Thanksgiving and God’s Smile

After fifty-two long weeks of travel, having visited all of the distant landscapes of the Church Year, we’ve come full circle and arrived once again at Advent. We’ve come home.

Still somewhat afar off, there’s a plain between us and Advent’s perpetual twilight eve of waiting—an oasis of sorts. It’s always been there. We just didn’t necessarily notice it until a handful of our nation’s most thoughtful carved it from the landscape, cultivated it, and made it a more prominent vista. They named this lush borderland “The National Day of Thanksgiving.”

Strangely, some of the Church Year’s travelers have been long-bothered by the demarcation of this day. Each year at this time, they share their concerns for such a day instituted by this world’s princes and celebrated by the Church. And so, passing through its parcel, they say it doesn’t belong—that the Last Sunday of the Church Year is well enough equipped for delivering us into the new Church Year, and the Day of National Thanksgiving needn’t be one of the Church’s events. I’d say these fellow travelers are right, if only by their humbug commentary they didn’t demonstrate a bizarre disposition against one more opportunity for thankfulness. Doing this, perhaps they prove, even more so, the National Day of Thanksgiving’s necessity.

I agree with them in the sense that thankfulness is already written into each and every stop along the Church Year’s way. This is true because it’s written into the souls of believing travelers by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. This means thankfulness is a fruit of faith that cannot be kept from sprouting from the soil of the Church’s collective heart, reaching up toward the sunlight of God’s grace, and rejoicing in His wonderfully sustaining love.

As this meets with the National Day of Thanksgiving, perhaps a day set aside and focused specifically on giving thanks works quite well between the Last Sunday of the Church Year and the First Sunday in Advent. The journey has ended, another is beginning, and both are born from the fact that God is always faithful all along the way. In between the two, thankfulness just seems natural. It’s what any normal traveler does when his journey has ended and he’s found himself at home’s doorstep. He does not wisp a thankless sigh, a sound made because he’s annoyed by home’s obligation. He sighs with thankful relief. He’s glad. And so, he falls to his knees—or perhaps he goes right inside to fall into his favorite chair, or into the arms of a loved one—and he gives thanks to the One who took careful notice of each of his steps along the way, being sure to guard and protect him through to the end of one journey, and into the brief respite granted before beginning another.

Saint Ambrose said so exactly: “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” In a radically individualized society filled with takers, I probably don’t need to explain Ambrose’s words to you.

With that, I say a day set aside that takes aim at thankfulness can do little, if anything, to harm our nation, let alone a Christian, no matter who established it. Besides, Christian thankfulness is already attuned within us. It’s always on the lookout for ways to show itself to a thankless culture. We need it to show itself. It certainly knows how. It knows far better than the world. Again, this is true because Christian thankfulness is powered by the right kind of joy—the kind born from the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is well-equipped for seizing every opportunity for gratitude in this life as we await the next. Christian thankfulness exists through sunshine and rain, warmth and cold, happiness and sorrow.

Just imagine how Christian thankfulness must leap for joy when it sees it has its own day on the calendar.

I suppose you don’t need to imagine it. Our Savior in Hartland is not a congregation that ignores the National Day of Thanksgiving. We’re glad for it, and we embrace it. It seems natural to do so. Perhaps even better, it seems only right. Come and see for yourself. Join the thanks-filled gathering of Christians here at Our Savior on November 25 at 10:00am. Join us as we take hold of the National Day of Thanksgiving and use it in a way that makes God smile; which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re gathering to give anything to or do anything for Him that He needs. We gather because of what He gives and does, and we have hearts for receiving more. We desire His soul-strengthening gifts of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament ministry. We want to receive this heavenly bounty whenever we can, and after each opportunity, to be sent out by His smile, which is the gracious benediction of His face shining upon us and giving us peace.

Indeed! O, give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good, and His mercies endure forever (Psalm 136:1)!

God bless and keep you, my friends, and may you have a wonderfully happy Thanksgiving. I hope to see you in worship. And, if I do, I’ll have one more reason to give thanks to my faithful God, not only for His grace, but also for your faithfulness.

Doormat

Those who attended our conference back in October will know from the presentation I gave that the 1982 film “The Thing” is one of my favorites. It just so happens I’d been watching the film with my daughter, Madeline, a few days prior to the conference, and at one particular moment in the film, it suddenly occurred to me just how similar the terrifying creature was to liberal progressives and the Democrat party’s platform principles. I detailed these in my speech.

But that’s not what’s on my mind this morning.

About a year ago, I joined an online forum devoted to “The Thing.” I don’t provide much content in the group. To be honest, in all of my time in the forum, I’ve only made a handful of comments. I’m more of a lurker. Although, I did take a chance at starting a couple of discussions within the last few weeks that, in some ways, resulted in reaffirming a few premises of my presentation at the conference—which, again, if you haven’t seen it, can be viewed by visiting here: https://youtu.be/Y_97Ty6s7XA.

The first post I made was simply to share a couple of pictures of me on stage at the conference beside a projector screen beaming images of the original movie poster and a few of the movie’s characters. I shared these pictures because, firstly, it’s not out of step for the group’s members to work the well-beloved film into life’s everyday moments and then share it; and secondly, I’d just accomplished this in a public speech beside some folks of relative prominence. I didn’t tell them what my speech was about, but for context, I did include a picture of the panel discussion with Candace, Abby, Charlie, and me.

The first four or five comments were good, mostly high-five in nature, expressing how cool it was that I’d figured out how to bring the film in for a landing among such folks. But it certainly wasn’t very long before the pile-on of invectives against conservatives began, and of course, I was in the crosshairs of the viciousness.

To be clear, I did get a few private messages from folks asking for a link to view the speech. I shared the link, and a few came back in follow up messages saying not only how I’d forever influenced their perception of one of their all-time favorite films, but how glad they were for my words. Unfortunately, none came to my defense publicly, and I understand why.

The last time I checked, the post had been deleted. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few posts since then that belittle conservatives. My post, which was not malicious in any way and said nothing political in nature, is gone. Their posts are still active.

