The Fulfillment of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That one moment was the fulfillment of all time.

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

Autumn through a Christian Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God grant you comfort by these words.

Settling in with Christ

Glancing around my office while sitting here, if you were to ever stop by for a visit, apart from the books on my shelves, you’d also discover a strange variety of things scattered across the space, eye-candy type things I keep on display that make me smile.

Of course, I have things you’d expect—crucifixes and various Christian images, both on the walls and on the shelves. But I also have a few full-sized Star Wars helmets. These are accompanied by statuettes of Winston Churchill, the Ark of the Covenant, R2D2, and other things sharing space with matryoshka dolls, wood carvings, and Russian military hats. I have a replica of a 9th century Teutonic knight’s helmet serving as a bookend to my books on the liturgy. A few paces away and perched beside my computer printer is a Yautja’s bio mask from the film “Predator.” A few feet from that is a disposable M72 shoulder-fired rocket launcher from the Vietnam era—no longer usable, of course. Strewn among all these things are watercolor portraits my wife has painted, pictures of my family, photos with friends, and greeting cards from so many people I cherish.

Let it be said, there’s a lot in my office besides books to explore and enjoy. And while it might all appear somewhat out of place and weirdly disconnected, together it forms a comfortable matrix for me—a peaceful asylum, of sorts—a physical context apart from the world’s swirling spaces where it so often feels like everything is coming undone. It’s a place where I can settle in and get my bearings for keeping my head about me.

Amusingly, it was Jean Kerr who wrote in her splendid little book Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s possible you haven’t grasped the situation.” I find Kerr’s words so funny because in their context, they’re spoken by someone who just can’t understand how certain people can be so calm during times of crisis. Her satirical answer: They must not fully comprehend what’s going on around them. Her words are even funnier when you realize their broader insinuation, which is that unless you have a frantically unsettled mind like everyone else, you’re weird.

By this definition, Christians are noticeably weird. At least we’re supposed to be. On one hand, God calls for us to be fully aware of the world’s treacheries—to be actively engaged, and in some circumstances, found steering right into the heart of its tempests. We are not to be ignorant of the seriousness of it all. And yet at the same time, God promises we will know and exhibit a peace that surpasses all understanding, no matter what we are facing or what our mortal futures may hold.

Saint Paul says the axis of this peace is Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). But that’s just one item among many on the Biblical shelf.

Looking around, we see it was Jesus who so gently encouraged believers not to be anxious about life in this world (Matthew 6:25; John 16:33). He did this by reminding us of the Heavenly Father’s careful concern for those who are His by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son on their behalf. With Jesus Himself not only being the actual embodiment of God’s Word, but also its absolute centerpiece, it makes sense, then, that we’d continue to find this same comforting reminder taking various shapes and sizes, and being scattered across the bookshelves of the entire Bible. Every single book of the Bible, though each may be unique in its details and style, will at some point along the way bring the light of divine encouragement to the darkness of concern. Together, these reassurances make a space for us to settle in, get the proper bearings, and keep our heads about us.

If I could be certain that you’d take time to read a longer than usual note from me, I’d provide an illustration from every single book. That being said, I can at least provide a few samples.

Starting with Genesis, we’re barely into the Bible before the comforting promise of a Savior is given (Genesis 3:15). Further in, Moses records God’s heart-strengthening pledge that He will not abandon His people (Deuteronomy 31:8). Randomly glancing from shelf to shelf, we see Isaiah proclaiming peace to all whose minds are fixed on the Lord (Isaiah 26:3). Jeremiah delivers the promise that, like a green leaf in the middle of drought, God will calm the anxious hearts of His believers (Jeremiah 17:7-8). The Book of Proverbs is absolutely brimming with the same assurances (Proverbs 3:5-6; 29:25). The Psalms are, too, with so many of them being in place to lift and sustain the fearful (Psalm 23, 27, 34, 46, 56, and others). Of course, the Gospel writers never fail to keep this same comfort before us (Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 13:11; Luke 10:41-42; John 14:27). How could they not, since they bring to us the very narrative of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul continues this powerful cadence by his epistles (Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:6; Colossians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). Saint Peter and Saint John do the same (1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 4:18; Revelation 21 and 22).

As I said, I could list countless more, venturing from cover to cover, but I think you get the idea.

In the end, and I suppose as it was sparked by observing the various smile-inducing knick-knacks I keep in my office, the promises of God’s ever-present care given in various circumstances throughout His Word join to form the only sure place we can go to truly get our bearings and keep our wits about us in this world’s turbulence. Without God’s Word of comfort in Christ, we would be without hope.

