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.

Your Light is Important

Right now, my office is a mess. Before I left it yesterday afternoon, as I turned to close the door, I scanned the room and could see the disaster to which I’d be returning. My desk is buried beneath papers. And that’s not the half of it. I have books all over the floor, countless sticky notes hanging from this or that shelf, and a number of other things strewn throughout the entirety of the space. It’s enough to give any visitor the impression I’m about as disheveled as they get.

But the thing is, I’m just not a messy person.

Of course I’m not perfectly tidy by any means. The scene I just described is proof. Still, I’m convinced I’m really not a messy person. Keeping things clean is unquestionably a part of my personality and general routine. Even at home, with anything that pertains to me personally, you’ll seldom find a trail. Of the few things I can actually call my own, I’ll rarely leave them lying around. It’s the same for my office. I prefer to work in an orderly space. And I do my best to keep it organized. It might sound somewhat neurotic, but I don’t even like my computer desktop adorned with working files or shortcuts. I keep the desktop relatively bare, with most files—working or completed—in a folder somewhere on an external hard drive that’s being automatically backed up to two other hard drives right next to it.

Having said all this, there is a particular bit of disorder in my office—at first glance, a clutter of sorts—that I don’t mind at all. It’s the vast scattering of handwritten notes and greeting cards lining my bookshelves. Each is a message I’ve received in the last twelve months from someone either within or without of Our Savior Lutheran Church and School. Right about this time each year, I begin the process of clearing these personal messages from the shelves, being sure to tuck them into a bin for safe keeping. I do this to make room for what I expect will be a new year’s stream of scribbled kindnesses.

Over the course of my twenty-five years of serving in the Church, this has been my routine, and let me tell you, it sure is something to go back and read from some of the older notes I’ve kept.

Why do I keep the old ones? Because they mean the world to me. They are dispatches from the trenches of life, communiques portraying various aspects of what it means to be God’s people existing together in the divine love established by His gracious hand at different moments on the timeline. That’s one reason. But there’s another reason, too.

Each message is a tangible reminder to me of what it means for Godly sentiment to become action. Here’s what I mean.

I teach my children never to miss the opportunity to offer a compliment. For example, I’ll tell my kids that if they think a woman’s dress is pretty, go ahead and tell her. What good is to be had by the dress being pretty if no one is willing to acknowledge it? I’ll tell my kids that if they think a friend did something well, let the friend know. How does it benefit the friendship by keeping your appreciation silent?

Sentiments that result in action can make things better, stronger. Go ahead and test me on this. A single thought that results in a spoken word or gesture of kindness has more gravity than an entire galaxy filled with unspoken sentiments. One notecard, one kind word, one genuine compliment will always raise the scale’s opposing plate stacked with unspoken sentiments.

I awoke this morning thinking the same goes for the Christian faith as it meets with the world around us.

It’s one thing to know and believe that Christ is the Savior. It’s another thing to live this faith before the world—to engage when others remain idle, to lean in when others lean back, to speak when everyone else is silent.

Action is by far the best eloquence. Shakespeare said something like that. And I agree. Still, Jesus said something even better.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Since I preached on the text from Romans 12:9-21 yesterday, naturally Saint Paul’s words come to mind.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

That’s one particular place where the Apostle takes time to describe what Christian sentiment—the Christian light of faith—actually looks like when it becomes something tangible. It sounds like a list of “do this but not this” kind of stuff, but it really isn’t. Because of the re-creating work of the Gospel for faith that Paul described in the preceding chapters, this is now more of a commending of Christians to actually be who God has already made them to be. It might not have been the best analogy, but in the sermon I compared it to the caretaker of an apple orchard going out into its rows and telling the trees to produce apples.

There are plenty of other texts like this in the Bible. Another great one comes to mind. It’s James 2:14-18.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

With even a sliver of honesty, James’ argument is convincing. It’s hard to argue against faith being a skeletal creature if not for the musculature of Christian deeds. With what’s going on in our world, it’s even harder to argue against your role as a light-beaming Christian being incredibly important.

The days before us are very dark. Joe Biden, the President-elect (or whatever) said those particular words. He meant them with regard to COVID-19, but I can assure you from what he has pledged to do in his first 100 days, for the Church, his words mean something else. Unrelenting persecution is about to be let off the leash. Basic Christian teaching is about to be labeled as bigotry at the federal level. I’ve not been one to get too worked up about 501c3 restrictions, but I do realize how helpful they are to some. Just know tax-exempt status will likely disappear under a Biden presidency, and many of the churches already hovering at the cliff of financial disaster will almost certainly be nudged over its edge by their property taxes alone. Churches are going to close. The people they serve will suffer. The curriculums of Christian schools will draw even more spiteful ire. Their hiring and firing practices will come under vicious assault. We can expect countless new lawsuits to be leveled against anyone seeking to do business under the title “Christian.” I’m certain our own Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel will be the first ones to hound these organizations, being eager to press the button of prosecution.

More and more, Christianity will find itself existing in the shadows.

But keeping our Christian sentiment to ourselves—believing quietly—will be about the worst thing we can do. Christian action will be required, both as a formal organization and as individuals. The plain truth is that we’re going to need more people who not only know and understand just what James meant when he wrote that faith without works is dead, but we’ll need those same people to be courageous enough to believe and act on these words, people who take Jesus seriously when He calls for His believers to let their lights shine before men.

I suppose my innermost sentiment this morning is that you will be one of those people. And this message, like the messages currently adorning my bookshelves, is a materialized dispatch from the trenches by a friend who loves and appreciates you in the Lord and wants to encourage you in your faithfulness. Let this message be a virtual notecard resting on the bookshelf of your mind, one commending you as God’s child, and heartening you to continue to be who God made you to be—a person who knows what it means to be a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.