Moving on…

Call me foolish, but the second post I made in the group happened last Monday. I offered it following a dinner conversation with my son, Harrison. He had suggested that the creature in “The Thing,” which assimilates and imitates every living thing it eats, probably couldn’t eat and imitate a Xenomorph, which is the creature from the movie series “Alien”—another of my favorites. The deeper Harrison and I got into the topic, the more I realized he was right. We even found ourselves discussing it the following morning over bowls of cereal, once again reaffirming our common suspicions.

Now, if you don’t know anything about these films, please bear with me for a second. I’m certain you’ll learn something other than just how much of a sci-fi horror flick nerd I am.

In the movie “The Thing,” the alien is an organic creature that operates at a cellular level. For the record, everyone in “The Thing” forum is in agreement with this. What this means is that if even one of the creature’s cells infects your body, you’re done for. It’s going to do what it does—which is to gradually eat, assimilate, and eventually become a near-perfect imitation of you. Once the characters realize the situation, in order to find out who’s human, they develop a test. The test is simple. A copper wire is superheated with the pilot light from a flamethrower and then dipped into a petri dish containing a sample of each person’s blood. If the person is human, nothing will happen. If the blood is infected, what’s in the petri dish will fight back. It’ll do this because, again, each individual cell is a sentient organism trying to survive, and early on in the film, one thing the characters learn is that the creature hates getting burned.

In the “Alien” movie series, the creature is silicone-based, which means its biology is more of a synthetic polymer. This means its flesh does not have carbon as part of its backbone structure. What’s more, it has concentrated acid for blood. Anything its blood touches is instantaneously dissolved, no matter what it is. It even melts metal. This is one reason why a Xenomorph is very hard to kill. If you try to shoot it, or perhaps hack at it with an axe, even the slightest bit of blood spatter will burn right through and likely kill you.

Anyway, being the nerd that I am, and having all of this in mind, I shared the following thought in the “The Thing” forum. I’d say my words were pretty innocuous.

“Perhaps it’s been posited here before, but I was thinking the one creature The Thing probably couldn’t assimilate would be a Xenomorph. The acid-blood would definitely be a problem.”

As with any post, conversations ensued. What bothered me, however, is that those who disagreed with my premise did so first by way of an insult. Consider the following conversation that unfolded—and for the sake of anonymity, I’ve given this particular forum member the name “Brandon,” because, well, it just feels right.

Brandon: Eh? You aren’t too bright, are you? Assimilation is AT THE GENETIC LEVEL.

Me: I thought assimilation happened at the cellular level. That’s different from genetics. If cellular, the silicone framework would prevent it. And the acid-blood would be little less than a superheated wire causing The Thing to retreat. They’d fight, but the Xenomorph would not get assimilated.

Brandon: You are kind of ignorant when it comes to cellular biology. Blood is made of cells.

Me: No need to continue insulting me. You said genetics. That’s a different discussion than cellular. I agree with the cellular premise. Nevertheless, the Xenomorph’s blood is not cellular. It’s concentrated acid. It does not contain anything relative to cells, which means it doesn’t have anything in it with cytoplasm bound externally by cell membranes. Concentrated acids react exothermically with organic material. They burn up cellular material. It seems pretty straight forward.

Brandon didn’t offer any follow up commentary.

But here’s the thing that bugs me in all of this. In both circumstances of my posts, why attack me? It sure seems to prove the liberal-progressive caricature. They get mad. They attack. They call people names. They shout. They walk out, expecting everyone else to feel as though they lost someone important to the conversation.

I suppose we could try to examine all of this, but in a practical sense, perhaps I’ll simply ask, what good does it do as a first reaction to so venomously tear into an opponent because of a differing opinion or position? It certainly doesn’t help toward winning the opponent to your way of thinking. When a person comes out swinging in this way, I can promise you I’ve got one thing on my mind relative to his or her character. I think Nicolas Boileau said it best:

“Honor is like a rugged island without a shore; once you have left it, you cannot return.”

Frankly, one’s honor is near-fatally harmed when viciousness is shown to be the go-to tool in debate. Even further, the louder such people shout at me (or the more they write in all caps), the more I trade genuine curiosity in their position with interest in what’s happening outside the nearest window.

But notice I said “near-fatally.” No matter how much I’d prefer to write someone off completely for such behavior, from the Christian perspective, a believer must be ready to offer forgiveness in these circumstances. Say, for example, Brandon reaches out asking for forgiveness. If he were to do this, it would be on me to be ready to give it. And yet, let’s again be frank with one another. That same Christian perspective reminds us just how hard it is to salvage a relationship when the offender lacks the fruits of genuine repentance. In other words, the person can rip you to shreds verbally, and he or she can then offer an apology, but the words will lose all of their gravity when the person does not at least demonstrate an active willingness to fix it.

Amending is part of the equation.

Of course, none of this infringes on the fact that when Saint Peter asked Jesus how many times we ought to forgive a neighbor who sins against us, the Lord told him hyperbolically, “Seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22), which is to say indefinitely. Still, understand the Lord shared this instruction right after He taught His disciples how to deal with an unrepentant person, essentially saying that the time might arrive when forgiveness must be withheld (vv.15-18).

The Christian is mandated to forgive. Well, maybe “mandated” is too strong a word. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t, especially when one realizes that by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, a Christian has everything necessary for meeting the mandate—and not as an element of salvation, rather as a fruit of faith. Another way to say it: A Christian is privileged to forgive (1 John 4:19). The same goes for the offender. The Christian offender has at his disposal the same Spirit-endowed muscle for repentance. The offender has everything necessary for not only expressing sorrow, but for proving his sorrow is genuine by changing the behavior. The offender is privileged to amend. Take a quick trip through Saint James’ epistle. You’ll see just how insistent the Apostle is that this is true. He speaks pretty straightforwardly about faith producing what faith is designed to produce. For James, just as faith and works are inseparable, so also are repentance and forgiveness.

This is the Christian’s identity, an identity that relates to the Law as we’re born from the Gospel.