But we’re not without hope. For Christians, hope is the key ingredient for keeping a level head in any situation of concern. It’s something that will forever be a species of divine confidence that can exist in any environment, no matter the climate or terrain. My prayer for you today is that this same hope born from faith in Christ will be yours in the days ahead.

The Barometer of Shame

I’m very capable of “stupid.” We all are. It’s in our nature to be Sin’s fool. And then, lest we think we can hide it, our thoughts, words, and deeds prove to others just how deep the roots of Sin’s foolishness go.

I could share plenty of personal examples of my stupidity. But I really don’t want to. And why not? Because, as I’m sure it is with you, I’m ashamed of my foolishness—my failings, my flaws, my deficiencies. Although, for the sake of piloting toward something worthwhile this morning, this discussion brings to mind a generality that likely applies to us both—but only if as Christians we are willing to deal in honesty.

It seems to me that for an honest person, a telltale sign in most circumstances that you’re being Sin’s fool is to make excuses for something you feel shameful for doing. In other words, you know it’s wrong, and you get a sense of indecency from it, but you commit to doing it, anyway. And then from there, hoping to feel better about it, you do what you can to convince yourself (and others) it was virtuous.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the sadness we sometimes experience in certain situations. Sometimes sadness happens when we’re doing something right. I often experience sadness when punishing my children. I don’t enjoy it, and yet, I know that correcting them is the right thing to do. But if while disciplining them, I do something I shamefully regret—let’s say I’m so angry that the punishment I inflict clearly exceeds the crime—then I know by shame’s pestering that I should repent and amend my behavior, even though I’m pretty sure I could, like most parents trying to save face, conjure countless rationalizations for staying the course.

In short, when you’re doing something that stirs your inner shame, but still you find yourself making excuses for the behavior—projecting it as dutiful, or describing it as your only option, or perhaps worse, scrambling to defend it by lifting portions of God’s Word from their appropriate contexts—it could be in those moments you’ve been duped into embracing Sin; or as I said before, you’re being Sin’s fool.

“Well, I know you said you didn’t want to,” you might interject, “but can you provide an example, something that comes to mind that you can share to shed light on this?”

Sure. The first example that comes to mind as the pastor of a school is the idea of making our students wear masks. Now, having let you into my feeble mind, give me some room to explain.

For starters, if you were to look backward across the expanse of everything I’ve ever written or said publicly over the last eighteen months, you’d discover that I rarely, if ever, used my energy to argue for or against masks. Those closest to me know I’m against wearing them. They also know my reasons, which I prefer not to cram down anyone else’s throat. Instead, my steady goal has simply been to do what I can to help keep people connected to Christ during a time when the government seems to be doing everything it can to divide Christians from Him. Of course, I’ve experienced circumstances requiring me to face off with the mask issue as it relates to the State’s impositions on churches. When that happened, I made it clear that requiring masks in public worship or study, no matter how people tried to twist the “love thy neighbor” premise, was not something I would impose because it would mean straying beyond the boundaries of God’s Word. I knew the issue to be one of Christian liberty. If you wanted to wear a mask in church, you were free to do so. If you didn’t, that was okay, too. But whichever you preferred, no matter your reasoning, I could not establish your preference as a law that could potentially prevent others from being in the presence of God to receive His Word and Sacrament gifts.

Getting closer to the point, I’d say some of the same theological principles spill over and into the practice of mandating the masking of children in schools.

Aside from the serious physical, psychological, and pedagogical damages masking causes among children—all of which form a mountain of absolute wrongness I’d feel shameful while climbing—I’m far more concerned about the shame found in trespassing God’s will. I say this knowing that the authority of God vested in the Fourth Commandment and given to parents to raise and care for their children is not something I’m allowed to usurp. It is the sole duty of parents to decide if their children should or should not be masked, and for me to impose such a rule without leaving room for parental exemption or recourse would be to stray beyond the borders of God’s Word and wield a sovereignty He did not grant to me. Even worse, if I did decide to participate in it—if I try to justify it by saying I’m obligated to comply with the Health Department, or it’s my duty as a Christian according to Romans 13 to abide, or that there’s no reasonable doctrinal stance that can be taken against it—I’d be defending something I know is wrong and I’d experience shame. I’d be Sin’s fool.

That’s the example that comes to mind.

