Easter Eggs

Are you familiar with the term “easter egg” as it’s used in relation to movies? Just in case you aren’t, essentially it’s a little extra “something” the movie makers planted in the background for movie goers to discover. The folks producing the Marvel films are notorious for doing such things. I remember the first time I noticed an easter egg in the very first “Iron Man” film. As the camera panned through Tony Stark’s lab, I caught a glimpse of Captain America’s vibranium shield being used to prop up a portion of his experiment. There it was, a little something special, and a nod to the Marvel nerds that we should be expecting a film about the first Avenger on the near horizon.

The reason this comes to mind is because this past Saturday while having lunch at Subway with Evelyn, we were talking about easter eggs in movies. At one point she asked, “Do you hide stuff in the things you write?”

It was an insightful thing to ask. And yes, I do. I hide things in my articles. I plant them all over the place in my books. I weave them into sermons. I drop them into so much of what I scribe. I think a lot of writers do. In my opinion, sometimes the hidden things are the best tools for teaching.

For example, it’s most often true that you shouldn’t just lob the entirety of an idea at someone who’s never confronted it before. It can be startling. Instead, planting the idea in various forms over the course of time is a great way to help someone become familiar with the idea long before they realize the familiarity is actually there. It’s psychological, of course. But if not abused, it’s a great way to make an out-of-the-box idea less frightening, and in the end, to move the ball down the field toward a goal.

I suppose a looser example would be the things I hide for myself. They’re there, but I’m the only one who knows about them. I shared with the Board of Elders once that if I find myself struggling with a sermon, sometimes I’ll muscle through the effort by actually making the task harder. I do this by establishing unusual rules for the manuscript. One way I do this is by requiring myself to make the first and last sentence of each paragraph have a certain meter or rhyme scheme. No one in the pews ever notices—at least no one has ever told me they’ve noticed—but I know the pattern is there. And it has a purpose. Its purpose is, more or less, to force me into a stricter mode of concentration while I’m crafting the sermon—to work harder at understanding what I’m really trying to say and to choose the best words. It might sound crazy, but in the end, it usually comes to a conclusion with me feeling a little more like each paragraph is more closely knitted to its surroundings.

I shared this secret with a fellow LCMS pastor in the area and he laughed out loud, saying it was a ridiculous practice. Well, whatever. Weird? Yes. But it seems to work for me.

I spent last Thursday reading through portions of my book Type One Confession: God, a Pastor, and a Girl with Type 1 Diabetes. I’ll read it on occasion as not to forget just how far God has carried me and my family in the past few years. If you know the pulse of the book, then you’ll know it’s a visceral mixture of conversations between me and God. The whole book is filled with easter eggs, but there’s one chapter in particular—Chapter Fourteen—in which I take time to translate the Christian ability to see how the various things of God along the weary of road of life fit together. They’re there. Maybe we notice them and maybe we don’t. Either way, they create a Christian universe that spins around a bright-beaming message at the center of its gravity. I call the ability to see the universe “Christian Recognition.” Not a fancy term. And instead of explaining it, I’ve included the chapter below. It’s a quick read. Take a minute with it and I think you’ll see what I mean.

After you’re done, I think you’ll also have figured out what’s hovering at the center of the universe. If you guessed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your salvation of your soul, then you’re right.

A Resolution for Solitude

The new school year is on the approach. For many in our world, the beginning of the school year is as January 1—a day for resolutions.

People resolve to make changes in the family routine. They vow to be more vigilant with the children’s videogame and TV time. They speak out loud a commitment to more exercise. They make promises to themselves that even as exhausted as they might be at the end of the day, they’ll still take time to read to their children before bed.

I’m one to encourage people toward making such resolutions, even though I know statistics would say the efforts are often short-lived. It doesn’t change the fact that such people are concerned enough to try, which for me is like watching someone eyeing a glimmering object below the surface of a dangerously swift river. They’re cognizant of something better and more valuable, but it’s out of reach. And so inch by inch, they work their way into the water only to realize that unless they receive help from beyond themselves, the current will sweep them away.

