificial distraction vivid enough to keep its dreary sorrows apart and contained.

Only the real summer sun will do.

The official season of fall will end in a few days. When it does, we’ll cross over into the deathly hibernation of winter. It’s appropriate for Christmas to arrive at this precipice. Right in the middle of a downward dismalness anticipating and becoming Death, a Son is born. And not just any son, but rather the One God promised to send who would free Mankind from Sin, Death, and the devil’s ghastly grip (Genesis 3:16). Only this Son will do. He is God in the flesh. He is the incarnational invasion of God’s summertime love for a dying world filled with inert sinners. His presence is the incontestable assurance of a springtime restoration leading to eternal life—which He intends to be fully realized in the summer-like joy of paradise.

Jesus of Nazareth is this Gospel Son.

I suppose I should end by pointing out that our lives are not absent these wonderful Gospel images during the fall and winter. Sometimes obvious, and sometimes subtle, they’re there. An evergreen is a perfect example. Something that has become an emblem of Christmas, evergreen trees and bushes are subtle reminders accessible to us no matter the season. They remain thickly verdant with life all year long—just like a Christian’s hope born from the promise fulfilled in the Christ-child of Bethlehem. But then there are the obvious snapshots of the Gospel, too: the Word taught and proclaimed, the Absolution of Sins, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper. Although, “snapshot” is probably not the best word to explain these things. These wonderful gifts of God are far more than images. They are tangible invasions of the most holy God—moments He has instituted, moments doused in the divine forgiveness that not only serves us while we are “still in the fall,” but also in place to prepare and then tie us to the promise of an eternal future in God’s heavenly summer.

I pray you will remember these things as you make your way into the Christmas celebration—and the rest of the Church Year, for that matter. Know that God loves you. Know that the Savior born of Mary is the proof. Know by this wonderful celebration that the winter of Sin and Death is not permanent. Summer is coming.

The Helplessness Isn’t Permanent

Advent begins today.

It’s unfortunate that far too many churches these days have jettisoned the traditional observance of Advent. I’d say they’re missing out on a lot. Historically, the Church revisits her course at this moment, making sure her heading is sound and her crew is ready.

For all of the cultural twinklings surrounding it, Advent is a darker season dealing in two contrasting images.

The first is the darkness of penitential concern. It’s a time for recalling the very real predicament facing the world because of Sin’s infection.

With this in mind, Advent takes aim at Mankind’s impotence in relation to Sin’s chief product, which is Death. It also anticipates the final day when the Lord returns to judge both the living and the dead. Together in these, all time and opportunities will have ended. A last breath will have happened, or the Last Day will have arrived, and you will go. The time for even the most foolish negotiating will have passed. There will be no discussing or bending the standards. There will be no convincing God to your side with explanations that you did your best to keep the Law (the Ten Commandments). You won’t find room between the two of you for slight disagreement on what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Advent strips away all hope for leniency by works of the Law. It helps to remind us that “in Adam, all men die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). It puts before us the divine cue that the Law silences everyone, holding all humans accountable to God’s perfect standards (Romans 3:19). And lest we forget, Advent reminds us of the inescapable predicament of the Sin-nature in all of us. Standing beside the Law’s requirements, we’ll discover the impossibility of ever being counted righteous by our deeds (v. 20).

Advent teaches the hopelessness of human effort against all that plagues us when moving from this sphere to the next.

Advent also teaches that this dark night of helplessness isn’t permanent. Not only will it come to its completion at the Last Day, but Advent carries us back to the day the solution to the Sin problem was given—when Death was put on notice, and all of the long-foretold promises of God were completed in the God-man born to a virgin in Bethlehem. Advent looks to Christmas. It brings us back to the same sense of anticipation that’s ours as we await our last breath or we await the Last Day, except by faith, this time it’s fearless. It reminds us that the midnight concern of our lostness more than faded away in the sunrise of the Savior’s birth.

