It's good to be home...

            I missed last week’s deadline due to a trip out to Colorado. Please pardon the blog’s absence.

It’s become a regular practice for me to travel to my parents’ home in the mountains each February, before lent. I travel there to celebrate dad’s birthday. It’s good to be with my mom and dad. Their home is not the one in which I grew and the schedule is quite different from my upbringing. But it’s a blessing to be with them and to be able to help around the cabin – moving firewood up on the deck, sometimes blocking and splitting it as well, and taking part in cooking meals and cleaning up after them.

After that trip, I can say with equal fervor, it’s good to be home here. It’s good to be back with my wife, Jami. This is not the house in which we have raised our family and our schedule since moving here, which is quite different, has been tweaked a time or two. But it’s a blessing to be with her and to be back at the tasks as we find our weekly pattern rounding out.

It’s also good to be home, here, writing thoughts I want to share with you. For a number of you this has always been your church home. Others are transplants. And some of our schedules are a bit in flux – especially after the weekends continually subject to snows and cold temperatures! But it’s good to be here taking part in the life of the church, together: sharing in tasks that warm our hearts and feed our faith. 

It’s good to be home…

Fallout From the Polar Vortex

            I am ever so thankful to God for some of the things I learned through the experience of last week’s polar vortex. Our house is well insulated. Our furnace is running well. Our car batteries are strong. These are good things to know!

            But the opportunity to stay indoors, to work on things in the study, led to learning yet more things through my reading and my encounters with media, both social and news. While these things are good, even necessary to know, my initial reaction was not thankfulness. 

            The drama playing out in Virginia over a bill sponsored by a few of their delegates probably caught your attention, too. It did not make it out of committee, but the governor, a pediatric neurologist, was inclined to sign it should it have passed. This bill would not only allow for a child to be aborted at 40 weeks, but it would also have allowed for a child surviving the abortion to be put to death anyway, outside of the womb, after consultation between the mother and the physician. This possibility, previously labeled infanticide, but now becoming known as a fourth trimester abortion, followed on the heels of the joyous celebration in New York when their governor signed a similar bill. It allowed the same late term abortions which could be performed by people other than physicians and for any health reason (mental, physical, emotional, et al). Lord, have mercy.

            In a periodical I read, in almost an aside, of the casualness of sexual intercourse on college campuses across the nation. It is so commonplace in what used to be known as dating that it has become the expectation.

            And finally, in another periodical I read of the serious mental health issues and the instances of violence that appear to be connected with the use of marijuana, especially among the adolescent. Whereas Senator Cory Booker has said that “states [that have legalized marijuana] are seeing decreases in violent crime,” the states of Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon have, since the legalizing of marijuana for recreational use, seen a 37% increase in murders and a 25% increase for aggravated assault. These numbers are far greater than the national increase, even after accounting for difference in population. 

            However, in the midst of these dire items, there is still reason for thankfulness. Our God is still in control, and He is known for being at work through all things ( And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28). 

We are called to be faithful in serving Him and trusting in Him. His Spirit will keep us as we bear witness for God and the truth (God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.1 Corinthians 10:3). These things, even more so, are good to know!

The Body of Christ

            Yesterday’s epistle (I Corinthians 12:12-31) led me to emphasize our callings to serve together in the Body of Christ. St. Paul makes very strong points countering the thoughts (1) “I’m not that special, the church doesn’t really need me,” and conversely (2) “You’re not that special, the church doesn’t really need you.” 

            In the congregation where I first served as the pastor with complete responsibility for the members’ well-being they had a program called “Hands in Harmony.” A member named Lloyd had developed it. It divided the congregation into seven groups. One group signed up for a month’s worth of tasks: lectors/readers, ushers, providing coffee before Sunday School and Bible class, etc. Then, they would host the next month’s group at a luncheon, where that second group would sign up for their tasks in the following month. Overall there were 110 different jobs that needed to be done for the church to provide worship and other functions each month. 

