Twisting History

(A Facebook Post.)

My wife and I recently began watching a show on Netflix called “Turn: Washington Spies.” The following is AMC’s brief synopsis of the series:

“TURN: Washington’s Spies takes viewers into the stirring and treacherous world of the Revolutionary War and introduces Abraham Woodhull who, after aligning with a group of childhood friends, forms the Culper Ring — America’s first spy ring.”

Now, we just watched an episode in which George Washington is portrayed as more or less at the edge of delirium—imagining his teeth falling out in a pool of blood, hearing the ranks of his soldiers mouthing things they aren’t actually saying, seeing and talking to his dead brother, Lawrence. Near the end of this particular episode, he wanders away from the camp in a frenzy and out into the surrounding woods where he is confronted by his deceased brother. He falls to his knees in a prayerful stance, begging his brother to answer him. Finally, he does. His brother offers an instructive monologue and then disappears. The camera pans out and away to show Washington still on his knees, hands folded reverently, and bearing an enlightened look of resolute peace.

As soon as it flashed on the screen, I knew exactly what I was seeing.
This was a depiction of one of the better known portraits of Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge. AMC and its writers purposely mishandled what is a solemn American image of a great man, having recast him in the scene as that of a madman talking to his dead brother rather than kneeling devoutly in prayer.

I was truly bothered by this. Not necessarily surprised. But bothered. I say this because, for example, any young person who may be following this series, if they do by some slim chance happen to come across the prominent portrait in a history class—and knowing the situation in our classrooms, I do mean slim—the student may just recall and then apply this cinematic interpretation.

“Oh, yeah. Washington was crazy. Did you know he used to talk to his brother’s ghost? In fact, that’s what this portrait is all about. He’s talking to his dead brother.”

Having said this, I offer two final observations.

The first is that I rarely enjoy watching TV, other than the news, and I’m hard-pressed to say I actually enjoy such viewing. Still, I’ve made the effort to engage with this particular historical drama. And yet, this one episode has now stolen away all flavor of interest for me in continuing through to its end. Likewise, I’ve lost all interest in reading the book upon which the series is based. As is the case for most volumes translated from print to the screen, my guess is that the author most likely consulted and agreed to these overly creative articulations of his work.

Second, there was another scene previous to the one I described above in which the writers worked vicariously through the character of a jail warden, going well out of their way to impose upon the viewer an absolute certainty that there is no God or devil, and that all that truly exists is the base instinct of every man. That primality, from the warden’s perspective, is most truly revealed during times of extreme pressure. Having that explanation in hand, the scene changes and the viewer is ushered more deeply into the crazed struggle of George Washington. The effort is deliberate. We are, indeed, meant to be carried along by an obvious anti-Christian agenda within the script.

God’s Jurisdiction

During the sermon yesterday, I did a little bit of preemptive work with Paul’s understanding of Sin so that when we got around to his words in Romans 5:1-5 we’d get the fullest measure of the joy from the Gospel proclaimed there. Part of that preemptive work included confronting the fact that in this day and age, we do a pretty good job of writing Sin off as no big deal, calling both the badness within us and the badness we produce by different names, hoping to find a way to wiggle out of it. I mentioned the current popularity of referring to our Sin as obsessive behaviors, as results of our genetics or pathology, or as simply disorders or lifestyles different from the mainstream.

I certainly wasn’t arguing that the capability for particular sins isn’t written into each of us in a unique way. It most certainly is. You know your own tendencies. I know mine. The problem I was attempting to confront is the excuse-making that sets itself in place to block the guilt associated with the sins. If we are not to blame, if we are not guilty, then we don’t need a Savior and we miss the measure of Christ’s expense on the cross. Falling into this devilry, we produce the fruits that accompany such disregard. We find the loophole we need to never be wrong in any discussion, to never be guilty of offense in any situation coming undone, to never be the one who isn’t carrying his fair share of the load, to never be the one who actually bears responsibility. In essence, we get to avoid using the word “Sin” altogether, as if it applies to everyone else except us.

