“Good” Friday?

Perhaps this post will seem a little late. Good Friday was months ago, so perhaps it’s not very timely. But I wanted to write about it, because I’ve seen and heard it said jokingly for years now:

“What do you mean ‘Good’ Friday? It wasn’t very good for Jesus!”

So, why do we call it “Good” Friday, the day Jesus suffered and died upon the cross?

It’s about blood.

Blood and water, actually. Continue reading “Good” Friday?

Freedom

Independence Day.

It’s an awesome thing, to celebrate freedom.

But the truth is, freedom is an awesome responsibility.

Because true freedom is not limitless; true freedom is only freedom within limits.

Have you ever gone swimming by yourself in a lake – the water feels good, you feel really peaceful, until suddenly you look up and you are a long way from shore? Not only that, but you can’t figure out where on shore you came from and need to get back to? Suddenly the freedom you felt a moment before turns into a fear that makes you feel lost, alone and very, very vulnerable.

The same thing can happen when you’re alone in a field and you lose sight of the house, or when you’re alone in the woods and you suddenly feel like someone – or something – is out there with you. That’s when you realize that you would feel a whole lot more comfortable – a whole lot safer – a whole lot more free to relax… if you were protected by a fence, or four walls and a door with a deadbolt.

Because freedom requires safety. And safety requires limits.

And sure, we think of limits as bad because well, they are limiting, after all…

We feel trapped within limits, like prisoners, subject to someone else. This is the very reason so many people resent and reject God – the very idea that there is someone or something greater than themselves who knows better and places limits on them is galling.

But the freedom we think we want – freedom without responsibility – in actuality becomes a prison for us.

Cheating on your husband or wife isn’t freedom from a boring marriage; it’s a complicated web of lies and deception and guilt and shame and resentment.

A life addicted to prescription drugs is not freedom from pain, it’s an intricately complicated system of fooling doctors and family as your body and mind and spirit break down and the meds become too familiar to have the same effect they first had.

Lying to your parents isn’t freedom and independence; it’s a lonely and pointless existence filled with bitterness and hurt because you’ve put up a wall between yourself and the only people who truly want what’s best for you.

And living a life that denies God and denies the reality of sin isn’t a life without religion and rules; it’s a life with a hole in it – a life that desperately seeks to feel accepted and to be known by a loving God.

Without Jesus Christ, we are enslaved to our fickle ideas and desires and tastes that are always changing, constantly contradicting each other and never giving any satisfaction.

But freedom in Christ means that we are free to be the people we were called to be.

No matter how much I may want it, I am not free to be a billionaire televangelist with a private jet – any more than I am free to be Justin Verlander. I am also not free to be anyone else I might be jealous of, or to have what they have.

But when I live according to my calling and not someone else’s – when I learn to be content with the limits God has placed on me – then I experience the freedom of being me! I can stop worrying about what everyone else has, or what I don’t have, and start seeing clearly all of the many wonderful things I do have.

And then, maybe, if I live in God’s Word, I can stop hating myself and start seeing myself as He sees me – and Maybe I can even start loving myself. And the same is true for you.

Freedom is knowing that you’re not God! Freedom is knowing that someone truly greater than you – someone all-knowing, all-powerful, unchanging and perfectly good – holds your life in His hands! Freedom is knowing that all of your pain, all of your hurts, all of your wounds and all of your scars will not last forever.

Freedom is knowing that all the hurts you’ve caused, all the mistakes you’ve made, all the shameful things you’ve said and done have been washed away by the blood of Christ.

One of my absolute favorite passages in all of Scripture is This:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Our freedom – true freedom – comes in knowing God, studying His Word and living by His commands – trusting that He wants what is best for us and knowing we are forgiven when we fail.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-32, 36

Yes, the Trinity is in the Bible

One of the many uninformed criticisms of the Christian faith is that:

  1. Christians claim to base their faith on the Bible.
  2. Christians profess the Trinity.
  3. The Trinity is not in the Bible.

Obviously, points one and two are not in dispute. Point three is the misinformation – a part-truth that is intentionally misleading. So perhaps it’s not all that uninformed; however, it gets repeated by those who are uninformed.