            As I recall yesterday, here, there were people opening the doors and welcoming worshippers, people handing out the bulletins and taking the collection, serving at the Information Center, serving as acolytes, preparing the coffee/cookies/fruit to be shared after each of the worship services, teaching Sunday school, monitoring the sound and the projection of the services, playing keyboards, drums, singing and reading the lessons. Oh, and to heighten your appreciation for those reading the lessons, take a look at the names they read from Nehemiah 8:1-10!

            St. Paul’s words about the Body of Christ are important for every gathering of God’s people. They are important for you. You belong, and you are deeply needed among us.

Ideology

            We’re living in an age when conversations on difficult topics are more and more rare and disagreements escalate into the hurling of invectives. A video on social media becomes viral, insinuations are made, and people are demonized before the facts are checked. How did we get here? And how shall we address this?

            In an article for “The Catholic Thing” in September of 2016, Anthony Esolen blamed the rise of ideology. “Ideology is an ersatz religion. It rushes into the emptiness when one no longer is open to the divine.” I’ve heard that echoed more recently. When the message of God to the people He would redeem to Himself is not heard, when His Word no longer has the final say, when His Church, the Body of Christ, is no longer a mediating influence, everything is up for grabs. Politics then becomes the battlefield for what will be declared right and wrong, sacred and profane.

            Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t want to paint ideology as wholly irredeemable. It is a part of most every life. We have beliefs about what is best for our nation. We have passions about the best way to accomplish something. 

But without God’s guidance, God’s call to accountability, and God’s power for sanctified change and discipleship (read “Gospel”), ideology rules the roost (and ideology is a terrible tyrant). Esolen, again: “Ideology is impatient, unkind, envious, vain; obnoxious, self-seeking, touchy; believing the worst, rejoicing in iniquity; seething against the truth, tolerating nothing; restless, without real faith or hope in God.”

A return to the Word of God is the solution. Surely, in that Word we are chastened and that’s not an easy selling point. But, in that Word we are also healed. God confronts us in our sin for the express purpose of moving us to repentance. In that repentance we will find the wondrous message of God’s complete forgiveness and never-ending love. And in that Word God Himself is at work.

Cancellation

            “Have you ever cancelled a Sunday service?” This question was posed after we cancelled our Saturday evening worship service on January 12, 2019, due to the snow. A prediction of 5-7 inches turned into 11+ inches. We didn’t hold that service, but there was still a Bradley University basketball game. In my mind I thought, “If someone can make it to the Saturday night basketball game, they can certainly make it to worship on Sunday.” And lo and behold, many of them did! Thankfully, everyone was safe and we were able to worship on Sunday, January 13, 2019, to observe the Baptism of our Lord.

            Throughout the years I have served in places where we did have to cancel the latest service on a Christmas Eve, as well as the Christmas Day worship, because of a howling blizzard. (I believe that was the same year my mother-in-law cracked her pelvis as she slipped on the ice). A midweek Advent evening service in a different year was likewise cancelled for the same reason.

            Other than that, I can remember only a few times when the worship was held but I couldn’t participate in it. One Sunday morning an abscess in my jaw finally put an end to my preaching before the 10:45 service – many thanks to Gary Gruber, an elder, for reading the sermon that day. And then there was an Ash Wednesday when I couldn’t begin to get to work. My associate was sick, too.  Arnie Awe, an elder, filled in.

            My general rule of thumb is that if I can make it to the church, I will. And we will have a worship service. But I would encourage everyone to be sensible. Don’t take risks on your life or well-being to be in worship. God-willing we’ll be open the next time a worship opportunity presents itself, so you’ll get another chance if you miss this one! 

            There are many things for which to be thankful in this past weekend’s experience: (1)I’m thankful that for most of my pastoral ministry the weather has been fine and I’ve been in good health. (2) I’m thankful for the technology we have in this age to alert members that services won’t be held. (3) I’m thankful for the workers who step up in these moments – Jamie who knows how to get the previously mentioned alerts sent, and Jeff for his work in clearing the sidewalks and making certain the lot gets cleared. (4) Finally, I’m thankful for the snow and the moisture it means for our land.  

