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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bethlehem Peace

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. – Luke 2:4-5 (KJV)

Bethlehem has been a focal point in our world for almost 2000 years.

It is the birthplace of Jesus the Christ. He is the Son of God and the savior of the world.

Here in America we mark the birthplaces of the famous – presidents, authors, movie stars, even fictional characters in popular movies and television shows.

Jesus is the most famous person in the history of the world and His birthplace is also marked.

Ironically, the birth place of the “Prince of Peace” (as Isaiah called him) is in anything but a peaceful area of the world.

ABC.com reported a few years ago, “Hundreds of thousands of tourists used to throng Bethlehem in the weeks before Christmas, and the large square by the church would fill with people on Christmas Eve. But during the past three years of violence, most potential pilgrims like most potential tourists have stayed away. The shriveling economy and continuing Israeli travel restrictions have dampened the celebrations for Palestinians as well this year.”

Why all the violence? Theories abound. How about this posting from a Usenet group on the internet – could this really answer the question?

“I hope you all enjoy whatever festive-occasion-based-on-a-fairy-tale you choose to celebrate around this time of year.”

Peace will not abound where people continue to reject the Prince of Peace.

But this is not a rant against unbelievers. It is rather, a plea to believers in Christ, the Prince of Peace, to get that message out! Tell the Good News!

Will you be rejected? Yes. I wish I could say differently, but the truth is, many in this world have been rejecting the Good News about Jesus Christ for thousands of years. It won’t stop happening here with us.

But just as some people reject Christ, others will not. There will be some who do not reject the Gospel and thus the Holy Spirit will create saving faith in their hearts through the Good News that you share with them.

Sharing the Good News about Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and died on a cross a just a few miles north of his birthplace, will be the best thing that ever happens to anybody in this world.

On the day that you enter into heaven because of the grace of our God through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, you will run into someone that you won’t quite recognize. It will not be a family member or a friend. It will be, for all intents and purposes, a total stranger. But that person will be in heaven because you shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Not that you are the reason they are in heaven – only God can and will take credit for that. But God will use your voice and life for His saving words.

This Christmas Eve, Bethlehem will most likely be relatively quiet due to violence and unrest in the Middle East. But if that teaches us anything, it is that we cannot be quiet with the Good News about Jesus lest violence and unrest take over our world.

I humble offer this prayer for Christmas Eve. May it the prayer of us all.

On Christmas night in Bethlehem there was born a babe in a manger that was Christ the Lord who was unlike any other creature, but yet the same.  He was born from the womb of his mother through pain, but yet He was born without sin and his mother was still yet a virgin.  Though He was pure and had done no sinful acts John baptized Him and at that moment the Holy Spirit came upon Him and His Father said that He was pleased.  Following the will of our Father by the power of the Holy Spirit is the prime example of what God wants us to try to achieve. Now let us pray.  Dear Lord, let us try to follow your example and live our lives that could be pleasing in your sight. Also that this Christmas would not be corrupted or blinded from the true story.  Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ who was born on that Holy Night just for the purpose to die on the cross to save us from all of our sins.  Amen


[Prayer by Joshua Butler, a former catechumen I was honored to teach at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mayville, Wisconsin.]

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What is Christmas All About?

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year...
-          Vince Guaraldi – Lee Mendelson



This song has been a part of my Christmas my whole life – literally. I was born in 1965 and that was the same year that A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered on CBS-TV. It is hard to imagine a Christmas in the United States without watching this beloved broadcast. 50 million people are estimated to have watched it in 1965 and it has retained such ratings through the nearly 50 years since.

At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is, ironically enough, depression. Young Charlie Brown finds himself in a deep funk at Christmas time. Even though it is a white Christmas, even though there are presents, decorations, and all that we’re taught goes into making Christmas Christmas, Charlie Brown is not happy. He feels he should be, but can’t quite figure out why he is not.

Even though Charlie Brown is 7 or 8 years old, he’s an “every man.” He embodies the feelings of so many at this time of year. It is sad that so many people are depressed at what is supposed to be a joyous time of year. It isn’t hard to imagine why, though, is it? The stress and anxiety caused by difficult economic times, or the sadness of facing a Christmas for the first time without a loved one, certainly can make Christmas a less-than-joyful time of year.

If you turn on the TV, you will be bombarded with the messages that all it takes to make Christmas Christmas will be “stuff.” A new car, new clothes, a bigger and better TV, cologne, perfume, a computer tablet, or simply money, money, money, will put you in the proper Christmas mood.

This commercialism is bemoaned of in A Charlie Brown Christmas and, before that, Miracle on 34th Street, and even A Christmas Carol.

Charlie Brown’s beagle, Snoopy, is getting into the commercial mood of Christmas. Then there is Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally. Even his five- or six-year-old sister has been indoctrinated into the commercialism of Christmas. Even though she can’t write to Santa Claus herself, she does dictate the letter to her older brother and closes with a plan to make things easy on Santa, suggesting to him that he simply bring “$10’s and $20’s” as her Christmas presents!

