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.

Dying to Meet You

Do you have time for a quick story? Since you’re here, I’ll go ahead and share it.

We took a phone call here at Our Savior this past Friday. I didn’t answer it. Nikki, our Parish Administrator, did. It was someone calling to chat with me. Even though I wasn’t necessarily steeped in anything crucial, Nikki took a message for me. She does this because she knows that while technically Friday is my day off—and I probably shouldn’t tell you this—but I’m always in the office on Fridays. I have a few regularly scheduled appointments in the morning, and then after that, I use the rest of the day to catch up on things I didn’t have time for during the week. She runs block for me to let me do my thing.

Anyway, a woman called to let me know she didn’t appreciate the comparison I’d made in a recent radio bit equating Christians who justify skipping worship on a regular basis to so-called believers who justify voting for a candidate who favors abortion.

To be fair, the woman wasn’t rude with her critique—which was a welcomed difference in comparison to so many other calls or email messages I’ve received from metro-Detroit listeners. Instead, Nikki described her as someone who, with a conversational tone, was troubled “by likening someone absent from church to a Christian who’d support abortion,” and her hope was that I’d reconsider broadcasting the particular segment in its current form.

I’ll admit the association is a brutal one. And I’m more than willing to reconsider my words. The problem is, I didn’t write the script on this particular radio bit. My daughter did. Evelyn’s the one who made the observation and ultimately formed the comparative conclusion. I was so inspired by her insight, I wrote down what was spoken between us and together we recorded the 60-second radio spot right then and there. Again, I put into the microphone what I said. Evelyn put into it what she said. The brief conversation fit perfectly between the 15-second intro and the 15-second outro of my one-minute-and-thirty-seconds of airtime.

The context was simple. While waiting in my office before school, Evelyn was scanning the images from one of our previous church pictorial directories. Turning the pages, she stumbled upon the picture of someone she didn’t recognize. Second only to her dad, Evelyn practically lives here at Our Savior. She knows everyone’s name. And if she doesn’t know a member’s name, she certainly knows all the faces. Looking at a pictorial directory of people officially labeled as “members,” one holding the kindly faces of countless people she considers as members of her Christian family, it was natural for her to ask about someone she didn’t recognize. I didn’t say much at first, but I was careful not to be deceptive. Had I dodged her question, she would’ve known. Remember, like me, she’s here every Sunday. If she doesn’t recognize you, it’s probably because you don’t attend. That being the case in this particular instance, when she asked for the identity of the person, I said very nonchalantly, “She’s a member of the congregation, but she just doesn’t come to church very often.”

“Well, I’ve never seen her before in my life,” she replied, sounding somewhat concerned—just as I’d expect from this little girl with such a huge heart for her church family. “Does she work on Sundays?”

“No,” I answered, again trying not to give her any more information than she required.

“So, she could be here on Sundays?”

“I suppose.”

Evelyn thought for a moment, and then she laid the situation out unembellished. “How can she consider herself a member of a church she doesn’t even want to attend?”

My answer: “That’s a really good question, honey.”

Her next uninhibited reply, being the ardent pro-life girl that she is: “That’s kind of like people who call themselves Christian but support abortion. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

First of all, can you tell Evelyn is in tune with what’s going on around her, both in her church and her world? Second, there you have it. Even a child understands the inconsistency. How can we claim to be a devoted follower of someone we want nothing to do with? Using the same logic, how can we claim faith in Christ who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), and yet be in opposition to the Word of God when it comes to topics like abortion?

It just doesn’t make any sense, and my little girl knew it.

Of course as adults, there will always be plenty of unknown angles to Evelyn’s observation that we’ll discover. COVID-19 has made things a little crazier these days. However, rest assured that the person in the picture was MIA long before COVID-19. That being said, be careful not to square the angles for escape from her scrutiny’s sting with whatever illegitimate excuses at whatever moment work best for you. And be sure to take even greater care not to overcomplicate or find offense in what’s been laid bare. If you do, you’re sure to miss a simple truth revealed by way of a simple faith, the same kind of child-like faith described by the Lord in Matthew 18:3 and now being demonstrated by a little girl who sees time with her Savior, concern for the members of her church family, and doing everything humanly possible to protect the lives of unborn children as essential and non-negotiable to the Christian life.

Her evaluation was simple, but it was a good one. I suppose in essence, it reminds us that even as our God cannot be in contradiction with Himself, He does not grant us space for being in contradiction with Him, either. This is built into the Lord’s announcement, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

Now, to begin wrapping all of this up, right after Nikki told me about the call on Friday, I posted on Facebook the very first thing that came to mind:

“I’m beginning to think that for some Christians, worship and Bible study are so precious they feel they need to ration them. Go to church.”

Yes, it was a sarcastic play on words.

“Well, I don’t support abortion, so don’t put my skipping church into the same category.”

But they are in the same category. Don’t have other gods. Don’t misuse God’s name. Don’t skip church. Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. These are all a part of the same list of things we do to thumb our noses at God, and ultimately, they’re things that keep us separated from Him. And yet, our Lord reaches to us by His Gospel. He empowers us there by His Holy Spirit for acknowledging our dreadful disobedience. Only by the power of the Gospel can we know to repent of these Sins and be changed to desire faithfulness (Romans 1:16).

