Have You Ever Dreamt of Falling? I Haven’t.

For the record, I made a commitment to myself three weeks ago that I was going to shorten these Monday morning eNewsletter messages. I believe my first attempt two weeks ago was reasonably successful. However, last week’s note… well… I couldn’t stop writing, even though I started the whole thing by saying I didn’t really feel like I had anything to write about.

However, midway through that confession, I paused, and suddenly the empty space was filled with notable experiences, things God is so gracious to allow into all our lives. In my particular case, that grace is something I want to observe, digest, and then share with you. Whether it’s the casual comment in passing at the Red Lobster in Troy I mentioned last week, or an open field of freshly harvested grain I stopped to enjoy last Tuesday while out on visitations—a field, by the way, I was more than tempted to wander out into and toward its encapsulating tree line because… well, just because.

If you can attune yourself to what’s going on around you, it becomes possible for the most inconspicuous of details to become a thing of fascination. Even better, when you become adjusted to the world around you by way of God’s Word, seeing these things as God would see them, the deeper meanings arrive, and with that, there’s plenty to write about.

This means everything to a sermon writer. It’s also a big deal to a pastor who’s intent on sending out a note to the people of his congregation every single week of the year.

And so, since I promised to keep this short, I’ll give you a passing example.

Have you ever dreamt of falling? I haven’t. Not ever. That is until this past Wednesday.

First of all, I’m a firm believer that what happens to you during the waking hours will remain with you during the somnolent ones. Tuesday night I went to bed around 10:30 PM, which was exactly thirty-eight minutes after I’d returned home from one of the longest School Board meetings I’ve ever attended here at Our Savior. We started the meeting at 6:15 PM.

The meeting was long because there was much work to be done. We’re intent on resuming in-person instruction in our school on August 24, and yet no matter what we decide to do, the Governor is requiring all public and non-public schools to submit a plan that proves alignment with her executive mandates. The problem is that we’re not necessarily in alignment with many of her mandates as they relate to the best methods for educating children, and so we had to steer through the mess in order to remain who we are as a Christian school while at the same time doing what we can to abide without contention.

It wasn’t easy. At times, it felt a little hopeless. That night I dreamt of falling, and it’s easy enough to see why.

In the dream, before I hit the ground, I remember seeing a gravel-like ground forming beneath my feet. The gravel was the kind you might find on the side of a country highway beside a freshly harvested field—wink wink. Falling fast, the closer I got to the earth below, the more the ground spread out around me, eventually becoming so wide that I had the feeling its wind resistance was helping to slow my descent to the pace of something along the lines of an unhurried elevator. I remember thinking that while I needed to be ready for the impact, when it came, I could probably survive it. In fact, I recall thinking that if I took a running jump from the plateau when it hit the earth below, the impact might be less like a jarring collision and more like dismounting a moving sidewalk at the airport—and we all know how fun that can be.

Again, I think what happens while a person is awake sometimes makes an appearance while he or she is sleeping. I repeat this claim because earlier that day while eating lunch and tapping away at the sermon for Sunday, I’d also been reading a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge entitled “Dejection: An Ode.” Yes, yes, I do study the appointed texts in preparation for preaching. Don’t worry about that. But I’m also someone who reads from other sources, one of which is poetry. Not the newer stuff, but the classics. I appreciate great poetry more than folks might know. In fact, I think more pastors should consider spending time in the classics in general. I suggest giving poetry a try because it doesn’t necessarily play by the regular rules of communication, and what I’ve discovered is that not only will it help to expand a person’s vocabulary, but it’ll serve up fresh ways to use themes, imagery, and devices of emphasis for better communication of the Word of God. Such efforts pay dividends with a listener’s attention span.

Anyway, as I was reading Coleridge’s words, when I came across the following stanza, it fascinated me enough that I scribbled it onto a sticky note and slapped it on my bookshelf beside other quotations I don’t want to forget:

“For hope grew round me, like the twining vine,
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.” (st. 6)

These words are not precisely from the Bible, but they certainly are a reflection of God’s Word (Colossians 1:27; Jeremiah 29:11; Hebrews 10:23; Philippians 1:6; Romans 5:5; and so many more). They are a beautiful bit of prose from the son of a pastor—and a notable theologian, himself—who knew the power of hope. More importantly, he knew that the hope we experience isn’t anything we can produce, but rather is something God gives us by the Gospel. And we stand on it in the midst of struggle.

