Monday, February 24, 2014
One night a month during the winter season I am Bingo Caller in our Retirement Park. Each Monday night three hundred to four hundred people gather at tables in the Ball Room with hopes of winning money. Only a few win and I often guarantee people before the game they can double their money by folding it and putting it back in their pockets. It's an old joke but there's truth in it when it comes to games of chance.
Bingo is generally fun, and I have an idea why some folks like to play. It's because even though they lose, they still feel like winners. In every game players hear numbers they can mark off on their cards. Every time they mark a number, they feel like they've done something. They may not have won, but at least they got to mark off those numbers.
We play twelve games each night, so there are twelve to fifteen or more winners because sometimes more than one person wins on the same card. Most of those who come feel satisfied that even if they don't win money, they still "won" their card numbers. Bingo is quite popular at our park.
There's excitement in the air when the jackpots are big and tension when the Caller makes a mistake. The Caller needs to remain calm when people grumble because they're there to have fun and they know only a few will win money. Whatever else happens, the game is over when the winner shouts "BINGO!" The one with a valid Bingo wins and the rest are satisfied they got most of the numbers.
It is tempting to think that getting to heaven is like that. If we get most of our actions right, we win the heavenly prize, right? If we do a majority of Christian deeds during our lives, God will award us the prize, right?
Sorry. Only the winning scorecard gets the prize, and without Jesus there'd be no winners. No matter how good a life we live, or how close we come to winning, it takes Jesus to get us heaven. No "near-perfect" life will win it. Those "I only missed one" cards don't count.
Heaven requires a winning card with a perfect score, and only Jesus can get that for us. On Calvary He won the Big One, and He offers to share His eternal winnings with every man, woman and child who trust Him as Lord and Savior. When Jesus is our Savior by faith, we win the Big One also. One of His disciples, John, said in chapter 6, verse 47, "He who believes HAS eternal life." That's the plain truth.
When Judgement Day comes, all believers can shout, HEAVEN!
Monday, February 17, 2014
Last Friday someone in the park where we live tried to drive inside his neighbor's house. Good thing there was a brick flower planter or he would have done it. People driving by saw the bricks lying there and clucked their tongues that someone must have had too much to drink. The bricks are still there this morning. Until someone picks them up and repairs the wall, they will not move. The wall will not repair itself.
A man came up for communion at Sunday's service wearing a leg brace. It was protecting a broken ankle bone as a result of a missed step. The difference between the brick wall and the man's leg was that the leg was healing itself. The moment he broke his leg, millions of osteoblasts, those pot-hole repair cells began attaching themselves to the fracture site to make new bone.
Those cells hadn't been waiting around for that break. Billions of them had already been diligently replacing old bone cells so that when we were young our body's bone structures were replaced every year. Now only about 18 percent of an older person's bones are replaced every year. This is done by the osteoclasts, the demolition cells at work inside us to clean out the old cells so the osteoblasts can replace it with new ones. The older we get, the less willing our bodies are to let our bone (or other) cells get replaced.
If I tried to repair that broken brick wall by removing a line of bricks in a horizontal row, the rest of the wall would collapse. But if I replaced a brick here and there, always keeping the wall basically intact, I'd eventually have a new wall. That's how our body fixes itself, depositing new fiber here and there until the bone is fixed. The Blasts and the Clasts work together, without our permission or participation. We don't have to call them to start working. They just show up.
My point? Our body is no accident. There are hundreds of types of cells inside our bodies that do their work to grow us, repair us and keep us alive and healthy. Some say the Bible conflicts with science. But it is never more true when it says, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14)
With so many advances in technology and science today, it's easy to dismiss the notion of a Creator God. We foolish people still think that, given enough time and trials, the body just sort of flops itself together in the right order so we can be born, grow and get healing when we are injured.
But our bodies are not an accident of nature. God put us together this way. To insist on believing our bodies all just "happen" takes far greater faith than to recognize that a Divine Creator is made us this way. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made is a fine little book by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy. I recommend it.
Stay healthy, use your head and drive safely today!
