Saturday, October 10, 2009

One of My Grandfathers

A letter to my kids:

When we have the Lord with us we can handle anything.

I was looking through the family genealogy and noticed that your great great great grandfather Dr. Peter Eppler lived in Lincoln Park. I remember riding through that area on the L when we were in Chicago this summer. It's close to downtown.

Peter moved to Lincoln Park from Stuttgart, Germany as a boy. When he was twelve years old Cholera spread through Chicago and his parents died. The disease was so swift that people died very suddenly. Peter was spared because he had gone to see a circus for the day. When he came home, he was told he could not go back to the house. An Irish woman took him in. The only thing they took from the house was a Bible and a hymnal. Everything else was burned. Peter's parents were buried in Lincoln Park. But there is probably no grave stone. In many cases these people were buried in long ditches and were buried as soon as they died.

But these people had their faith in Jesus. St. Paul said, "It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2.20). Remember that when you think you are overwhelmed with life's problems.

Peter married Augusta Schliepsick (daughter of an LCMS pastor). They had a daughter named Dorothea, who married Valentine Walther, who had immigrated from Rostall, Germany (near Nurenburg).

Dorothea and Valentine had a son named Johann Frederick Walther. They just called him Fritz. He is my grandfather and your great grand father. I'll tell you some more about Valentine and Fritz some other time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Antonia - Three Life Lessons

I finished reading this wonderful novel and keep thinking about it. Antonia (pronounced AntowNEEa) was an immigrant from Bohemia who's family settled in Nebraska. Willa Cather portrays the hardships of homesteading with incredible clarity... sod houses, extreme cold, trying to live off of rotten potatoes, melons, or whatever you could find to eat. The first lesson of this book is to realize the importance of hard work, survival, as well as neighborly charity. No big government programs here! In fact many Americans today look like incredible babies compared to these first settlers. The second lesson is that ideal love doesn't always work out, but that's okay. I don't want to spoil anything so I won't go any further on that. The third lesson is a little disappointing. At the beginning of the book faith plays a very important role. But as the story moves on the role of faith fades into the background. I wonder if that is a reflection of Cather's personal journey? I wonder if that reflects the waning of faith in a culture that learns how to tame the wild. At first we look to God in all the desperation of survival. But as civilization gets a grip and life becomes a little easier do people find less need of God? Overall this is a great book... Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No Country for Old Men - Post Modern Western

I finished reading "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy a few weeks ago. It's one of those books you just can't seem to get out of your head. Spoiler Alert: Don't continue reading if you haven't read the book or watched the movie.

It begins with your basic "good guy/bad guy" theme. A drug deal goes bad. A good old boy stumbles onto a briefcase containing millions of dollars. A psychotic hitman is trying to track him down. The good old boy proves to be more wiley than anyone would of thought. The sheriff is trying to bring the whole matter to justice, and he never gets in the game. Throughout the book he provides laments for the deteriorating culture around us. Near the end of the book a reporter asks him about the increasing problem of crime in his county. His response: "Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight." (Anyone from Texas knows what he's talking about.) "You finally get into the sort of breakdown in mercantile ethics that leaves people settin around out in the desert dead in their vehicles and by then it's just too late."

By far and away the psychotic hitman is the most interesting character. At one point he kills a "traditional hitman" who gets in his way convincing the reader that he is truly a new breed. Like the movie "Batman: The Dark Knight," this is an exploration into the depths of evil. He represents evil for the sake of evil. As Paul said, "The for the mystery of lawlessness is already at work" (2 Thessalonians 2.7). Toward the end you begin to wonder whether he is psychotic or principled... But the principles he follows are too evil for anyone to comprehend. They make no sense.

You get the sense that this hitman is the tip of the spear when it comes to the evil of this world. But there are many forms of evil that follow in the gradual degradation of our culture. For example at one point the sheriff is at a conference seated next to a woman complaining about the "right wing" in America. She says, "I don't like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion." To which the sheriff replied, "Well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm going to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation."

Human beings have always been interested in the problem of evil. Many atheists use it as an excuse to resist believing in God. But this book leaves the reader thinking about, perhaps bewildered by, the problem of evil. I hope that those who are concerned about evil, will look to the unique message of the Christian Gospel. God has confronted evil and in fact destroyed it's power through another concept that is infinitely more difficult to comprehend... The sacrifical love of God in Christ.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

HIV Baby

This is a letter from my friend Pastor Roman Heidemann. I just wanted to post it in the hope that a few more people might be aware of the good ministry he is doing in Russia.

