Tuesday, November 30, 2010


This time of year finds many people helping others who need it. From Salvation Army bell ringers to needy Christmas gift organizers to food basket gatherers to used clothing sorters, all kinds of people around our great country seek to help others in all kinds of ways. Certainly the root inspiration for this kindness is our heavenly Father who gave His only Son to forgive the sins of the world. Helping others at Thanksgiving and Christmas is part of what makes our nation strong and our people good.

Americans show their goodness in many and various ways. Sara Tucholsky, a softball player for Western Oregon University, hit her first college home run in a game against Central Washington, but she nearly didn't get credit for it. As the ball sailed over the fence, Sarah rounded first base, and in her excitement, missed it! When she skidded to a stop to go back, she twisted her knee so badly, she couldn't even crawl back. By rule, unless she touched each base, she could not get credit for her home run.

Though the rules said she could not be assisted by her own teammates, Mallory Holtman, first baseman for the opposing team spoke up, "Would it be okay if WE helped her touch the bases?" After conferring, the umpires agreed. So long as her own teammates didn't help her, the opposing team could do so if they wished. So Mallory and another teammate made a "chair" with their arms, picked up Sarah, and carried her around the bases, helping her to touch each one. By the time they got her to home base, many from both teams were crying at this selfless act of compassion, and Sarah was awarded her first college home run.

When our fellow Christians stumble and fall, we need to follow the example of those ballplayers. We need to reach out, lift them up, and sometimes even carry our struggling neighbors along. Christmas is a wonderful time to "Minister [God's love] to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:10) Whenever we help someone, we mirror the love of God for all people in Christ Jesus.

Who can you hold up, even carry, at this time of year?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


A shopper on "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving) needed a break. She'd found many specials and could hardly carry them all. She went to the Food Court, bought herself a little bag of cookies and a cup of coffee, and sat down at one of the crowded tables to sip her coffee quietly. Across the table a man was reading a newspaper. After a moment she reached out and took a cookie. As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one, too. She was a bit startled, but she did not say anything. A few moments later she took another cookie. Once again the man took a cookie. She was getting a bit uneasy at him eating her cookies but did not say anything.

After another sip of coffee she took another cookie, and so did the man again! Now she was a bit upset, especially since there was only one cookie was left. The man also saw the one cookie left, and before she could say anything, he broke it in half, offered half to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself as he walked away. She glared at him and left the table. "What a jerk!" she thought, "Some men think they're so smart!" She picked up her purse, and underneath it discovered her own cookies in their unopened bag. She'd been eating his cookies the whole time!

I like that story - it is rather like how we treat God when He provides us with so much, and we think it's all ours. How often don't we act as if we own everything, and that it's all purely because of our efforts? Perhaps we ought to memorize the words the Old Testament reading: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land He has given you." (Deuteronomy 8:10)

It's human nature to believe that all we have is ours, and that it comes through our own efforts. Deuteronomy 8 reminds us all we have is from God, things we may work to get, but nonetheless things that come to us from God's gracious hand. Every National Day of Thanksgiving is meant to show us it is God who gives us what we have. A line in a contemporary song says, "Thanks a lot! Thanks a lot! Thanks for all I've got!" We've all got "a lot," and I hope we'll all remember where it came from.

I'll be leading Thanksgiving Eve services tomorrow ( Weds, 4 & 7 PM if you're in the area) here at Trinity Lutheran in Casa Grande, Arizona, under the worship theme, "Count Your Blessings." It will be interesting to see how full the pews will be. There are so many winter residents here and being retired they are just so busy!

May God give us grateful hearts this Thanksgiving and always!

Monday, November 15, 2010


A woman was making a major change in her life. She was retiring after working for the same employer for over forty years. Some of her co-workers had been with her for much of that time, and as she hugged them, she frequently said, “Sorry about the tears.”

Why do we often feel the need to apologize for weeping? It might be tears of happiness at a wedding (I cried when our son was married), tears of farewell at a funeral, (a dear friend of ours died this afternoon) or even tears of relief at hearing good news after a long wait (happened to me a time or two) - whatever the case, we often feel we must apologize for our crying.

There is a time and a place for tears, but not all agree when that is. I once mentioned to a group of pastors that I was uncomfortable with pastors “breaking down” during a sermon and several agreed with me. I was surprised, though, at how many thought pastors should let such emotions show, even during a sermon. I’ve always felt that few people are comfortable seeing a leader weep while speaking.