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Someone has said, "Man makes his plans and God laughs." We don't always know how life is going to turn out, but God does. This is true of my friends, Darrell and Wanda.
Wanda went to Florida after graduating from High School. She was planning to visit friends in a warmer place, but God had different plans. There she met Darrell, a Key West native, and soon they were married. He had his degree and had planned to teach Florida youth, but a decade later I met them in North Dakota where I instructed and baptized him and they became our friends and great helpers in my church.
Darrell had planned a career there as an insurance and investment counselor, but God had different plans. A decade later he attended seminary and was ordained in the Lutheran pastoral ministry. He and Wanda assumed he'd be pastor of a church in the midwest, but God had different plans. Their first church was in the Bahamas! After that they ministered together to people with mental retardation and hearing loss, so Darrell learned to preach and teach in sign language.
He took a call to a congregation, but again God had different plans. With his Caribbean background, Darrell spent more than a year with LCMS World Relief helping people in Haiti after their earthquake. He is now pastor in a west Texas town where there's a huge prison for Hispanic people due to be deported. There he has begun a highly successful Bible Class inside that prison.
He wrote me last week of another incident how God changed their plans. They'd returned from a short cruise and planned to leave ship, but fog and cold weather kept them on board all day, requiring them to drive home at night by a more desolate road. Along the way they encountered a rollover accident involving a mother and four small children. In the freezing cold they stopped to help, prayed with them and called EMTs on their cell phone.
Pastor Darrell and Wanda had planned a trip, but God had a better plan. If they had have driven their normal route home or at the normal time, they'd missed assisting the accident victims. Once again, he said, God put them at the time and place where they were needed. "Was this a coincidence?" he said. "Absolutely not!"
Their personal life hasn't been easy. Darrell has endured a heart attack, personal struggles and now has vision problems that require Wanda to be his driver. They've always trusted the Lord for their needs, especially for his special ministries. Today he is trying to purchase Spanish Bible Class items and materials for Wanda to make the hundreds of Spanish Bible verse bookmarks they give each deportee as they leave the prison.
Darrell finished his letter, "The next time you are late for something or your plans are changed, remember that God is still in control. He knows what needs to be done and He protects His own. That precious family didn't know us or we them, but God put us together that night!"
Carol and I have decided to help Pastor Darrell and Wanda's prison ministry and we invite you to join us. We're sending our check to Trinity Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 245, Eden, TX 76837, with "Prison Ministry" written on the check memo line.
Praise God for His good plans and His dedicated workers!
Monday, February 3, 2014
The past weekend has been a mixed bag. We attended a fine seminar Saturday, enjoyed worship and breakfast with our son and his family Sunday morning. Then Sunday afternoon I fell ill to a nasty cold/flu made all the worse by my team losing their big game. There is, of course, more to life than winning and losing games, and I'm sure I will soon get over this thing and feel better. This morning I am giving thanks we are still alive and God is still active in His world.
Which brings me to another event of the weekend which involved winning that I could not attend. My nephew Eric Niebuhr, age 50 and one of 8 boys in my sister's family, was laid to rest after a 3 year battle with cancer. He knew he was dying so he wrote a few things for his pastor brother Jon to say at his memorial service. The more memorable comment was simply, "I win!"
In a large family of boys you can imagine the competitive spirit, and Eric loved to win. He wrote, "For all of you that I completed against and beat, in sports or shooting pool, or fishing or in anything else, I just wanted you to know one thing: I WIN! I am with Jesus right now and I win."
What a great attitude to have! When you have faith in Jesus, you're a winner. St. Paul said, "In all these thing we are more than winners through Him who loved us.... Nothing will be able to separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37, 39) Eric was the first of my parents' 20 grandchildren to enter eternal life.
With faith in Jesus, we are all winners. The world says, "He lost his battle with cancer," but the believer knows that in Jesus he wins the Big One, eternal life with God in heaven.
Whom do you know who's recently won has the Big One? Because of Jesus and His forgiveness and resurrection we all can have it. Christ's resurrection is better than the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series, Master's, Indy 500, Olympic Gold Medal and every other top award imaginable. And it's ours because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.
May each of us one day be able to say, "I win!"