But since I brought up Romans 13 (v. 1), I might as well go a little further, because it’s likely someone has already started pulling the pin from the “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” hand grenade and is thinking of throwing it. Preemptively, I should say that I doubt in this circumstance it will detonate as expected. And why? Because as it meets with the discussion, there are plenty of other similarly minded Bible passages that help define and then test the legitimacy of governing authorities to be obeyed. Simultaneously, I’d say the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its centuries-old confessional documents have a pretty good handle on such texts, ultimately realizing their depth in the “Two Kingdoms” doctrine, which is the biblical teaching that not only understands the authority of the Church and the authority of the State, but also when, where, and how these two kingdoms meet. By this doctrine, Christians can know and understand what it means to be subject to a legitimate government established by God. And by legitimate, we mean that it maintains its divine ordination and does not transgress God’s moral law. Likewise, we can know by the Two Kingdoms doctrine the possibility of a ruling authority’s delegitimization, thereby knowing when we, as Christians, may find ourselves in an unfortunate situation requiring us to disobey men in order to remain faithful to God (Acts 5:29).

Digging a little deeper, especially since we’ve now gone down the rabbit hole of governments maintaining their ordination, we need to remember that the United States government, as well as the state and local governments, are not sovereign entities. In the U.S., all people, Christian or otherwise, live within the contours of a constitutional republic established on the premise that the citizenry is the sovereign authority. In other words, all federal, state, and local governments are, by design, holders of limited authority over and against the citizenry’s personal liberties and their right to act and defend according to concern of conscience.

That’s our form of government in a nutshell. It was thoughtfully constructed in a way that its executive, legislative, judicial, and all leadership bodies by extension would not be found suppressing its citizens’ lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness.

This means, then, that when a body of unelected appointees, such as a Health Department, begins governing with seemingly inescapable sovereignty, the kind that leaves no room by exemption for citizens to self-determine in these ways, it becomes delegitimized, and I dare say a Christian is no longer bound to obey.

Now, I know this was a lengthy answer, but you asked for an example, and this is the one that came to mind. This is true, most likely, because I’ve had so many conversations about it lately. It certainly is a relevant topic right now.

In the end, as the pastor of a school, I pray we don’t have to face off with these things again. My hope is that the Livingston County Health Department will simply leave things alone, allowing the individual schools to determine their own fate. If that’s the case, then things will be a lot easier for leadership around here at Our Savior. But if they don’t, well then, we already know that doing the right thing can sometimes bring a measure of sadness. For the record, I’m willing to accept the reward of sadness dished out by the world for doing what’s right rather than to experience shame before God for doing what I know is wrong.

Do We Have What It Takes?

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

The situation in Afghanistan is bad.

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

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

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

Read that again.

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

Go ahead and read that again, too.

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

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

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

Sadly, I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Shame

I want to start off by saying thank you to all who’ve reached out to me to show their care and concern following the surgery. Your love has been an uplifting thing, and I truly appreciate it.

This morning’s attempt at some sort of message to you is really my first time back at the keyboard since the surgery. I just haven’t had the energy for much. I still kind of don’t. I know others have far more difficult roads to travel than the one I’m currently on. Still, I won’t lie. It’s been a rough week. For one, I think I can officially say I miss sleeping far more than walking.

My plan was to forego the prescribed pain medications for as long as I could, but as it would go, I ended up taking them, anyway. Once I did, the pain lessened, but the typical difficulties I experience with the medications began. After a little more than a day of nausea, headaches, and sweating, I decidedly went cold turkey (except for Tylenol), having realized that all the discomforts brought on by the surgery were far preferable.

Of course, as some of you know, things got even more complicated this past week. Less than twenty-four hours after surgery, a terrible storm blew through and we lost power, which didn’t get repaired until Friday morning. Thankfully, we invested in a generator a few years ago. When the storm was at its worst and the lights were flickering, Madeline was over at her grandma’s house and Jennifer was running some necessary errands. Harrison and Evelyn were here with me. I probably shouldn’t have, but when the power finally did go out, I managed to hobble from my upstairs bedroom to the basement to help get the generator up and running. Harrison and Evelyn did the heavy lifting to get it outside and gassed up. Josh drove from his apartment in Argentine (through a warzone of fallen trees, as he described it) to take and fill our other gas cans. I directed traffic on breaker boxes, switches, and hookups. Once everything was in place, Evelyn covered my leg with a towel while I crutched outside in the rain to pull the startup. Not long after that, Jen made it home, and like a champ, took everything from there. I could see she’d already switched into “prepper” mode as she went right into doing things like putting flashlights in each of the bedrooms, giving directions on what things could or could not be operated while the generator was engaged, and making a point to go outside every twelve hours or so to shut the generator down to let it cool before refilling it with gas. Of course, while doing all of this, she was also making sure I had everything I needed.