In one sense, these scenes boil down to lessons in humility. People resolve to make changes because they know they’re not so good and want to be better, but the sin-nature is ever-vigilant to sweep our feet from beneath us each and every time. For the Christian, these experiences are opportunities to recall the frailty of humanity and the need for a Savior.

In another sense, when it comes to meeting challenges, these situations teach Christians the importance of being together as the Church—of sitting beside one another in worship, of existing as brothers and sisters in Christ beyond the doors of the church building, of working together and building one another up as being of equal necessity. All of this is in motion by God’s grace to strengthen us with saving faith so that we would be sturdy when threatened by the world and while we accomplish the seemingly impossible things of God. To know God’s great concern for those who would break away from regular fellowship with the Church, stop by Hebrews 10:19-29 for a quick recalibration. For all others interested in basking in the bright beams of His wonderful encouragement, take a trip through Psalm 31:24, 2 Corinthians 3:12, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Romans 12:4-8, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 138:3, 2 Chronicles 32:7–8, Ephesians 6:19-20, and Philippians 1:14.

Thinking on all of this, I’ve made two particular resolutions for the new school year, the second of which, at first glance, might sound counterintuitive to what I just said.

My first resolution is to give more money to the church. Because I already live pretty frugally, I don’t have many corners to cut. But with the ones I do have, the blade of mindfulness is already at their edges. For example, instead of stopping at McDonald’s four or five times in a week for a medium black coffee—which has become my routine—I’m only going to stop once, and then all of the money I would have spent will be put into the offering plate. I intend to be heedful of these little things and to make changes.

My second resolution is to steal away into solitude more often.

Yeah, I know, right. I just finished telling you that we need to be and work together as a Church, and now I’ve told you I’m going to keep to myself more than before. Let me explain.

I’m going to seek solitude, not isolation. Isolation is a removal of self from community for all the wrong reasons. It simmers in discontent. This is deadly and really quite draining. Solitude is a far different kind of alone time. In my case, solitude is time to think, to read, to explore, and then to produce. More often than not, solitude results in substantive snippets of crisp thought that eventually become sermons, poetry, short stories, and so very much more. It helps provide the wherewithal for the practical, everyday things, while at the same time stoking the coal in the locomotive’s engine for the long haul required for realizing goals and maintaining long term vision.

Solitude is healthy. It makes me better.

Throughout the school year, solitude is rare, and if summer had anything to teach me, it was the benefit of alone time without interruption to do these things. I intend to do my level best to find solitude.

I suppose in the end, if you’re like me and you make new school year resolutions, I’m glad for you. When it comes to meeting them, know that I’m already rooting for you, and I stand at the ready to help however I can. Perhaps even this little jaunt served to give you the prompt you needed.

A Sunset in Ludington

Last week the Thoma family took Jen’s mom, Sandy, to Baldwin, Michigan for a few days as a gift to celebrate her 70th birthday. While there, we took an evening trip to Stearns Park in Ludington, which rests at the edge of Lake Michigan. We were only there for about an hour and a half, but there was enough time to explore a few dunes, play in the sand, and wander a short way into the white capping water.

Our time there ended with a stunning sunset.

As I watched the sun make its extraordinary exit, Jen snapped an unsuspecting photo of me stooping in the sand and holding a juice bottle for my diabetic daughter—you know, just in case. I didn’t know Jen had taken it until I saw it on Facebook later that night. When I saw the image, and because I only took the posture briefly, I remembered exactly what I was thinking in that moment.

I had the first portion of Ecclesiastes 7:13 on my mind. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t just thinking the words, but rather I’m certain I said them out loud.

“Consider the work of God,” I said.

I suppose these words came to mind, first and foremost, because a sunset is an inspiring thing. To be able to see this magnificent sphere that hovers nine million miles beyond the edge of our world—a rotating ball of liquid fire so big that a million earths could fit into it—to see this and to know that it was given as a gift from God is quite moving. And then to watch it trace a careful course exactly as God designed it, leaving streaks of lovely hues across the entirety of an open sky and rolling sea, one can’t help but think the divine hand of God is in that moment sketching upon a heavenly canvas.

To steal the words of Thomas Browne, such things are indeed the art of God.

