God Will Let It Slide, Right?

I’m reminded of something my daughter, Evelyn, said to me on our way to the school this past Thursday morning.

Folks in Michigan will recall that Thursday was quite the sunny day. Even at 6:45am, which is when Evelyn and I set out for the day, the sun was already well above the horizon. Turning east out of our subdivision, the sun’s beams poured through the windshield, filling the car with its glory. It felt good—the warmth on my face in crisp distinction from the chill just outside my window. Even as it was somewhat blinding, before feeling the need to adjust the sun visor, its first stirring was that of happiness.

Surprisingly, Evelyn grumbled.

“I don’t like the sun in my eyes,” she said, scooting up in her seat and reaching to adjust her visor.

“I love it,” I replied, my visor still tucked neatly above the windshield. “It feels good.”

“I don’t,” she countered. “It’s too bright.”

“Well,” I added, “we probably shouldn’t complain about it, especially since we’ve been longing for days like this all winter.”

Evelyn didn’t respond, but I could tell she was reconsidering her position.

Certainly, I understood her frustration in the moment, especially since I was piloting the vehicle. For as much as I enjoyed the sun’s resplendence, I needed to be able to see, and the sun was making that a little more difficult. Still, the last thing I ever want to do is lie to myself, expressing any dismay at all for something I’ve been waiting more than a half-year of mornings to enjoy. In my eyes, or wherever, the sunshine was a welcomed guest to a long-suffered winter.

Tapping away at the keyboard while recalling this circumstance, I suppose there are plenty of lessons within it to be learned by it. Although, I can’t think of one in particular.

Okay, how about this…

Looking back at what I just wrote, the lesson that seems most prominent is the foolishness found in lying to oneself.

One of the worst things that anyone can do is to lie to his or herself. And it’s not necessarily the lie itself that holds all the danger, but rather the potential for becoming so convinced by your own deception that you willingly exchange truth for untruth. This reminds me of a video of Joe Biden from 2015 I watched this past week. It was a quasi-interesting twenty minutes of Joe sitting before a fawning reporter and cameraman and doing what Joe does, which is to wear a triangular smile while rambling incoherently. And yet, during the purgatory-like segment of softball-question nonsense, there was something Joe spoke about with relative unequivocalness. I ended up posting something about it on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote:

“I just watched a portion of a video of Joe Biden from September of 2015 in which he attempted to describe the authenticity of his Catholic faith. Barely a few minutes into his plastic words I had a thought. To be a liar is one thing. To be a sincere liar is something altogether worse. Or as Shakespeare mused through the character of Hamlet, ‘One may smile and smile, and be a villain.’”

The point behind this comment relates to ongoing news of several Roman Catholic bishops around the country and overseas pushing for Joe Biden to be excommunicated. They’re doing this because Joe claims that one can be a Catholic and be pro-choice—and not just the “safe but rare” kind that the Democrats proffered back in the 80s, but rather the kind that goes right over the cliff into believing abortion (in all of its grisly forms) is a gift from God, and even worse, that full-term abortion is something upon which God dotes with an similarly triangular smile.

Do you know what full-term abortion is? If you guessed a full-term newborn child being killed immediately after delivery, then you guessed rightly. The President of the United States—your president—believes such a thing is holy.

Of course, I expect the nominal Christians to come out of the shadows to say I’m misconstruing his position, that he only supports it in this or that special circumstance. These folks will say this because, well, they voted for him, and like him, they aren’t necessarily using the lens of God’s Word for discerning these things. Well, whatever. Use whichever intellectual dance moves you prefer for avoiding the visceral fact that the President of the United States has given a thumbs-up to doctors delivering and then murdering newborn children if in such a moment a mother decides she doesn’t want her child.

But let me take a brief step backward to where this started.

As a Christian, the only way to arrive at an acceptance of the pro-choice position, no matter the justification, is to lie to yourself about a great many things. It is to lie about what life is and means. It is to lie about life’s Author. It is to lie about what that Author said with regard to human dignity and the truest definition of personhood. It is to wield the Word of God in deceptive ways, and ultimately by such handling, to summarily reject it, whether the one wielding it realizes it or not. Lastly, it is to be caught in the dilemma that to reject the Word of God, by default, is to reject the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

You cannot stake a claim in Christianity and reject the Savior who sits at its heart. It just doesn’t work. Thankfully, there remain plenty of Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church who are willing to enforce this basic doctrinal premise.

I wrote and posted something else this past week that comes to mind, too. It had to do with an article from The Federalist entitled “Lockdown Mongers Can Point Fingers, But The Science Is In: They’re To Blame.” By the way, one of the two senior editors at The Federalist is a biblically astute LCMS Lutheran, Mollie Hemingway, whose father is a Confessional Lutheran pastor. I should add that The Federalist has several LCMS writers on its roster of contributors, and in my opinion, that alone makes it one of the few political/cultural news sources out there to be trusted. Anyway, here’s what I wrote when I posted the article:

“The devil has plenty of instruments in his bag, but deception is the glove he wears for wielding each one.”

Again, the point here was to say that there are plenty of tools in the devil’s toolbox for drawing us into Sin, things he uses for convincing us to believe and do the wrong things. But before he goes about his darkly deeds, his grip on each instance begins with deceptively enticing half-truths.

“Sure, I know it’s against God’s Word for me and my girlfriend to live together before marriage,” the young man says, “but it makes good financial and logistical sense to do so. I figure that as long as we have the intention of getting married, God will let this one slide.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

“It makes perfect sense that the churches are closed,” the husband and wife contemplate over Sunday morning coffee. “The science says that mass gatherings for worship are sure to be super spreaders of the virus. The Church can ‘love thy neighbor’ a lot better by masking up and staying home.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

“Certainly I’m justified in speaking poorly about that person to others,” she muses. “How could I be wrong in doing so? My friend hurt me, and I need the emotional support from other friends who understand. The only way to get the support is to tell others about what happened.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

To knowingly persist in such behaviors unrepentantly, having exchanged the truth of God’s Word for lies, won’t end well. Still, the devil will work to convince you that it will. He may even do it in ways that sound pious, kind of like Adlai Stevenson’s infamous words given in jest: “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and a very present help in trouble.”

Again, I don’t want to lie about the sunshine and say I don’t like it. I love it, even when it’s uncomfortably shining in my eyes. It’s the same here. Don’t be fooled. Stick to the truth of God’s Word, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. No matter what happens, you’ll have the certainty of real truth. You’ll be traveling along the stepping stones of faith cut from God’s reliable quarry. Along the way, you’ll know and understand the gravity of your Sin—your very REAL Sin—and you’ll know the One who came to forgive you of that Sin, to recreate you by His wonderful love, and to send you out as someone capable of beaming the refreshing and face-warming sunlight of His love in a wintry world of Sin longing for the rescue of a divine summer.