Some of you may have seen a few photos on Facebook regarding a Winter family tradition involving a barefoot dash in the snow. I’m thankful I got to do that, too! 

The birds are just a start.

            With the thoroughly insulated grill we have (and the delight I take in the weather that goes with my last name) I’ve been out on the back patio with some regularity over the last few weeks grilling our evening meal. On a few of those evenings I heard the hooting of an owl in the nearby woods.

            We also have Canadian geese who enjoy our neighborhood’s water feature. While I’m very glad our property isn’t closest to that fountain (and all the mess on the grounds nearby) we still occasionally hear their honking as they take flight.

            Along with these larger birds we have seen many smaller ones up close, on the birdfeeders in the back yard. So far, the regular patrons are chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays, and a redheaded woodpecker. 

            That brought the question “why are these so noticeable?” to my mind this weekend. My conclusions are that (a) the neighborhoods were very new where we’ve lived before, i.e. hardly any mature trees. We’d see and hear mourning doves on the roofs, but that was about it. And (b) it’s been while grilling out back, eating at our breakfast table, and reading in the evening that these birds are noticeable. We recognize their presence when we’re quiet and available.

            With that in mind I’d like to encourage you to take some time to notice these and other 1st Article wonders of God’s providence in your life (1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed, that is, along with its meaning in Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism). We are encouraged in Isaiah 40:26 “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?” And we know the answer to that – it’s God. Let your mind linger on how much He cares for us in all these things, as well as in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ, for the sins of the world.

            Take some time to notice the beauty, the majesty, and the plenty all around you. I’m looking forward to putting out our here-to-fore unvisited hummingbird feeder when the weather allows!

It's not what I wanted. But, it was good.

“It’s not what I’d wanted. But it was good.”

            Does this sound like a description of a Christmas present recently opened? I suppose it could be, with just a touch of disappointment in the voice during the first sentence. And then the second sentence hurries right in there, trying to convince the gift-giver it’s still a wonderful present!

            Or could it be said with a sound of surprise in the first sentence? It’s the wrong order brought to you by the restaurant wait staff. But it tasted good!

            For me, the first sentence has to do with the fact that I lost my voice by the close of the 9:30 service on Christmas Eve and there was precious little of it left on Christmas Day. I wasn’t able to sing many of the songs that I love and here it is, Saturday, December 29th, and I’m still struggling with it. This is not what I’d wanted for the first celebration of the nativity of our Lord, here.

            But, there was so much good to enjoy! There was beautiful music throughout the services – harp, violin, brass, choral, organ, keyboard and guitars. The setting was, itself, stunning with the trees, the poinsettias, and the lighting. We had a great visit with Jami’s parents and our son and his wife, Chase and Krista, through the holidays.

            And truly, “good” is far too tame a word. I should probably describe it as great, because all of these surrounded, embellished, and amplified the adoration of the Christ child, born to Mary. Jesus was the center of it, as He rightly is: the One Who came to set us free from sin, death and everlasting condemnation through His suffering, death, and triumphant resurrection. 

            God the Father gave us a gift we didn’t know that we wanted, a gift we didn’t know how deeply we needed. Thank you, God, for the gift of Your Son, Jesus, and the opportunities we have had at Christmas to rejoice in this. 

Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene

            We are one week from Christmas Eve and though I do have a sermon or two to write it’s high time to contribute here, again, (or so our son, Chase, suggests). So here are a few thoughts about what’s going on around us.

            Many thanks, again, to President Dale Meyer of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, for sharing this gem from G. K. Chesterton (G.K.C.). It was in the larger context of the Wisdom of God which has come to be among us in Christ Jesus. As we contemplate our need for the wisdom of God this quote emphasizes how much we need it. “If a man says, ‘I’d like to find something greater than myself,’ he may be a fool or a madman, but he has the essential. But if a man says, ‘I’d like to find something smaller than myself,’ there is only one adequate answer – ‘you couldn’t.’”

