Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Last week Carol and I visited Puerto Penasco, Mexico, for two days with three other couples. It's located 200 miles from Casa Grande on the northern edge of the Gulf of California in an area called Rocky Point. We stayed in a newly built ten story highrise with huge condos on a beautiful beach with gorgeous sunsets.

If we had been transported there at night, we might have thought all of Puerto Penasco was rich and fine. But sunrise revealed a poor fishing village next door that today relies on fishing the pockets of tourists. Our buildings had 500 condos, but only a dozen of them held guests. 

My car, an 11 year-old Olds worth maybe $2,000, was one of the nicest in town. We probably had more money in our pockets than most of the stores had in their cash registers. It is the slow season there now, and I am wondering how much better it will be with the poor economy here in the states. The local people were happy to see us, but I wondered what they thought of us retired old Americans in our big cars. 

It felt great to return to the USA. We're a nation of great wealth, no matter how badly people here may think we have it. 

This past Sunday Carol and I attended St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Phoenix with Chuck and his family. The pastor had a fine Gospel-centered sermon on our worth in the eyes of the Lord. He was speaking to families with children which are good to see after living the winter among a lot of old folks. The pastor's message was pointed towards families who are struggling a lot more than my neighbors and I are.

It's easy during a recession to think we're "not worth as much now as we were before." But in the eyes of God we are all precious souls all the time, no matter what our financial portfolio may be. To our Heavenly Father, there is never a time when we are worthless. 

God made the trip into our world to show us the wealth of His grace and mercy, and though He lives in heaven, He has never really left us.  "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you," says our Lord (Hebrew 13:5). Jesus didn't just go home after a short visit. He's still here, in our hearts, in His Word and Sacraments, among His people who are all around us. 

If the economy starts making you feel sorry for yourself, take out a map and see where else you would like to live. Which other person in this world would you like to trade places with? 

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to live in this nation with all its bounty!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


With a popular new president being sworn in today, and with the Arizona Cardinals going to their first NFL Championship game in 65 years, expectations are swirling around here in Arizona like a desert whirlwind. And people want their expectations to come true.

Hopes, desires, and dreams are all powerful agents in life, and when unfulfilled, they can be really painful. There is a fine line between wanting our expectations and needing them to be true. It's the difference between a joyful life and a painful life.

Some of us expect certain things to come true, and when they don't, we look for someone to blame. What we wanted didn't happen, so it must be someone's fault. Rarely will we realize our expectations may be unrealistic. Basing happiness on someone else fulfilling our expectations is a recipe for trouble.

Broken expectations are a fact of life. Everyone has experienced them. We need to understand why we have them, where they came from, and why we value them so much. A key to surviving this pain is understanding what expectations are and how they are made. 

Expectations can be defined thus:  "External Influence + Internal Influence = Expectation." In the case of our new President, millions of Americans believe he will bring the positive things America needs to regain its economic stability and political honor. The External Influence (hard times) plus Internal Influence (people's hopes) equals the Expectation (our new president will bring us good times).

In the case of football, a lot of folks down here are hoping the Cards can pull off another miracle. Expectations about the Super Bowl are not as important (except maybe on game day) as America's world standing, but they are expectations still. When expectations do not come to pass, there will be sadness and blame to go around.

God calls us to place our trust, not in our own hopes or desires, but in His promises. I've always held to this axion: "Trust God completely; Trust people provisionally." People will fail you - that's a fact - but God will not fail you. He always keeps His promises. God's Word is reliable and always helps us. 

There are times we need to let go of some expectations. A young man who thinks his young girl is perfect will soon be disappointed. He needs to release her from his expectation of perfection. Only God is perfect. Only heaven will have everything just as we want it. Only angels could win every Super Bowl. Pastors and churches might fail us. Parents and children could disappoint us. Politicians probably will betray us. 

Only God is perfect. He is the one we should trust completely.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

God bless Pres. Obama! Go Cardinals!

Monday, January 12, 2009


Today I almost climbed a mountain. It's called Picacho Peak, though I'm not sure of the definition of "peak." And I almost climbed it, but not quite. I figured 2 hours, 2 miles and 1,200 verticle feet was enough for a first climb. About 300 feet below the summit I was told it was two more hours to the top, and a wise old feller up there told me, "If you're not sure, this is probably far enough."  (Maybe I looked like I'd gone far enough - two more hours on those rubber legs might have required an air ambulance.)

Picacho Peak is 25 miles south of Casa Grande and its base is the site of the only Civil War battle in Arizona. History says a few Union soldiers bumped into some Arizona rebels, shot at each other awhile, and then quit for the night. In the morning the Union soldiers had left, so the Arizona boys went home. Some fool told me the Peak wasn't hard to climb, so I set out on a bright Monday morning. 

I don't know if I'll do it again, but I learned a few things. It's harder going up or coming down than you think, especially if your first climb is at age 63. It takes strength and stamina to go up, but patience and strategy to come down. The view at the top is worth the climb, but you don't stay there very long, especially when you're hungry and remember you left a sandwich in the car.

A lot of mountain climbing applies to life. A person can't climb continually - stopping awhile renews your strength. You don't want to look at the top too often or you'll get discouraged, and you don't want to look down too often or you'll exhaust yourself thinking how you got up so high. Most of the time you just need to concentrate on the next step and make sure your footing is solid and in the right direction.