This is hope. Advent preaches this. It keeps before us the effervescent fact that God’s love moved Him to send His Son, Jesus, to save us, and faith’s grip on the merits of Jesus will, without question, see the believer through to eternal life. For believers, even though we die, yet shall we live (John 11:25). The One born on Christmas morn said this. In the same way, for believers, the Last Day will be like the celebration of Christmas. It won’t be a moment of terror, but rather a moment of bright-eyed joy. In fact, it will be a moment of familiarity, one that recalls the angels’ words to the shepherds about peace being accomplished between God and Man through the oncoming work of the newborn Christ. In that final moment before the returning Christ, such peace will be experienced as never before, and it will wash over us as we hear the voice of the One who once laid in a manger say, “Come and receive the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Contradiction

There are plenty of lessons to be learned with age. I know this, as I’m sure you do, too. Perhaps like me, I’m guessing that if you sat and flipped through the pages of a photo album, one containing images chronicling the expanse of your life, you’d be able to reach into each grainy portrait to retrieve a lesson, perhaps something you know and understand now that you didn’t before that particular moment. Some of the lessons were hard-learned through trial, error, or struggle. Others were simple realizations born from the natural circumstances of an ever-unfolding life.

I have a picture on my shelf that includes me, Dinesh D’Souza, and Michael Shermer. Most folks know who Dinesh D’Souza is. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of “Skeptic” magazine. I have to say, when it comes to critical analysis, he’s no slouch. Before the debate, I read his book “Giving the Devil His Due.” I figured I’d better have some sort of grasp on the fiber of his being before attempting to engage in conversation with him. I’m glad I did. Not only did it make our time together much more gratifying—and I think, in the end, helped forge a genuine friendship—but I discovered the book wasn’t completely unenjoyable. In fact, it tested the fences of my own understanding of God—who He is and how He operates. I wouldn’t recommend giving it to an unchurched (or de-churched) high school or college student. Although, having learned rather recently that many high school students are entering universities in need of serious remedial reading assistance, unless they can dig deeper than emojis and SMS language, they might not get past the first few pages before feeling the urge to give up and watch gamer videos on YouTube. The book doesn’t spoon-feed the reader. It requires some effort.

Anyway, the picture I mentioned before was taken in my office after the debate between D’Souza and Shermer we hosted here at Our Savior in 2020. In the photo, we’re raising whisky-filled glasses in a toast. I remember the moment very well. I remember the evening’s discussion. When I look at the photo, I remember a lesson learned. Actually, I should say I learned several lessons, but the one I remember when I look at the picture is this: Humans are definitely skilled at reconciling the most glaring of contradictions. In other words, we can find ourselves trapped by inconsistencies, whether that be our behavior, words, or whatever, and yet we always seem to find a way to legitimize them, to justify them, to make them fit seamlessly together.

I won’t go into the details of the conversation that nurtured this discovery. I’ll just say it was definitely demonstrated. It was subtle, but also very apparent. Having experienced this indirect instance against the backdrop of two men of incredible intellect, I’ve learned to be much more observant, to listen more closely, and to respond more cautiously in most situations—more so than ever before. Doing so, I’m better able to see when I (or anyone I’m conversing with) have left the land of objective truth and entered into the realm of subjectivity. To flesh this out a little, I’ll give you a less cryptic example from current events.

Kyle Rittenhouse—the teen acquitted in Kenosha, Wisconsin for killing two attackers, one of whom had a handgun—had the charge leveled against him by the prosecutors (and countless onlookers) that he shouldn’t even have been in the situation to begin with, let alone armed. With that, it’s been the crux of so many that he provoked the incident. For the sake of clarity, Rittenhouse’s father lives in Kenosha, which helps make sense of his involvement; and the judge dismissed the charge that he was carrying his weapon illegally. Still, even without these things being said, a glaring contradiction emerges from the prosecutors’ charge. While they ask what reasons Rittenhouse had for being where he was—which, objectively speaking, it appears there were a several—they appear completely disinterested in the reason for the attackers being there, all three of whom had serious criminal histories. I’ve seen little discussion on this issue. Perhaps worse, it was established early on that the man who aimed the pistol at Rittenhouse was a convicted felon, namely, a pedophile. What’s a convicted felon doing with a gun—and in a city being burned to the ground, no less?

It seems the concern for one but not the other uncovers a rather glaring contradiction.

Another example I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the visceral anger being expressed by parents in relation to local school districts around the country. I read an article in “The Federalist” last week that sorted out what’s been troubling me. Yes, parents are mad that they’re being excluded from participating in their children’s education, and now they’re fighting back. Admittedly, they should be mad. Even better, I’m glad parents are finally leaning into these radical agendizing institutions. The ideologues at their helms need to be reminded that if anyone is to be considered sovereign in the parent/school relationship, it’s the parents. But what’s bothered me for so long is that these same parents have already been more than willing to relinquish so many of their parental responsibilities to the state. Long before feeding them into all-consuming sports, so many already served their kids up to “before care” and “after care” programs that pretty much handle all of the basic food, medical, and educational needs children require from the time they wake up to when they go to bed. Parents don’t need to feed them breakfast or dinner. They don’t have to help them with homework. They don’t have to help them navigate sexual or social concerns. The schools have programs for all of it.