All lies contain a portion of truth. In this case, the truth is that the term ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible. The concept, however – the idea – better yet the description and assumption of God as triune, or one God in three persons – is everywhere; woven throughout the Bible.

Of course, someone might argue that Jews do not acknowledge the Trinity, so perhaps it is strictly a New Testament concept. Modern Judaism and even the Judaism of Jesus’ day, however, are very different from the religion of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible.

The Israelites understood the oneness of God, and yet they also understood the limitless nature of God. God is described as spirit, as Word, as wisdom. There is even an incarnate Word of God who shows up several times in the Old Testament, though that is a post for another time…

At any rate, however difficult it may be to understand the Trinity (and it is impossible to fully understand the nature of God, limited as we are in our capacities as “not God”), it is how God describes Himself, and is therefore foundational for the Christian faith. If we do not take God at His Word, then we elevate ourselves above God, and make gods of ourselves.

OK, so proof time:

Helpful Bible Passages on the Trinity

God the Father

There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:6a

For this is what the LORD says– He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited– He says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other…and there is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:18, 21b-22

(There is) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:5-6

God the Son

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14

(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:15-17

After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.  And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.” John 17:1-5

God the Holy Spirit

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

(Jesus said), “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:1, 3b-6, 11a

One God in three Persons

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6

By the way: once you understand (or at least accept by faith) that God is triune (one God in three persons), the Bible starts to make a lot more sense. After all, who hasn’t asked why God talks to Himself in the plural so often in Genesis?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26a

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:5-7

So the people who say that the Trinity is not in the Bible are taking the absence of a word and using it as evidence that there is no teaching. But the Bible does not work this way. Scripture interprets Scripture. We don’t take a single verse out of context to prove a point – we read all of Scripture as the Word of God written to different and various contexts. When all of the Scripture is taken into account, then the reality that the Word of God takes for granted that God is one God in three persons becomes evidently clear.

The Answer

If you were to die tonight and find yourself standing before the great judgment throne of God Himself, only to have Him ask you why He should let you into heaven, how would you answer?

It’s an old question, meant to terrify a little and prompt you to clarify whether and what you actually believe.

So, what would you answer?

Have you been good enough to deserve heaven?

Most people, after all, believe that good people go to heaven. But what does it mean to be good? And what qualifies as “good enough?”

The question scares us – because we don’t know the answer. Do we deserve heaven? Are we good enough? Is our faith strong enough to save us? How can we know?

Most people believe good people go to heaven, but let’s think about that for a minute: what does it mean to be good? Are we talking Mother Theresa good? Or just not-Hitler good? A lot of people think it’s about keeping the 10 Commandments, but a lot of those same people probably couldn’t name 5 Commandments, let alone keep them perfectly. And by the way, Jesus made the 10 Commandments even more impossible to keep perfectly: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:21-29).

To make matters worse, the Bible is pretty openly opposed to the “good people go to heaven” view. In fact, according to the Bible, good people do not go to heaven. To begin with, there is no such thing as a good person: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).

And Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that “good enough” is not good enough. In order to earn heaven, you have to be better than perfect: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

So if good people don’t go to heaven, who does?

Good people don’t go to heaven; forgiven people do: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

So how do we know if we are forgiven? To (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).

But we want assurances. We want to feel forgiven. I get it, because I’ve been there. There is something wonderfully reassuring about the emotional high of an altar call, where the music soars and you pray that sinner’s prayer for all you’re worth. In that moment, the tears flow because you feel saved. It’s awesome…

Until you walk out the doors, go back home, back to work, back to school, and find that you are still the same person. So you start to wonder if it “took.” What if that wasn’t it? What if you still aren’t really saved? How can you be sure?

You can quit looking to your feelings, which can change with the weather. You can stop trusting your gut, which is directly related to how long it’s been since you last ate. Instead, try looking to the only stability in this crazy universe: God and His Word.

And God’s Word says you are saved: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s done. Finished. Completed on the cross, on a very Good Friday 2,000 years ago.

Are you worried, though, that you might not truly believe it? Well, do you want to believe it? Does it make sense to you? Do you want saving faith to be your own? Then it already belongs to you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t care.

Saving faith means believing that you are not a good person, but you have been rescued anyway by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. To believe there is nothing you can do to make God love you more – or to make God love you less.