“Let Us Run the Race…”

As always, I pray all is well with you and your family, and that as we make our way toward summer, you are beginning to receive some relief from winter’s grip.

When I say grip, I mean it. Michigan winters are long. I grew up in central Illinois. Until I moved here in 1994, I was ignorant to the fact that it’s all but guaranteed that eight of Michigan’s twelve months will deliver a measure of frigidity. It’s a truth that tips its bowler cap reminiscently to the British notion that there’s only one way to ensure summer in England and that’s to have it framed and hanging in the living room.

And yet Michiganders press on, we endure, knowing that when summer does finally arrive in our state, there will be few other places in America that can capture our hearts for home in comparison.

Although, “endure” is an interesting word to use in relation to something we love, isn’t it?

As a pastor, even as I’ve needed to endure troubling people, places, and things, I’ve also been on the scene to watch other people endure, too. About thirty-six hours ago I was sitting at gate B16 in the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on my way to St. Louis, and across the way at gate B15 was a family enduring their restless two-year-old. Come to think of it, we were all enduring the toddler. I’m sure they love their son, but I have to imagine that in that particular moment they were doing what they could to get through the oncoming hours of travel, ultimately hoping for the peace that comes with arriving at their final destination—which appeared to be Knoxville, Tennessee.

Observing those folks (not gawking, of course), I’d say they were doing a stellar job of receiving the disdain-filled stares of the folks around them, while at the same time managing their own inclinations to put a red tag on the kid and check him as extra baggage at the door of the plane before boarding because they knew they wouldn’t get away with stuffing him into the overhead bin.

I’ve learned over the years that the way people endure struggle often reveals more about them than the actual thing being endured. I was reminded of this rather vividly earlier this week when I was called to the scene of an unexpected death. There were family members of the deceased who claimed faith in Christ, and yet were completely inconsolable—more so than I’ve ever seen before—wailing and calling out that life was now over, that all hope was lost, that God was their enemy, that they hated Him, that He was punishing them even as they’d been so faithful to Him in church attendance and prayer and giving. (For the record, I found out later after talking to their pastor they weren’t actually as faithful as they’d claimed.)

Over the course of the hour after I arrived, other Christian family and friends arrived, too. I didn’t learn of their faith in Christ by asking, but instead beheld them embracing the inconsolable ones and offering them the reassurance that hope was not lost, that God was not doling out injustice, that He was not scheming to harm or destroy them.

To be clear, I’m not belittling anyone’s moment of grief. I’ve been in and around it enough to know that it’s different for everyone. And besides, it truly was an unfortunate scene. Still, when it comes to relationship status, I’d say that for the most part, everyone in the room held equal shares of the burden of the moment. But for some reason, one group in particular seemed capable of finding their way in the darkness, of believing that even amid the coldness of Death, the summer of eternal life through faith in Christ was approaching on the horizon. They were proving a deep trust that the sadness would eventually pass, that the Day of Days was coming. It was only a matter of time. Armed with this knowledge, they were going to press forward displaying a different kind of grief, one that emitted hope and was capable of shepherding others in the same.

Paul said something about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Those who fall asleep in Jesus are brought along with Him. In the moment of their passing, no matter how dark it might seem to be, they are immediately carried to where He is. This is true by virtue of His unarguable power over Death.

Saint Paul’s words are Easter words. Easter owns them. I’m here to tell you that it’s no coincidence that God established Easter in the springtime. Spring steps forth from the grave of winter with its heart set toward summer, the sunlit upland of new life in full bloom.

Until then, indeed, the need to endure is rarely an easy thing. Just look around. But as you do, I’d caution those of you expecting to discover nothing but hopelessness unfolding throughout the world that you’ll likely see Christians continuing to prove the engine of endurance being fed by the Gospel of hope. History itself testifies to this. In a sense, you are enjoying the benefits of this verity. Fellowship in the Christian congregation you call home exists in part because the Christians who were tossed into dens filled with lions endured. The faith you are laboring to pass along to your children and grandchildren continues because Christians staked by Nero endured. The Bible—the Word of God for faith is even now in your hands because the Apostles who went out with a willingness to be crucified—even upside down—endured. The world has continued year after year to pit itself against Christianity, and yet countless generations continue in the way of salvation. Why? Because that which is the power of God unto salvation—the Gospel (Romans 1:16)—continues to endure, just as the Lord said (Matthew 16:15-20). And so, like those who’ve gone before us, we are not fearful as the world is fearful. We do not grieve as the world grieves. We do not endure unpleasantness and struggle and suffering and pain as the world endures. We have hope. We have that which has reached into us from the divine spheres and kindled our hearts with the warmth of a joy that can withstand the temperatures of mortal struggle that fall below freezing.

We know the summer of eternal life is coming. It’s not that we think it’s coming, but rather by the power of the Holy Spirit alive in us, we know it. That being true, and all of our senses being so attuned by faith to this Gospel reality, we cannot help but invest in its inevitability, ultimately letting it be visible to the people around us.

I know I don’t always do this as I should, which is why I need to continue to prepare.

I don’t know about you, but I dedicate time in the spring to preparing for summer. I clean up the yard. I trim back bushes. I prepare flower beds. I test sprinkler heads. I swap the snow blower in the garage with the lawn mower in the shed. (Michigan being what it is, sometimes I learn that I’ve made the swap a little too early.) I do countless things to make sure all is in order. I’m sure the Christians who are faithful in worship will make the appropriate connection here. They don’t need help understanding that because Christ fully accomplished our redemption, there isn’t anything we do for God that somehow plays a part in winning the unending summer of heaven. And yet, they also understand that the same Savior calls for us to prepare. He urges us to a readiness that doesn’t doze off so easily, but rather remains aware, that actively engages in order to keep itself well-stocked and complete for the Day’s arrival when we will be brought into Christ’s presence (Matthew 24:42-44; 25:1-13 ).

Christians know that holding “unswervingly to the hope we profess” means “drawing near to God” where He locates Himself (Hebrews 10:22-27). They know God’s divine prompting for readiness means being with Him in worship, together with other Christians, to receive as one like-minded, supportive, and believing family His gifts of Word and Sacrament that feed the flame of faith for running the race (Hebrews 12:1-2) and enduring until the end (James 1:12).

There’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet

I had an interesting thought that came to me during the Elders meeting yesterday morning. It happened while leading the group through a portion of Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Essentially, I was reminded of something that happened a few weeks back while watching my daughter, Evelyn, during her horseback riding lessons.

