Onward, Christian Soldiers

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One of my favorite ancient childhood memories is a privilege that was afforded each child in Sunday school at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Houston. All children and teachers gathered in the auditorium for a joint opening with hymn and prayer before going to our individual classes.

During that brief time the week before a child’s birthday he or she was invited to pick the hymn for that day. My favorite was Onward, Christian Soldiers. I picked it every year.

That hymn, #662 in Lutheran Service Book, is not sung very often these days. In fact, until last Wednesday’s memorial service at Faith Lutheran Church in Georgetown for John Draheim, a longtime friend of mine and Terry’s, it had been quite a while since those words had left my lips.

Verse two goes like this: “Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

As I sang that verse last week, my mind wandered to the question of whether the Church of God was or was not more united in hope, in doctrine, and in charity than it is today. We know from history that the Church has often had struggles and divisions and most likely always will have.

That’s evident in the organic division among national Christian denominations and internal disharmony within denominations, including my own church body. The basic points of doctrinal agreement are accompanied by areas of disagreement. That’s simply a fact.

What gives me hope are the words of verse three: “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that Church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

That’s still one of my favorite hymns!

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Why?

Why?

Lots of things in life make me wonder why they happen. Some are fairly frivolous, like these:

  • Why cars worth tens of thousands of dollars are in the driveway and useless junk is in the garage.
  • Why banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counter.
  • Why the man or woman who invests all our money is called a broker.
  • Why people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.
  • Why the time of day with the slowest traffic is called rush hour.
  • Why you never see the headline Psychic Wins Lottery.
  • Why doctors and attorneys call what they do practice.
  • Why the needle for lethal injections is sterilized.
  • Why Noah didn’t swat those two mosquitoes.
  • Why there is no mouse-flavored cat food.
  • Why abbreviated is such a long word.
  • Why sheep don’t shrink when it rains.

Much more significantly, I wonder about exponentially more important matters:

  • Why a man cheats on his wife.
  • Why a woman cheats on her husband.
  • Why so many children in the world go to bed hungry.
  • Why young people, especially infants and children, die prematurely.
  • Why little children get cancer or any other debilitating or deadly disease.
  • Why deranged people kill innocent bystanders by shooting or suicidal bombing.
  • Why miscarriages occur in the life of a woman who wants deeply to become a mother.
  • Why hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes occur, causing destruction, death, and devastation.
  • Why God doesn’t intervene in our lives and intercept all suffering, disease, and natural disasters.

My Sunday school teacher taught me the answer to these questions. It’s simple. All the bad stuff that happens is the result of sin. I learned that at the seminary as well.

I get it that a specific person dies because of his or her sin. But does sin cause natural disasters? Is that the way God chooses to punish mankind for sin? I don’t like that answer. And why does one person’s sin have to take the life of another person or of many people who really are innocent bystanders? I know the answer in my head. It’s just hard for my heart to make sense of it.

When I think of the people affected by Harvey, Irma, Maria, the Mexico City earthquake, and a deranged sniper’s bullets from an automatic machine gun in Las Vegas, not to mention countless other previous manifestations of the result of sin, I simply shake my head, dry my tears, and say, “Satan, be gone! Leave us alone! Get out of here!”

My prayer is that the Lord will have mercy. And my trust is in the promise of God never to leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)

The Greatest

Little League

Last week I heard on the radio a song by Kenny Rogers and thought it would be worth sharing. It’s about eternal optimism and positive thinking. Here are the words:

Little boy in a baseball hat stands in the field with his ball and bat.
Says, “I am the greatest player of them all,”
Puts his bat on his shoulder and he tosses up his ball.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down,
Swings his bat all the way around.
The world’s so still you can hear the sound, the baseball falls…to the ground.

Now the little boy doesn’t say a word, picks up his ball, he is undeterred.
Says, “I am the greatest there has ever been,”
And grits his teeth and he tries it again.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down,
Swings his bat all the way around.
The world’s so still you can hear the sound, the baseball falls…to the ground.

