The Wind Just Keeps On Blowing

Isn’t it strange how we do what we do as humans, and still the earth just continues to spin, doing what nature does?

Here we are in Michigan in February enjoying temperatures that could get as high as the mid-fifties—almost as if it were a spring day. Just four days ago the wind chill was registering at -35 degrees. Just four days ago it was eighty degrees colder and the entire state was facing a natural gas crisis of catastrophic proportion. The whole scene reminds me of a line in one of my favorite movies as a kid, “Red Dawn.” During a brief moment of quiet from what has already been a long and exhausting war to take back their home soil from invading forces, the character Matt says to his older brother Jed, “It’s kind of strange, isn’t it, how the mountains pay us no attention at all? You laugh or you cry, and the wind just keeps on blowing.”

The wind just keeps on blowing.

During those very cold days, while I managed to make it out and around to visit a few folks, I found it necessary to be home with my family to help tend to their needs. During the quiet times, I took the opportunity to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: Get my email inboxes a little more under control.

I spent an entire afternoon reading through countless email messages, many new and just as many old. I saved some. I deleted most. In fact, across three accounts I deleted no less than six hundred or so.

There was one that I discovered that I ended up deciding not to delete. In fact, I don’t think I ever will. And now because of its date and time stamps, it’ll forever be the last email in one of my accounts. All the rest have been sent into virtual nothingness.

The message I saved was from Lorraine Haas. She sent it on January 26 of 2017, and it was in response to the eNews she’d received the day before. Little did I know that thirty days later I’d be preaching and presiding at her funeral.

The thing is, Lorraine responded to almost every single eNews she ever received from me. Had I kept all of her messages throughout the years, I’d have hundreds. And what was common to them all (at least the ones related to the eNews) is that, first, she commented on this or that news item, making sure that I knew that she’d read the entire email; and second, by her words she was sure to have a brightness of commendation to share for what her congregation was doing. She was a perpetual encourager for the Gospel. She knew all of the volunteers and staff were working as hard as they could to accomplish the mission, and with that, she never spoke a negatively critical word.

Well, let me rephrase that. She never spoke a critical word by way of email. In private, face to face and a little whisky in our glasses, she more than shared her mind on things. I always knew what mattered to Lorraine. But still, you and I both know that the written word hangs around a lot longer than the spoken word. I’m pretty sure Lorraine knew that, and so whatever she put into permanent print, you could be assured that it would always be an uplifting bit of phraseology meant to make your day better and not worse.

This particular (and unfortunately only remaining) email I kept from Lorraine was very short. I share it with you exactly as I received it. Re-reading it, I know why I’ve kept it sitting in my inbox for so long. It’s only a few sentences long, but it’s a tome of God’s grace.

And the Lord be with You also dear Pastor…May God Bless and Keep You, with Courage and Strength in the coming Day…He loves You, and Me and our Church…..His Church! Blessings dear Pastor, and your dear Family…..Lorraine

“It’s kind of strange, isn’t it, how the mountains pay us no attention at all? You laugh or you cry, and the wind just keeps on blowing.”

Actually, no. The mountains, as sturdy as they are, will pass away. The winds of this world will eventually cease. The laughing and crying of this life will one day be left to the archives of what once was. But the Word of the Lord stands forever. Even now, by way of an email sent by a friend who died years ago, that Word of the Gospel alive in her continues to breathe life into a guy like me—and now into all of you.

It’s as if it reaches to us from the sphere of the divine. In a sense, it does.

Analyzing her sentences, I sometimes wonder if she capitalized words for the same reason I capitalize certain words. I do it in sermons all the time. I have the tendency to capitalize words that are either incredibly important or are in some way an extension of God’s divine work. For example, and as I’m sure I’ve shared with you before, I almost always capitalize the letters “d” and “s” in the words “death” and “sin.” I capitalize them because they’re no small thing to us. They’re dreadful powers in this world. If they weren’t, then Jesus’ work on the cross would be less needful to any of us. Equally, I’ll sometimes capitalize words like “redeem” or “love” or “salvation,” especially when they are connected to the person or work of Jesus.

