Trump’s Election Taught Me Something

(A Facebook Post.)

As a Lutheran, namely Christian, pastor, the election of Donald J. Trump has had me pondering a few things here and there.

As someone who takes very seriously the duty Christians have when it comes to choosing candidates who are most closely aligned with the revealed will of God given by His holy Word—whether the candidates be Christian or not—it never would have occurred to me to vote for Donald Trump. At the time of the primaries, nearly everything about him, and yet mostly his past positions on particular issues of great importance to the Christian church, suggested anything but a man who was seeking to serve in the highest office for the benefit of the nation and her citizens. With this, I weighed my vote against the Bible and what God says actually matters and I chose the person I thought would be the better candidate.

A quick thought on this.

During that time, the exchanges amongst supporters got pretty heated. I remember it well. One of the regularly wielded comments used by certain folks in the various camps toward guys like me was that Christians weren’t to be going to the booths to elect a pastor, but a president. I often thought that was a rather unfair determination made against Biblically minded voters. It revealed a certain level of ignorance regarding the Bible and just what it means to Christians seeking to be faithful to it as the sole source for life, faith, and practice in this world. As I said, many Christians were looking for the one candidate who most closely aligned with the Word of God. They were set upon choosing a man for the office who stood in the right places on such issues as Life and Marriage and Religious Liberty. Christian or not, it didn’t matter. The biblically minded voter only wanted to be faithful to God, and by that faithfulness, to choose someone who actually accepted Natural Law for what it is, someone who stood on objective truth and would work to strengthen what was right while laboring to oppose and dismantle what was wrong. While considering whom to choose, they considered the candidates’ histories in these very important issues. I did the same, and in the midst of the primaries, Donald J. Trump just didn’t match up.

Still, the candidate I chose to support didn’t win the nomination. Donald J. Trump did. And ultimately he won the presidency.

I suppose as I ponder this, it is important in two ways. First, it reminds me that even as I have access to the revealed will of God in the Bible, I shouldn’t forget that His hidden will remains in play. And by no means should I let myself get too flustered when the hidden will lands on my expectations. The revealed and hidden wills of God are not disjointed. They both come from a singular will. As far as the hidden will, I’m not called to try to fathom or discern it, but rather to keep with His revealed will. It’s there that He continues to set a steady and certain course for knowing and remembering that His desire is that all would be saved and that in all things—even moments that may not make all that much sense or appear to be counter-intuitive to what His revealed will suggests—He is at work for the good of His people.

Second, I am reminded that the future will ever remain in God’s possession. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of the apathetic clergymen who teach their people to completely ignore the public square and that voting doesn’t matter because in the end, God will do whatever God is going to do. That’s foolishness. And honestly, it’s men like that who ought to listen very carefully when God speaks through the prophet Hosea, declaring: “For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (4:4,6). Saying so crassly that these things don’t matter and that God will do whatever He wants is the same as stripping away the believer’s confidence in the midst of prayer—that one’s prayers are of no consequence because God already knows what the petitioner is going to ask before he asks it and already knows in the midst of eternity His response. God desires for Christians to engage, but not necessarily because they think that by doing so they can change the future. That’s not their ultimate goal. In a way, the goal of their effort is really something that happens in the here and now, but it does so as it meets with the more important and eternal future.

They simply want to be faithful to God and His holy will for the glory of Christ and the salvation of others. That’s it.

Such faithfulness comes from another sphere altogether. It is implanted by the Holy Spirit and clings to the Word of God, which is to say that when Christians don’t know what’s going on, the Holy Spirit bids and moves them to go to what they do know: the revealed will of God in the Bible. It is there that Christians are urged to engage in this world. It’s there that Christians can consider the culture, context, and issues and then measure the candidates against one another in order to choose in faithfulness.

In the end, Donald J. Trump was the candidate who emerged from God’s hidden will, and by the hopeful faithfulness that accepts these things, I’m not so bothered. I sought faithfulness to God all the while knowing that God would be faithful to me, no matter what the result might be. From a mortal perspective, I say this with somewhat of a sigh of relief. It was a lot harder to choke down God’s purposes for allowing Obama to be our president. But in the case of Trump, as a president, he really is proving to be only a splinter of what I expected in concern, and he’s doing nearly everything I was hoping of the candidate I supported in the primaries.