He makes no excuses, he shows no fear,
He just closes his eyes and listens to the cheers.
Little boy, he adjusts his hat, picks up his ball, stares at his bat.
Says, “I am the greatest, when the game is on the line,”
And he gives his all…one last time.
And the ball goes up with the moon so bright,
Swings his bat with all his might.
And the world’s as still as still can be,
The baseball falls…and that’s strike three.

Now it’s suppertime and his momma calls,
Little boy starts home with his bat and ball.
Says, “I am the greatest, that is a fact.
But even I didn’t know I could pitch like that!”
Says, “I am the greatest, that is understood.
But even I didn’t know I could pitch that good!”

Some may call that denial. I call it positive thinking, putting the best construction on everything.

Why Do People Rebuild after a Disaster?

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This past Monday we were reminded of the traumatic events of an unforgettable day – Sept. 11, 2001. We saw images of destruction but we also saw photos of a new tower and a strikingly powerful memorial in New York City. After that disaster, rebuilding occurred.

Earlier this week I read an article by Rev. Bob Tasler (www.bobtasler.com), retired LCMS pastor living in Colorado. Much of his article is shared here with his permission.

In a Denver Post article Greg Hobbs asked: “Why do people rebuild after a disaster?” Hurricanes destroy homes, wildfires burn businesses, and floods ruin communities. But when you ask disaster survivors what they plan to do, nearly all will say, “We will rebuild again.” 

Why? Knowing another hurricane or wildfire or flood might come again, why do people continue to build in places that are prone to such disasters?

Dobbs asked a man who had lost homes in three hurricanes why he planned to rebuild again.

Instead of giving him reasons, the man asked, “Where are you from?” “Originally San Francisco,” Dobbs said. “Don’t they have earthquakes there?” “Yes, but I live in Colorado now,” Dobbs said. “Don’t y’all have wild fires in Colorado?” said the man. Yes, Dobbs told him, in 2012 and 2013 Colorado lost over a thousand homes to forest fires, and most of them rebuilt their homes again.

Communities along the Mississippi are destroyed by floods, but they rebuild again. People from Oklahoma and Kansas see homes and towns torn apart by tornadoes, but they, too, rebuild. Colorado has had enormous hailstorms destroy homes, autos and buildings, but people still rebuild. Dobbs concluded his article, “If one doesn’t get you, another might.”

Why do we rebuild in those places again? My Dad once told me, “Everyone has to be somewhere.” So simple, yet so true. With seven billion people on our planet, everyone has to be somewhere, and there is no place without some danger.

I’ve got some bad news: Humans are responsible for all these disasters. Yup, it’s all our fault, but not for the reasons climate alarmists would have us believe.

The original perfection of our world has been messed up by sin. Genesis 3 tells us God cursed the ground because of mankind’s rebellion. Because of our sin, individually and corporately, we people have pain and suffering, no matter where we live. Thorns and thistles, work and sweat, pain of childbirth and families, all will be the lot of mankind until we return to the dust from which we were taken. That’s the reason for the disasters, not plastic or coal or carbon dioxide.

But there is good news. God has promised us not only forgiveness, but also a new heaven and a new earth in the future, where “God’s dwelling place is among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Meanwhile, we live and rebuild and do our best to find joy in the life God has given us. The new heavens and new earth will come because of God’s goodness in Jesus Christ. He will one day give His followers a more perfect existence. I look forward to that day with great hope!

May God protect and defend all who face disaster, and bring them new life and hope!

Stress in Life

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Most people have stress in life. It comes in all forms. It can be financial, relational, professional, familial, physical, emotional, or psychological.

Wouldn’t it be great if stress were to be totally eliminated from life? That’s not realistic. Stress is a reality. It’s the result of sin. We all sin. We all experience stress. We can’t get away from it.

Even though stress is unavoidable and not enjoyable, under normal circumstances it can be manageable. Not all circumstances are normal. Some stressors are beyond our control.

Consider the stress experienced by victims of Hurricane Harvey. They were all just minding their own business of living and working, with normal levels of stress. Out of the blue an unwelcome intruder entered their lives, bringing with it unimaginable destruction and devastation.

As mentioned last week, there are many ways to provide relief for people in need, including contributing through the Texas District LCMS at this website: https://secure.accessacs.com/access/oglogin.aspx?sn=147381&f=4.