            I used to be a stickler in Advent. I would steal myself against celebrating, contemplating, or enjoying the Christmas season until after December 25th, when the 12 days of Christmas truly begin. But I found that I was pretty much alone in wanting to watch Christmas movies and enjoy Christmas music so late in the season. So, while I very much appreciate the significance of Advent – considering the three-fold coming of Jesus at the nativity, in the Word and Sacraments, today, and in glory at the end of days – I’m also enjoying here in December that great segment of our hymnody that revels in the birth of Christ Jesus in Bethlehem.

            There was a bit of a kerfuffle I noticed on the news last week. It was suggested that Pope Francis was considering changing the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. The Pope could be a little more circumspect when he addresses the press, but I found the explanation in the National Catholic Register helpful. It seems the Catholic church in France has begun to say, “don’t let me fall into temptation,” rather than, “lead us not into temptation.” Pope Francis simply suggested that the Italian Catholics might want to follow suit. Again, he ought to know that what he says is going to be examined every which way. All this leads me to thankfulness for what we have known all along, courtesy of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and its explanations (this one in the latest translation):“God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice…”

            And finally, back to G.K.C. Here is the last segment of his Christmas Poem, (which may lead you to want to google it for yourself!). 

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

            God bless you as together we trek to the manger in Bethlehem, once more, rejoicing in the birth of our Savior Jesus the Christ. 

Some good thoughts from Dale Meyer

Dale Meyer, the president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, has some good thoughts for these days:

These days after Thanksgiving now have names, “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday” and “Cyber Monday.”  The names show what our culture truly values-stuff, buying and getting stuff, and all the businesses that thrive on this culture of consumption. Remember that “consumption,” the old word for tuberculosis, a dread disease? The culture of consumption is so pervasive that even church people may not see the fundamental challenge, this disease eroding our reliance upon God. Do we finally rest our lives on the stuff we can see, buy and enjoy, or faith, trusting in the promises of God? (2 Corinthians 5:7). Even tomorrow’s “Giving Tuesday” is disguised consumption. It just happens to flow to charities instead of capitalist businesses, but it’s still about money. 

St. Paul: “You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11). Paul had labored to free the Gentiles from their notion that what they did (for us these days, acquire or give) made life good before God and others. Apply Paul’s arguments to our consumption. “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law (by what you buy, a legal transaction) but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16). “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law (by the things you’ve built up) or by hearing with faith?” (3:2). Yes, we do need stuff, “daily bread,” to live, but consumption is no Gospel; it’s in the law. If I do this then… If I don’t buy this, then… “‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (3:10). Consumption will prove a fatal disease.    

Can a person of faith shop on “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” or “Cyber Monday?” Yes, so long as you don’t value the quality of your life by what you have and acquire. Christ sets us free from slavery to stuff. “Giving Tuesday” thrives on altruism, selfless concern for the welfare of others, and that benefits countless people, but don’t give as a guilt offering because you spent on yourself the previous days. Give because He loves you so much that He gave Himself for you and now through you His gifts can flow to others. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). Who’s your Lord, God or mammon? (Matthew 6:24).

Out and/or Up

“Let my prayer rise before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” So begins the Psalmody in the Lutheran Service Book“Evening Prayer” service, a translation of Psalm 141. It came to mind the other day as I heard a little dust-up on prayer relayed over the radio. 

            Apparently, a major television network’s anchor recently disparaged the thought of praying for someone, suggesting that prayers don’t do anything. I think it was made out of frustration with people who say they’re praying for people in terrible loss instead of promoting some legislation to prevent further suffering and loss. 

I would argue against the “futility of prayer” comment in two senses. Firstly, prayer places whatever is in my mind or on my heart before God Almighty and He can do with it whatever He knows is best for all concerned. He loves us and He raised His Son from the dead: there is nothing beyond His capability. And secondly, since I am intentionally placing things before God, it changes me and my perspective on the issues at hand. It causes me to rely on God in His mercy through Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

            Another thing that has been on my mind is the way prayer is often referenced on the television. As (1) the fires have been raging in California, (2) people have been shot in Thousand Oaks and (3) turmoil has been experienced in other places, I have heard any number of people say something like “Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.” I believe I know what they mean to say – that the people going through such trial and suffering are often in our minds and we sympathize with them and we wish the best for them. 

