We Thank You for Your Love

The Thoma family thanks everyone for their messages, cards, meals, and so much more. Your loving kindness to us as we made our way through the situation with our son, Harrison, is a direct reflection of the Lord’s love to and for His world. We can’t begin to thank you enough. Although, I suppose by myself, I can make the effort to paint a portrait of the appreciation.

This past Friday, Harrison and I shared an elevator at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor with a mother pushing her daughter in a stroller. The little girl couldn’t have been more than three years old.

I’d seen the two of them before. In fact, Jennifer and I saw them down near the cafeteria at the beginning of the week and we commented on what the situation might be for the little girl.

In this moment, leaning against the wall of the elevator, mom looked exhausted. She tried to fool me with a less than credible smile, but I knew better. Her daughter’s brown eyes were bright. They were locked onto the lighted buttons with the numbers 7 and 12. I couldn’t see her expression. Other than being ornamented with bandages and a couple of IV ports, she was wearing a mask. And she was balding.

They got off at the seventh floor. We exited at the twelfth.

It’s remarkable how in a singular moment one’s lens of perception refocuses, and you change from someone concerned for your own sphere of existence to having a desire to step outside of that sphere for the sake of another human being.

This happened to me in that elevator.

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” He’s right. Sin complicates our peripheral vision. Most often we view life through our own joys and sorrows, becoming stuck in the mindset that the best and worst to us is the best and worst in the world.

But that’s just not a very honest view. I’m pretty sure I’ve offered from the pulpit on more than one occasion that Mankind is still searching for the depth of Sin’s creativity. It’s very possible that whatever “worst” may be happening to you will be easily overshadowed by someone else’s tragedy.

Even though, for the most part, it would seem we are through the darker days of Harrison’s situation, I don’t mean to look back at it and say everything was simple and carefree in comparison to others. There’s nothing to downplay about what Harrison has endured. Two procedures to open up his body to his hip socket and pelvis in order to manually clean them, excruciating pain both day and night through the first three days, the taxation of round-the-clock sequestering to his room by Infectious Disease doctors—all of these things were monumentally challenging to a boy who just wants to be twelve. I’ll admit that through all of this, I discovered myself hovering above a chasm of worry, especially when the attending physician assured us that his kind of infection is deadly serious, and if not fatal, can cause irreversible bone damage. We’ve been reminded on more than one occasion that had Jennifer not been moved to take him to the ER when she did, things almost certainly would have been worse.

Again, no downplaying. We’ve been teetering at this precipice.

Nevertheless, I saw another parent in the elevator, someone both like and unlike me. I saw a child in there, too, someone similar and dissimilar to Harrison. They were like us because they’re human and struggling. They’re different in ways I can’t necessarily describe. Except for one. My guess in the moment was that while my son was going through a lot, he was slowly improving, and I suspected he had a chance at full recovery. But the future of the little girl with brown eyes and cancer was less certain.

In the midst of personal concern, God granted my field of vision to become a bit wider. I could see both her and her mom as all of you have seen the Thoma family.

Like all of you—people in the midst of woeful struggles none of us may ever know—I was moved to look beyond my own sadness and take time to care. To be totally honest, I tried to discover their room number on the 7th floor so that I could send the little girl an anonymous gift from the hospital gift shop. Of course, no one would share that information. Instead, I took a moment to do something better, to do what Christians do. I prayed for her—for her entire family—as all of you have done for us.

First off, I don’t know if an anonymous surprise from the gift shop would have accomplished the moment of joy I was hoping for her, but I feel safe in assuming it might’ve. So many of you are the proof of this. So many of you reached out to help us in the same ways, all showing a field of vision well beyond the self. This is nothing less than the Holy Spirit at work by way of the Gospel you’ve received. Christ’s effort to live, die, and rise again for your redemption wasn’t lost on you. You’ve been recreated by this powerful act, and the Thoma family has been the recipient through meals, gas cards, and the like.

But there’s something more.

Aristides said, “And to me there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians.”

Gift or no gift, I know the prayer I prayed for that mother and daughter will suffice. Again, all of you are proof. God hears the cries of His people and He answers according to His good and gracious will. And that’s all I asked for—His will to be done—that He would grant peace, healing, and hearts set upon trusting in His Son for real rescue.

As a family, we are grateful for your care, but as a pastor and friend to you, I’m most grateful for who you are in Christ—the example you are even to me. I’m grateful that He has made you people with a broader field of vision than what the sinful flesh can muster, even in the midst of struggle. He has made you His bright beaming lights emitting a great and wonderful love to the world around you through acts of mercy and prayers that seek His faithful will in the lives of others.

I am truly grateful to be your pastor. God is at work through you, offering a care for His world so often flexed by way of muscle that only the holy Christian church bears.

