Election Day 2020

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Much could be said about the Nov. 3 national election. I’ve decided to share only three things.

1. A classic fable about heaven and hell—(not doctrinally approved):

One day a corrupt U.S. Senator is hit by a car and dies. He’s met by St. Peter at the pearly gates. Peter says: “Because you’re a Senator you can choose where to spend eternity.” He wants to visit hell first so St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.

The doors open to a golf course with a beautiful clubhouse full of friends and politicians. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had getting rich at their constituents’ expense. After golf they dine on lobster, caviar, and champagne.

Also present is the devil, a very friendly guy having a good time dancing and telling jokes.

Before long, it’s time to go. Everyone waves farewell while the elevator closes. It opens at the pearly gates where St. Peter says, “Now it’s time to visit heaven.” So up to heaven he goes.

For 24 hours the Senator is with a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and soon the 24 hours have gone by.

St. Peter returns and says, “You’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.” The Senator answers: “Well, I would never have said it before—I mean heaven has been delightful—but I think I would be better off in hell.” So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down again to hell.

The elevator doors open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with garbage. He sees his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls to the ground. The devil comes over to the Senator and puts his arm around his shoulders.

“I don’t understand,” stammers the Senator. “Yesterday I was here. There was a golf course and a clubhouse. We ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there’s just a wasteland full of garbage. And my friends look miserable. What happened?”

The devil smiles at him and says, “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted.”

2. The election in perspective:  

“A vote in this election is not a valentine. You aren’t confessing your love for the candidate. It’s a chess move for the world you want to live in.”

3. From Lutheran Service Book (LCMS Hymnal): A Prayer for the Nation

Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember your generosity and faithfully do your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in you fail.

Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

And I’ll simply add this three word petition: Lord, have mercy!

Whom Can You Trust?

Any of you who are wondering whether “whom” in the title of this article should be changed to “who” may feel free to do the research. I did. The title is correct. But both words are acceptable.

So the question is: Whom do you trust? Here are several examples:

Nutrisystem says: “You eat the food. You lose the weight.” But how long will it stay off?

Tom Selleck says you can trust reverse mortgages. But you’d better read the fine print.

Joe Biden says he’ll unite America. Many people wonder just how that promise will be kept.

Donald Trump says he’ll continue to make America great. Many don’t like or trust the man.

Parents promise their children a trip to DisneyWorld. The economy tanks. So does the trip.

Married folks promise to stay with each other till death parts them. Half of them get divorced.

Some doctors and politicians say wear the COVID mask. Others say it doesn’t really help.

Some physicians say Remdesivir is a cure. Others say hydroxychloroquine. Some say neither.

Need I go on? Promises are made all day every day. But not all promises are actually kept.

So whom can you trust? Try these biblical suggestions:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Prov. 3:5

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Ps. 37:5

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. Ps. 118:8

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Is. 40:31

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Josh. 1:9

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. Is. 41:10

Try those on for size. They’ll work. Trust me.

Wisdom from Three Very Wise Men

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The past few weeks I’ve written about the bad stuff going on in our country and the world, including COVID-19, violent protests, statue destruction, culture cancelling, law enforcement denigrating, etc.

Today I’ve chosen to lighten up a bit on those topics but still go deep by sharing some simple but sage advice from three very wise men.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) about life:

  1. Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.
  2. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
  3. A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
  4. You never stop failing until you stop trying.
  5. Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
  6. Two things are infinite–the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.
  7. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
  8. Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.
  9. Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
  10. You have to learn the rules of the game, and then play better than anyone else.

Will Rogers (1879-1935) about growing older:

  1. One day you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.
  2. The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.
  3. When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to your youth, think of algebra.
  4. You know you’re getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.
  5. I don’t know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.
  6. One thing no one tells you about aging is that it’s such a nice change from being young.
  7. One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.
  8. Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable and relaxed.
  9. If you don’t learn to laugh at trouble, you won’t have anything to laugh at when you’re old.
  10. Long ago, when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it’s called golf.

Jesus Christ (4 B.C.?-30 A.D.?) about faith, life, love, and trust:

  1. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
  2. Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will open unto you.
  3. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious enough for itself.
  4. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
  5. Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.
  6. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  7. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  8. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.
  9. Your Father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
  10. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

I pray that your day and your life will be lightened and brightened by these three very wise men.

Who’s to Blame?