Our positive emotions are God-given. God grieves. In Genesis 6, God becomes sorrowful (and angry) about the sin of His people. Scriptures record Jesus weeping at least twice, at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35) and later as He entered Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Jesus is God in the flesh, and He often joined his friends in their tears of grief or joy. I can think of no greater example than Jesus.

One day when we get to heaven there will be no more tears - of sorrow or separation or pain, for “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 21:4) In the meantime, tears may often flow. And no apologies are needed.

Thanks, Lord, for tears that clear our eyes to see You (and others) more.

Monday, November 8, 2010


(I am pleased to report that Debbie and our newest grandchild came home to Phoenix last Thursday night. Nine month old Anaya from the Congo took her place with five year old Micah and three year old Emily, also adopted by son Chuck and Debbie. At nine months old, Anaya is healthy, sleeping most of the night and smiling at everyone. If you would like a photo, tell me and I will send you one. Thank you for all your prayers. God is good!)

About thirty years ago my wife and I were driving in the hills of southern Germany when we came upon a large flock of sheep moving across a winding country road. The lone shepherd had two dogs who were helping him direct his flock from the winter lowlands to summer pasture. We pulled our rental car to the side of the road while the flock swirled around us, and watched them until all had crossed the road.

As a Christian shepherd, I was amazed at how calm the flock was around our car, and I wondered, "Do sheep fear change, or movement, or new places?" Those sheep surely looked undisturbed as they moved past our smoky, noisey little car to new places.

Like most older folks, I like the "fold," the old familiar places, and even though we live each half year in two states, we enjoy seeing old friends in both places. But it seems so much is shifting and changing in the world today. Politically and economically, we are being led into new surroundings and into a vast unknown. What new tests will come our way in the days ahead? What new and untried paths must we go down?

Jesus said of the Good Shepherd in John 10:4, "When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice." Life may cause us some dismay as we see change swirling around us. We may lie awake at night wondering what life will bring us tomorrow. In such times we need to trust that our Shepherd knows the way, and will guide us there if we will follow Him.

Our Good Shepherd knows our limits. He loves us and will not forsake us. He will not lead us down paths too dangerous or too difficult where He cannot help us. He knows the way to green pastures and cool waters. All we need do is follow Him.

Our unknown future is secure in the hands of our all-knowing God.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Last week I asked you to pray for Debbie and Anaya, my daughter-in-law and her newly adopted African baby, that they could return to America safe and soon. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and good wishes. At this time Debbie and Anaya are still in the Congo, but will begin their flight home early tomorrow morning. She will travel through Ethiopia, Rome and Washington DC, planning to arrive in Phoenix late Thursday. The trip will take at least 35 hours.

Last week Debbie received Anaya's Visa from the US Consulate, but the Congo Exit Letter was delayed. That finally came late Monday, but only after someone called the authorities on her behalf strongly urging they get the letter done. Debbie attempted to get on the return flight this morning (Tuesday), but was unsuccessful. So, God willing, tomorrow morning the journey home will begin.

These last four weeks have been difficult with so many delays. When I asked our son Chuck yesterday if Debbie was upset, he said they consider the delays as bumps in the road, and that God is with them on the road. Carol and I know there is purpose behind it all, and perhaps one day we'll know what it is. Bumps are sure to happen on any road of life. We need to expect them and not fear or become too angry over them.

I've learned much about prayer in all this. About a year ago, I began praying daily for three specific causes, two of which God has answered in wonderful ways. The third, a successful adoption trip, is almost answered. I've learned that when we pray for God to do certain things for us, He does not ignore us or make light of our fears, even though it may seem that way. I've learned again that God's answers are best. I've also learned that taking requests to God on a daily basis can change your life.

When St. Paul urged us in 1 Corinthians 5:17 to "Pray constantly," it's because God wants to hear from us. He does answer our prayers, and gives us circumstances that can move us to pray. If you or I didn't see our need to pray every day, we'd never try it. The bumps come along on the road of life can force us to fold our hands.

Grandparents often wonder what their purpose might be later in life when their family seems to need them less. "Pray constantly" might be that purpose. It takes little time or effort, and no one can tell us how or what to pray for, or stop us from praying. Prayer is a calming privilege and strengthens our faith. You don't need to be a grandparent to "Pray constantly," but if you are, try it and see its blessings.

Remember, those are bumps on the road, not mountains.