The Epiphany of Our Lord, 2023

I’m writing this note to remind and invite you to the Epiphany Divine Service tonight at Our Savior in Hartland at 7:00 pm. Epiphany sees Christmas depart, and a new season begins. In a way, and considering the meaning of the word epiphany, it’s almost paradoxical.

Epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning “to make known.” When someone experiences an epiphany, something is revealed, and the person becomes aware of something previously unknown. In a sense, Christmas is itself a preeminent epiphany event. God gives His son to the world. By His birth, so much is made known. The angels break through fantastically from heaven to declare it. Shepherds so wonderfully announce it to everyone they meet. There’s Jesus, the Son of God, in the flesh. Emmanuel, God with us. But then January 6 arrives, and with it, the season of Epiphany begins. It begins with the account of the Magi being led by a star to the humble residence of the Christ-child. Traditionally, and suddenly, January 6 sees that all of the seasonal pomp of Christmas is put away—hidden out of sight, put back into the boxes under the stairs, in the closet, in the basement. If epiphany means to make known, then this seems counterintuitive to the season’s message.

But it isn’t. Throughout the season of Epiphany, Christ is being revealed in incredible ways that Christmas could not fully deliver. For one, the hiding of Christmas’ divine pomp hints at Christ’s veiled divinity. As the Christmas Gospel declared, He is God in the flesh dwelling among us. And yet, unlike all other human beings walking around, their souls similarly veiled, Jesus is both the creator and deliverer of souls. Epiphany sets the stage in unmistakable terms that Jesus is who He says He is. His identity is revealed throughout as He does things no one else can do. This man is no ordinary man.

I can’t remember who said it, but someone noted that the Lord’s miracles toll an epiphany bell. They point to Calvary. They ring for the human senses a divine awareness of what’s actually occurring when this man suffers and dies on the cross. Human senses cannot fathom such an event as being anything so wonderfully divine, yet it is. The One who accomplishes the work of mankind’s salvation has proven by His miracles the merit of His words and deeds. He can say to a dead girl, “Arise,” and she does (Mark 5:21-43). He can speak to a vicious sky, “Be quiet,” and it submits (Mark 4:35-41). Beholding these things, He can say to you, “I will go to Jerusalem. I will suffer for your sins. I will die in your place. I will rise from death and give to you the merits of my effort” (Matthew 20:18-19). When He says this, you can believe Him. Epiphany is the clarion call of His trustworthiness.

As a side, Epiphany has the potential for tolling other bells.

For one, Epiphany encourages Christians to pay attention to the revelations of faith itself. For example, and perhaps on a personal level, I suppose the strangest epiphany born from faith is the realization (and the otherworldly sensation) of love for a Savior so secure that I’d be willing to die for Him rather than forsake Him. He saved me from eternal Death. The world may do its worst. Like the Magi, I’m willing to risk life and limb to be with Him. What do I have to fear?

When that realization lands on you—when that genuine aspect of faith becomes known—life takes on an altogether different hue.

Consider joining us for worship tonight at 7:00 pm. Be strengthened in this alongside your brothers and sisters in Jesus. I’m preaching tonight, and I hope to look out and discover you in the pews.

New Year’s Eve 2022

I wanted to take a quick moment to invite you to the New Year’s Eve Divine Service occurring here at Our Savior in Hartland at 4:30 pm. Although a strange time of day for a worship service, its selection is purposeful, allowing a brief intermission in your day before venturing out to whatever New Year’s Eve plans you may have. Although, whatever those plans might be, don’t forget about the New Year’s Day Divine Service tomorrow (Sunday) at 9:30 am.

Gathering in the Lord’s house on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is good. Actually, the Church doesn’t necessarily refer to the gatherings using the titles of New Year’s Eve or Day. January 1 has long been celebrated as the “Feast of the Circumcision of Christ” because, according to the Law, a newborn male was required to be circumcised on the eighth day. For Jesus, according to our current Gregorian calendar, that would be January 1. Naturally, the night before was referred to as the “Eve of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.” A little further into history, the titles changed a bit. On many church calendars, the dates are referred to as the “Circumcision and Name of Jesus.” This is due to what’s written about the event in Luke 2:21, which reads: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

No matter what you call the event, again, it’s good to be in the Lord’s house on New Year’s Eve. Tonight, we understand ourselves as pitched against a brand new year. Christians are inclined to go into it having first visited with Christ.

But why?

Because anything could happen. All things considered, we already know we couldn’t have made it through the previous year without Him, and we know far too well that we won’t survive the coming year apart from Him. He must be our point of origin and destination in all things all year long, all at the same time.

The Lord’s circumcision is a hint to this. His name is, too.

Christ, the perfect Son of God, could never be found accused by God’s Holy Law. And yet, as we are beneath it, He shows His willing submission to it—to bear its heavy burden perfectly—when He sheds His first few drops of blood through circumcision. Moreover, the announcement of His name—a name that literally means “the Lord saves”—testifies to who He is and what His trajectory will be relative to the Law. Indeed, He will keep it perfectly. Moreover, He will die as the perfect sacrifice measured against it. He’ll do this for us, not for Himself. He will be our substitute. And when He accomplishes it, He will give the merits of the victory to us.

Evelyn and I listen to music every day to and from school. One of the bands we’ve been singing along with lately has a particular lyric that reminds me a little bit of what New Year’s Eve holds in its back pocket. It’s a short lyric, but it’s memorable: “We walk the plank on a sinking ship.”

This is true.

The world is sinking. If you feel differently, then you’re not paying attention. Moreover, the crew—the Devil, the world, and the sinful flesh—has a sword in the back of humanity, pressing it to the edge of the ship’s plank.

In a sense, when we celebrate the “Circumcision and Name of Jesus,” Christians realize two things. Firstly, we’re reminded that Christ shed His blood so that the plank’s end would not be the final word for any of us. Regardless of how the crew might accuse us, we are innocent. Christ saw to that. We can go into every new year, walking any of life’s planks along the way, with this promise in our pocket.

Secondly, we’re reminded of just what it means to do these things relative to the Lord’s name. For anyone attuned to the biblical promises associated with God’s name, it’s likely baptism will be one of the first things that comes to mind. It certainly did for Saint Peter. In Acts 2:38, Peter announces the essentiality of being baptized into the name of Jesus, which is to be baptized according to the mandate Jesus prescribed in Matthew 28:19—that is “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Among the many glorious benefits, part of the point here is that God puts His name on you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and God has long promised that He will dwell where He puts His name.

Walking the plank on a sinking ship isn’t so bad when I know these things. For one, the plunge at the end of the plank becomes an opportunity to remember no matter the waters I’m entering, I’ve already been through the best waters there are. I’m bearing God’s name now. He loves me. He gave me everything that belongs to Christ. He said as much. He said that all who’ve been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). And if this is true, then, what comes at the end of any plank is of no concern. God said this, too. Death holds no mastery over me because it holds no mastery over Christ, the one who has clothed me with His righteousness (Galatians 3:27).