HIV Baby

This Tuesday I went to visit Babies’ house in Women’s prison in Nignij Tagil with ordinary visit. I planned to have a usual fellowship with mothers and had prepared discussion of the parable “Pharisee and Tax Collector”. On my way to the prison I figured out possible questions and prepared answers that would be most persuasive. This time I went there by electric train, so I had more than four hours for final thorough preparation.

When I came to prison, I was told that mothers had been waiting for me for an hour already. As a tradition I visited babies whom we help with medicines, clothing, toys and other things we manage to collect or buy if we received donations. I was told that a week ago a new baby was brought to this house and she was born from HIV positive mother. I expressed the intent to see her and when I entered the special room where lived babies who were HIV positive and born from HIV positive parents, I saw her, a nice year old girl with big blue eyes.

She saw unfamiliar people and got ready to cry curving her lips in unhappy shape, but I smiled her and she smiled me back. I asked medical captain who accompanied me about her parents and the officer answered me that the name of this girl was Anastasia and her mother was a HIV positive drug addict and was charged for imprisonment for drug trafficking. Then I asked whether this girl was HIV positive and got an answer that analysis were taken and results would be ready in a month time. I asked the permission to take Anastasia on hands and was permitted to do this. She behaved like she knew me for ages and the first thing she did, she hold my white pastor’s collar. I looked at her eyes and I got a sign! This collar was a remembrance that we were all slaves of sin before Jesus Christ took our sins away. She was like an angel, sent by Jesus, she was miserable, born from deadly ill mother, she was alone among strange people, she may have the same deadly disease. She came into this world like Jesus did. He pointed on our sins, he showed how miserable and lonely we were in this world, how fragile and short out life was. But he also showed us The Way, The Truth and The Life! The straight Way in Faith, the Truth of the Word and Sacrament and the Eternal Life in Him. All that He showed us in suffering, in blood and in death, His eyes were like eyes of this little Anastasia, big and blue, He came to us like a child, but He overcame death, He defeated hell, He rose from the dead and went to Heaven and He gave us Hope!
It was a shock for me to see these eyes of Love and Hope here in this sad room of hopelessness. My thoughts were in disorder, I felt presence of Jesus in the room with the tips of my fingers, I did not know what to do or to say. I just stood near the child bed firmly holding a baby. Suddenly the officer touched me and said that I had been waited for the long time already and took Anastasia from my hands. I calmly left the room and went upstairs to the second floor to the hall where mothers gathered to the sermon. I was like a robot going up and I saw Anastasia’s eyes before me. All high and clever phrases about prepared parable disappeared. I could not recall even one. I sat before mothers and did not know with what to begin, Anastasia’s blue eyes were still before me. Mothers waited for me and also kept silence. Then I touched my collar and asked them “Do you know what that mean?” And I told them about how I was slave in sin, I told them what Jesus did in my life, how he saved me from this slavery and He could save them from slavery too by Face and through His Grace. I told them about this little angel Anastasia and we all prayed for her, for the analysis to be HIV negative.

I know that everything is in God’s hands. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s pray for little Anastasia, may our Lord and Savior be merciful to her and give her the most precious gift in the world – His Love and His Healing! Let’s pray…

We appreciate your prayers, we need them most. Support our Babies in Prison ministry, check us out at

Roman Heidemann

Evangelical-Litheran Parish
of St. Gertrude

46, 123-B, Kuibyshev Str.
620026, Yekaterinburg
Russian Federation

Tel/Fax: +7-343-262 3386
Mobile Tel: +7-902-262 0533

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Will Evangelicals No Longer Recognize the Differences Between Christians and Mormons?

I thought I had found an interesting movie on Netflix... "The Other Side of Heaven." The description said it was about a missionary in Tonga writing letters to his girlfriend in the USA. I didn't notice that the main character was "Elder" John Groberg.

The movie opened with a scene from Brigham Young University in the 1950s. My suspicions were immediately aroused. Soon I realized this was the perfect motivational movie for all Mormon missionaries. A dedicated young man devotes his life to 2+ years of missionary service. He overcomes one obstacle after another and remains faithful to his girlfriend and to his church superiors. I thought about sending it back, but then I realized it might give me some good insights into the Mormon faith.

