There’s No Such Thing As Luck

I don’t like the term “luck.” I don’t mind someone saying to me, “Good luck.” Although, anyone who knows me will admit I’m the kind of guy who, if someone calls me lucky, will reply with, “There’s no such thing as luck.” I don’t say it just because I’m a Christian and I know better, but also because I know myself to be someone who’s always ready to grab opportunity by the throat and throttle it until it produces what I’m after. In other words, I’m a determined person. Perhaps that’s why Han Solo was always a favorite Star Wars character. If you were ever to attempt to discourage me with the mathematical impossibility of navigating an asteroid field (which according to C3PO is 3,720 to 1), like Han, I’d likely turn to say resolutely, “Never tell me the odds!” as I proceed to steer into it, anyway.

Don’t call me lucky, and don’t tell me how something can’t be done. There’s no such thing as luck, and with that, let’s talk about how it can be done.

This past Monday I took my Jeep to a repair shop in Milford where I happened upon someone I used to be friends with on Twitter (that is, until I deleted my Twitter account). Interestingly, we’d never actually met in person, and yet he knew an awful lot about me, my family, and my church. At one point during the conversation, he referenced our Covid-19 practices here at Our Savior. He knew what they were because I’d been very open about them throughout the past year. He said we were lucky we didn’t experience an outbreak. In reply, I suggested that perhaps it wasn’t luck, but rather it was the Lord’s hand of blessing for holding to His mandates for worship and fellowship, no matter how the world around us was tempted to weaponize the phrase “love thy neighbor.”

Yes, I said it exactly as I wrote it above. Of course, I didn’t want to be too aggressive, but I also didn’t want any confusion with regard to my theological position on the matter.

He countered with the usual argument about caring for the “lesser brother” and about how easily the virus spreads. For reference, he shared how his brother’s church had experienced a serious outbreak among its members even though they were all pretty much required to be drenched in sanitizer, socially-distanced, and fully masked in order to attend worship. In his mind, any church that pressed forward without the same kinds of safety protocols in place was testing fate. I don’t think he realized that comparing Our Savior to his brother’s hermetically sealed church sort of, well, made my point for me. Again, I simply replied by suggesting that perhaps we weren’t lucky, but rather blessed. Thankfully, I was able to bring the conversation to an end by saying I needed to go out to the road and wait for my ride back to the office. (Thanks, Ed Dietrich!) However, outside at the curb, I struggled to put my friend’s terminology away completely.

Being lucky and being blessed are two very different things.

Luck is born from chance. Blessings are bestowed. In the Christian sense, I’d say blessings are emanations of God’s undeserved kindness in our lives. And no matter the form they take, God promises to bless His people for their faithfulness (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). Indeed, God smiles upon those who, by the power of the Holy Spirit for faith, hold on when holding on is the hardest.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying that the more you pray the more God will bless you with worldly health, wealth, and wisdom; or if you just believe enough, God will take away your mortal misfortunes. That’s the kind of bad theology sold by heretics like Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. I’m talking about the backward perspective that can actually embrace struggle as a blessing. And how is this possible? Because faith understands that anything in place to loosen our grip on this world while tightening our grip on Christ is a blessing. Even a virus can serve as a determiner in this regard. As you face off with it, are you holding on too tightly to this world, or are you clinging to Christ? I’d add that in these same moments, God promises to be at work in His people by the power of His Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:10) instilling the faithfulness that produces discernment. He’ll be there giving us the eyes to see the individual details through the lens of His Word of truth. By this, He’ll reveal that He’s working for our good, namely, that He’s setting His divine sights on drawing us closer to Him, on keeping us as His own in the faith (Romans 5:1-5; 8:28). He doesn’t want to lose anyone to fear or unbelief, and so anything He does or allows for a Christian along life’s way—no matter if it’s labeled good or bad by the world around us—can be embraced as a blessing from the one true God who loves us.

As far as the successes of Our Savior, Matthew 5:11 and 1 Peter 4:14 come to mind as relative examples of blessings taking a more difficult form. Both describe being insulted for faithfulness to Christ as blessings. Wow, do we sure know this here at Our Savior. God has mandated in-person worship (Hebrews 10:24-25). That’s what we maintained. I can promise you we were insulted by believers and unbelievers alike for this. When we made clear that God does not leave room for His Church to mandate legalistic barriers that would sound anything like, “Unless you’re wearing a mask, you cannot be with your God in worship to receive His gifts,” more insults came. Still, we were unmoved, choosing instead to encourage Christian liberty even as many loaded up their pious rifles with texts from the likes of Mark 12:31 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, taking aim and then pulling the trigger.

“Bang! You’re not requiring masks and so you’re not showing love to the neighbor!” But each of these rounds misfired because they lacked the propellant necessary for actually loving one’s neighbor rightly.

It’s impossible to love your neighbor if you set aside God’s Word, even if only temporarily. You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t love God more.

Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel used to say, “A lot of love talk is a lot of Law talk.” Think about this in light of a text like 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. If Nagel was right, then this particular text is dealing in the Law. From this angle, we’re equipped to see Saint Paul’s attempt to not only show us what genuine love looks like, but to admit our complete inability in relation to it. The love he is describing is divine—the kind that only God can produce. It’s an “always” kind of thing, which is why Saint Paul uses the word so often in the text. Knowing we can’t live up to what he’s describing, the text becomes a reminder of our need for a Savior who can. With that, what we learned in previous chapters begins to resurface. For example, chapters 10 through 12 teach us about how and where to locate this Savior and the love He gives. Before chapter 13, Paul has already revealed who sits at the midpoint of real love. Together, these become strong influencers for knowing the significance of communion with Christ and for not letting anything get between you and His love located in the Means of Grace.

I’d add to all of this that the harmonizing center of the text from chapter 13 is verses 6 and 7:

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

This is not all that confusing when you realize Paul is talking about love in relation to God and not necessarily the neighbor. Paul personifies love here. Interestingly, Saint John said God is love (1 John 4:8). Here in verse 6, Paul says this love is offended by evil. He writes that this love is gladdened by truth. Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s Word is truth. Together, these are all incredibly interpretive. If God’s truth mandates in-person worship, then by what we’ve learned here, He’s likely not in favor of completely shutting down churches or doing anything that might hinder a Christian’s in-person access to the verbal and visible Word He distributes there. Only a spirit of evil would translate love for the neighbor this way.

And then verse 7 lands right on us. Again, knowing that verse 6 was describing God, is verse 7 all of the sudden talking about human love aimed at others, as is typically interpreted? So then, love always protects… people? Tell that to an allied soldier in a fire fight with Nazis. Love always trusts… people? Tell that to a battered wife whose husband promises after each violent episode to never do it again; or the parent whose child has been molested by a pedophile. Love always hopes… in people? Joe Biden, as it is with any good Marxist, would appreciate this one, having you putting your faith in the government rather than Christ. Love always perseveres… for people? Let’s just be frank, Christian or not, human patience runs out.

Keeping verse 7 connected to verse 6, if it’s saying anything in relation to our love for others, I’d say it’s first describing a love instilled by God and aimed at God that will eventually result in love for neighbor. This makes more sense to me. It certainly jives with what I know of the Ten Commandments—which is that the 4th through 10th Commandments (loving the neighbor) mean nothing without first visiting with the 1st through 3rd (loving God). By this thinking, verse 7 is telling us love’s deepest commitment in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit always seeks first to protect what is God’s, always trusts in Him, always hopes in Him, always finds perseverance in Him. This kind of love will find itself unable to choose the world’s ways above God’s. This kind of love will always produce what’s best for the neighbor.

In other words, and again, you can’t even begin to love your neighbor if you don’t love God more.

Holding to this premise, things went very well for us here at Our Savior. By loving God and what He wanted more, we found ourselves retooled for avoiding the temptation of law-based and heavy-handed control, and were instead equipped with a clarity for resting in Christian liberty. Worshipping in person might have been considered unsafe to the world, but we did it anyway… because it’s what God’s truth instructs. That fostered a Gospel-driven freedom for knowing how to actually live in love for the neighbor while piloting an asteroid field of CDC protocols. In the end, this equated to countless Elder meetings spent observing data and doing what we could to balance the disquiets without imposing in ways that might separate people from God.

I think the Christians here at Our Savior navigated this mess marvelously, and God appears to have blessed this course with success. It was by no means luck.

I suppose I’ll close this lengthy meandering by sharing that I know there are some inside and outside of God’s Church who are frustrated by our success. For them, 2020 and much of 2021 disappeared without a trace, while for us here at Our Savior, we managed to go about our lives enjoying relative normalcy as a congregation, and we did it without incident. To anyone bothered by our success, just know your frustration speaks volumes. It’s eerily reminiscent of the saying that the only way to feel better about the success of an enemy is to simply believe he got lucky. I’m kind of wondering if such frustration might have something to do with a faith that believes in luck in comparison to a faith that understands God’s gracious care. I’m wondering if it might be revealing a trust that holds more firmly to this world than the next.

Well, whatever. There’s no such thing as luck, friends. I know this, and I hope you know it, too.

No Room For Compromise

I mentioned in Bible study yesterday morning that I had an interesting phone conversation the previous week with a visitor to our early worship service. I called her as a follow-up to her visit. She was intrigued by our worship practices at Our Savior—why we do what we do—and this led us into a deeper discussion about the doctrinal distinctions between various churches. At one point along the way the word “compromise” arrived on the scene of our confab.

I think Pastor Zwonitzer did a great job of thinking this through with us in his sermon this past Wednesday during the midweek Advent service. He spent time with Romans 15 talking about the things that are required for unity among God’s people, and he did this also while touching on the subject of adiaphora—that is, the things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by the Scriptures. With adiaphora, there can be compromise. Although, I’ll say that how any particular worshipping community handles adiaphora is often a demonstration of what they believe regarding the required things. But that’s a conversation for another day.