But I was also a little anxious in that moment. I remember thinking that I cannot revise these things. God has put them into place, and with that, they spin and dip and rise and turn without any help from me. The anxiety set in when I thought this was one sunset closer to summer’s end. Soon this season would become another, and eventually another, and with each well-timed tipping and spinning of the earth in its orbit around this beautiful sun balanced before me, I’d remain forever powerless to coax the process to try a different way. Like it or not, summer would pass me by, and as it was last year, I’d stand in its shadow and watch. Why? Because God has fixed it into place. It is to be this way. And while I may disagree, it doesn’t change the fact that what I’m observing is actually good.

In the beginning, God spoke these things into existence and declared them so.

As I revisit these things, another thought emerges. Juvenal wrote in his Satires, “Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.” The Natural Law that God has established steps in time with the wisdom of the Creator, and from this lovely enterprise, life is set into motion. God is actively engaged in all of this. Seeds are planted, they grow, they bear seeds, and other plants are born. God sees to this. Only those things particular to a man can combine with those of a woman to create another human being. It’s an order that can’t be changed. God established it, maintains and blesses it, and He calls it good.

But we resist this. The sin-nature would have its own way. A man would call himself a woman. A woman would call herself a man. With unprecedented ignorance, Planned Parenthood boldly argues for the right of a man to menstruate. A sixty-year-old man leaves his wife and daughter in order to live as a six-year-old girl and eventually be adopted by an elderly man and woman in England.

Sin is its own seed for insanity. It is the ultimate attempt at deviation. But when we wrestle against the Natural Law, we so foolishly wrestle against the One who established it for our good, and in the end we prove two things: We are destined for death and decay, and we need a Savior.

Another thought emerges.

That moment on the beach when the sun slipped below the edge of the world, I was reminded that the Natural Law our God has put into place is not only tireless, but for as bendable as we might seem to consider it, it is impenetrably sturdy. Look at a vacant parking lot and you’ll see what I mean. Man and his sin-stained ego are nothing more than a layer of concrete upon soil. Layer upon layer, façade after façade, the years pass, and the concrete crumbles. But without question, up from between the decaying cracks, blades of grass will emerge. They will always and eventually heed the voice of Natural Law no matter what we do to try to cover them up.

In one sense, I suppose this gives me hope, especially in this current age of radically individualized ego-insanity. I see the structures of mankind decaying and I am reminded that what God has established will never shift into untruth.

This truth sheds light on something even better—which sits at the heart of the text I whispered from Ecclesiastes 7. The entire verse is:

“Behold the work of God. Who can make straight what He has made crooked?”

The cross is a scandalously crooked thing permanently fixed in place. The world finds Calvary shameful while choosing to find value in the crumbling mammon of this life. But for the Christians, there’s no need to be offended by it. There’s no need to soften the image. Behold the work of God for what it is. Look and believe. It’s there that the Son of God died the crookedly grotesque and wretched death of all deaths in your place. Nothing can alter this fact. It’s there that He’s winning, not losing. It’s there that your eternal life was purchased, and as it meets with what’s been shared here, it served to give over to you as a gift every sunset that will ever occur in your lifetime.

Crouch into the sand and be amazed by the workings of His Natural Law, but as you do, let it be a gentle nudge to not only recall the intricacy of His beautiful world and its value, but also the certainty that what He has established—no matter your opinions of it, no matter if you agree or not—will always best. The cross itself is the unseemly proof.

Stop It In Its Tracks

Before leaving the church this past Sunday, I had a quick chat with one of the members that reminded me of a similar conversation I had with Jennifer a few days ago. She and I were sitting on the deck and recalling bygone days. We noted how parenting is so much harder now than it was when the kids were little. We laughed and affirmed for each other that we’d much rather lose sleep to a baby’s cries than sorting out the details of a much heavier situation with that same baby who is now a young adult.

Again, changing a diaper—even the messiest of the messy—is nothing compared to helping a child navigate the rough waters leading to adulthood. It’s far more terrifying when they get older.

