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Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day – To Remember

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is known as the “Unofficial Start of Summer” as most Americans have the day off from work and school. It is common to grill meat outside and have friends and family over; in general, have a good time.

And there’s nothing wrong with this. I’ll be doing this with my family and we all look forward to it every year. We’ll be grilling pork steaks and potatoes, having cake decorated as an American Flag. I’ll probably play catch with my sons, definitely lounge around the backyard and enjoy the day.

But I will also share with my sons what Memorial Day is really for – the reason we have this day in our nation’s calendar.

It began as “Decoration Day” by freed negro slaves in 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina who created a Union Cemetery near the place for many Union prisoners of war had died and were buried in a mass grave. Out of gratitude – it is said – of the soldiers’ sacrifice for their freedom, they reinterred the bodies and decorated the graves with flowers.

The following year cities in the Northern United States began to hold what would become yearly observances of memorial and decoration of those who had died during the United States Civil War. After World War II, Decoration Day became more commonly known as Memorial Day and in the 1960’s it was officially designated as such.

Today there are no survivors of the Civil War nor the Spanish-American War. There are no more than three surviving veterans of World War I. The veterans of World War II have reached their middle 80’s and older.

For World War I and all previous wars, they are truly second-hand history for us. World War II and more recent wars are still “memories.”

We must never forget what these men and women did to ensure our freedoms. I say we should also thank God for their sacrifice, especially those who gave their lives during the conflicts. And that is what Memorial Day is for.

Remembering is a biblical thing. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He celebrated remembrances such as Passover and Purim. In the “Law” as recorded in Deuteronomy, God instructed His people to remember what they have gone through to get where they are now and to pass on those memories to their children and their children’s children (Deuteronomy 6:7).

This is a basic tenant of our faith that we pass on what we believe about Jesus Christ, to teach and confess it to our children and others.

Memorial Day is a great opportunity to do both: to share a bit of the history of our country and to share our faith in Christ. I pray that you will do this and also have a blessed Memorial Day.

©2008 True Men Ministries.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Take a Hike

It is easier to climb a mountain than it is to trudge through a swamp.

Not that it is easy to climb a mountain. But the rewards of climbing a mountain far outweigh trudging through a swamp – mainly because there are NO rewards for trudging through a swamp.

I live about a 15 minute drive from a trail head to a pretty spectacular hiking trail. It is a trail that takes you to Icehouse Saddle. I’ve attempted this trail three times in the last three years and have yet to make it all the way to the Saddle. You start at an elevation of 4900 feet and the Icehouse Saddle is at 7555 feet. It takes 7 miles to complete the circuit. It is not easy, especially for an overweight 45 year old man who grew up long the shores of Lake Michigan – 586 feet elevation and changes about only 100 feet at the most.

But it is a spectacular climb. I feel exhausted after hiking up this part of the San Gabriel Mountains. But it is a good kind of exhaustion. Even though I’ve yet to complete the 7 mile trail, I feel like I have accomplished something. I’ve been rewarded with awesome views of Mt. Baldy (10,000 feet peak) and the Cucamonga Wilderness.

For me its a hard climb but well worth it.

But I’ve also trudged through some swamps and it is a completely different experience. When I was about 15 years old, my friend Frank and I took his truck into some back country near my home in Long Lake, Illinois. We got his truck stuck in about four feet of mud near Mud Lake. Mud Lake is a “lake” in name only. It is, in reality, a swamp. We had to walk out (this happened at a time when cell phones were about $3000 and required a bag the size of your grandmother’s purse to carry) to get help. It took us a couple of hours to trudge through the mud. We were exhausted and covered head-to-foot with a think, brown, smelly mud.

Hiking a mountain and trudging through a swamp. Both are hard, time-consuming, and exhausting. But only one is actually worth it.

That’s the way our choices in life are. What we choose to do with our lives will be hard, exhausting and time consuming. But only certain things will actually be worth it.

The thing that is worth it is your calling and purpose. And that is what God is calling you to do. He gives you gifts to find out what your calling is. He doesn’t try to fool you. It will be hard – like hiking a mountain or trudging through a swamp is hard.

But if you follow God’s calling, you’ll find that it is hard like hiking a mountain – with all the awesome rewards that come with it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What a Cute Baby! The Little Sinner!

I read an article in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine that, for some reason, really caught my attention. It might be because I am the father of three boys and was intimately involved (and still am) in their lives, especially as infants. It might have been because I have baptized nearly 50 babies in my 15 years as a parish pastor, and it might have been because I recently covered the subject of Holy Baptism with a class of people who are interested in Lutheranism and Christianity and joining the fellowship of my church. Maybe it is all of them combined that made me sit up and take notice of the article “The Moral Life of Babies” by Paul Bloom.

I first want to give credit to Paul Bloom for writing an interesting article in a way that kept my attention. It is about research done by psychologist and it has been my experience that such articles can be written in a style that is way over my head (being just a parish preacher). Thank you, Paul Bloom!

The thrust of the article is that the research he cites indicates that babies have a moral compass from birth that is independent of culture and learning. He calls it “naive morality” (Bloom, 49). He contends that babies have an inherent idea of what is right and wrong.

And while Paul Bloom gives a nod to Christianity, “The general argument that critics like Wallace and D’Souza [sympathetic to Christian teaching] put forward, however, still needs to be taken seriously” (Bloom, 63), he also seems to dismiss the Biblical teaching of humans being created and born with a God-given moral compass (conscience, “Law written on the hearts”), “the aspect of morality that we truly marvel at – its generality and universality – is the product of culture,  not of biology. There is no need to posit divine intervention” (Bloom, 65).

However, what Paul Bloom reports in this article is something that Lutherans, at least, have believed for nearly 500 years – that infants are born sinful, are in need of what the Sacrament of Holy Baptism offers – the forgiveness of sins, and can understand the basic ideas of right and wrong.

Lutherans have been baptizing infants since their very beginnings in the early 1500’s, continuing what the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church had been doing from the 1st Century AD up to that point.

The Protestant Reformation that the Lutheran Church was born out of also gave birth to the Baptist denomination, which generally does not baptize infants. I’m generalizing here, but I believe this is so because they understand that Baptism is not essential to salvation and that infants can be saved without it.

The Southern Baptist Convention states that Baptism “is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” (Basic Beliefs, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the SBC website, accessed May, 2010).

Yet, even non-Christian writers and scientists are recognizing that infants are capable of knowing right and wrong. And the Bible clearly teaches that without direct intervention by God, we can only choose the wrong. Jesus said in John 15:5, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

It is recognized that infants can have faith and can believe in God, (for example, look at Luke 1:39-44).

So, why would we not Baptize infants?

God does all the work in Baptism. He created the water. He provides the life-giving words, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross does what is necessary for all to be saved. And we are all conceived and born sinful (Psalm 58:3, Psalm 51:5).

God loves the world (John 3:16) and shows that love through His Son Jesus Christ. And we receive the blessings of His Cross through the Sacrament of Baptism.

Infants, too!

Bloom, P. (2010, May 9). The moral life of babies. New York Times Magazine, 44-49, 56, 62-63, 65.

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