Friday, July 29, 2011

Love, Duty, Honor

Major Sullivan Ballou of Rhode Island, just 32 years old, died on July 28, 1861.
Just a few days before he led men into the Civil War battle known today as the “First Battle of Bull Run” and “The First Battle of Manassas,” he wrote a letter to his wife.
In this letter we meet a man who loved his wife, his children, and his country.
I pray we could find such love in ourselves today, 150 years later.
Major Sullivan Ballou March 28, 1829 – July 28, 1861
My very dear Sarah: 
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. 
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure — and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. 
If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. 
I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt. 
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows — when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children — is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country? 
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee. 
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed. 
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield. 
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. 
I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. 
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! 
How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more. 
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. 
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again. 
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. 
Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. 
Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. 
O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For Your Safety

Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik, Creative Commons
A few days ago, three young people were visiting Vernal Falls at Yosemite National Park. They decided that they would hop the railing to enter the water right above the falls.

They were then swept over the falls and presumably fell to their death 300 feet below. As of this writing, their bodies have not been found and the families are holding out hope they they somehow survived.

The National Park Service had installed those railings years ago. Not with the intention of ruining people's fun. Not with the intention of limiting the lives of people. Not with the intention of controlling people's lives. Those railings are there to keep people safe so they can enjoy their lives at Vernal Falls.

That's the reason for the 10 Commandments - the Law of God. God doesn't establish His Law to limit people's lives. God gives us His Law to allow us to live our lives to the fullest.

The 10 Commandments have a three-fold purpose.

One, they are a mirror. They show us our sin. They show us that we are lost and condemned creatures. Condemned because God said that if we do not keep the Law perfectly, we will be punished. (See Romans 2:12)

Two, they are a curb. They are there to keep us from sinning. Sinning brings death and destruction. So really, the Law is to keep us alive.

Image courtesy of

Much like that railing at Vernal Falls or on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or on the observation deck of the Empire State building.

The Law's purpose in its second use is to keep us alive.

But it cannot do so on its own. We have to respect its railing. We have tonot climb over it.

Yet we do it all the time. We want to know what's out there beyond the railing. We think it might be better. It is the great unknown, it is an adventure waiting to be experienced.

We are warned that it is not an adventure but only death.

Stay inside the railing of the Law and you will live.

But we are also lied to. We are told that this is not really living. It is boring. It is mundane. It is ordinary.


The alternative is death - each and every time. Hop the railing at Vernal Falls and you will be swept over the edge to fall 300 feet to your death. Is that an adventure? Hop the railing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and you will not live a life of adventure, you will fall to your death.

God does not want you to die. Keep the Law and you will live.

But you can't do this on your own. You need God's power to keep God's Law. That's why God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus kept the Law perfectly. He lived the perfect life. Yet in a great exchange, Jesus took your sin as His own and died the punishment your sin deserved. In its place, He gives you His righteousness and power to live - truly live.

The third purpose of the Law is a guide. When we have Christ's righteousness, when He takes our sin away, we return to the Law to find out how to truly live in this life. The Law becomes our road map to truly live a great adventure.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Remembering Moosie

Seamus 1993
Moosie is Seamus, a black Labrador Retriever that was part of the Blonski Family for 12 years.

Moosie had a lot of energy as a young, lab. His very favorite game was "chase the ball." I would thrown a tennis ball and he would chase after it, scoop it up, and then race back to me.

Funny thing was, even though Moosie was a Labrador Retriever, I had to teach him to actually drop the ball at my feet or let go of it when I grabbed it so I could throw it again. His idea of retrieving was to chase after the ball but then to hang on to the ball as if it were the most important artifact in the history of the world.

My idea of retrieving was that I would throw the ball, Moosie would chase after it, grab it in his jaws and then trot back to me, drop the ball at my feet, and then we would repeat.

Even though "retriever" was in his name, the concept of retrieving was either new to him or we each had a different idea of what it meant.

Chasing the ball came naturally enough to him. But there was a little bit of training that had to happen for the two of us to thoroughly enjoy the experience together.

As I venture through life, I understand how this is in my own life. A lot of things come naturally to me. But to really enjoy life, I need to learn how to do things with other people. I need to learn how to put others first ahead of my own feelings, sometimes.

Moosie could play by himself. He could take the ball and scoop it up in his mouth and then shake his head to throw the ball. He could then chase after it and repeat the process. But Moosie couldn't through the ball nearly as far as I could. So he would come to me with the ball, plead with his eyes to "play ball with me."

Teaching my oldest son to throw.

In a similar way, I can enjoy myself by myself. I can sit in the early morning hours with a hot cup of coffee and the sun peaking over the eastern horizon. But my day gets so much more enjoyable when my three sons wake up and we go fishing or play basketball or throw a baseball around. I can do all those things by myself, but it works much better with them involved.