Do you want to know the answer? Do you want to know how to be sure you’re saved? It’s because God said so. And God never breaks His Word. Ever.

Do you want an assurance?

  • The next time you’re in the shower, feel the water running over your head and be reminded that you were baptized.
  • Make the sign of the cross to remind you of your baptism.
  • Make the sign of the cross in the mirror and tell yourself, “You are a baptized child of God.”
  • When you take communion, remember the body that was sacrificed for you. As the wine passes over your lips and tongue, remember the blood that was shed for you.
  • When you are tempted to beat yourself up for your failures, wash your hands and remember you have been washed clean.
  • When you are tempted to look down on others because you think you’re better than them, instead look up and remember that you both stand under heaven.

We don’t need to be afraid of whether or not salvation “took,” or whether or not we have been good enough, because our Heavenly Father gave us His Word that His grace is enough.

The Truth is, you already knew the answer. You probably learned it a long time ago, when things seemed much simpler:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

How can you know you’re really saved? Because God said so. And that is enough.

Worship Is…

A common misconception (because it is wrongly taught and spoken of in that way) is that worship refers only to the songs we sing when we are in church: the musical portion of the church service. In fact, most “Evangelical” churches (Evangelical meaning non-Catholic, Protestant, conservative and Bible-based) separate their church services into two parts, often referred to as “worship” and the “word.” Services typically consist of 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of preaching, followed by an altar call.

But worship is so much more than just the songs we sing. It is everything we do together as Christ’s church, gathered in the presence of God to receive His gifts. And yes, I said to receive. Worship is not about what we do or give to God. We do that in response to the great and generous gifts He pours out on us – and in turn He pours out more blessings upon us as we try to give Him what little we have. You cannot out-give God, no matter how hard you try. Even the financial offering we bring is simply an acknowledgement of all we have received from God, and it is an offering which pales in comparison to the generous blessings He pours out on us before, during and after our puny tithe.

And since everything we do is worship, a much better differentiation between parts of the service than “Worship” and “Word” is “Word” and “Sacrament*.” Because the music we sing, play and listen to is a part of the service of the Word. In fact, the music is there to reinforce the Word as a part of the Word. The songs we sing are not an offering that we bring; they are a teaching tool.

How often have you left church singing a hymn or praise song from that morning? Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation and remembered the words of a Bible verse or a hymn/song that gave you comfort? Found yourself looking at a beautiful sunset and thinking to yourself, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder”? No? Never? Maybe you need to spend more time in church…

The Word is there from God. Read to us in the daily Scripture reading(s). Explained to us and applied to our lives in the message/sermon. Reinforced in the words of the songs/hymns we sing, the words of the confession or the prayers. This is all taken into consideration in the planning and constructing of the worship service – or at least, it should be, if the Pastor and staff members are being faithful…

The word for the order of the service is liturgy. It is an ancient word that means “the work of the people.” Today, it is associated with traditional churches with a “high church” order of service, as opposed to the 30 & 30 style mentioned earlier, but liturgy simply refers to the order of the service. Even 30 & 30 is a type of liturgy, it’s just an especially simplified one. The purpose of the liturgy is to lead the people through the corporate act of worship by constructing sentences within a greater paragraph, or as phrases within a greater conversation.By the end of the service, you may not be aware of how all the parts fit together, but you should leave knowing whatever the thematic point was for that service (for example, that God’s grace is free, or that we are called to love our neighbor).

The worship service is a conversation between God and His people, between Christ and His Church. When we are planning worship, we are writing the dialogue. This is why it is such a high calling, such a tremendous responsibility, such an incalculable honor to do it. If the different parts and pieces do not fit together, then it’s like having a disjointed conversation. You risk the people missing the point of the service; you lose the heart of the communication. But just as the many parts of the body join together to form one being in ourselves and in the church, the many parts of the liturgy join together to form one worship service.