The young people you meet on the trail charge on past you, but the older folks stop and chat awhile. Meeting someone on the trail is good because you might need to stop. And they might need you.

When we're facing hard times, life is truly like a mountain climb. In the midst of difficulty we need to keep from looking at the top too often or we'll feel defeated. If we look down too often, we might get scared. So we need to take life one day at a time, or even one step at a time.

Having people to travel with is always good, though we need to walk the trail at our own speed. It's good to depend on others at times, but the pace must be ours, not theirs. 

We need to prepare ourselves and trust that God will be with us on the trail. If we fall, He will help us up, and if we are hurt, He will be there with His healing. No matter what the ups or downs, God will go with us if we let Him. He already knows the trail and how hard it can be. He will give us His advice and direction in the Holy Trail Map if we will just read it. 

Don't forget that Jesus climbed a hill called Calvary and earned us a place with the Father in heaven.

And when we get there, the view will be fantastic!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Today is the Twelfth Night of Christmas in western Christianity, the day we call Epiphany ("manifest" or "revealed") . But today, January 6, is also Christmas Day for the majority of Orthodox Christians of the world. By Orthodox, I mean Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians, Coptic and Armenian Christians, and other Orthodox branches.

Today some 300-400 million Orthodox believers, 1/5 of the world's Christian population, are recalling the birth of their Savior with special worship services, unique customs, sharing of gifts, decorating homes, and all the other swaddling clothes we wrap around the baby Jesus. As western Christians are removing our decorations, eastern Christians are just getting around to enjoying theirs. 

Eastern Christianity chose January 6 as the day Jesus was revealed to the Magi from the east. Epiphany Day was established in the Church calendar to honor the Magi, or "Wise Men" as we call them. The Magi were the first Gentiles to lay eyes on Jesus. Christmas has its angels and shepherds, but Epiphany has the Magi. 

They had come from the east, from Persia or Arabia, or maybe even modern day Iraq. Magi were star-gazers, highly learned men who interpreted much of life from the movement of the stars. They were educated men who read holy books of the other religions around them, including the Old Testament, the holy book of Judaism. which had foretold that a Deliverer-King would one day be born. The Magi knew what the Old Testament said, perhaps better than we Christians do today.

The Wise Men of Epiphany were humble in their adoration. They came seeking. They did not have all the answers. Neither do we. Pride has been the downfall of humanity since the fall into sin. It is easy today to be prideful. We live in an amazing world, with amazing technology and new discoveries happening every year, sometimes every day. But people are not the measure of all that is great. Only God is. 

Some things will never change - Preachers will preach and scientists will explain their latest discovery. New disasters will kill and new tyrants will rule. Satan will deceive people, and humanity will continue acting like it invented God. And that's why we must have the church. The Church is where sinners come to be forgiven and restored.

Thanks be to God we are forgiven, and thanks be to God we have the Church. God will always love sinners everywhere, and He will never stop forgiving them. Jesus the newborn king was revealed to the Wise Men when they came to worship Him. 

Wise men and women should always worship Him!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


It was many years ago, the day after yet another snowstorm, and the Kindergarten teacher was busy helping children put on their winter clothes for recess. The teacher said, "By the end of winter, you will all be able to put on your own clothing, even your boots." It was a statement more of hope than confidence. 

One little girl struggled into her itchy hand-me-down woolen coat but couldn't manage her boots. She handed them to her teacher and stuck out her foot. After much wiggling and pushing, the teacher managed to get the first boot on, and then the second one.  "They're on the wrong feet." the girl announced. So teacher went through the joyless task of putting them on the right feet.

"These aren't my boots, you know," the little girl said. As teacher pulled the offending boots from those little feet, she still managed to look hopeful and interested. Then the girl said, "These are my brother's boots - my mother makes me wear them, and I hate them!"  Somehow the teacher called on her patience and gave another smile as she put the boots back on again. With a great sigh of relief, she said, "Now, where are your mittens?"  The girl said, "I didn't want to lose them, so I stuffed them into the toes of my boots!"

2009 may have moments like this. People will frustrate us and try our patience and ask us again to do things, often the hard way. Life will have its struggles in 2009 and in such times we need to recall why we do them. It's part of our work and we need to work, for payday and also for purpose. People may frustrate us, but maybe we are frustrating some others. We need to try doing the helpful thing, the right thing.

If we're not sure what is helpful or right, then we need to ask the Lord for patience and guidance. God is patient and will help us - we can be sure of that. As you ask Him, be hopeful. Maybe this year you'll solve that impossible problem, or find the right person for work or friendship, or put on the boots correctly the first time. 

Two millennia ago today Mary and Joseph had been parents just one week. Jesus was their first child, they were in a strange town, and Joseph needed to find work. But they must have remembered the visit of the angel, the one who had said to each of them, "Fear not!" 

It was the same angel who told the shepherds, "Fear not!" and the same angel who told the disciples at the empty tomb, "Fear not!" It was the words of Jesus to Mary at the tomb, "Fear not!" He is the One who opens to us the gates of heaven by His love. Today we know the baby grew up and saved us, and we rejoice in Him.

"FEAR NOT" for behold, I bring you good news of great joy... Unto you is born a Savior, Christ the Lord!"