Remembering and celebrating these things is an excellent way to begin a new year. I encourage you to begin yours this way. Join other Christians who gather to receive this Gospel. The oncoming year promises a regular need for it. Christ promises to be there to give it.

I suppose I should conclude that if this message finds its way to a Christian whose church does not offer New Year’s Eve or Day services, then may I humbly urge you to go and find one that does? If anything, my guess is you’ll sense a level of spiritual awareness communicated by those services, a sense that proves their relevance for this troubled world. That alone makes it well worth your while.

Christmas Day, 2022

Merry Christmas!

What cheer that greeting brings, wouldn’t you say?!

Discounting the exceptions—that is, the humbugging Scrooges of this world who’d be rid of Christmas if they could—“Merry Christmas” is one of the few salutations with the muscle to stoke the cooling embers of a tired heart. Indeed, a weary soul is made young again, even if only for a moment, when a smiling passerby says, “Merry Christmas.”

Truly, it’s a greeting like no other.

I heard the greeting countless times last night at the Christmas Eve service. As I did, I was reminded of days long since spent, past seasons from childhood to adulthood. In a way, it could be said that unlike other greetings, this one stands at the door of here-and-now inviting memories to come inside. “Remembrance, like a candle,” Charles Dickens said, “burns brightest at Christmastime.” He might be right. “Merry Christmas” is spoken today, and a favorite toy from decades ago is remembered. It remembers a special moment with family. It remembers bygone friends. It remembers so many things.

Rarely would I add anything to Dickens’ wisdom, except to say it’s not just our pasts being invited to join us. I think our hopeful futures enter, too. Hope comes in to sit beside memory’s flickering flame.

I slept here at the church last night, mainly because I’m getting a little older and more easily tired. I don’t usually get home until well after 1:00 AM on Christmas Eve. Knowing I’d need to turn right around and come back in barely a handful of hours, combined with the treacherous roads, this year I decided to stay. I’ve done such things before. Besides, those who know me best can assume I was accompanied by a warming beverage before bed, one furnished by the Scots. I also happened upon a poetic scribbling from Alexander Smith, another product of Scotland. “Christmas,” he wrote, “is the day that holds all time together.” Like Dickens, I think he might be onto something. The very event of Christmas, if anything, begins the divine intersection of past, present, and future.

The Lord’s birth is the first effort of God’s plan to save us. As it begins, a much fuller Gospel message can be seen on the horizon. The angels sing it. The shepherds share it. The wise men are drawn to it. The Devil, through Herod, is fearful of it. And why? Because in its completeness, it will be a message that meets with the past, present, and future. It will herald what Christ has done, is doing, and will continue to do for humanity relative to Sin. This is the timelessness of “Merry Christmas.” This is the greeting’s forward thrust.

To grasp it, it’s as simple as digging a little deeper into the greeting. The salutation’s innards are not far from “Be joyful! Christ is present bringing salvation!” A Christian stands in the middle of the intersection by these words. To say “Merry Christmas” is to see all of time being held together. It is to give and receive the best answer to the hardest questions plaguing anyone’s past, present, and future.

If a troubled soul were to ask, “How can the Lord love me for what I’ve done?” The answer must be, “Fear not! He does! Merry Christmas!” If the concern continues by asking, “Will my disfigured past ever obstruct the Lord’s view, making Him unable to love a person like me?” The answer must be, “No. He knows what you’ve done. Still, He inserted Himself into the tarry horribleness of your dreadful past to claim you. Merry Christmas!”

Unconvinced, a person might continue, “As hard as I try, I continue to fall short. Will my everyday imperfections disgust Him enough to push me away? Will He ever walk away when I fall? Will He ever distance Himself from my continued shame?” Again, the Christmas answer must be, “No, He will not do these things. Certainly, you are not perfect. But He is. Trust Him. By His great exchange on Calvary’s cross, He takes your sadness into Himself and gives to you His righteousness. Merry Christmas!”

“But what about the future? As with anyone else, won’t He one day grow tired of this exercise? As with so many others, won’t He one day turn me away?” Christmas closes the book on the discussion, offering kindly, “No, He won’t. He sees your penitent faith, even if you don’t. He intends to heap mercy upon you until He returns in glory on the Last Day. Be joyful! He came at His nativity to save you. He’s coming back to take you home! Merry Christmas!”

Dear Christians, please know that all is well by faith in Jesus, the divine Child we celebrate today—Christmas Day! The intersection of your past, present, and future rested in that manger in Bethlehem so long ago. He came. He was who He claimed to be, and He accomplished what He said He would. Your salvation is secure. You are His, and He is yours. This wonderful friendship is His gift to you (John 15:15). Moreover, it’s a divine exchange meant for presenting you as Jesus’ most precious possession before the heavenly Father (Titus 2:14). By His work, you are justified (Titus 3:4-7). Covered in the pristinely white wrappings of Holy Baptism and topped with the bloodstained bow of His salvific work on the cross, what else might the Son say amid this grand and heavenly gift-exchange but “Merry Christmas!” (Romans 8:34, 1 John 2:1, and Hebrews 7:25)? It certainly seems appropriate.

Again, the greeting is like no other.

With that, Merry Christmas to you and yours! I hope to see you later this morning for worship at 9:30 AM. If you can make it, please know that the heat is on, the lights are beaming, and the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament are ready and waiting to be received.

Christmas Eve, 2022

The night of all nights is upon us. Christmas Eve has come.

Like other nights in December, its chill is biting and unfriendly, and its darkness is strict and deep. From your home to your evening destinations (one of which, God willing, will be worship) and then back again, the time spent between each will provide plentiful reminders of Sin’s perpetual cruelty.

The barren trees will cast Death’s shadow. The frosted windowpanes will dully reflect humanity’s spiritual blindness. The shelterless, snow-swept fields will howl our most profound loneliness and echo our utter impotence.

Another creature—humanity’s need for rescue—will wander between December 24th’s wintry shades, just as it does on all other nights.

Still, no matter how indistinguishable its climes may be compared to all other evenings in midwinter, Christmas Eve stands apart for the believer. Tonight remembers that God reached into this world. Tonight acknowledges Death’s curse but introduces the One who has come to face off with and destroy it. Tonight concedes humanity’s lostness while gazing upon the One who arrived to seek and find it. Tonight admits to humanity’s powerlessness while singing of and to the only One with the strength to rescue all.

On Christmas Eve, immersed in the bright beaming light of its Gospel—a Good News proclaiming the birth of God’s son, Jesus Christ—no matter how lonely we are, we realize we’re never alone. No matter how far we’ve gone, we learn we’re never out of reach. No matter how uncertain about life in this world we may feel, we discover access to the sphere-breaking confidence of heaven itself (Hebrews 10:22).

How is this possible?

Remember the words of the well-beloved Christmas hymn: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be born for me, for you….”

Christ has come. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). This Word went out, not returning to His throne empty-handed. Instead, He has accomplished the task for which He was sent (Isaiah 55:11). He died. It is finished (John 19:30). He rose. You are justified (Romans 4:25). All is well (Luke 17:19).