I don’t know any of the people who attacked me in the first post. I don’t know Brandon, the guy who insulted me in the second. With that, I don’t expect any of them to seek my forgiveness, at least not in an age of throw-away online relationships. Of course, if I’m wrong and they do come around asking for it, I’ll give it. Beyond any of this, here in the world of my immediate surroundings, I’ll continue to amend my behavior when I wrong someone. I’ll expect others to do the same when they wrong me. If they can’t seem to get their behavior somewhat under control, then I’m more than happy to continue forgiving them each time they ask for it, but at the same time, I’ll probably keep my distance in the same way I’ve resumed my role as a lurker in the online forum. I have other things to do—things that require focus, things that are more than hindered by the fetters of contention. And besides, turning the other cheek does not mean being someone’s doormat. Just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you’re required to exist in situations where the people have access to wiping their feet on you every time they disagree. You can exist in some relationships from a distance. You can even keep the mandate to serve and forgive them from a distance, too.

Wisdom and Greatness

What makes a person wise?

The default answer for many Christians (and it’s a good answer) is to recite Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” Although, take care to notice King Solomon refers to faith (the fear of the Lord) as wisdom’s beginning. A beginning, by nature, leads to other things. And so, what comes in the second half of the verse makes sense: “and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Insight is born from faith. Insight discerns and then acts along life’s way.

Just so you know, my question was prompted by the text of Job 32:9. I crossed paths with it this morning during my short devotion. The text reads:

“It is not the great that are wise, nor the aged that understand judgment.”

I explored the context of the words, and as it would go, Elihu is the one who spoke them. It seems to me that from among Job’s so-called friends, Elihu was the only one who really tried to help Job as God would desire, which explains why neither Job nor God rebuked him in the final analysis. It’s from that angle we can learn from Elihu’s words. They resonate with Godly authenticity. Essentially, he speaks them to dispel some of the foolishness of Job’s critics. The first point he makes for Job is that just because someone is considered great does not mean wisdom inhabits his or her innards. And Elihu’s right. You and I both know people who’ve attained the title of greatness in this world, and yet have done so in ways that were not all that wise or virtuous. Look at Hollywood and pick a celebrity. Consider Washington DC and choose a politician.

Taking that point a little further, Elihu adds that age isn’t necessarily relevant to one’s ability to wield wise discernment. This is definitely true. While I know plenty of older folks I’d consider wise, I know plenty more undeserving of the descriptor. The man in the White House is an example. I’d trust a salamander to better understand the difference between right and wrong before trusting Joe Biden. On the flip side, I also know people well beneath my age who have firm grips on insight’s steering wheel and understanding’s chrome gear-shifter. Charlie Kirk is one of those people. He’s hard to outthink, and when it comes to discernment, he’s pretty solid. When he hits the gas pedal, my first inclination is to get in the backseat and simply enjoy the ride.

Still, I suppose the question remains: What makes a person wise?

Or perhaps thinking from another angle—since Elihu brought it up—maybe I should also be asking, “What makes a person great?”

Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, the people in my life I’d label as great are usually the ones who don’t see themselves as being all that spectacular to begin with. What’s more, no matter what they do, their labors always seem to be aimed at faithfulness to Christ. Again, paradoxically, this most often results in them being counted as lesser to their friends, family, and co-workers in an onlooking world. The world may appreciate them as people, but they don’t necessarily consider them among the greats.

The first example that comes to mind in this regard are the parents who do what they can to protect their children from cultural influences—namely monitoring their video game and internet access, having absolutely no tolerance for foul language, forbidding clothing that promotes inappropriate sexuality, and so many other things—these folks are great people in my book, even though they’re often interpreted by others around them as backwater itinerants with unrealistic expectations. Another example is a person who prefers anonymity when giving a sizable gift to the Church. In most cases, the world considers this a wasted opportunity among peers for recognition. Other examples of greatness are the Christian business owners who stand their ground while the cancel-culture attacks; or the pastors who hold to the Word of God rather than bending a little here and there to fill the pews. It might seem foolish not to embrace woke ideologies that all but guarantee a business’ success, or as a small church struggling financially to bend one’s theology a little in order to see more money received through the collection plate.

In summary, I think maintaining a steady course of faithfulness to Christ and His Word when everyone and everything around you is moving in the opposite direction indicates greatness.

Of course, these are just random examples that come to mind, and I could go on describing similar people and contexts. Still, I imagine what I’ve shared already sounds somewhat familiar to another group of people I consider great: the ones who observe, interpret, and respond to the world around them through biblical lenses. Those are the folks who read the descriptions above and made mental comparisons to our Lord’s interactions in the Gospels. For example, when a woman cries out regarding the greatness of Jesus’ mother, He is quick to reply that those who hear the Word of God and keep it are even greater—nay, blessed (Luke 11:28). When the disciples want to know who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, the Lord sets before them a toddler—someone of simple faith, a little one who trusts Him no matter what (Matthew 18:1-5). When the disciples are again found wrestling with the issue of greatness, the Lord so crisply reminds them that whoever is to be counted as great among them must be a servant (Matthew 20:26).

Again, I could share so much more in this regard. The Scriptures are full of this stuff. Suffice it to say that to be great in a way that actually matters doesn’t mean being powerful or popular. It certainly doesn’t mean being the oldest and most experienced. It almost certainly doesn’t mean being the most eloquent, smartest, wealthiest, or best looking. Instead, it starts from faith, and then it moves forward with a desire for steady and ongoing alignment with the will of Christ. And this is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. Apart from this, there’s no beginning.

By the way, it sure seems like this could be what’s behind Elihu’s less-than-direct communication to Job in the verse right before the one I originally shared. It certainly seems like he’s insinuating that the real measures of both wisdom and greatness have more to do with God’s gracious in-reaching than it does the nature of man.

“It is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (v. 8).