Lots of anxiety going on in our country today. It started in March with what turned out to be COVID-19. Most schools, churches, restaurants, hotels, department stores, barber shops, beauty salons, and other establishments were shut down. Many are just now reopening.

World Health Organization reports that more than six million people worldwide have become infected and 370,000 of them have died. In the United States 1.7 million confirmed cases have been reported and more than 100,000 people have died.

Who’s to blame for this pandemic? Lab workers in Wuhan, China? The Chinese Communist regime for withholding warnings? The World Health Organization for not acting more quickly and definitively? The President’s task force? Pharmaceutical companies for not waving a magic wand and coming up with a vaccine? Yesterday? People who laughed at social distancing?

Then, just as light began to appear at the end of that tunnel, another oncoming train appeared. On May 25, George Floyd, an African-American man, was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill and lost his life in a neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, Minn.

Mr. Floyd was arrested, handcuffed, and pinned to the ground by police officers. One of them unrelentingly pressed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Mr. Floyd was unresponsive when paramedics arrived and later was pronounced dead.

There’s little if any doubt that the officer in question is at fault. He has been charged with second degree murder. The other three officers on the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting that murder. Any or all of the four could spend many years in prison.

Community response initially included peaceful protests demanding justice for Mr. Floyd’s death. Along with those pleas for justice, protesters also decried racism, undeniably a sin.

Incredibly, those protests attracted or catalyzed rampant riots in Minneapolis and other cities across the nation. Some rioters appear to have been imported and paid to participate.

Rioters shattered windows, looted stores, vandalized buildings, torched police vehicles, dismantled and emptied ATMs, defaced churches and national monuments with graffiti, and tried to attack the White House, exhibiting violent and vitriolic behavior. At least 40 cities have imposed curfews. National Guard has been activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C.

Who’s to blame? Racially biased and discriminatory law enforcement officers? Policemen who arrested Mr. Floyd and whose actions led to his death? Rampant racism embedded in our country’s culture? Rioters who burned, robbed, damaged, destroyed, pilfered, and plundered small Mom and Pop establishments along with Big Box stores? Parents of the perpetrators of violence? Municipal, county, state, and national politicians? The U.S. President for insensitive or inflammatory remarks? His critics and opponents who want him defeated? All the above?

Who’s to blame? I’d start with Satan: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Pet. 5:8. What we’re seeing these day is absolutely demonic!

And I’d quickly add mankind’s sinful flesh. In the Old Testament, the Lord said: “… the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Gen. 8:21.

The devil and our sinful, evil flesh, working together, are at the root of both racism and rioting. In this case, the same culprits have resulted in the loss of a man’s life and have turned peaceful protest against racism into stealing, looting, torching, and destroying.

What’s the cure? Spiritual, parental, legal, moral, and behavioral reformation? Yes. But not easily accomplished. Many moving parts.

Two highly respected Black leaders have modeled helpful thoughts about responding to the sin of racism in a peaceful, non-violent manner:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was described this way: “Never burned one building. Never robbed one store. Never destroyed one town. Changed the world.”

And Dr. Ben Carson said: “We, the American people, are not each other’s enemies. The enemies are those people behind the curtain jerking everybody’s chains and trying to divide us up by age, by race, by income. Peaceful protests of unfair practices are good and are part of what makes America a strong nation. But senseless destructive violence must be recognized and resisted.”

Additionally, a heretofore unknown man named Rodney Floyd, George Floyd’s own brother, said: “I’m asking for peace the same way my brother would ask if he could see the situation, if he was here. Peace. Peaceful protests. It is the best option we have to bring justice.”

I obviously concur with Holy Scripture and couldn’t agree more strongly with these three men.

Lord, have mercy and help us live in peace in this troubled world, regardless of who’s to blame.

If I were the Devil — Paul Harvey 1965

Paul Harvey Aurandt (1918 – 2009), better known as Paul Harvey, was a conservative American radio broadcaster for ABC News Radio. From 1952 through 2008 his programs reached as many as 24 million people per week. Paul Harvey News was carried on 1,200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces Network stations, and 300 newspapers. Here’s his commentary from 1965. Title: If I were the devil:

If I were the prince of darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness and I would have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree, thee. So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first.

I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.” To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what is bad is good, and what is good is “square”. And the old I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which art in Washington.”