No matter your status, again, the hymn sings, “Come peasant, king, to own Him.” Put your faith in Him. Only He is worthy (Philippians 2:9-10).

This is the message of Christmas Eve. As Christians—as people born from its glistening goodness—tonight will forever be a night like no other. And so, here at Our Savior in Hartland, we’ll plunge ourselves into it, both at 4:30 pm and 10:30 pm.

Like us, God grant that you might rest easily in it, too. Indeed, it is Good News.

Colliding With Christmas

The Thoma family watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” not long ago. Jennifer bought the DVD. Although, she had trouble finding it. Considering the religious climate in America, I’m not surprised. The Christmas Gospel from Luke 2:8-14 is the cartoon’s essential point.

Asked by Lucy to direct the school’s Christmas play, Charlie Brown goes from scene to scene, becoming increasingly frustrated with the task. Along the way, he sets out to get a Christmas tree for the set. Anyone familiar with Charlie Brown will know how that goes. He gets a rather pathetic tree, one that bends all the way to the ground when a single bulb is hooked to its branches. As the children walk off stage laughing, he snaps, calling out with a shout, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Linus steps up to answer, his signature blanket in hand. “Sure, Charlie Brown,” he says, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

Linus asks for the stage lights to be set and then begins, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not. For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

As gently as Linus begins, he turns back to Charlie Brown. With the simplest of childlike innocence, he says so plainly, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Even though I’ve seen the cartoon countless times, I got a little choked up at that moment. Jen noticed it, but I explained it away. This Christmas special has been aired since 1965. It was a childhood staple for many of us. But now, while you can purchase any imaginable ungodliness, this short video is scarcely available. And why? Because of its message. Its words are, at best, considered quaintly obsolete and uninteresting and, at worst, downright hateful and offensive.

Neither is true. And yet, here we are.

Thinking about these things, the cartoon gave me something else to ponder. It was Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree that came to mind. In short, after Linus’ recitation, the rest of the children gather around Charlie Brown’s miserable tree to decorate it. When they’re done, it’s no longer pitiful but beautiful—the point: the heart of Christmas collided with the children. In turn, the children collided with their surroundings, making them beautiful.

Closer to home, as I do every year, I put up the family Christmas tree. I’ve been assembling the same six-foot tree since Jennifer and I married in 1997. The tree was a wedding gift from Jennifer’s brother. While putting up the tree, its branches looked noticeably thinner this year. With each attempt to fluff and fan them to life, I discovered more and more imitation pine needles sprinkling to the floor. I remember thinking a few years back about how the tree was becoming far too fragile with time. Still, I have not retired it. My reason is simple.

While piecing the little tree together each Christmas, I think, “This will be the last year.” But then the tree collides with the joyful reason for putting it up, and everything about it changes.

When strands of multicolored lights are woven into it, when decades of family ornaments begin filling its branches, when the familiar angel our four children take turns placing at its peak each year is found in its place, almost unexpectedly, the gravity of the tree’s nostalgia becomes cosmic. Suddenly, what was once so pathetically inferior to everything else around it has grown fifty feet tall, making all things within reach lesser by comparison.

Christmas is fantastical that way. Just ask a child. You’ll see.

When it comes to humanity’s collision with Christmas—namely, the Good News at its heart—God desires similar aftereffects (1 Timothy 2:4). He tells us through Saint Paul that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). No wonder the devil has worked feverishly to remove “A Charlie Brown Christmas” from the airwaves and internet shelves. By the incarnation and subsequent work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, what in Sin was destined for the trash heap might bump into its pricelessness to God. There might be an accidental interlude with the Good News—the message heralding the lengths Christ was willing to go to accomplish humanity’s deliverance. The devil doesn’t want anyone to hear this message. He knows its potential. He knows that a world steeped in hopelessness remains thinly frail against his crushing accusations. But a brush with Christmas might foster a sturdy certainty for eternal life and the muscle to resist him. Satan knows that the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel. As He does, what was woefully small in shame can be raised and made gleefully grand by the all-surpassing mercy of God’s immense love for the loveless.

The devil should be concerned about these things. A collision with Christmas—the happy tidings of the Son of God’s arrival—spells his end while announcing a sinner’s fresh beginning in Jesus. Knowing this, take a chance at steering your family and friends into Christmas’ oncoming joy. Invite them to worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Bring them to where the power of God unto salvation can and will redress their weary lives with the kind of hope that only Christ can give.

The Christmas Eve services here at Our Savior in Hartland are at 4:30 pm and 10:30 pm. (There will even be a baptism in the 4:30 pm service, which I’m particularly excited about.) The Christmas Day service is at 9:30 am. Near or far, you should make the trek. Come and collide with Christmas. Of course, Satan doesn’t want you to receive such an invitation. In fact, he is likely, right now, trying to convince you to involve yourself with other, more important things. Let that be a clue to the invitation’s worth.

Churchills and Chamberlains

Like many of you, I do a lot of reading. Although, because of time constraints, I suppose more and more people are reading through their ears. I’ve not been one for audiobooks. I tried it a time or two, but it didn’t seem to work for me. I once tried listening to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of short stories featuring Doyle’s famous detective. Stephen Fry narrated the collection. Fry was equal to the task, and he was equal to the task. But after a little while, I hoped to hear someone else. When one person reads and interprets the whole text, carrying each character with only his or her voice, a longing emerges for what the imagination might do with those same words. Would Holmes really sound like that? Would Watson’s voice be pitched in that way?

But that’s just me. I invest in imagination, so I prefer to read the text myself. This is probably why I’m rarely impressed by films based on books. They never quite meet with what I experienced in my mind.

I also read a lot of speeches. I memorize them, too. Just ask my kids. I can readily perform Winston Churchill’s material. Reading a speech is different than reading a book. A public address is meant to be heard, so as I read along, I find myself preferring to hear the speaker’s voice. Listening lets in more than just the information the speaker intended to share but also the deeper, more personal things he or she wants you to feel in your guts. These things arrive in the carriages of tenor, tone, and many other rhetorical devices, all meant to bring the listener into the speaker’s world. Sometimes, this world reveals more than the speaker envisioned.

Since I mentioned Winston Churchill, a great example of this can be seen between Churchill and his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain.

A pompous man, Chamberlain will forever be remembered as the English Prime Minister who appeased the Nazis. In his “Peace for Our Time” speech in 1938, he gives the impression that following his meetings with Adolf Hitler, he alone brought peace to Europe. It is a short speech. The language is high, distinguished, and well-delivered, not flowery or cumbersome. However, it carries along with an egocentric and aristocratic fervor, the kind of self-importance that drove him to say so foolishly later:

“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a quiet sleep.”

Though subtle in textual form, Chamberlain’s self-absorption is easily heard in the speech’s audio recording. It’s amplified when you learn that later that next year—1938—Hitler completely disregarded Chamberlain and invaded Poland.