I am, indeed, a blessed man with a wonderful family. And so, here we are together a few days beyond all the excitement and well on our way to greeting whatever new and exciting things may be coming over the horizon.

I won’t keep you long this morning. Again, I don’t have much energy for sharing at the moment. I guess I’ll say that for me personally, the last few days have been nothing short of constant conversation with God. Prayer, that is. I’ve been sending along a steady stream of anything and everything to His listening ears. I’m praying while eating. I’m praying in the shower. I’m praying at two o’clock in the morning. Sometimes it’s little more than unintelligible mutterings as my calf muscle cramps and pulls on the newly sewn tendon. In those moments I’m just begging for relief because the Tylenol does very little to help. In between, I’m telling Him random things that come to mind; things that pertain to my family, things that meet with many of you as individuals, things relative to the entire church family at Our Savior and beyond. Other times, my words to Him are self-analyzing. They’re honest communications telling Him what I really think about things; about myself, about what’s happening right now, about what’s going on in our world, about the things I do or don’t do that I want to change for the better.

Thankfully, God is so graciously willing to hear all these things, especially when it comes to the darker moments of genuine contrition or concern. I assure you that devout prayer does turn in such directions sometimes, so be ready.

Of course, and technically, God knows every little detail behind every possible thing we could share before we utter the first word. And yet, how incredibly comforting it is to know that He still craves for His children to spill it all, that He wants to hear our voices in His divine ears, that He wants us to know that He is listening and won’t turn us away. He loves us.

You should know that this love is what fuels His very core, and its most vivid display can be seen in the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:8; John 3:16-17).

We’d expect the world to disparage the crucifixion of Jesus, and so it does. It’s strange, then, that here at 3:50 AM I’d stumble across a few Christian friends on social media expressing in passing their general discomfort with crosses and crucifixes. While I don’t know the math behind Facebook’s algorithms, I’m guessing there’s a chance these friends might read this. Still, I’m pretty sleep-deprived and in pain, so, whatever.

Firstly, and for the record, I prefer crucifixes over crosses. The corpus—the body of the Lord on the cross—matters to me. Secondly, what are you, vampires?! Why would a Christian be offended by the symbol of the Lord’s work to save us? How is it at all possible to be offended by the depiction—the visible communication, the visual transmission, the observable delivery—of the very act that rescued the world from Sin, Death, and the power of the devil?

No wonder Christianity is slipping away in America.

Although, what should I expect? So many of our mainstream churches are believing and teaching some ridiculous things these days. It should be no surprise to me, then, that there’s a pretty popular megachurch in Brighton, Michigan teaching that both crosses and crucifixes are offensive to visitors, and as a result, they refuse to display them anywhere in their facility. Think about that for a second.

Saint Paul dealt with this kind of idiocy in various places in his ministry, one of which he addresses in the very first chapter of 1 Corinthians (vv. 18-31). By the way, this was a letter written to a church filled with Christians who thought they knew better than the rest of Christendom. In many circumstances, they thought they knew better than Saint Paul, himself! So, from there, I think I’ll just say that any Christian or church offended by a crucifix needs to rethink things—a lot. I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at a crucifix and, in any way, disregard the all-important Gospel message it is silently proclaiming—which is that God was indeed ready and willing to meet us in our filth, that He wanted to be the absolute miracle of relief we needed in our most dreadful of hours. And how did He bring forth and accomplish this aid? By His Son’s death on the cross.

As this meets with prayer—since that’s what I was originally talking about—I don’t know how anyone can look at a crucifix and say honestly that God does not care enough to hear our cries no matter the hour or the need.

To close, there’s something else to consider when approaching prayer from this gritty perspective. I’d urge you to keep in mind the nature of the things you’re sharing with God and then ask yourself, “Would I be willing to publish on social media what I’m sharing with God right now?” If the answer is a red-faced “no,” then you’ve taken one step closer to the deeper teaching value of a crucifix: to the visceral nature behind something unseen becoming seen. I suppose in one sense you can know that seen or unseen, you have a “seen-it-all” God who loves and receives you as others couldn’t and wouldn’t. But then in tandem, you can be mindful that your God didn’t rescue you from your darkest, most secretive, sins by some private act. His death was a humiliating public spectacle—a sanctioned execution. He was tortured and propped up for all. His death for all sins for all time was meant to be seen. And I dare say, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. I’m guessing that while God is okay with your shame remaining hidden from the masses, He thinks it’s better for His to be out there in the open.