We need to make sure we don’t fall into the habit of dividing the worship service into the things we do (worship) vs. the things we learn (word). God pours at least as much out on us through our music as we could ever give to Him. And the sermon is more than a teaching: it is the timeless Word of God Himself, spoken into our lives in the here and now. If the message doesn’t somehow convict you of your sin, remind you that you are forgiven, and push you to live out your faith in a way that applies to your life, your pastor isn’t doing his job.+

The point is, don’t view worship as something God needs from you, or something you owe Him (though technically, we do). See it as something you need in order to be healthy. Come to worship to be filled up again. To be surrounded by a family of believers who is struggling with some of the very same things you are. To be told that you are not OK, and that’s OK. To be reminded that you are forgiven, really, truly and completely. Come to worship to grow as a person. Come as you are… but don’t stay that way. And yes, come to worship – don’t watch it on TV or live stream it unless you are physically unable to go in person. Worship happens with God’s family, in the church, where the Word and Sacrament are distributed freely, lovingly, and indiscriminately.

Trust me: it’s good stuff.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

“On Sunday go to church.  Yes, I know all the excuses.  I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in a church.  But I also know that as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or dedicate himself.” -Teddy Roosevelt

[Notes]


*A Sacrament has three characteristics, which must all be present:

  1. It is instituted by God.
  2. It combines God’s Word with a visible element.
  3. There is actual forgiveness of sins taking place.

Because of this, we as Lutherans recognize two Sacraments:

  1. God’s Word + Water = Baptism
  2. God’s Word + Bread & Wine = The Lord’sSupper.

+Your Pastor has a hard job, believe it or not, and not every sermon will be a home run. Cut him some slack – but if none of his sermons ever convict, remind or push, you might consider that you are suffering from bad preaching. Or, maybe, an attention deficit on your part?

500 Years and a Weird Haircut

I decided to go all out, and all in, for Halloween this year.

500 years ago, on October 31st, 1517, a German priest, monk and professor of theology named Martin Luther posted on the door of the town church a document protesting the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of God’s grace. Luther based his argument on the Bible, which clearly states that God’s forgiveness, His grace, His mercy and His salvation, are all free gifts – they cannot be earned, let alone bought or sold.

As time went by, Luther wrote and said much more, calling for reform – for a return to biblical Christianity, which teaches that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He was called on by the church to recant, or take back what he said, but he refused – because to do so would have been to deny the authority of God’s own Word.

Luther is a hero of mine – he is largely the reason we can read the Bible for ourselves, the reason we play and sing music in church, and above all the reason we can know for certain – based on the Bible – that our salvation is not dependent on our own merit, understanding, or personal experience – it is wholly dependent on Jesus, and Him alone. But the reformation, like the church and the Gospel, are not about Martin Luther – it is ALL about Jesus, and what God accomplished through Luther – just as God continues to do extraordinary things through ordinary people like you and me.

Still, this being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to dress as Martin Luther for Halloween – what better time to do it, right? But I really wasn’t digging the wig. So, me being me, I just went full Marty – and Heidi gave me a monk’s haircut, which I’ve worn for our Hall-O-ween service, our Sunday worship, and finally for Halloween.

And yes, I can confirm that my natural bald spot is in the shape of a cross. To be clear: the cross is NOT shaved in, it is natural. I have nothing more to say about that.

Have a happy and blessed Reformation, and remember: it’s always been about Jesus. Grace alone through Faith alone in Christ alone. “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, Amen.”

Thoughts on Installing a Pastor

Yesterday afternoon, I was able to take part in one of my favorite worship services: the installation of a new pastor. I’m not the first to use this analogy, but the relationship between a pastor and the church he is called to much more closely resembles a marriage than a job/hiring, and the Installation service is very much the wedding.

As worship services go, it’s pretty standard fair most of the way, but the themes heard in the songs and readings chosen echo the great responsibility placed on those called to preach the Good News of salvation, as well as their willingness to walk in those enormous shoes.

My favorite part comes right after the Rite of Installation: other pastors who have gathered for this moment (some from the area, some friends who have traveled for this) surround the new pastor, lay their hands on him and bless him. Usually a scripture is given by each, along with a prayer or word of blessing, but each pastor in turn lays this blessing upon the new pastor. In this way, each pastor is visibly brought into his office not by his own desire or declaration, but by the blessing and authority of his peers. It is a powerful moment to participate in, as well as to witness.

