Pro-Life: What Does This Mean?

I think I was somewhat unwittingly drafted into the pro-life movement. Not unwillingly. Just unwittingly.

I grew up in a Lutheran Christian household. My parents both agreed they were pro-life. I remember my dad saying a few disparaging things about Roe v. Wade when I was a kid. I would argue they were not passionately pro-life, but they were clear, clear enough for me to notice.

I didn’t rebel against the position. I went off to college at Concordia University Wisconsin nominally “pro-life.” My life experience now teaches me that what that means is that I was really only “anti-abortion.” That was what it meant for me to be “pro-life.” I am not denying that to be pro-life means to be anti-abortion. As the years went by, I came to appreciate that the term, however, means a whole lot more.

Unwittingly, God had conscripted me into a position on life that is much larger than I realized when, during spring break of my Freshman year, I applied to become an employee at Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown. I applied as a Residential Aide, one who attended most closely to the daily lives of the residents. Bethesda is widely recognized as a ministry to severely and profoundly cognitively disabled people. I had volunteered there in my Jr. High and High School years. God was probably already whittling away at my sense of what it meant to be pro-life even then. But now I would be teaching people to do basic life skills in order for them to move up to group home living: tying shoes, shaving, dressing, basic health and cleanliness disciplines, schedule maintenance. I think I always loved it. A bad day at Bethesda could be really awful. But a good day was great…and the good days far outnumbered the bad days. I was learning that I was enjoying the chance to work with people. I was learning from them as much as they were probably learning from me. With pride, I like to say that “I am a graduate of Bethesda Lutheran Home.”

These dear people still hold a special place in my heart. Imagine, if you will, working with such marvelous people and then learning, after I became a pastor, that doctors were encouraging mothers to have abortions if there was even a risk that their child might be born with Down Syndrome. The first time I heard this, I must confess I was enraged. I had come to see the people with Down that I had served as tremendous gifts of God. They were so precious to me. It was as if someone had threatened to take away my most precious asset, my wife, my children, my reputation. This level of professional callousness was (and still is) offensive to me.

All life is precious. I cannot for the life of me find it in my heart to view any handicap, any disability, any limiting factor as diminishing one iota from the value of human life. We are not the sum of our strengths or weaknesses. We are people, which means we will always be of immense value to one another. When one person dies, we are always the poorer for it. Darwin, in his infinite wisdom, advised that the handicapped be put to death for the sake of evolution. Do you get it? We live in a culture of death. It is all around us. And it is all justified in the name of progress or evolution

This death-culture is not evolution. It is devolution. It is devilish. But this thinking even invades the nominally pro-life Christian who hasn’t learned yet that to be pro-life is a much larger thing than being anti-abortion.

Case in point: Consider these sorts of statements.

“I’m stopping at two kids. Three will be the death of me.”

“Children are so expensive.”

“We need to build a wall to keep people out.”

“Why should we always be the ones to protect the helpless?” [Witness nearly half a million dead in Aleppo largely thanks to American inaction].

“I love my husband, but if he ever cheats on me he’s gone!”

“I’d rather commit suicide than go through this terminal illness.”

Some of these thoughts are so common that I’ve heard Christians express them, many times over.

God stretched my mind and broadened my horizons by conscripting me so unwittingly into life ministries. He stretched it even further by giving me five biological children, an adopted sixth child, and currently three sisters for whom we are providing foster care. People ask how we do it. Even that question strikes me as lacking a richly pro-life attitude. As long as we have life and breath, we are here for each other.

How far are you willing to be stretched? Are you ready to be pro-life? The world and its death-culture needs something better, from me, from you, from all who call themselves Christians.

I have never attended the pro-life march in D.C., but have always wanted to. When it happens soon, I will be reassessing my commitment to God’s gift of life. I pray you will too.

Lord, grant us all a deepened appreciation of the precious value of life!

 

 

Advent 1 Midweek Homily–Of The Father’s Love, St. 1

Of the Father’s love begotten Ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He, Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see Evermore and evermore.  LSB 384, St. 1

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Recent brain research has revealed that the human brain is not able to process properly all the little data factoids we are bombarded with in the media. Fans of televised sports events know how the networks love to hit us with arcane statistics which, in the bigger picture, probably don’t have a shred of real relevance. For instance, the Cowboys are 13 of their last 14 on 3rd down conversions when it’s raining in Iran and the average Lake Michigan water temperature is warmer than normal? Almost 95% of such statistics don’t remain very long in the memory. They have a fleeting effect on us. Scientists have observed that they simply register in our limbic systems as something threatening. Our brains process data factoids as threatening. Remember that the next time you turn on the sports or news channels.