Parents gave their kids to the state a long time ago, and now they’re mad when the state assumes the supreme role of parent? The contradiction here is piercing.

And lest we lose a molecule of honesty we have in this regard, this stuff isn’t just happening in the world around us. We see these contradictions in the Church, too. A person gossips, and when confronted, demands the benefit of the doubt. Another person complains after a long work week about Sunday morning worship being too early, only to be found standing in line at Walmart at 4:00am on Black Friday. Another person takes offense that his church didn’t reach out often enough over the years he was absent, saying he expected more from Christians. Another claims strict faithfulness to the Bible while heralding women’s ordination, the right to abortion, or defending his or her child’s homosexual disposition.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should at least give a nod to Aristotle’s Law of Contradiction (or Non-Contradiction, as it’s sometimes called). The Law of Contradiction is a relatively simple principle, but for as simple as it is, it’s necessary to logic and foundational to basic communication between individuals. In its most elementary sense, it establishes that two antithetical premises cannot both be true. In other words, red cannot be blue—or to use the philosopher’s language, “red” cannot simultaneously be “not red.” Perhaps more interestingly, no small number of philosophers in history worried that a society found abandoning this very simple law would have poisoned itself in a way leading to certain death. I wonder what that means for America, a country where science is no longer science, where a man can menstruate and an unborn human child is not, in fact, a human life.

As you can see, glaring contradictions abound in every aspect of our lives, and the fact that human beings have the uncanny ability to reconcile them in their favor proves something innately dark to humanity. The Bible knows what it is. For starters, take a trip through texts like Ephesians 2:3, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Psalm 51:5, Genesis 8:21, Romans 5:19, Romans 8:7 and you’ll likely figure out what it is. It’s Sin. Even further, God’s Word establishes the necessary boundaries for identifying Sin, not only by revealing and then measuring the specifics of God’s holy law (the Ten Commandments) against our lives, but also by confirming the Law of Contradiction as a very real thing at work in Natural Law. The Scriptures do this when the Apostle John announces so succinctly, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21); or when Saint Paul describes God by declaring, “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Of course, there are countless others, and by all of them, the Bible is not only affirming the existence of truth, but also reminding us that when we make excuses that justify our contradictions, it’s likely we’re on a dangerous trajectory aimed away from truth.

The fact that humans are so easily inclined to do this once again proves that the Sin-nature goes much deeper than we could have ever expected. We learn that Sin has burrowed comfortably into our souls and does not want to let go.

So what do we do?

Once I finish typing this note, I’m going to finish the sermon for this morning, which in its current course, spends a lot of time in the epistle appointed for today from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. It’s there that Saint Paul says pretty straightforwardly, “For you yourselves are fully aware…”

Indeed, God has not left us ignorant of the predicament. His holy Word answers the question. To deliver us from the darkness, He has given His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17). Trusting in Him and the Gospel Word of His wonderful work, we are different. We are attuned. We are aware. It’s from this that Saint Paul can assume there remains very little left in this world to surprise us like a thief (v. 4). We are no longer children of the darkness, but rather “children of light, children of the day” (v. 5). We can see what’s going on and not be duped. We can watch what’s happening and not be startled. In this particular text, Paul makes the case that not even the sudden return of Christ in glory at the Last Day will catch us unaware. We cling to truth. Truth keeps us prepared.

The text ends with Paul urging the reader to “encourage one another and build one another up” (v. 11). Consider this morning’s eNews message an encouragement to you to continue holding fast to the Word of God for discerning the world around you. Let it teach the lessons you’ll learn along the timeline of your life, many of which will be camera-captured and preserved as memories to be revisited. Let it be the ultimate source of revealed truth to you. Let it bring you to the knowledge of your sinfulness—to the seriousness of your devout commitment to “self” and the sinful contradictions we so often try to justify. From there, follow its lead as it tells you of the One who took your place in Sin on the cross, giving to you a new heart and a willing spirit that has more than enough muscle for arising from contradiction’s trap and aligning with faithfulness (Psalm 51:10-12).

Autumn through a Christian Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God grant you comfort by these words.