As I said, as a pastor, the election of Donald J. Trump has had me pondering a few things. These things are, simply, to seek faithfulness to Christ and His Word when choosing candidates (and encouraging others in that same faithfulness), and then to relax and take a chill pill until the curtain on God’s hidden will in the matter is pulled back, knowing that whatever He allows will not be for the ultimate reign of evil, but for the good of those who love Him.

In my case, of course, the chill pill comes in the form of a nice single malt whisky from Scotland.

Forgiveness in Stride

I had a conversation just before worship with one of our church members a few weeks back about the joys of email. I’m sure this perso won’t mind me mentioning that we both somewhat agreed that sifting through thirty or forty each morning and trying to prioritize and then respond to them is not one of life’s mesmerizing beauties. Don’t get me wrong. I love the messages I receive from folks, most especially, all of you. The trouble comes when I miss one that is important or I get my prioritizing wrong and I don’t get on something as quickly as I should.

I struggle with that kind of stuff. In fact, it just happened pretty recently. I received an email from  the co-chairs of the Board of Trustees, and in the email they shared some pretty important things about the facility’s current and future needs. Well, guess what? The email got lost in the shuffle and I missed it completely. There it sat for over a week. With that, you can imagine my embarrassment when one of them asked me last Thursday at the Fine Arts Concert if I’d had a chance to see and then think about the stuff in the email.

“Hmm. You sent an email? Um, yeah, when did you do that, again?”

Of course there is forgiveness for these littler mistakes we make in life. And he just laughed it off because he’s a Christian man and a friend. Most often we all know to take these kinds of failures in stride and move along. And we hope others will give us the benefit of the same stride when we fall short. But it sure is a lot harder to stretch oneself to the extremities of Christian love and forgiveness when someone speaks or acts in a way that is deliberately offensive—when they speak ill of you, when they do something that is incredible hard to undo let alone to forgive and forget. It’s the nature of man to be scarred by such things, and then to reach back into the fray to reward damage for damage.

Still, living and serving together as a family in Christ means just the opposite of such things. It means at a bare minimum, forgiving, amending if possible, and then working diligently to do as God does: Forget it ever happened. That’s right. God forgets your sins.

“I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

If you are in the mood for memorizing a new text from God’s Word, that’s one worth remembering. It’s telling you just how complete God’s forgiveness truly is. Maybe think of it this way. When you stand before God on the Last Day, if you try to bring up the sins you’ve committed in the past that have been covered by the blood of Christ and the forgiveness won on the cross, He’s literally going to look at you and say, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

Perhaps one of the things we can take away from the celebration of Pentecost we just recalled yesterday is that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the strange forgetfulness of God’s love is made known to us and to the world. It’s poured into us by the Holy Spirit, and with that, we are not only given the supernatural ability to acknowledge our own failings in light of God’s holy Law, but we are able to forgive the failings of people around us. Even further, we are empowered for some pretty amazing things in this life, things we never expected we’d be able to do.

Another example. After that interaction at the Fine Arts Concert, I told him I’d get on that email first thing in the morning. And I did.

Essentially, the original email was about, as I said, the current and future needs of the facility and how we might go about focusing on them when money is tight. In my response, I took a moment to mention that within the last six years, our congregation has almost completely changed in the way she goes about her stewardship with Christ’s gifts—namely giving. We’ve become more attuned to understanding how the Holy Spirit works in the church when it comes to the needs set before the people of God. Mainly, one thing we’ve learned is that gimmicky fundraisers are just that, gimmicky, and they don’t do anything for long-term spiritual growth in the people participating. In other words, they’re not spiritual meat and potatoes that keep the body healthy. They’re more like a diet of Twinkies. You can eat ‘em, and they’ll keep you alive for a little while, but in the end, you just ain’t gonna thrive, my friend.

