Here it is, October already! We have enjoyed an unusually comfortable and cool summer - too cool for some of you! It hardly seems like we have had summer, by Missouri standards and we are already facing the reality that winter is coming! If the weather stays unusually cool, winter could arrive early, and with a vengeance. It has some people fretting already, although I enjoy this cool weather. I guess it is a matter of perspective.
You can choose to see the good and look forward to the next thing that brings us pleasant weather and blessings, or you can expect the worst, and fuss and fume about the problems that this unusual climate has brought us - and could bring next. It is much the same situation that life offers us as the children of God in Christ Jesus. You can look at the world around you and give glory to God and thanks for the wonderful stuff He has blessed us with, or you can see the dangers and fear them and expect the pains of life and fuss and fume about them. The negative reaction is always the easiest and comes most naturally to most people.
That has to do with who we are by nature. We are, by nature, blind to God, dead to His presence and to faith in Him, and, actually, enemies of His - that is, we tend to see things involving God in a negative and hostile light. So, we naturally expect the worst, and we can easily see the dangers and potential troubles which lie ahead. They are real possibilities, without a doubt. The danger in seeing them is when we allow them to define our expectations and direct our attitudes and behaviors in the here and now. Christians, as children of faith, cannot allow our nature to define us and shape our perspective. We must follow our faith and listen to the Word of God for our guidance.
In the terms of this world, and its existence before God, we might easily conclude that winter is coming for the world. We could even be right. We are in that time between the Ascension of Jesus and the Parousia - His return. We appear to be late in that period, although none of us has actually seen the calendar of God for this creation, so we can only guess about how late in the planned existence of this world we find ourselves. I believe we are nearing the very end, but, even if my estimate is way off, as Paul wrote in Romans 13:11, "It is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed." The end is closer to us now than ever before!!
The matter of perspective is to see and judge whether that is a good thing or a 'bad' thing. It is the dilemma of October, so to speak. You know, Halloween is reportedly the night when the powers of evil are at their greatest. That is a medieval superstition, of course, based on the day that follows - All Saints Day; supposedly the height of holiness, due to the observance of all the saints. For us, it is the celebration of the faith and the blessing poured out upon those who have gone before us in the faith, but the day is marked in superstition with a particular power of holiness, so All Hallows Eve is the darkest of days, and its evil is purged by the light of All Hallows Morning.
Silly stuff, actually, and we Lutherans mark the day before All Hallows as Reformation Day, robbing Halloween of its superstitious dark power in our minds. But you can see how it is a matter of perspective - and October brings us this most powerful day of evil, or leads us to this most holy day, depending on where your focus is, even if you honor medieval superstitions.
Winter is a delightful time of year, although chilly. You can complain or you can find something good to enjoy in winter. Some people go fishing, particularly up north where the lakes freeze over, and some people grumble about how they cannot get their boats out in the cold. Some people skate and ski and build snowmen and ice castles and snow sculptures, and others just whine about the snow and how slippery things get. Some communities have winter parades and winter festivals, and other places almost shut down in the winter months. It is, in large part, dependent on how people choose to look at the season. The cold and snow present difficulties, to be sure, but one can choose to see the good and find the blessings if they work at it.
The spiritual winter of our world is similar in that it is a matter of one's perspective that determines one's attitudes and actions. Yes, the world is growing coarser, at least here in America where we once had some measure of decency and refinement. The hostility toward the Christian faith is becoming more open and words and acts of disrespect and even persecution are becoming more open and common in our days in this country, and throughout the western world. The era of the cultural dominance of Christian ethics and morality appears to be coming to an end. Winter is coming.
While it is true that we would prefer that this winter never descended, it is not the end of the world. It heralds the coming of the end, but it is not the end in itself. We could whine and complain, or we could listen to Jesus: Luke 21:28, "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
How you approach life in the presence of the realities of the corruption and coarsening of our culture will depend on your perspective. Is it uncomfortable, particularly in comparison to "the good old days"? Yes. But it tells us that the end is coming, and reminds us to stand up and look for Jesus! When we stand up, we confess Christ. I doubt that Jesus meant only our physical posture, when He said "straighten up". I think He also meant that we should stand up in faith, living out what we confess to believe, and letting our light shine among the unbelieving around us.
