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.

It’s Really Not That Complicated

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

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

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

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

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

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

That logic applies to salvation, too.

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

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

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

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

Believe this. It really is that simple.

Absurdity

One thing I appreciate about summer is that the time I spend writing tends to occur more so in the sunlight than in the darkness. It may sound absurd, but there’s a very real sense of invigoration I get during moments when the sun is streaming through my office window, not necessarily directly, but still enough to cause the glossier book covers on my shelves to glisten.

It’s even better when it’s shining directly on me as I tap away at the keyboard. It’s an easy feeling; a restorative feeling.

I just used the word “absurd” in the text above to describe your possible reaction to the scene. I did this because I’ve learned that what is sensible to one may be completely inane to another. I described something I enjoy doing in the sunshine. For you, the thought of typing on a keyboard in the sunshine is absurd. You’d rather work in the garden, or ride your bike, or swim in your pool. The funny thing is, for as sublime as either of our preferred moments in the sunshine might be, we’re both only a step from absurdity.

Here’s what I mean.

I’m a writer at heart. I could spin verbal yarns about almost anything. Just ask my kids. This is true because creativity with language has always been something I loved to explore. But the thing about writing (especially in this day and age) is that you don’t have to be all that good at it to be successful. For the most part, you only need two things. Firstly, you need to be irrational enough to put your thoughts into the public realm. I say “irrational” because, these days, willingly writing for public consumption is like volunteering to be a fox for the hounds.

Secondly, what you write needs to be reasonably intelligible. If what you say makes little sense to the reader, your efforts will have been in vain.

In short, without these two ingredients, a writer is destined for absurdity.

The same goes for your gardening or bike riding or swimming. One misplaced element and the activity becomes absurd. Planting seeds but not watering them is ridiculous. Riding a bicycle with no chain on the gears is senseless. Paddling around in a waterless pool wearing water wings is a sign you may need psychiatric help.

Christians exist at the edge of absurdity, too.

In one sense, this is true because the Gospel is already nonsensical to the observing world. It makes very little sense that the innocent would die for the guilty, that the One opposed and dejected would first be moved to forgive His dejectors and “love them to the end” (John 13:1). Indeed, this is the absurdly wonderful image of our rescuing God.

In another sense, Christians exist at the edge of absurdity’s shadowlands because as we still retain the Sin-nature, we are more than capable of claiming faith while doing so apart from faith’s key ingredients.

For example, how is it possible for faith to assert absolute devotion to Christ while only moving the person in which it dwells to attend worship three or four times a year, sometimes far less? Frankly, that’s absurd. How can faith stake a genuine claim in the Savior as the Lover of all nations and the Redeemer of the world while partitioning particular races into permanently unforgivable categories of “victim” and “oppressor” as Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory does? That doesn’t make any sense. How can faith claim to abide in Christ and yet be so distant from the truths of the Lord’s holy Word by embracing the murder of unborn children or dysphoric gender ideologies that confuse Natural Law and destroy the family? That’s farcical.

Seeds with no water won’t grow. A bike with no chain won’t go anywhere. Dive into a pool with no water and you’re likely to be maimed or killed. Exist as a Christian apart from Christ and His Word and Sacrament gifts and your faith will starve and die. A dead faith is no faith, and such a condition is guaranteed to lead into the mouth of destructive falsehoods resulting in eternal Death.

Pastors are charged with bringing this warning. Interestingly, pastors have been offering this kindly advice born from the Holy Scriptures since, well, forever. There are plenty of reasons for this. I think Luigi Pirandello, the Italian playwright and poet summed up one of them when he said, “Life is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not need to appear plausible, since they are true.”

Sinful humanity will do absurd things. That’s the rule, not the exception. Christians are by no means hovering outside of this tendency. I can assure you I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this verity countless times just in the last week. Nevertheless, by genuine faith in Jesus Christ—by humble repentance and faith given by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel—we are free from sinful absurdity’s eternal consequences and empowered for waging a deliberate war against it. This is true because in contrast to the unbelieving world, even in the midst of our own insanity, we have something the world does not: the Word of God. It’s there that we learn to identify our absurdities, coming face to face with just how deeply terrible they are. But it’s also by that same Word—namely, the Gospel—we are introduced and grafted to the One who has rescued us from perpetual bondage to them (John 15:5-8), and are changed into people who love truth.

I suppose I’m sharing these things because just outside my window is a clear blue sky promising a beautiful day of sunshine. This brings to mind the forthcoming summer. Every year at this time, I want to do what I can to encourage you to be faithful during the summer months. Don’t stay away from worship and study. Be authentic. Know that you need what the Lord gives by these things. You’re already aware that you need moisture in your garden, a chain on your bike, and water in your pool. Admit your need for the key ingredients for faith delivered by way of Word and Sacrament ministry. As a Christian, measuring their value as worthy of deliberate ongoing absence just doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s just plain absurd.