            But, I believe it’s better to observe the following rule of thumb: thoughts go outand prayers go up, (like incense, as in the Psalmody, above). Our thoughts and our hearts can go out to people, but when we say that prayers go out to them that is tantamount to wishful thinking, and prayers are much more than that. 

Prayers go up to God on their behalf. And as we place their needs before our Glorious and Gracious King, we can keep in mind what C. S. Lewis said of the gift of prayer God gave us: Prayers are not always—in the crude, factual sense of the word—"granted." This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality, but because it is a stronger kind. When it "works" at all it works unlimited by space and time. That is why God has retained a discretionary power of granting or refusing it; except on that condition prayer would destroy us. It is not unreasonable for a headmaster to say, "Such and such things you may do according to the fixed rules of this school. But such and such other things are too dangerous to be left to general rules. If you want to do them you must come and make a request and talk over the whole matter with me in my study. And then—we'll see."(God in the Dock, essay 11 on Work and Prayer). 

After Election Day

            “God grant me the serenity to accept the candidates that I didn’t select, the courage to pray for all of them and the wisdom to remember that God is still on the throne.”

            There. That’s done for a while.

            I pray you took the time to exercise the franchise and cast your ballots this week. We are a most fortunate people to have the regular opportunity to alter our government when we see fit. 

            Now, it’s time to pray (1) for our representatives and (2) for a peaceful acceptance of the decisions we have made in this republic. And the One to Whom the prayers are directed is the God Who is truly in control and has our best and eternal interests in mind.

Saints Among Us

             Years ago I had purchased both the Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Butler’s Lives of Saints to add to my morning devotions. Along with reading the Scriptures I would look up the saint whose day it was on either the Roman Catholic or Anglican calendar so that I might grow from their heroic examples. They’d been recognized by the Church for something significant and I thought I should probably take notice, too.

            As time has gone by I’ve been widening that understanding and appreciation of the saints. I’d always known that Lutheran recognition that all who trust in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins are the saints of God, even though on this side of the grave they will struggle with their sinful nature. But it’s been good to give that wider definition some intentional consideration.

            Who in your life has been an example of a child of God whose witness you’ve grown to appreciate? Have you had grandparents who shared a wonderful confidence that God will work these things out? Have you had parents whose stewardship or devotion were exemplary patterns to follow?

            On this All Saints’ Day I’m taking some time to give thanks to God for: Paul, and his extraordinary zest for working with junior high kids in Sunday School; Janice, whose love for her students was obvious; Alan, in the daily devotions he shared; Carlene, in her growing and vocal appreciation for the book of Romans; Jami, and her wonderful understanding of God’s presence in the difficult times when it appears one’s prayers are not being answered with a “yes”; Kent, and his whole life stewardship; and Arlene, whose counsel was to pray some more when you cannot get to sleep – and “There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more. And there is nothing you can do that will make God love you less.”

            I’m sorry to leave this list so incomplete. There are many, many more whose witness to me has helped me to grow in Christ, and I know I will find many, many more in this place. I pray that you can think of such people, today, and lift a prayer of thankfulness to God for His Spirit’s work in and through the saints in your life. 

Changes and a Constant

2018 10 22 Blog

 

            We discovered in our move to Peoria that my alarm clock was no longer working. Thankfully, I’m a light sleeper and the automatic coffeemaker’s signal that the brew is complete has been enough to wake me up from its perch in the kitchen. Still, I’d rather not depend on that faint noise.

            So, Jami was on a mission to buy a new one the other day. To her surprise she found only one or two models of alarm clocks at Target; the same was true at Bed, Bath and Beyond. They just don’t make many alarm clocks any more.

            Some have been surprised that I don’t use my phone as an alarm. I guess I could if I would silence all the rest of the alerts (see “light sleeper”, above). Then, too, I prefer waking up to a classical radio station instead of a buzzer, if possible. If that’s available on my i-phone, please let me know!

