Persistence and Determination

If you’ve ever been in my office, then you may know that right behind where I sit at my desk there are bookshelves, and on them, I’ve taped little quotations that I appreciate. Over time, as I’ve pulled books from the shelves, some of the quotations have torn away and ended up in the garbage. The ones that remain are tattered, and eventually, they’ll come off, too. But whatever. I’ll replace them with other tidbits from various folks from across a wide spectrum of thought.

And no matter what I put there or what happens to the paper after I do, I’ll remember the words. I’ll have looked at them so many times, they’ll be written into me.

If you were to look at all of them as a singular item, you’d notice a similarity to the words I choose to put there. In one way or another, they all speak to courage and resolve. For example, there’s one from Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist. When Amorth was asked if he was afraid of the devil, he answered, “Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.”

Those who know me best wouldn’t be surprised that a few of the quotations are from Shakespeare. I like Shakespeare a lot. In Act II of Julius Caesar, he wrote, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

Apart from the likes of Shakespeare, one of my favorites is from Calvin Coolidge. I’m not necessarily a fan of Coolidge, but he did offer rather memorably: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Okay, so maybe he’s a little off when he says that persistence and determination are omnipotent. Only God is all-powerful. But I think we get his point. He’s trying to say that within the field of any particular endeavor, not even the brightest and most talented have a chance against the one who persists undeterred. The persistent and determined are most likely to win the prize.

As God’s people, how does this measure against us?

Well, first we begin with God. We can actually say that when we consider who God is, persistence and determination are divine qualities. When we think on our Sin, we truly learn this. He has His heart set on us, and so He continues to chase after us with His Gospel. His holy will is laser-focused on what is needed to save us, and He accomplishes it. No one can argue the loving persistence and determination of God to save us as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. Look to Calvary and see for yourself. The passersby cursing and taunting Him as He hung there, and still He cried, “Father, forgive them.”

He loves us when we are most unlovable. He cares for us when in our darkened hearts we want nothing to do with Him. He provides for us even when we reject what we need from Him the most—His grace. In all of this, our God is the preeminent image of persistence and determination.

But now, how about us?

I already noted the relationship of our Sin-nature to God’s fortitude. They don’t even compare. And yet, God still calls for us to persist. He says in 1 Peter 5:9 that we are to stand firm against the devil. He says in Ephesians 6:13 that we are to hold the line against evil. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 He says that we are to be steadfast and immovable in and against this world. In James 1:12, God says that as we remain strong during trial, we are certain to receive the crown of eternal life. In Matthew 5:12, Jesus calls for His Christians to endure, knowing that the reward for such stamina is great in heaven. Revelation 2:10 so eloquently chimes that we are to be faithful to the point of death and thereby receive the crown of life.

How can God mandate all of this knowing who we are in our ill-footed weaknesses?

The answer is simple. He must do it through us. Of course with that, I could visit with an equal number of texts that teach this, but instead think on just one.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Christians already know by God’s Word (at least they should) that the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and sanctifies us with His gifts in order to make us His own. This happens in the ways He says it happens. It happens through baptism. It happens through the Lord’s Supper. It happens through the preaching. It happens by way of His holy Word. In all of these Word and Sacrament means, the Holy Spirit is calling us by the Gospel. These are means of certainty by which God reaches to and takes up residence in us.

In the text I mentioned from Philippians 2, Saint Paul is making the point that as God is at work in us, He is sure to flex the muscle of His divine determination to accomplish His will and work, or as the text describes, “His good pleasure.”

By the way, Paul describes the heart of God’s good pleasure in 1 Timothy 2:4 where he writes, “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus gives it even more contour when He says pretty straightforwardly in John 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

In the end, do you know what all of this means, how it all fits together in relation to the topic at hand? It means that for believers, by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith in Jesus, the divine attributes of persistence and determination become available to us.