At one point during her lesson, I could tell just by looking at her that her blood sugar was getting low, and so as she lapped the place where I was observing, I asked her how she was feeling. She confirmed that she was a bit tired and feeling a little woozy. Of course, the last thing you want to be doing with low blood sugar is riding a horse, and so I asked her to come back around to me so I could give her a juice bottle. I knew after a few big gulps, she’d start to feel better and be able to keep going. Besides, she wanted to keep riding. It bothers her when her Type 1 diabetes gets in the way of her abilities to just be a normal kid. With that, she turned her steed (whose name is Moe) in a circle and trotted up beside the platform where I was sitting. I gave her the juice bottle. She took a few big gulps, gave it back to me, and then gave Moe the cue to proceed.

Strangely, Moe was slow to move.

When he finally did—and I know this is going to sound weird—he seemed to be acting judiciously, as if he knew Evelyn needed him to be a little more careful with her. The more I watched, the more I noticed his apparent awareness. For example, when Evelyn gives him the cue for cantering, which is a relatively swifter pace of travel somewhere between and trot and a gallop, usually Moe hops right into it. But not this time. Evelyn gave the cue and Moe was slower to engage, taking a few extra paces to transition into it rather than taking off abruptly.

Again, the more I watched, the more I noticed these things. He didn’t take the turns as roughly as before. He added a few extra paces to his stops.

Intrigued, I grabbed my phone and did a search online to see what I could find out about the intellectual abilities of horses. I wanted to know whether or not they actually had the capacity for caring all that much about the welfare of the rider. I was surprised to learn that the so-called science is up in the air on the subject. For every article that said horses form emotional bonds with their riders or caregivers, another would frame their behavior as more animalistic and instinctual. In other words, they could be trained to act in ways that make it look like they care.

I can’t say for sure. Although, I’d say for my part, I believe the former analysis rather than the latter. I say this not only because of what I observed over the course of Evelyn’s thirty-minute lesson, but because of one article that suggested horses actually do have the cognitive ability for communicating with humans. Essentially, a study was performed proving horses are more than capable of telling their trainers when they are too hot or too cold. The horses in the study, if they were too hot, they would touch their noses to a certain placard indicating they didn’t want to wear a blanket. If they were cold, they’d do the same thing with a different placard, indicating they wanted a blanket. In my mind, if horses can think certain things through and ultimately tell us what they want, then I think it’s likely they can take in what we’re communicating and reply through deliberate action. Just watching Moe with Evelyn, I think he knew something wasn’t quite right with her, and he was watching out for her. He was one way, and then when she changed, he changed, and not in a mindless way, but in a measured way.

As you might expect, this sent me into the realm of theology.

I don’t know who said it, but there is the quote which goes something like, “Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” In other words, even a horse knows better than to expect goodness in people, let alone count on them for much anything at all. A jesting proverb, and yet a truthful one acknowledging the innate sinfulness of Man. Just by watching Moe with my daughter, I couldn’t help but recall past and present interactions with certain people who’ve proven themselves far less capable of the simple kindnesses being shown even by this horse. Admittedly, however, in that same moment I felt shame nudging me for being just as capable of reckless unkindness. There’ve been times when I was annoyed and short-tempered. There have been times when someone else’s need was of little consequence to me and I cantered along to other things unconcerned for their wellbeing.

But here was Moe, a creature designed and given by God, showing me a better way.

I don’t know what it is about moments like this, but when I experience them, I almost always discover some sort of lesson ready and waiting in the motion-filled details. And each one usually involves being neck-deep in silent confession with my Lord, which, I’d say, is a good thing. Through the combined lens of repentance and faith, I’m forever being reminded of just how undeserving I am of every ounce of concern God gives. And yet, He continues to give it (1 John 1:8-9). He doesn’t want me to fall. He wants to carry me through to the end of my days securely in His care. Thankful for His grace, I become more aware of the opportunities faith reveals for a humble approach in my dealings with others as I wrestle to put aside the “self” in order to show Christ-like care to others—even those I’d consider to be my enemies.

To come at it from another angle, without genuine Christian humility, it’s very possible that the wrongs we exact in the lives of others, in comparison to the wrongs they measure against us, will never be weighed by the same scales. When this is true, nothing ever becomes reconcilable. Our deeds will always be justified and theirs will always be condemnable. You know, I should probably just go ahead and be blunt in this regard: If you’re someone who rarely sees the guilt of his or her own sin in any given situation, but rather is forever innocent, always being on the receiving end of the offensive actions of others, I know a horse you should meet. His name is Moe, and I’d be glad to arrange an introduction.

Take Hold

Have you ever had one of those days when no matter how hard you tried to interpret life through the lens of positivity, there was an itinerant itch of crankiness that just wouldn’t let it happen? Of course you’ve had such days. You’re a human being. I know I’ve had days like that. I just had one last week, which I guess is why I’m bringing it up—and why I’m about to examine it.

I remember feeling the grouchy cogs begin to turn when I heard that we were likely to get a few inches of snow. I know for a fact I whispered the words, “I want to move to Florida.” Following those words with a bit of daydreaming, I was so easily undercut by the harsh reality that I have neither the funds nor the general flexibility for being in Florida for any great length of time beyond the twelve or so days we, the Thoma family, enjoy there each summer. The futility of this harsh realization began draping my world in negative hues almost immediately, and the subsequent events of the day bore witness to it.

I was easily frustrated by other drivers on the road. Little mistakes in my everyday labors became sizable. I lost interest in things that might normally bring me joy. I found myself scrutinizing humanity with far less grace. For example, I found myself in conversation with a fellow clergyman regarding Church and State issues. As we talked, I recalled silently the familiar thought that dialogue is indeed dead, that general conversation involving differing viewpoints has become illusionary, that the modern exchange of ideas has evolved into little more than crisscrossing monologues between people incapable of actually listening to anyone but themselves.

I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t like viewing the world this way. It’s a hard way to go about life, and in the end, it can do little more than to devolve into sadness. So, how does one get free from this?

Well, for me it wasn’t anything I was able to do, but rather the doings of others. It was an unexpected email from a friend offering some encouragement. A little later that afternoon, it was an unanticipated and bright-eyed “Hey, Pastor!” coupled with a high-five from one of the second-graders passing in the school hallway. That night it was an enjoyable conversation during a game of pool with my son, Harrison. Before bed, it was an exceptionally tight and lengthy hug and “I love you” from my daughter, Madeline, followed by the same from Evelyn.

In a sense, I didn’t find a way out of the gloom. I was lifted out.

There is the saying that there is no tomorrow when a friend asks today. This means that when a friend is in need, there is nothing in our future that we can’t put off until we’ve attended to that friend. But sometimes that friend can’t ask. Sometimes he doesn’t even know he needs to ask. Sometimes he is unaware he’s been slow-boiled into his darkest identity, and with this, he doesn’t realize the identity is consuming him.

We all know people like this, folks whose essential personalities were one way, but then when we encountered them again after some time apart, they were noticeably different. They had changed. Their happiness had somehow become muted and the vibrancy of their light had become a little dimmer.

I wonder if this is becoming more common in a society shaped by digital communication and social distancing. Well, to be honest, I’m certain it is. While plenty of studies have provided mounds of data inferring it, as a pastor, I can see it for myself. I don’t really need the studies to confirm what’s right in front of my face. Having interacted with people here at Our Savior who, previously, hadn’t been out of the house or come to worship in over a year, it was easy to see the change. Yes, they were glad to be back, but it was a reserved gladness held in check by a foreign specter—almost as if it had convinced them to reconnect only because the inevitable “death by virus” was better than insanity in seclusion.

You may question this interpretation, which is fine, but I’m here to tell you that if you thought the world was becoming a negative place before the pandemic, COVID has hit the gas pedal on society’s emotional downturn toward instability.

Thinking back to what raised me from my own melancholy sulk, it was the people around me who did the heavy lifting. From that casual example, I sure hope you realize just how much you need to be with other people on a regular basis—how humans need not only to see each other’s faces, but to experience each other’s physical presences. Regular togetherness is no small thing to God, and so He urges His Church to gather for worship, making sure we’re not “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Of course He does this for the sake of giving Himself to His people through the richest of fare—Word and Sacrament ministry. But there are other reasons hovering in the realm of practicality that He has in mind, too.

We’re human. He knows what this means better than we do. He scribbled togetherness into our framework. Individuals were not designed to be alone in seclusion (Genesis 2:18). We’re meant to be out and among others. And why? Well, it’s the reason that before Adam gave Eve her formal name, God called her “helper.” God knows that when we’re together—whether it be in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a bible study group, serving on a board at church, or any other situation involving human togetherness—there will always be those around us who are in tune with our real selves and who will be ready to reach out to lift us up when they sense we are falling. In fact, God said this very thing about togetherness rather precisely in Ecclesiastes 4:10: “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.”

I didn’t expect that email from the friend who sent it. But he noticed something about me on Sunday that left him thinking he should. I get tight hugs from my daughters all the time, but I didn’t expect the tight hug from Madeline that lasted three-times as long as normal. In that moment, for some reason, she was moved to give me a little extra love, and it helped. And as God would so generously provide through such faithful Christians, these happenings arrived at just the right moment, ultimately beginning the Lord’s divine effort to begin holding back the wave of negativity that was making its way toward my spiritual shore and, quite possibly, pull me out into the inescapability of deeper waters.

I pray you’ll consider these words and take them to heart. The first of which to take in is that if you sense someone is falling down or slipping away, reach out to help them. A gentle word will do. An act of kindness will help, too. A confident explanation of the courage Christ gives will prompt.

Second, if you’ve been away from your church family for a while, maybe it’s time to start making your way back. At the time of this writing, it’s been over four-hundred days since the first of the lockdown and mask mandates. It’s been over four-hundred days since a smile and a friendly embrace have been openly available between people without shame. It’s been over four-hundred days since people started unnaturally touching elbows instead of reaching out to make bare human contact by shaking hands. It’s been over four-hundred days since almost everything humanly personal about mankind since the beginning of time was relegated to the impersonal and dead-spaced world of Zoom meetings and virtual learning. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what’s separating you, not only from the places and means by which God is pleased to dwell and operate, but from the ones God has put into place as the hands and feet of His care and intended community in your life. Maybe it’s time to admit that perhaps—just perhaps—God isn’t a fan of what the last four-hundred days has produced: skyrocketing depression, a spike in suicides and domestic violence, and so much more. Perhaps God isn’t happy about what the last four-hundred days has so easily convinced us to accept as either virtuous or shameful, of the division the last four-hundred days has produced among His people, a body of believers who claim to confess Christ and the certainty against Death that faith by the power of the Holy Spirit gives. That’s what Easter is all about—which means that, if anything, you’re in a church season that is most certainly nudging you in this regard right now.

Yes, get vaccinated if you want. Wear a mask—or two, even. Social distance. Do whatever. But maybe consider that it’s time to come back.

Whatever conclusion you come to, I can assure you that you’re missed, even if you’ve somehow convinced yourself you’re not. We have on average about 250 people here in worship every Sunday, and I promise they are asking about and missing those who’ve been away. The negative feelings suggesting you need to continue to stay away or that you haven’t been missed are nothing more than slow-boiled changes in your identity. The devil is fooling you. They’re most certainly not anything being emitted by your church family.

Come back. Be together with the rest of us. Know that when we see you, it’ll stir the joy you’d expect from Christian friends intent on drawing you close and not pushing you away. And on your part, be ready to be overwhelmed with the delight such a reunion will provide. It truly is a magnificent elation that togetherness in the Lord unleashes. Plenty have experienced it. I bet you will, too.

You Look Young for Your Age

I learned something a few days ago. It came to me just after a discussion with my wife regarding her feelings about my beard.

To begin, she’s not a fan of my beard by default, at least not at the length I’ve been keeping it lately. That being said, she doesn’t completely hate it. It’s just that when it gets a little more ZZ Top-ish, she doesn’t appreciate the scragginess when I kiss her, or the fact that she has to be a spotter at dinner, being ready with a glance and gesture to let me know that not all of my spaghetti sauce made it into my mouth.

I do appreciate her help in this regard. By the way, remind me to tell you the story sometime about what happened to me at a gas station in Milford after having eaten a bag of popcorn with the kids in the lunchroom at the school.

Anyway, Jennifer knew me when I didn’t have the beard, and so she knows why I started growing it.

First of all, while my life doesn’t move along at the speed of light, at a minimum, it’s often clocking very near the speed of sound. Speaking practically, growing a beard has made getting ready in the mornings much easier. Not having to shave gives me a few minutes more. Yes, minutes matter to me. Secondly, I’ve always had a young face. And even though I’m a long way from my thirties, even with the beard, people swear I’m barely into them. That’s nice, right? Except for a guy who has a side hustle of reviewing whiskies, without the beard, it used to be that I could barely get the lady behind the counter at the liquor store asking my age to believe the driver’s license I was showing her wasn’t fake.

“That’s you, huh?” she’d ask.

“Yep,” I’d reply, “that’s me.”

“You look young for your age,” she’d continue.

“Yeah, well, I’m married, have four kids, and a mortgage,” I’d offer. “And one of those kids is in college.”

My beard has helped somewhat in this regard.