Moosie taught me that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Josh Hamilton threw a baseball to a fan last week. Then he heard the screams of the fan’s 6-year-old son. The fan who caught it fell 20 feet and died of his injuries, right in front of his son.
Why do bad things happen like this?
And why would it happen to involve someone like Josh Hamilton?
The answer is that there is evil in this world. The devil is prowling around trying to thwart all things good and all things God.
Last week the devil set his sights on Josh Hamilton – a committed and vocal follower of Jesus Christ. This was not the first time the devil had done this.
In 1999, after an impressive high school baseball career, Josh was given $4 million to play professional baseball. Soon after he had a car crash, was given prescription pain killers, became addicted and moved on to alcohol and cocaine.
It took nearly 10 years for Josh to climb back to a shadow of what he once was as a baseball player. But it wasn’t the time that changed him so much as it was Christ changing his life.
Josh Hamilton changed his focus on living for Christ, giving glory to God, and sharing the Good News about Jesus. He realized that he had been given a tremendous ability to hit and catch a baseball. So Josh returned to the game with his new focus.
He is now considered one of the best players in the game, an All Star.
The devil must be really threatened by Josh. And when the accident occurred last week – and that’s all it was, an accident – the devil must have been whispering non-stop in Josh’s ears.
Josh was faced with a choice. He could take all the blame, walk away from the game, and return to numbing his pain with drugs and alcohol.
Or he could once again put his faith and trust in Christ.
Josh chose the latter.
And that’s important. Because it really is a daily choice for Christians. It isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, to be a follower of Christ. As one person put it, “by daily contrition and repentance, [our sinful nature is to]  be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” (Martin Luther, The Small Catechism)
The bad things in this life are not God’s fault. But God does allow them in order that our faith may be strengthened when we rely on Him and His love and power – as Josh Hamilton is doing right now.
Bad things happen because there is a devil in this world, because there is sin in this world, and they are at war with God.
We are in the middle of this war, especially if we are on God’s side. The bad things will happen. It is what we choose to do when they happen that will make a difference in our lives.

Monday, July 11, 2011


The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That’s one of those “they-isms.” You know:
“They say you should not swim at least a half-hour after eating.”
“They say you should never discuss politics or religion in polite company.”
“They say the more things change the more they stay the same.”
I don’t know who, exactly, “they” are, but they are correct; when it comes to the devil’s schemes to tempt us to sin, he tends to not be too creative. He uses the same temptations over an over again. But I guess he sticks with what works!
Image courtesy of
The devil started tempting people way back when there were only two people in the world. He approached Adam and Eve and tempted Eve to disobey God. The devil had a three-fold temptation scheme (in Genesis 3:6)
1. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…” (Hunger)
2. “and that it was a delight to the eyes…” (Attraction)
3. “and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…”(Wisdom)
I’ve noticed that I’m tempted to sin when I’m hungry. I’ve stolen candy or some other snack from my sons when I’m hungry (please don’t tell them until I’ve had a chance to repent and ask their forgiveness – I’ll do that right after I finish this).
But hunger doesn’t just have to be about a lack of food. People are tempted (and rather successfully) to sin when they have a hunger for power, possessions or money.
Attraction is also used by the devil to tempt us to sin. Eve was tempted by the attraction of the fruit. Now, I’ve never been tempted to sin by how a fruit looks. Even the most gorgeous apple, orange or watermelon only makes me think, “That’s a nice piece of fruit.” But everybody is different. And we all have that weak point where attraction to something or someone can be used by the devil to tempt us to disobey God.
Wisdom is a very subtle point of temptation for the devil. In a world that seems to be increasingly lacking in wisdom, it may not seem like the devil is using this one all that often. But “knowing more” can be, and is, used. Some of the highest rated TV shows are those that promote “knowing more” about celebrities, politicians, and knowledge. These can – and are – used by the devil to tempt people to disobey God.
The devil is crafty. And when you look around today – not to mention throughout history – you see a track record of hall-of-fame temptation levels by the devil.
And the devil set his goals of temptation pretty high in that he even tempted the Son of God – Jesus Christ!
Where Eve was tempted with the idea that forbidden fruit was just as good to eat as all the other fruit, Jesus was tempted with food after having been on a fast for over a month. This is a hunger of a different kind. The devil, perhaps, is tempting Jesus to give in to physical hunger. If Jesus does that, He will have broken His fast, something He had set out to do for specific reasons, and doing it by giving in to a lost and condemned creature. Instead of listening and following Himself (God) He would be listening and following the devil – and this would be a sin.
The devil’s second temptation was to question Jesus’ wisdom in putting His trust in His Father. The devil uses God’s Word against Jesus here, just as he used it against Eve (“Did God really say…?”). Surely this was foolish on the devil’s part. Who would trust God more fully and intimately than God’s only Son? Yet, the devil does it.
The final temptation is that of power. While Jesus knows that the world is His by virtue of being the Son of the Creator, this temptation is more subtle. How Jesus fights off this temptation is important. Jesus must fight it off without giving even a hint that He might accept the premise that the devil has some claim to the world. And this Jesus does successfully.
Temptation is something that we all face. The devil tempts us to sin because we are God’s children. He hates everything that has to do with God and he wants to destroy our relationship with God.
Jesus teaches us how to fight against the devil’s temptations and win. Know and use God’s Word. Every time the devil tempted Jesus, Jesus responded by quoting God’s Word.
Jesus fought this battle and won. And by His death and resurrection Jesus gives us the power to also fight and win our battles of temptation.