I could be overanalyzing Lorraine’s note, but I wonder if she did the same thing. For example, she capitalized words like “bless” and “keep.” She also emphasized the first letters of “courage” and “strength.” Most interestingly, she capitalized the words “day,” “you,” “me,” and “church.” Why? Well, as peculiar as it may seem, I’d say that each and every one of those words is an offshoot of the vine of Christ. He blesses and keeps us. The courage and strength we need from day to day comes from Him alone. And with that, each one of those days belongs to Him. Each one holds the promise of His great love that is carrying you, me, and the whole church to the Last Day.

With this perspective, go back and read all of Lorraine’s note one more time. Take it in carefully. I’m sure you’ll get a sense of the ever-living faith that surpasses all understanding, a faith built upon and strengthened for eternal resonation by the powerful Word of God that keeps hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; a Word so powerful that, in fact, not even death can silence it.

Yes, the wind just keeps on blowing. But the war will eventually end. And when it does, when the wind rustles its last leaf, we’ll be gathered into the nearer presence of Christ. In that place, we’ll see all those who’ve died in the faith—all those for whom we’ve shed a tear while the mountains looked on with disinterest and the breezes continued to blow. We’ll see Lorraine again.

Most importantly, we’ll see our Lord, the giver of life, face to face.

Till then, as long as I can help it, I’m never going to delete that email from Lorraine. In fact, I’m going to store it away with several messages like it that I’ve kept from my dearly departed friend and pastor, Jakob Heckert. Personally, these Gospel-driven notes are far too valuable as divine sources of encouragement to this particular pastor.

I’m Halfway Through My Life

I’m supposing that most of you are just like me and you get somewhat existential sometimes, almost feeling as though you’re hovering outside of your own body and contemplating certain things at certain times in life.

Okay, so maybe that’s an over-the-top description.

What I mean is that I turned 46 this past Friday, and while I suppose that’s no big deal, Jen and I somehow found ourselves talking about how I’m most likely more than halfway through my life.

Halfway. Just saying that out loud made us both a little tense.

The uneasy feeling came because, even though statistically speaking what we’d said may be true, the truth is that we are both well aware that neither of us knows the day or the hour. I doubt anyone at Our Savior expected to hear the news back in August of 2007 that our then 46-year-old pastor, William Thompson, had suddenly and unexpectedly died. I remember when Pastor Pies called me to tell me the news. It was as if my phone wasn’t working, as though the words coming through the wires had suddenly become scrambled and the phone needed to be shaken before replying, “Say that again, because what you just said didn’t make sense.”

Jen and I both agreed that we’re not afraid to die. The nervousness comes when we consider each other’s sadness, and the sadness of the kids. For anyone who has ever lost a loved one, the sadness of Death is formidable. My brother Michael died back in July of 1995, but even so, the memories are still very vivid. I was there at his bedside when it arrived. I remember feeling as though the world had suddenly lost all of its oxygen. It was hard to breathe. And when I eventually found myself outside of that hospital room, it was as if the wind had stopped blowing and the days were already starting to fade from one to the next with hardly a memory of the sun rising or setting. For the longest time it felt like one long and never-ending day of aimless wandering.

None of us wants to experience such things. But we do. The wages for Sin is Death, plain and simple. One of the paychecks that comprises those wages is sadness.

But that verse doesn’t end so starkly. Paul adds, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). I think it’s great that anytime the Paul touches on the subject of Death, he almost always reminds us that we have a conqueror of the ghastly specter in Jesus. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul does what I did this past weekend with Jennifer. He betrays a bit of nervousness when he considers the reality of his own binding to Death in his flesh. But he’s quick to recall Christ as his deliverer.

“Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

Still, there’s the sadness. And Jesus knows it’s real. He reveals the blast radius of Death’s sadness-inducing power in His own self while standing at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. He wept there. He wept because Death was not in the schematics for His world, and yet it wormed its way in through the tempter, Satan, and found a resilient foothold in the lives of every last man, woman, and child. But again, we do not see the Lord weeping without having first heard the promise of the conquering of Death and the gift of eternal life through faith in Him. He gave this very promise to Martha in the middle of her petrifying sadness. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He said to her. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” But then before the Lord makes His way to the tomb to call Lazarus out, He asks Martha, “Do you believe this?”

