Sunday, December 28, 2014


Christmas has many interesting traditional stories that capture the heart. There is one such story written in 1895 by Henry Van Dyke, about a "Fourth Wise Man" named Artaban who had intended to travel with the other three to see the newborn king.

Artaban sets out to meet the others with his treasures, a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl of great price. However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet the others. Since he can't cross the desert alone without supplies, he sells one of his treasures to buy camels and supplies for the trip. He finally arrives in Bethlehem, but is too late because the child and His parents have fled to Egypt.

While in Bethlehem Artaban saves the life of a child, but it costs another of his gifts for the baby. He continues traveling to Egypt and other countries as he searches for the new King Jesus and performs other acts of charity along the way. After many years, the "Fourth Wise Man" returns to Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion.

There Artaban spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman being sold into slavery. He is gravely wounded by a fallen roof tile and believes he has failed in his quest when he hears a voice saying, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto Me." (Matthew 25:40)  The "Fourth Wise Man," dies in contentment, having finally found his King and knowing his treasures were acceptable to Him.

Despite such legends, humanity has been eternally affected by the true story of Jesus of Nazareth who is God's love in human form. This time of year we often hear bland pronouncements about the "value of all religions" and how people should show love. But there is really only one Faith that tells of a Savior who forgives people and moves them to genuine acts of Christian love.

The conviction that Jesus is the Savior of the world today motivates over two and a quarter billion people worldwide to worship Jesus, born as a child in Bethlehem and visited by the Magi. May you be among those who kneel in your heart before the Christchild.

Oh, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Monday, December 22, 2014


In the wake of last week's international fracas about Sony deciding not to release a new movie when threatened by a nation in the Far East, debaters mostly sided with free speech. Few people realized there had been a similar event a month before in the American Midwest.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, annually holds its fall "Paint the Plow" event, in which students from area schools are invited to paint some of the city's huge snow plow blades with appropriate artwork. This year, however, the event became a battle after an atheist complained.

You see, it was October and with Christmas coming, it wasn't surprising some Christian students decided to paint about Jesus. One plow showed the traditional red and white Coca-Cola logo but read, “Jesus Christ” and quoted John 1:14. The other plow blade displayed a cross and manger and read, “Happy Birthday Jesus.” The artwork was by students from two area Lutheran Schools.

It also wasn't surprising that a local atheist complained to the city attorney that such things were inappropriate on city-owned equipment. “That was a clear endorsement of religion, and it was on city property,” he said. Score one for the Grinch!

But the battle wasn't over. Past students had painted religious themes on those plows, but no one complained. However, faced with a First Amendment battle, concerned city officials told the schools to repaint their artwork. One of the Lutheran principals said there wasn’t time, so the city could paint over the designs themselves.

Letters to the editor began falling like hailstones, so a statement was quickly issued by the city noting this long-standing program had allowed students from all community schools to paint and design the plow blades. Despite the complaint, the students had broken no laws, so their artwork would remain in place. Score a win for Jesus and free speech!

Whoever you are reading this, think how blessed that you can share your faith without fear, at Christmas or any time with a simple "Merry Christmas!" "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." (Isaiah 9:6) And that child is the Savior of all who turn to Him in faith, even a Grinch!

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Sunday, December 14, 2014


(Parade of Lights, Part Two)

Who guides your footsteps? Who directs your life journey? Who helps you stay on the right road and out of the ditches? How do you know when to begin and when to stop?

The band enters the staging area, ready for its place in the Parade. A hundred students dressed in brightly lit uniforms march quietly forward in formation, each properly holding an instrument as instructed. Almost as one, the band comes to a halt on the side street, ready to move when called. Then the wait begins.

The high school students hold formation for perhaps a quarter hour before some begin milling and whispering. Adults urge them to stay in line, but the wait is long. The Drum Major puts them through a short step routine to keep their interest, but as the wait wears on, restlessness and mumbling begin filling the night. Lights on uniforms dance showing them to be ready, but time moves slowly in the wait.

Suddenly, a snare drummer raps them to attention. "BRAP! BRAP! BRAP!" Within seconds all the bodies step into place, and the drummer snaps into a marching cadence as the shuffling feet and lighted bodies move gently forward. "BRAP!... ... ... BRAP!... ... ..."

Barricades are lifted and the marchers move through to the ever-louder beat, making their quarter turn onto the street. Suddenly, all the drummers pierce the night with a difficult cadence that sends chills through the crowd. The wait is over - it's SHOWTIME! And all the people watch proudly as their award-winning band leads the parade through the streets.