This vocation – being a pastor – is incredibly unique. We are called to be servant-leaders. We are shepherds who are also sheep. We are asked to be Counselors who sometimes need counseling ourselves. We are blessed with the capacity to love and care about even those who refuse it or revolt against it – though we are also human and sinful, and none of us manages this at all times. We can be thanked, complimented and loved, but we will dwell on and lose sleep over a single harsh word. We balance the needs of home with the needs of the members, the staff and the business of the church. It is simultaneously beautiful, ugly, impossible, easy, overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, disappointing, frustrating, rewarding and more adjectives than are in my mind to write at this moment. It is often beyond description.

It is comforting, then, to know that we are not alone in this. We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, surrounded by the saints, held aloft by countless prayers – and supported by our peers. Even when we disagree on some point of theology or practice, we can still come together and lay hands on a brother as he enters into this sacred relationship – and let him know that we understand what he is about to take on – and that he is not alone.

God bless those who pastor His church, Amen.

 

Thoughts On a Confirmation Service

Today, our church celebrates confirmation. Confirmation in the Lutheran church is just that: confirmation by these young people of the faith that was given to them in baptism, taught to them by their parents, grandparents, godparents, pastors and teachers, and grown and nurtured in them by the Holy Spirit. Today, they stand before their church and say without shame: this is my faith, my church, and I am walking in it.

Our church encourages them to lead the worship service; to choose a personal expression of their own faith that means something to them, and then to present it as part of the worship service. Some read Scriptures. Some write and deliver statements of faith. Some sing, some play instruments, some do sketches, some get still more creative.

It’s a brave and powerful moment, and it makes me so proud of them as their pastor. This particular group I have known (mostly) since they were in fourth grade. Watching them grow is an honor. I see parents beaming and crying, family surrounding them and church family applauding them, and I have to work to fight back the tears.

Confirmation makes me cry, and I think it always will. I go from blessing them as children at 8:30 to communing them as fellow members at 11:00. Lord willing, I will one day confirm and commune my own children, though not my Daniel, whose faith has already been confirmed, perfected and completed. I think about the confirmation I will never see, every year, and it adds tears of sorrow to the tears of pride.

But I am so humbled and honored to be the one to confirm the faith of the children of our church. Other churches give their children first communion months or years before they are confirmed in their faith, while others withhold baptism until after their faith is confirmed. I have theological reasons I disagree with both, but mostly I think both miss out – on the beauty of baptizing an infant; of offering your child to God in complete trust to His care – and on the impact of a young man or woman publicly declaring their faith, and then receiving for the first time the sacramental gifts of God through holy communion.

It is humbling and exciting to see young people stand up and show what their Savior means to them, and to see an congregation of mature believers convicted and compelled to be equally unashamed of their own faith. These are just some of the many gifts our great God delivers through worship services such as these, and I am so thankful to be a part of them.

God bless all those who teach children the faith, and God bless all those who are taught the faith, that they would not depart from it.

Fitting In

I remember a trip we took when I was growing up. I was probably seven or eight years old, and the trip was to King’s Island in Cincinnati. The overall trip included Mammoth Caves and the Air Museum in Dayton, but what really stands out in my mind, is how much I despised King’s Island.

First of all, I loved Cedar Point, so I didn’t understand why we had to drive so far to go to a different amusement park. But much, much worse, was the discovery that I was too big for the little rides… and too little for the big rides. It was a miserable visit, and to this day I am convinced that King’s Island is the amusement park of Satan, designed specifically to torture innocent children. I’m talking, when I picture King’s Island, I picture the amusement park from Pinocchio, where all the boys turn into donkeys and get sold off into slavery. Please, I’m begging you: do not take your children to King’s Island!

In all seriousness, though, that feeling of being too big for the little rides and too little for the big rides is a reality in life more times than just at the amusement park. There are times when you just don’t seem to fit in anywhere.

When you are young, you can’t wait to be bigger so you can do all the fun stuff, like have a job and have money of your own. When you get a little older, you wish you were young again, so you could do all the fun stuff, like not have a job and have parents who pay for everything. One of life’s greatest thrills is when you finally turn 21 and get carded to prove it. One of life’s most crushing blows is when you stop getting carded…

Getting older is an odd thing. We spend half our lives wishing we were older and the rest of our lives wishing we were younger. But no matter what age you are or where you are in life, there will always be people older than you – and people younger than you. It’s important, then, that we respect and look out for those who are younger than us, or who have less advantages. It is likewise important for us to respect and look out for those who are older than us, from whom we might learn. Look out for, teach and mentor those who would benefit from it, but never lord it over them – remember you were younger once, too. Respect and value those who are older than you – why learn everything the hard way, when you can benefit from experience? All of us could stand to ease up, smile more, and treat others with respect – whether we think they deserve it or not.