I’ll just leave you with that.

Mud and Stars

God sure is good, isn’t He? I’m sure if you looked back over the years of your life, you’d agree. I’m certain you’d find plenty of moments acknowledging His gracious hand in both the good times and the bad.

I would imagine that like me, there are a number of things that have happened in your life that took a few years to make sense, even if only in part. You struggled to understand why God managed them the way He did. I’m guessing there are just as many bygone happenings on your timeline you still don’t understand, and it’s likely you never will, at least not until you meet the Lord face to face. Either way, until each of us breathes our last, each new day arrives at our doorstep, and God willing, we ripen with wisdom and are found capable of saying, “Each day is a new day in the Lord.”

Only Christians can say that. It’s a vocalized fruit of faith budding on the vine of Jesus. Its flower takes in both the sunshine and the rain, the joys and the hardships, knowing three things in particular. First, we are guaranteed to experience trouble (John 16:33a). Second, we can take heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome them all by His life, death, and resurrection for us (John 16:33b). And third, we can steer into each new day knowing that both the good and the bad are being used by God for the benefit of our salvation—for our final future in heaven with Him (Romans 8:28-39).

Imagine if this clarity of faith were hidden from us. Imagine if we didn’t know to expect both joy and sadness in this life. Imagine if we didn’t know that beneath the wing of our Savior, all these things were already well in hand and being worked in a way that gives the upper hand to the Gospel in our lives. Imagine if, when peering out toward any future, hopeless gloom was our only windowpane.

I say this knowing everybody is different, that everyone has various perspectives on things. When it comes to human outlooks, I’m one who believes the world can be divided into optimists and pessimists, with realists locating themselves in one category or the other depending on the situation. Thinking about this, I don’t know who said it, but I learned a rhyme many years ago about two men in prison. It goes something like, “Two men are looking through the same bars. One sees the mud and the other the stars.” For me, when the feeling of imprisonment sets in, and it sometimes does, I prefer to look at the stars. The more shackled I feel, the more I strive, the more I reach upward from the window of my cell looking for and anticipating a way to change my current situation. But I say this knowing that for some, the bars are often physiological or psychological in nature. In other words, no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to see anything but mud, and as a result, they have little energy for grasping at anything beyond their cell.

So, where am I going with all of this? I don’t know. I guess I’m sitting here listening to an early morning thunderstorm, thinking about the current bars of my cell, and having an unusually difficult time seeing anything but the mud.

I’ll be having surgery tomorrow at 2:30pm. It’ll be to repair the torn Achilles tendon on my right leg—my driving leg. Forget the fact it’s already been over a week since the tear. Disregard the doctor’s promise of two weeks of post-op pain. I’m imprisoned by something else. For a guy like me who’s relatively self-sufficient and always on the move, the prospect of countless weeks of immobility entangled with the impending need to rely on so many folks for so much help for so many things is tantamount to a prison sentence. At a minimum, it is a very hard lesson for me to learn. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the help. Truly. It’s just that it goes against the grains of my personality in the most visceral ways, and this being true, I can all but guarantee I’m going to experience guilt for burdening others with my needs.

Again, sitting here observing the cast on my leg while considering the months-long recovery ahead, I must admit that regardless of my usual capabilities and feelings of general optimism, it’s always possible for something to come along and kick these props from beneath me. This moment has challenged me once again to keep my heart and mind fixed in the right place. It has reminded me that whether one is inclined to see the mud or the stars in any situation, spiritually speaking we’re all in the same cell. We’re all imprisoned by Sin and Death, and no matter what we do, we cannot save ourselves. We need help from the outside. We need a rescuer who’s cosmically more than what we might be inclined by perspective or ability to see or reach for in this life. We need someone who can actually melt away the steely bars for all time, ultimately shattering the very real chains that refuse to let us go.

