Thoughts from the Airport

I’m writing this while sitting at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C., and as one sits in such a place, there are plenty of other things to think about. Even better, there are plenty of things to observe—people, restaurants, shops, golf carts letting out siren chirps to get through the crowds without incident, and even some animals. I’m guessing that someone very important is about to arrive on the flight pulling up to my terminal because a rather large contingent of police officers is gathering near the door to the ramp. There’s a small dog in someone’s lap about ten seats away. I’m kind of hoping it isn’t a “comfort animal” that I’ll be sitting next to for the next two hours on the plane.  There’s also a bird hopping from one ceiling joist to the next above me in the domed ceiling. It’s pretty rainy and cold outside right now, so I’m guessing the little guy is trying to keep warm and dry like the rest of us. And as far as I’m concerned, as long as he doesn’t drop anything on me, he’s welcome to stay.

Airports are unusual. But they’re also thought provoking. Looking at the bustle, the never-ending fluidity of things in motion—people moving from one location to the next, seeking a destination and its goals or profits or social company—it’s easy to see how someone like Shakespeare would observe humanity and write: “The very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream” (Hamlet, II, ii, 11).

I know he’s not writing from a Biblical perspective, but as I’m sure I’ve shared with you before, folks like Shakespeare—and others for that matter—are worthy of our attention because they have a way of setting objective truths before us even though they may be using somewhat of an existential lens to see them. In other words, sometimes the world betrays a knowledge that there are such things as up and down, yes and no, right and wrong. In context, I think Shakespeare wrote this because he knew that deep down inside of every human being, no matter what we’re chasing in this life, it is most certainly transient. They are shadows of dreams that are here one night and gone the next. And something very important to keep in mind is that Shakespeare is using the term “shadow” to imply the presence of something real casting the shadow. This means that behind all of our pursuits, there’s something else at work, something that would drive the human spirit to continue to chase after things that just won’t last.

This is where the Word of God steps in to offer divine insight. We need God to reveal this to us, otherwise we’ll never truly know the inner workings of the things that matter most—we’ll never really know what’s at stake.

Of course we might be tempted right away to say that “Sin” is the driving force behind all of this, but that would be too easily dismissed by anyone here at the airport who is bustling along because he or she is trying to get home to be with family. In that circumstance, I’d keep it simple and say the love of family is what’s casting the shadow. I wouldn’t even be so hasty as to say that the gentleman down a few seats and across the aisle from me right now, someone I’m guessing is a fairly successful politician or businessman, is motivated to move from one locale to the next because of a greedy heart or a lust for power. For all I know, he could be on his way to a charitable event to give away millions to help people in need, and it could be that he can barely contain himself for the joy of such a thing because he knows how it will glorify Christ.

So, I guess that as I sit here trying to parse these emerging thoughts as I type—thinking out loud on my computer screen—in the end, I land on the somewhat general condition of the human heart as the Word of God reveals it. Yes, the heart is corrupt and sinful. As Christians we already know that any pursuit born of the sinful heart is as a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6). Still, the Bible teaches that God is, by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, recreating the hearts of believers to be in pursuit of the life to come even as we must keep the proper perspective in our pursuit of things here on earth (Matthew 6:19-34). Without God reaching into us and accomplishing this, even the attempts to get home to be with a loving family are fruitless endeavors because in the end, outside of His redeeming work, everything comes to an end and is lost. Everything in front of me right now is passing away. This means that outside of faith in Jesus, Death will forever separate the family I see right now standing at the desk at Gate 22 asking for help. But for a family of believers—for people in forward motion seeking to get to an earthly home—such a pursuit can be seen as a mere foreshadowing of their eternal home and the eternal togetherness with those they love to be experienced in the joys of heaven with Christ forever.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. Who knows? I guess that’s what happens when you’re sitting in an airport and have nothing to do but type.

Nevertheless, I guess I’d encourage you to keep these thoughts from your pastor in mind. I’m writing them for your spiritual digestion. Chew on the words. And as you do, ask yourself what is behind your pursuits. Better yet, and at a healthier depth, maybe consider if your pursuits are in some way disconnecting you from Christ and the means by which He feeds you with what is necessary for the recreation of your heart and the hearts of the members of your family. If what you are chasing after is separating you from Jesus, by all means, I beg you to jettison it from your life right now! Stop before it’s too late to see that it’s killing you and your family spiritually. Don’t become so invested in such a pursuit that it becomes your all-in-all in comparison to Christ and casts a shadow from very real spiritual starvation and oncoming doom.

I guess since I’m sort of saying it already, I’ll go ahead and say that I find it strange how Christian families dedicate so much time and effort to things that do this, and then a few years down the line, the parents can’t seem to understand why their kids left the faith altogether. I’ll tell you why they left. The parents taught them what was important to pursue. They learned what was important from mom and dad. I sometimes wish I could arrange a meeting between older parents who are now experiencing heartache from this and younger parents who are right in the middle of making it happen. I think it would be a Jakob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge moment for some. I think eyes would be opened to the dangers, and perhaps this tragedy that’s more than reaching epidemic proportion in churches across America would be somewhat averted, or at least sent into a time of subsiding.