Wow, was I right! It's one thing to learn about Mormonism from ex-Mormons and from those who study their official teachings. It's another thing to learn about it through a film that truly presents what they think is the heart of their religion. It reminded me of Paul's words "whose glory is in their shame" (Philippians 3.19)

What was so shocking about this movie? It certainly wasn't the moral character of the Mormons. Christians could take some notes on this. It wasn't their tenacity and perseverance either. The shocking thing about this movie is the Mormon definition of "Gospel." The "preaching of the Gospel" is the main focus of this movie. But what is that definition according to Mormonism? Not once in that movie (to the best of my remembrance) is Christ the crucified for the forgiveness of sins mentioned! At the beginning, the boy's father quotes John 3.16 with a classic Mormon interpretation: I'm giving up my son just like God gave up His Son." He turns the Gospel into a Law. God sent Jesus to be an example for us to follow. That's what saves us... following His example.

John's first sermon was hilarious and sad at the same time. He taught them that God was giving them all the opportunity to be God's servants. However, he had trouble with the language and actually said that they all had the opportunity to be God's "outhouses." What's sad about this is that John presented a Gospel that says, "I (God) love you enough to tell you who I am and let you have the opportunity to try to become like Me. Follow My rules, and you can do it."

Here's another new twist that Mormons are into... The island that John goes to already has a "minister." You can't tell what denomination he represents, but he is definitely opposed to Mormonism. However throughout the movie John is kind to him and eventually wins him over so that you get the idea there really is no difference between Mormonism and Christianity. I don't think that would have ever happened in the 1950s, but that is definitely the new marketing approach that they are using to sell people on their version of the Gospel.

Here's the really sad thing as I think about it: How many Christians today would really see any difference between what they hear on Sunday mornings and what Mormons hear? I don't hear Christ the crucified for the forgiveness of sins being preached very much today even in so-called Christian churches... even in some Lutheran churches! This is exactly what Paul was warning about when he said, "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?" (Galatians 3.1).

Christians need to get back to God's word in Christ before they slip all the way down the slippery slope of the Mormon Gospel... "It's all about me doing what I'm supposed to do to be good and get rewarded." Or, at the end of that slope they will find themselves on the other side of hell.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Final Days of Sophie Scholl

Sophie Scholl was a Lutheran who saw through the veneer of Hitler's nationalistic pride to the true evil lurking below. Along with her brother Hans and a friend she was put to death for printing and distributing leaflets calling for the peaceful resistance of the Nazi madness. On February 22, 1943 they were convicted and a few hours later beheaded at Munich's Stadelheim Prison.

The movie is all in German with English subtitles. There is a lengthy and somewhat tedious interrogation... but I suppose that is realistic. The most interesting aspects of the film for me were Sophie's tenacious grip on the truth regarding the evil of the Third Reich and her firm faith in God. The prison pastor's blessing just before her execution was powerful and very Christ centered.

The movie made me think about the evils of my culture. Am I truly aware of them, and am I doing anything about them?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fish Symbol

The Belleville News Democrat ran a nice article today about our church. Every year about this time we start seeing a beautiful light show in our church. Two beautiful arcs of light form the symbol of the fish.

In the early church the symbol of the fish represented an early creed. The first letters of the Greek word "ixthus" or "fish" are the first letters of the Greek words "Jesus, Christ, God's Son, Savior."

In the article Harold Ulkus said that Lutherans really aren't into "signs and wonders." But isn't it interesting that we get a "creed" and the Catholics always get images of Mary?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pick a Church Any Church?

Here in Collinsville we just finished an interesting program started by the Collinsville Area Ministerial Alliance. It was called "Pick a Church, Any Church." It was a big marketing campaign designed to get people to church for Easter. Seventeen congregations (GLSC included) kicked in $$$ to buy signs, print fliers, pay for ads, billboards, an automated call from Mayor John Miller, and an automated call from Congressman John Shimkus. Some of our members wondered about this program. "Pick a Church, Any Church?" That didn't sound like GSLC. They thought it should be "Pick a Church, My Church!"

I told them that the way I looked at it these churches weren't unified, but at least anyone who attended one of them for Easter could discover something good about Jesus. This might be a first step toward salvation, and it was better than sitting at home and doing nothing for Easter. I was trying to put on the best construction. Sometimes non-participation in something like this can send a wrong signal. It drew a lot of interest... Articles in the Post Dispatch, national ministry magazines, etc. I'm usually attend most CAMA meetings. I like my brother pastors and feel liked by them. But I am always the "fly in the ointment" when it comes to unity. I won't participate in the unity services on Thanksgiving and Good Friday. Most think as long as you believe Jesus is Lord, then everything is okay. Well, as it turns out the brothers aren't so unified as we might think. When each church made phone calls (we tried to call every home in Collinsville with volunteers), one church decided to add something at the end of the generic script... If you don't have church home, come to our church (with specific info). The script said they were to visit the website and take a look at the 17 churches and choose. So let's all just be honest here... Deep down we all want people to come to our church!

What about disunity in the church? What should we do about it?

First, we have to remember that since faith itself is a gift of God (Ephesians 2.8-10), then unity in the faith must also be a gift of God!

Second, if Jesus was concerned about unity, that means He saw the problems of disunity among the disciples, and He foresaw the problems of unity in the church... Almost every letter the Apostle Paul wrote dealt with disunity in the faith. (Galatians - Huge disunity over Judaizing; Corinthians - Total disunity!; Ephesians-Colossians - Incipient Gnosticism (philosophy of the world); Thessalonians - End Times; Romans - Jew/Gentile Issues; Timothy-Titus-Philemon - Need for faithful workers to carry on with a church that will always default toward disunity! Philippians might be the only exception, but it does deal with individuals who needed unifying!)

Third, there are two types of disunity... The first is doctrinal. Usually the first half of Paul's letter is a big effort to maintain doctrinal unity. The second half is a focus on living out that doctrine. Look at Ephesians... It is almost exactly half doctrine (chapters 1-3) and half practical application (chapters 4-6). So the second half has to do with our personal disunity of not living the faith consistently.

Disunity is a fact as sure as sin is a fact. It's going to happen. The only question will be whether we will recognize and deal with it!

The question isn't "Is there disunity?" The question is always "What should we be doing about the disunity?" The answer is the same as in the New Testament. Meet, study the Scriptures, discuss/debate, and pray... See Acts 15 and the Council at Jerusalem! That is the great effort that the Lutheran church began with the publishing of the Augsburg Confession and later the Book of Concord. Here's what we believe. Let's work together for the truth of God's word... Look at the introductions to both, and you'll see it's all about continuing the age-old work of maintaining the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How Can the Resurrection Make a Difference in My Life When I Start Going Crazy?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The text for my Easter message is from Mark 16.6… probably the most important words ever recorded for us… “He is risen.”

There is probably nothing more important to know and believe in this life other than that God keeps His promises. Everything else in this life will fail us. But God’s promises never fail. Recently we have seen banks and large financial institutions that are in the business of being trustworthy and reliable, fail and collapse. Our country’s defense system, one of the most sophisticated and reliable in the world, was breached just a few years about by extremists who turned airplanes into lethal weapons and killed thousands of people. There are important lessons to be learned here. God’s word reminds us that “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118.8). We will never stop trying to make this world a better place. But we have to realize the limitations of those efforts. Our Easter celebration gives us another good opportunity to remember that trust in God’s promises is the only thing that will get us through this life.

Saturday, the day after Jesus died, must have been the worst day this world has ever seen. Imagine walking out to “The Place of the Skull” where Jesus was crucified and looking around at the blood spattered rocks, the footprints of the soldiers, and feeling the emptiness of a world without a Messiah. Perhaps you might have seen a few splinters of wood or a broken nail. But you wouldn’t have seen Jesus. Gone were those beautiful teachings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…” Gone were the miracles “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11.43). Gone was the compassion and the hope. Finally the sun would set on that sad day. For the disciples of Jesus it must have been a day of unimaginable pain and despair.

Have you had days like that? Days of unimaginable pain and despair? If you haven’t you will. The phone will ring. Someone you dearly love will have come to the end of their life. You have relied so heavily on this person for so long, how will you be able to go on in life without them? Your boss will call you in to tell you that your job is being cut. What will you do? How will you provide for your family? You thought the cough you had was just a lingering cold. But x-rays confirm that you have cancer growing in your lungs. You cry for hours. You can’t sleep or eat. You are just numb. Then you begin to ask God why? Why all this pain? Why all this disappointment? Can you imagine the questions the disciples must have been asking on that very sad Saturday after the crucifixion? Two of them did say, “We were hoping it was He who would redeem Israel?” (Luke 24.21). All their hopes and joys were dashed… Dashed by an unfair trial and a gruesome death on a cross. Surely they must have also asked, “Why?” and “What’s next?” and “How can I go on?”

But a few of the disciples did push on… the women in particular… who returned to the tomb the next day to complete the burial. I’m sure they were still numb with grief as they carried their spices. But God in His mercy and being true to His very nature did not allow them to finish that burial. He kept His promises. He brought life up out of death and raised His Son. He fulfilled Jesus’ words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Suddenly the word began to spread. “He is risen!” And tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. The disciples remembered that Jesus has said this would happen. God kept all of His promises.

Sometimes when life really has me on my knees I pray like this… Dear God, I know You are there. I know that You can hear me. I know that You will help me… I know that Jesus rose from the dead! That last part doesn’t really seem to fit, but it does. The resurrection is God’s way of showing us that He keeps His promises to us. If there was ever a promise that seemed to fail, it must have been the promise of the Messiah… It must have been the promise that by giving it all up in death, Jesus would save the whole world. You see this is what Satan must have been telling Jesus in Gethsemane… “It’s not going to work. It’s not going to make a difference. Give up on God’s promises.” But of course He didn’t give up. So when Satan comes to us with the same lies… that trusting God in His word doesn’t work… We just need to remember that Jesus showed us that it does. Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. When you start to go crazy, just say that to yourself.

St. Paul says that when we die we are like seeds that are sown into the ground. These seeds have to die, that is our lives have to come to an end. But because they are God’s seeds and contain God’s promises in their hearts, they do not stay buried. They rise again to eternal life. This is God’s promise of the resurrection. As Christ has been raised so will we be raised. The same can be said for our “little deaths” that we have to experience in this life… the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the broken relationship. When these sad experiences are mixed with faith, they too are buried in the ground only to sprout anew into something even better than before. This is what Paul meant when he said that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8.28). The psalmist wrote long ago, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy” (Psalm 126.5). That is, those who sow with repentance and faith will bury their problems and reap the joy that God promises as life goes on.

In the jungles of East Asia a missionary showed a movie about Jesus. This was the first movie these people had ever seen, and so they didn’t realize that this was something that had actually happened in the past. As the movie began they were very impressed with Jesus who could heal the sick and who showed so much compassion to everyone. But when the soldiers began to beat him, they began to jump up and shout and demand that they stop. The missionary had to interrupt the movie to explain that there was more to come. Again when Jesus was being crucified, they screamed for the outrage to stop, and again the missionary had to stop the film to explain there was more to come. Finally, when they came to the end of the movie and Jesus rose from the dead, they broke into pandemonium and celebration as Jesus kept His promises.

So this Easter I urge you to cling to all the promises of God and to remember that as the promise of salvation in Christ goes… so go all of God’s promises. They will be fulfilled, and we can live on in that hope. No matter what happens in this life, the resurrection will always mean, “Don’t despair. There’s more to come.” Amen.

Pastor Michael P. Walther
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Resurrection Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Denn der Glaube ist nicht jedermanns Ding.

In our Men's Morning Bible study we were finishing our reading of 2 Thessalonians. I am continually amazed at the relentlessness of the Apostle Paul. This was a man who would never give up no matter what the odds. Almost every church God brought into existence through his preaching of Christ created some kind of controversy or opposition. But Paul expected this. As he said to the Thessalonians...

"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith." (2 Thessalonians 3.1-2)

"For not all have the faith." I love Luther's translation... "Denn der Glaube is nicht jedermanns Ding." In English that would be "Because faith is not every man's thing." How true that is. Every day we run into opposition and rejection. But this shouldn't discourage us. It should be expected, and it should propel us to prayer because God is the only one who can change a man's heart. Not only that, it should cause us to seek exactly what Paul was seeking... that "the word of the Lord may run swiftly..." The opposition is strong. Faith is not every man's thing. But God's answer to that has always been to continue sharing that word and praying for it's reception.

Dear Lord, thank You for bringing the word of salvation to us. Grant that it would be glorified in our lives and that faith would certainly be OUR THING. Give us a living faith that shows the Gospel, and bless the church in its mission to send the word out swiftly. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Wild Man of Borneo

I was looking for a break from my "religious" books. So I found this war story called "The Airmen and the Headhunters." I anticipated a story about some airmen who crashed in the jungles of Borneo and had to switch from fighting the Japanese to headhunters. Boy was I wrong!

The "Airmen and the Headhunters" turned out to be a true story of the greatest of all stories - the Love and Grace of God in a wicked world. In November 1944 the crew of a B-24 Liberator took off for what should have been an easy mission off the coast of Borneo. Instead they encountered a Japanese fleet and were shot down. When they cut themselves loose from their parachutes, they were scattered across the brutal mountains of interior Borneo. The only image they had of Borneo was "The Wild Man of Borneo." They were scared to death.