As believers, we can withstand because God withstands. We can persist because God persists. We can endure because the One who loves us and is at work in us endures. We can trust Him as He both mandates and promises, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

I probably don’t need to describe for you just how important this is in today’s society. We’re teetering rather closely to the persecutions experienced by the early church. Christians are being put in jail. Christian business owners are being fined and taken to court for following the doctrines of their faith.

It’s a mess out there. Yes, even here in America.

So what do we do? Maybe the better question is what do we have to lose? What’s the worst that could happen for taking a stand with Christ? Death, I suppose. Death is pretty scary. I suppose to avoid it we could settle into quietly subdued positions of fear. We could remain silent and hope that the storms that threaten the Christian Church will just pass us by. Yeah, we could do that.

Or we could be determined to persist.

“Cowards die many times before their death, but the valiant never taste of death but once.”

“Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me.”

“Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Even better—“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).

Did you like how the Holy Spirit interrupted and sealed the conversation regarding those who remained faithful until the end? He capped the discussion by inserting, “Indeed!” You need to know that when the Holy Spirit speaks, it’s pretty significant. In fact, it’s something absolutely worthy of resonation throughout the very corridors of heaven itself.

There is no fear in Jesus. I pray you will know and believe this. I pray that when the time comes—no matter what any particular moment may set before you—you will remain faithful. You should know that I pray this for you daily. I know God hears my prayers—that He is hearing your prayers, too—and in that knowledge, I have peace. Even better, I am persistently determined to continue asking alongside Saint Paul the rhetorical question “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

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You Aren’t Perfect. Jesus Is.

Well, we’re seven full days into 2019. How’s it going so far? Maybe not enough has happened for you to answer that question. Maybe too much has happened and you’re already wishing for 2020.

A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook with the picture of a person in exercise clothing sitting on the couch eating a bag of chips and saying something like, “Well, 2019 is a bust. But hey, I totally got this in 2020.”

Funny, I guess. As it meets the truest edges of the human condition, far too true. In our sin, 2019 is already a bust. “We fancy men are individuals,” Ralph Waldo Emerson chimed, “and so are pumpkins; and every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history.”

Every human being in the field of humanity goes through every point of what it means to be human. We are born and we die, and in between we find ourselves incapable of anything even remotely resembling perfection. And yet, we have a perfect Savior who stepped into the field to become one of us. This is good news. We are to know that “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The perfect Son of God has faced off with everything it means to be human, and He did it without failing. He didn’t make promises only to end up on the couch of failure eating chips. He succeeded in everything. He kept the Law without the slightest infraction. He loved God and neighbor perfectly. Perhaps most astoundingly, He was counted as guilty of our crimes and judged in our place, ultimately accomplishing of our salvation through His perfect death and justifying resurrection. I suppose that’s why the writer to the Hebrews kept his ink pen full, adding to the verse I just shared: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

You aren’t perfect. Jesus is. And that’s what counts. He’s the judge in this courtroom. By virtue of your baptism into Him, your imperfections are covered by the white robe of His perfect righteousness (Galatians 3:27; Revelation 7:9). Through faith in Him, you are found acquitted—declared innocent by the only One with the authority to set a prisoner free.

No matter what you face in the New Year, know that you have complete and total access to the throne of grace. This means you have unlimited access to the source of forgiveness, life, salvation, and victory that leads to eternal life.

Keep that promise close to you.

And by the way, the best way to keep something as close to you as possible is to wear it. See the fifth sentence of the fifth full paragraph above. Baptism sure is something, huh?

A New Year’s Day “Thank You”

I thought I’d take a quick moment and offer an anticipatory New Year’s Day “thank you” from a pastor’s perspective to all the faithful Christians who make up all of the Christian congregations.

Thank you.

Thank you to the one who sees visitors, and without hesitation, greets them with a beaming smile and a genuine welcome.