Even if we don’t process it in healthy ways, I think we are often fascinated by such data. We still crave it. Many know that watching the 24/7 news media is bad for them, but to get them to turn off the TV is like getting an addict to just up and quit. We’re drawn to this stuff. We love data. We love to categorize it. We love to process it. We love to try to figure it out. Quoting data statistics makes us feel like we know something, and our sense of power and control is often dictated by how much we know…or at least how much we think we know.

This Advent, beginning tonight, we’re going to turn off our limbic systems and their emergency, fight or flight, reactive natures. We’re going to relax and rest in the love of God the Father. We’re going to let the light of Christ shine in the darkness of this world and all its anxiety-producing spectacle. We’re going to meditate on things higher than the media’s incessant chatter. We’re going to contemplate the unexplainable. Rather than explain, we’re going to trust. There is a better message, a higher one, a deeper one. It’s the message of Christ.

No factoid or data or trivia can measure who Jesus is. He is true God and true man. He is God in human skin, flesh and bone. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Source and the Ending. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is eternal, timeless and limitless, while mysteriously still operating in a human body.

In the manger, Jesus is God in diapers. In the Temple at age 12, He is the expert befuddling the so-called experts. In the Jordan River, at John’s baptism of Him, He is numbering Himself as a sinner even though He knew no sin. He touches lepers and does not contract the disease. He preaches with an authority unlike the experts had ever heard. He shows compassion, but can be dismissive of pretenders. On the cross, He is God being shamed by humans. He is loved of God and forsaken by Him for our sake.

The mind cannot process it. In fact, it can’t even begin to process it. God’s love is a mystery. The worlds began to be as an expression of his love. His gift of a Son to endure cross and shame is a gift of love, and if we struggle to define and understand anything, it’s love. God is love. Christ is love, and as such, impossible to reduce to a meme, a factoid, a Twitter post, a statistic. Christ transcends all that.

And that is why His is the better message. The mind needs mystery. We need to know there is something bigger than us, beyond our understanding, past the limited scope of our thoughts. The Father loved the world and gave His one and only Son. Why He did that is beyond our understanding. The Son obeyed the Father perfectly and gave up His life to save us who could not save ourselves. Why He did that is beyond our understanding. The Holy Spirit teaches Christ and makes sinful humans holy, saints. Why He does that is beyond our understanding. The Son will return to give us a new heavens and a new earth where we will share thrones with Him. Why He will do that is beyond our understanding.

This Advent, we rejoice in a God whose ways are not ours, they are bigger and better. His love is bigger than your sins. His Word is bigger than your fears. His grace is bigger than your shame. His life is bigger than your death.

So rest in His peace. So celebrate in His joy. So luxuriate in His love. This Advent, this child, this Savior, this Lord is FOR YOU. And that’s all you need to ever know. AMEN.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Installation Sermon–Rev. Timothy Oswald–11/13/2016

Grace and peace are yours through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

The text is Paul’s words in the Epistle, chief of sinners saved by grace.

Dear Members of Hope, Pastor Oswald, and family and friends gathered today,

I was recently asked by one of the members of St. John’s in North Prairie where I serve how preaching a sermon is different from giving a political stump speech. The election was in full swing. The same person was just telling me she had watched speeches by both candidates as well as our Senatorial candidates. She observed there was definitely a marked difference between political speeches and the weekly sermons she is subjected to as a member of St. John’s! (Poor thing)! She knew what that difference was, but she asked me anyway because I think she understands that the sheep judge the shepherd. She was testing me to see if I had an inner Donald Trump or an inner Hillary Clinton. Hopefully she found neither.

I recall thinking after our discussion that my answer wasn’t very Biblical, even though our text might suggest it was. I told this dear woman that I thanked God that I was not a politician. I told her, and I think is pretty much exactly how I said it, that “I [didn’t] have it in me to give speeches about myself.” I don’t think it should be easy for anyone to look another person dead in the eye and say “vote for me.” One of the best things about being a pastor is that, especially when it comes to giving sermons, hopefully you learn the freedom of not preaching yourself.