With all of this in mind, there’s one more thing I’d ask of the countless people who prayed for us. I’m asking for all of you to turn the diligence of your prayers back to the Lord on behalf of someone else. Adam Pushman’s niece, Lucille Aldred, has been suffering from cancer. The tumors they thought were in remission in this little girl have returned. Needless to say, Lucille’s parents are scared, and scared parents wrestle with fathoming how God could allow such things. My request of all those who prayed for us: Pray diligently for Lucille. Pray continually. Under the banner of His gracious will, ask for healing as well as for steadiness and comfort to the parents.

Spread the word to other churches. Tell family and friends. Pray.

May God continue to strengthen you for this. And again, thank you for lifting us before God. Let’s do it now for Lucille.

Outpacing the Sun

Well, summer is officially at an end. School starts here at Our Savior this Monday.

I’ve seen a few social media posts from various folks noting how they can’t wait for their kids to get back to school. I’ve seen others from people with children who are dreading the return. They dread it because they enjoy having the kids home all day. They enjoy the sights and sounds, as well as the more leisurely pace when it comes to obligatory things. I’d have to agree. And to be quite honest, the week leading into each new school year, I always get a little anxious. For one thing, I think this happens because my awake time has already begun to outpace the sun and I know that it’ll be the same for the kids. What I mean is that for most of the year, I’m already awake and working well before the sun rises and I’m still at it long after the sun sets. It isn’t this way in the summer, and it’s as if the sun knows it. Leading along with a gentler pace, there are times when the rising sun through our bedroom windows is the first thing I see when I open my eyes. And it is at the end of a reasonable day from the step of my front porch that I see the sun beaming a goodbye stream on the western horizon, telling me it’s later than I think and urging me to bed, but also reminding me that it’ll be sure to wake me when it’s time.

It’s when I think of the ramped up and overly-busy schedules combined with the shorter days of Fall and Winter that I begin to get restless. I wonder how I’m going to do it all. Sometimes I find myself doing something that I’d be willing to bet you do, too. I begin segmenting my life into forward-looking timeframes. “Only forty-eight more days until All Saints Day,” I’ll say. Or perhaps I’ll whisper, “Only fifty-five days until Christmas.” I’ll do this throughout the year, knowing that when I arrive at each particular point, I’m that much closer to a time when the pace will lessen and the sun will once again greet me in my bed rather than after the morning school bell.

But there’s something else that hovers in the midst of all of this. In fact, no matter the time of year, it’s always there. It’s a short, caressing Word from Jesus to an anxious heart of worry:

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).

The Lord preached these words to a group of Christians—folks like you and me—living in the trenches of a life filled with plenty of things about which to be concerned. He preached them having already offered a powerful Gospel of love—a good Word that delivered into their hearts the message that He is their Savior, that He has them well in hand, and will never fail. And so when I hear these words echoing in my anxious skull, they almost always come out of my mouth in the way that Saint Paul enunciated them to the church at Philippi: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).

You know what’s happening here in the midst of my worrisome state? The Holy Spirit is prodding my flesh and bones to know and acknowledge that I have a God who loves me. The proof is resident in the giving of His Son into death for my sins. He will carry me through both the times of leisure and the times of challenge.

I have nothing to fear. Period.

I pray the same peace for you and your family, that God would give to you a tranquil heart whenever you find yourself facing an uneasy moment. Trust Him. He is sure to provide all that you require. And I dare say that in comparison to the fiery ball around which our planet spins day after day after day, there is a much better Son who has risen, and by this, His time among us never sets. He never disappears over the horizon. His face is always shining on us. And with that, no matter the time of year, we can go to bed in peace and awake again in the same joy we had when we closed our eyes.

Circling the Wagons

This community—Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church and School—is truly a family. How do I know this? Well, first of all, and in a practical sense, when I sent out that urgent message last week about a member of this church in need of employment, I didn’t get responses of mere well wishes; that is, none among you epitomized the scathing words in James 2:16 regarding others in genuine need: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

Instead, the family’s wagons were circled in support of this church member.

Within minutes of sending the email, I received from you offers for prayer as well as viable leads. Within hours, I’d received more viable leads, several text messages, and some really generous help that could only make the person’s résumé better. By the end of the day, the email had been shared with others outside of our circles. Because of your efforts, it reached several employers willing to talk with the person and others ready to hire him right away.

Besides all of this, how else do I know that Our Savior is truly a family?

Because God says so by His word. Not only does He refer to us as members of one body, each with different roles and yet belonging to each other (Romans 12:5), but Jesus call us His brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). This is possible by virtue of our baptism into Him (Galatians 3:26-29). Having been baptized into Christ, you have become God’s children. You are sons and daughters of the Holy One, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are heirs of the heavenly kingdom. Thankfully, God has promised in Jesus Christ to work in and through you the very things you accomplished for one of our family members in need (Philippians 1:6).

I’m glad to call all of you my family. It’s a blessing of the Lord, and its one for which I give daily thanks.