Thank you to the one serving on the altar guild, the one who won’t leave until that one flower that just won’t sit correctly among the bouquets adorning the Lord’s altar is right, the one who will take such great care well before and after worship to see that the Lord’s holy things are kept in careful ways, ways befitting of royalty.

Thank you to the one who will traverse the aisles of the church nave, doing what he or she can to see to a presentable place of worship.

Thank you to the one who gives hours of time to decorate the church nave by season, the one who carries and lifts and unfolds and irons all so that in a few short weeks it will be necessary to carry and lift and fold once more.

Thank you to the one who stands near the entrance of the church nave before worship being certain that all in attendance have what they need before worship begins.

Thank you to the one who gives a smile of encouragement to the young father and mother struggling with their little ones.

Thank you to that young couple for wrestling through a challenging morning, for getting the little ones breakfast, for getting them dressed, for doing all they can to teach their little ones the vernacular of the Church’s faith and worship in the same way their parents taught them.

Thank you to the single parent who does this alone.

Thank you to the one who serves on a board or committee, giving tirelessly so that a specific gathering of people in a particular place might be a useful tool in the Lord’s hands for the extension of His Gospel kingdom.

Thank you to the one who sees a crooked banner and gives it a nudge to straighten it.

Thank you to the one who walks through the entirety of the church/school campus after worship or an event in order to make sure that doors are locked, the alarms are set, and that the facility that the Lord has seen fit to grant is safe and ready for the next day’s potential.

Thank you to the one who vacuums the floors and takes out the garbage, the one who sees a wall that needs some care that can only come by way of a paintbrush and then paints it.

Thank you to the one who sees a light bulb in need of replacement and gets a ladder and changes it, the same one who spends countless Saturday afternoons traversing the halls to find and make repairs.

Thank you to the one who makes sure that the coffee and snacks are plentiful and ready before the gathering of God’s people for study of His Word. Thank you to the one who cleans it all up, puts away all of the supplies, and begins to prepare for the next gathering.

Thank you to the one who teaches Sunday School, the one who gives of oneself Sunday after Sunday for the sake of Christ’s littlest lambs.

Thank you to the one who helps find and recruit the Sunday School teachers, who spends time petitioning God for faithful servants to go before Him with His holy Word.

Thank you to the one who teaches in a Christian day school, the one who dedicates a lifetime for the sake of the eternity of others.

Thank you to the one who volunteers in the day school, the one who helps with crafts, with reading, with special luncheons for the teachers and children, with playground supervision, with field trip chaperoning, with office help, and with so much more.

Thank you to the one who gives time and effort to comfort the bereaved, the one who cries with the widow, the one who makes and delivers a meal in a time of crisis, who sends note cards with comforting texts from God’s Word edged with personal words of loving kindness.

Thank you to the one who refills a luncheon attendee’s coffee just because, and the one who helps take down tables and put away chairs.

Thank you to the one who steps up to meet burdens borne only by principle leadership, the one who sits in meeting after meeting making the most difficult of decisions, the one who takes those hours-long concerns home at night and wrestles with them there, too.

Thank you to the one who learns of a need and adds an extra zero to his or her offering check before putting it into the offering plate. Thank you to the one who does this not just stirred by a particular need, but because of a continued evaluation of one’s giving, a careful reconsidering of the commitment made and the desire to reach higher if possible.

Thank you to the one who shows such incredible love to the workers—to the pastor, the school principal, the day school teachers, the office administrators, and all others—the one who writes kindly notes of encouragement, who helps fold and send congregation letters, who takes time to diagnose and then fix a problem with a vehicle, who bakes a little something extra for a servant’s family to enjoy.

Thank you to the one who keeps the same pew warm Sunday after Sunday, the one who never misses because to do so would to be found hungry—no, starving—for that which is needed for life in this world and a heart set for the next.

Thank you to all who truly emit what the Psalmist meant when he wrote by the power of the Holy Spirit, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (84:10).

Thank you.