I went a little further—even touching on it in the adult Bible study later in the morning—and I offered that Sin really only makes sense when it is considered within the context of God. What I meant was that if we are going to understand it rightly, and most especially how it meets with us, then maybe one place to start is with acknowledging the fact that we are under the jurisdiction of an ultimate judge of right and wrong. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we are subject to a divine Someone who can actually determine what human conduct is supposed to be.

This may sound somewhat strange, but one of the best aspects of the season of Lent, especially as it is designed to recalibrate us toward objectively true things, is to be confronted with the true nature of Sin and what that means for Mankind’s future. To know this, is to know the need—a very personal need. It is to then be found at the foot of the cross, a place where we can breathe a sigh of relief as having narrowly escaped destruction because the One hanging on that cross paid the price for our deliverance.

Knowing the weight of our Sin is a good way to understand the weight of the Gospel of our salvation through Jesus Christ. And that’s where we must reside—in the Gospel. The Gospel is powerful. It gives us the ability to confess our sin in true repentance and faith—not to excuse our Sin away as a bad habit, or justifiable in certain circumstances, or as nothing at all—but rather to admit whole-heartedly that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It supplies us with a brightly beaming hope in the One who by His work raises us from the dust and sets us into His resurrected life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

This is a big part of the theology of Lent. And I pray that this message is resonating with you, that you are embracing it and carrying it forth into the world around you. With this supernatural knowledge pacing through your spirit, you’d be amazed at how the sun shines a little more brightly and the days are just a little more splendid, even when facing some pretty hefty struggles in this world.

With that, God be with you in the oncoming day and week. Call if you need me.

You Have Weapons. Take a Stand.

For those who were in the Sunday morning Bible study, maybe you’ll recall that there was something very Lenten-esque that we happened upon during the discussion. You’ll remember that we talked a little bit about the Greek word ὅπλα (hopla), which is translated in both the ESV and the NIV as “armor” and yet is also reliably translated as “weapons.” The verse in particular where we met this term was Romans 13:12 where Paul boldly encourages us to be rid of the works of darkness and to put on the ὅπλα of light.

From this, there were a few very important points made during this discussion.

The first is that when Paul speaks of “putting on,” he is using the exact same word he used in Galatians 3:27 where he said that all who have been baptized into Christ, have been clothed in or put on Christ. That is important for us to know. It is a hint as to the source of the ὅπλα of light. In our baptism, we are clothed in the victory of the One who is the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, and His life, death, and resurrection. Baptized into Him, we are divinely armed.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul gives definition to the armament, calling it the πανοπλίαν (the full weaponry) of God.

Another point of the discussion was for us to keep within the framework and consistency of Paul’s words. What I mean is that whether we use the word “weapons” or “armor,” both are defensive and offensive in nature. Visiting again with Ephesians 6, verse 11 in particular, Paul describes the motion of those who are dressed in these wartime accessories. Very specifically does he say that to be clad in the armor/weapons of God, is to be made ready for engagement—that is, “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” But again, there’s an interesting word being used here. The phrase “take your stand” (στῆναι πρὸς—stand toward) isn’t a shaky description of stance. It is an expression of confident strength. It infers forward momentum—the digging in of one’s posture and pressing into what’s coming. In other words, it isn’t reactionary. It means to face off with the foe, to lean into his attacks. Again, in a military sense, it carries a substance of being both defensive and offensive.

So, what’s the point?

It all comes back to baptism. Your baptism is a powerfully re-creative thing. Not only have you been joined to Christ—having been made a member of that great body who stands before the throne of God’s grace, having a washed robe made bright white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7)—but you have been fortified as one ready to engage in the world with a posture of unearthly courage and strength that proves unbending against the evil schemes of that old evil foe, the devil, who would see the Gospel light dimmed and your hope extinguished.