And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves, until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.

If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects but neglect to discipline emotions. Just let those run wild until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every school house door.  

Within a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing. I’d have judges promoting pornography. Soon, I could evict God from the courthouse, and then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.  

If I were the devil, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol for Christmas a bottle. If I were the devil, I would take from those who have and I would give to those who wanted, until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what will you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich.

I would caution against extremes in hard work, in patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that your marriage is old fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure.

In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.

Paul Harvey. Good day!

If Paul Harvey were alive today, I wonder whether he would add a COVID-19 comment, labeling coronavirus as a tool of the devil designed to interrupt the churches of our land, along with the schools, businesses, stock market, governments, economy, commencements, weddings, funerals, and life in general.

Maybe he would point to China as a political tool of the devil in developing and spreading the virus. Or perhaps he would recognize it as a chastisement from the God of the universe for the wayward wanderings of people in our country and world.

I wonder. But if I were the devil, I’d never tell.

COVID-19 and Resurrection

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Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Obviously the greatest impact of COVID-19 on life in the world today is the death of thousands of people. Lots of medical researchers and hypothesizers are trying to figure out the best ways to flatten the curve, to save the lives of those infected, and to create a vaccine that works.

Another notable result of this pandemic is that many events have had to be postponed, such as weddings planned for months in advance and funerals that allow little if any pre-planning. Brides and grooms can be flexible. But it’s painful to delay the grief process as the world waits for coronavirus to be brought to its knees.

In the midst of these new but hopefully temporary realities, Holy Week is upon us. The customary worship experiences of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are replicated online, from empty sanctuaries, by small choruses of disbursed voices, softly and remotely spoken words from Scripture of the life and death of Jesus.

Then, on Easter Sunday morning, the responsive greetings, this year also spoken remotely: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Especially at Easter, those of us who have lost loved ones from this life on earth cannot help but recall the joys and sorrows, difficulties and blessings that were fruits of the relationships we experienced with those dear people. That list includes beloved parents, grandparents, spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and dear friends.

They are gone but not forgotten. At this Eastertide, we give thanks for the love we shared with them, and they with us, during the times of our togetherness.

Even more importantly, we look forward to that day of reuniting with them, of seeing them again, of occupying that immortal, spiritual, imperishable body of which Paul in 1 Cor. 15 so intriguingly speaks. All because of our hope and God’s promise of resurrection.

Resurrection. I say that word with conviction when I speak The Apostles Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!” And I speak that belief when I conduct a funeral: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

COVID-19: Where is your sting? Where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Terry and I pray for each of you a blessed Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

Pandemic or Plague?

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Credit: Wikipedia

COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic. Could it also be a plague?

A few Facebook friends expressed it this way:

In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “You want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.”

In Exodus 7-12, God sent plagues upon the Egyptian people who were holding the nation of Israel captive, beginning with turning the Nile River from water into blood. Then came plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn children throughout Egypt. Finally, the Egyptian Pharaoh let the people go.

Could COVID-19 be God’s way of dealing with a wayward world? “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chron. 7:14

While the idea of the God of the universe being the cause and source of destructive, disrupting, and deadly disease is frightening at worst and distasteful at best, it’s surely a question for pondering: Is coronavirus a pandemic disease or a divinely initiated plague?

Be that as it may, consider this prayer of Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm, pastor of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Seattle, Wash., sent to me by longtime friend Bill Siegrist:

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have had to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.

The Washington Monument

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Credit: Wikipedia

Did you know there’s a cross on the top of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.? Here is information from various public sources about this little known fact:

The Washington Monument is 55 feet wide at the base and 555 feet tall. It is constructed of 36,000 blocks of marble (from Maryland) and granite (from Maine) and weighs 90,000 tons. About 800,000 people a year visit the monument.

On the aluminum cap on top of the monument are two words: Laus Deo. No one can see them from the ground and most people have no idea they are even there. They are 5.125 inches high, perched atop the monument to the father of our nation.

Laus Deo! Two seemingly insignificant, unnoticed words very meaningfully placed at the highest point over what may be considered the most powerful city in the world. And what might those two words mean? Very simply … “Praise be to God!”

Construction of this monument began in 1848 when James Polk was President of the United States. It was not until 1888 that the monument was inaugurated and opened to the public. It took twenty-five years to finally cap the memorial with the tribute Laus Deo! Praise be to God!