In contrast, Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech before the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, rings differently. Like Chamberlain, Churchill speaks in a way that shows his aptitude for language. But as he speaks, the listener realizes something about him personally. They can hear his skill, but they can tell he is using his skill in service to them, not himself. He’s not on a mission to build a fan base as the new Prime Minister, but instead to crisply explain a dire situation to a nation he loves. His language is colorful—dreadfully so—as he depicts the depths of a dirty and inescapable predicament that he intends to empty himself into completely. As he speaks, he includes the listener. He brings them along, making sure they feel as he feels and believe as he believes—which, in the end, is that if Great Britain is to survive, the whole nation will be required to fight.

Interestingly, even though he speaks again and again in the first person singular, which is something self-absorbed people tend to do, the audible care with his words rescues his message, making it clear by his tones that he does not believe himself to be the savior of the British Empire. He believes, firstly, that God will be their deliverer because the cause is just; and secondly, God will do this through the might and muscle of a committed British people. He believes God will move them to stand together and face “an ordeal of the most grievous kind….” And so again, even as he uses “I” repeatedly throughout the speech, the words “our” and “us” resonate with far greater intensity:

“You ask, what is our policy? I will say it is to wage war by sea, land, and air—with all our might and with all the strength God has given us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory—victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror; victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized.”

When the people heard Churchill speak these words, they were not distracted by anything about him, not even his raspy lisp. Instead, as he poured his entire self into communicating the immensity of the need, they took his message into themselves and were inspired to fight. More importantly, Churchill inspired them to endure, not necessarily knowing the outcome, but being aware of the price for victory and being found willing to do what was needed to pay it.

I suppose I find myself thinking about all these things this morning—how we receive words, as well as the noteworthy people who write or speak them—because, over the last seven or eight years, I’ve found myself brushing shoulders with some fairly high profile folks who do this for a living. I’ve discovered among them what appears to be two camps: glory hounds and genuine servants; Chamberlains and Churchills. The Chamberlains know their own importance and, as a result, have little time for a backwater clergyman ushered to the chair beside them—that is, unless he can help further their importance. The Churchills, on the other hand, no matter who is beside them, want to know what makes their new compatriot tick. They want to converse together. They want to learn. They want to know where others stand on things, and without saying as much, they want to assure their counterparts they’re not in the game for the earthly rewards but the wellbeing of real people. They want to win the war, and they know if that’s going to happen, they need the people beside them, no matter who that might be, to be in it with them. And so, they use their God-given platforms to embrace and inspire their listeners, being sure to empty themselves before the crowds in ways that show they’re all in for the triumph.

By the way, I think good preachers do this, too. A good preacher is a genuinely committed one—someone devoted whole-heartedly to the task; someone the pew sitters are convinced has a deep care for the content preached and the listeners receiving it. They believe that he believes the message, too, and that he would die before letting it go silent.

Now, before I wander off in a tangential direction on preaching, there’s another speech I’ve read that comes to mind this morning. General Douglas MacArthur gave it. A brilliant strategist, MacArthur is one of those speakers you should read rather than hear. I say that because he’s a bit of an enigma. He’s a fine orator, but like Chamberlain, self-importance shines through in his voice. However, as an inspiring warrior, he’s a Churchill. He would give everything of himself to convince his troops to follow him into battle and give everything of himself in that battle to win. He spoke in 1952, saying, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.” He was right, and the sentiment of his words travel alongside folks like George Orwell, who said with great seriousness, “The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”

Together, these points remind us that if a person isn’t genuinely invested in the fight—that he or she is only laboring out of concern for self—he or she is already destined to lose. That loss will have begun much sooner than the person may even realize. For these reasons, loss is a Chamberlain’s destiny. Churchills are more likely to win because they know they need the muscle and might of others to help move the mountains. With that, they work harder to convince and inspire.

Right now, we need Churchills.

We’re at war here in Michigan. Plenty are talking about Proposal 3—which, as any pro-life person paying attention to Michigan will know, is a demonic attempt to memorialize in the state’s Constitution an individual’s right to have an abortion up to, and in some cases, after birth. The pro-life ranks are filled with Chamberlains and Churchills. Some are saying and doing just enough to remain relevant, giving the impression they care, but only to get elected or re-elected. Others are pouring themselves into the fight because their very fiber won’t allow them to do anything else. They’re talking to others, not necessarily with eloquence but with knowledge and passion. They’re getting the word out. They’re recruiting others to the cause. They’re doing this because they care about others. This care has helped reveal to them the guts of Proposal 3. They know it more than enshrines murder in a way that will be nearly impossible to reverse and that it reaches into countless other arenas, ultimately negating laws that protect parental consent and religious objection. Perhaps most importantly, the people fighting the hardest know the blast radius of their efforts is large. They know the rest of the nation is watching—friend and foe alike. What happens in Michigan will be repeated.

In closing, I encourage you to be a Churchill, not a Chamberlain. The enemy is at the gates as never before. Set aside your own safety or self-interest. Step outside what keeps you comfortable, and do what you can to rally the troops. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors. Send them an email. Call them. Give them literature that enunciates the concern. Let them experience your passion for the unborn, not in an imposing way, but in a way that shows you genuinely believe what you’re saying and doing. Implore them to vote no on Proposal 3 on November 8.

I know some might disagree with me when I say a Christian is duty-bound to do this. Feel free to disagree. Just know you’re wrong, and I’d go to the mat to prove it. What you believe is made complete by what you do (James 2:22). So, get up and do. Proposal 3 deals in Christological things. God owns all its topics. If, as God’s people, we remain quietly inactive, resulting in Proposal 3’s passing, the devil will mock our Chamberlain-like foolishness during his government-sanctioned invasion of Michigan on November 9.

Don’t let that happen. Speak out. Fight. Rally others. Stand at the gates and stop Proposal 3. Do everything you can to fight this “monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.” As a citizen, you can. As a Christian, you must.

Victory and Defeat

After enjoying a richly fruitful event yesterday—our annual “The Body of Christ and the Public Square” conference—I’m again reminded of life’s strangeness. I acknowledge that Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan, is by no means a powerhouse of financial magnitude, nor are we large by comparison to many other churches. In truth, we are a relatively unassuming bunch of Christians who gather for Word and Sacrament ministry. By God’s grace, in that gathering, we have discovered ourselves equipped for accomplishing some pretty incredible things—namely, the courageous carrying of Christ’s Gospel into the world in ways one might not expect from a troupe like us.

We do this as Confessional Lutherans—people who are disinterested in using candied entertainment to lure people through our doors. Instead, we hold to the historic Rites and Ceremonies the Church has enjoyed for two millennia. That’s been our identity for our six-and-a-half decades here in Hartland. Within the last ten years, as the world has intensified its efforts to invade and destroy all things Godly, we’ve seen our shiftless identity draw others alongside us in defense. Some of these folks are ones you only see on TV—such as Candace Owens, Charlie Kirk, Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza, Dennis Prager, and of course, Matt Walsh, who so graciously joined us for yesterday’s conference.

How did this happen? Well, that’s a question I’m asked quite frequently.