We do what Saint Paul did. When there’s a need, we communicate it and then we urge one another by the Gospel to be the very people God has made us to be. When we do this, we meet the challenges every single time. And then as we continue to look back over the course of the efforts, we can see that we’re only getting better at doing it, not paralyzed by terror when the struggles come, but rather well-fed and sturdy from the good sustenance that God provides through Word and Sacrament for meeting things head on.

I like that. But even if I didn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s how God works, plain and simple. God works through His Gospel. By that Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, we are re-created to be His people and face off with the challenges that come our way, knowing that the only loss in any challenge is death—and even then, to die in Christ is victory!

Speaking of the needs shared in the email, we’re looking at a few sizeable ones over the course of the upcoming year. One of those is a new HVAC unit for the church. I learned an unfortunate truth a few months back, and it’s that ours was never even the right kind when we first had it installed thirty years ago. It’s the kind of unit you’d install on a church’s rooftop in southern Alabama and not a church in Michigan. With that, we’ve worked the thing so hard that we’ve essentially killed it. Although, the fact that we got thirty years out of the thing is nothing short of divine intervention. If I remember the number correctly, the new one—more importantly, the right one—will cost us about $85,000. Yes, you read that correctly, and it’s no small number, to be sure. And yet, we need to do this soon, otherwise we’re going to start having some serious problems in the nave in both summer and winter.

Another need is the parking lot. Maybe you heard along the way that when the new lot was put in during construction, we were supposed to have six inches of gravel on top of a layer of sand before actually laying the pavement. Well, apparently the decision was made to just put down sand and then the pavement right on top of it. That was a very bad idea. It’s why the whole lot is crumbling and our drains are falling into the bosom of the earth. Still, in a sense, we have to live with the decision that was made, mainly because at this point we don’t have $100,000 to put in a brand new parking lot (and if we did, we’d probably use it for the HVAC unit, anyway), but it also means that sometime this summer or early fall, we really need to get around to repairing the lot, which goes to the tune of about $16,000. Again, that’s a pretty big chunk.

But I’m not scared or dissuaded by this. We’ve got the Holy Spirit on our side. With that, as God’s people, we’ll listen to the leadership set forth the needs in a faithfully biblical way and we’ll all respond in kind. Some will do it by donating their skills. Others will do it by giving of their time. Some will do it by giving a little or a lot—whatever God allows according to their means. Either way, like I said, the Holy Spirit will do the moving.

I suppose this introduction started off talking about the incredible power to forgive one another. Since I sort of “free type” these openings to the eNewsletter, I can see that the Holy Spirit had other fruits associated with that forgiveness in mind, too. But whatever the final takeaway may be, know we’re in this together as a Christian family. Listen to Him. He loves us. Be encouraged by that message and know He won’t let us down.

You are the Salt of the Earth

On the way into the office this morning, I heard the newscaster suggest that we’re in for some pretty severe weather. In fact, there’s a flood watch from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., so be sure to batten down the hatches and prepare as you are able.

Speaking of another kind of weather, things are, of course, swirling around here as we get closer to the end of the school year and prepare for the summer before us. I’ll try to get to as much of the upcoming news as possible in the note to follow. Until then, one quick theological thought.

This is the second time this year that my morning devotion has included the following text from Matthew chapter 5:

(Jesus said) “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Thinking on what the Word of God says here, it’s hard to deny that we, the Christians, are often the means by which God blesses the world around us. I know, I know. It sort of sounds like I might start singing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love…” Don’t worry. I won’t. But still, there is a certain truth hovering within that old folksy song, and it is the possibility that as people look in from the outside, they’ll see something different about us that could very well draw them to a particular end. That end being just as Christ says in the text: giving glory to the Father in heaven.

So, why does this matter? First, because if you are a Christian, this includes you. Second, because it is a precise encouragement for you to get in the game of life around you with the Gospel and to know that you are blessed as a servant of the One who fully intends to use your efforts in faithfulness, both in word and deed, to extend His kingdom to others in need for the sake of their salvation and His glory.