Either way, be encouraged to know that even as we fail to pursue Christ, He still pursues us. He’s doing it right now through these words. Listen to Him. Know that He loves you, and know that His love casts a huge shadow in this life, and it is one that promises safekeeping for the next (Psalm 17:8). Don’t stand outside of that shadow. I can promise you, in the sweltering heat of this mortal life, it’s much better in the shade of Christ’s love.

Visiting the Classics

The Lord be with you. I pray all is well with you and your family and that your summer has been more or less relaxing so far. For me, your pastor, a man who pretty much writes a five page paper each week and needs time to refill his mental reservoir in various ways in order to do it, I’ve had the chance to really dig into Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, and at the same time, I’ve managed to visit a little here and there with some of the finer bits of literature from folks like Twain and Dickens.

Twain cultivates insightful observation. Dickens is an artisan of language.

It may sound somewhat trite to say, but the classics are classics for a reason. They have a proven way with words. They communicate so well, and in this, they have become tools for teaching communication. Personally, I think they are gifts to preachers. They emulate ways we might use language for introducing a listener to Jesus.

I know, I know. Someone might already be thinking, “Just preach the text, Thoma, and don’t worry about this kind of stuff.” To that, I say, “Humbug.” I say this not because I don’t want to preach the text. You, the members of this congregation, already know that I do. What I mean is that when you intentionally employ some of the communication tools—things like point-of view, simile, hyperbole, personification, and others—you find yourself capable of communicating in a way that’s less talking about Jesus and more preaching Jesus to the listener. In other words, and by way of example, let’s say you want your son to meet the new child who just moved in down the street. You could tell your son about him, or you could put in the extra, more intense effort and walk him down there and introduce him. With this, you’ve made your son a participant in the event, and in so doing have cultivated for a better chance at friendship.

Care with the language that goes into the sermon—looking at all of the propers, hymns, and the like and finding ways to join them all together with a verbal cadence set on true faithfulness—this takes work, but in the end, it’s well worth it. Additionally, and personally, I think it helps to keep the never ending task of preaching the same texts over and over again somewhat fresh. And I suppose that in a purely human sense, it helps the listener absorb and maintain what’s been preached for a little longer than five minutes.

Of course, preachers can safely admit that in all of this, the Holy Spirit will impact the heart exactly how He sees fit when the Gospel is purely preached. Still, that should never give the preacher license to be lazy with the task and ultimately the words. He’s not putting on a show, but he is doing everything he can to handle the Word of God carefully and to communicate it the best way.

I think that visiting with the classics helps in this effort, and so I do it. And I’m just glad that this summer has afforded some time for the exercise.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

As always, I pray all is well for you this week and that the approaching Fourth of July holiday will be a joyous one.

I had an interesting occurrence this past week, one that, of course, stirred a particular thought that I’d like to share.

During Philip Haney’s visit here at Our Savior, I managed to have a quick conversation with a pastor with whom I’m friends online but have never actually met in person. It was nice to visit together in person, and while we were talking in my office, at one point his eyes shifted to the shelf beyond my desk where I keep all of my classical literature volumes. If you’ve ever been in my office for any length of time, then you’ll know I have reasonably full assemblage of Dickens and Shakespeare and Twain and so many others—all the good stuff. But as he was observing the selections from a short distance, he noticed lying sideways across the top of editions by Hemingway, Hawthorne, and Poe an obviously well-read volume entitled The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks.

Yes, you read that rightly. I have a book that I read pretty regularly about how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

“What’s a guy like you doing reading a book like that?” was the tone of my friend’s commentary.

The essentials of my answer:

While the book is written with a tone of complete seriousness, it’s easy to see how it deals with itself and its own momentousness as being nothing short of laughably entertaining. With that, it’s not entirely uncommon for me, before wading into challenging moments of great seriousness, to first read from Psalm 27 or 32, and then to measure my own emotions by flipping through Brooks’ volume for some satirical levity. In other words, after receiving the right comfort for my soul from the Lord, I’ll say to myself before things get a little crazy, “Well, it could be worse,” and then I’ll turn to a chapter about how important it is in a zombie apocalypse to keep one’s hair short lest the undead have one more thing to grab in close-quarters combat.

Yeah, I know. Silly, right? Still, I share it because it leads to a deeper point, at least for me—and I hope I can explain it properly.

God speaks by way of His Word regarding the ultimate peace we have in Jesus, how it overcomes all things. This Word actually changes us to know that there is nothing that this world can throw at us that is so powerful that it can conquer our Lord and His promises. Giving this serious consideration, that’s what I mean when I read the zombie guide and say, “Well, it could be worse.” Sure, things can always get worse. Zombies are the perfect example. But still, the promise is that even if we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by them, the promises of God do not change. There’s still nothing that can ever be so overwhelming in the life of a Christian that it can actually usurp God’s loving might and His efforts to keep us in steadfast in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christ died that we might have eternal life—not a zombie-free life. With that in mind, and as silly as it may sound, I really can make my way into some pretty threatening situations without getting too flustered, overly-bothered, or angry. In fact, after reading about strategies for protecting a two-story home from a ghoulish horde, a smile and a lighter step comes a little more easily when talking to someone who’d much rather call me an enemy than a friend. And trust me, a kindly, easier smile in such circumstances is much more fruitful than one that is forced.

With that, take what you can from this casual rambling from a fellow human being who struggles with sin in this world and the challenges it brings just as much as the next person. And I suppose you can be assured that if you ever need a good handbook on zombies, I’m your guy.