In the midst of that conversation with Jennifer a few nights ago, by the power of the Holy Spirit streaming through His Gospel alive within us, He asked us both this question. Martha’s answer was, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world.” In not so many words, that was our answer, too.

I pray that in those moments where you may be contemplating these heavier things—whether in the midst of a family crisis, struggling with your own health, or anything else that might bring to mind the reality of Death—I want to be there (for as long as the Lord allows me) to remind you of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for you. Death is always a moment of sadness. Nobody’s fooling anyone by saying it isn’t. But it is as anything conquered—in complete submission to its master. Christ has conquered Death. He has it on a chain that does not reach into your eternity. It’s trapped in this life, not the next. Take comfort in this.

And I suppose in the meantime, share this Gospel message with the ones who will be there at your funeral. Be sure they know that you believe it. Be sure they know that you have peace in this truth. Be sure that they know that you want that same peace for them. It’s not up to you to convert or convince their hearts, but you’ll know that same powerful Gospel that moves you to faith will have been planted in the ones you want within arm’s reach in the glories of heaven. In the face of inevitable Death, that can and does bring peace in this life, too.

A Fish on the Side of the Road

As many of you who are familiar with social media may already know, every now and then Facebook will show you something you posted years ago in order for you to share it again with a comment. They call this “memory posting.” When it comes to the posts they suggest to me, sometimes I appreciate the virtual recollection, and sometimes I don’t. For example, one post popped up a few days ago from five or six years ago, and as I read it, it felt a little existential, like I was reading something from someone who’d suffered a concussion and was struggling to spell correctly. I’ve always been a pretty good speller, so the only thing I can say is that perhaps I typed it as fast I could (on my phone, of course) without actually going back to read what I’d written before pressing the “Share” button. Certainly this was no big deal, but still, in response to this particular memory, rather than sharing it, I deleted it. I didn’t want to see it ever again.

That’s the way it is with our bad memories. We wish they’d go away.

Not all that long ago a memory popped up that I didn’t want to forget. I don’t remember the particular destination to which Evelyn and I were traveling, but I remember that it happened as we turned onto the south bound exit to US-23 from White Lake Road. It went something like this:

Evelyn: “Daddy…”
Me: “Yes, honey?”
Evelyn: “I saw a fish wayin’ in da gwass.”
Me: “Why on earth would there be a fish laying in the grass?”
Evelyn: “I dunno. But he’s got big pwobwems.”

I think that one thing I like about this particular post is that it not only recorded a moment in time when Evelyn was much smaller and a bit cuddlier, but it was a time in her life well before she ever became burdened with Type 1 diabetes. In that moment, she was just riding along in the car seat with little more to care about than what she thought was a fish out of water on the side of the road with “big pwobwems.” She certainly wasn’t faced with a never ending regimen of injections or the terrible nighttime specter of the possibility of going to sleep and never waking up.

But do you see what just happened here? It was a subtle and almost effortless shift. A good memory was infiltrated by a bad one, and in a way, it proved the breadth of Sin’s reach. This is an important thing for us to consider. I suppose that in one sense, it means Paul was right when he said so emphatically in Galatians 3:22 that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin…” When he wrote this, he wanted the reader to be clear that the Word of God understands that nothing of this world is free from Sin’s sinister grip, and so it must unequivocally declare with divine power that everything this world has to offer is in its very nature infected by Sin and shackled to it as an unstoppably hostile force. Everything in this world is destined for undoneness.

But notice that Paul didn’t end verse 22 at the word “sin.” He kept going, adding, “so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

These words are of great import to me, both as the father of a Type 1 diabetic and as a sinful human being. They mean that the things I’ve done that I want to forget—particular sins, memories, or whatever—they’ve already been snatched away from me and pinned to Christ on the cross. I no longer own them. He does. But these words also mean that even while we’ll never escape the overarching effects of Sin in this life—the fact that even the things we may consider good are tinged by Sin—the gripping nature of a Gospel promise heralding our rescue through the person and work of Jesus Christ is given to those who believe. Yes, you read that correctly—the nature of the Gospel becomes our nature by faith.

