Important People in Your Life

People 1.jpeg

The following quiz about important people is often attributed to Charles Schulz, creator of the ‘Peanuts’ comic strip. That attribution is denied by Snopes.com, a widely used internet reliability resource. Nevertheless, its point is worthy of consideration. So here it is, slightly amended:

  1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
  4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
  5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  6. Name the last decade’s World Series winners.

How did you do? If you’re like me, you didn’t do so well. The point of this little exercise is that very few people remember the headliners of yesterday. These are not second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields.

But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Except in rare cases, accolades, certificates and trophies are buried with their owners. I look around my office at many such items that will very likely find their permanent home someday in a dumpster.

Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:

  1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
  2. Name three friends who helped you through a difficult time.
  3. Name five people who taught you something worthwhile.
  4. Think of a few people who made you feel appreciated and special.
  5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
  6. Name the pastor who most significantly influenced your life.

For many people, this second quiz is easier than the first. That’s true simply because the people who make a difference in our lives are not the ones who possess impressive credentials, high net worth, or prestigious awards. They simply are the people who care the most.

Scripture has many injunctions to honor important people, including those in authority (Rom. 13:7), your leaders in the Lord’s work (1 Thess. 5:12), your father and your mother (Deut. 5:16).

Take some time to honor the important people in your life!

Rio Olympics 2016

Rio de Janeiro.jpg

A very important person in Terry’s and my life, our beautiful granddaughter, turns 21 today. Happy Birthday, dear Kayla! Mimi and I love you very much and pray for you every day!

Also this weekend the Games of the XXXI (31st) Olympiad, more commonly known as the 2016 Summer Olympics, will conclude. This major international multiple-sport event began August 5 and will end August 21. It has virtually dominated major TV coverage for 17 days.

The decision to hold this event in Rio de Janeiro was made by the International Olympic Committee in 2009. More than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries have competed in 28 different sports at 33 venues in the host city and at five more locations in Brazil.

Numerous controversies preceded the Games, including the instability of the Brazilian government, pollution in Guanabara Bay and health concerns caused by the Zika virus. Use of illegal drugs by Russian athletes added to the list of challenges faced by the host city and country.

Nevertheless, Rio Olympics 2016 has provided many hours of viewing pleasure for people around the world. Almost every event included manifestations of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Just a few of my many memorable highlights include:

  • USA men swimmers, with Michael Phelps’ record of 28 medals, including 23 gold!
  • USA women swimmers, particularly Simone Manuel. The first African American woman to win a gold medal in swimming, she said: ““All I can say is all glory to God …!”
  • USA women gymnasts, led by Simone Biles’ championship performances. Her height is 4’9″!
  • Numerous track events, including Jamaican Usain Bolt’s gold medal in the 100 m. race. He’s a bit too cocky for my blood but does make the sign of the cross before every race. He’s 6’5″!
  • Two 70+ year old female coaches, South Africa’s Tannie Ans and Hungarian-Romanian Márta Karolyi, USA gymnastics team coordinator who lives in Huntsville, Tex. Both have coached athletes with incredible life stories who won gold medals!

Many other highlights occurred, too numerous to mention. You most likely have your own list.

Olympic contests remind me of St. Paul’s words: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25)

Young Olympians with incredible athletic skill today will someday become elderly former Olympians with bodies that refuse to do what they once were able to do. The last half of that sentence already describes many people, whether or not they ever were great athletes.

By God’s grace, young and old alike can look forward to a crown that will last forever! Thanks for the short term memories, Rio Olympics 2016!

Worth Remembering

ProposalLast week Terry shared with me a story she had received via email. An elderly man whose wife had recently died attended his 75th high school reunion. Soon after arriving he saw across the room an old high school girlfriend whose husband had also passed away. He immediately went across the room, engaged in conversation with her and asked her to dance.