I don’t have a problem with commerce. Bartering, buying and selling have been around for nearly as long as there have been people. And the topic of money is an important topic in the Bible, as it is mentioned over 2000 times (according to the website http://www.biblemoneymatters.com/bible-verses-about-money-what-does-the-bible-have-to-say-about-our-financial-lives/ accessed December, 2012).

Like most things, the problem lies in the mire of over-indulging in commercialism. Sally has made Christmas all about “getting all you can get while the getting is good” (actually a quote from the sequel to A Charlie Brown Christmas called Its Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown). Snoopy also feels Christmas is another opportunity to win big prizes (by decorating).

Ironically enough, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was originally aired with several product placements by its original sponsor – Coca Cola – which made it difficult to edit for future airings (resulting in several scenes cut out entirely).

Charlie Brown seeks answers from Lucy – the neighborhood psychologist. Interestingly enough, Lucy diagnoses Charlie Brown’s problem as having to do with fear. She tries to find out what Charlie Brown is afraid of.

It seems to me that some people have trouble with Christmas because they are afraid – afraid of being alone, afraid of unrequited love, afraid of missing out of the joy they feel should be a part of the season. These are all understandable fears, to me at least. I feel that way because they are very real fears.

Lucy’s prescription for Charlie Brown is “involvement” – by which she means he should direct the Christmas Play. With this suggestion, Charlie Brown’s cold and fearful heart begins to melt and a genuine smile appears on his face for the first time.

Still, Charlie Brown hasn’t quite figured out what is missing. Even though it is clear that the Christmas play is the story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (there are shepherds, animals, an innkeeper and his wife, who has naturally curly hair), something is missing. The kids seem to know their parts and the parts that go with the story, but all they are interested in is dancing (having a good time).

Charlie Brown tries to capture the proper mood to get the play going – by providing a Christmas tree. But upon presenting a real Christmas tree, his fear comes crashing in on him when all the kids ridicule him and even his own dog rejects his contribution to the play.

In a final, desperate, act of supplication Charlie Brown cries out “Isn’t there anyone that can tell me what Christmas is all about?”

Linus chimes in with the true meaning of Christmas. He recites – from memory – the immortal words of the Gospel:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Yes, Christmas includes parties, presents, and poems set to music. It includes family and friends getting together, special movies and TV shows, lights and decorations.

But at its heart, Christmas is about alleviating fear. The fear of being alone, the fear of being rejected, the fear of being forever in despair.

Because those fears were exactly where the human race was, and was forever heading, unless God did something about it. And so God promised He would. And so God did as He promised.

Jesus Christ was born in the little town of Bethlehem. He grew up to live a perfect life. Then He took all the sins of the world on Himself and died on the cross. Three days later Jesus rose victorious from the dead – thus assuring all those who believe in Him would also rise from the dead one day. And then Jesus ascended into heaven but not before promising that He would return to take all those who have faith in Him to heaven with Him.


That’s what Christmas – that’s what Christ – is all about.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

George Washington's October 3, 1789 national Thanksgiving Proclamation


WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.
G. Washington.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving Issued, October 3, 1863


The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to invite and provoke the aggressions of foreign States, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
The needful diversions of wealth and strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship. The axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people; I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father, who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him that, for such singular deliverances and blessings; they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
Abraham Lincoln
By the President: William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Thanksgiving Tradition



Introduction to Tradition

Charlie Brown is as traditional to Thanksgiving as turkey, pumpkin pie and football.

Speaking of football, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving begins with Lucy convincing Charlie Brown that place-kicking a football on Thanksgiving is a great honor. It usually is a great honor to be part of anything that is steeped in tradition.

But of course Charlie Brown will never kick that football; at least not as long as Lucy is the holder!

This scene serves to remind us that traditions sometimes do fade away. One of the most long-standing traditions in the world is that of Passover. It has been a part of the Jewish faith for nearly 3500 years. But it was not something that was traditionally celebrated at first – not like it is now. In fact, the Bible makes a big deal about the first couple of times that the Children of Israel actually celebrated Passover (or the Feast of Unleavened Bread) because they did NOT traditionally celebrate every year.

Traditions are important. Every family has its own traditions.

-          What are some of your family Thanksgiving traditions?


Another Holiday to Worry About

Holidays – for adults at least – can be very stressful times. Not so much for kids, although Charlie Brown is an exception. He even says clearly that Thanksgiving is “another holiday to worry about.” Charlie Brown’s worries about this particular Thanksgiving are that he has three, somewhat uninvited, guests coming for the holiday dinner. While his sister Sally offers an explanation for why this has happened – because Charlie Brown is so “wishy-washy” – there is probably a better reason. The worry that accompanies many holiday traditions comes from a need to please.

Traditions – The Need to Please

Charlie Brown has a need to please other people. This is something that is, to a certain degree, in every person. We want people to like us. We want to make other people happy. And when people have company coming over, people usually have a desire to feed them well. Charlie Brown’s dilemma is that not only does he have three guests coming for Thanksgiving dinner, his culinary prowess is limited to “cold cereal and maybe toast.”

But for all of Charlie Brown’s wishy-washiness, he is not without friends who will help him in his desperate hour. Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock will all help

Snoopy learns the lesson that with every traditional holiday there are sometimes battles to be fought. Deadlines to meet, menus to fill, gifts to be bought, cleaning, setting the table, etc. Snoopy’s battles happen to be with ping-pong tables and chaise lounges.

But soon, Snoopy orchestrates a new traditional meal.

-          What are your traditional meals for Thanksgiving?


Charlie Brown’s New Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner is:

  • Two slices of buttered toast,
  • Some pretzel sticks,
  • A handful of popcorn, and
  • A few jelly beans.

  
The Real Thanksgiving – More than Meal

Of course, Peppermint Patty is not happy with this new tradition. Oh, and by the way, Peppermint Patty is a girl. There seems to be some confusion as to that recently. She’s what used to be called a “tom-boy,” a girl who tends to do things that are more traditional for boys to do: play baseball, wear comfortable clothes, stuff like that.

Patty takes out her anger on her host, breaking his heart. Patty then is reminded what Thanksgiving is really all about. It isn’t about a meal – it is about being thankful for what you have.

You and I have plenty to be thankful for – Jesus Christ being at the top of the list. His salvation given to us as a free gift is the reason we should be thankful, especially at this time of year. Because our sins are forgiven, we can get together and get along with our family and friends. Even at what can be a stressful time of year!

But Let’s Not Forget the Meal!

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving closes with a reminder that while the real Thanksgiving is more than a meal, we should not forget the meal!

It doesn’t have to be turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. It can be salmon steaks with oyster sauce. It can be PP&J’s with cold milk.

But each meal is important, so much so that the Bible refers to heaven as a banquet, a feast to come.

So this Thanksgiving, as you gather around a meal with your family and friends, remember to give God thanks for all His gifts to you, number one of which is Jesus Christ! Don’t let the holiday stress you out, enjoy it and help others to enjoy it and give thanks.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank a Vet - Repost from 2012

Stephen Ambrose, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have done a great service to my generation and those younger in that they remind us why we are free to blog, make movies, vote, travel, and live as we do.
Their books, movies, and TV series bring to life the men and women who fought, bled, and some who died, to keep us free. Band of Brothers, the Pacific, Citizen Soldiers, etc. all tell a story - a true story - that needs to be told to us and our children.
But I also thank another author by the name of Marcus Brotherton. He has brought to the forefront some of the men that didn't make it to the forefront of those other men's stories. Brotherton tells the stories of Shifty PowersEd Pepping, Earl "One Lung" McLung, Forest Guth and others. They were just as much heroes as Richard WintersBill Guarnere, and Buck Compton - and Winters, Guarnere and Compton would be the first to tell you that.
Recently I met another hero of World War II - my word, not his. In fact, he seems to think his service to be no big deal. I'm sure no one would ever write a book or make a movie about his war exploits. But what he did was no less important than anyone else's contribution to the war effort.
His name is Daniel Brown. As far as I know he never fired a rifle in combat, never even saw a battle. Brown served in the Army Air Force as a mechanic - specifically responsible for B-29's. When not serving in the States, he was stationed in Panama. No battles were fought there. But of course, the Panama Canal was of vital strategic importance.
Dan Brown left his wife Betty and all his family to serve in the Army Air Force. He knew that going into battle was a distinct possibility. But go he did because our country needed defending. He put aside his own comforts and dreams - for a time - to do the job that needed doing. That is what a leader does. Dan Brown continues to lead today and is teaching me what it means to be a leader and a true man.
"Doc" Brown and all those who served -whether in battle, in support, or in the states - deserve our recognition and thanks. I love spending an hour or two with him and his wife, Betty, as they tell stories of the war years and after. "Doc" Brown came home to his wife, started a family, lived his life in the freedom that he served to protect.  He went on to become a cop and later a chiropractor. Betty was a dancer and musician. Both were - and are, today - active in their church and share the love of Jesus Christ with everyone they meet.
Just two of the wonderful people we should all thank on this Veterans Day.
So stop a vet today, tell him or her thanks. After all, you owe them a lot!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy Birthday United States Marine Corps

Note: This is a re-post from last year (2012).
Edward Schiffmann Wear joined the United States Marines during World War II and was sent to the Pacific Theater. He was the brother of Irene Wear – my grandmother. He died during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The story is told in my family that as he died, he was praying the Lord’s Prayer with a chaplain.
Achieving the rank of Corporal in the 9th Marines Regiment, my great uncle answered the call of his country to defend her freedom against an aggressor nation.
He was one of the 6,812 Americans killed or missing on Iwo Jima.
A man I never met who died long ago and far away continues to have a tremendous impact on my life. My mother still talks about him to this day. She has been sharing stories of her memories of him with me the last couple of days. Yet, I still hardly know anything about him. I don’t know what his favorite food was. I don’t know what he thought of being the youngest to three sisters. I don’t know how he felt about living in the city of Chicago but spending his summers on Long Lake.
In spite of this I still feel tremendously proud, and humbled at the same time, that I am part of his family.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the most important battles in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. It has become iconic of the sacrifice, determination and leadership that United States Marines personify in today’s world.
Called by some the “Greatest Generation,” most of the men and women who answered their country’s call to fight in World War II did so not for glory or fame, but to do a job that needed to be done. They came from all walks of life. Some, like my great uncle, from humble beginnings. Many, again like my great uncle, went to war never to return to the United States alive.
But as far as I am concerned, they did not die in vain. They died, in part, for me. They died for you and for all Americans as well as for all peace- and freedom-loving people around the world. They made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could be free to worship, work, play, and live as I choose.
In this way, they are a lot like Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ laid down His life so that others – the world, in fact – could be free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Jesus Christ personifies the United States Marines motto – Semper Fidelis – “Always Faithful.”
United States Marines have been protecting these freedoms longer than there has been a United States. Formed on November 10, 1775 in Philadelphia, men and women who served as U.S. Marines have been making sure that the United States is protected from those who would take our freedom away.
Happy Birthday, United States Marines. May God always bless and protect you as you are always faithful to corps and country.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Ground Zero to Holy Ground - a 9/11 Remembrance (repost)


For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

How can the tragic attacks of September 11 be used for good? How could God allow this to happen? On the other hand, does September 11 really mean anything different for us? Have we really be effected by it? Has life really changed all that much? My question is, “How do we get from ground zero to holy ground?”

In the movie It’s A Wonderful Life one scene refers to the end of World War II. The narration says that people wept and prayed on VE Day and VJ Day and you see scenes of people flocking to a church. When I talked with my clergy friends about 911 we thought that something like this would happen again. With such devastating attacks, we all made our churches available for people to come and pray. At my church at the time we had a prayer service. And at first, it did look like people would flock back to church to find answers to questions. But looking back now, it seems that America was more interested in getting back to the regular season of football and baseball. That was important. To “get back to normal living.” The jury is still out whether we can “get back to normal” post-911.

What affect has 911 had on America? So much pain and destruction has to have some affect on us. It has been said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis) I believe God is shouting to us, calling us from ground zero to His Holy Ground.

Like just about everything else man makes, we thought the Twin Towers would stand forever. And all indications were that they would. But in the span of a couple of hours, they were reduced to smoking rubble, burying over 2800 people. That site will forever be known as “Ground Zero.” The pictures from there are a part of who we are as a nation today. Smoking ruins, firefighters searching for people. The one that stands out in my mind is the one of the President of the United States with a bullhorn. It is that picture that gave me the words “From Ground Zero to Holy Ground.” Someone in the crowd yelled “We can’t hear you” as he was making a speech. He called back “But I can hear you!”

Can we hear God? God is calling us. He’s shouting at us. He calls us away from our own self-centeredness and things we make for ourselves to something that will last forever. He is calling us from ground zero and its uncertain stability to His Holy Ground that does not move and will stand forever.

When you hear the stories of 911, what do you think? The eye-witness accounts to show that 911 affected all of us, ordinary people and heads of state. But those stories are not the end. Each story can ber followed up by God’s story. For God does have something to say about all this.

God tells us about His peace. It is not peace like the world strives for. So often the world’s peace comes after devastation and the loss of countless lives. But God’s peace came only after one suffered and died, not thousands. God’s peace comes to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of tragedy, among the smoking ruins in New York or Washington DC, the peace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God comes through. Sometimes the Prince of this world – Satan – rears his head in a very public way and motivates people to carry out acts of terror and death. But Jesus Christ overcame Satan when He died on the cross. Satan is a defeated enemy. All these tragic events are but the last gasps of a vanquished foe. In the end they cannot harm us. In fact, they have backfired on Satan. He carries them out to try to defeat us, but the result is that many turn back to God and look for ways to make their relationship stronger with Him!

God also tells us to be ready. When those thousands of people showed up for work on September 11, 2001, or boarded those airplanes, they may not have given any thought that this was to be their last day on earth. But God repeatedly warns us that we do not know when our last day on earth will be. It could be today. In the mean time, God calls to us, shouts to us from ground zero, to be rich toward Him, to begin or strengthen the relationship with Him through Word and Sacrament and Worship. We are rich toward God because Jesus’ death and resurrection gave us the glorious riches of God’s eternal grace. No amount of smoking ruin can take that away from us who have been brought into the Kingdom of God.

A reading from Colossians seems to have been written with 911 in mind. “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you....” That has been true for many, many people. Since that day we have prayed, each time we gather for worship, for those in the midst of this tragedy, for our President, for our military personnel, prayed that the peace and comfort of Jesus Christ may be theirs.

Patience and endurance.” This is what we have been praying for. God calls us to be faithful to Him and to seek Him at all times, but especially in times of tragedy. It is so hard to be patient when we’re facing such tragedy. We want to know now about a loved one. We want an answer now. We are tempted to give up in the face of such horrible circumstances. But God’s call to us has been to be patient and endure. For a better time is coming. Ground Zero is temporary. Holy Ground is forever!

There have been so many questions in the past 12 years. The biggest one, it seems to me, has been “How could God allow this to happen.” The answer is not easy. God does love us. So much so that He doesn’t want us to take anything for granted. But with prosperity and financial success like we’ve enjoyed in this country, we are tempted to take many things for granted. Young people live life like they will live forever, that nothing can hurt them. But the world isn’t a peaceful place. It is a dangerous place. Nothing should be taken for granted. Least of all God. He is here. He does love us. He allows tragedy to get our attention and call us back to Him.

The call from Ground Zero is a call back to Holy Ground. The stable, rock-solid ground established for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Holy Ground there is no sin, there is no death. There have been many “ground zeros” and I suspect there will be many more. But there is only one Holy Ground. There is only one way to get there. God is calling us. Through the smoke and death and devastation God shouts to us, getting our attention. Now that the smoke and rubble have been cleared, we’re tempted to say that God’s call is gone, too. But God still calls. He is calling you and me. He is calling us away from ground zero and the death that will forever surround it. He is calling us to Holy Ground where there is life and peace in His Son Jesus Christ.

God is calling you. Will you answer? I pray that you will turn from ground zero to God’s Holy Ground, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Plans for Hope and a Future

He took a moment to “look” into his future and saw …

…nothing.

That seems to be a very depressing view, to look ahead and not being able to see anything.

From where he is now, he sees no discernible increase in his income, no anticipation of paying down debt, no plans of going on a family vacation, nor any change in what he can do in his daily life.

There is just more of the “same.” He’ll be doing the same thing every weekend. He’ll be doing the same thing, in fact, on every day of the week that ends in “y.”

Thankfully, what he’s “doing” is something he finds joy in doing. But sometimes he wishes he could look forward to doing something else – going on a trip or trying something new.

When he gets to feeling down thinking about this and seeing “nothing” in his future, he soon realizes that he’s bought into the lie Satan as been whispering to him all his life. The lie that God has no future in store for him, that he’s worthless and will never amount to anything, and that his life now is all there is and ever will be.

That is a lie. Jesus reminds us – when we take the time to read His Word and pray – that there is more to this life than just what we can see – or want to see – in front of us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “…plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

This world is not all that there is. There is another world to come – a world Jesus is preparing even now for those who believe in Him and have a restored relationship with His Father.

Jesus said, during the time He walked this earth, that he “came that [we] may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And Jesus’ Apostle John heard Jesus tell him “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

We may not be able to “see” any future for us, but I believe that it is out there and it is going to be wonderful.

Sometimes we feel down about our lives and how they are turning out. But that is just one more reminder that our future has not yet arrived! Things will get better – maybe not ever in this life, but most assuredly in the life to come.

I am thankful that Jesus died and rose again to forgive me all my sins – even the sin of not holding fast to the hope and the future that God has planned for me. Through the forgiveness of my sins, I find peace – just as the angels announced in the dark skies above the little town of Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

God is pleased with us. Not because of who we are, but because of whose we are – His! We are a blood-bought child of the most high God!

©2013 True Men Ministries.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Birthday - United States Army

army-seal1The United States Army marks as it's inception date June 14, 1775 - before there was even a Unites States. That was date that the the Continental Congress established a unified army for the states to fight Great Britain. They also appointed George Washington as its commander.

The mission of the Army is to serve as the land-based branch of the U.S. military. §3062 of Title 10 US Code defines the purpose of the army as:

  • preserving the peace and security and providing for the defense of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions and any areas occupied by the United States
  • supporting the national policies
  • implementing the national objectives
  • overcoming any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.

For 238 years, the men and women of the United States Army have done just that.

And I thank God for all of them! I especially thank:

My father, Ed Blonski, for his service in the Unite States Army in the early 1960's,aradcompatch serving in the Army Air Defense Command.

1stinfantry1My grandfather, Ed Blonski who served in World War II, and my good friend Mitch, who served in Vietnam, both part of the 1st Infantry Division.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Am I Doing?

I’ve been leading a Bible study on Romans for the men of the congregation I serve and our community.

This week our topic was “The Depth of Morals” and was based on verses were Romans 2. These two verses made me stop and think.

