By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Gen. 11:9
Living in tents vs. being rooted in a particular place. That tension dominates the history of God’s people. Temporary vs. permanent, portable vs. fixed—Abraham dwelt in tents and moved around. The people groaned as sojourners in Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. In fulfillment of all of it, Jesus said the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
There is a famous second century document called the Letter to Diognetes, which contains a lengthy description of Christians. A famous quote from that letter says, “Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.” Our true citizenship is in heaven, which means we can be at home anywhere in this world, even when far from home. But it also means we can’t really be at home anywhere in this world, even in our own house.
This strange tension hit home to me this morning. As you know from the announcements this past Sunday, my phone died recently and I was cut off from my normal means of communicating with people. The broken phone ended up being unsalvageable, so I got a new one a few days ago. But the flaws of the old one were such that my saved contacts reverted to the beginning of 2014. That means precious few people here in Munster were in my list of contacts, but all kinds of people were in there with whom I hadn’t communicated in years. So I’ve been going through and trying to rebuild a functional contact list, which involves deleting a lot of dated contacts and trying to find good numbers for the current contacts.
But here is the rub; when you decide to clean up the rolls, the phone double-checks by asking you, “Delete contact?” That’s a harsh way to think about it. Do I really want to cut myself off from someone? It seems weird to still have all these old contacts from a place where I wasn’t born but lived for 14 years, but where I no longer live. But it seems even weirder just to delete people from my contacts. At issue is where do you live? Where are your roots? What do you consider home? Is it really wise to delete old contacts? Is it really wise not to?
The same sort of feeling comes when you consider where you will be buried. In your hometown as in where you grew up? Where you retired? Where you spent the bulk of your career? People are mobile. Contacts come and go. Rootedness is the exception. If Heidi and I bought cemetery plots today, where would we buy them? At Concordia in Hammond? It is a hard question.
Learning to live as though at home is wherever you are, while also learning that you will never really be at home in this world—that is one of the hardest lessons of the Christian life. It is a lesson you can ponder as you visit a loved one in the cemetery, as you go through the contact list in your phone, as you look at your Christmas card list, or ponder where you will retire, or where your children and grandchildren will think of as “home.”
I’m deleting old contacts and re-entering updated ones. But we all have the same citizenship, we all have the same home. We’re all sojourners in this life. And by an added gift of grace, we get to share it with other people on our respective journeys home.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deut. 8:3
Some things you do over and over because they have to be done over and over. They don’t stay done. Mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, etc. Other things you do over and over because you enjoy them, like playing dart ball or doing a daily crossword puzzle. You don’t have to do those things, but they become part of your personal routine.
Most things in our routine fall into a category of things we have to do and things we want to do. The former category includes tasks that would vanish if you had a magic wand, and the latter includes things there would be more of if you had a magic wand. The things you find draining you would do less of, and the things you find fulfilling you’d do more of.
God doesn’t intend for our lives to follow those categories. Ideally, the things you have to do and the things you enjoy doing would be the same things. He told Adam and Eve to tend the garden. But it would be enjoyable gardening. He told them to be fruitful and multiply, but He made doing so enjoyable. Sadly, the curse that followed the Fall made the work toilsome for Adam and procreation painful to Eve. But there are some things that echo God’s original design and intent—that what we have to do and what we want to do overlap.
Consider your meals. You have to eat. But you probably enjoy eating. Mealtimes should be a part of your routine that falls into both categories. Of course, in a perfect world junk food would be good for you, but even apart from that perfect world you probably enjoy a good meal and know that your body needs the sustenance. Only when you are ill or when your priorities are way out of order do your meals become a chore.
When God spoke to Moses in Deuteronomy He said that one of the lessons of manna was that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus quoted that verse when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. Mankind is body and soul together. Yes, we need bread. But not bread alone, as though we were animals. Our souls need food, too—every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Worship and Bible study—daily being in the Word—feed your soul. We should treat them the same way we treat meals, as something that defies the categories of work and leisure. Too often Christians don’t treat Communion like manna for the soul, or Bible study and sermons as bread to feed our faith. Like ill bodies treating eating as something we have to do rather than something we get to do, our ill souls can start to lose the appetite for God’s Word.