If this is true, whether or not Elihu could articulate it precisely, it means that parents can continue to fight the arduous fight of faith for their children confident they bear wisdom and greatness that are not their own, but rather, were established in them by God. They can be sure these things have replaced their flimsy desires for worldly prominence with a sturdy determination aimed at faithfulness. Likewise, a person can give generously in support of the Church’s efforts without needing to be recognized. A Christian business owner can stand his or her ground, and a pastor can hold fast to the Word, come what may, because of this wonderful truth, too.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” Thinking on what happened to Scott Smith recently in Loudon County, Virginia, or what’s happening to Jack Philips, or the struggles of Barronelle Stutzman, or my new friend Artur Pawlowski in Canada, I can’t help but think just how right Emerson was. The world doesn’t get it. It just doesn’t understand real wisdom. It just can’t identify true greatness. This is true because the world’s definitions are completely out of step with the Lord’s definitions (1 Corinthians 1:20-25). On the other hand, believers know there’s only one kind of wisdom born from a singular form of greatness that can and will carry a human being from this life to the next, and this wisdom and greatness has nothing to do with anything this world might try to set on a pedestal.

Through to the End

What an amazing “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference we experienced yesterday! And the people of God here at Our Savior in Hartland who were responsible for making it happen should take Godly pride in its success. Not only did people come from all around the country to be with us—which means that what was provided will influence more than just our local community—but the guest speakers could not stop glowing about what this congregation has stepped up to do for the sake of the Gospel. Charlie, Candace, and Abby all said almost uncomfortably more than once how wonderful it is that Our Savior provides a tuition free opportunity to the public schools, that we’re doing what we can to unquestionably be the Church in the world around us, and that circling both of these things, is the desire to remain faithful to the Head of the Church—Jesus Christ—and to His Word. Those are their words, not mine. But, of course, I knew this about us already.

Those who were in attendance yesterday will know I’ve already taken aim at next year’s event. In fact, I’ve already confirmed most of the line-up. How is that possible? Well, for starters, I’m no procrastinator.

To be frank, I’ve never been a procrastinator. I have too much to do. As a result, and by way of observing procrastinators, I’ve found myself in agreement with folks like Lord Chesterfield, which is to say how strangely convenient it is that “the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in. One yawns, one procrastinates, one can do it when one will, and therefore one seldom does it at all.”

Be sure to share that bit of wisdom with the supposedly over-stressed, and yet chore-less, video gamer who can’t seem to get his or her room cleaned, or homework turned in on time. My guess is there’s very little in the way of their success.

On the other hand, and perhaps from another angle, it was Thomas Jefferson who said something about how delay is preferable to error. Of course, contemplative delay is far from procrastination. In my humble opinion, procrastination is a paramount form of immaturity, and the purest demonstration of irresponsibility. A project with a procrastinator at the helm will rarely result in producing anything that can be tagged as much more than “acceptable.”

But enough about that. There are other things to think about this morning.

I just finished reading a brief portion from Luther, and at one point in between his wit and wisdom, he wrote so plainly, “Life apart from Christ is a wretched business.” Someone should put that on a t-shirt. I know I’d wear it.

Indeed, a life that’s disconnected from the only One capable of bringing hope into this fallen world is a life lived in wretched despair. It’s not uncommon for me to hear Christians say, “I don’t know how people get by in this life without Christ.” I hear this most often at funerals, and in reply, I’ll say, “They don’t. At least, not with any real meaning.” I should add that the people I hear using this particular phrase are not doing so half-heartedly, as if to fill conversational space. They say it because they really believe it. They’re people who know life’s heavier difficulties. They’ve been neck deep in them. They’ve faced off with the monsters of this world—beasts that have consumed massive pieces of their lives—and yet they’ve somehow found a way through to the peace that surpasses all understanding that keeps the Christian heart and mind settled—the kind of peace described by Saint Paul in Philippians 4:6. In other words, when things didn’t make sense to them, when they didn’t know what was going on, they were able to go to what they did know, which is that Christ is the final word for everything between and after our first and last breaths; or as Saint Paul says in Romans 14:8:

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

That makes little sense to the world. It makes every bit of sense to believers.

I suppose I’m sharing this with you for two reasons. The first is that our “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference this past weekend was not only filled with some really great speakers, collegial fellowship, and helpful information, but it also didn’t do much tiptoeing through the more troubling topics plaguing our nation, some of which seem almost insurmountable. It uncovered them, and it put them on plain display, leaving many people wondering how on earth any of it could be happening. The second reason I share this is because you need to know that what we’re facing as Christians isn’t insurmountable. We have Christ.

Now, I am by no means going to do what so many others do, which is to take the text of Philippians 4:13 out of context, claiming that nothing is impossible to the one who believes in Christ. There are plenty of impossible things we face as Christians. If they weren’t impossible, we wouldn’t actually need Jesus. And that’s precisely the point of that so-often misquoted text, which really needs verses 11 and 12 to complete it. The point is that while there are plenty of things we’ll experience in this life that we won’t be able to overcome, the promise is given that through faith in Christ, they won’t overcome us. Even when we’re in want, we can trust and be content. Even when we are facing our end, we have a hope that extends beyond this life’s mortal boundaries.

If you are at all like me, then you may be feeling a bit helpless by the fact that in response to the National School Boards Association referring to conservative parents as “domestic terrorists,” Joe Biden has weaponized the FBI for cracking down on parents who, out of concern for their children, are confronting their local school boards regarding the plague of indoctrinating curriculums pushing gender fluidity, Critical Race Theory, and so many other dumpster ideologies supported by the Democrat party. In other words, if you come to a meeting prepared to call them out, your president is happy to see you arrested, and ultimately, put on a watch list.

But that’s not the only sense of abandonment you may be feeling. Again, if you’re like me, you may be overwhelmed by the prospect of people losing their jobs unless they allow themselves to be injected with something they’d prefer not to put into their bodies, no matter the reason. And as if that weren’t enough, they feel helpless to do anything about the growing number of grocery stores and medical facilities denying services to anyone who can’t produce proof of vaccination. In other words, those who are currently at the helm of the federal government are pushing the standard of “comply or else,” even to the point of threatening the citizenry’s ability to care for their families.

These are terrifying things. And by the way, anyone who voted for this should be ashamed. The Word of God clearly stands against you.

Still, the Lord is with His people, and He will see all of this through to the end. And as He does, He promises to continue to equip the faithful by Word and Sacrament with the stamina for making it through. Whether that means the persecution that’s likely to come for open resistance, or it means existing in suffering in the shadows, either way, hope remains.