By God’s grace alive and at work through you, I am more than confident that 2019 will be even better than 2018. You will continue to be salt. You will continue to be lights in the world and a collective city on a hill (Matthew 5:13-16). The Lord’s Word will continue to go forth through days of both persecution and rest. His mighty arm will be evident among us, and many who walk in darkness will see a great light; and those who dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them a light will shine (Isaiah 9:2).

Again, thank you. It is a privilege and pleasure to serve beside and among you. And may the one true God—the Father, the +Son, and the Holy Spirit—bless and preserve you for such faithfulness.

Up and Doing

So, have you made any resolutions for the New Year? I have. This year I’ll be giving extra effort to rebuilding broken relationships in my life. I want to do what I can to fix the fractures.

We’ll see how it goes. Only God knows what’ll happen in such circumstances. I just know I want to try to give it more attention, maybe be more deliberate in reaching out.

Making New Year’s resolutions gets a bad rap. It was F.M. Knowles who said, “He who breaks a resolution is a weakling. He who makes one is a fool.” I disagree. I don’t think it’s foolish. In fact, if you don’t already make resolutions, I’d encourage you to give it a try. You’d be amazed at how making resolutions helps to give focus in other parts of life. It helps to identify a destination of betterment and then to aim for it, even if only to get closer. That’s not a bad thing. From a biblical perspective, it can be considered “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). In that sense, I suppose rather than being a fan of Knowles, I’m more of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow kind of guy. Observing life, and in one sense, simply desiring to go about living in a way that tries to move goodness forward, Longfellow said, “Let us then be up and doing, with a heart for any fate; still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.”

I like that.

From the vantage point of Christianity, to be up and doing with a heart for any fate—learning to labor and to wait—certainly has resonating potential. We’re active in the world around us. We’re up and doing in ways that reveal a pursuing of faithfulness to Christ. With that, we learn to labor at certain times and we learn to wait during others. This is trust. And in the end, come what may—any fate, any and all results—we’re already comfortable with the fact that these are God’s to determine. We hold to the simple conviction that He will work for the good of those who love Him, and He will use our efforts (which are empowered by the Holy Spirit), even what we believe to be our extreme inabilities, to be a light to others to see His glory.

I like that, too.

And so I’ve made some resolutions. I told you one. I have another one, but I’ll keep that one to myself. Either way, with both I want to be up and doing to accomplish something beyond myself for others, and as I do this, my prayer is that I’ll be ready for any fate in each and every situation. I trust that God will handle the results. I just want to be faithful.

If you decide to do the same in the New Year, I pray that the Lord will bless you in your efforts. Know that I’ll be rooting for you. And know that if you don’t fully accomplish whatever it is you’re setting out to accomplish—at least not as you might interpret the word “accomplish”—by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you for eyes set on Christ and a heart seeking faithfulness to Him, rest assured that God will use you to move His love a little further along in a world in such desperate need of receiving it. I guarantee this will happen even if you never see it.

With that, blessings to you in Christ, and have a wonderful New Year!

Tonight is the Night

Tonight is the night.

The whole concept of this night is beyond our ability to comprehend. There was an inbreaking between worlds. Yes, God is always with us. But tonight God became man.

Immanuel, God with us. Logos, the Word made flesh.

Tonight the divine Creator was born into human history as “us”—into the places we go, into the burdens of need that we own, into the whole of our existence. He became one of us in order to save all of us.

The inbreaking was signaled by an angel—a messenger—nine months prior to this night, as the timeline would go. The hymn joyfully embellishes, the angel came “with wings of drifted snow and eyes of flame.” He spoke to a young, unmarried girl in Nazareth, a virgin. Calling her by name, he said, “Mary, you have found favor with God. You will bear a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High.”