The couple spent the entire evening on the dance floor. As the reunion party ended the man asked his old flame if she would marry him. She quickly replied “Yes!” The two 93 year-olds kissed excitedly, exchanged phone numbers and parted company for the night.

The next morning the man, whose memory wasn’t what it used to be, remembered having a great evening. But he couldn’t recall for certain whether he had actually asked his high school sweetheart to marry him. So he picked up the phone and called her to find out.

When she answered the phone, he asked: “Did I ask you to marry me last night?” Her ecstatic reply was: “Thank you so much for calling! I remembered receiving a marriage proposal but I couldn’t remember from whom it came!”

Next Monday will be the 51st anniversary of the night I asked my dear Terry to marry me. I recall it clearly. For 51 years I’ve had no trouble remembering the significance of August 15, 1965!

Neither of us has been out of high school 75 years. Yet both of us sometimes have minor lapses of memory, finding it occasionally difficult to recall what so far have been matters of minor significance. Perhaps you can identify with that reality.

Some things are never forgotten. Births, baptisms, confirmations, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers, pastors, educational experiences, marriages, children, vocational callings, grandchildren, deaths of family members and personal friends—many of these are likely on your lists of people, events and experiences worth remembering.

One more thing worth remembering: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deut. 31:8)

Thank God for experiences and people of significance in your life! And thank God for his grace! That’s a blessing absolutely worth remembering!

Diversity and Direction in America

President's Podium

Only someone living in a cave could plead ignorance about the diversity that exists in our country and the decision ahead about the direction in which we’ll be going. The Republican and Democratic conventions held last month made it quite clear that our two political parties hold significantly different opinions on many matters of importance and diametrically opposite positions on others.

Issues at hand include abortion, national security, terrorism in the world, racial tensions in America, the national debt, the Affordable Care Act, gun control, support for military veterans and Supreme Court appointments. You could add to that list. So could I.

Just over three months from now America will choose a new leader. Wouldn’t it be great if at least one nominee for president would actually approach all or even most of these matters the way many of us would like? While that’s not likely to happen, many voters have already decided which candidate would be the best leader for America’s future. Others are still pondering.

Many Americans are frustrated and disenchanted with the options. Quite a few believe more qualified candidates should have arisen. Be that as it may, the choice is before us.

It may help to remember, though not always easy to accept, that those in positions of governing authority “have been placed there by God.” (Rom. 13:1) Could that be true of an ungodly leader? How about even a despotic leader? Surprisingly, God has occasionally demonstrated that reality, as in the case of Old Testament pagan kings used by God for the benefit of his people.

Yet God acts through humans. Our next president will be elected by American voters through the 538 members of the Electoral College, not directly appointed or anointed by God. Exercise your constitutional right to vote. Not to vote for any candidate is to yield the election to those who do.

For now, join me in prayer that even though many Americans may not be thrilled about our choices for president, God will nevertheless use this election to accomplish his will for our lives.

Deo volente!

Memorial Service for +Ralph Arthur Bohlmann+

Ralph BohlmannFor God So Loved the World (John 3:16-17)

Jesus said: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (John 14:1-3, 6)

Jesus also said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

The first time I saw Ralph Bohlmann was at the national LCMS convention in Dallas in 1977. He was a distinguished looking man who spoke eloquently, evangelically and pastorally about a matter of great importance. I was quite impressed with his obvious leadership skill and ability. Little did I know what the Lord had in store for him and littler did I know what the Lord had in store for me. I certainly never expected to be here today.

During our years in St. Louis from 2001-2010, Terry and I were together with Ralph and his wife Pat on a number of enjoyable occasions. I also had the privilege of taking Dr. Bohlmann to lunch on his birthday, almost annually. Often Sam Nafzger was with us. Both are theological giants whose friendship I will always cherish.