I don’t necessarily know what many of the other churches around us are doing, but opportunities for holy worship are plentiful here at Our Savior. We have two Divine Services on Sunday. We enjoy the Office of Matins on Monday, another Divine Service on Wednesday, and an abbreviated Responsive Prayer (liturgics) service on Thursday.

And God is continually blessing all of our time together during these occasions for worship.

Dear Christians, there’s no need to ration your time with Christ. There’s an abundance! Indeed, the Lord is here, and His merciful gifts are overflowing all week long. Surely you can make it to one of those services to receive from the bounty that belongs to those who are His own? Wear your mask if you want to. Or don’t. No one is judging anyone in this regard. And why would we? The goal is simply to gather with the Lord and receive His care just as He desires to give it.

Quite honestly, I say all of this with a rather sizable concern in mind. For me personally, it’s one thing to be unrecognizable to Evelyn. Truthfully, if you are yet to meet her, you are missing out. But it’s a thing of far greater terror—the greatest terror there is—to be unrecognizable to Christ; to be one to hear Him say at one’s last hour, “I never knew you. Away from me…” (Matthew 7:23).

Go to church. You belong there. And even if you don’t feel like you belong just yet, go anyway. Christ is dying to meet you. Well, “died” to be more precise. And I know a church full of people who are eager to make the introduction.

“Look at the Heavens and Count the Stars”

I’m aware that I continue to fail at keeping this Monday morning eNews message short. Believe me, I’m trying. And this time, I won’t let you down. It’s just that there’s plenty unfolding around us to observe, ponder, and share. When it all begins to coalesce, it can get somewhat substantial. And then in my eagerness, when it all starts rolling from my fingers to the keyboard, it’s probably better—saner—for me to just let it run its course, like a boulder rolling downhill. Eventually it’ll come to a stop, but until it does, I’d better stay out of its way.

The thought I had this morning stems from a comment my daughter, Evelyn, made a few days before school started. I’d taken the Wrangler’s doors and top off, and among the five others in my family, Evelyn was the only one who accepted an invitation to go for a late-evening drive. The air was cool. The sky was clean swept of clouds. It couldn’t have been any better.

At one point, we ended up north of town, somewhere between Flint and Linden, which is mostly farmland. As we made our way along the lightless roads, Evelyn leaned back to gaze into the depth of the night sky above us. Again, that particular night offered a sky that was crisp and clear. With barely any light from the city, the stars were easily visible.

Pointing to this one and that one, she wondered aloud to her chauffeur (as best as she could above the wind noise) as to whether they were actually stars or planets. She looked for the North Star—because she knows how to find it in relation to the Big Dipper—and she gave a gleeful cheer when she did.

“It’s awesome how God put all those up there,” she said, capping the moment of discovery. “And He did it in a way so that if we’re ever lost, we’ll always be able to see them and find our way.”

A simple observation, true to anyone who’s ever navigated the ocean’s tides. And yet the words of the pretty ten-year-old girl riding shotgun in the Jeep set a little something more into motion.

On the surface, it seems she meant rather simply that God designed the universe in a way that all its parts move predictably, as though it were a grand engine that, by virtue of its unfathomable mechanics, served to display His power.

While true, her words were deeper still. Evelyn’s observation hinted to the grand presentation twirling above us as being far more a faithful exhibition of God’s thoughtful concern than His power, more a display of His inclination toward love than His creative muscle.

“And He did it in a way that, if we’re ever lost, we’ll always be able to see them and find our way.”

That’s God doing—designing, creating, acting, moving—as He cares for us, as He’s mindful of us. And that, of course, got me thinking on God’s Word, the place where He reveals this mindful love, the place where He refers to the stars as being in place not only for the mechanical governance of night and day, or solely for our delight, but as opportunities to do just what Evelyn and I were doing in that moment—beholding and then recalling His loving faithfulness.

Just off the top of my head, I can point to the obvious instance in Genesis 15:5 when God led Abram (soon to be Abraham) out into a cool evening just like the one we were enjoying. It was there that God encouraged him to behold the stars, and He reminded the childless man of His very important promise—one that would see to countless offspring, ultimately resulting in a most important descendant, Jesus Christ, coming to redeem the world.

I can also think of Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:41-42 where the Apostle points to the moon and stars to help describe the resurrection of all believers in Christ. And knowing the intertwining of the divinely inspired Word, I’ll bet Daniel 7:2-3 wasn’t all that far from Paul’s mind when speaking of such things. Daniel wrote quite candidly of the resurrection at the Last Day: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Beyond these, don’t forget the kinds of things God’s Word shares with us every year at Christmastime and Epiphany, those seasons in the Church Year when we hear words like, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17), or we follow along as a luminous attendant in the heavens leads Magi to the Christ child (Matthew 2:1-12).

Perhaps best of all, it means something to us when we hear the Lord Jesus say of Himself in Revelation 22:16: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

Again, just beautiful.

To conclude, if you can find the time, take a moment to look into the night sky. Grab your lawn chair and a favorite beverage, maybe lather up with some bug repellent if necessary, and then kick back in a place where you can see an unobstructed sky. First, look widely. Behold the splendor. Then look closely. See the precision. Ponder these things knowing that the One who put it all there has His divine heart set upon you. He loves you—enough to give His own Son into death that you would have life.

I suppose that’s the better, truer, beauty inherent to the glistening stars.