There are a lot of times in life where you feel like you don’t fit – like you’re too big for the little rides and too little for the big rides. But that should never happen in the church, where we all belong, regardless of our age, our height, our race, our clothes or our hairstyle. We are united in Christ Jesus, covered in His blood, which covers a multitude of sins. You can help make sure the people around you don’t wonder where they belong – or if they belong. Love and respect the people around you, no matter who they are. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t take your kids to King’s Island!

Grief

There is something else you should know about me: I struggle with depression that stems from the grief of losing my son. Daniel was six years old when he died on September 11, 2013. He was a special needs child: stemming from an overarching diagnosis of cerebral palsy, he struggled with many things, including quadriplegia (he could move, but not control, his arms, and he was learning to walk with a walker, but was largely wheelchair-bound). He was vocal but non-verbal, he was pure emotion with an incredible depth of love, the hardest worker I have ever met, and he was my mini-me. I wrote this on the three-year anniversary of his death, and it was published by both The Federalist and Michigan In Touch:

Grief makes no sense.

I mean, of course grief makes sense, in that something so precious, so beautiful—something we just took for granted would always be there—was ripped away from us. We are not meant to be torn apart by sin, death and the devil, but we are. We are not whole, and so we grieve when we suffer genuine loss, because we become still less, with even less to hold onto in this fallen world. Another light goes out, and we are left in still more darkness; the world becomes a little less bright. So we cry, we rage, we hide, we shake, we avoid, we indulge, we run, we fight; we do whatever it takes to cope with this pain that is so impossible to cope with.

And therein lies the nonsense. Because we can’t cope with it. We can’t carry it. We can’t live with it. And yet, we can’t escape from it. It rends us, pierces us, impales us, and decapitates us. It rips our heart from our chest, tears out a chunk and then shoves that mortally wounded muscle back into our shattered rib cage.

And then we have to go on living, knowing we will never again be the same. We read books, we talk about it, we hear advice (we are given still more that we don’t hear because we can’t or won’t). We face it head-on, we avoid it at all costs, but none of it helps. Not really, because the one thing we want—the one thing we need—the one thing we can’t live without—can never be again, at least not in this life.

So we go on. Our grief fades with time, but this is not the same as getting “easier” or “better.” In fact, there is cruel irony in this, because the pain that makes it so hard to draw breath is the only real tie we have to what is lost. And as that pain fades, so, it feels, does that tie—which is a betrayal beyond reason.

Why should life get easier? Why should life go on?

Why should I have to learn to live without what I have lost?

And this makes no sense, is incomprehensible, inexplicable. Because grief is not objective or comparable, in any way. You cannot say one’s loss is easier or harder, better or worse than someone else’s, because you have no idea what they’re going through. The flip side of this is that there is no one who can possibly understand what you’re going through.

No one, save God. And because He does know, and because He defeated those great enemies of sin, death and the devil, our grief will one day be over.

Thus, we do not grieve as others who have no hope (ref. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). I believe this, and yet…

And yet, I still grieve. We still grieve. With heads bowed, we grieve. With cheeks dampened by tears, we grieve. With throats tight and chests crushed, we grieve. With silent pain and anguished groans, we grieve. With desperate screams and heavy brows, we grieve—yes, we grieve.

For my son, Daniel, I grieve. My joy, my heart, my passion still evade my grasp since he was taken from me, three years ago. Three years. The cruelty of the passage of time never ceases or eases. Three years makes me feel as though I have no right to hold onto my grief. Three years makes me feel as though I need to move on. But three years without my son is impossibly cruel.

He has been gone half as long as he was alive. While his brother and sister grow; while other families with three children continue to live on together; while other dads get to laugh and play and hug and teach their children … I grieve. Alone. And not alone. But also alone.

You, who grieve: you are not alone. You are, of course, alone. But also not alone.

As I said, grief makes no sense. Thank God, then, that it will one day be wiped away.