In the meantime, compromise is a word that makes a lot of sense to people these days. We’re looking for reasonable compromises to be made by our leaders when it comes to COVID restrictions. We’re hoping for amenable give-and-take between friends who may be at odds with one another over this or that particular issue. We’re longing for a spirit of cooperation to emerge between differing groups of people as we do what we can to navigate what has become one of the most turbulent eras in the history of the United States.

But having said all of this, there are times when compromise is just not an option, namely, when handling objectively true things. As it meets with the Christian Faith, take for example the theology of the divine inspiration of God’s Word. It goes without saying that this doctrine must stand uncorrupted, and any compromise in this regard must be seen for what it is: evil. To compromise on the divine inspiration of the Scriptures—which is to make wobbly its inerrancy and immutability—is little less than to call a dishonorable truce between good and evil. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that such an ungodly armistice is likely to occur when fear and uncertainty creep into and among the faithful during struggle. But the thing is, it’s in these very moments when the faithful, no matter how peaceable they might want things to be, need to hold the line at all costs, understanding compromise as the false virtue that it is in such a moment. It won’t be easy to do. Trusted voices from seemingly rationale folks will be calling the brave folks foolish. Still, it’ll be necessary in these moments for faithfulness to outclass the rational fear of death. Indeed, as Shakespeare said, “Courage mounteth with occasion,” and of course we can never be sure of the measure of courage we’ll actually need until those occasions arrive. We just know we’ll need it, and we’ll know that compromise won’t be an option.

God willing, this is how we function here at Our Savior. We are mindful of when and where compromise is an option and when and where it isn’t. For example, you’ll never hear a sermon absent the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your sins. Why? Because that’s the heart of the Gospel, and it’s the job of the preacher to preach the Gospel. There’s no compromising on this. Another example: You can count on us to hold the line of God’s Word with regard to altar fellowship and the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Saint Paul is pretty explicit in his teachings in this regard in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. We will not compromise on these things.

There’s something else we have been unwilling to compromise. Unfortunately, many have tossed it into the category of adiaphora.

In-person worship.

Of course we’ve made adjustments here and there with regard to how we do it. All of those adjustments have been adiaphoric things. But in-person worship itself is not adiaphora. It is mandated for all able-bodied Christians. And so we do it, even when the government tells us we can’t—even when Christians mistakenly press for their own church to close its doors because they believe it’s the best way to “love thy neighbor.”

Interestingly, I read an article in passing last week that was shared by my friends, Rev. Joe Bangert and Rev. Paul Clark. It was entitled “Mental Health Improved for Only One Group During COVID: Those Who Attended Church Weekly.” I’ll bet you can figure out what the article had to say about the results from a recent Gallup poll. Suffice it to say, I was not surprised by what I read. People who’ve been attending worship regularly during this unsettled time are proving to fare far better mentally and emotionally than everyone else in the world.

Again, I am by no means surprised. But some in the church remain surprised. Or perhaps more accurately, embarrassed. Scrolling through Facebook, I noticed a comment from another pastor who shared the same article while urging caution with the accuracy of the findings. Of course he found fault with it. But then again, his church has been closed to in-person worship since March, and this study is suggesting he may be hurting his flock rather than helping it.

Heralding the importance of being present in worship during the COVID-19 unrest has been an uphill battle for many pastors and churches right from the beginning. Admittedly, here at Our Savior, the conversation was a little dicey at first. I remember a handful of scalding emails from folks when I announced internally that I was offering multiple in-person services (with the administration of the Lord’s Supper) throughout the week. The flame of concern got a little hotter when I actually recommended people sign up for and attend one of the in-person services instead of staying home and watching the online ones. I recall similar commentary aimed at me on social media when others whose churches were closed learned what I was doing. I was called unloving. I was called dangerous. I was called rogue. I was called foolish.

For the most part, that tenor has subsided, and many of my detractors have come back around and are actually doing what we’re doing—which, by the way, God continues to bless our efforts to uphold Christian liberty through mindful practices and procedures that have more than proven their effectiveness, even when cases of COVID were found in our midst. Again, I’ve believed all along that when it comes to actually loving our neighbor, what we’re doing here far outpaces anything being done out there by the big box, grocery, and retail stores.

As a community of faith navigating all of this, we needed to hold steady on the importance of in-person worship. We needed this objective truth to win the day. And it did. God saw to it. Because of this, a majority of His people here at Our Savior have remained spiritually (and yes, emotionally) healthy while so many in the world around us have starved and are now at the end of their cerebral ropes.

I guess one reason all of this comes to mind is because I sort of touched on it in Bible study yesterday. But I only scraped the surface. As we go deeper, we can find the encouragement for anyone who may still be fearful of attending in-person worship to consider coming back and giving it a try. Be calmed by the love of your Savior, and trust that He would never hurt or harm you by the faithful administration of His gifts of forgiveness. We’re not experiencing outbreaks. We’re not a super spreader. We’re not rogues. We’re Christians seeking to be faithful to Christ, and by His blessing, seeking to be faithful in the world around us.

Again, give it a try. The doors are open and the table is ready. And what a joy it would be for us to be together once again for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations.