The Enemy from Within

Today’s quote is from a first century BC philosopher and politician:

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for s/he is known and carries his/her banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his/her sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; s/he speaks in accents familiar to his/her victims, and s/he wears their face and their arguments, s/he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men (and women). S/He rots the soul of a nation, s/he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, s/he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.”

― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Here are a few comments about Cicero’s life from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born January 3, 106 BC and was murdered December 7, 43 BC. His life coincided with the decline and fall of the Roman Republic and he was an important actor in many of the significant political events of his time. His writings are now a valuable source of information to us about those events.

He was, among other things, an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. Making sense of his writings and understanding his philosophy requires us to keep that in mind.

While Cicero is currently not considered an exceptional thinker, largely on the (incorrect) grounds that his philosophy is derivative and unoriginal, in previous centuries he was considered one of the great philosophers of the ancient era and was widely read well into the 19th century.

Probably the most notable example of his influence is St. Augustine’s claim that it was Cicero’s Hortensius (an exhortation to philosophy, the text of which is unfortunately lost) that turned him away from his sinful life and toward philosophy and ultimately to God.

Cicero’s warning 2,000 years ago: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.” Could that be true in both the world and the church today?

Ten Things that Will Disappear in Our Lifetimes

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Perhaps you’ve already seen this interesting and provocative prognostication. Author is unknown. Comments below each item are edited for brevity. My brief comments are at the end.

1. The Post Office

The Postal Service is so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of our mail every day is junk mail and bills.

2. The Check

It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would surely go out of business.

3. The Newspaper

The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it.

4. The Book

Some say they will never give up the physical book they hold in their hands. Many said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. But they quickly changed their minds when they discovered they could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. And the price is less than half that of a real book.

5. The Land Line Telephone

Unless one has a large family and makes a lot of local calls, it’s not needed anymore. Most people keep it simply because they’ve always had it. But now most cell phone companies allow unlimited local and long distance calling at no extra charge.

6. Music

This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death.  Not just because of illegal downloading. It’s the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption are the problem.

7. Television Revenues

Viewing of programs on national networks is down dramatically. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they’re playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV.  Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

8. The “Things” You Own

Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. Many “possessions” are virtual and already simply reside in “the cloud.” If we save something, it is saved in the cloud, sometimes free, often with a monthly subscription fee.  In this virtual world, could it all disappear at any moment in a big “poof?”

9. Joined Handwriting (Cursive Writing)

Cursive writing is already gone in some schools that no longer teach “joined handwriting.” Nearly everything is done now on computers or keyboards of some type (pun not intended).

10. Privacy

There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into computers and cell phones. In reality, someone knows who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. “They” will try to get you to buy something else, again and again and again.

You may or may not agree with any or all of these projections. I don’t agree with #6. Music will survive. Some of the rest are already reality. Others may occur in the future. Time will tell.

What would our grandparents have thought if someone had told them that an automobile would be able to start with no keys in hand, stop itself with no one applying the brake, and park itself with no one touching the wheel? All those things are happening today. Not all of them are bad.

So stay tuned. And stay grounded. Technology is changing how we live and also how long we live. Possessions are finite. Life is real. Life is fragile. Life is precious. Life is a gift of God. His love for his world and for his people never changes.

An Airplane Captain’s Memorial Day Story

Dignified Transfer at Dover AFB

My lead flight attendant came to me and said, “We have an H.R. on this flight.” (H.R. stands for human remains.) “Are they military?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I asked, “Is there an escort?” She replied, “Yes, I’ve already assigned him a seat.” I said, “Please tell him to come to the Flight Deck. You can board him early.”

A short while later a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier.

The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us. “My soldier is on his way back to Virginia,” he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no additional words.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military, and that I appreciated the work he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the Flight Deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back, and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin.

“I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying is also on board,” she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and two-year-old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left.

We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia. The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.

I could hear the desperation in the flight attendant’s voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do. “I’m on it,” I said, and told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of electronic messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary   radio. There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the dispatcher’s telephone. I was in direct contact with the dispatcher and explained the situation I had on board with the family and what the family wanted. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family, so I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher. Here is the text:

“Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now, and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family.”

“The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal, where the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.”

I sent a message back, telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, “You have no idea how much this will mean to them.”

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach, and landing. After landing we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

“There is a team in place to meet the aircraft,” we were told. It looked like it was all coming together but then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, “Take your time.”

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said: “Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXX.  Also on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.”

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple minutes later I opened the cockpit door and found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later, more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words like “God bless you.” “I’m so sorry.” “Thank you.” “Be proud.” and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers thanked me for the announcement I had made. “They were just words,” I told them. “I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.”

On this Memorial Day weekend I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event and the sacrifices many of our nation’s men and women have made to ensure our freedom and safety in these United States of America.

At such a time as this, the words of Jesus are amazingly powerful: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Charity. Generosity. Stewardship.

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Today’s quote is from Francis Quarles, an English poet who was born May 8, 1592 and died September 8, 1644: “Proportion thy charity to the strength of thy estate, lest God proportion thy estate to the weakness of thy charity. Let the lips of the poor be the trumpet of thy gift, lest in seeking applause thou lose thy reward. Nothing is more pleasing to God than an open hand and a closed mouth.”