Remember that. And then go to church.

Sunhat

Being the lurker that I sometimes am on news media outlets, I read a comment beneath an article on the topic of transgenderism that said, essentially, all things have a hidden meaning, and it’s our duty as humans to discover those meanings.

My first thought was, “No, everything does not have a hidden meaning.” And then with my guts irritated, I reached toward the keyboard and typed, “What a remarkably Marxist thing to say.”

Truth be told, I didn’t post the reply. Instead, I held the backspace button down until I could replace the previous sentence with, “Sometimes a sunhat is just a sunhat,” which is a line from an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that Jennifer and I use with one another on occasion. Essentially, it communicates that nothing other than what was said was intended, and that the other person should just stick with the clear meaning of the words.

I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but I should probably tell you why I called the comment on the post “Marxist.” I did this because the starry-eyed notion of looking for utopian societal order beyond what can be readily observed and discerned through natural and moral law was something Karl Marx claimed as central to his own philosophy. As one would suspect, it became natural for him to see sinister ghosts behind most everything in the West. By the way, this is just a sliver-sized hint from the forest of reasons Critical Race Theory, namely Black Lives Matter, fits its Marxist label. It seeks to fundamentally transform society in order to fix problems that don’t exist.

But, anyway.

Sometimes I think that if everything in creation actually did have a hidden meaning hovering somewhere between its molecules, it’s likely the meanings would be written in some sort of unintelligible gibberish only interpretable to the kind of philosophers who struggle most of the time to communicate anything of value to the rest of us, anyway. And who might be considered a philosopher of this sort? Well, you know. They’re the kind who sit in coffee shops talking with one another about how to unweave rainbows—folks like Karl Marx. In a mindful society, the only people who’d take them seriously are themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against philosophy as a discipline. Curiosity is the instigator of genuine philosophy, and by nature, I’m a fairly inquisitive guy. But still, sometimes there’s nothing to philosophize. As a proven system for lifting people from poverty, Capitalism works the best. Marxism—which in theory involves a society stair-stepping into Socialism that it would ultimately become Communist—does not. Marxism’s greatest historical achievement appears to be its mastery for filling graves in large quantities and in short periods of time.

To that end, and to come back around to where I began, sometimes the thoughts, words, and deeds comprising a particular circumstance require simple human-to-human skills of observation and listening, with little to no deeper interpretation.

Sometimes a sunhat is just a sunhat.

Having somehow wandered into this stuff, you might be wondering what any of it has to do with anything else. Well, I did have one thought while tapping away this morning.

I was reading the Epistle appointed for this morning from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. In particular, I appreciate verse 9, which reads: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

God is faithful. How? Look to Jesus Christ and you’ll see. Listen to Him say he loves you—that you are precious to Him; that He went to the cross for you. It’s valuable to study the depths of this truth, and yet at the same time, don’t necessarily try to grasp at every strand of this divine mystery of unfathomable love, perhaps wondering what it is about you that might stir His affections. You’ll go off the deep end of uncertainty with that nonsense. Besides, the short answer to your wondering is, well, nothing. There’s nothing loveable about you. In Sin, we’re all pretty worthless.

But again, we’re not talking about us. We’re talking about God.

The Gospel is not about our abilities to engage Him, but rather His innate desire to engage us. He is faithful. It’s His nature to be this way. This means that even though you’re prone to letting Him down, He won’t let you down. He is reliable in every circumstance. This leaves little interpretation to His promises. When He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him, you can rest assured that He will. When He promises that no matter what His Word brings to you, it will be something you can trust, you can know this is true. When He tells you He loves you, you can believe it.

Again, don’t try to complicate any of these things by inserting some sort of hidden meaning into the mix. Take the Gospel of His faithfulness for what it is: He loves you so much that He sacrificed His own Son to save you, and now, through faith in Him, eternal condemnation is not a part of your future, but rather eternal life (John 3:16). Those are pretty simple words that are very easy to understand. Sometimes a sunhat is just a sunhat.

The Fulfillment of Time

I gave a speech in Muskegon on Thursday night, and making my way back to the east side early Friday morning, I think I may have complained to myself five or six times along the way, “This is a long drive.” While I don’t necessarily mind traveling long distances, what I do struggle with is the feeling of time being frittered away unproductively. I’m a doer. Minutes are important to me. Losing two-and-a-half hours behind the wheel of a car makes my primary motor cortex—the part of the brain that controls voluntary movement—start to itch. This is why, as someone who uses a treadmill to stay fit (at least, I did before my injury), a simple walk on the machine is tantamount to torture. I can’t even do it listening to music or watching a movie. I have to accomplish something. I have to produce something. As a result, and because my health matters to me, I made a tray of sorts that fits to the treadmill. It’s perfect for holding my laptop, and it even has a little space for one or two books.

I tell you, many a sermon or article has been written at five-miles-per-hour.

But back to where I began. The issue for me is the feeling of wasting time.

We’re all acquainted with the adages about time. “The time is now.” “Life is short.” “It’s about time.” “Time waits for no one.” “Time flies.” As a colloquialism, the saying “time flies” has had me thinking on more than one occasion. To say time flies is to say it goes away. But from another perspective, I don’t remember seeing my wristwatch ceasing to function at the funerals I’ve attended. It continued to tick. It’s the person in the casket who stopped. It’s the person in the casket who went away. Perhaps I’ve shared with you before my appreciation for Lord Chesterfield’s advice to his son. “Take care of the minutes,” he said, “for the hours will take care of themselves.” These are wise words, and I think about them often. They certainly put into proper perspective the little dash mark between the dates on a gravestone. In a way, that line is all the passerby is given for knowing the details of the deceased person’s life. Even more interesting, whether the person lived a full century or passed away shortly after birth, the line is relatively short. Some might think that makes life insignificant. I think it reveals the intrinsic value to the minutes God gives to each and every moment.

The Psalms have a lot to say about time. Throughout this wonderful hymn book of the Bible, we are called to the remembrance that God has ordered time (104:19), that backward or forward, God is in the midst of each of the moments on the timeline at the same time (90:1-17), that our days are numbered (Psalm 90:12), that He is with us without fail throughout the span of our years (27:1-2; 31:5, and countless others).