23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

I was cut to the quick with these two verses. That’s me Paul is talking about! I had trouble sleeping last night thinking about these words and how they apply to parts of my life.

I tell people about God and sin and how God wants us to live in His Gospel light.

But while I tell them about this wonderful good news, I sometimes don’t do it myself!

Why? I certainly know better. I wouldn’t be living my life telling others about how God loves us and sent Jesus to die for our sins and transforms our hearts and lives unless I knew that to be true deep down in my heart.

But even though I know better, I still find myself sinning. I feel ashamed, beaten down, so much so that I can barely function at times.

Thankfully, these feelings don’t last too long. And the reason for that is because the Holy Spirit – while convicting me through Romans 2 and other verses – also builds me up with verses like:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

This Good News – this Gospel – gives me new hope every time I’m beaten down by my sinfulness. I can live a new life. I can be a new man.

Every day, I have to remember, “I am baptized” and, as such, I am a child of the heavenly Father and I have Christ living in me!

Every day, I wake up and remember, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

I can do this – and all things – through Christ who strengthens me!

Part of our Bible study was dedicated to a “what now?” discussion. What do we do with this information? How do we live a different life.

There were some great ideas like:

Pray daily.

Read the Bible daily.

Attend a worship service weekly.

Like I said, great ideas that have a proven track record. However, there was one thing missing.

You see, all these great ideas are things that we can – and should – do.

praying togetherBut they are not things that we can rely on to do by ourselves.

I am convinced that in order to be truly transformed by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, another person needs to walk along side me. I need a friend, a partner, a brother who will ask the tough questions:

How were you tempted today? Did you succumb to that temptation?

This brother would then pray with me and will pray for me every day. And I ask the same questions of him and do the same with him.

This is God’s plan. That a man or woman of God would have someone who is dedicated to them and they to them, being an instrument of the Holy Spirit to bring about fundamental transformation over a lifetime of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

David had his Jonathan.

Paul had his Silas.

Timothy had his Paul.

Who walks along side of you?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Day to Remember

This Monday is Memorial Day in the United States. It is also 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 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. They had created a cemetery near the place where 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 by an act of Congress.

Today there are no survivors of the Civil War nor the Spanish-American War. There are also no living veterans of World War I. The last veteran died in 2012.

The veterans of World War II have reached their late 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 freedom. 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 to the Christian faith: that what is believed about Jesus Christ is passed on to others, to teach and confess it to especially to children.

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.

©2013 True Men Ministries.

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LiveJournal Tags: Memorial Day,Jesus Christ,remember

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Experience of Pain

“And they all lived happily ever after.”

That’s a good ending to a good story.

But is it true?

I think it is, for the most part. I think it is based on what we mean by “happily.”

For a Christian, it might mean that heaven is awaiting us. It might mean that we will live forever with Christ in paradise. It might mean that we live – in this life – with the joy of the presence of God in our life.

I’ve heard from several people that have gone through sickness or injury about how God got them through, calmed their hearts and minds. How they had a sense of peace because they could feel the presence of God with them.

But I’ve come to realize that being a Christian doesn’t mean that this kind of happiness comes automatically. Sometimes it works out that God changes your circumstances to give you happiness. But sometimes, God changes your perception of happiness to fit the circumstances you find yourself in.

I think that’s what has happened to Craig.

Craig loves to climb. He climbs with ropes carabiners, and he climbs with just his hands and feet (bouldering). He’s also really, really good at climbing – as is his wife, Cyndy and their two children.

One day Craig was climbing with a friend in Colorado and, through a misunderstanding and miscommunication, he ended up falling.

Statistics tell the story – that if a person falls 10 feet, they have a 10% chance of dying, and if they fall 20 feet they have a 20% chance of dying.

Craig fell 100 feet. Statistics tend to not lie.

But Craig did not die. He fell straight down, starting out horizontal, but about half-way down he hit a tree branch and it turned him vertical. He hit the ground practically standing straight up. He landed on his feet at nearly 55 miles per hour.

His story is told in “After the Fall” – which he wrote with Bill Romanelli.

Craig is honest about his Christian faith and where he was in his relationship with God before and after the accident.

Craig says, “I thought about how I had worked hard to fit God into my life where it was most convenient for me, and wherever there was a conflict it was as if God was just the kid I played with because he had cool toys. I saw how I had always put my faith and trust into my own body, and the fall had taken away the one thing I had put the most stock in, myself” (After the Fall, page 51).

During his recovery and rehab, Craig documents how sometimes he felt that God wasn’t there. I’ve heard this called the “Silence of Heaven” and I know from experience that it happens. Not that God isn’t there, but sometimes He’s not saying anything. I wrote about this in what I called “The Silence of Heaven.

Craig says it this way, “But as the weeks went on [after leaving the hospital and was going through rehab], the apparent absence of God became like a huge hole. I kept thinking God would keep guiding me, and He wasn’t. Where I should have seen his hand at work all around me, instead almost every experience was a muddled collage of good and bad, as if joy and despair were waging war inside me, and to the victor would go my spirits” (After the Fall, page 80).