Christians can say each day is a new day in the Lord because they know that “someone” is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He’s the One who meets us in the mud, submitting himself to the unrelenting murk of hopelessness in our place. He’s the One who gives His life for ours, and by His sacrifice, is found outshining even the brightest, most optimistic stars, and bringing life and light to the darkest prison cells. In moments like the one I’m experiencing right now, He proves the recalibrating power of this Gospel through His people as they brighten the lives of others around them.

I suppose that’s one reason why I began by saying just how good God is. Optimist, pessimist… whichever. Faith brings a completely different perspective, and from all the messages and help I’ve received from so many of you, I’m relearning just how over the top God can be with His goodness (1 Peter 4:10; John 13:35). This alone cuts through my sinful inhibitions and serves as a glimmering star beyond my cell window. It reminds me of a much bigger and better reality at work behind what I think I’m experiencing.

With this perspective, I assure you I’m ready to go into the forthcoming days—both the good ones and the bad ones—with gratefulness and hope, staking the claim that each day is a new day in the Lord. I’ll have my ups and downs. Still, through daily Word and prayer, I’m certain I’ll be strengthened for planting the flag of confidence every morning, trusting that God had a very good reason for not preventing my current situation, and being content to know that whatever His reason was, it was for the good of my salvation.

I pray the same confidence and contentment for you in whatever you may be enduring at this very moment.

Slow Down

I pray all is well as your mid-summer days begin turning toward summer’s end. Mine aren’t going so well at the moment. I just went to bed about five hours ago, having enjoyed a lengthy visit in the Emergency Room in Grand Blanc. As it would go, I tore my Achilles tendon clean from the ankle last night at the Youth Group bonfire event. Right now I’m in a splint until surgery can be scheduled to repair it. God willing, that will happen in the next few days because it’s pretty painful at the moment. But not to worry, worship will happen as planned. Bishop Hardy is out west at the moment, and Pastor Zwonitzer is guest preaching elsewhere. With that, I’ll be meeting with Alden Erdman and Greg Combs a little later this morning here at the church to figure out how they can help me make this work. Whatever happens, it’s in the Lord’s hands. And you know me. I’m determined to never see this congregation go without in-person Word and Sacrament ministry. Nevertheless, you’ll just have to bear with me, especially since I’ve already discovered I’m not that skilled in the art of crutches, and again, it’s pretty sore right now.

How about we change the subject and I give you something else to chew on. I’m not fond of being the bearer of sad tidings. This all seems kind of sad so far. Perhaps worse than this—at least in the minds of some folks—in a little more than two weeks, the school year will commence, and carried along in its swirling whitewater will be the typical busy-ness.

For me personally, it was the Saturday I returned from vacation that I think summer tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Sorry I couldn’t stay long. See you in 2022, my friend.” I’m pretty sure the current situation with my tendon was summer slamming the door on the way out. Administratively, before I left for Florida, all but a few days in August were already immovably fixed with appointments. By 10:00AM my first day back in the office, once I’d gotten through a good portion of my email inbox, any of the remaining free days in August were accounted for—weekends, too. By the same time on Tuesday, after more cleaning of my inbox, I’d reached into and scheduled away pretty much everything leading into September and its weekends.

There’s a lot happening around here right now. There’s a whole lot more on the horizon. With what just happened, I’m guessing things are going to have to change a little. Still, facing summer’s departure, as it is every year at this time, I rediscovered the all-too-familiar dread that comes with knowing time would be at a premium in the forthcoming months. I rediscovered the sense that if I wasn’t careful, my wife, Jennifer, would soon be tasked with picking out my headstone. I rediscovered the likeliness she’d scribe upon it: “Here lies the body of a husband, father, and pastor who, like a genuine idiot, attempted his Lord’s omnipresence.” I’d deserve such a tagline. Well, at least Jennifer has promised to have me embalmed using my whisky collection. So, there’s that.

By the way, the next time you see her, be sure to give her a hug. She’s had just as much sleep as I’ve had. She sat with me in the Emergency Room last night, and then knowing I needed to get to the church this morning, she drove me down here, and then drove home to get the kids together for worship. She’s tired. But she knows the value of what we do here at Our Savior—of what God does here through His people.

Since I sort of steered into the topic of funerals with my previous comment, last week was uniquely bookended by them, one occurring at the church on Tuesday, and another on Friday in Flat Rock, Michigan. As you may suspect, when it feels as though your days have already been spent long before you’ve had the chance to actually live them, moving across an expanse of such days from one funeral to another holds the potential for moments peppered with clarity. Beholding the lifeless remains of someone who was once breathing and moving and making plans—their ashes in an urn or their body in a casket—can stir any of us to ask, “Am I using my time wisely?”