But without rambling on for too long about this, what lesson did I learn after my discussion with Jennifer? I learned that only one of the two reasons remains for keeping the beard.

Honoring my promise to Jennifer to do some trimming, I went upstairs to begin the task. As I gathered closely to the mirror, I realized I really don’t have a young face anymore. I saw wrinkles I’ve never seen before, and a tiredness that I used to only be able to feel but not necessarily observe. And while I’ve always had a thick head of hair, I noticed far more of it had begun silvering. In fact, most of the beard hair that ended up in the sink was gray. Jen says the gray makes me look distinguished. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that as I zipped this way and that way with the electric trimmers, I could hear the words “You look young for your age” beginning to carry a far different tone. What was once something that sort of bothered me had become in that moment a compliment.

But here’s the twist: A compliment like that is only given by someone who thinks you’re old. In other words, the tables had officially turned. To use youthfulness as a compliment is to admit I’m not youthful.

Maybe I’m digging too deeply here. I guess I do that with these things, sometimes. Nevertheless, Jennifer and I keep each other accountable when it comes to this whole aging thing. She’ll say to me just as I’ll say to her, “Don’t wish the days away.” Usually it’s said in a moment of frustration over the kids, or work, or something challenging. And certainly we say it mindful of the future—that eventually the day will come when there won’t be any more days like these. In that light, we say these words to remember to be immersed in the moment.

It was Seneca who said, “Old age is an incurable disease.” It’s an illness we all possess, and in a sense, doing whatever we can to look or feel as young or old at any given moment is not necessarily the issue, but rather the awareness that an endpoint is always eminently near. Death can and will arrive at the appointed time. I remember hearing the news that my grade school friend Todd had fallen from a tree and died. I remember hearing people say his death was untimely. But in truth, when it comes to Death, age doesn’t really matter. We’re all going to die.

Knowing this, as an extension of the lesson learned while trimming some of my beard away, I thanked the Lord for His grace, acknowledging He has been so very good to me and my family. I thanked Him for being fully immersed in every moment of my life—and the life of my family—especially when we as individuals weren’t as invested. I ended that prayer by holding Him to His promise to continue to be there for us until our very last hour together, knowing my greatest hope is not that we’ll never taste Death, but that Jennifer, Joshua, Madeline, Harrison, and Evelyn will one day be within my reach in the glories of eternal life in heaven.

I suppose one of the best lessons to be learned by all of this is that Christians can look into the mirror, see an aging expression, and yet be confident enough to face the setting sun of this mortal life it is betraying. Easter prompts this courage. It reminds us of a sunlight that never sets, one not being emitted from a sun or moon, but rather from God Himself (Revelation 21:23). It brings to mind the death of Death (2 Timothy 1:10) and the resurrection and restoration of failing bodies (Philippians 3:21). It reminds us that we aren’t inheritors of this life, but of the life to come (Titus 3:7). A glance in the mirror, while it will reveal the mortal illness of age, through the lens of faith, it can also show you the face of someone the Lord looked upon in love, someone the Lord went into the fray of Sin and Death to snatch back from the dreadful permanency of eternal Death awaiting each and every human being at the end of the illness. The next time you look in the mirror, I encourage you to think on this Gospel truth. And maybe even offer a prayer, as I did, thanking the Lord for the days you’ve been given, and for any of the days yet to come.

Gospel Dominance

For those whose Easter is little more than an annual go-round with chocolate rabbits and painted eggs, the fanfare of the celebration has come and gone. Not so for the Christian Church. For us, it remains. We actually live each day in the wake of the ultimate enemy’s defeat.

Death has been conquered. Jesus has done it. Therefore, Death no longer has standing among us. No room for mastery. No room for terrorizing. No room for demands. No room for negotiation. It really is finished. Easter is the proof. And now through faith in Christ, we are His and He is ours. Living in that redemption, what’s left to frighten us?

Nothing.

The more I experience life in this fallen world, the more and more I become glad for this wonderful reality born from a Gospel of great power. It’s a Gospel that changes me. It changes the way I see the world. It changes the way I understand people. It changes the way I maneuver from task to task each new day. It changes the way I suffer during struggle. It alters the way I endure hatred from others.

By the loving promise of Death’s defeat, I can steer into all of these knowing that while I might not pass through them unscathed, I won’t go into them or come out on the other side without hope. Christ has cemented my hope, and with that, I can be content. I can have joy.

Before this contentment took root in me, it wouldn’t have been uncommon for me to get worked up in caustic situations. Not so much anymore. Take for example a recent circumstance in which my reputation was being maligned by deliberate deceit. In the past I might have run headlong into the fray to defend myself. Not so much anymore. I don’t feel the need to do so. I have a dominance in those situations that’s hard to unseat.

Yes, dominance.

There’s a saying that people only talk behind the backs of those who are dominant. Whatever that proverb might mean to the world, for me it has been reinterpreted by the Gospel. Yes, I am in a seat of dominance. But it’s a dominance that has been granted to me—a dominance of contentment in Christ. It’s a certainty that drives away worry, leaving me to know I’m completely surrounded by the Lord’s loving care. Even as I’m behind His flag, He’s also covering any and all of my exposed flanks. With this assurance in hand, I really can say, “World, do your worst.” I am content to live according to the promise of the Easter Gospel. This means that even when things seem their darkest and I begin to feel the blunt end of injustice, even if things don’t turn around in this life, one thing remains true: I’m not an inheritor of this world. I’m an inheritor of the world to come—an inheritance won by Jesus, one in which He is sure to flip the switch of the divine lights and expose all things done in darkness. In the meantime, I can be at peace in all circumstances, strengthened for continuing forward in faithfulness.

Once again, the resurrection Gospel imputes this. It imputes it today. It’ll be there imputing it again tomorrow. And the next day. That’s the promise. If the last enemy, Death, has been conquered, what else is there to concern or harm us?

Believers know the answer to this question as they go about their lives in the perpetual sunshine of Easter, and the world will squirm with frustration around us as we do.

I want you to know that when I go to the altar of God this week at Our Savior to pray privately for His people, this will be the precision of my petitions. I will pray on your behalf, asking God that in the coming days, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He will grant for you to remember these things. My prayer will be for you to be emboldened by the same Gospel that emboldens me, that you will have taken into yourself the joyful promise of the Lord’s mighty resurrection for your justification before the Heavenly Father, which is also an ultra-confident—nay, dominant—slap in the face of Death itself.

By faith, all of this is certainly yours for the taking.

Vicisti, Galilaee

Christ is risen. There is no mistaking this. The tomb is empty. He has visited with His people in the flesh. He isn’t a ghost. They have seen Him, embraced Him, and eaten meals with Him, all the while marveling at the scars of His crucifixion wounds.