Equally noteworthy is George Washington’s prayer for America: “Almighty God, We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United states at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A study of history shows that America is one of the few countries in the world established under the guidance, direction, and banner of Almighty God, who was recognized, honored, and worshiped by the great men who formed and fashioned our country.

That historic reality needs to be remembered, proclaimed, and celebrated, especially at this time in our nation’s history. One way to do so is to observe the inscriptions found in public places all over our nation’s capital, including the top of the Washington Monument.

Laus Deo! Praise be to God!

 

A Church and a Bar

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Last week I saw a story on Facebook:

A man went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone, which rang loudly during the prayer.

After church was over, the pastor scolded him for not turning off his phone before coming into church. A number of worshipers admonished him after the prayer for interrupting the silence.

In addition, the man’s wife kept lecturing him all the way home about his thoughtlessness and insensitivity. He felt ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated.

After that incident, he never again returned to the church.

That same evening, the same man went to a bar. He was still upset, nervous, and trembling. He accidentally spilled his drink on the table and on his lap.

Although the spill wasn’t his fault, he waiter apologized, brought a clean napkin for the man to dry his pants, and politely wiped the spilled drink from the table.

The janitor came and mopped up the liquid that had spilled on the floor.

The lady who managed the bar offered him a replacement drink … at no charge.

The manager also gave the man a huge hug and a peck on the cheek, while saying, “Don’t worry, sir. Who doesn’t make mistakes?”

And guess what? That man has not stopped going to that bar since his experience that night.

The moral of this story is obvious. Whether you’re manager of a bar or pastor of a church, people need and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Demonstrating care and concern for people in, of all places, the church, goes a long way toward encouraging people to return to receive what really counts–proclamation of God’s forgiving love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Secret of Western Success

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Credit: Wikipedia

Terry and I have been attending a Bible class at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas, our home church. It’s been led by Matt Rochner, a very bright young Christian husband and father. A couple weeks ago Matt shared what I’m passing along to you today.

David Aikman was the bureau chief in Beijing for Time magazine for many years. When he was working for Time, he interviewed people like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Mother Theresa, and Billy Graham. While in Beijing, he had access to significant leaders in the communist government.

Aikman interviewed a Chinese social scientist disciple of Mao Zedong who had carefully studied the West. The topic was the impact of Christianity on Western culture. His group explored what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.

“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you (the West) had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.”

“But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion. Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful.”

Aikman goes on to say to us in the West: “Now, you don’t think that way. I don’t think that way. We think it’s our economy. We think it’s that we have more airplanes and smart bombs. We stretch from sea to shining sea. We have incredible breadth of landscape, we’re protected by oceans, and it’s too cold in the north. We have all these reasons, and here the smart people in China are asking: ‘What’s the secret? Aha, we’ve discovered it. It’s Christianity.’”

Many of us in the West are saying: “Are you kidding? We’re not even very good Christians. In fact, if you’re not a Christian, you’re saying, ‘Whoa! Don’t throw me in with that bunch of crazy people. I’m not even a Christian. Don’t blame what has happened in our culture on Christianity.’”

But an objective Chinese person stands back and says to us, “You may not know the secret of your power and success, but we’ve looked at it, we’ve discovered it. It’s not your bombs. It’s not your economy. It’s not your democratic form of government. There’s something else. It’s your religion. It’s your Christianity. That’s what makes you powerful.”

“Studies by Chinese sociologists looking at their own country reveal that in rural areas where traveling evangelists/missionaries introduce the Christian faith, opium addiction goes down, crime drops, and Christian families grow wealthier than their neighbors.”

“Chinese social scientists discovered what we have lost sight of. The church matters. The church makes a cultural difference regarding the freedoms we love and the opportunities we have as Americans. We want to chalk it up to a whole lot of different contributing factors.”

“But those on the outside looking in are saying that the secret sauce to Western success is that there’s a belief system, there’s a value system, there’s a dignity given to men and women and children. And it comes from our Christian heritage. That’s the secret of Western success.”

So here’s my word to fellow pastors, professional church workers, and lay leaders. Keep working. Keep praying. Keep passing to your children and grandchildren the simple and even the complex concepts of Christianity. Allow your life to be a living testimony to your faith. And if necessary, use words. It makes a difference! It’s the secret of Western success!