The occasion that brings us to this place on this day at this hour is the death of a man who was dearly loved and deeply respected by many. His service as parish pastor, CTCR leader, professor and president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod demonstrated humility, integrity, keen intellect and a heart for the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In addition, notwithstanding the attention and accolades bestowed upon those who serve in such positions of responsibility and notoriety, Ralph Bohlmann took seriously his duties as husband, father and grandfather. Like many of us in public ministry of any kind, the stresses and stretches on his time and energy no doubt at least occasionally and perhaps more often than he would have liked, demanded his attention, diverted his priorities and diluted the quality of time spent with his wife, his children and grandchildren. Many of us can identify with that from our own personal experience!

Be that as it may, Ralph Bohlmann dearly loved his wife Pat, their son Paul, their daughter Lynn, and their grandsons Jesse and Lucas. You are the ones most personally affected by the death of a man you knew as Dad and Grandpa. You are the ones who will miss the sound of his voice on the phone, the warmth of the hugs he shared when you were together and the security of knowing he was there to lean on in times when only a father or grandfather can provide what’s needed. But now he’s gone. He died.

That’s a painful statement! He died. It’s a dark mystery, this thing called death. How can it be that one moment a person is warm, animated, conversant, mobile and alive, while the very next moment the body of that same person is cold, still, silent, vacant and dead? How can it be that a beautiful woman or a handsome man can over time deteriorate into a pile of dust and a box of bones?

The most helpful insight I’ve ever heard about life and death came from my own daughter, when she was three years old. As I stepped out of the shower in preparation for the funeral of a beloved member of the congregation I was serving at the time, I was greeted by little Angie, who asked the thoughtfully perceptive question: “Daddy, when a person dies does he take off his body?”

For a moment I was completely stumped, by my three year old daughter! As I reflected and recovered, I replied: “Yes! That’s exactly what happens when a person dies!” And to this day, over 40 years later, I still turn to that insightful understanding when death occurs.

The ancients used to think of life as consisting of three parts: body, soul and spirit. In my simple way of thinking, it’s hard to distinguish between soul and spirit, so I simply speak of body and soul or body and spirit. To me, the most easily understandable explanation of life is that everyone has a body in which that person’s soul or spirit, that person’s real being, resides as long as he or she is living on this earth. When death occurs, that person’s soul or spirit leaves the body behind and moves on. Angie had it right. The person who dies takes off his or her body and leaves it behind.

That’s what’s in this box. The physical body inherited and inhabited by the soul, the spirit, the real being, the true essence of the man we knew as Ralph Bohlmann, Dad, Grandpa. This body was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This body was the home of a soul redeemed by the blood of Christ. This body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. This body contained the man Ralph Bohlmann, who lived his life as both saint and sinner.

So then, where in the world has the real being gone, the soul or spirit of Ralph Bohlmann that animated his body for 84 years? Jesus himself answers that question: 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That’s the answer. The real being that resided in this body for over eight decades has gone to eternal life. Eternal life. Ever wonder what that’s like? I have. And still do. Eternal means everlasting, undying, perpetual, endless, ceaseless, timeless, infinite, immortal, and never ending.

My brain says “Hold it! That doesn’t compute! I can’t begin to comprehend how life can never end because my experience this side of heaven tells me that everyone I’ve ever known has had or will have, at some point in time, an ending.” I simply cannot understand how someone can go on living or existing forever. But that’s the promise of God. Believing that promise gives me hope.

The words of Jesus read a few moments ago give us not only hope but also assurance. God so loved the world … How much did he love the world? So much that he gave … his Son … his only Son. And unless you’re unfamiliar with the basic beliefs of Christianity, you know what that gift cost God the Father—the very life of his only Son, Jesus.

Terry and I have a son. I love him very much. I love him and the other members of my family more than I love anyone else in the world. I don’t love the world enough to give up my son. I’m not God. God is God. And God gave his Son to this world for a purpose.

St. John writes: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” What would cause God to love the world and its inhabitants, even the most unlovable person you can think of, so much that he would send his Son to a painful death on the cross for the life and salvation of the world and everyone in it?