Pay attention to the readings during Lent. In one way or another—whether prominent or tiptoeing around the scene in concealment—the devil is present in each one. He had to be. As Jesus made His way to the cross, the devil wanted nothing more than to thwart the Lord’s efforts. And not just to stop His saving work, but to keep everyone the Lord met from putting their faith in Him. It’s the same for us. The devil is scheming to keep us from the Lord, and he’s using every weapon at his disposal to do it.

But we have weapons, too. Paul pointed to our baptism as the heavenly weapons cache. Interestingly, when Luther considered some of the same texts, he said that the most deadly of the weapons in that baptismal cache for use by the Christians, the ones capable of slaying the devil, are the Word of God and the regular study of it.

Who can argue with that? In essence, Luther just said that the frontline for the supernatural warfare is played out in Holy Worship, the event where we are immersed from head to toe in the verbal and visible Word of God; and then Bible study, the place where we dig into and embrace that Word for the benefit of salvation and for leaning into the earth shaking might of the oncoming forces of this present age each and every day of our lives.

A lot of folks practice fasting for Lent, that is, they give up something. How about giving up your after-worship routine and attending the adult Bible study with so many others in your Christian brigade?

It will be worth your while. Although, don’t feel as though you need to take my word for it. Take the encouragement of Saint Paul and Rev. Dr. Luther.

The Tragedy of Parkland, Florida

I meant to get word out to you yesterday, something of a comfort following the events in Parkland, Florida. And while I managed to tap away at the computer for a few minutes, seeing a scrap of my thoughts end up on Facebook, I hadn’t yet finished what I intended to share with you, my Christian family. There certainly was a lot more on my heart and mind.

And so, with that…

Once again as a nation, as a community, as individual members of the fellowship of human depravity, we find ourselves shaken by a horrific school shooting. Together, our guts are turning inside out as we watch the newscasts, read the articles, see the images—the terrible images—of one weeping parent’s outstretched arms as she receives her child with thankfulness while another portrays a parent wincing in collapse, embracing the pavement of the crime scene’s perimeter, having just learned her child is gone—snatched away so violently, so unjustly, so unfairly.

And what are we to do? Just like you, I ask myself this question. Of course, as a Christian, I know that God is the only One to whom we can turn. We do so in prayer. And this is good. But it is something that happens most often while we’re alone. We turn to our God in worship, too. We receive there the gifts that sustain not only for the good times, but also, and perhaps most importantly, for the bad. And we do it together. We stand beside one another, not necessarily knowing the deepest concerns, but more than able to admit to being equals in this world before God.

This is good, because even as we gather before him in the unified confession of our sins, we leave His presence as a holy people, justified by His grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit with hope, and enabled to endure in a world of uncertainty, sorrow, and pain.

There’s a lot to be mined from this divine reality.

The faith that is comprised of these things has eyes that are open to see what the world cannot see. It has ears to hear what the world cannot hear. It has a heart that is willing to admit to what is truly happening in this world and what is at stake.

I speak this way having participated in a press conference yesterday afternoon in which I stood beside a group of fellow Christian pastors in support of another pastor who’s received death threats from the LGBTQ community for, in essence, his biblical stance on sexuality. No, I am not in fellowship with this man theologically. He and I have very different views on any number of theological things. And I can say the same of a majority of the Christian pastors who stood there at the podium in solidarity. But that wasn’t the point. The point is that we have a common, external goal that involved protecting a Christian pastor’s freedom to submit to and ultimately proclaim the Word of God as the standard for faith, practice, and life in this world.

But here’s the more simplified take-away of my participation in the press conference as it relates to the events in Parkland, Florida…

If we as a society are willing to allow (and perhaps even applaud) any community to threaten another in such ways over such things—for what in the midst of common discourse would be considered differences of opinion—should we be surprised when the society’s children kill one another? Something else is behind this. So much more is going on.

I think that the most honest answer to this particular question was penned by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Scaer, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and a friend of this congregation. Perhaps you remember him being with us last year to preach and to lead Bible study. I encourage you to read his words. I’ve shared them here. They beg you, the reader, to assess with honesty the compilation of situations in our culture and then to dig deep enough to admit to the findings—the God-awful findings.

Still, we’re asking, “What do we do?”

Go to church.

Heed the biblical mandate to be present in the house of God to confess your participation in sin. Be absolved of your failings, and then receive more and more of His blessed forgiveness by the Gospel gifts that preserve through this world’s darkness. Don’t look upon your time with God in holy worship as something so easily traded away for anything else in this life, no matter what it may be. Everything else is transient, and in an instant can be snatched away. Eternal life is just that: Eternal. Be immersed in the Word of God proclaimed and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood administered for the forgiveness of sins. I’m absolutely certain that God will open your eyes in ways that such tragedies won’t surprise you, but also, they won’t overwhelm you to the point of uncertainty or despair. Instead, you’ll be equipped to grieve for and with others. You’ll be able to shine the light of Christ to those who need it. And if, God forbid, such a tragedy happens to you and your family, you’ll most certainly mourn deeply, but not as one with no hope. And I’ll be willing to bet that same hope will burst into a bright-burning pyre in others in your Christian family, folks who will wrap their arms around you, who will come down to you in your sadness, who will point you to the One who has borne your grief and sorrows in a way that certifies them as temporary and never permanent.

God be with you, my dear friends. Know that I am praying for you and your families.

Don’t Avoid Ash Wednesday

Lent is on the way, and it begins next week with Ash Wednesday—the day in the Church Year when the nave and sanctuary are draped in black, and we are, perhaps more so than any other day, drawn to penitent recognition that within the divine courtroom, God has a case against all of us in our Sin.

There are plenty of things people choose to avoid seeing and hearing. They do so for various reasons. We all know the reason people avoid the discussion on Sin. It hurts. It’s the one thing in this life that none of us can escape—not through ducking and covering, not through quick witted and convincing talk, not by all out avoidance. Sin finds us, and it does so easily. Why? Because it’s already in us. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We take the sin-nature with us wherever we go, and like a spiritual slime, we prove ourselves capable of leaving a trail of it behind.

Some might say that to try to avoid this reality is the depth of Sin’s reflection, but I’d say that to knowingly avoid it is the deeper point in Sin’s dark trench. If you know you need rescue, but are equally unwilling to admit it and seek after help, you are an accomplice to your own unfortunate demise.

God would not have it this way. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is the deeper, lovelier dimension to what is one of the most somber events in the Church Year. On Ash Wednesday, the job of the preacher is to make sure that you know—unequivocally, unmistakably, unreservedly—that you are a sinner, and the wage for Sin is nothing less than eternal death. You will be staged for this truth by an ashen mark in the shape of a cross on your forehead while hearing the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). But then you will hear how in the deepest reaches of your forsakenness, by a cross, Jesus Christ reached down and took your place in the divine courtroom. He stepped forth from eternity and took the judgment into Himself in every single way, with all of its brute force, and He rescued you.

He would not have you lost, but found. He would not leave you dead, but alive. He would not see you punished for your crimes, but rather freed to be His child of grace in this world.

I encourage you to come to the Lord’s house on Ash Wednesday. If you have other plans, cancel them. This is more important. Participate in the ancient ceremony of the Imposition of Ashes. Gather with your church family to recall the common and worldwide dreadfulness of our fall into Sin, but do so prepared to receive the Good News of deliverance through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sins of that same world. Be there to consume that same Good News by way of the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, a meal that actually delivers the forgiveness of sins as it reaches in all directions and ages, flowing unbound to you from the divine Son of God who hung on that cross.

Don’t avoid Ash Wednesday. In fact, if you don’t have a church home and you’re feeling the tug to find one, come to Our Savior in Hartland at either 8:10 a.m. or 7:00 p.m. on Ash Wednesday. Kneel beside us. Come forward and be marked with a gritty cross. Hear the preaching of the Gospel. Be moved to know the depth of the Lord’s efforts of love. Embrace it. I guarantee it will change you on the inside, and it will be well worth your while.