Indeed, the wounds prove He was dead. Yes, His enemies killed Him. And like any other human caught in the riptide of mortality, He was embalmed according to the era’s standards and buried.

And yet, here He is. His skin is not pale. His limbs are not stiff or motionless. His eyes are not greyed and sunken. The scent of rot is not wafting. His wounds are healed. Instead, He is lively and laughing. His mouth moves, his teeth and tongue forming precious words. His voice is not shaky, but certain. His chest expands as it brings in oxygen. His hands are warm and His eyes are bright with joy.

He is alive. Risen.

Not one of His disciples could leave this interaction with fear. Not one would be found in the world with a willingness to deny His resurrection. Of course, the enemies of Jesus would circulate rumors, saying these backwater imbeciles were fashioning stories, perhaps having stolen and hidden the body of Jesus to keep the Galilean’s religion alive. But even these desperate accusations would collapse under the weight of countless more who’d testify to having seen the Lord, not dead, but alive. Even one of the enemies’ own—Saul of Tarsus, a rising star among the Pharisees—he, too, would commit himself to the Christian claim, having crossed paths with the risen Christ in a most luminously magnificent way on the road to Damascus.

Perhaps the enemies of Jesus needed only to give the current excitement time to wane. Besides, the fuel in every lamp must eventually run dry. The insignificant things are so easily lost to time’s sands. As the days and months and years pass, so many manias fade from view and are eventually forgotten. Surely, this was Christianity’s destiny. Surely, a religion being preached and defended by a handful of inconsequential no-names would evaporate. Even better, with the help of Jesus’ powerful enemies, whether they be the Pharisees, the Roman Empire, or a venomously unrelenting culture, Christianity would never even find itself a jot in the history books.

But again, here we are.

On every continent across the world, both in the lands where faith is easy and the domains where faith is hard, the Christians are rejoicing in the victory of Jesus over Sin, Death, and Satan. They can be discovered at this time every year bearing the full-throated announcement, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”

Christians have always been willing to sing out what they know to be true. Interestingly, the enemies of Christ, whether in this life or the next, have all eventually joined in the chorus (Philippians 2:10). Emperor Julian (A.D. 331-363) comes to mind as an embodiment of this fact.

The son of Christian parents, and yet one who fell away in his twenties (likely because of the dangerous doctrines of false teachers like Arius), Julian did all he could during his time as Caesar to bury Christianity. His main effort for accomplishing this was by chiseling away at the rights of Christians while working to restore Roman paganism. He believed all that was required for pushing Christianity to its brink was a competing religion fortified by a collaborating Emperor. And yet, like all who came before him and all who’d come afterward, Julian realized the impenetrability of the Gospel, and eventually, he found himself confessing this truth angrily before his death.

“Vicisti, Galilaee,” were his final words. “You have conquered, O Galilean.” Not even the Roman Emperor, with all the conquering power of the known world, could bring Christianity into submission.

And so it goes throughout history. The Gospel continues forth, people are saved, and as the Lord Himself declared, the gates of hell will never find a sure footing to prevail against these wonders (Matthew 16:18).

Of course, Jesus never promised that the Church would always be set toward increase. There would be an ebb and flow to her life. He sent His apostles out to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) even after He’d already pondered rhetorically whether He’d find any faith on the earth at all when He returned at the Last Day (Luke 18:8).

These are sobering words. And yet, against the backdrop of history and all potential futures, they are forever comforting. The Gospel will remain. Jesus said so. Even right now in America as the snuffing of all things Christian is in an unprecedented upsurge, still, here we are. The Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is going out from the churches (the faithful ones, that is) just as the Lord, the conquering Galilean, promised. He has neither left us nor forsaken us. Indeed, He is with us always, even to the end of the age.

Bearing this in your heart, may God continue to strengthen and preserve you by His powerful Holy Spirit as you carry forth rejoicing in the victory of the One who gave His life on the cross—and then took it up again in conquering might—all for you! Undeniably, Christ has assured us that this Gospel message will continue to go before us like a juggernaut across the landscape of all things created and uncreated forevermore! Indeed, Christ is risen! Alleluia!

The Impact of God’s Love

Holy Week is upon us. God’s plan has been exacted.

His plan for our redemption—which included the cosmic annihilation of Sin, Death, and the power of the devil—was established long ago. Its forthcoming object destined for impact was first announced in the Garden of Eden shortly after the fall into Sin.

He told the serpent that a Savior would land in his newly acquired dominion. In that moment, God established the event as the center point of history, charting the forthcoming object’s course as His Word told and retold of the inevitable arrival.

The Savior’s divine origins would prove the all-encompassing span of His reach. The momentum and trajectory of His work would be unstoppable. No human being would be spared from the blast radius of His love. No Sin-sick atom or darkly spirit feeding the flesh or its powerful lords—Eternal Death and Satan—would be safe from His terrible reach.

The worldwide flood and the rescue of eight believing souls in the ark would be a hint (Genesis 7—9:13). The testing of Abraham would provide a taste (Genesis 22:1-18). The betrayal of Joseph by his brothers, his rise to power, and his generous grace would foreshadow its contours (Genesis 37—50). The deliverance of Israel from bondage through the Red Sea would offer a substantial glimpse (Exodus 14:10-15:1). On and on from these, moments in history involving the likes of David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Job, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would all whisper a foretelling of His impending and powerful arrival.

He would make His way into our orbit through the words of an angel to a lowly virgin girl (Luke 1:26-38). He would enter our atmosphere nine months later on a cool night in the miniscule Judean town of Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20). He would speed toward the surface with unrelenting force, all along the way burning up the constricting stratosphere of hopelessness through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. He would vaporize the dusty debris of blindness, deafness, muteness, hunger, leprosy, dropsy, demon possession, paralysis, mortal Death itself, and so much more (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 8:28-33; John 5:1-15; John 11: 1-46; and the like).

And then He would strike.

On Good Friday, the Savior—Jesus Christ—would render His life as He crashed into the earth’s surface by way of the cross. He would do this with a force equal to and more than what was needed to cleanse the world of its horribleness. The initial concussion—one of inconceivable magnitude—would see the rocks split, worldwide darkness, the temple curtain brought to tatters, and the dead shaken from their tombs. The shockwaves from Calvary’s crater would move out in all directions, rolling across the landscape of creation, going backward and forward in time, leaving nothing untouched.

The devil and his own would be scorched and left dying. Humanity would be given life, reconciled, made right with God.