            All of that reminded me of the constant march of progress or technology. Along with the alarm clock I guess I could lament the demise of the buggy whip manufacturers. There cannot be many of them anymore, either. They are simply not in great demand. 

            Or, I could consider the tools of my trade. I continue to use the volumes lining the shelves in my study. But I no longer compose a letter, sermon, or Bible Class without the word processing of my computer. And I rarely deliver a sermon without a power point presentation, or something like it. 

            There are blessed advancements in this world, thanks to technology and brilliant people. But, Tim Elmore suggested an important caution for our age in his recent book Marching Off the Map(page 208). As he compared various ages through which our economies have moved, he noted certain strengths that were needed in each. He put it this way:

            Historical Era                                                   How People Differentiate Themselves

1.    Agricultural Age                                              1. Stronger muscles

2.    Industrial Age                                                  2. Stronger machines

3.    Information Age                                             3. Stronger minds

4.    Intelligence Age                                              4. Stronger morals

            Thankfully our morals, our ethics, and our values have a constant, unchanging source in our Lord Jesus the Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, this loving Savior Who gave His life as the sacrifice for our forgiveness is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) He is the trustworthy source of all truth and value Who has said of Himself in the Revelation of Christ Jesus to St. John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).

            While things change with remarkable speed all around us, take the time on the Lord’s Day to be with God in His House, amidst His people. There He will share with you His unchanging love, a source of constant peace and security in every age, world without end. 

            It’s been a little over two months since we moved and I was desirous of not only getting an Illinois Drivers’ License but also registering to vote. So, I walked into the DMV the other day. I had most of the required paperwork, but I hadn’t been able to locate my Social Security Card. That put an end to that afternoon’s quest: no social security card, no way forward.

            The next day I went to the Social Security Administration office on Pioneer Parkway. After a little over an hour waiting for my number to be called I walked up to the window. I presented my completed application and my Nebraska Drivers’ License. After a few clicks by the affable fellow on the other side of the counter, he looked at me and said, “It would appear you’re not a citizen of the United States.” I’m sure my eyes got wide as saucers (an expression which most certainly dates me). “Do you have any proof that you’re a citizen?” I answered something about not much more than what he’d already seen, although I could get my State Department Birth Certificate created when I was born in Quezon City, the Republic of the Philippines. He shook his head. I was dumbfounded; what was I going to do as a 56-year-old undocumented alien? He then asked, “Do you have a passport?”

            Yes! I have a passport! Bingo, I’m back on track. I can bring it back tomorrow and continue the process.

            But that raised more questions. How did I get a passport without what the state of Illinois regarded as necessary proof? How had I lived so long without these difficulties? It also explained why I had to send in my birth certificate three years ago when I had another difficulty being approved for a certain status. 

            Thankfully, I got the same guy behind the counter when I returned this morning. He was very good-natured as he handed me my completed paperwork and congratulated me, “You are now a citizen of the United States!”

            The lessons I am taking away from this are: I have taken my status as a citizen of this country for granted; I am grateful for people who not only explain problems but also help to find solutions; and, I will need to find a better place to store my new Social Security Card when it arrives.

            We each have a citizenship in heaven by God’s grace (Philippians 3:20). It is easy to take such status for granted as we chug through each day, but my, what a precious thing it is as we reflect upon it. God has placed us in this communion both to keep one another accountable, but also to help restore one another (Galatians 6:1). Thankfully, it’s not a piece of paper which assures us we belong but simply the faith, engendered by the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. It’s good to belong in this kingdom with you! 

We'll get there

“We’ll get there.”

            This was said to me by a fellow red-clad fan leaving the stadium known as “The Big House” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last Saturday. We made eye contact, smiled weary smiles, and she said, “We’ll get there.” 

            It had been a long afternoon. A new coach and a program in sorry shape had been drubbed 56-10. But she encouraged us, “We’ll get there.”

            You can imagine this phrase being spoken by a parent from the front seat of the car. It’s a raging storm outside and the child in the back seat is worried. “We’ll get there,” comforts the driver.