Now I’m not sure how righteous my answer was. It could be. It might not be. All I may have been saying is “Thank God I’m not Donald Trump!” That would be far less righteous than many might think. It would be suggesting a righteousness at the expense of someone else. It would be hypocritical. It would be the same as saying “I may gossip, but at least I’m not a murderer.”

The Apostle Paul, writing to the young pastor Timothy, has none of that. The words of our text are autobiography. Paul is writing about himself. He doesn’t mince any words as he does so. He refuses to project his own self-righteousness onto the screen of another person’s sin. He can’t say, “at least I’m not a murderer,” because he was! He tells Timothy, rather bluntly, that he was a violent man acting in ignorance. Most notably, he writes about his former life before his conversion and Baptism in the past tense. He was those things. The grace of God means those sins are removed from him as far as the east is from the west.

But he goes on and switches to the present tense. He delivers a trustworthy saying: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I AM (not was) the chief.” Once again, Paul doesn’t project or reflect his own righteousness off others lack of it. He just speaks for himself. He is the chief of sinners. And then, for emphasis, he repeats the saying in the next verse. Twice in consecutive verses Paul refers to himself as chief of sinners.

We call this “repentance” and it is a synonym for the word “faith” itself. Where genuine faith is, repentance will always be the first word. It was Thesis 1 of the 95 Theses which kicked off the Reformation. It was the first word of the messages of the Old Testament prophets. It was the first word of John the Baptist’s sermons in the wilderness. It was the first word Jesus preached. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is among you.”

Repentance is the first word of our liturgy. When we are gathered together in God’s Name on Sunday mornings, we do not tell him what wonderful people we are. We rather confess our sins, like Isaiah did in the Temple, like Peter did on the boat in Luke 5, like Paul does in our text. We’re not in church because we are good people and those not with us are the bad ones. We attend Divine Service precisely because we are sinners who need what is offered there: grace in the forgiveness of sins. Without that grace, Paul would have nothing to say or write at all. And neither would any future pastors like Timothy or any of us up here this afternoon.

And as a first word, repentance has quite a legacy. Our Synod President, Matthew Harrison, has pointed out on several occasions that repentance was the first word of the most consequential moments in history. Real change, even at the societal level, doesn’t happen by forcing your sinner neighbor to change. If America feels like a hamster on a wheel right now, it’s probably because too many of us are doing precisely that. Real change happens when we all look inward, when we all recognize ourselves for the chiefs of sinners we are, when we take our sins to Christ and look for His perfect cleansing.

Pastor Oswald, on this day of your installation, we know there are many good things to say about you. Back in August, our mutual friend, Naval Chaplain Ryan Rupe, positively gushed about you with me on the phone. And I think we both know that Ryan doesn’t gush about people. He’s one of the most powerfully honest and forthright people I have ever known. And he’s one of those people who you love for all that honesty. He spoke about you as a great peer, a great chaplain. He spoke about your compassion and your listening ears. He told me he thought Hope, Twin Lakes was getting someone strong on pastoral care. He told me he’d miss you as a peer after your retirement. From someone like Ryan, I consider that high praise.

As American citizens, we should be thankful for your service in our military. I know I am. I would hope all of us in this room are. Thank you for your honorable service. God bless America and God protect our soldiers and give honor to our leaders.

Despite all that, Paul’s words still remind us that what was true for him is also true for us. There are no Messiahs except Jesus Christ alone. Pastors may have many virtues, but they also have sinful natures. We pastors will sin, sometimes even grievously. We don’t preach ourselves. We preach Christ crucified, at whose cross we leave our sins. Dying to sin every day and rising to new life, we gain the strength to go back in there and care for God’s people even after foibles and failures.

Christians too need to hear these words for what they say. It is common in congregations to project everything that is right or wrong with the congregation on the pastor. Yes. He may have many virtues. Yes. He is a sinner and makes mistakes. But when he fails, for you to make him into a chief of sinners is to fail Paul’s test in this text before us. You too are chiefs of sinners. You too must look in the mirror of God’s law and see the ugly reflection. The sheep may judge the shepherd, but the Lord judges us all and the standard for both is the Word of God. That Word judges you the same chief of sinners it judges me and all the men in white robes up here today. The great privilege we have as pastors is the privilege of speaking that grace to you when the Law hits with all of its force. Paul was given a grace that covered all of his sins through Ananias of Damascus who baptized him. It wasn’t Ananias’ baptism. It was Christ’s. It’s not our Word; it’s Christ’s. It’s not our grace; it’s Christ’s.