The Bible says “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) A God of love is constrained to do what he is. Parents love their children and are willing to do anything to protect and save them from harm and danger. God is our Father. He loves us. He was willing to do anything to save and protect us from eternal condemnation, even to sacrifice his Son on the altar of a cross.

The sacrifice Jesus paid is the sacrifice that ended all sacrifices. Instead of bringing animals to temples to be killed so their blood can be sprinkled on the altar and their flesh consumed with fire to gain the attention of God in heaven so he will look down with favor upon his sinful people, as the Old Testament people were commanded to do, we look to Jesus, the Lamb of God. His death on the cross has taken away the sin of the world, once and for all and assures eternal life for all who accept this free gift!

Jesus spoke of his love for the world: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

That’s where Ralph Bohlmann has been since Sunday evening. That’s where Pat Bohlmann has been since September 14, 2012. That’s where my father and Terry’s parents are. That’s where your loved ones are whose life on earth has ended in faith. That’s where, by the grace of God, you and I will also be someday when our life here on earth is over. And in the place that Jesus has prepared for us, we will spend eternity with him.

Although impossible to confirm veracity beyond the shadow of a doubt, testimonies from people who have gone through what is called a “near death experience” in a place appearing to be heaven give a glimpse of the eternal life awaiting believers in Christ.

These near death experiences occurred when individuals were thought and even in many instances declared to be clinically dead, usually as a result of traumatic injury, drowning, choking, auto accident, etc., but later came back to life.

People who have had such an experience have repeatedly testified, as reported in a book titled “Imagine Heaven,” that they saw a man “wearing a robe of brilliant white light down to his ankles, held together by a gold sash, with piercing eyes that see right into your soul, yet also draw you in with a magnetic warmth and love.” They also experienced reunification with family members, both previously known and unknown.

That sounds an awful lot like the way I picture Jesus and life in heaven. Imagine a life that never ends in the presence of someone who draws you near with warmth and love. That someone is Jesus! Imagine being reunited with loved ones forever. That is heaven!

And how do we get there? One day Jesus saw Thomas, who later doubted that Jesus had really come back to life after his crucifixion and burial. Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way to eternal life. Jesus is the only way to eternal life!

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! The Jesus who spent lots of time on earth hanging out with sinners, including prostitutes and tax collectors, looks at you and at me the same way he looked at them. Not as saints whose lives were perfect but as people who are lost and in need of a Savior.

The same Jesus who brought his dear friend Lazarus back to life even after Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days has promised to bring us back to life someday. And though Lazarus died again, he, with all believers in Christ, has been given a life that never ends. That’s the life awaiting you, me and all believers in Christ.

So it is that a stranger to Christianity might walk into this beautiful chapel and observe a crowd of people mourning the loss of a beloved father, grandfather and highly respected church leader, yet singing songs without grieving as those who have no hope.

A few moments ago we sang “Abide with me.” It’s a beautiful hymn, solemn in spirit, rich in meaning, courageous in confronting the end of life on earth:

  • Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me!
  • In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

And as we say in Texas, we’re fixin’ to sing “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Be Thou our guard while troubles last and our eternal home!” I encourage you to sing from your heart the words from this hymn that provide hope for the future.

Sing this hymn with thankful hearts that the God of the universe loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone might have eternal life! He died for all! That’s the great news we Christians are called to proclaim to the people of the world who live in doubt, in darkness, in despair.

And sing with thanksgiving and joy in your heart that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you and for me, even as Ralph and Pat Bohlmann already abide in the place he has prepared for them!

My prayer for you, Paul, Lynn, Jesse and Lucas, is that your hearts will be filled with constant hope and quiet joy. Remember the time you spent with the man whose vacated body, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, is in this box. And look forward to the time when you will see him again, in heaven, where life eternal will be yours as well.

In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!

 

+Rev. Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann+

Ralph BohlmannWelcome to the eighth consecutive year of weekly Perspectives articles. I hope they are meaningful to those who read them and welcome your comments and suggestions.