Shortly thereafter, the smoky haze from the Lord’s sin-killing encounter would dissipate, and the bright-beaming light of hope would begin shining through to the planet. A completely new air of existence would breeze through and into the lungs of Mankind. A tomb would be empty, its former inhabitant found alive, and all who believe in Him would stand justified before the Father and destined for the same resurrection triumph.

All of this makes for the centrifugal and centripetal astronomy of Holy Week, the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter), and Easter Sunday. I urge you to make these times in worship your own. Go to church. Be present where God dispenses the benefits of the world-altering event of His love. Hear His Word. Take in the preaching. Receive the Lord’s Supper. Be found standing in the crater of Christ’s victorious work—His cataclysmic demise and unbounded resurrection becoming your justifying right to eternal life in glory with Him forever.

Backroad Cemeteries

It’s very early, 5:30am to be precise. I’m writing this note from Cantrall, Illinois. Again, to be precise, I’m at Camp CILCA, which is just outside of Springfield.

A summer camp I attended in my youth, I know this place well. Even better, I eventually became CILCA’s head counselor in the early nineties, having held the position for four consecutive summers. I should add that during those same years I was also the head lifeguard, music leader, sports director, and weekend maintenance assistant to a wonderful man I’ll forever consider a friend, Derald Sasse, may his soul rest in peace.

I stayed here at CILCA this weekend, having spoken last night at the camp’s annual banquet at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Springfield. I received a kindly invitation last fall from the current Camp Director, Reverend Joshua Theilen, to be the banquet keynote speaker. I was certainly glad to accept. And of course, the topic being something along the lines of Christian engagement in the public square, I was certainly ready to drive down and prattle on about such things. I pray my words last night were of benefit to the people in attendance.

Interestingly, I’m staying in the Christian Growth Center here at the camp, which back in my day, was the only building on the camp property with air conditioning. The funny thing is, in all my years here at CILCA, I never once spent a night in this building. I maintained it. I helped clean the rooms for various groups that came through. I fixed broken windows and repaired faulty electrical outlets, but I never actually enjoyed the fruits of my labor. And yet, here I am twenty-five years later. Life is weird that way, I guess.

As soon as I finish typing this note, I’ll be hopping into the Jeep and heading back to Michigan. To get here to Illinois, I took the backroads. I’ll probably do the same thing going home. I like driving the backroads. While they’re pleasantly uneventful, there’s plenty to see. Driving along through the sleepy farmlands provides more than enough opportunities for thoughtful observation. Thinking back to these travels a few days ago, I can think of at least two things I remember pondering.

The first thing I spent some travel time thinking about was the Old Testament reading from Genesis 22 appointed for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which tells the story of God commanding Abraham to take his son, Isaac, to a yet undisclosed place and sacrifice him. I’d call this event dreadful if I didn’t already know its substance and ultimate conclusion. As a father, could I follow through as Abraham did? And yet, if the listener is paying attention as Abraham speaks, the comfort of trust in the promises of God is woven into the narrative. Once Abraham and Isaac arrived at the place God commanded, Abraham told the servants who journeyed with them that he and his son were going to go and worship God and then return to them.

That moment is a clue as to what Abraham knew would happen. He would unreservedly follow God’s commands already knowing something of God.

God promised Abraham that Isaac would be the one through whom the Messiah would come. God assured Abraham of this. Abraham knew that God doesn’t break His promises, and so no matter what approached from the horizon, Isaac would be fine. Abraham trusted this. If you doubt this analysis, then take a look at Hebrews 11:17-19. The writer to the Hebrews acknowledges this as he digs a little deeper into Abraham’s faith, describing him as knowing full well that if he was indeed forced to follow through with the frightful deed, God would give Isaac back to him alive. He’d have to. God would reverse Death, and preserve Isaac’s life.

This is a very rich moment, both emotionally and theologically, especially as we prepare to wrap up Lent and rejoice in the Easter celebration of Christ’s resurrection. I suppose that thinking about these things probably influenced the second thing I remember pondering along the way.

While tooling along through the farmlands of Indiana and Illinois, I noticed something familiar to each of the little towns along the way. They all have conspicuous cemeteries.

Now, you might be thinking that just about every city or town in America has a cemetery. Believe it or not, they don’t. But these backroad towns do, and each is noticeably prominent, often pitched on a hill at the edge of the city, perhaps adorned with an elderly oak tree or two. And if the cemetery isn’t standing guard at the edge of town, it’s situated somewhere along the town’s main street, making it impossible for anyone to miss while passing through. In either, the collection of headstones is a community of both old and new, and from a reasonable distance, against a setting sun, their mutual silhouette looks almost city-like.

I remember when I was a kid in the seventies and eighties, my friends and I would hold our breaths when passing a cemetery. The lore was that by breathing, there was a chance we might make a wandering spirit jealous. Another version of the myth claimed that you might accidentally inhale a spirit and become possessed. Silly, I know. Good thing I know better, because now that I’m far from those youthful fooleries, I passed a particularly lengthy cemetery on Saturday evening near Lincoln, Illinois as I was making my way to Cantrall from Morton, Illinois, where my parents and sister live. Had I held my breath as I passed, I might have ended up unconscious and in a ditch. Or worse, in a cemetery.

And yet, having said this, the fact that every town has its cemetery is a reminder that at some point, my body will end up in one. There’s no avoiding it. Read the poets. Christian or not, they get the inevitability of Death. Percy Shelley called Death the veil that is finally lifted during the deepest sleep. John Donne described Death as mighty and dreadful, and yet without pride, portraying it as simply doing what it does almost boringly even as it is unstoppable. Robert Browning describes the knowledge of unavoidable Death as motivation for living life fully. Emily Dickinson, of course, is famous for portraying Death as unstoppable, being the carriage that will one day arrive for all. And when it knocks at your door, you will be unable to keep from opening it.

Since I’ve suddenly shifted to considering the poets this morning, I’ll admit to appreciating Lord Tennyson’s description of Death:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

Tennyson doesn’t describe Death fearfully. Instead, he sets it before his reader as something of a story’s ending. It’s the sunset to an eventful day. It is an open sky with a view to the evening star. It is a clear call of his name, and a drawing to a vessel setting sail into the open sea, a place that he loved.

I don’t know what influenced Tennyson’s perspectives on things, but I’ll say his consideration of Death is comforting. It evokes the Lord’s even more so reassuring words throughout the Gospels.