The honest answer is, “I don’t really know.” Or perhaps better stated, “Only God knows.” Although, I suppose I could say that I’ve found myself in the right places at the right times talking with the right people. I’ll add relatively frankly that those same people found the depth and relevance of our identity refreshing. That said, even as the one running point on these conversations, I never expected any of the opportunities we enjoy today. I was doing what pastors are supposed to be doing, plain and simple. The congregation I serve was, too.

Admittedly, I’ve grown in my awareness that the times, as they say, “are a-changing.” Things are much harder for the Church these days. In fact, the way I’ll often describe this is as it relates to clergy: the days when people tipped their hats kindly to a passing clergyman on the street, listened to him with gladness giving the invocation at a public school event, or smiled as he engaged in community affairs—these are all ancient and alien experiences compared to today. Nowadays, the chance of a clergyman being attacked or spit upon by a passerby is a ready possibility. I speak from experience. Still, God leads His undershepherds accordingly. The same goes for the people who know the Good Shepherd’s voice. His mission and its subsequent peripherals haven’t changed. With that, and speaking only for myself, I’ve spoken to particular topics in specific contexts as the Spirit required. This produced results. Sometimes good. Sometimes not so good. Either way, friendships emerged. Those friendships expanded to others, eventually moving into certain spheres where an in-the-trench congregation and her pastor would subsequently find themselves engaging with some of this world’s darkest forces. And yet, God saw fit to send help from others. Some of these reinforcements speak from exceptional platforms and bear extraordinary resources.

Indeed, God has blessed us in this. And so, we go forward.

There is a saying that victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan. The point is that when things are going well, plenty are willing to say they had a hand in it being so. But when the threat of trouble comes, associations grow thin, and people take cover in the shadows. The thing about God’s people here at Our Savior is that, for the most part, we’ve never been a congregation with the urge to cut and run when things got tough. As it is in most congregations, individuals have departed from our fellowship for one reason or another. Some because they simply didn’t like me and wanted me gone. In fact, they worked really hard to get rid of me. That’s fine. Not to be too bold, but they’re elsewhere, and I’m still here. Apparently, God had other plans.

Others left because of our congregation’s hard stance against abortion, LGBTQ impositions, CRT, and the like. Unfortunately, and in my opinion, those folks couldn’t exchange their love of this world for alignment with God’s Word. Interestingly, some left our fellowship for various reasons, but when they discovered the theological conditions in other places, they regretted the decision and returned. They realized the essentiality of Confessional Lutheranism’s inherent resistance to the ever-altering whims of culture. And why are confessionally liturgical churches so sturdy? At some point, I’ll probably write a book about it. Until I do, let’s just say it’s because their identity isn’t bound to the here and now. They share ownership of a singular identity with countless generations of Christians before them. As a result, they’re less inclined to roll over and give it away when the enemy comes calling for something new. They will fight as their fore-parents fought, knowing they’re not in the fray for the temporal successes bound to this world’s timeline but for the timeless successes that only God can provide—the kind He has supplied to the confessing Church during her most challenging days throughout all of human history.

There’s something else to keep in this regard.

Strangely, success often appears among such people as defeat—as struggle, suffering, hardship, and adversity. If you doubt it can be this way, consider the crucifixion of Jesus—the absolute epitome of the world’s depiction of failure. And yet, by the Lord’s gruesome self-giving, the cure to Sin’s poison was accomplished and delivered, and the old evil foe, the devil, was forever defanged. The incarnation of Jesus—God’s lowering of Himself to our station—and His eventual death on the cross, these two things demonstrate the truest glory of God. Jesus and His Heavenly Father believed and acknowledged this together in John 12:23-32. In the same way, Christians who crave faithfulness to this glory rather than the glory of prestige already have a proper bearing. They can trust even as victory and defeat seem blurry, assured that God is in the fracas with them and He is using even the hardest moments for His faithful people as it serves His righteous purposes.

There’s another saying relative to this that’s worth considering. I’ve heard it said (and I’ve likely shared it before) that the real tragedy in loss is the pain experienced from almost winning. I don’t know who said it, but I certainly appreciate its insight. It’s an honest observation of how it can hurt to arrive at the finish line but not cross it. But again, for Christians, it’s not necessarily about the finish line. It’s about the race. When it comes to humanity in general, the finish line gets crossed in death. Although, in one sense, Christians have already crossed the finish line as they’ve died to themselves and were reborn in Jesus. Baptized into Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work for faith in the One who already crossed the threshold by His death and resurrection, ultimately winning the victory, a Christian is accounted with His finish-line triumph. Knowing this, the race becomes a joyful venturing alongside the One who promises never to leave or forsake us as we run.

Of course, just as the world would interpret the Lord’s death as defeat, so also will it see the struggles we face as Christians—and even our mortal death—in the same light. But again, Christians know better.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint Paul wrote those words. His words consolidate both living and dying into one unending life.

As Paul’s words meet with the here and now, we know that the hills and valleys, the straightaways and the turns, the uneven roads and the smooth terrain all provide opportunities for God’s victorious Gospel to drive us toward the next moment. What that moment will be—how it will feel, what will be at stake, the measure of effort it will exact—we don’t know. But what we do know is that if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31). He’s on our side. The victory is His. We get to go forth in faithfulness to Him regardless of the current climate of our culture. There’s courage to be had by this knowledge.

I mean, when not even death can scare you, what would any of us have to fear if someone vomited threats on us for saying that an unborn child is a person worthy of life; or that men can’t be women and women can’t be men; or that the answer to racism is not more racism as Critical Race Theory would insist? Of course, these are rhetorical questions easily answered.

Death has been conquered. In Jesus, we have life. This is at the heart of what we do here at Our Savior in Hartland. God is blessing our efforts as they’re born from this trust in the middle of both ease and struggle. I’m glad for both because I know they serve as tools of a God who has given unbreakable promises of His loving care.

Family Matters Most

Yesterday was my daughter Evelyn’s 13th birthday, and I’m not kidding when I say she has been looking forward to the day for quite some time. Becoming a teenager is a memorable thing. It’s an even bigger deal for a girl who dearly loves her family and wants so much for them to share the moment with her.

Evelyn really is that kind of girl. If she is experiencing joy, she wants that same joy to be experienced by others. I think that’s one reason why she is so invested in her church family. She loves the Lord. He has blessed her through some pretty incredible challenges, and He’s done it in ways that have brought her tremendous joy. As a result, and firstly, she’s drawn toward being in worship with others in her church. What I mean is that even though she’s already in worship every Sunday, she also attends on Wednesdays—even though she doesn’t have to. When she was in midweek catechesis, she attended Wednesday evening worship by default because I brought her to school in the mornings, and then she’d stay through for her class, which happens right after evening worship. She’s confirmed now and no longer in midweek catechesis. But she still insists on staying with me all day to attend Wednesday evening worship. Secondly, she’s drawn toward making sure the place where worship happens is in good order—that the processional cross is in place, that the hymnals are straightened, that any scrap of out-of-place paper is removed. She wants the sacred spaces to be kept in a way that prevents others from being distracted from the joy God intends to give.