This week I share the news that Rev. Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann passed away peacefully Sunday evening, July 24, 2016, at the age of 84 years. His memorial service was held yesterday at the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Mine was the humbling honor and pastoral privilege to preach at that service.

Following several years as a parish pastor and professor, Dr. Bohlmann served as the seventh president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, from 1975-81, and as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod from 1981-92. He was named president emeritus of both.

Dr. Bohlmann was found unconscious early last week on the floor of his apartment at Laclede Groves in St. Louis. The cause is unknown but indications are that he was in that condition for a few days before being discovered. He was hospitalized but never regained consciousness.

Terry and I were in St. Louis last week for a reunion of my former staff members and their spouses. On Tuesday we visited and prayed for Ralph in the hospital. His daughter Lynn was there, caring for her dear father. Her brother Paul kept in touch from his home in New York.

The medical prognosis at that time was very bleak. Later that day life support was removed. Medical personnel indicated their belief that Ralph’s life here on earth would be coming to an imminent conclusion, but we all know that no one can predict with certainty exactly when anyone’s life will end. The Lord alone is the one who numbers our days. Ralph continued to breathe independently for five days before joining his wife Pat, who died Sept. 14, 2012.

Our gracious Lord has received Ralph into his everlasting arms, reunited with Pat and many others in “the vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9) awaiting all who trust in Christ our Lord for life eternal.

Please join me in prayer that Ralph and Pat’s son Paul and their daughter Lynn, together with the rest of the Bohlmann family, will in the days ahead find peace and comfort in the promise of Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26

Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann, rest in peace!

Last Week in America and the World

Dallas Shooting

Credit: DallasNews.com

What better way to end this seventh year of Perspectives articles than with a few observations about our church body based on last week’s 66th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee? While inclined to do so, I’ve decided to begin the eighth year of Perspectives with an article on that topic next week. Today I feel constrained to address other events that occurred last week and at too many other times in our nation and around the world.

Insane and premeditated attacks and ambushes, bombings and brutality, vitriol and violence continues to plague our nation and world! For starters, I would hope and pray that anyone in a position of political, racial or religious authority and influence in our country and around the world would immediately cease any hint of verbal justification of such atrocities and instead denounce these barbaric activities unequivocally!

Rationalization or justification of violence in any form empowers those with a propensity toward such behavior, precipitating new incidents that take the lives of innocent women, men and children. Black lives matter! White lives matter! The lives of those unjustly treated by officers of the law matter! The lives of law enforcement officers matter! The lives of grieving family members of those who die matter! Young lives matter! Old lives matter! Unborn lives matter! All lives matter! Jesus came to give life, in all its fullness! (John 10:10) Life is precious!

Might gun control legislation be helpful? Perhaps. I see no need for rapid fire machine guns to be as readily available as they appear to be. Yet the reality is that gun control alone will not deter those who are ideologically or mentally or religiously imbalanced from doing the dastardly deeds we’ve seen way too frequently in recent months. When Cain killed Abel thousands of years ago, he had no firearm at his disposal. Yet he did what he set out to do.

The real root cause of all evil, especially the kind we’ve recently seen, is spiritual depravity. The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21). The devil will always walk around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). King David was beset on every side by enemies who hated him (Psalm 25:19). Jesus was brutally killed. So long as the world exists, man’s inhumanity to man will continue to wreak havoc upon peaceful, law abiding citizens.

What can you do? What can I do?

  • Pray for, encourage and express appreciation to law enforcement officers and military personnel.
  • Petition political and religious leaders at every level to speak out against violence of every kind.
  • If you see something or someone suspicious, say something to someone who can help!
  • Pray for all who lay their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of our land.
  • Take appropriate protective precautions wherever and whenever possible.
  • Pray for divine intervention to thwart the devil’s destructive desires.

Above all, say this: Lord, have mercy!