Now, don’t misunderstand the Lord’s position on Death. Jesus knows full well it’s a big deal. He knows it isn’t pretty. He knows Death is an ugly ordeal, that it’s a terrorizing power. Following His lead, Saint Paul describes it as the worst of all enemies of Man. But pretty much all of the biblical writers go out of their way to make sure we know that through faith in Christ, we don’t need to be afraid of Death. We don’t need to be fearful because Christ has defeated it. Like Abraham, we can face off with its dreadfulness with the promises of God well in hand. And so the Lord can say to Lazarus’ sisters that whoever lives and believes in Him, will live even though he dies. Saint Paul can mock Death, courageously poking at it with the Word of God’s promises, asking, “Where is your sting?” Job can speak so joyfully that even in the midst of Death, at the last, he will stand and behold God with his own eyes of flesh.

I like Tennyson’s description because he has this similar verve. It’s almost as if he’s equipped with the knowledge of faith, which we as Christians know by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel enables us to see Death for what it has now become for the believer: a turning from one page to the next.

And the next page holds an unending chapter that is far better than any that came before it.

I like that. And again, the season of Lent is certainly teaching this very point, making sure we’re ready to fully embrace the significance of the Lord’s resurrection—His conquering of Death—all for us!

To use Tennyson’s imagery, Easter is the clear call. Easter doesn’t allow for moaning of the bar. Easter sets sail for the unending horizons of eternal life through faith in the One who was crushed and killed for our iniquities, and yet was found alive on the third day, having wrestled Death and won.

Here in a few moments I’ll be packing up my car and making my way back to Michigan. I’ll be passing many of those same cemeteries I encountered on the way here. I won’t be holding my breath when I pass, just as I won’t be looking on them as fearful markers signifying hopelessness. I’ll observe them as Abraham looked upon Isaac. God is faithful to His promises. He is our hope in the midst of Death. Through that lens—the lens of faith—each of the tombstones whizzing past me will herald particular truths. The first is that unless the Lord returns first, I will die someday. There’s no way of getting around that fact. The second is that even as Death would come calling, it is not my master. Christ has won my eternal life. I am not consigned to the grave forever, but rather with my last breath, I will set sail into the joys of eternal life with my Lord at the helm.

Guilt

The season of Lent is a powerful time in the Church Year. Throughout its forty days, if there’s one thing in particular it draws out and defines with its penitential crispness, it’s the authenticity of human guilt.

Guilt is an incredibly palpable thing, isn’t it?

It’s thick. It’s strong. It’s voracious.

A terrible task-master, guilt binds its victims, keeping them in chains, all the while haunting every square inch of its chosen domain. As a pastor, I’ve learned to recognize guilt in people—and not because I exist in some sort of sphere of unimpeachable innocence, but because I know and have met my own dreadfulness of thoughts, words, and deeds. I am very familiar with guilt’s shape and stamina, and like you, I can be found wrestling with it, too.

As a pastor who is fully prepared to admit this, that means I’m a lot harder to fool when it comes to guilt.

It’s so often easy enough to see it peering back from its victim’s eyes like a shadowy knight in the watchtower of a guarded fortress. It can be sensed in a person’s physical presence. It disturbs human posture and is betrayed by facial expressions. On the phone or in person, its grip alters the human voice. By email or text message, it chooses certain words and repeats certain phrases that reveal its in-dwelling.

Guilt is by no means shy in these regards. It isn’t necessarily concerned by the possibility of its own notoriety. Admittedly, however, it would prefer to dwell in the peace of secrecy, hoping its host will deny its existence and thereby miss the telltale traces of its acidosis. This is true because it knows that to deny its presence is to preserve and protect the master that planted it—Sin. The denial of Sin’s guilt is the embracing of wickedness. It is to justify it, and to find the license for willfully employing it.

But again, for guilt’s host to be aware of its existence is just as acceptable, too. It quite enjoys its castle adorned in the paraments of hopelessness, fear, anxiety, and depression.

Whether it’s outright disavowal or fearful seclusion to avoid being found out, guilt is happy to live in the pitch black darkness of either. It will do anything to protect its domain, anything to smother the approaching lantern of Truth’s messenger, anything to prevent the invasion of a better, chain-shattering, Lord.

From purely a human perspective, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a great place for seeing the examination of these two natures of guilt. For example, Queen Gertrude says so frankly of strong denial, “The Lady doth protest too much, methinks” (III, ii). This is hinting that to so boldly defend one’s absolute incorruptibility—to make excuses for or justify one’s bad behavior—is itself evidence of self-deception in relation to guilt. Further into the play, Shakespeare takes aim at the futility of concealing guilt for fear of being found out, saying that eventually it “spills itself in fearing to be spilt” (Act 4, Scene V). In other words, the continued filling of guilt’s ever-swelling balloon can only last for so long before it bursts, ultimately spattering its gore across the landscape of a person’s life. Things will get messy. Little episodes will become big. Plans will come undone.

So, what to do?

There’s a reason Jesus said on occasion, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). He knows that the Word of God—namely, the proclamation of the Gospel—brings what’s needed for Sin. This cure is also, by God’s design, a medicine for the ousting of paralyzing guilt. The first pill in its prescribed regimen of truth is big and hard to swallow, and yet it delivers directly to our insides the very important knowledge-filled remedy that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The course continues along in a way that moves from concern to sweetness, first urging us not to deny or be fearful of our guilt (1 John 1:8). Both are self-deceptions leading to eternal harm. Instead, we are invited to confess our truest selves and our failings, knowing that God is faithful and just, and He will wash the guilt away (1 John 1:9). His faithfulness is embodied by Jesus, who did not come to condemn us, but to save us (John 3:17). Through faith in Him, we have full access to the throne of God’s grace in every time of need (Hebrews 4:16), being certain that God will receive us—that He will not shame us in our guilt, but rather will help us by taking it away (Isaiah 50:7; Psalm 103:12).

This wonderful routing of guilt from the fortress of Man is on full display in the person and work of Jesus Christ—His cross and empty tomb. It’s there that we see our guilt being heaped upon His shoulders. It’s there that we see our fear and shame infused with His divine body. It’s there that our hope is born, and by faith in His sacrifice and victory, the gates of fault’s domain are kicked open and guilt is dragged to its eternal demise.

You don’t have to be afraid to say you’ve done wrong. God forgives. And by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in His people, offended Christians are prepared to forgive in return.

Let this Gospel be of comfort to you. Better yet, be empowered by it to put away the need to hide your guilt. And whatever you do, don’t deny its existence. Besides, God already knows it’s there, and He desires for us to own this truth, too. Even better, He doesn’t want to leave us in it. He would have us look to and know the One He sent for our rescue—Jesus Christ—and in Him discover the mettle for coming clean, for real repentance, for the real receiving of the mercy won for us on Calvary’s cross. It is by confession of Sin and faith in Christ that guilt’s shame is turned back on itself and made into nothing.

Lent is teaching us these things. Lent is leading us to Good Friday and Easter—those eternal moments on the mortal timeline that seal the deal on this wonderful news.