Two times Saint Paul urges Christians to make the best use of their time in this life, both in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. Those who are familiar with Saint Paul know that when he repeats himself, it’s because what he’s saying is important, which means we’d do well to listen.

There’s another point related to faith in Christ that Paul repeats on occasion. In Romans 13:11 he says emphatically, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep!” In 2 Corinthians 6:2 he writes with similar enthusiasm, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” By the time we arrive to 2 Thessalonians 5:1 and read the words, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you,” while the potency of his words is no less than before, he does seem to assume the reader’s awareness of something very important that has occurred—something that relates to time itself.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Here he communicates to us very simply the single most time-altering event that ever occurred: the death of Jesus for sinners. Again, sort of repeating himself, later on in his epistle to the Galatians, Paul gives another accounting of this “right time,” except he gives the sense of it being a fulfillment by the person and work of Jesus.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).

Here Paul holds nothing back. He stakes a claim in the incarnation of Jesus, reminding us that the Son of God crossed over from the eternal spheres of the divine. He took upon Himself human flesh and joined with us in every one of our seconds, minutes, and hours in slavery to Sin beneath the burden of the Law. He did this to win for us adoption into God’s family, having stolen away the unending fate of eternal Death awaiting all of us beyond that second date engraved on our headstones. He made us heirs, not of this world, but of the world to come, and He did all of it by sacrificing His own life that one particular Friday on the timeline so many years ago.

That one moment was the fulfillment of all time.

And now we live in time knowing that Death is not our end, which means we can (as Saint Paul already encouraged us) know how to live our lives making the best use of our time. Of course, this begins first and foremost with hearts set for the regular reception of His gifts of forgiveness doled out through Word and Sacrament. These make for the spiritual food that strengthen us for being His people in the here and now, for becoming attuned to knowing that an hour and twenty minutes in worship each week is not wasted time, but is instead a critical moment giving us the merits of “the fullness of time” located in Jesus. We become fashioned for understanding and committing to producing the genuine fruits born by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in this Gospel. We become people who know “the time is now” for serving others, because, indeed, “life is short.” We know “it’s about time” we reconsider our levels of giving back to Christ from what He has given to us, because we know our lives in this world will end and we won’t be taking any of it with us, anyway. We also know that because “time waits for no one,” every opportunity to give the Gospel to family, friends, and neighbors is a crucial endeavor. We know that soon all are found out of reach from such things—flown away, as it were—and we have retooled hearts for seeing them become members of God’s family, just like us.

Do We Have What It Takes?

The world appears to be burning, doesn’t it? I read a statement this morning in which NATO officials called Biden’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal of the United States presence in Afghanistan the biggest, most tragic debacle by a U.S. president since the organization’s founding in 1949. German Chancellor Merkel’s administration released a statement clarifying that the U.S., and the U.S. alone, owns the horrors of the situation. A nearly unanimous British Parliament made clear that the United States has lost significant credibility in the international community. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

The situation in Afghanistan is bad.

Despite the news media’s reluctance to share the information, it looks as though the first real reports of Afghani Christians being brutalized and killed by the Taliban after the withdrawal are making their way to us here in America. I read that Glenn Beck’s organization raised more than $22 million in two days to help fund evacuation efforts. I read that David Barton and the WallBuilders organization is raising significant funding, too. Praise God for their efforts.

Curiously, the reports I’ve read, mostly by way of texts and emails from pastors and missionaries to partner churches in the United States, have not necessarily portrayed the concerns of Afghani Christians as fearful cries to foreign agencies to do whatever they can to rescue them from the gory dreadfulness. Rather, their petitions have been of a far different character, and noticeably two-fold in nature.

First, their hope is that their partner churches around the world would join them in praying that all Afghani Christians would remain faithful to Christ as they face imminent torture and death; and second, that God would use the Gospel witness of their martyrdom as a means for softening the hearts of their bloodthirsty persecutors, so that they, too, would turn to and believe in Christ for salvation.

Read that again.

The Christians in Afghanistan are facing the all-consuming storm clouds of a merciless evil. Not only do the forthcoming gales promise unthinkable forms of mortal suffering, but they also pledge by their waves a vicious temptation to renounce Christ in exchange for safety, which in the end, can only result in a believer’s eternal doom. I find it astounding, then, that these Christians are not asking for deliverance from these terrors. They’re asking for us to pray that God would continue to give them the will to steer into and endure them until the end. Even more strangely, while we might expect to hear them ask us to pray for a way of escape for themselves, instead, they’re asking us to pray that by the Gospel witness of their own deaths, their persecutors would discover Christ as the way of escape from unbelief leading to eternal Death.

Go ahead and read that again, too.

Having re-read my own words, I wonder if these are foolish prayer requests being made of the churches in America by the Afghani Christians. I mean, does American Christianity really even have what it takes to comprehend the substance of their pleas? The Afghani Christians are enduring apocalyptic-like onslaughts of misery. And yet, knowing full well that Taliban squads are going door to door sniffing for the slightest hints of Christianity—looking for bibles, devotional apps on phones, Christian symbols, and the like—still, and perhaps most astoundingly, the Afghani Christians refuse to abandon the most visible (and now most dangerous) sign of Christianity: gathering together for worship.

They refuse to forsake Christ’s mandate for gathering in fellowship to receive the preaching of the Gospel for forgiveness and the administration of the Sacraments for the same.

Is it really possible for any of their requests to make sense to American Christians who were so quick to close churches for fear of a virus that had a casualty rate of less than 1% at its peak? Considering only Michigan, the last I heard, around 15% of Michigan churches are still completely closed even as the state currently tracks at 21,344 deaths among 1.03 million cases. Doing the math, that’s around a 2% casualty rate. Will the Afghani Christians’ requests be intelligible for those who, even post-vaccine rollout, still refuse to attend worship for fear of this minuscule threat to personal safety? Will the phrase “faithful to the end” resonate among churches that have forsaken God’s Word and succumbed to cultural pressures just to avoid the woke attack squads? Will anything the Afghani Christians have asked for be translatable to a generation of families who’ve become so accustomed to prioritizing sports and leisure over faithfulness in worship with Christ?