Whether or not that’s what Coleridge actually meant for the casual reader to glean from that stanza, I can’t say for sure. Still, his seemingly effortless scribing of “not my own, seemed mine” was deeply impactful.

I think those words were somehow activated while I was sleeping, and they played a part in producing a landscape that reminded me of God’s gracious attention in all things—how He has me in his care at the edge of and over every cliff. In fact, He has me in His care all the way down, and He promises to grant me a safe landing in His merciful love, no matter how catastrophically crater-like the actual landing in this life may be. Even better, He gives to me the vigor for running forth from the platform of hope spreading out beneath me, confident of His protective care, and ready for meeting with a world in desperate need of the same hope.

Or this could all just be a result of the taco I ate before the School Board meeting.

Well, whatever. As I hinted to before (and have said countless times in the past), through the lens of faith fixed on God’s Word, a Christian sees things differently. I certainly prefer to observe things this way, and then as the words come, to share them with you. Hopefully, this particular opportunity was as valuable for you as it was for me, and God willing, it didn’t take up too much of your time.

I Wonder if the Devil is Bored.

As always, I pray things are well with you. I hope you know that’s not just lip service. Truly, every single week, my routine is the same. Starting on Monday and ending the following Sunday morning before worship, I spend time making my way through the whole list of members here at our Savior, praying for each person by name. In addition to folks on our roster, I also pray for others who are close to us as a congregation, and close to me and my family, personally.

There are enemies in that list, too.

What do I pray for? Lots of different things. Mostly that God would calm fears, temper anger, soften hearts for repentance, give ears to hear the truth and the wisdom to discern it, and most importantly, grant trust by the Gospel for faith in Christ.

Beyond this little bit of encouragement that a pastor is thinking of you and petitioning God on your behalf, I really don’t have any ideas on what to share with you this Monday morning. I guess I could stop right here. Although, having paused after that last sentence, I suppose a couple of memorable thoughts that drifted through my mind while at the Red Lobster in Troy last Friday might be of some interest. I stopped there to have a quiet lunch before making my way to Woodside Bible Church for a video shoot for Right to Life of Michigan. The first of the two thoughts has to do with something the hostess said as she led me to a table just around the corner from the front doors.

I had a mask ready in my hand when I walked into the restaurant, you know, for obvious reasons. I think the fact that I wasn’t wearing it made the hostess feel a little more at ease for pulling hers down to chat. And so we did.

Even at half past noon, the place was absolutely empty. From among the congenial things spoken between us as we traveled the restaurant’s lonely aisle ways together, I asked, “Where is everyone?

Her reply was something like, “I think going out to eat is a lot harder for folks than it used to be.”

For the record, I try to listen carefully when people are speaking to me, no matter what they’re saying. Also for the record, I’ll confess to letting moments of small talk mist away without much thought. I would have expected this moment to be no different, but for some reason, what she said remained well into my pleasantly quiet meal.

Indeed, with the mandates out there, certain things we use to do with relative ease have met at the delta where rest becomes toil, and with this, they’ve become too cumbersome. As a result, many are simply choosing not to do them. I, for one, make it a point not to go out much, anymore. In fact, if I can help it, I won’t step foot into a physical store at all. If I do, it’s only to dress up like Star Lord, Darth Vader, or a Stormtrooper in order to drift around the place pretending to shop, but really just doing what I can to make the droning sadness of our current days a little brighter for folks. Other than that, I pretty much do all my shopping online. As a family, we do our grocery shopping this way, too. To be clear, the only reason I stopped at Red Lobster that day was because I was running early and I had a gift card… and because the relatively empty parking lot promised a quiet meal free from distraction.

I suppose while I’m still on this trajectory, another personal proof of the communal frustration I’m suspecting happened last week while Jen and the kids were away for the day. Knowing I’d be eating dinner alone, I drove over to the local grocery store in Linden intent on buying one of their deli-made salads. It wasn’t until I’d already pulled into the parking lot and hopped out of the Jeep that I realized I didn’t have a mask, which of course the store requires. So I drove home. But it wasn’t to get a mask and then return. I drove home to stay, frustrated by the prospect of wasting my time and fuel on two round-trips instead of one. I just didn’t want to do it. It had already been a long day, and the salad retrieval process—something that could’ve been easy—had become a part of the day’s trouble instead of its anticipated rest. I ended up eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup, a bowl of Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries, and watching “Predator.”

“I ain’t got time to bleed.”