Sometimes Bible study might seem like a chore. Do it anyway. It is good for you. Hopefully it is not like a food you have to eat but don’t feel like eating, but something spiritually delicious and satisfying. That’s the goal. But eat it either way. Like someone trying to get a cancer patient or sick person to eat, I’m not going to stop coaxing, badgering, and admonishing you that your soul needs sustenance.
This week I’ll be leading Bible studies on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. on Hebrews 4, at 10:00 a.m. on Isaiah 28, and at 7:00 p.m. (zoom only) on Revelation 5. Thursday at 10:00 a.m. we’ll be looking at 1 John 2. Don’t tell me there is nothing on that menu for you. I won’t believe you.
Don’t try to live on bread alone. You won’t find that life fulfilling to the whole person, body and soul together. Rather, taste and see that the Lord is good by taking in His Word.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 1 Sam. 7:12
One of my favorite hymns, called Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, features the lines
"Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home."
Those words refer to the 1 Samuel verse. Samuel set up a pillar of stones and called it Ebenezer to remind the people, who were in the ongoing campaign of trying to occupy the Promised Land and encountering a lot of obstacles. What they needed was something they could look to that would remind them in tough times that God had been with them in the past all the way to the present moment. That would encourage them going forward when they faced challenges; they could count on the God Who had always been with them to continue to be with them. His faithfulness would endure. That’s what an Ebenezer assures us all.
Today is my 51st birthday. I think birthdays can be like a calendar version of an Ebenezer. This morning I talked in chapel with the school kids about this verse. Unfortunately, we were unable to livestream the chapel service like we normally do. But I used memories from each of my own grade school years to tell the story of my own life (from age 6-14) in terms of God’s faithfulness to His promises in good times and in bad. Reminders like that matter going forward.
Along the trail near church there are rocks painted with encouraging words on them like “You can do it!” or Keep it up!” Those words are supposed to encourage people running races and feeling so tired that they just might give up. The encouragement really helps people running a race, and St. Paul often refers to the course of a person’s life as a race. Milestones can encourage us. But unlike the phrases on the painted rocks along a marathon or 5k route, the real Ebenezers that matter are those that point not to you and your own willpower, but to God and His faithfulness.
St. Paul’s as a congregation also needs encouragement in this time of the pandemic and other major challenges facing the church. We don’t want to live in our own past, but we do want to remember that the God of our own past is the God of our future. We are in good hands. The
Lord has helped us until now. And He will always help us.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps. 119:105
One of the most frustrating things for me personally about the ongoing reaction to the pandemic has been the inability to make plans with any degree of certainty. I like to plan ahead. I like have our services and programs on the calendar months in advance. Obviously, Christians know that all planning is always tentative, with or without a pandemic. We don’t know the future. Everything we do is a matter of “God willing.” But normally even when we allow for the unexpected or God having other plans, we can be reasonably sure enough about the future to plan.
As of right now, our Advent service are not planned. We hope and plan to have services, but usually we have them all mapped by this time in the year. This year we’re still waiting to see what the situation will be like before deciding how (not if, but how) the school kids will be involved. We’ve also had to postpone our compass event until sometime this Spring due to the travel restrictions in place in that affect our speaker coming in from New York.
When you have to live with uncertainty, you feel like you’re walking forward in the dark. You can’t look ahead into the future and see anything through the fog of maybes. You wish you could use reason and predictive powers like fog lamps to navigate by. And since you can’t, you become hesitant. For me, at least, that becomes frustrating, and then everything can start feel like a grind, even things that normally are no problem or even enjoyable.
Today’s verse, however, enlightens that situation (pun intended). God might let us live with uncertainty in order to get us to use something else than reason and our predictive powers as our guiding light. The real fog lamp is the Word of God. The only thing you need to know about the path in front of you is whatever is illumined by the Word, which is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.
Unfortunately, God’s Word does not tell us about the nuts and bolts of our upcoming schedule. You don’t decide whether or not to make hotel reservations or how long your car is going to hold out before you need to replace it by reading the Bible. And too often those are the kinds of questions that occupy our minds and frustrate us. But thankfully, God’s Word does take away the fear of the future. It puts forth promises that guide us according to what matters. When we walk confidently despite the darkness and fog, we find the frustrations and anxieties that hold us back dissipate like fog in warm sunlight.
We have several Bible study opportunities coming up this week. We offer Portal of Prayer to everyone. We link to various Bible and catechism resources via the website. And of course we offer churches services in person and live-streamed. May God’s Word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path this week.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana