It’s Not Given to You to Destroy Sin

In my devotional reading this morning, I came across the following, which is Luther speaking from the perspective of Jesus regarding John 15:16:

“It is not given to you to destroy sin; that is for you too lofty a thing, and it belongs to My calling alone. But you should bear fruit, first, that God thereby be honored and praised, and that you may show your obedience; therefore to the good and betterment of your neighbor, so that it can be seen that you truly believe in Christ and belong to Him.”

Two phrases in particular stood out for me in this paragraph. They were: “It is not given to you to destroy sin…” and “…so that it can be seen that you truly believe in Christ and belong to Him.”

The first one hit home because it brought to mind the fact that for many Christians, they believe that their faith means policing the world and everyone in it—that as Christians, we must be out and about like super-spiritual vigilantes crushing all those who would oppose Christ and His Church. And while there are times when we must do all that we can to impair or crush the sinful world’s efforts—some of those things being precisely what we as a congregation are doing as we interface with the Kingdom of the Left on issues of Abortion, Marriage, and Religious Liberty—it’s impossible for sinners to actually do all that would be necessary for winning the war being fought against the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. Only Christ can do that.

With that, the second phrase gathers some momentum. It reminds us that Christ does indeed call for us to step up, to be steady and faithful in the combat—to show forth the fruits of faith so that the world will be able to see who we are and to whom we are obedient. As I mentioned before, sometimes that obedience means marching off and into the war to crush enemy strongholds in sin, but more often than not, it may not be that exciting. It could just mean being who you are as a Christian right where God has placed you—as a mother, a father, a student, a teacher, a business owner, a grandparent, a giver, a helper, a speaker, and so many other things. Believe it or not, it’s right there that your witness is often most potent. It’s in these daily regimens of faithfulness that so many challenges are met head on and the devil is frustrated. He hates diligently faithful Christians. He hates Christians who, as it has been said, “believe loudly.” This means not only those who are willing to stand up and speak for truth, but those who live it each and every day right where they live, breathe, and have their daily being.

I suppose that’s my encouragement to you today—to know that this congregation, as she exists in her mission to seek and save the lost, is not one requiring that all involved in the efforts be all-stars. Many of you have heard me say the following before: We don’t need all-stars, but rather we need people who know the fundamentals and come to play hard. The “playing hard” means not only knowing what you believe and why you believe it, but simply showing forth the fruits in a way for the world to see and know that you have a Lord, His name is Jesus, you trust Him, and you’d give up your life before ever forsaking Him.

That itself is a powerful witness that can and will happen no matter where you are, and in my experiences in places where the heat has been turned up, the Christians emitting such substance were the ones the opposing forces knew wouldn’t roll over in the face of challenge. And those same Christians served as beacons that led others to Christ’s hopeful deliverance in the face of a world that’s coming undone.

That’s a picture of the kind of people who comprise the ranks of Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. I say that unreservedly, and with that, I am so incredibly proud… and blessed… to serve here.

My Heart Breaks to Tell You This

My heart breaks to tell you this.

A little while ago this evening, I spoke with Paula, Pastor Heckert’s daughter. She participated in a conference call earlier this tonight with Pastor Heckert, her mom, her brothers, and the oncologists. The cancer is spreading rapidly and is bearing down aggressively—so aggressively, in fact, that they’re fearing the end of the fight may be much closer than previously determined. In the doctors’ words, our dear friend and pastor is looking at about three to six weeks of mortal life.

Overall, Pastor Heckert has experienced little pain. I believe this to be a blessing of the Lord in that it has allowed him to continue to preach the Gospel—his life and love as a man of God. However, the newest cancer in his shoulder is causing painful trouble, and I know from the trip he took to the ER last week that the new cancer in his hip is, too. It was recommended that he receive radiation to help relieve the pain in his shoulder. Nevertheless, the oncologists have given very little room for thinking that there is anything else that can be done, and with that, they’ve recommended hospice.

I love Pastor Heckert. And I know you do, too. He tried to give me books from his library a few weeks back, and I told him plainly, “I don’t want your books. I want you.” I suppose when I said that, I was feeling the insecurity of what it means to hold onto this life—and in a sense, I was displaying it. He, of course, hugged me and told me of Jesus, his Savior, and he beamed the peace that he has in the only One who can rescue any and all of us from the terrors of this world. I went home with a few books in a box and a gladdened heart at having had spent the time with a faithful friend.

I suppose I’ll simply say that even as the days grow shorter in our stride with friends in this life, our inheritance is beyond this mortal coil, and it rests fully in the One who stopped Death in its tracks. In fact, this Sunday we’ll hear the story of Jesus raising the Widow of Nain’s son from death. I suppose it’s perfect timing for such a story. That’s the same Lord who reminds us that Death is an appropriate end-bringer to the emptiness of human hope. Christian hope is far different than human hope. Death has no footing in the realm of Christian hope. The cross stands above this world as the certification of such a truth.

Trust Jesus. And marvel at the faith in Him that’s been planted so firmly and so vividly by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel in our dear pastor and friend, Jakob Heckert.

I humbly ask you to keep the vigil for a peaceful visitation of the angels to carry him to the throne of grace at his last breath. It’s an all-consuming thought for me right now, and for that I’m glad. Christ before our eyes, in our hearts, and from our lips is always the best.

I Think It’s Warm in Pasadena

I wanted to share a quick fabric of thoughts that came to mind resulting from a conversation that occurred this morning while walking into the church with Madeline, Harrison, and Evelyn. It started when Harrison said somewhat randomly, “I wish we lived in Pasadena.”

“Why Pasadena?” I asked.

“Because I think it’s warm there,” he answered.

“You don’t even know where Pasadena is, Harrison,” Evelyn chimed in a less-than-helpful way. “For all you know, it’s in Antarctica. Pasadena is prob’ly full of penguins.”

This particular interaction recalled for me another interaction between Evelyn and Harrison this past Monday at a park near our home. I posted the conversation details on Facebook right when it happened. Here’s what I wrote:

“Harrison!” Evelyn shouts across the public playground filled with families. “I need to ask you something really super important!”

“What?!” her brother replies loudly, sounding annoyed.

“When the zombie apocalypse comes, where do you think it’ll start?”

That’s my girl.

Now the first reason I’m sharing these two stories with you is because, as the old adage relays, kids say the darndest things, and with that, I just wanted to share them with you—my friends. Second, because it is once again a reminder of the depth that children possess. If you are really listening to them when they are speaking, you’ll hear (and perhaps even see) a different perspective on the intricacies of life in general. You’ll find yourself being ushered through a portal into a completely different sphere of reality that is both complex and simple all at the same time. It’s really rather fascinating. And third, if you are thinking Biblically, it feeds into the reasons that Jesus instructs as He does in Matthew 18:1-6,10:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea… See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus pointed to a simple humility and trust found in children that is iconic of saving faith in the Savior. He wants adults to have it. Such faith lets itself be led. It speaks the contours of its truth unhindered by shame. It longs to be with the One who is its greatest love, and its sad in its deepest corners when there is separation.

But there’s more He wants us to know, even as it actually meets children right where they are.

Again, children let themselves be led. They have no problem saying what’s on their minds. They grow to love most deeply that which is set before them as most important, and they learn to despise the things that aren’t. Parents are the ones setting the pace in these regards.

Notice also how the Lord offers a stern warning to those who would get between children and Himself. He doesn’t mince words. He says that anyone who causes one of the little ones to sin—that is, makes it so that they are led into a life of separation from Jesus, taught to love being away from Him, trained to despise His Word, shaped to see time with Him as one option among many valuable opportunities, molded toward a coldness for the Christian life—Jesus says it will be easier to swim with a two-ton millstone on your neck than to stand against the judgment at the Last Day.

As you can see, He takes this very seriously. As parents, as families together, as a congregation, we do, too. I know that when I look at my own children—when I hear them say the crazy things that they say, when I see them do the even crazier and yet inspiring things that they do—I couldn’t imagine keeping such gems of God’s creative act away from the One who actually made them who they are. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in on a Sunday morning and skipping church—not even once! I belong there. They belong there, too. In fact, according to the Lord’s bidding, this belonging is the point of reference for adults. It is something to which we look for direction, not the other way around. He said we must be like them when it comes to this humble desire and trust. I think Oskar Pank observed it best. In fact, I added the following quotation from Pank to the “Afterword” portion of my book Type One Confessional. He wrote:

“As the flower in the garden stretches toward the light of the sun, so there is in the child a mysterious inclination toward the eternal light. Have you ever noticed this mysterious thing that when you tell the smallest child about God, it never asks with strangeness and wonder, “What or who is God—I have never seen Him,” but listens with shining face to the words as though they were soft loving sounds from the land of home. Or when you teach a child to fold its little hands in prayer that it does this as though it were a matter of course, as if there were opening for it that world of which it had been dreaming with longing and anticipation. Or tell them, these little ones, the stories of the Savior, show them the pictures with scenes and personages of the Bible—how their pure eyes shine, how their little hearts beat!”

True. All true.

As the new school year begins, take these words into yourself and consider them. As parents, be diligent in getting your kids to church. As observing grandparents, congregation members, and friends, consider what you can do to encourage the parents in the pews to keep at it. What can you do to show that you are rooting for them? How can you help in what can sometimes be a struggle with antsy little ones? Maybe all it would take to help the dust of frustration settle a bit would be a smile and a word of encouragement. Maybe a pat on the back and a “Keep at it, mom. You’re doing the right thing” is all they’d need.

I’ve already seen these things happen at Our Savior, which is just one of the many “somethings” that I think makes the church family here so wonderful.

So, those are my introductory thoughts for today. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading, of course, I suppose you can thank Harrison and Evelyn for the entertaining moments that stirred them.