She’s also the kind of girl, as I said, who loves her immediate family—a family that, as the youngest in the bunch, she can see is beginning to spread its wings and fly in multiple directions, often making it difficult for everyone to be together. But she wants that togetherness. She so often wants nothing more than to have all of us in the same place at the same time. It bothers her when even one of us is missing. And rightfully so. Who wants to be apart from the ones they love the most? Not Evelyn. And her 13th birthday celebration all but guaranteed it. We’d all be there. And not only that, but we were all relatively commitment-free. She’d be able to spend the whole day at home with her family doing whatever she wanted, having set her sights on time with her siblings, the consumption of chili dogs (her requested meal), opening presents, and then plunging into some pie and ice cream a little later.

But then I got a call that threatened to jeopardize this greatest wish and a long-anticipated day.

The call came in on Thursday morning. I was asked to give the opening prayer at the Trump rally in Warren, Michigan, on Saturday afternoon. It was an honor to be asked, to be sure. It’s something that, if you say no, you never get asked again. I had a choice to make. I told the caller that I couldn’t say yes without checking on something else first, and I assured her I’d call her right back. As soon as I hung up, I called Jennifer. Like me, she knew the day belonged to Evelyn. With that, our conversation was brief. We agreed that while this was an incredible honor, whatever Evelyn preferred would determine my answer. She was most important to both of us, and quite simply, that was that.

I walked down to the school, peeked into Evelyn’s classroom, and motioned for her to join me in the hallway. Reminding her of something that needed no reminder—the arrival of her birthday in two days—I started to tell her about what I’d just been invited to do that same day. Before I could even begin to explain that she would have the final word and that I would be absolutely fine with saying no to the request, her eyes lit up, and she burst into, “Can I go with you?! Can I go?! Can I go?!” She took a quick breath and then, true to form, added, “Can we all go?! Can the whole family go?!”

“Of course, we can all go,” I said. “But it’s your birthday—and it’s an extra-special one. You’ve been looking forward to being home with the whole family and having an easy day. I want that to be what happens if that’s what you want. Whatever you want to do is what we’ll all do. Just know I intend to be with you on your 13th birthday. There’s absolutely no way I’d miss it.”

“Will I get to meet President Trump if I go?” she asked. “Can we all meet him together?” she continued, making sure the prospect of a unique birthday joy would be her family’s, too.

“Absolutely,” I said. “We’ll all meet the President together.”

“Really?!” she replied, sounding even more excited than before.

“Yes, really,” I said. “They’ll give our whole family special seats right up front. When it’s time, they’ll call me on stage to offer the prayer, and then sometime afterward, when President Trump arrives, they’ll come and get us and take us back to meet him before he goes up to speak. We’ll get to talk with him and take some pictures.”

“Oh, this is going to be the best birthday ever!” she exclaimed. “And we’ll all be together!”

And that’s pretty much where it ended. Evelyn gave me an incredibly tight hug, and then I shepherded her back to class. The rest is what it is. Walking back to my office, I called and said yes, even though I was fully prepared to say no and never to be asked again. With that, we all went together—sadly, except for Harrison. He had a very sore throat on Friday and felt terrible when he awoke on Saturday. He preferred to stay home and sleep. We all missed him, that’s for sure. Each of us said that more than once throughout the evening. Still, it was quite an eventful night. While waiting in the Green Room before my time on stage, I met and visited with a number of folks many of us only know from a distance—such as Mike Lindell and Margorie Taylor Green. One notable moment was spent with Dick Morris. Before the family and I were ushered back to meet the President, he leaned over to ask if I’d read Erik Metaxas’ book on Luther. I had. And so we talked somewhat superficially about its contents. Along the way, I mentioned Luther’s theology of the Two Kingdoms, and that led him to ask me to explain it. I did, and he seemed convinced. And why wouldn’t he? It is the best, most precise handling of biblical Church and State theology.

Still, and as Evelyn is likely to tell you with glee, the best moment for all of us is when she got a cheerful and welcoming “Happy Birthday, Evelyn!” from President Trump followed by a warm handshake and a few pictures together with her family.

Now, I suppose I felt moved to tell you about my initial interaction with Evelyn during school because it shaped what I would eventually say during the prayer before the more than 20,000 people in attendance. If you watched the broadcast, you’d remember that I prayed for many things—religious liberty and protection from unjust laws, courage among citizens, preservation of objective truth, an unraveling of the wickedness of abortion, and God’s mighty hand for crushing Proposal 3. I asked God for these things and more. But smack dab in the middle of visiting with these requests on paper, I was first moved to scribble that our gracious Lord would restore admiration for family. In essence, I asked that we, as a nation, would be reminded of just how wonderful the bond between a father, mother, and children truly is. I did this not only because I know very well the blessings that come from having a family of my own but because God is the generous architect of the human household, and He has put the estate of family in place as a fundamental underpinning for all societies of all time. When families break, communities get weaker. When families are redefined, institutions lose more of their grip on what is sure.

If a society is to endure, it must preserve families.

I’ve also written in other places that the human family forms the quintessential transmission lines for passing this knowledge along from one generation to the next. When families come undone, when these lines are torn down, again, societies lose touch with their very identities. Families are essential to a nation’s identity. Knowing this, if I can’t first choose my family over myself, I harm the ones I love and do my country and its future generations a terrible disservice. The decision to say yes or no to a request like this might not appear to be that impactful, but in the end, its blast radius reaches further into a future than any of us could ever know. The funny thing is, the love I have for my daughter and the love she has for me made it incredibly easy to see. The love my whole family has for each other made it even more apparent.

Remember that.

Wives, love your husbands. No matter what, choose them first. Husbands, love your wives. Prefer them above everything else. Parents, love your children. Embrace them before embracing the things you think might be most beneficial to you personally. Do these things and enjoy a sturdy family, a gift of the Lord well-protected from a culture seeking to divide it. Our floundering 21st-century society needs you to do this, now more than ever.

[To view the prayer, click here.]

Care with Language: One Sphere to Another

Our dear friends Rev. Joe and Carrie Bangert are in town for the weekend, and it has been a joy catching up with them. Because our families are incredibly close, having spent years together here at Our Savior—walking together through so many moments in life, our kids being theirs and theirs being ours—it was easy to shore up our time apart. It’s nothing short of visiting with family. We spent most of Saturday morning talking about our children—where they are in life and the kind of people they are becoming. Chatting in this way, it’s hard to avoid comparing generations. And so, we did that, too. We talked about how things were different in our former days, and as we did, we observed ourselves. At least, I know I did.

I suppose I could ask you, “When did you know the path you would pursue as an adult?”

I’ve shared before that my earliest memory of future possibilities envisioned an Indiana Jones life in archaeology. I wanted to dig things up, find artifacts, and solve mysteries. I wanted to rediscover the earth’s undiscoverables. At one time, I found myself wanting to be a doctor. By the time I entered high school, both desires had given way to a longing to fly fighter jets, namely, the F-15 Eagle. I loved that plane. I still do. A secret wish is that before I die, I’ll be able to go for a ride in one—or any fighter jet, for that matter.