Another thought comes to mind.

It was Sydney Smith, a rather witty English clergyman, who said, “Death must be distinguished from dying, with which it is often confused.” Those are deep words. Taking just a fractional moment to consider them honestly will realize Death as final. And yet, in the shadow of Death’s fixed moment on the stage of our lives, the days leading toward it—which in truth, must be counted as part of the process of dying—are not Death itself.

In other words, until Death arrives, no matter where we are on the timeline of our lives, we must be about the business of living, otherwise we’ve confused things. Perhaps worse, we’ve refused opportunity’s friendly hand.

Now, when I say “living,” I don’t mean frivolously. It was the prophet Isaiah who warned against the foolhardy inconsequentiality of those who’d say, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, we die” (Isaiah 22:13). Actually, the context of Isaiah’s words points to the Sin-sick inclination in some to reject the promises of God’s Word given in the face of Death, choosing instead to live as though no real hope exists for anything better beyond this life. It’s as if it’s harder for them to believe that God loves and wants to save them than it is to believe He’s actually real. With that, living it up in this life seems to make sense to them.

But Christians know better. We know God loves us. We know that Jesus is the fullest possible expression of that love. We know that Jesus said He came so that we would have life abundantly (John 10:10). We know that the abundant life He brings—real life—is the freedom from the bondage to Sin He won for us by His life, death, and resurrection. We know that life born from this could never be a self-indulgent thing. And why? Because it’s built upon and shaped by the absolute self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the One who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom (Matthew 20:28). By the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the Gospel for faith in this sacrifice, our perspectives are altered. For one, we don’t live for ourselves anymore, laboring day after day with the expectation that each moment should be injury-free, easy, and personally beneficial in every way. Instead, we see others around us, too, and we include them in our doings, being servants who are ready to labor for the benefit of others, being ready to give them an even better seat than our own.

Still, even as we’re doing this, real life isn’t meant to be an absolutely desolate droning, either. Life in Christ isn’t necessarily designed for flying past the joys our self-sacrificing God enjoys providing. Our altered perspective knows this, too. It knows the Christian life includes being mindful of self-care. It knows to slow down and take time to enjoy family, friends, and yes, even the material blessings God has so graciously provided.

I guess this sort of brings me back around to where I began.

Summer is coming to an end. Life’s pace is about to increase ten-fold. I know this, and every year the thought makes me uneasy. There’s the impending feeling of guilt that comes with it; the feeling that certain things will inevitably fall through the cracks, that people will feel slighted, that very important tasks will be accomplished with only a fraction of the energy and care they truly deserve. It’s in these moments, as it is for so many of you, I need to repent of thinking that the world could ever be found turning by my efforts—that the church I serve will somehow come undone without me. The truth is, it won’t. That’s because it’s not my church. It’s God’s church, and He’s never once asked me to do for the Church what only He can do. Instead, He calls me to faithfulness in following Him. Even better, by His Word and Sacrament cares, He gives me everything I need for discernment and diligence in the day-to-day of this ever-swirling life.

As this meets with me personally, even before I found myself in the E.R. last night, I’d already nearly washed myself away by a post-vacation moment of tidal-sized frustration with my schedule—which, by the way, was an exercise God used in combination with last night’s events to warn me regarding the looming despair I can so easily bring into my calling in comparison to the better uplands of joy He brings. I relearned that faithfulness to God may actually mean slowing down a little. It may mean revisiting my calendar and saying “no” to certain things. Knowing myself, and knowing the expectations of others, this is never an easy thing to do. Nevertheless, as current events would suggest, God has a way of attuning us to the escapes needed for Godly refreshment and self-care designed to give us a sturdier grasp on the joy inherent to serving others. Knowing the pace of so many of your lives, I urge you to take what I’ve written to heart. First of all, remember that time with your Savior is the most valuable time you’ve been given. Slow down and embrace it. Worship regularly. Secondly, by this time in God’s grace, know you are being enabled to discern. With that, learn to say “yes” to opportunities of service—moments to give from the time, talent, and treasure God has given to you. Also, learn to say “no” a little more often to the things that would keep you apart from your gracious Savior, your family, and your Christian friends.

Don’t Waste Your Minutes

Having just returned from vacationing in an area where massive crowds of people were vacationing as well, it’s an obvious saying learned by simple observation that every single person roaming the planet is unique—that no two people are exactly the same. This is true even for identical twins. Just ask their mother or father. It may sometimes be challenging to discern them in certain circumstances, but in the end, anyone who knows them well will know their distinctive features and be able to tell them apart.