Christ. He came into the world to save sinners of whom we are the chiefs. He demonstrates His unlimited patience in the lives of repentant sinners. Luther famously said that “Christ dwells in sinners.” He may very well have been thinking of our text when he wrote that.

Today is not about Pastor Oswald. It is not about Hope Lutheran Church in Twin Lakes, WI. It is not about the mistaken notion of God providing a new superhero to lead us out and into a great future. It’s not about God providing a convenient scapegoat if we fail. It’s not about any of these things.

Today is about Christ. Today is about His sacrifice for your sins. Today is about His victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. Today is about His salvation of sinners like Paul, like me, like Pastor Oswald, like you. Today is about how He, as Lord of the Church, has provided another undershepherd for you. Today is about His grace extended through the mouths and words and hands of His human instruments, the pastor. Today is about His grace which covers us all.

I guess I do thank God I’m not a politician. To preach oneself is to set oneself up for an inglorious fall. We do well to stand before God as the sinners we are, pastors and people. It’s not about us and what great people we tell ourselves and others we are. It’s about Christ, who saves sinners of whom I (and you) are the chiefs. Our lives are now hidden away in Him so that He is glorified in all our speaking and all our doing.

Now to the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God be honor and glory forever and ever. AMEN.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN.

 

Private Confession And Absolution: The Ultimate Safe Space

Once again, the media is placing a lot of attention on millennials as they react, rather than respond, to the election news. There are mixed reviews on today’s millennials. I tend to lean toward a negative estimation of them. I often think of the 18 year olds who stormed Normandy Beach on D-Day. Today’s average millennial knows nothing of that sort of courage. Of course, the problem with generational dynamics is the broad brush it employs, which smacks of the same sort of stereotyping that lies behind a lot of today’s “noise.” There are always exceptions, thankfully.

The Millennial call for “safe spaces” has also led to dubious behavior, especially among college students. College has always been about stretching minds, having your values challenged along the way. Even the most liberal professors have admitted that their students frighten them when they question–often with threats–what they are learning for its “safe”-ness. Ohio State University recently sent a message by telling students who had taken over one of the buildings demanding safe spaces that they had, indeed, created an unsafe space for the University’s employees working in that particular building. After threatening them with arrest and expulsion for their lack of forethought, the students left without further incident.

I would argue, though, that I agree with the idea of a “safe space.” I just don’t think there should be one at universities. Videos of puppies frolicking and coloring books with crayons on tables may appear to create a safe space. They also seem to invite plenty of valid criticism about the capacity millennials will ever show to engage the world as adults. Not everything in life is pleasant. Not everything is safe. Indeed, danger does have a propensity for bringing out some wonderful things in people, if we can silence our limbic systems enough to think clearly. The problem isn’t an unsafe world. It’s helicopter-parented youths who now face the future with fear rather than confidence in their own abilities.

The world can be a frightening place and, as long as it remains fallen, it will always be so. We should not seek to make it any more dangerous. And yes, there is a safe space. The ultimate safe space. It’s called Private Confession and Absolution.

In Private Confession and Absolution, a pastor sworn in his ordination vows never to divulge the sins confessed to him hears your confession of sins…lovingly. He speaks the Word of God to them and then announces that God forgives even THAT sin; the one you cannot seem to get over yourself.

In Private Confession, you have a place to go where you can speak of your sins without shaming or fear of being judged. Indeed, the judgment is “not guilty” after the Absolution is announced. To be forgiven is to be set free, strengthened to face the world and all its dangers.

I have a Lutheran pastor friend whom I greatly admire for managing to get such a practice started in the congregation to which he is called. Lutherans have long believed private confession to be “too catholic” because of a basic misunderstanding. Our Lutheran Confessions encourage private confession. We didn’t require it like the Roman Church did. When you free someone from the command to do something, they often forsake it entirely. I use Private Confession and Absolution as an essential element of counseling. I would LOVE to offer it daily to Christians who struggle with their consciences.

There is a safe space. The kneeler in my study is a place you can go with your sins. I will not punish you. I promise you I will listen. The forgiveness is God’s and I promise you that I will not hesitate to comfort you with it. When you leave, your past is in the past and I will be happy to see you Sunday or whenever I see you next. It’s God’s ultimate “safe space.”