And part of the problem in all of this is that what we do when they’re little affects the way they’ll operate as adults. Of course we shouldn’t feel as though we are to blame for every stupid decision they make, but our thumbprints are certainly noticeable on plenty. For example, if we swear a lot, odds are they’ll swear a lot, too. If we are always late to everything, chances are the kids will consider the hands of the clock to be just as irrelevant. Thinking on Evelyn for a moment…

She’s the most finicky among the kids when it comes to food. When she was little, we’d do whatever we could just to make sure she didn’t look like she belonged on a promotional poster for Orphan Grain Train. With that, we probably accommodated her more than we should’ve. Now she’s nine, and it remains that almost every meal is a struggle. We’ll be eating grilled cheese, and she’ll ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We’ll be eating hamburgers and she’ll request that the chef make her waffles. Just today we were eating hotdogs and she asked for one of the breakfast muffins instead.

A habit has been formed. She learned when she was young that she doesn’t necessarily need to eat what the rest of the family is eating. If she doesn’t like it, there’s a Pavlovian urge to just order up something different from the kitchen.

I suppose that because we didn’t help her transition into a better habit, we’ve had to change our ways with most of this stuff. I once described my new approach to the problem in an Angelsportion.com post. Honestly, it’s been incredibly successful. Here’s a snippet of my strategy:

——————–

I don’t know about you, but after four children, I had a portion of my guilt gland removed. It was an elective surgery. But I did it in order to embrace a very important verity. I’ve learned that to accomplish what needs accomplishing among the smaller versions of myself, a stale face and a plain tone sprinkled with a little bit of “horrible” is necessary. I can assure you that since the surgery, life has become considerably less maniacal.

“Eat your food.”

“I don’t like mashed potatoes.”

“I don’t care.”

“Can I have a bowl of cereal instead?”

“Nope.”

“But I don’t want this!”

“I don’t care. Eat it.”

“But I don’t like it!”

“Okay, how about this? I’m going to count to five. When I reach the number five, I’m going to put that food into you through one of the various holes on your body. Right now, you can choose to do it through your mouth. But sweetie, if I get to five, I’ll choose the hole. I don’t know which one it’ll be, just yet, but you need to know that’ll be the next stage of the meal and the end of this conversation.”

By the way, after a scene such as the one I’ve just described, you should know that the adults in the Thoma house now live five seconds at a time during meals. But in all honesty, it’s a small price to pay. And it really only took a few moments involving a spoonful of mashed potatoes and a child’s flared and angry nostril as a reasonable entry point to set the pace. The cereal-munching beasties are now convinced that my words, while non-aggressive, are by no means hollow.

“How do those mashed potatoes taste?” I ask with a kindly tone.

“I don’t know,” she replies in a huff, doing all she can to hold back tears of defeat. “They’re in my nose.”

“Well then, honey, how do they smell?”

———————–

All humor aside, it works the same way in so many facets of life. If we want our kids to make regular visits to the dentist as adults, we need to take them when they’re little. If we want them to care about their health, we need to take them to the doctor—even when they don’t want to go.

With that, you probably get where I’m going with this.

Don’t skip church. And if you have been skipping church, stop.

And now that you’re stopping, if your kids still live at home and they’re in the habit of skipping church, pitch to them the house rules and force them to go. Be sturdy in your Fourth Commandment duties and require it. Don’t give them options. Just go. I know it’s probably a trite argument (nevertheless, it rings true), but never would you have let them skip brushing their teeth or taking showers. As long as it depends on you, don’t let them jettison from their lives that which matters more than anything else in this life: faith in Christ and all that He puts in place to sustain that faith. When this is optional to us, we are more than framing everlasting life as optional for our kids.

That’s eternally deadly—and not just for our kids, but for our grandkids and great grandkids, as well. God warns that this will reach into the third and fourth generations. In other words, the habit reaches up and into the branches of the family tree yet to come. On the other hand, God promises countless blessings to thousands of generations who, by the power of His Holy Spirit, steer into the horizon of faithfulness.

And so, as much as it depends on you, do what you can to stop it in its tracks today. In fact, the forthcoming school year is a great point on the timeline for starting over—for beginning things anew. Again, you can be certain that God will bless your efforts. In fact, it’s been my experience that when children stray, the forthrightness of their parents to remain faithful has played a significant role in those same children knowing and then realizing the joy of returning to what they knew all along was better.

Of course, as always, if you need my help in any of this, just ask.