Planet of the Apes Wall 1This is what Craig is teaching me: that while God is always in my life, and is always there through good times and bad, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to have a life that is all “sugar plums and lollipops.” Craig has taught me that life will have pain. God in my life doesn’t change that. But God in my life does change how I deal with the pain.

It helps me to remember this: because Jesus endured pain – the pain of the cross and death itself – I can deal with pain, too. Jesus forgives me all my sin and restores true life to me. Jesus restores the life God intended for me to have. In doing this, Jesus never promised that I wouldn’t have pain or trouble or disappointment. He promises that I will have Him! And He promises that He’s preparing a place where all that stuff will never be experienced again – heaven.

Thank you, Craig, for reminding me of this!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Not Why. Rather, What For?

Peter was in a place he never imagined he would be.Why me

Those three years seemed to go by in a blink of an eye. Yet, that day on the beach seemed like a lifetime ago.

He and his brother fished all night, catching nothing. In the morning, an itinerant preacher came by and asked to use his boat to preach from. After the sermon, a miraculous catch of fish, and then Peter heard the words of Jesus he would never, ever forget.

“Follow me, I will make you fishers of men. Do not be afraid.”

Afraid? Peter wasn’t afraid of anything! He would stand up to even Jesus when he didn’t like what he was hearing!

But then the betrayal by Judas, the arrest by the temple guards, and the farce of a trial at the High Priest’s house.

This man who earlier wasn’t afraid to confess boldly that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of Living God, cowered in fear before a servant girl. All she did was ask him if he was one of Jesus’ followers.

Three times, Peter ended up denying he even knew Jesus.

Then the crucifixion and the bitterness of living through that Saturday with the knowledge that he had all but nailed Jesus to that cross.

Yes, all that changed the next day. Jesus was suddenly there! The tomb was empty – he had seen it was empty – and Jesus was there with him in the upper room that afternoon!

Then Jesus was gone. Peter saw Him ascend to the heavens.

Peter mulled that over for 10 days.

He gathered again with his brothers and sisters in the Upper Room. Suddenly a loud sound, like a rushing wind, and what appeared to be tongues of flame!

This was it! The promised gift! Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit and this was it!

This man who stood up to the Son of God, then cowered in fear before a servant girl, now found himself standing before a crowd of thousands.

“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.”

And when he was finished speaking, the Holy Spirit converted over 3000 people – the Christian Church was born and set into motion!

Ah, those were heady days for Peter. But now he finds himself in a very different place. Chained to a wall, in a damp and dark Roman jail. His death sentence was delivered and he was waiting for his own crucifixion.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials….”

Peter didn’t ask, “Why?” As in “Why me?” Rather, he focused on “What for?” For what reason do we suffer? What will be the good in my own death on a cross?

“…so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

When you go through tough and terrible times, it is only natural to ask, “Why me?”

But I challenge you (and myself!), by the power of the Holy Spirit, to ask instead, “What for?” And to know this answer – to give God glory so others may know the hope that you have within you!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Jenny’s Story

I’ve been looking for something. It isn’t really something I lost but something I neverlonely really had. I don’t want to go into the details, but I grew up in a typical family. Nothing really out of the ordinary. But after I moved out onto my own, I found I really needed “completeness.” Its hard to put into words, actually. There was something missing in my life. Maybe you know, or have known, what I mean. Some people call it a longing, a search for meaning, whatever. All I know is that I’ve been looking for it for a long time.

After a while – I don’t know when, really – I began thinking of it in terms of what I want instead of what I need. Maybe I never actually thought of it as a need. At any rate, I’ve searched for something to fill the want. I’ve searched in places I’m not proud to admit. Love, drugs, drink. I’ve searched in all those places for what I wanted – without really knowing exactly what it was I did want. At first I did find what I wanted in them. They filled me with something I didn’t have as a little girl. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t into hardcore stuff. Drugs were never really my thing. I wasn’t a falling-down drunk, and I only had slept with those I really loved. Pretty average stuff, really.

But after a while, I realized that nothing really satisfied me. I wasn’t really getting what I wanted. I still couldn’t put my finger on what it was, exactly, but these things didn’t get it for me.

It was about this time I started to really learn about Jesus. Now before you tune me out, hear me out. I’m not one of those who tell their story of strife and woe and then I found Jesus and he made me all better and my life is full of joy all the time! I don’t knock those who have experienced it like that, but it isn’t my story.