Beyond these things, something happened during my junior year in high school that rendered my previous aspirations obsolete. I think Graham Greene described it best. He said, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”

I remember one of a few instances that signaled the door’s opening. It happened while sitting in a midday study hall scheduled right after my Creative Writing English class and just before my Spanish III class. That day in particular, I’d spent my time reading The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe.

In the story, Poe described a revelrous masquerade ball thrown by a prince for his friends in seclusion while a terrible plague was depopulating his country. As if nothing were happening outside, the extravagant décor of the prince’s gatherings betrayed a uniquely twisted personality, one that Poe described as “bold and fiery” designs that “glowed with barbaric lustre.” Poe continued using fantastical language to describe a seemingly grotesque genius inherent to a man who wanted to continue living his life of indulgence, doing all he could to forget what was happening beyond the archways of his isolation.

It’s a unique story. And yet, the point of my sharing is not necessarily its content (even though it does matter) but rather something that happened while reading the story. It was a moment when I felt a genuine appreciation for the rich use of language. Poe wrote in ways that brought me from one sphere into another. There I was sitting in the Morton High School cafeteria, feeling as though I’d been whisked away and into darkly gothic chambers filled with costumed and twirling revelers. His descriptions were incredibly palpable. Here at my computer on a Sunday morning more than thirty years after first reading the story, I still feel like I’m describing something I experienced firsthand. The party’s music, bustling atmosphere, and flickering candelabras dripping wax haven’t left me. Perhaps more significantly, I remember the passion stirred by the story’s pivotal moment from noisy merriment to a sweeping breathlessness that palled every person in every chamber of the house—the moment of moments when a visitor appeared and everything turned sideways for the prince and his guests. It was the moment that revealed Poe’s purpose for writing.

Poe described the scene:

“And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened… the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise—then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.”

I don’t want to spoil the story (although it was published in 1842, so you’ve had 180 years to read it), but you should know that the masked figure who suddenly appeared wasn’t on the prince’s guest list. He’s never on anyone’s guest list. Still, he has access to every space that humans occupy. One day, we will meet him no matter what we do to ignore him, how we try to hide away from him, or what we do to protect against him. Everyone will. And why? For one, God did not hide the truth regarding the sinister specter’s existence. He is the last greatest enemy of all (1 Corinthians 15:26), the one visitor God told us would be Sin’s final wage (Romans 6:23).

Both then and now, Poe’s story communicates something incredibly theological to me. For my part, however, I remember reading it and realizing how much I loved the language Poe used to tell it. I remember wondering how it could be possible to take such a deep truth carried on such a moving string of language, and translate it into other languages, such as the language I’d be studying in my very next class. Could Spanish interpret the vibrancy of Poe’s English sufficiently. English and Spanish are two different spheres.

There began my desire for a career focused on handling language in the best ways for memorably communicating concepts from one person or place to another. The door opened, and my future stepped in.

I assumed the way forward in this would be as a teacher, so I went to college and eventually graduated with a degree in education. Enticed by the opportunity to teach in a church, I drifted into my school’s Director of Christian Education program. This resulted in an internship in Michigan. A decade later, I experienced the unmistakable pull toward the seminary. Now I’m a pastor—both a teacher and preacher. I’m someone tasked with taking the most remarkable words ever put to a page and communicating them to others.

A few weeks ago, during the sermon here at Our Savior, I used one of my fast-fleeting minutes in the pulpit to examine this privilege, sharing how it actually meets with the preaching task. I mentioned that Christian preaching is, as Saint Paul demonstrates quite simply in Romans 10:14-15, a conduit from God through a person to others. Its purpose is to deliver God’s Law and Gospel—to show us our sins and to give us the solution to the sin problem, Jesus Christ. The result: faith in the Savior and the assurance of eternal life only by His person and work. I noted that a Christian sermon, while it may technically preach Law and Gospel, if it does so unprepared and disjointedly, being little more than a prattling on and on about this and that, eventually becoming a droning form of communication that actually makes it hard for the hearer to listen—such preaching might be doing more to smother its purpose than accomplish it.

In other words, the careful handling of God’s Word—which includes deliberate attention to the language used to relay it—is important. This is true because it can assist in building a platform of certainty in a listener—the fostering of a uniquely powerful (and often overlooked) byproduct: the belief that what’s being said means the world to the preacher, and he desperately wants his listeners to believe it, too. Of course, that’s not necessarily the power of the sermon. The Holy Spirit at work through the faithful proclamation of the Word is the power.

Notice I said the faithful proclamation. Care with words is a part of this and is, by no means, disconnected from the Lord’s sending of the preacher as a witness. When the preacher communicates the seriousness of sin’s predicament (that Poe’s specter is indeed looming) and the solution born from the person and work of Christ, when he does this in ways that show he’s invested in every single word, this can be an extremely sturdy bridge on the road to certainty. Such moments become unforgettable for listeners, ones that welcome concepts right into the middle of the listener’s sphere.

I can honestly say that the beginning of my awareness of these things began to take shape during my junior year in high school. In essence, I was becoming aware of the art of homiletics—the study and practice of preaching. Sure, it coalesced in my youth through visits with secular literature. But even so, the door opened, and my current role (which back then was my potential future) stepped in. Do I sometimes wonder if I’d have made it as a fighter pilot? Sometimes. I just asked myself that question a few nights ago while watching “Top Gun: Maverick” for the tenth time. And yet, as Maverick said in response to Rear Admiral Chester Cain’s ridiculing comments for not having done something grander with his life, “I’m where I belong, sir.” I thought the same thing while sipping my shallow dram of whisky and nodding in agreement. I’m right where I belong. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

I suppose that’s enough for this morning.

Inheritors of the World to Come

Perhaps you’re still trying to keep up with the latest safety recommendations for COVID? I’m not. I stopped trying to “be in the know” about these things long ago. To be clear, when it became apparent that entire fields of science were being manipulated to satisfy political agendas—many of which conveniently hindered the efforts of the Church, parental authority in schools, and so many other things that are fundamental to a moral society—my belief in the current government’s legitimate ordination became less than sturdy, and with it, my desire to cooperate in its externals. As a result, I’ve found myself accepting the possibility that God’s smiling countenance upon America, if ever ours to claim, is very near its end.

But that’s a topic for another day.

In the meantime, it seems if you can steer clear of most mainstream media sources, choosing instead to visit with some of the unprocessed and unfiltered numbers, a majority of what I think you’ll find appears to vindicate the ones who spoke out against forced vaccinations, mask-wearing, and school closings. Many studies show an astronomical surge in suicides, which is something never before seen in history. Others are proving cognitive deficiencies in children at unprecedented levels. Plenty of others imply drastic worldwide increases in cancers, strokes, cardiopulmonary diseases, respiratory illnesses, and even untimely deaths among youth within populations with the highest percentages of adherence to masking, social distancing, and vaccination acceptance.