That’s a great line. Just as great as, “Get to the choppaaa!” Anyway…

In the end, my evening was restful. I even ate food fit for a man’s alone time. The local grocery store, however, lost one of the only sales I would’ve made there in a very long time. The hostess’ words at Red Lobster had me wondering how many others may be responding to things in the same way.

I told you at the beginning I had two thoughts. The other one that nestled into my brain resulted from a passing interaction with a gentleman in the parking lot as I was leaving Red Lobster.

For context, please know it’s not out of the ordinary for people to go out of their way to make sure the man in the clerical collar knows they’re God-fearing church-goers, making every effort to offer a passing comment to prove some sort of theological prowess or a long list of good deeds. I get why they do it. In some ways I’m glad for it, because it reminds me that there are still people out there who care to engage in such ways, even if for the wrong reasons. Nowadays I just chalk it up to the same endurance needed during the repetitive “What was that you said?” hollered between patrons and clerks because neither can understand what the other is saying from behind masks and Plexiglass shields.

By the way, an unfortunately true story describing the awkward theological reactions I sometimes get from folks can be enjoyed here: https://wp.me/p2nDyB-IS.

In the meantime, the passing words from the man outside of Red Lobster, like the hostess’ words within, had me thinking.

I was climbing into my car as he was exiting his. He called across the roof of his ruby red Cadillac, “Pray for me, Father, because I’m the kind of guy who keeps God real busy.”

I didn’t carry the conversation any further. I simply said, “I’ll pray for you and you pray for me. God be with you.” And then I drove away.

Steering through the lot and back onto Rochester Road, I remember whispering beneath Rush Limbaugh’s voice, “With everything going on in the world, with all of us keeping God so busy, the devil must be incredibly bored.”

It may sound theologically shallow to my ever-growing list of clergy-critics, but I guess what I meant by that soft-spoken moment of private humor was the two-fold acknowledgment that the devil is definitely one to work overtime in bringing division, terror, and devastation to the world, and yet with so many people matching his efforts these days, he must be getting kind of bored. Not only does it seem as if everything is exactly as the devil would want it, but it would appear he has all the right people in all the right places doing his work for him. With that, I’m guessing he has plenty more time these days for vacationing at his private island—which, by the way, I’m suspecting is probably adjacent to the island that was owned/rented by his past (and likely present) tenant, Jeffrey Epstein.

As far as I can tell, the English novelist Joseph Conrad believed in the existence of the devil. But I seem to remember him making a similar attempt at devil-describing humor when he said something about how a belief in a supernatural source of evil isn’t really necessary. Human beings alone, being more than capable of every wickedness, are plenty proof of his existence.

Conrad was right. We are more than capable. And we are definitely proof. Just look around.

Thankfully, even as we’re keeping God busy, just as the man in the Cadillac jokingly pointed out, I’d say God wants to be busy with us. He loves us. He doesn’t want to lose anyone, and so He’s continually laboring to keep the truth of His Gospel Word before us, which is the wonderfully potent message that actually has the power to instill what it communicates: forgiveness of Sin, and faith for eternal life with Christ!

He’s keeping very busy snatching us from the devil’s kingdom through Word and Sacrament ministry.

I’m not sure how the two thoughts I described above actually fit together completely, except maybe to say that as the days continue to lumber along with even the littlest occurrences becoming cumbersome instances that must be endured rather than enjoyed, remember God is keeping busy on your behalf. He’s never napping on the job (Psalm 121:4). Besides, He’s already more than proven He’s the kind of God to step up and do what needs to be done in the hour of our deepest need (Romans 5:8). Look to the cross and behold the death of His Son. That’s what I do—every single day! And why? Because it’s a visible reminder of the Gospel message’s glory—the Son of God taking my guilt and shame into Himself, and in exchange, giving to me His perfect righteousness for a new life lived out in this world until I meet with the next.

That same Gospel has the power to convince and convert you for faith, and ultimately, eternal life.

Okay, joking aside… Rest assured the devil knows the power of the Gospel, too. “Be vigilant, therefore,” Saint Peter says in 1 Peter 5. Know that the devil never vacations from his efforts to war against this saving truth. But again, take comfort in the fact that the God of all creation is on your side (Romans 8:31-29). Add to this comfort that others are praying for your endurance (Colossians 1:9, 4:3; James 5:16; Hebrews 4:16; and plenty others). I already assured you that I am. It certainly is a comfort to me personally knowing that many of you are praying for me, too.

Okay, that’s enough rambling for today. I have a day filled with devils that need to be wrestled.