#thebettermessage

Pastor T.peaceofchrist

The 1%

Luke 15  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance [ESV].

So which are you? The 1% or the 99%?

This text fools us much of the time. In the Church, we see this text applied often in the direction of those who leave a church or fall into lackadaisical reception of Christ’s gifts, or no reception of them at all. THEY are the wanderers. THEY are the 1%. This implies that WE are not. We must be the 99%. And that’s good. Or so we reckon.

The reason this is deceptive is because it causes us to miss what Jesus is really saying about the 99% AND, in the process, it causes us to miss where we are in this picture. By verse 7, Jesus has let us in on the 99 sheep as those who “need no repentance.” This is not a complimentary statement. It raises the question of who is who in the zoo. The 99% are not the faithful. They just think they are. What we conclude about being the 99% does not jive at all with what Jesus says about them.

Context is determinitive of meaning and in the broader context of the entire Gospel of Luke–as well as the narrower context of just Luke 15–the shepherd who goes after the one sheep begs a proper understanding of who that one sheep is. First we consider the broader context.

All through his Gospel, Luke makes the case for the salvation of the outsider. Implied in this term is the Gentile, who has no connection to Israel and its worship and history. But even more powerfully, especially in the run up to chapter 15, the “outsider” is to be seen as “outcast.” In Jesus’ society, these are the ones who the Pharisees continually refer to as “sinners” (tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the demon-possessed, inter alia). If one comes to Luke 15 having read the Gospel straight through, the theme of Jesus scolding the “good people” of His day (namely, Pharisees, Scribes, and Jews with no disability that limits them) for not paying attention to the outcasts has been heard many times. In Luke 7, for instance, Jesus heals the slave of a Gentile centurion, repeats Elijah’s miracle of the raising of a widow’s son (the original miracle was done in Gentile country), and in a Pharisee’s house, Jesus is anointed by a woman who is likely a prostitute. The lesson Jesus gives to Simon the Pharisee is that He has been received more by the woman than by him. Jesus’ salvation is for those who need it. It is not for those who do not. The Pharisees continually assert that they do not need salvation as they believe they have had it all their lives. Indeed, they believe they have earned it or see it as some sort of birthright.

In Luke 15:1, the stage is set for three “parables” to hammer this point home. A crowd of two different constituencies comes together in verse 1: The tax collectors and “sinners” and the Scribes and Pharisees. Many commentators see this chapter as the theological center of the Gospel and by all estimations they are right. The action begins with the complaint of the Pharisees that Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them.” Thus the table is set for Jesus to teach.

In the first analogy, Jesus teaches of a shepherd who leaves behind 99 sheep in order to reclaim the 1 lost sheep. The angels in heaven rejoice over this one’s return.

In the second analogy, a woman sweeps a room looking for 1 lost coin out of ten. After finding it she alerts the neighborhood so they can join her in her rejoicing.

In the third, a son puts a death wish on his father, takes the inheritance, wastes it away, and returns in humiliation seeking his father’s mercy…and gets it. By contrast, the “faithful son” who never left the Father is seething in rage over his brother’s restoration.

The key is in the first analogy when Jesus refers to the 99 as not being included in the angels’ rejoicing because they “need[ed] no repentance.” So it is with the other brother, he too did not get a party from the father because he thought he was doing the father a favor.

The Pharisees and Scribes are angry with Jesus because He receives sinners and eats with them. The 99 sheep do not get the celestial celebration that the one lost sheep gets. The other brother cannot understand how the Father can kill the fattened calf for that ingrate brother of his who ran off and came back with his tail between his legs.

So which are you? The 1% or the 99%?

We do wrong to think that the 99% is the Church, the “choir.” These parables show us the difference not between faith and unbelief, but rather between true faith and false faith. True faith is demonstrated in repentance (turning around, sorrow over sin) and facing the Father again. False faith is the belief that we are the good people who would never wander off from God in the first place. True faith is demonstrated in the return of the one sheep. False faith is demonstrated in the self-righteous judgmentalism of the 99%.

Our “righteous” concern over all who have wandered away presumes our “righteousness” over against their lack of it. This is the error. The Pharisees were not righteous. They were self-righteous. Jesus rather cleverly uses the term “righteous” for the Pharisees all the time. If they want to live by the term, Jesus must figure, they can hang by it too. The term only means “self-righteous” when Jesus uses it of the Pharisees.