Advent is a time of waiting, children waiting for Christmas, workers waiting for a shift to end, students waiting for Christmas break, and Christians waiting for the promised second coming of their Savior. One day angel drummers will announce the end of the OLD and the start of the NEW. When that day comes, the Divine Drummer will rap the world to attention, and every human being, dead or alive, will know the Lord and His judgment have come, and the New World is set to begin.

Until then, God calls His men and women to a prepared wait. He tends to our needs, He helps direct us on the right path and corrects us when we fall short. Until then, we live hopefully and joyfully, and we show the world the divine love given us all in the Babe of Bethlehem who came to save us from our sins.

"So be it! Come Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)

Monday, December 8, 2014


It was time for the town's "Parade of Lights" to begin. The burgers had been consumed by tailgaters as the sun went down in the settling darkness. Generators powered up tens of thousands of lights on floats built and decorated by youth groups, businesses and local organizations. Santas and reindeer, snowmen and elves, Disney, glitter and glitz lit up the night in bright array.

Decorated units from golf carts to eighteen wheelers lined the mile on both sides of the town's major street, each awaiting its signal to go. Band members dressed in flickering lights with twirler brigades were ready to follow. Parade organizers marshaled people here and there, and finally the parade began. The floats were a magnificent sight on a warm watched by thousands.

One float was unique. It showed children and parents gathered in front of a lighted manger scene, but it had a problem. Lights illuminated the star, the manger and the large wooden candles all around, but there were no lights on the sideboard signs telling who they were. The Holy Family was visible in the dark night, but how would people know who had put them there?

Fortunately, someone came to the rescue. Producing two bright lanterns, a woman handed one to friend and directed her to stand on the other side of the float. As they were directed into the street, each carrier shined her bright light on the sign that said, "Trinity Lutheran Church Preschool." For the length of the parade, the two walking sentinels showed the crowd who knew the real purpose of Christmas.

It is difficult these days to find much of anything that tells us the true reason for CHRISTmas. The CHRISTchild has been overshadowed by the crush of shoppers, parties, red hats, blinking lights and blaring music. But if you look closely, you will still find some hearty CHRISTians shining their lights on the manger and showing the world God's eternal and holy gift in the Lord Jesus.

"Let your light so shine that people may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Last spring I wrote of Pastor Darrell Howanitz's ministry to Hispanics in Eden, Texas, at a holding prison for illegals due to be deported. His Bible Study there has been fruitful and helpful to many.

But now there is a snag. Several months ago, Pastor Howanitz, age 64, was diagnosed with cancer, an aggressive type that has entered his bones. He is still able to preach at his two small churches and lead his Bible class between medical appointments and treatments. Darrell's attitude is still positive, a blessing from God in life and especially now. But he and his wife Wanda live in a parsonage and must make plans for the future.

I met Darrell nearly 40 years ago when I came to a congregation in North Dakota. He said, "Hi, I'm Darrell and I'm going to join your church." I instructed and baptized him and he became a helpful member and my good friend, eventually entering the Lutheran pastoral ministry ten years later.

Darrell has had challenges in his ministry, but he has remained a positive, hopeful servant who loves the Lord and His people. He has used his talents through music, Sign Language, working among mentally disabled people and several years of mission work in the Bahamas and Haiti. I dedicated my Bible Study, The Hopeful Disciple, to Darrell and Wanda. The title describes their ministry and life.

Their two small congregations have been supportive. To prepare for the future, however, they need to move from the parsonage into their own home. Funds are limited, but they've found an estate home where they can live rent-free as long as the elderly owners live. Then they can purchase the home, but needed repairs will cost $10,000 of which they have only a portion. Despite a lot of pain, Darrell is doing some of the work himself.

This servant couple needs a helping hand. Carol and I have decided to contribute to their housing needs and we invite you to join us. We're sending our tax-deductible gift to: Trinity Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 245, Eden, TX 76837, with "Pastor's New House" written on the memo line.

All people need a good place to live, especially God's servants. Our Heavenly Father granted His only Son a place to be born in a manger, and later provided a home through His foster father Joseph. God always provides.

Jesus said in Matthew 25:36, "I was in need and you helped me." Carol and I to invite you to join us in helping with the housing needs of Pastor and Mrs. Howanitz. We can assure you of their gratitude.

Thank you, and may God bless you this Christmas.