Sadly, I don’t think so.

I suppose some church communities will get it. I’m guessing that for the most part, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a grip on it, although I haven’t seen much written in this regard, just yet. I’m confident that most here at Our Savior in Hartland are equipped to translate the Afghani’s requests. I know various individuals beyond our borders who are more than capable of interpreting them rightly. My friend, Jack Philips, will know what they mean. Barronelle Stutzman will get it. My Canadian friend, Pastor Artur Pawlowski, will understand. Reverend Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, will get it, too.

Nevertheless, beyond the ever-increasing ranks of persecuted folks like these, I’m concerned that the mainstream Christian churches in America just don’t have the spiritual wherewithal for understanding anything the Afghani Christians are asking. And while I certainly agree we should be praying for them, I’m hoping in secret that they’re praying for us. I get the feeling we need their prayers far more than they need ours.

With all of this in mind, I suppose I’ll conclude as the Afghani Christians began, which is by offering a two-fold request.

Firstly, I’d urge all Christians to take heed of Christ’s clarion call not to choose the comforts of safety and security in this life over faithfulness to Him. Then I’d urge you to continue past the Lord’s gracious warning to His sweeter encouragement to trust Him—to take heart in His victory over Sin, Death, and the grave, knowing by this Gospel the peace that only He can provide.

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38).

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Secondly, there is the saying that goes something like, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Pray for the Christians in Afghanistan. Do this remembering that the Church on earth—or the Church Militant as it’s commonly referred to throughout history—was not built to remain safely in harbor, but rather to set sail, no matter the temperament of the seas. She does this knowing Christ as the steady Captain at her helm. She goes into the winds and waves knowing that He’s steering the vessel toward the final shore of eternal life. As He does, it’s all hands on deck. We come up and out of the vessel’s innards to gather. We swab the decks and repair the masts. We hoist sails and mend tackle. We batten hatches and secure riggings. In other words, we come together to pray for one another and our world, to labor faithfully, to endure, to love as Christ first loved us, all the while being strengthened by the bountiful provisions of forgiveness—Word and Sacrament—being doled out in worship from our trustworthy Captain’s very own galley.

Know that I’m praying for the Afghani Christians and their persecutors. I hope you are, too. But know I’m also praying for the Church here on American soil just as fervently. Again, I hope you are, too.

I Really Forgive You

Obviously, I’m still on vacation. And it’s been restful, for sure. Apart from a few excursions, the Thoma family’s goal has been just to be together. Although, my early-morning alone time has produced (as it always does) daily posts for Angelsportion.com. It’s been good to revisit the humorist hiding in my keyboard. Of course, knowing we’d be gathering with God’s people at Zion in Winter Garden this morning, I was thinking of you and hoping all was well back home among God’s faithful people at Our Savior.

You should know that having taken a gamble and visited with my email this morning, I was nudged by a thought that may be of some value to some of you, while for others, it may only be worth putting into your pocket for later. It has to do with forgiveness.

I’ve always thought that forgiveness costs the offended so much more than the offender, and by this, it will forever be an incredibly imbalanced exchange. Indeed, the one who bears the scars of attack must also be the one to rise from the pain to give a comforting word to a penitent enemy who, at the victim’s expense, may even have made personal gains by his dark deeds. But you must know that while we are promised plenty of challenging experiences in life, the sacred exchange of forgiveness between the offended and the offender is one of the few that truly tests the courage of both involved.

One must be brave enough to admit the behavior and its shame. The other must be courageous enough to let it pass by while facing off with the innate desire for retribution, which is to wrestle with one of the darkest parts of the human condition.

These being true, I’ll go further and say I’m not one to agree with those who’d wander the perimeter of this exchange repeating what pop-psychology teaches—which is that for peace of mind, the offended must come to terms with an unrepentant enemy by forgiving them in one’s heart.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s a teaching of Christianity.

Real forgiveness does not move from one sphere to the other without the avenue of repentance. Even as it meets with our Lord’s work on the cross, He paid the full price that accomplishes absolute forgiveness for all of Mankind’s past, present, and future atrocities. Forgiveness is there. It is available. And yet, no one receives even an atom-sized drop of heaven’s storehouses of forgiveness apart from faith. Faith is born of the Gospel, and as it is birthed, its bearer’s eyes are opened to the inescapable dreadfulness of his sinful condition. From there, trust in the sacrifice of Christ as the only rescuer is engaged. The ultimate One offended—God—works this humble faith in the offender, and in that moment, the floodgates of forgiveness are opened, and the sinner is drowned in the mercies of His divine love.

An unrepentant offender remains divided from forgiveness. Apart from forgiveness, the truth is that nothing is reconciled and the two live in completely different spheres leading to vastly different consequences.

I know some might contend that texts like Luke 7:47 and Matthew 6:14-15 are clear cut examples of the Lord instructing us to forgive everyone no matter the circumstances. With regard to Luke 7, I’d argue that we ought to pay closer attention to the love the Lord describes in that particular verse before leaning on such a loose interpretation. With regard to Matthew 6, I’d suggest an important text that comes before it: Matthew 5:43-48. It’s there Jesus describes with precision how we are to relate to devoted enemies and persecutors. The word for forgiveness isn’t used, but rather the Lord calls for us to show them genuine love and to pray for them. Christ is pressing His Christians to deeds of kindness that will serve as markers leading others to the one true merciful God awaiting the lost with open arms. By the way, you may recall He already began describing this at the beginning of the sermon in Matthew 5:16. In a way, He’ll describe the glory of the whole thing later on in Luke’s Gospel when He tells the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-24).

And so, boiling all of this down to relationships in general…

Did your husband cheat on you? Has he recognized and admitted to his wrongdoing and returned to seek your forgiveness? No? Then I’m not so sure you can just declare him forgiven and move on. From a Christian perspective, how would that lead him to Christ? What would that teach the children?