On Sundays, after the entrance hymn, we confess our sins. If we were the 99%, this would seem like a strange thing to do. After all, the other brother makes no apologies for his anger over the party for his ingrate brother. He has not sinned. But what we are saying at the outset of the Divine Service on Sunday is that we are not part of the 99%. We are the 1%, the ones who have wandered away, the ones who need the shepherd’s crook of the Word to draw us back. We have made a mess of our lives and we return to the Father, heads hung low, because perhaps He will have mercy on us.

Upon our confession, we are forgiven and the feast begins! Of course, if the Gospel is for all those other sinners who really need to hear it, then we are saying we need no party thrown for us. We always had it right.

But that’s not how it works in Luke 15, is it?

Be a sinner and sin boldly, but trust even more boldly in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.–Luther.

Waste no time denying your sins.–Luther

Better to be the 1% than the 99%. The party is for you.

Dear World (A Love Letter To A Lost World)

Dear World,

Once again it is Christmas and I set pen to paper to write my Christmas message to you. I hope you will read it, because it is the most important letter you will ever get.

I write this because I love you. I made you, forming humanity from the dust of the ground like a sculptor dedicated to his craft. I gave you paradise to live in and authority over it.  I never wanted anything but the best for you. Unfortunately, that paradise came to a sad end in your disobedience. Still, though, I want you to have the treasures of an eternal paradise and a new heavens and new earth.

Ever since that Fall, though, you have had an adversarial relationship with me. I have made many promises over the centuries and kept them all in the gift of my one and only Son. Either these promises are not good enough for you or you have simply overlooked them and ignored them. Even the gift of my one and only Son, you have sold away in your modern obsession with having it your own way.

You seem to want big, bold, glitzy, and glamorous. What you don’t see is how my Son’s birth among the animals and their sounds and smells, away from the noise of the busy inn, speaks the very peace He came to bring. The wood of his manger speaks an early prediction of the two pieces of wood He would bear–and would be nailed to–FOR YOU. He slipped under their radar screens then. He slips under your radar screen even now. You’re too dazzled by the lights. You’re too deafened by the noise. If only you could slow down, breathe deep, the power of my story.

Some of you who have noticed what I have done still call it “offensive.” How can my love for you be offensive? How can a love which lays down its life for you be so offensive? This is a story of humility and love for a world which can be so loveless. You even take my Son’s bride and blame your problems on her. She surely has not been perfect, but since your disobedience you have acted lovelessly–recklessly–not just toward my Son and His bride, but toward yourselves and everyone else.

I sent my Son to set this right. Still, you complain about “Christmas” and you prove what my apostle wrote about my Son’s cross being a scandal and an offense. Did I do this to you? Or have you done it to yourselves? Or worse yet, have you been led away by the one whose lies are never-ending and whose hatred for you often gets mistaken for a twisted sort of love, self-love?

Still, I have a gift for you should you open your eyes and see it. That gift is the forgiveness of sins which allows you to start again new today and gives you a ticket to another paradise of my making. You would not have this were it not for the story you find so offensive. But you can still have it. All I ask is that you turn from your ways, see the God who loves you, and live! With that life, you can have all the other goodies I have: joy, peace, love, hope, gentleness, self-control, et al.

After all, are any of the other philosophies, religions, “gurus,” motivational speakers, drugs, medications, screens, technologies, investments, political candidates, pleasures, helping you to heal? Are they? Do you really think you have come up with anything better than what I offer you? It doesn’t look like it to me. How sadly you have been deceived by my old enemy.

I love you. This is why I tell you the truth. [Love] rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). When you’re ready to hear the truth, I have it for you. That’s the real story of Christmas, There’s truth in the manger, truth on the cross, truth in the tomb, truth risen and ascended on high. No other earthly leader can do this for you. Living under my Son, however, is joy itself.

Dear World, my precious creation, I will always love you. I just pray that you are not so busy being offended by my love that you miss it entirely. When you’re ready to admit you cannot save yourselves, repent and I will do it for you. I’ve already given my greatest gift, my greatest sacrifice, to make it happen.

Why? Because I love you.

Love,

Your Heavenly Father

Do You REALLY Know Who You Are?

More and more, I hear from parents of high schoolers that their kids are having to deal with friends who are professing themselves to be gay. It’s been tempting to self-reference it all and simply marvel at how much things have changed in 18 1/2 brief years in the ministry. This was almost unheard of in 1997, the year of my ordination. Now, it seems, it’s commonplace for high schoolers to have friends who are, by their own self-profession, gay.