Molon Labe

I haven’t spoken much of the election, except perhaps a few online comments here and there to express my usual discontent with pastors for not getting more involved. I did this after reading an article sharing what I would say were low turnout numbers for Christians. And when I say low, I don’t mean less than those who voted in 2016. As I understand, we handily surpassed that number. When I say low, I mean far less than what’s possible, and far less than what I’d say is redeemable among citizens who would call themselves “God’s children.”

There’s a reason the Church is slipping into obscurity and persecution in the United States. The Christians themselves are a big part of it. For those who’d infiltrate us, Christian indifference is the welcome mat. For those who’d poison and kill us, Christian passivity is a seat at the dining room table.

Yes, I know, the Bible teaches that the Church should expect to be persecuted by the powers of this world. Yes, I know, the Bible teaches that we ought not to trust in this world’s princes. Believe me when I say I’ve seen and heard that particular verse from Psalm 146 being distributed and donned like the disposable masks currently littering the landscape around us. But the expectation, threat, or actual condition of persecution doesn’t mean we roll over as though helpless—as though it is a divine lot against which we have no right to resist, and certainly no license to combat. On the contrary, God has been just as clear about discerning that there is, indeed, a time for peace just as there is also a time for war (Ecclesiastes 3:8). And when Saint Paul calls for the believers to fight the good fight of faith, urging us to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called,” he doesn’t say these kinds of things in mushy, one-dimensional terms (1 Timothy 6:12). This “taking hold”—a word that means to grasp or catch something, especially to the point of holding so tightly lest it be stolen away—this is anything but indifferent or passive. Paul has in mind the same depth and determination that the Lord has when He calls out to His listeners, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). I know I’ve shared with you before that the word used for “keep” (which is also sometimes translated as “obey”) means far more than simple submission or passive reception, but rather communicates a belief and compliance that results in a willingness to dig ones toes into the earth and lean into any oncoming forces attempting to snatch the Word of God away. It is a “molon labe” (come and take it) kind of word indicating a willingness to engage—to fight back.

When Christians—or worse, pastors—sit idly by assuming God will simply handle everything without our engagement, well, we make a foolish assumption of God even as we misunderstand our role in the world around us. We are missing the fact that the very same Word of God we are hearing and keeping is the active source by which the Holy Spirit works to recreate us for action. Yes, God is leading us. Still, we are in the brigade—and we’re armed.

In another sense, these texts serve as helpful interpreters for the tritely used (and I’d argue, incorrectly applied) “trust not in princes” phrase. In other words, and as my friend Peter Scaer rightly pointed out, it is precisely because we do not put our trust in princes that we are called to engage in the public square. Humans are fallible. And besides, saying “trust not in princes” is really not all that different from saying “trust not in doctors” or “trust not in auto mechanics.” Understanding the First Commandment rightly, we’d say these things while at the same time we remain diligent in the selection and subsequent monitoring of our doctors and auto mechanics. We don’t just let them do whatever they want to our bodies or cars. God’s Word teaches that His Church holds an important role in holding princes to their ordination in the civil kingdom, or the Kingdom of the Left. It is our job as citizens to do as much as we can to see to the preservation of good government, namely, to the safeguarding of a national context in which the Gospel can be freely preached and taught for the sake of the salvation of the world (1 Timothy 2:1-6). If we forfeit this very important part of our Christian identity, or worse, we shame those holding it sacred as ones worshipping a false God, we can and should expect for things to get worse.

Too many pastors are doing this.

And so now, we are where we are—underrepresented at the polls. Again. I say this with a sigh, knowing there is still much work to do.

On another front, just thinking out loud as I do on Monday mornings, I find myself this time around the post-election curve warring on an altogether different front. Personally, I think this field is grittier than many others we’ve experienced so far. I say this because even as it involves trying to reconcile Christians who’ve been at each other’s ideological throats during an election, the real problem with this, as I’ve said before, is that God cannot be for and against evil at the same time, and so there’s a valid reason some Christians are so angry with others in the Church. During an election cycle of national consequence, these others are acting as if what’s happening doesn’t matter all that much—or even worse, they’re using their turn at the ballot box to actually choose platforms and candidates in opposition to God’s holy will.

I understand why reconciliation is hard in this regard.