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was troubled by the visitation. And rightly so. The appearance of an angel means one of two things. It means either the promise of deliverance, or a word of judgment ending in destruction. And so, as it must be when an angel has revealed his presence in order to bring good news, “Don’t be afraid,” he speaks kindly. The inbreaking he reveals will not lead to our death, but rather will set into motion the final stages of the plan to win our salvation through the death and resurrection of the child conceived in her womb.

Her child is the answer to the Sin problem.

Tonight is the night. It has finally happened. Angels have announced it, this time to the shepherds, telling them they needn’t be frightened by this otherworldly visitation. Jesus has come. He’s wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He’s little. He has tiny fingers and toes. He has attentive eyes of love for His mother, Mary, and for His adoptive father, Joseph. He hears their voices when they sing hushed lullabies to Him in the crude feeding trough. He has begun as we began. And yet, He is Christ the Lord. He is the perfect inbreaking of God. This won’t be visible to the human eyes in these first few moments. In fact, His birth was just as painfully messy as any birth before or after. The condition of His context—a manger—something that is far less than grand.

But still, He begins as we begin, and yet, He is without sin. The inbreaking of the only One who can save us is finitely located here—right here as a sinless infant squirming in His lowly crib—opening and closing His eyes for the first time amidst the human experience, seeing and being all that it means to be us.

This little One will grow. He will live perfectly according to the Law. He will do the things that only God can do. He will raise the dead with a word, whispering into the ears of corpses and returning them to life. He will touch the lame and they will be in right measure again. He will preach the Good News of forgiveness to all and the sorrowful hearts of His listeners will be restored.

He will lean into the ferocious headwinds of a world spinning into undoneness and He will turn it back on its axis.

A new axis will be anchored into the earth’s frame. It will be a center post that makes everything right, tall and mounted at the top of Golgotha. The baby you see here in the manger, He will be the man pinned there. No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, His pain will win your freedom. No matter how long you’ve been away, His outstretched arms of suffering are a welcoming into His embrace of perfect love. His tears will wash away your sorrow. His cry, “It is finished!” will be the moment when the steely underpinnings in the frame of Sin and Death begin to groan, buckle, and collapse.

Tonight is the night.

“Fear not,” the angels are repeating. Go and see. Go to the place where the Lord promises to be. Do as the others in your Christian family. Gather at the manger with the excitement of little ones overwhelmed by the joy of a newborn brother. Lift to your tiptoes. Peek between the shoulders and around the heads of your Christian siblings to get a glimpse of the One who is your redemption. He will be there. He’ll be in the absolution spoken. He’ll be in the preaching of the Christmas Gospel. He’ll be in the Sacrament of His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Tonight is the night. Don’t miss it. Go to church. You’ll certainly be welcomed. You’ll most certainly be blessed, because the divine One born in Bethlehem will be there.

In Him you’ll know the truest joy behind the words “Merry Christmas.”

President Trump, The Apostles’ Creed, and a Promotional Christmas Video from a “Christian” Church

A fellow member of my congregation shared with me the following promotional Christmas video from a local church. Take a look.

A fun piece, I suppose. The production quality is certainly above reproach. They put a lot of work into it, you have to give them that. As a tool for communicating their identity as a church to the unbelieving world around them—that is, who they are and what they hold most dear—by way of the skillful grip of song, the video ponders the deepest of loves at Christmas, which we learn is, first, whether or not Santa loves the individual, and if so, will he deign to allow Rudolph to lead the rest of the reindeer to one’s house with something other than coal; and second, the individual sharing this message has braved Black Friday to fill his Chevy with things that he truly wants with the hope that the approaching Christmas-tide sleigh will be equally full.

I don’t exactly have the verbal dexterity to communicate this beautiful Gospel quite like the performer in the video, so I’ll just share the lyrics here:

“Santa, do you love me? And are you riding on a sleigh full of gifts to my chimney ’cuz I want them…”

That’s the well-crafted and easily discernible point at the center of this song of outreach to the community on behalf of a Christian church.