Did someone tell a dreadful lie about you, one that has spread like wildfire and devastated your reputation among others you once considered friends? Again, has this person come clean with you, doing what she can to amend and repair the damage? No? Again, I’m not so sure you can blanketly offer her forgiveness. How would that display for her the deeper value of forgiveness to be had from God?

I know all of this may sound somewhat controversial, especially as it seems to leave one person in the relationship to suffer. But that’s not it at all. None of this is to say you must move on from such challenging circumstances completely devoid of inner peace. God has given a way for going forward. For one, He has promised to comfort and uphold you in times of trouble (Deuteronomy 31:8; Job 5:11; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 46:1; Matthew 5:4; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:3). Even better, He has already drawn you to Himself by the forgiveness He has bestowed in your life, and by this, you can go from day to day with the knowledge that you are not at war with the One who matters most, but rather you exist at peace with Him (Romans 5:1-15). It’s there you can know that no matter the offending behavior of other human beings in this awful world, be it big or small, as much as it depends on you, you can speak and act in ways that have the potential for leading your persecutors toward genuine peace with God (Romans 12:18).

With that, I pray the Lord’s blessings for you this morning, namely that you’ll be richly upheld in penitent faith by His wonderfully abundant grace given through Word and Sacrament in holy worship.

The Voice of Conscience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homosexuality cannot produce people.

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

This got me thinking…

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

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

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

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

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

Childlike Simplicity

I’ll just start off by saying that last week was a bit challenging on a personal level. A lot happened in my allotted portion of the globe. Although, I’d say Vacation Bible School, being the starting pistol to each morning that it was, had me launching into each day by way of an invigorated sprint. As it is every year, I was called upon to lead the children (100+ in all) in the opening devotion, taking about twenty minutes or so each morning to sing some fun songs and share a little about the day’s Bible lesson. It’s always a busy exchange, but it’s also refreshing.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a people-watcher. I’ve always been the kind of guy who could go to any particular event—a basketball game, parade, social gathering, or whatever—and find just as much, or even more, entertainment by watching the crowd. It’s the same with Vacation Bible School. Even as I may be leading the children, I’m observing them, too, and as I do, I’m forever being reminded that children perceive things much differently than adults.

For example, on Tuesday of last week, just before leading the children through the first song of the morning, I took a quick moment to teach the children how and why a Christian might make the sign of the cross before praying, and as I did, I joked about being careful not to poke oneself in the eye while attempting to do it for the first time. Most of the kids laughed, but I noticed one little girl in the front row nodding her head and leaning toward a friend to say with all seriousness, “I’m going to be very careful when I do this.” And she was careful. She took what I said literally and really rather earnestly.

I see things like this and I’m prompted to consider the bracing simplicity within a child’s heart.

Do you know who did a great job with capturing such scenes literarily? Lewis Carroll. A writer of children’s stories, Carroll masterfully captured by his characters the childlike matter-of-factness that can be had in everyday conversations between people. That moment on Tuesday morning brought to mind a comical moment between Alice and the White King in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

“I see nobody on the road,” said Alice.

“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people by this light.”

Children operate this way. Not only do they have the potential for taking hold of our words and actions, ultimately revealing to us that each is a stand-alone piece with precise implications, but they often surprise us with just how naturally easy it is for them to do it. Interestingly, in Matthew 18:1-3, Jesus refers to children as the greatest in the kingdom of heaven because of this uncanny ability, namely in relation to faith.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

Jesus wants the adults—the ones who, in most circumstances, think they know better by their reason and sensibility—to hear and believe the Gospel as a child hears it. He wants them to hear Him in the same way the White King heard Alice—simply, uncomplicatedly, unquestionably.

When a child hears that Jesus loves her, she doesn’t necessarily ask why. An adult is more likely to need a good reason. An adult is more likely to establish a sensible scale of “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “bad,” and from there gauge his or her value to Jesus. Unfortunately, this can leave a person wondering how it is that Christ can actually love such a scoundrel; or worse, set a person up to think that the Lord’s love is due to an exceptional life of good deeds.

But Jesus loves you because that’s who He is. It doesn’t begin with you. It begins with Him. And that’s a good thing.

Being around the VBS children this week has served my heart well in this regard. Each day began with a recalibrating glimpse into the simple joys found in being God’s child. As a result, I was better able to meet the week’s challenging work, not so much inclined toward worrying about how I was going to fix this or navigate that, but rather I was ready at every turn to say, “I am your servant, Lord. I trust you. Lead me, and I’ll follow.”

One last thing to keep in mind…

Knowing that our children so intuitively hear and see what we say and do and then trustingly run in the direction we are leading them, imagine the implications of regular swearing in front of our kids. Imagine the implications of cruel words or actions to a spouse. Imagine the implications of lying, or shredding someone’s reputation, while the kids are listening. Perhaps worst of all, imagine the implications of using excuse after excuse to justify time away from Christ in worship.

I wrote and shared a post on my Facebook page a while ago affirming just how difficult it can sometimes be for parents with children in worship. Interestingly, the children themselves are often the excuse used by parents for staying away. The little ones get antsy, and they struggle to behave. But the point of the post was to make clear what I’ve already shared above. For all the things kids have trouble doing, there’s one thing in particular they do very well: They imitate adults.

But they can’t learn to imitate what we won’t display. Keep in mind that the secular world never sleeps in this regard. It’s always ready to lead our children. One thing I’ve learned as a parent who’s aware of the secular world’s influence is that the more exhausted I become with the process of raising my children to be Godly people, the firmer my resolve and the greater my courage must be in the fight for their eternal futures. I know that a mere portion of a Sunday morning in comparison to the never-ending stimuli bombarding our children the rest of the week doesn’t seem like much. But remember: Don’t overcomplicate things. Just believe Jesus. Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. There are infinite blessings attached to this loving mandate. Keep in mind that your time in worship with Him is a powerful portion fitted with otherworldly might. The secular world has nothing on God in this regard. You can be sure that not only will you and your family be blessed, but as your children are engaged in it with you—watching and listening and learning from your displayed devotion to the Savior—they’ll note by their God-given intuitiveness your distinct contrast to the world around them. They’ll learn what’s most important as you display it. They’ll know to trust and follow who you trust and follow. The implications to be had by this are boundless.