Please Excuse Me

I’ll be swift with my thoughts this morning. In truth, I have little energy today for much more than what I’m being moved to ponder out loud.

As a pastor, there’s something I’ve learned all too well over the years. I assure you it was already true long before the fresh stack of executive orders arrived at our doorsteps legitimizing certain human behaviors.

Few need a good reason for avoiding time with the Savior.

Unfortunately there’ve always been plenty of self-deceiving excuses available to Christians. Each of our narratives is full of them, and in our Sin, each of us is well-equipped for handily decriminalizing the reasons, no matter how foolish the road to doing so may actually be. For example, I once shared in one of my The Angels’ Portion volumes a story from years ago about crossing paths with an inactive member at a department store at 3:00 AM on Black Friday. The particular person was one who’d always insisted that after a busy week of work, it was just too challenging for him physically to get up and get ready for a 9:30 AM worship service on a Sunday morning. Standing there in line, both of us shivering in temperatures unsuited for anyone’s lengthy exposure, he spent several awkward minutes doing what he could to defend his disjointed premise.

He’s long gone from our church’s roster. But I can only imagine what my conversations with him would be like if he was still with us today, how his deeper inclination would have been granted permission to stroll about openly by our Governor’s orders, and on top of that, within a society being collectively slow-boiled into believing it’s honorable to frown upon in-person worship gatherings and the people who desire them.

Forget the whole “you’re not being a good Christian neighbor when you don’t wear a mask” thing. Christians are now telling other Christians they’re not showing Godly love for their neighbor by going to church at all!

Read that sentence again and know that the job of pastor got a lot more complicated in 2020, that’s for sure.

Putting it bluntly, no matter the real reason for staying away from worship that may be lurking beneath a person’s glossy surface, any excuse has suddenly become virtuous and neighbor-loving, and anyone insisting otherwise is labeled a guilt-shoveling villain. A question I’d set before you, however: How villainous can your pastor really be if he’s made clear over and over again that if you can’t get to the church to receive the Lord’s Word and Sacrament gifts—no matter your reason—all that’s needed is a phone call and he’ll bring it to you—masked, gloved, wrapped in bubble-wrap, in a HazMat suit, or whatever? Speaking personally, this has been a standing promise of mine since I was first ordained, and not only have I upped my ante by repeating it publicly since March of this year, but I’ve made good on it. Since March, I’ve been to some of your homes and served the Lord’s Supper through a kitchen or bedroom window. And yet, I’d still say 2020 isn’t exactly a unique situation when it comes to such an offer. If you’d have been afraid of the flu in 2019 but still desired Word and Sacrament, I’d have accommodated you. I only need to know. Phones are great for that. And for the record, the last I checked, the cell towers and communication satellites aren’t susceptible to the flu or COVID-19.

In the end, I guarantee all your pastor wants is for you to be fed with the life-sustaining gifts of God’s grace!

Again, as a man called to stand in the stead and by the command of Christ—a man bringing a Word of invitation from the King of kings—I find myself reminded on occasion of a telegram sent by Lord Charles Beresford, a British admiral who served in the Royal Navy at the turn of the twentieth century. The telegram was sent in reply to a dinner summons from Prince Albert of Wales, the man who would soon ascend the throne as King Edward the VII. The invitation to dine with the future king was delivered to Beresford assuming he would be glad for the honor and make plans to attend.

The admiral’s reply was simple.

“Very sorry can’t come. Lie to follow by post.”

In short, I actually appreciate Beresford’s response. At least he was willing to deal honestly with his king. He just didn’t want to attend, and that was easy enough to understand. I’m sure it bothered the king, but if you know the rest of the story, then you also know the king moved on to include others, eventually abandoning his relationship with Beresford. But again, the truer inclination of the admiral was that he didn’t want it, anyway. And the king—one of England’s most beloved—certainly wasn’t going to build the friendship by force.

So that was that.

Light and Darkness, Certainty and Uncertainty, Courage and Fear

Technically, the sun rose this morning at 6:04 AM. I watched it from my kitchen window. It was stunning.

Before the moment had fully developed, the world beyond my window pane was a cool and shapeless dark with very little definition. I could barely make the mist twirling up from the Shiawassee River. Although, peering straight into the darkness, after a while, my eyes were more than capable of deceit, maybe even taking hold of imagination’s hand as she beckoned toward some impossible things.

I mean, I’m pretty sure I saw a pack of velociraptors crossing from one shore of the river to the other, pausing at the water’s edge before rushing into the thicket. Or maybe it was a herd of deer.