There was something else in the video that stirred a bit of confusion, though. For one reason or another, and for only a second or two, the video drifted into a more enigmatic arena, saying, “Pastor got loud in the sermon, talkin’ ’bout a dude who had a baby with a virgin.” For the whole two minutes and sixteen seconds of the video, it was the only of its kind, and I guess I’m wondering why it was there. It didn’t really fit. Although, as a Christian myself, I say “Whew! I’m glad they sprinkled that in there.” If they hadn’t, we might’ve missed a subtle truth that helps to portray what pastors do from pulpits—which is being loud and shouting at people, sermonizing and shoving stuff down our throats that none of us wants to hear. At least they were honest about that particular impression. And then that little piece about the non-descript dude impregnating a virgin, well, I’m not really sure what that means. Is that God? Is it Joseph? Maybe it’s just a little bit of moralism tossed in since that’s how the church would prefer that babies come along in this world. Personally, my guess is that the performer just needed to fill some space and the line fit the rhyme scheme.

…Eh-hem… Let me clear the sarcasm from my throat and shifts gears a little.

Did you watch the Bush funeral? I did. Did you see that President Trump didn’t recite the Apostles’ Creed? Did you hear or see anything in the news or on social media about it? I sure did. “Deeds not creeds,” I’ve seen heralded from Christian sources. “The church doesn’t need creeds!”

Puke.

For those in the church getting yanked into the “Deeds not creeds!” riptide that may or may not have resulted from President Trump’s silence at the Bush funeral, I’ll simply say, “Be careful.” Videos like the one shared here are what happen when there are no definable contours to the faith you confess.

Yes, there are those who just go through the motions. I get that point. Some believe that such repetitive staleness is the constricting enemy of free-flowing religion from the heart.

Whatever.

How’d you learn the alphabet? Repetition. How’d you learn how to speak? Repetition and by being repeatedly immersed in language. How’d you learn how to dress yourself? Repetition. How’d you learn anything of value in your life? Well, whatever it was, I’d be willing to bet repetition played a part.

Still, I get the premise. But again I’d urge folks to be honest. Even the churches with no creeds have the people among them who just go through the motions. Every church has those people. Just keep in mind there’s a huge distinction to be made between repetition born of “traditionalism” and repetition in service to “tradition.” Traditionalism is, for the sake of a definition, the dead faith of the living. It represents a somnolent faith. It is to do for the sake of doing and nothing more. And I dare say that it’s the traditionalists, the ones who can’t see the value in tradition, who get bored by substantive things and want to go off the sure path to things unknown, they’re the ones who lead the churches into mushy religiosity. Tradition is different. It is the living faith of the dead. It is a carrying on of the past into the future. It is an unbroken gathering of the one true faith spread across the generations and throughout the world. Time means very little to tradition because it is unbound by it. Tradition stands in place to say that the truths of the faith aren’t ours to change because they don’t belong to just us. Tradition isn’t a bending reed in the winds of culture. It’s a tree with endless rings in its core. Tradition is a binding thing that maintains identity for the whole and belongs to the whole.

“Why do we put an angel on the top of the tree at Christmas time, dad?”

“Well, Susie, because that angel has been in our family for a long time. Putting it on top of the tree is a tradition. I did it. Grandpa’s family did it. His dad’s family did it, and his dad before him did it. When we do this, we’re sort of, well, showing that we’re a family and that we’re in this together.”

There’s a reason the holy Christian church throughout the ages has subscribed to the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. Creeds help to set the boundaries for this and stand in stark contrast to bad theologies that are more than capable of wiping out entire populations of faith in a single generation. The creeds bear no “non-descript dudes” that leave questions. Who is the virgin? It’s Mary. What child is she bearing? The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and then then He rose again from the dead. For what reason did this happen? To save the world from sin, which includes me! How did Jesus’ conception happen? I know it wasn’t Joseph, so then, was it God the Father? No, Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit. He is true God in the flesh, born to win salvation!