So, what is the nature of the Gospel? It is nothing less than the baptismal fearlessness that emerges from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That becomes our own. We die with Him in His death. Death is no longer the end-all consequence for the believer. We are buried with Him in His burial. The capstone seal of our own gravestone is nothing more than a moment of rest for our mortal flesh while our soul awaits the resurrection of all flesh.

Yes, the resurrection. We are raised with Jesus in His resurrection. Our fallibly ill bodies are sowed perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42). No more sickness. No more struggle. No more Sin. No more bad memories born of Sin. No more good memories vulnerable to streaks of Sin’s sadness. All that the Lord has accomplished is accounted to us and we are made new. All things are made new.

I like this. And why is that? Well, for the same reason I prefer write the word Sin with a capital “S” and the word Death with a capital “D.” These words deserve capital letters because they stand to represent the most formidable and destructive powers in this world. And yet these powers didn’t stand a chance against Jesus. His sacrifice—a sacrifice that defeated them both—is the greatest thing this world has ever seen.

This is the Gospel, and it’s ours to claim by the power of the Holy Spirit in faith.

I pray this Good News will lift and sustain you this week as you inevitably make what you would consider to be both good and bad memories, all the while remembering that there is a hope that reaches to us here in this life and it extends far beyond this world’s boundaries to the world to come where we will live with the Lord forever.

God’s Jurisdiction

During the sermon yesterday, I did a little bit of preemptive work with Paul’s understanding of Sin so that when we got around to his words in Romans 5:1-5 we’d get the fullest measure of the joy from the Gospel proclaimed there. Part of that preemptive work included confronting the fact that in this day and age, we do a pretty good job of writing Sin off as no big deal, calling both the badness within us and the badness we produce by different names, hoping to find a way to wiggle out of it. I mentioned the current popularity of referring to our Sin as obsessive behaviors, as results of our genetics or pathology, or as simply disorders or lifestyles different from the mainstream.

I certainly wasn’t arguing that the capability for particular sins isn’t written into each of us in a unique way. It most certainly is. You know your own tendencies. I know mine. The problem I was attempting to confront is the excuse-making that sets itself in place to block the guilt associated with the sins. If we are not to blame, if we are not guilty, then we don’t need a Savior and we miss the measure of Christ’s expense on the cross. Falling into this devilry, we produce the fruits that accompany such disregard. We find the loophole we need to never be wrong in any discussion, to never be guilty of offense in any situation coming undone, to never be the one who isn’t carrying his fair share of the load, to never be the one who actually bears responsibility. In essence, we get to avoid using the word “Sin” altogether, as if it applies to everyone else except us.

I went a little further—even touching on it in the adult Bible study later in the morning—and I offered that Sin really only makes sense when it is considered within the context of God. What I meant was that if we are going to understand it rightly, and most especially how it meets with us, then maybe one place to start is with acknowledging the fact that we are under the jurisdiction of an ultimate judge of right and wrong. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we are subject to a divine Someone who can actually determine what human conduct is supposed to be.

This may sound somewhat strange, but one of the best aspects of the season of Lent, especially as it is designed to recalibrate us toward objectively true things, is to be confronted with the true nature of Sin and what that means for Mankind’s future. To know this, is to know the need—a very personal need. It is to then be found at the foot of the cross, a place where we can breathe a sigh of relief as having narrowly escaped destruction because the One hanging on that cross paid the price for our deliverance.

Knowing the weight of our Sin is a good way to understand the weight of the Gospel of our salvation through Jesus Christ. And that’s where we must reside—in the Gospel. The Gospel is powerful. It gives us the ability to confess our sin in true repentance and faith—not to excuse our Sin away as a bad habit, or justifiable in certain circumstances, or as nothing at all—but rather to admit whole-heartedly that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It supplies us with a brightly beaming hope in the One who by His work raises us from the dust and sets us into His resurrected life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

This is a big part of the theology of Lent. And I pray that this message is resonating with you, that you are embracing it and carrying it forth into the world around you. With this supernatural knowledge pacing through your spirit, you’d be amazed at how the sun shines a little more brightly and the days are just a little more splendid, even when facing some pretty hefty struggles in this world.

With that, God be with you in the oncoming day and week. Call if you need me.