Eventually the tree line defining the horizon (which in the first few minutes of the sun’s visibility was edged with an extraordinary copper luminescence) couldn’t seem to stop the sunlight from revealing every single detail of the world behind my home. Minutes before I could only see what I thought I could see. In the light, I could see everything for what it was.

Oh, the in-between murmurs of the sun and its rising in summer! It comes and goes, rising and setting and rising again, ever reminding its onlookers of deeper, more glorious things—always bearing a much grander intuition than we’re often willing to confess.

An intriguing characteristic of light is that when its beams break through, the terrors—both real and imagined—scatter. The very real roaches run for the baseboard crevices. The same goes for the imagined velociraptors. They, too, scramble back to the shadows. I’m sure you know what I mean. You need only to think back to your younger days and recall the fear that came with fetching something from the darkened basement—or whichever unlit space was most fearful in your home. Everything and anything with hooked claws, piercing fangs, and a leathery hide was waiting to snatch you before you could get to the light switch. Perhaps the heaviest dread in those moments came somewhere between the bottom and top steps after the item’s retrieval. In the seconds after turning off the light, with the darkness at your back, whatever unseen beasties were previously restrained by its beams were now almost certainly scurrying from their hiding places to catch you before you could leap through the door at the top.

We all know the dread that comes with darkness. We all know the comfort of the light.

There’s a broader interpretation to be had from such scenes of light and darkness, certainty and uncertainty, courage and fear. Opening the door of my home this morning and stepping out into the current state of darkly affairs in our world, I’m reminded of this, and as such, I continually retell myself two things in particular.

The first is that things won’t be as they are forever. This world had a beginning. Because of Sin, it will have an end, too. No matter the invented truths of today, the Lord promises that at the Last Day, the divine light of truth will eventually break through with its fullest brightness at the appearing of Christ in glory (Titus 2:13, Revelation 1:7-8, Malachi 4:2). In that ensuing moment, nothing will be obscure. Everyone will see things as they truly are. Every system of belief, every controversy, every philosophy will be revealed by and measured against the only standard of judgment that ever mattered in this life: the truth of God’s Word.

This thought reminds me that the imagined velociraptor-like sense that truth appears so often to be losing ground to untruth will be proven infinitesimally short-lived soon enough. Regardless of the truths being cast aside in our world—that a man is not a woman and a woman is not a man; that killing an unborn child is murder; that all lives, no matter the skin color, have value; that murderous rioting beneath a banner of virtue is the devil’s business—while these truths may be hidden from so many right now, eventually the lights will come on. The sun will rise and we’ll see the landscape clearly. It’ll be a moment experienced by the whole world, and all will acknowledge it on their knees, either in humble gladness, or in terror (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11).

It’ll be a moment in which all accounts are settled.

In relation to this, the second thing I do my best to keep in mind is that temporal worry is just plain foolishness. In Matthew 6:25-34, Christ explains the futility of worry and the better exchange found in faith. Christ is always the better bet, and so He teaches trust in Him as powerful against worry. Trust severs worry’s fuel line, which is fear. When fear is starved, it does what every malnourished thing eventually does—it dies. Personally, going forth from fear’s funeral, I can live in confidence through each and every day leading toward the final judgment knowing by faith that Christ has settled my account for me. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work through this Gospel, He is establishing in me the desire to seek and abide in His truth in all situations. In other words, my opinions take a back seat to His opinions.

Looking to the days ahead, if we establish our footing on anything other than the truth of God’s Word, we are doomed. And certainly, if there’s anything to be learned from the last few months it’s that no human word or deed can assure us of what’s next, let alone what’s true. Not an executive order, a doctor’s opinion, a social media post, or news report.

There’s lots of uncertainty at the bottom of the basement steps. But through faith in Christ, we can know to reach for the light switch of God’s Word. It’s there we learn that no matter how dark the days may become, “nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight” (Hebrews 4:13). He is well aware, and by no means has He lost control.

As the cities continue to burn, as de-educated punks continue to topple monuments, while self-righteous thugs deliberately trample others because of skin color, continue to let your legs carry you to the place where your finger can flip the switch. Be found in the bright beaming light of the truth which affirms, “‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’” (Jeremiah 23:24).

Rest assured He sees it all. He sees and knows you, too. He also knows what’s happening around you. Trust Him. Follow Him. Labor in these dark days by the strength He provides, being assured by the light of His Gospel truth that as you make your way through this seemingly unhinged world of ungodly wokeness, “your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).