Creeds help to prevent confusion in these things, making sure the message remains crystal clear.

And by the way, for the record, “Deeds not creeds” is a creed. It is a confession of what you believe, albeit a little less thought out than most.

On another front of the same discussion, for the Christians in the political sphere doing all they can to say President Trump set a positive example by refusing to speak the Creed, I’d say in tandem that you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth, especially when you clamor for unity around a party platform. The party platform is the party’s creed. Even further, I’d encourage folks to take a quick stroll through history. It is an observable datum that the beginning of the demise of any society or subset organization and its affirmed morality begins with the destruction of its creeds. When you see the citizens dismantling or simply disregarding the statements of the convictions and the language (the precisely selected words) that communicate those convictions, you’re watching a group lose both its identity and its way forward. They’re heading into treacherous waters. As the lines become blurry, eventually they dissipate and disappear. With that, if you can’t locate the border of what you know to be objectively true and untrue, you may find yourself standing on foreign soil.

To close, you should also know that the church that made this video is the same one in which one of their members told one of mine as he and his family were observing that there weren’t any crosses in the place that the reason they don’t have any crosses is because the cross is a disgustingly off-putting image. Go figure. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified!” When that message is disgustingly off-putting, you may have a problem with the internal, free-flowing religion emerging from your heart. My recommendation: Try one of the three ecumenical creeds. It’ll help.

Just a thought for you to stir into your eggnog and sip.

Your Light Will Break Forth Like The Dawn

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Advent begins in the dark”? Essentially it’s a way of saying that the season of Advent is a time of consolidated anticipation. This means that Advent focuses our attention for hopefulness toward that evening long ago when the Savior of the world would be born, the dreadful day on Golgotha’s hill when that same Savior would go into the darkness of sin and be crucified, and finally the Last Day when the Lord returns and the world is judged.

Each of these points is one that bears hopefulness, but each also has the sense of a tinge of blindness. In a Law sense, the blindness is the sin nature. The Word of God is clear that without the recreating work of the Holy Spirit by the Gospel, we’re not able to wait because we don’t really want to wait. We’re not even the slightest bit interested in seeking the love that God is bringing. But that right there is a wonderful doorway for a Gospel transition. Shakespeare said it well. “Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better” (Twelfth Night, III, i, 170). We did not seek the Lord’s love, but He reached to us in Jesus and gave it anyway. When that message has its way with us, it changes the nature of the darkness we’re in—at least as far as the message of Advent is concerned. We’re in the darkness of anticipation, now, rather than sinful ignorance. We’re waiting for Christmas. We can’t see it yet, but we know it’s coming. We’re waiting for Holy Week. We’re not there yet, but we know it will arrive. We’re always watching for the Last Day. It hasn’t arrived yet. But still, “Your light will break forth like the dawn,” the Prophet Isaiah says of these things. He means to say that even as we are in the dark, each of these moments sits at the edge of arrival. Believers know this. We’re past midnight and the blackness of night is turning into day. As time is concerned, Christmas and Holy Week will be here soon enough. As far as the Last Day, Jesus said, “Be ready.” And so, by faith, Christians are ready.

I know I’ve mentioned to you before that I love the liturgical color blue that adorns the Lord’s house for Advent. It’s because of everything I mentioned already. The deep, dark blue that we use here at Our Savior is the perfect color for communicating this hopeful anticipation. Still, this is the last year in our three-year cycle for blue. We’ll return to using violet next year. Violet’s a good color, too. In fact, I often get razzed by fellow Lutherans because we’re using blue when violet is the more traditional color. Well, okay.

Anyway, no matter the liturgical color, my prayer for you is that the season of Advent will carry you in these wonderful theological currents. For the one who trusts in the merits of Jesus, each current ends in a good place. Each ends one brings us to the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and the wonderful reward of eternal life given, whether that be when we die or if the Lord returns first in glory.