The list of peculiarities between individuals is long. The standard characteristics used for distinguishing are often the things we can see, things like facial features, eye color, height, and build. While on vacation, part of my family’s efforts toward rest and relaxation involved just sitting together in the same room. Believe it or not, some of that time was spent watching nature shows on Discovery Channel. One show in particular, “Serengeti,” was incredibly well-crafted. Although, I think I liked it so much because its narrator never once blamed me for the peril of the animals. I wasn’t to blame for the weather, the swollen and treacherous rivers, the fly-infested plains, or the scorching sun causing desolate landscapes.

One thing I learned from the show is that when it comes to discerning individuals, namely family, animals rely more on smell than sight. It’s not just for purposes of predation or protection. I was amazed at how a baby zebra could find her mother in a confounding crowd of thousands; or how after years apart, peace settled between a cheetah protecting her young and two roaming male cheetahs when by their scents they all discovered they were siblings. I found it interesting that elephants will lift their trunks into the air like periscopes, and they will search the breezes to find relatives miles away. What’s more, their sense of smell is so attuned that they can even identify a relative’s remains in a pile of bones.

Perhaps a non-visual determiner between humans is an individual’s vacation threshold. What I mean is that I’m guessing most folks likely bear an inner clock with a unique alarm that tells them when they’ve had enough time away from life’s regular labors. For example, after about six or seven days, my son Harrison was ready to return to Michigan. Speaking only for myself, my alarm hasn’t gone off just yet. I think it still has about two more weeks left to tick. But no matter a person’s threshold, there’s something common to both: each only has so many minutes.

If I’m remembering it correctly, there’s the saying that while the hours will take care of themselves, the minutes are in our hands. In other words, we do well to remember that time is relentless, but as it carries us along, we have certain freedoms with the moments provided. For instance, my kids just can’t seem to figure out how I can say I’m resting during vacation when I continue to get up before the sun. But I do it all summer long because I want to squeeze as much as I can from every single day. For them, the morning’s minutes are meant for sleeping in. For me, they’re meant for accomplishing what the rest of the year is unwilling to allow. Perhaps most importantly, they’re meant for bringing me back around to remembering just how precious time is—that even as we may think we’re killing time, time cannot be killed, and a minute wasted cannot be reclaimed; or when we say so disconnectedly that time flies, we must remember we’re being carried along on its back as a passenger; or just how right we are when we say only time will tell, realizing that in time, all will eventually be revealed. Euripides is the one who said time is a babbler and that it speaks even when not asked a question.

All these things are true, and so for starters, knowing the value of every minute in my life and the lives of the family God gave to me seems to be one of the wisest routes I can travel toward my final minute—and to do so with the fewest regrets.

Taking a moment to sip my coffee and read back over what I’ve written so far, there seems to be a strange gap in between where I started and where I’ve ended. I began by talking about the things that distinguish people one from another, and somehow, I ended up pondering the importance of making every moment in life count. I guess that’s the danger in free-typing. Although, I suppose as Christians, the connective tissue to these thoughts isn’t as elusive as one might think. It begins to take shape when we consider that for all the natural discernments made between humans by sight, and all the natural discernments made between animals by smell, there is another sense employed in the Church that rises above all others: sound.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, Christians are born into the family of God, and by this, they are enabled for hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd and identifying Him in comparison to all others. By this, we know who to follow, and of course, this very important truth touches each of the minutes granted to us in this life, until finally culminating in the Last Day.

Listening to and following the real Jesus while battling the human will’s desire to follow false prophets and teachers is a major lesson to be taken from the three readings we’ll be hearing in worship this morning (Jeremiah 23:16-29, Romans 8:12-17, and Matthew 7:15-23). It’s a lesson that requires discernment. This discernment is an every-minute-of-the-day endeavor that takes aim toward a final day.

It’s critically time sensitive.

Don’t waste the minutes you and your family have been given, especially when you already know that one day there’ll be a final minute. In that moment, there’ll be far too much from a life lived following false hopes apart from Christ to cram into sixty seconds. Instead, feed as many of the minutes that come before it with the real Jesus—the One who has covered all your transgressions and given the merits of His work to you freely—knowing that His aim is to have you and your family by His side in a place where minutes no longer matter.

I Really Forgive You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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