These disastrous upturns appear to begin in the late spring of 2020. Why? What took place in 2020? I wonder.

Interestingly, the people who imposed these things upon us continue to claim that what they did was beneficial, and they’re even insisting we vote to keep them in their stations. Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan, wants four more years. The one who, by executive order, required my local Ace Hardware to rope off its gardening and paint sections; the one who mandated that all Michigan hospitals forego countless life-saving treatments and surgical procedures; the one who sent state employees to tape off public play structures; the one who ticketed un-masked dog-walkers; the one who sent Michigan State Police to fine barbers and give citations to clergy holding worship services; the one who fortified a context in which newborns, who are now two years old, have only recently been allowed to see the unmasked faces of their caregivers, extended family, and closest childhood friends; the one who orchestrated unvaccinated employee terminations—this diabolical Governor wants to keep her job. She militantly choreographed these things and more while keeping the abortion clinics wide open and ensuring Michiganders had unhindered access to lottery tickets and liquor. This fiendish woman is insisting we give her another shot in Lansing.

Is there any doubt that I will do everything I can to see that she is not re-elected? Tudor Dixon, what can I do to help?

Of course, that’s a topic for another day, as well.

Still, no matter the ever-increasing pile of irrefutable data proving the destruction that has occurred (and continues to occur) over the last two years, some continue to show a strange tenacity for rejecting what the data shows. Why? Well, one reason might be because it’s tough to break free from the habit-forming rites and ceremonies of what has become the COVID religion. For the most part, I’ve been able to tune it out. Still, every time I stop for gas and, like you, find myself signing away years of my life for a few gallons, most of the commercials on the pump’s tiny screen involve COVID clergy repeating this new religion’s liturgies. The presiding minister says, “Mask up! Get vaccinated! This promise is for you and your children; vaccination now saves you!” The congregation resounds its amens and alleluias with, “It’s safe and effective! Love your neighbor!”

Speaking as a tradition-and-liturgy-loving Lutheran, when it comes to retaining true religion (which is what Saint James calls Christianity in the first chapter of his epistle [1:26-27], referring specifically to Christianity’s visible distinction from the world’s persona), that’s a big part of what liturgy, rites, and ceremonies are for. They deliver a clear, structured, and authoritative word from the word’s source. They repetitively do this. Repetition weaves subject matter into a person’s heart and mind, not only stirring trustworthiness but making it so that wherever the person might be, the content of his or her faith is accessible in an involuntary way. Immersing in such things creates credal boundaries designed to help a believer remain within the true faith while avoiding heterodox teachings. Again, all of these are reasons why I’m a full subscriber to liturgical Christianity. An added benefit (and again, speaking only for myself): the confines of credal Christianity have assisted many believers in identifying and defending against the inching impositions of the new credal COVID religion. Churches that are essentially “anything goes” in nature and practice don’t have the protective borders that historic liturgical churches have. In an “anything goes” world, an “anything goes” church is already a perfect match for the world’s ways. It’s just how humanity works.

But that, too, is a topic for another day.

Another thought: I think the willful cancellation of in-person worship says a lot about modern Christianity. Across the span of 2,000 years, closing the Church’s doors at Easter for fear of sickness and death seemed to communicate something viscerally wrong with 21st-century Christianity. The pastors who led the charge—or the people of God who pressured or threatened their pastors toward blind compliance—this side of the situation, I think the decision will haunt all. “At the time, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” True. But the resurrection of Jesus is the cemented victory over death and all its creeping tendrils, the most creeping of all being fear. It should be the last celebration ever to be canceled. In Christ, for a believer, to die is not death but life. Do we tempt death with foolish practices? No. In uncertain situations, we take reasonable precautions, never imposing on God’s Word in the process. Still, do we do these things because we’re afraid of death? By no means. Why would we be? There’s a reason the Lutheran funeral liturgy includes (or at least should include) the Lord’s words to Martha at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus spoke plainly of death to the saddened and fearful sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). If one keeps reading the text, you’ll see the Lord didn’t end His sentence there. He asked Martha directly, “Do you believe this?” Martha’s answer will be heard and then seen.

21st-century Christians were asked, “Do you believe this?” Our communal words and deeds were incredibly disappointing.

As I said, the decision to close churches will forever haunt many Christians and clergy. But apparently, not everyone. Believe it or not, some churches are happy to remain closed to this day, and the members of those churches appear unbothered by it, too. Beyond those fellowships, many congregations have been seduced into online worship as a viable option, not just for shut-ins, be for able-bodied church-goers. Pastors and church leaders have steered God’s people into a church-certified justification for never stepping foot in the Lord’s house again. Pajamas, coffee, and church when it’s convenient—a complete disconnection from the worshipping community—have become pious. Worse than that, virtual communion is now a thing.

Terrible.

I have one thing to say about these things, especially as I think back to where I began: If you think the skyrocketing rates of suicide, illnesses, and premature deaths are alarming, these are nothing compared to the spiritual havoc that all this has created. It’s a mess of spiritual illnesses and deaths that reach into the world after this world. You name the tragedy—disease, lightning strike, shark attack, an automobile accident. All these things and more kill in this life. But Christians are not inheritors of this life. We are heirs of the life to come. A disconnected and starved faith kills the life to come—the unending life.

I should probably wrap up this morning’s rambling with some sort of point. I guess I’m saying that if you’ve been away from your church since 2020, having somehow become convinced that staying at home will keep you safe from all things leading to death, I beg you to reconsider your position. In truth, all the so-called reasonable excuses have dried up. Now you’re willfully committing spiritual suicide. Unfortunately, the COVID religion continues to bolster the virtue in doing so, convincing so many that they’re somehow showing genuine Christian love to their neighbors by abiding in its provably destructive dogmas.

Again, terrible—the devil’s scheme, for sure. Beware.

Remember, you can’t even begin to love your neighbor if you don’t love God more. You don’t get to the second table of the Ten Commandments (commandments four through ten) before passing through the first table (commandments one through three). God’s Word is not cloudy in this regard. Right there in the first table, trust in God above all things is chief, His name is above all others, and time with Him in worship is above all other opportunities. If these things are negligible or arbitrary to you, you’ve already wandered beyond the boundaries of the one true faith before your first hello to a neighbor. That said, there’s a good chance you’re apart from all the other salvation-crucial details inherent to the Gospel you claim to confess. Go to church. Be in study. Hear the preaching. Receive Word and Sacrament ministry for the benefit of a sturdy faith and a right trust in the Conqueror of death and its reverberating fears. Get back inside the safe keeping of this Conqueror’s sheep pen. Hear His voice and follow Him.

Unlike the inept and ever-varying science-shifters the prophets of COVID have proven to be, Jesus Christ is steady and can be trusted. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He has promised never to leave or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). In my book, that settles it. What’s more, He gives these promises to Christians and then, with devout concern, asks rhetorically, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The answer: passing appeasement and pleasure in this temporary life but everything dreadful in the unending next.