Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flying Old Glory (update & repost)

Today is Flag Day in the United States.

Some may think it is a day set aside to worship the flag. But that’s not the reason for Flag Day (which can be found here) and it isn’t the reason I observe Flag Day (continue reading to find out).

The United States Flag is a symbol of what the country stands for. It gives us our history – 13 red and white bars signifying the 13 original colonies that became the first 13 states of the Union. It also signifies our current status – 50 white stars signifying the current 50 states.

But for me, the United States Flag reminds me that the freedom I enjoy – the freedom to worship as I wish, to work where I want, to travel anywhere in this country anytime I want without asking permission of the government, and even the freedom to write this blog post – the Flag reminds me that these and all the freedoms U.S. citizen’s enjoy are NOT free.

In the past we've had a U.S. Flag hanging outside our home – we usually put it up Memorial Day weekend and take it down again Labor Day weekend (so it doesn’t get weather-beaten in the winter months) We are currently in the process of procuring a flag pole for our new home.

In my office is another U.S. Flag, an older Flag. It doesn’t have 50 stars because there were only 48 stars in the Union when this Flag performed its final duty – to drape the coffin of Lance Corporal Edward Sciffmann Wear, USMC. I’ve written about my Great Uncle here.

It is also the Flag under which my Grandfather Edward Blonski served in Europe in the U.S. Army  in 1944 and 1945. I’ve written about that here.

These – and all U.S. Flags – remind me to give thanks to God for the men and women who lead us in the country. They remind me to give thanks for the men and women who led us. They remind me to give thanks to God for those who fought, bled, and died to keep us free.

That’s what U.S. Flag day means to me.

Happy Birthday - United States Army (update & repost)

The 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 239 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.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

He's Leaving

A few years ago I led a parenting enrichment study at my church. In it, Dr. Kevin Leman taught that toddlers respond to a parent differently that we might expect. For example, if you want a toddler to come to you, you should move away from him. He’ll follow you if you move away. If you moved toward him, he’ll run away.

Of course, it’s one thing to hear someone say that – even if that someone is a parenting expert like Dr. Leman. I did have to try it out before I would really believe it.

And it turned out to be pretty much true!

Now, I’m a long way from being a father to a toddler. Still, I was thinking about this the other day as I was sitting in the gym of my son’s soon-to-be former high school. He was graduating and my wife and I were very proud of him!

This is the view we had of him, though.

We were sitting behind him and the only view of him was this one until he actually received his diploma.

It was fitting that we were sitting behind him, looking at the back of his head. He was literally moving away from us. He just turned 18 years old. He’s heading off to college in August. He’s becoming a man. He’ll always be our son, but he’s also becoming his own man now. My wife and I did the best we could in raising him. But those days are pretty much over now. The choices he makes as he moves away from us are his to make and his to live with.

This picture was taken after my wife was able to make her way to the front of the gym. She had to move in front of him, at least a little bit, to take it and it is a metaphor of our life now. We will have to move, to make strides, to go out of our way to get in front of him now. But we will do what it takes to let him know that he’s never alone. As much as in us lies, we’ll be there for him.

We spent the last 18 years telling our son about Jesus. We took him to church. Studied the Bible and Small Catechism with him. We modeled the best Christian life that we could – a life not lived perfectly but lived in the forgiveness and mercy of God.

Even though he’s going off on his own, only to return to do laundry, get something to eat, or tell us about a life-changing event, he will always be our little boy that we took home from the hospital so long ago. We were more than a little scared then, just as we are now. But my wife and I are also filled with just as much love, more so even, we had then.

For me, what could be a better Father’s day present?

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day +25,567

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. -- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
70 years ago, on June 6, 1944, 156,000 Allied soldiers – the bulk of which were made up of American and British forces – made amphibious and air landings on Normandy, France. Their task was to drive German forces away from the shore in order to obtain a foothold in Europe from which to win back Europe from Nazi, Germany. Movies such as “The Longest day” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and TV shows such as “Band of Brothers” have brought the stories of D-Day to my generation. But movies and such can only convey so much truth. There are very, very few people today who were actually there to tell their story of D-Day. 