In one sense, it’s already hard because both parties are tainted in Sin—which is unarguably true. No matter the topic and no matter the engagement, when humans are involved, it’s going to be touched by iniquity. And yet it gets more complicated when, for example, a pro-life Christian discovers his or herself at odds with a pro-choice Christian. When this is the scenario, a far deeper dive into the Sin and Grace discussion becomes necessary. And most likely, I’m guessing that the only apologies required of the pro-life person will be in relation to the way he or she went about dealing with their pro-choice counterpart, perhaps because they used unkind words or engaged in hurtful actions that resulted in the harboring of hatred. Still, these are absolutely fixable. But beyond that, a prolife Christian has nothing to apologize for when it comes to their position. And they have nothing to apologize for when pressing that position. It’s Godly, and it becomes necessary for communicating to the prochoice Christian that he or she is beyond the borders of God’s will and in much deeper waters of concern. It’s not about opinions anymore. They are actively opposing God’s Word. When this is happening, a hard line must be drawn.

A Christian is not required to apologize for drawing a hard line in this regard. The opponent must repent and come back to God.

It’s situations like these in churches that make after-election gatherings very complicated. The wrong side feels like it owns the right to do whatever they want in the civil realm while requiring an apology from the faithful who’d stand in their way. Strangely, often it is that the faithful feel obligated to give one just to keep peace. Yes, I know, Saint Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

“If possible…”

This assumes that sometimes it isn’t. A Christian is not required to apologize for faithfulness to God’s Word, and with that, peace is not to be had, but war.

I guess to wrap up this morning rambling, I’ll just add one more thing…

Wherever we end up as a nation after this election, I continue to hope for the restoration of the many life-long friendships I’ve seen dissolve in a single season. It’s not easy to watch (or experience) relationships coming undone between people who’ve known years of loving kindness, togetherness, like-minded service to and for each other, and all of the other things that make for fellowship in Christ. It’s not easy to watch this come undone in a few months—as though all those previous years didn’t matter.

To get through this, repentance and forgiveness will be needed. But again I’ll emphasize that it’ll need to be repentance for that which actually needs repenting and forgiveness for that which actually needs forgiving. There is right and wrong, truth and untruth. A person poking with the stick of truth has nothing to apologize for, and to offer an apology is to cheapen genuine confession and absolution. And honestly, when it comes to the issues at stake in this current election, there is too much being shoveled into the Christian lap for any of us to be stickless, being found willing to just walk away agreeing to disagree here.

I suppose the irony in my words—and I know what I’m about to say will sound somewhat pessimistic—but I do believe we’ve entered into a time in human history where dialogue is pretty much dead and emotion-fueled opinions hold the most prominent seats of influence in our society. Indeed, the Christian truth which urges, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), well, this seems to be harder than ever to employ.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired sometimes.

Still, the Gospel continues to invigorate. By it, I can remember that the Spirit creates the hopeful and enduring love Saint Paul is describing. And the Holy Spirit has been promised to the Church by Christ and He is at work to do it. With that, I can find the skill for entering into every discussion in humility—which is the ability to confess one’s own offenses and seek forgiveness—and I can do this knowing it’s the best way for approaching my counterpart.

By the way, since I’m thinking about it, one very important evidence of Christian humility’s residence in people calling themselves Christian is whether or not they’re actually willing to pursue reconciliation as God’s Word mandates. If they’re completely unwilling to find peace, or again, if they’re intent on a “let’s agree to disagree” result regarding the things with which there’s no wiggle room to be had, then that’s an indication of something dire.

Believe it or not, still, I’d say pursue it. The division might not get fixed today. It might not be repaired tomorrow. But eventually it will, with or without your participation. It has to. God judges justly. Let’s just hope it gets fixed in our lifetime. I think it can, because the promise remains that where the Holy Spirit is at work in differing people who are navigating by the same North Star, Jesus Christ and His holy Word, Godly peace is most certainly within reach.

So, again, all of those folks who unfriended you on Facebook, deleted you from their mobile phone contacts list, who’ve said in anger they want nothing else to do with you, well, if you are willing to humbly pursue a reunion with them in Christ according to His Word, and they are willing to do the same with you, then all will be well. God promises peace and every blessing in this. In the meantime, continue to go about your business, being sure to remain active toward giving a faithful witness to Christ and His Word. Don’t bend in this regard. Be humble, but don’t bend, knowing you have nothing to apologize for when it’s the truth of God’s Word that’s pushing back on someone’s confused ideologies. It’s not you bruising their ego or hurting their feelings. It’s God.