One of my friends took me to church with her one Sunday. The pastor talked about the hope that can fill a person’s life – a hope only Jesus can give. There was no flash from heaven, no fire in my belly from a massive conversion experience. But this hope from Jesus intrigued me. I went back the next week and he talked about it again. I kept going, rarely missing. What I was hearing was comforting. I heard about faith and hope and love. I heard that Jesus died and rose from the dead for me. That all my sins were forgiven. That all my longings would be satisfied in Jesus. The pastor didn’t present this as if it was some one-time, instantaneous solution, either. Jesus’ hope and peace and grace were life-long gifts. I realized that this was what I wanted. I was searching in all the wrong places. I was searching for the wrong things. It wasn’t about what I wanted but rather what I needed. Somehow Jesus knew and He gave it to me.

Is everything perfect now? It sure would be great to tell you it is, but it isn’t. Life is better, though. I have a satisfying relationship with Jesus and brothers and sisters in the faith at my church. Jesus makes the difference because He took my sins away. And He continues to take my sins away as He fills my need. My life isn’t perfect (really, what is in this world?) but it is more fulfilling with Jesus as the center of it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Constant Change Is Here To Stay

Memory LaneI recently checked out of my local library a CD called “American Spirit.” It is by the Mannheim Steamroller and also features C.W. McCall and the Chicago Symphony Chorus (Duain Wolfe, conductor).

Listening to music such as “America the Beautiful,” “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Home on the Range,” and “Convoy,” brought an immense feeling of nostalgia to my heart. Days long past, when I would roam the neighborhood on a hot summer day with my friends until the fireflies (or lighting bugs) came out; watching fireworks from the lake shore; grilling chicken and hamburgers and shooting off firecrackers while the adults would sit, smoke, and talk on the deck throughout the afternoon.

Where have those days gone? Where is today’s equivalent of such music and activities?

Why do things have to change?

I’ve heard that nostalgia originally was defined as the longing for home by soldiers off to war and that it was considered a medical condition.

But today it is said that nostalgia is more a longing for a time rather than a place. Recently there has been a series broadcast on the National Geographic Channel called “The 80’s: The Decade That Made Us.”

Is it possible that some people – enough to secure six hours of expensive broadcast time – are nostalgic for the 1980’s?

It seems like the 80’s where just here. How can anyone be nostalgic for last Tuesday?

But I’m reminded – and I’m not sure if I’m happily or sadly reminded – that the 1980’s were thirty years ago. I graduated from college in 1987 – that was a quarter of a century ago. I graduated from high school 30 years ago!

So much time has gone by. So much of my life has gone by. My wife and I have been married 22 years this August. We have lived St. Louis, MO, White Cloud, MI, Mayville & Beaver Dam, WI, Upland, CA, Lake Villa, IL and now Hawthorn Woods, IL. Our oldest son will be 17 next month. Our youngest son just turned 13 last month. Our middle son is now taller than my wife and he’s 14!

So much has changed.

And that reminds me of something I read last week.

“If something changes, then something else must stay constant and unchanging behind the thing that changes, otherwise we would not be able to recognize change” (H. Peter Steeves, quoted by Steve Johnson in his Chicago Tribune article “Nostalgia seems a fading memory,” April 14, 2013).

At first, I considered that it was me who hasn’t changed. That I’m the constant and unchanging by which I’m able to recognize all this change.

But then I got a good look of myself in the mirror this morning. That notion went right out the window!

I certainly have changed. In 1983, I was 18 years old. Now I’m 48. In 1983 I weighed about 220 pounds. Now, well, now I don’t. 30 years ago I had more hair, sharper eyesight, and pain-free knees. You get the idea.

So, if I’m not the constant, what is? Certainly not the culture. Steeves goes on to say, “But if it is the culture itself that has changed, then what is it that has remained stable, that allows us to recognize the change?” (ibid).

Here’s my thought. I’ve changed. You’ve changed. The culture has changed. Yes, even the world has changed.

Kids in my neighborhood used to stay out all day – from just after Ray Rayner and a bowl of Apple Jacks™ till mom called us in for dinner. We used to fish down at the lake, walk barefoot everywhere, and, when thirsty, drank from the garden hose out back.

That simply doesn’t happen today.

So what hasn’t change? God has not changed.

One thing that I used to do 30 years ago I still do today. On Sunday mornings I go to church. I worship with my family (wife and sons as well as by brothers and sisters in Christ). I still worship God who has never changed.

There’s a passage in the Bible that says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In other words, Jesus has never changed.

He’s the constant and unchanging by which I’m able to see all the change in my life and in the world. All the myriad of changes in the world, from Twitter to Google to iPads to Facebook had made one thing perfectly clear to me.

People desperately need the rock-solid and unmovable and unchangeable Jesus Christ in their lives. Because no matter what else has changed, sin is still ever-present. Pain, suffering, and death – caused by sin infecting this world – need to be dealt with.

And it is dealt with by the unchanging Jesus Christ. He shed His blood to take away our sin. He destroyed death with His own death on the cross. And He changed the grave into a gate leading to paradise for those who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

Whenever I’m feeling nostalgic these days – and they are more and more frequent – I’m reminded of the unchanging Good News of Jesus Christ.

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