These are powerful statements, each of which is corroborated by the following equally powerful Scripture passages:

Luke 6:38: Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you … For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

1 Cor. 13:3: Paul wrote, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Luke 21:2: Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 18:9-14: The Pharisee boasted about his tithe but the tax collector dared not to lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

2 Cor. 9:7, 11: “God loves a cheerful giver … You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

God bless your generosity through charitable giving, demonstrating your faithful stewardship of the blessings he has entrusted to your care!

The Head. The Guest. The Listener.

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Today’s quote is from Confucius: “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”

All-knowing Wikipedia says Confucius was born in 551 BC and died in 479 BC.  He was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher who emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity.

In addition to being quoted frequently in Chinese fortune cookies, Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts, emphasizing common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration, and respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives.

He also recommended family as a basis for ideal government and espoused the well-known Golden Rule principle, stated a bit differently from the more familiar rendition: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”

Better than the words of Confucius are the words of the plaque on the wall of my childhood home: “Christ is the head of this home, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.” Wouldn’t it be great if that plaque were hanging on the wall in every home?

And how about what Jesus said to the man who asked, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

If those who looked at the words on that plaque and who held the words of Jesus in their heart would take them seriously, putting the world in order would be not only possible but also feasible and attainable.

That’s a big “if” in our world today! But we have to start somewhere. How about in your home and heart … and in mine? Love Jesus with all you are and all you have! Invite him to be The Head, The Listener, The Guest in your home!

Listening and Understanding

listeningToday I have two quotes:

  • “A good listener is not only popular everywhere but after a while he knows something.” – Wilson Mizner
  • “It is better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.” – Anatole France

One of the difficulties most people have when listening to another is the tendency to stop listening and to start thinking about how to reply, especially if the reply is a rebuttal. The problem that develops is that the listener may not truly understand the speaker’s perspective and rationale, which leads to greater difficulty in reaching a point of agreement between the two.

Years ago I learned a technique simply called “active listening.” In an Effectiveness Training seminar, participants were divided into teams of two. One participant was given a written script with directions to read the script to the other participant, verbatim. The listener was instructed to try to repeat as nearly as possible the exact words that had been read.

While the exercise seemed rather sophomoric at the time, it worked quite well. The listener repeated the words of the reader, who instinctively nodded his head in appreciation for the fact that the listener actually listened. The reader went on to speak in greater detail about the topic of the written script. Before long there was a greater sense of mutual respect, simply because the listener was actually listening and understanding instead of trying to formulate a response.

While not a magic wand, the art of active listening is essential to understanding. Agreement often comes from understanding, even if it takes the form of agreeing to disagree.

God is glorified when people communicate with one another with love and respect. Listening and understanding are essential components of that process!

Maturing Oaks and Mighty Trees

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Last week’s quote was from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” In my article I listed some new parachurch organizations that had recently been created within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). This week I’ll add two ministries that could be described as “maturing oaks” and two others that could be called “mighty oaks.”

“Maturing oaks” are Pastoral Leadership Institute and Grace Place Wellness Ministries. “Mighty oaks” are Lutheran Women’s Missionary League and International Lutheran Laymen’s League.

Pastoral Leadership Institute and PLI International – PLI was begun nearly 20 years ago by the vision of eight LCMS pastors who developed a brochure designed to train pastors in the art of leading large and growing congregations. Hundreds of LCMS pastors and spouses in the United States and 12 countries worldwide have been led to lead through PLI, which is devoted to “empowering pastors, spouses and other church leaders for wider influence for the sake of the gospel in their communities and effective leadership in their congregations.” http://www.plileadership.org/

Grace Place Wellness Ministries – Grace Place was founded in 1999 by Dr. John D. Eckrich, a St. Louis physician who provided health care to many pastors, teachers, seminarians, and their families for more than 35 years. During his practice he observed a recurring pattern of stress related illnesses among many workers and families he served. Through retreats, workshops, and programs, Grace Place’s mission is “nurturing vitality and joy in ministry by inspiring and equipping church workers to lead healthy lives.” http://www.graceplacewellness.org/

Lutheran Women’s Missionary League – The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) is the official women’s auxiliary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. For almost 75 years the LWML has focused on “affirming each woman’s relationship with Christ, encouraging and equipping women to live out their Christian lives in active mission ministries and to support global missions.” Also known as Lutheran Women in Mission, LWML will celebrate its 75th anniversary June 22-25 in Albuquerque. In its history LWML members have contributed “mites” equaling millions of dollars for mission work in and around The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod! http://www.lwml.org/home

International Lutheran Laymen’s League (ILLL) – Also an official auxiliary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, ILLL is comprised of dedicated supporters and volunteers “active in ministry domestically and around the world.” Its ministry is currently expressed through “a wide range of Christ-centered outreach efforts under the name of Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM).” Originally called the Lutheran Laymen’s League (LLL) upon its formation in 1917 (now 100 years old), the organization was renamed the International Lutheran Laymen’s League in 1972 “to reflect its growing impact globally.” The LHM ministry proclaims the gospel to millions around the world. https://www.lhm.org/

It’s my hope and prayer that the terms “maturing oaks” and “mighty oaks” are seen as complimentary, which is my intention. Terry and I have been involved with and supportive of each of these organizations for many years. I am happy to commend all of them for your prayers and support.