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.