Despite what many decry as the decline of our culture, we continue to enjoy enormous blessings! We have abundance, yet, in terms of worldly things. Those conditions can, and probably will turn very quickly, but while we have them we may enjoy them and employ them to the glory of God and the proclamation of the Gospel. How we use what we have is part of our confession. It is good to keep in mind the truth that God has not given the Church (that's us!) the abundance of blessings with which He has blessed us for our personal goals and purposes. He has filled us with good things for His plans and purposes. We possess all that we need in Jesus Christ. If we were to suffer great need and tremendous difficulty, we would still possess life everlasting and the love of God day-by-day. The very worst thing that could happen in the terms of this world is that same thing that would usher us personally into eternal life and glory with Christ. So, either we win, in that we confess Christ here to the glory of His name and the spread of the Gospel, or we win by coming into the full enjoyment of the very salvation in which we hope and for which we so earnestly long.
But until things become very difficult and we are called upon for that sort of confession, we still enjoy our daily bread, and that in abundance! We have the sorts of earthly blessings that the majority of the people of this world can only dream about. We possess freedom in most of the areas of our lives - the freedom of association, the freedom of speech, the freedom to be politically active without fear of government reprisals, the freedom to travel throughout this country without endless paperwork and bureaucratic regulation, and, most importantly, the freedom of religion.
We possess the tremendous blessing of the fellowship of the saints. While we enjoy this blessing, which has been ours throughout or lives as Christians, we can grow accustomed to its benefits and take them for granted - which means we often lose sight of how great those benefits are. You see, your faith is not merely your personal conviction and a private opinion. It is that, too, but it is a shared conviction and a public confession, and it is something that we speak out loud at least each Sunday in worship, and we hear others around us saying the same thing, and making that same confession joyfully.
It would be an entirely different thing if our faith were merely that private thing, and we were unable and unwelcome to speak it aloud, or confess Christ clearly. God can and has sustained the faith of His people under such circumstances, but what a joy it is to sing and pray and speak the precious words of the liturgy together! This is not merely my personal and somewhat idiosyncratic notion or commitment, it is the faith of the people of God throughout the ages. I have been made a part of His people, God's household, the bride of Christ. It is refreshing and encouraging to hear others speak and share my faith, and I encourage them, too, by my speaking and singing and confessing! These people are my family! They care for me, and I care for and about them!
We also have the Word of God at our disposal. As I wrote those words, I was stuck by the peculiarity of the phrase, 'at our disposal'. It is a perfectly sound phrase, but it carries with it the suggestion of disposing of, or getting rid of, something - and we have witnessed church body after church body seemly 'dispose' of the Word of God by public pronouncements and policy changes. Nevertheless, we still have the Word among us. We can - and should - read it, study it, learn it, pray over it, and order our living, speaking, and thinking in accord with it.
We can hear it preached and expounded. That takes more work today than in some of the years gone by, because faithful and honest pastors are scarce in some areas, but it is worth the work, and the long drives we sometimes need to take to hear the Word proclaimed clearly and faithfully. God works through the Word to create faith and sustain it in those in whom He has already created it. He guides us through His Word. He empowers us through His Word to be His people and to do the work which He would have us do.
We have the amazing gift of prayer. God listens to us, and answers every prayer! The Creator of all that exists, who continues to manage and guide every natural process, wants you to talk to Him, and has promised to listen and to answer every single prayer. Amazing!
In this world we also have the blessing of the comfort of faith - but only if you will listen to your faith, and the comfort it brings. When life is difficult or frightening, we have the assurance that God knows, and that He is right there in the thick of things with us, and that He will not allow the troubles of life to overwhelm us: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.
Finally, no matter what the world throws at us, we have the hope of salvation - the heavenly hope. We are not merely of this world, and when this life is over, whether that is happily after a long life, or in great distress and persecution, we have only just begun to live, for we have everlasting life in glory ahead of us. It is that life beyond death, pain, sickness , and sorrow, which Jesus has promised to all those that believe, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life!
Winter is definitely coming. Our Lord promised that it would. But we should not allow that truth to frighten us. I, for one, enjoy winter, although I don't find every aspect of it pleasurable. The winter of the weather is easier to deal with, I suspect, than the winter of the age of this world, but I believe we should follow the same principles when dealing with it.
First, we want to give thanks for the blessings and promises we enjoy from God in whatever circumstances in which we find ourselves. They are the circumstances God has placed us in, and we are the people that God has chosen to serve Him in such circumstances. Second, we want to remember to 'huddle together' for warmth against the cold - which means cling to the Church and the fellowship of the saints. God gave us the Church for our blessing - so use it for true blessing!
And remember, the coming of winter also means that Spring and Summer are coming soon, too! The difficulties of this present age should serve to set your eyes on Jesus, and to looking forward to His promise, "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." The change in the weather can be frightening, or exciting, depending on your perspective. Your perspective should be that of the child of God. Either way, it is October, it is 2009, and Winter is coming!
Yours in the Lord,
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