            Perhaps you can also hear this said to an elderly friend, one who is wondering “why am I still here?” It’s a plaintive question, asked by those whose spouse and friends have already gone to be with God. In terms of her query about joining the company of redeemed in the presence of God: “We’ll get there.” Maybe not anytime soon, but “We’ll get there.”

            It could well be used as someone deals with the day to day struggle of living as God calls us to live. For every step of progress there are times we encounter two steps of frustrating reversal. Still, “We’ll get there.”

            Amid the persecutions of Christianity that are predicted for us in Revelation, might it be assuring to hear “We’ll get there”? God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.(1 Corinthians 10:13). “We’ll get there.”

            That “We” in these last three paragraphs does not refer to a rabid football fanbase. It refers to us, the Body of Christ - any group of Christians in whom the Holy Spirit resides. It is this Spirit which “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the Christian Church,” as the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed assures us (Luther’s Small Catechism). And He “keeps” us, with Jesus Christ. “We’ll get there.”

            When the way ahead looks dark, when the burdens are heavy, and when you wonder whether you truly can go on, refresh yourself in God’s Word so that the Spirit of the living God can encourage you with the truth that “We’ll get there.”

Books...and influence.

            It’s been good to get here to Peoria and to have most of the unpacking finished. Most of it. Many thanks to the people who have been asking how Jami and I are getting along. We appreciate you asking after our well-being!

            One of the comments made during the move was echoed at both the church study and at home: “The Winters have a fair number of books.” The mover who helped that Thursday evening at the church added the question “Do you know all that’s in these books?” My answer was, of course, “No. But that’s why I keep them. I can refer to them when I need the information they have.”

            It dawned on me last night that all of those heavily loaded apple boxes full of books may have left an impression on our children. The contents of those boxes might be a part of the reason our daughter, Mary, is an academic reference librarian at a medical school and our son, Chase, is a language arts teacher in a high school. Those books and the stories and information they conveyed were obviously valued by Chase and Mary’s mom and dad. Why else would we lug them part way across the country with us? 

            What things of value did your folks pass along to you? What are the things that were important to them that you find are still important to you?

            By the same token, what ideas and values are you passing along to the next generation? What do your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews glean from their contacts with you regarding what you think they ought to know or have?

            We read in Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.We can certainly see and hear in toddlers the effect of our example in their mimicry. That kind of influence continues through the formative years and beyond. 

            God bless you as you set an example in your worship, devotion, prayer, and study patterns. They are a blessing not only for you but for those around you, as well. 

Deadlines

            Each of us has operated under deadlines. There are fixed times within which inoculations must be administered, students must be registered, and budget requests must be submitted. I did notice in Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary that the secondary definition for “deadline” is a perimeter around a prison which a prisoner crosses at the risk of being shot. May we never know that sort of deadline!

            I’ve operated under many of these deadlines with you. As a called worker, I’ve also known deadlines for submitting worship themes to church musicians and worship arts coordinators so that music and liturgical pieces can work more effectively together. We’ve got deadlines in place to make certain that Katie has all the information she needs to keep the screens and the Priority One up to date and informative. 

            Now, with this initial “issue” of the Winter Blog on Redeemer’s website, we’re adding another deadline, though this one will largely be self-imposed. It is my hope and goal that this blog will be added to perhaps every ten days to two weeks, initially, and then with greater frequency (hence, the deadline). This will be a place to share devotional thoughts as well as to delve further into serious issues. 

            Our God has worked with deadlines in His efforts to reconcile us back to Himself. St. Paul reveals the expert timing of our God in this mission: “In the fullness of time, God sent for His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). “At the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6) 

            There is also a deadline looming before us in this mission, though we don’t know its exact terminus. “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,’In a favorable time I listened to you,and in a day of salvation I have helped you. "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:1-2). Now is the time for our witness to others, our ministry to them in God’s name and for their salvation. 

            Again, we don’t know the final deadline, only that it’s coming; or better yet, that Jesus is coming. What we do know is the grace in which God would redeem all to Himself through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And we have the assurance that His Holy Spirit will be of inestimable value in the words we share and the service we bring.