When I stop marveling at how things have changed, though, I keep coming back to one question.

How can anyone at this age really know who they are?

I’m not saying high schoolers are unintelligent. I’m saying that I too was a high schooler, caught in a whirlwind both of hormones and uncertainty about any number of paths I could have chosen to go down. I would say I was a Christian, but could have been more committed at that age. (Indeed, becoming a pastor was not necessarily something I went into willingly. It would be better described as “kicking and screaming”). When I was 17, I can say with certainty that I had little to no idea who I was. Truthfully, having just turned 45, I must admit that while the Lord has been revealing this to me all along, I’m still not ready to say I fully know that even now.

In my opinion, it would be a shame to let something other than Christ and His salvation define a person at such a young age. The risk is extremely high for this to lead to a future of high regret. Never mind the medical risks of a life of sexual promiscuity, straight or gay. Because sexuality is a spiritual gift which brings joy to one man and one woman who are committed “until death parts [them],” just about any other form of sexuality is merely playing with dangerous power tools.

What I would say to most high schoolers today is, “you may think you know a lot about sexuality, but you know nothing about what I have with my wife.” Sexuality within the safe boundaries of a life-long heterosexual commitment between God’s glorious gifts of male and female and marriage, is safe, society-preserving, and guilt and regret free. It’s about more than the all-important orgasm. It’s about God’s gift used His way and the joy and blessings that come with that. Indeed, while same sex people have a myriad of words and testimonies they want to give us, I struggle to put what I have into words because it is so great it defies words.

Sadly, this points to the failure of a lot of “Christian” marriages and the identity crisis that actually fuels this earnest, yet misguided, desire for some sort of identity. Disengaged moms and dads, only available at the sports event or the sleepover, but locked into their own lives and the proliferation of screens around them, are doing much to make this identity crisis worse. I think many Christian counselors surely know that the youth with same sex temptations has other issues, deeper issues, which point back at the home. Time for parents, especially fathers, to step to the plate and be what Paul writes about in Eph. 6. But the point is simple, the popularity of gay self-identification is more about a yearning for identity than anything else.

The same sex lifestyle certainly is not the only option available to teenagers, but it is the hip and trendy one. I yearn for the day this sort of hip and trendy goes the same way of all hip and trendy, such as polyester pantsuits and bell bottoms. Unfortunately, this sort of hip and trendy promises to be much more harmful than those fads. One wonders what these teenagers will have to say about their identities when they are 30, or 45, or 60.

The irony is that, in retrospect, when I was 17 I thought I knew it all.

It’s only as I got older that I realized that I did not and that on many things I was just plain wrong. Again, not because I was stupid, but because I hadn’t lived enough to know better. And I certainly have my own regrets about certain things I did at that age, thinking I was all knowing and invincible. Thankfully, God spared me the harm that can come–emotionally, spiritually, and physically–from sexual promiscuity.

To the tempted teenager, I would say lovingly: “I’ll be honest with you. Please be honest with me.” At 45, the grace of God is still taking this sinful person [me] and making something of him and I have no idea what this is now or what it will be. I only look for the new heavens and the new earth. By God’s grace, I am a husband, a father, a pastor, and so many more things I don’t know but only that He has them in store for me. Now I lovingly ask you to be honest and reconsider whether or not you really are ready to say you know who you are by your sexuality alone. I’ll admit I don’t always know who I am, but I do always know whose I am. I belong to Christ and the joy I have in the forgiveness of sins, in my marriage vows, in my family, and in this love of God. If you’re struggling, let me just invite you to realize that you can have this regret-free, truly free, life as well.

Indeed, by God’s grace, I have come to see that identity is something defined by much more than sexuality. To define oneself simply by their self-chosen sexuality is an extremely limiting proposition.

To all teenagers: It would be a shame for you to be defined at such an early age by anything other than Christ and the grace of God. If you want to limit yourselves and do yourselves inestimable harm, just go ahead and convince us that you know who you are by your sexuality. Identity by any form of unmarried sexuality is a path that is closed-minded and full of trouble for the future.

Once again, you have the rest of your life to live. It would be a shame for you to shackle yourself now.

With love in my heart for all who struggle in this battle,

Pastor T.

“Love always rejoices in the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6)