The World’s Rip Current of Busy-ness

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is only 16 days away? That’s only 23,040 minutes! Considering that many among us plan our schedules by the minute rather than by the day, all of the events that land on our calendars with the intent of consuming our time sometimes leaves us thinking that life feels a little more like a rip current—a turbulent flow carrying us away from shore even as we try to swim against it—rather than a sometimes slow and sometimes fast stream that provides for both leisure as well as challenge. I read an article last week about how this is affecting children. In it, the author said:

“For years now, a consensus has been emerging that a subset of hard-driving, Ivy-longing parents is burdening their children with too many soccer tournaments, violin lessons and cooking classes. A small library of books has been published with names like The Over-Scheduled Child, The Pressured Child, Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids and so on.”

A little further into the article, he suggested a solution:

“The antidote to the problem… is to make sure children have enough time with no activities, parents have enough time with no work and the two sides come together to create activities of their own.”

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think that God provided the solution to this problem long before the clinical child psychologists ever started pondering it.

Take a look at the following portion from Luther’s Large Catechism regarding the meaning of the Third Commandment, which is, of course, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”

“To offer ordinary people a Christian interpretation of what God requires in this commandment, we point out that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and well informed Christians, for these have no need of them. We keep them, first, for the sake of bodily need. Nature teaches and demands that the common people—man-servants and maid-servants who have attended to their work and trades the whole week long—should retire for a day to rest and be refreshed. Secondly and most especially, we keep holy days so that people may have time and opportunity, which otherwise would not be available, to participate in public worship, that is, that they may assemble to hear and discuss God’s Word and then praise God with song and prayer.”

I think it’s kind of interesting, too, that in the very next Commandment—the Fourth Commandment, which deals with the honor due parents as Godly authorities—after some pretty lengthy instruction for children, Luther turns toward the parents and writes:

“Parents should consider that they owe obedience to God, and that, above all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, not only to provide for the material support of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God. Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable for it.”

When you put these two commands together, first you see the one particular time and place that God has given for us to rest and be refreshed together as a family—holy worship. And second, you see how important it is to God that parents would be faithful in setting aside all of the busy-ness that would distract from or take priority over being together as a family and keeping the Sabbath day holy. A thorough reading of both explanations of these commands and you’ll more than see the urgency for doing this, not only for the sake of rest, but for the sake of establishing the right foundations for faith.

God knows the world tries to pull us into the rip current. He knows that if we try to swim against the current, we’ll become exhausted. With this, He has given His Son to die and rise for us, giving us the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to see that there’s a way out. In a real rip current, to escape really isn’t that hard. You need only to swim to the right or to the left of it. In this life, getting what God has for your refreshing and re-strengthening isn’t that hard, either. It happens every Sunday. And what’s even more amazing is that to be in holy worship is to be lifted up and out of the rip current completely. You don’t do any swimming. He does all the work. There is worship you are rescued, your are set on shore, you are given dry clothes—the robe of Christ’s righteousness—and you are well nourished for the next wave that may come and try to sweep you away. If you and your children don’t receive this nourishment, if you try to swim without what God provides, you will drown. That’s the hard truth.

By God’s grace, be encouraged to be with Him in His presence to receive this nourishment as often as it is provided. He loves you, and He wants for you to be refreshed alongside your resting Christian family.

I Know the Plans I Have for You

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

This is a most pertinent text for us these days. It is a text I know by heart, and I’m sure many of you do, too. If you don’t have it memorized, take a minute and cram it into your brain right now because it speaks a word of truth from our God that is unmatchable.

First, it is an urging that believers understand that God has us in mind, and as Paul more or less repeats in Romans 8, the Lord’s plans are for our benefit and never our harm. The hope that Jeremiah preaches as from God Himself, is salvation—redemption—victory over sin, death, and the Devil through the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

And so by faith, we call upon our God. We pray to Him and He hears us. We seek Him, and just as He has promised, we find Him in Jesus. To seek God with all our heart, is to know by faith that in good times and bad, He is the shepherding deliverer.

This congregation and her leadership, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has so wonderfully been living the essence of this text. And God continues to show us in so many ways that our trust in Him is not misplaced. When the temptation arises in the midst of financial challenge to revert to gimmicky campaigns or to go back to spending practices that nearly sealed a dreadful fate for this parish, we have turned to the Lord and His Word, and it is there that we have found a secure footing each and every time…and remarkably, the storm clouds have always passed and the sun has dried up the water of our fears.

God is so good. He has plans for us. He knows them. And they are for our benefit and for the good of those He desires to save through the Gospel efforts of this congregation here in Hartland.

Thank you for knowing this. Thank you for your faithfulness as Christians who are desiring to live according to the Name placed upon you. Thank you for such diligence in your faithful attendance in worship, knowing that it is there that you receive what is necessary for such a sturdy faith. Thank you for your willingness to serve in and around this Christian family’s efforts—telling others about the joy you experience here, communicating the Gospel and encouraging people to join you, willingly and deliberately giving of your time and your talents to further the efforts of this Gospel-minded mission, and for supporting the hard work of both the paid and volunteer staff who serve tirelessly as the mortal cogs in an immortal machine.

God bless you. You mean the world to your pastor, and I thank God for you every single day.