The number grows smaller every day. In this regard we can be thankful for the movies, TV shows and books in order to keep the story alive so that we can never forget. And we should not forget. Not because so many heroic things were done during the war. And certainly not because war is glamorous or a glorious adventure. No, we should never forget for at least two reasons. One, men and women sacrificed themselves for a cause greater than themselves. Men like my grandfather who would survive D-Day and men like my great uncle who died on Iwo Jima. Whether we agree or not with why they fought in war, we should not forget their honor, their integrity, nor their sacrifice. The second reason we should not forget is so that we understand what war is all about. It is not something to be entered into lightly or inadvisdedly. It has been said that war is hell. But is that true? 

Here’s a quote from the M*A*S*H TV series (written by Burt Prelutsky):
Hawkeye: War isn’t hell. War is war and hell is hell, and of the two war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Simple, Father. Tell me, who goes to hell?
Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in hell. But war is chock full of them. Little kids, cripples, old ladies, in fact, except for a few of the brass almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
War is ugly. War is dirty. It is not an adventure to be sought out, but rather sometimes a necessary fight to overcome evil. I believe it is to be avoided if at all possible. But I also believe that sometimes it cannot be avoided. No, war is not hell. But as bad as it is, war is not as bad as hell, because all wars come to an end eventually. Hell goes on for eternity. But like Hawkeye says, there are no innocents in hell. In fact, there doesn’t have to be any human in hell. It can be avoided. There is a way out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born, lived, died, rose again and ascended to save every human being from sin, death (hell), and the power of the devil (for whom hell was created in the first place). As we remember the men and women who sacrificed 70 years ago on what was called “D-Day” – let us also remember that Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us on the cross to save us from our sins.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Water and Fire

It is early autumn. The weather is perfect – sunny days in the upper 70’s and clear nights in the upper 50’s. The hills surrounding Jerusalem are dotted with sukkots or make-shift tents with green, leafy roofs. The air is fragrant with citrus. It is the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles, and the city of Jerusalem is filled with pilgrims from all around the known world.

Jesus had initially told His family he would not be in Jerusalem for the Feast. Things are getting tense for Jesus. The “Jews” are plotting to kill him – and will succeed in about seven months.

Soon after, Jesus changes His mind. He and his disciples quietly make their way to Jerusalem and slip mostly unnoticed into the city to celebrate the Feast.

During the week of the Feast, Jesus makes His way to the Temple and teaches. The focus of His teaching is that He is from God and teaches the Truth of God.

The Feast of Tabernacles is a remembrance of the 40 years of wilderness wanderings that the Children of Israel experienced after the Exodus. It is also a celebration of the provision of God – taking place at the time of the corn and grape harvest.  King Solomon dedicated the Temple he built to the Glory of God during the Feast of Tabernacles. The celebration includes reading of the Word of God, family meals, and the ceremonial bringing of water to the Temple from the Pool of Siloam.

It was during the bringing of water, on the “Great Day” of the Feast (when the people would walk around the temple seven times and recite Psalm 118:25 - Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.) that
Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:37-38

Jesus was speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit in about 7 months.

Our story fast-forwards through those seven months to the spring of the year. Jesus has celebrated Passover with His disciples, and then was betrayed, suffered, and was crucified for the sins of the world. Three days later He rises from the dead – giving us the promise that we, too, will rise from the grave one day!

For 40 days, Jesus goes in and out among His disciples, giving final teaching and preparing them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and their new mission on earth – to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples.

The Feast of Pentecost arrives – a celebration 50 days after Passover. It is a remembrance and celebration of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Jerusalem is again filled with pilgrims from all around the known world.

The Holy Spirit arrives just as Jesus promised. Now the minds and hearts of the disciples are opened by the Spirit to understand the Scriptures. They now understand how Jesus fulfilled the Law given on Mt. Sinai and why Jesus came and what He did to save the world.

And now the disciples have the power to proclaim this Good News. The air of Jerusalem is filled with the fragrance of the barley and grain harvest. With the coming of the Holy Spirit as a loud, rushing wind and what look like tongues of fire on the disciples’ heads, they proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And the world is turned upside down!

The Feast of Tabernacles includes water and wine. The Feast of Pentecost includes bread and fire.
Jesus Christ uses water, wine, bread and fire to make us new people – His people – who will share the Good News with all that we meet. As Jesus has promised – you have streams of living water flowing from you as you proclaim the Gospel.

Almighty and ever-living God, You fulfilled Your promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit to unite disciples of all nations in the cross and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ. By the preaching of the Gospel spread this gift to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.