As the Spirit moves and as you are able, consider a significant gift. Every dollar you contribute through this website will be used to assist those in greatest need.

If you are moved to contribute appreciated securities or portions of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or any other non-cash asset, please contact us for assistance: info@legacydeo.org or 800-880-3733.

To the trouble and trauma of Harvey is added the pending presence of Irma, headed toward currently predicted landfall in the United States. Florida’s governor has already declared an emergency in that highly vulnerable state.

Overshadowed by news about Harvey and Irma are dozens of wildfires in western states, occurring even now. Those states include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana.

On top of the stress that accompanies these natural disasters, consider the idiocy of the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has ordered way-too-frequent tests of missiles and hydrogen bombs that pose a very real threat to the U.S. At least 14 such missile launches have occurred since February of this year.

So we face normal stress of daily living, uninvited stress from natural disasters, and international stress from a rogue nation with a leader seemingly hell-bent on nuclear destruction. What are we to do? How are we to live? Where do we turn for comfort and assurance?

Try these words from Psalm 46:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging … Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress … He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth … He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Preachers and Professional Athletes

Salary

For years I’ve marveled at the stunning salaries of some professional athletes. A Google search produced a list (https://www.forbes.com/athletes/list/#tab:overall) of the ten highest paid. From bottom to top, their annual salary and endorsement income range from a paltry $46 million for an English auto racer to a much more respectable $93 million for a Portuguese soccer player.

To say the least, those numbers are far from salaries of professional church workers, both preachers and teachers. In a former life of oversight of congregations in Texas, I always encouraged church leaders to be generous in the area of compensation, particularly when calling a new pastor and reviewing their current pastor. A laborer is worthy of his hire.

In that regard it’s an understatement to say the preaching profession is not known for commanding outlandish salaries. I’m happy to say that has improved somewhat in recent years. By the way, the only overpaid pastors I ever knew were those simply not doing their job!

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I stumbled upon an internet announcement last week that a North Carolina pastor had signed a contract to become one of the pastors of a well-known church in Houston. The contract was reportedly $110 million over six years.

According to my math, that would be approximately $18.3 million per year or about $1.5 million per month. My dear Terry’s comment is that that pastor’s wife would most likely not have to worry any more about clipping coupons!

Upon further investigation I found a video from the pastor himself, declaring the announcement untrue, bogus, a falsehood. He says he’ll be remaining at his church in North Carolina and not moving to the church in Houston. Don’t you wonder who started that rumor? I surely do!

Here are my four perspectives on this topic:

  1. Don’t always believe everything you read on the internet, even if it looks legitimate.
  2. There is a point at which compensation becomes way out of proportion to a person’s intrinsic value. That truism is not restricted to professional athletics.
  3. Everyone who follows his or her vocational calling is worthy of reasonable, fair, even generous compensation, in proportion to his or her value to his or her employer.
  4. To whom much is given, of him or her much is required! Luke 12:48

God bless your day!

Pearl Harbor and Hacksaw Ridge

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As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the decision was made earlier this week to continue with another volume of Perspectives articles. Thank you for the encouragement expressed by so many of you for me to keep writing. It’s not a simple chore, so I do appreciate your appreciation!

This past weekend Terry and I watched two movies at home. Pearl Harbor was produced in 2001 with Ben Affleck as Capt. Rafe McCawley, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who bravely responded to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson and released in 2016 with Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who was ostracized by fellow soldiers for refusing to bear arms. In the Battle of Okinawa Doss risked his life, unarmed, to save 75 men.

Both films graphically and gruesomely show horrific realities of war. One such reality, in real life and also in cinematic portrayal, is the traumatic injury and death inflicted upon young men. Many are still teenagers anxious to serve their country yet unprepared for the powerful persistence of the enemy.

In that context, a quote originally attributed to Greek historian Herodotus was repeated by a soldier in Hacksaw Ridge: “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”

Though I am a son who has buried his father, I have not borne the pain of burying a son or a daughter or a grandchild. I have great empathy for parents or grandparents who have, including some of you.

As a Christian I’ve often marveled at God the Father’s experience of seeing his son buried. The song writer says it well:

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure… that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.