This truth in particular is foundational for the beginning of each day. It is a reminder that no matter what happens—that is, no matter how inadequate any of us may feel we are when it comes to proclaiming Christ as we go about our day, there’s always the silent reality that exists even if only by our kindnesses through everyday words and deeds. In other words, you don’t have to be a theologically eloquent superstar to shine the light of Christ in this world. Everyone has different gifts. But the gift that is common to all Christians is faith in the One who gave His life as the ransom for the world. This creates hope, and it draws us to a faithful expression of that hope to and for others in the world around us.

I pray this will inspire you for speaking the truth in love to others, not only by way of words, but also through the deeds of mercy, kindness, and benevolence.

Showing Oneself to Be Teachable

As always, I want to try to give you something to chew on as you enter into the oncoming week, and the first thing that comes to mind is something that came up in the Adult Bible study yesterday.

At one point in the discussion, I mentioned Quintilian, a first century Roman best known for his writings in the field of rhetoric. I don’t remember the context in the midst of the Bible study where this arose, but the quotation I remember mentioning was: “It is the duty of the master to teach. It is the duty of the student to show himself to be teachable.”

That’s an incredibly loaded bit of wisdom, and what it means, essentially, is that while of course a teacher should be apt and able to teach, it is just as important for the one listening to the teacher to do so with a certain level of humility and respect that displays a readiness and willingness to learn.

Quintilian isn’t the first to suggest this. In fact, it was Jesus who brought a little child before the disciples in Matthew 18 and said that to be great in the Kingdom is to be like the little ones. One aspect of the Lord’s intention in that moment was to point out the humble lowliness of a child. A humble person is a teachable person. A teachable person will know his or her own need and will seek to be led in truth.

It seems that more and more in this world—especially in the age of the internet—so many have been fooled into thinking they are experts on everything and anything. After a five minute Google search on any particular topic, they feel comfortable in their internet-assembled position and equipped to challenge. I can tell you that no other field of employment on the planet experiences these challenges like the Office of Pastor. When it comes to theology, in a casual discussion at the local McDonald’s, it becomes more about seizing the opportunity to tear down the clergy, showing them to be in error, than it is seeking after truth. In other words, more and more people are coming to situations ready to show themselves to be loftier in wisdom than the one called to stand in the front of the class. This is unfortunate, even in the situations where the teacher may not seem to be all that substantive. For that, I’ll give you an example.

Not all that long ago I was sitting among a group of pastors in Lansing who were chatting with a state representative. In the middle of the discussion, one of the pastors began what felt like a mini sermon on a portion of Romans chapter 10. Now, remember, he was in a room full of pastors, so as you can expect, a good number of them tuned him out. I know this because the visual cues were more than apparent. I was tempted to do it, too. But in those situations, there’s something I try my best to do. I listen intently to the information being given, listening for the pieces that I don’t know as opposed to focusing on the general assumption that I’ve already mined the topic of everything it can offer. Not surprisingly, I noticed an angle to Saint Paul’s text I’d never considered before. In other words, I learned something.

I suppose that perhaps one place I may be going with this as I free think and free type is simply to say two things. The first is that each and every one in any congregation always has a place as a student of the Bible. No Christian should ever feel as though he or she doesn’t need to study it. More importantly, we should never believe that those called by Christ through His congregation to teach the Scriptures are somehow unworthy of our humble ear and attendance. Yes, again, the teacher has the duty to be substantive and well-prepared for teaching. The scriptures declare this, too, and where it meets the Office of the Holy Ministry, hopefully congregations are calling such men into their midst to be and do just that. But second, don’t forget that the student has a role, too, and that is to show his or herself ready to be taught—present and attentive, listening and engaging in respectful back-and-forth discourse, not coming to the situation ready to hijack it and show how learned they are in comparison to the instructor, but rather ready to take what they know in stride with what they don’t and then piece it together for the sake of, as Saint Paul encourages, reaching for the higher things and not settling for anything less (Colossians 3:1-2).

I pray this meets with your eyes and is received with a Godly heart. It’s something that I do try to apply to myself. It’s something that I hope you will, too.