They were quickly spotted by the Dayak tribesmen, and realizing they were outnumbered, they immediately surrendered their weapons and hoped for the best. Would they be turned over the Japanese, killed, tortured, or cannibalized? They had no idea.

Although it was awkward at first the tribesmen treated them kindly and seemed to be in awe of them. Only later would they understand why. Borneo had been taken over by the Dutch. Early in that process the Dutch officials brought missionaries in to teach the tribesmen the Christian faith. Their main concern was not salvation but the cessation of head-hunting. The tribesmen were very impressed by the love of the missionaries and the way they treated each person equally regardless of their skin color.

When the Japanese came, all the missionaries were killed or driven off. Yet the tribesmen held fast to their new faith. The missionaries came from two different denominations one of which was Lutheran (I'm not kidding!). These must have been some old time Lutherans...

In one of the most fascinating parts of the story, a young tribal girl is talked into taking off her clothes to lure Japanese soldiers out of their position so they could be killed. The girl did it because she remembered the apocryphal story of Judith. Judith is a part of those books in the Catholic Bible that Lutherans used to read. In that story the beautiful Judith goes to the tent of Holofernes, seduces him, and then whacks off his head with a sword. It worked for the tribal girl as well.

Throughout the book the airmen are impressed by the faith and morality of the tribesmen. At one point the tribesmen risk discovery by the Japanese because they insist that they must celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas!

How refreshing it was to stumble onto this book! It shows me that the work of spreading the Gospel is often hard and unrewarding. You just don't see the result immediately. How discouraged those missionaries must have been when the Japanese came. But again "the gates of hell" did not prevail.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"War and Peace" in One Minute

"War and Peace," by Leo Tolstoy, is one of those great books that everyone recognizes but few have read. However, if you'll give it a chance, I think you'll will be blessed - especially anyone with a Christian point of view.

The setting for the book is before and after Napoleon's disastrous march on Moscow in 1812. Pierre, one of the main characters, is convinced he is the Anti-Christ because the Hebrew numbers associated with the French letters in "L'Empereur Napoleon" add up to 666.

Most of the characters come from the upper Russian classes. They are selfish, manipulative, foolish, vain, whose fortunes rise and fall on the whims of war. To impress people they love to speak in French.

A few of them, however, act quite nobly such as Princess Maria, whose father, Count Balkonsky, assures her she is quite ugly and makes her work algebra and geometry problems several hours every day. Maria still loves her father, forgives him and finds comfort among the God-folk and her faith in Jesus.

Pierre is on a journey to find the meaning of life. He doesn't find it in marriage to the mean-spirited Ellene. Nor does he find it in the discipline of the Masons. Nor does he find help from loose women. Pierre goes to check on the war and sees that most soldiers are vain, some are lucky and a few are truly courageous. But then Pierre meets a peasant named Platon Karataev, who only appears for a few paragraphs but is the soul of the book. A very simple man, he prays each night: "Lay me down like a stone, Oh God, and raise me up like a loaf."

Tolstoy strips away the vain glory, the avarice, the selfish deceit of men women only to show us that the meaning of life rests in family and simple faith in Christ. He also discourses at length on the question of the freedom of the will. But if you listen to this with an audio book, you can sleep through that part. (Although as a Lutheran pastor, I found it very interesting!)

To read "War and Peace" online visit The Literature Network. If you're interested in audio books, I recommend Audible. Turn off the TV. Read a book!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thank God for Josephs

Our family devotion for Epiphany 2009

Matthew Chapter Two...

Matthew 2:14 Then he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt.

The Epiphany story tells us a lot of important things. It reminds us that though Jesus is King of the Jews He is also the Savior of the magi and all people. The gifts of the magi show us one of the ways to express our thanks to God. The magi disobeyed Herod, and that reminds us that sometimes we have to obey God rather than men. There are many lessons in this chapter.

Tonight I want to talk about Joseph. Most of the Christmas message is about other people, but the last part of the Christmas Gospel focuses on Joseph. He took care of Jesus and Mary. When Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus, Joseph followed God's command and took his family to Egypt. He took care of them there, and when it was safe to return, he brought them to Nazareth and took care of them there.

That's what fathers do. They take care of their families. But Joseph did even more. He took care of the Son of God so He could save the world.

We still need... and God still provides... Josephs today. Like Herod of old there are new Herods who would like to kill the teachings of Jesus or replace them with false substitutes. The real Jesus still calls us to repentance and gives us forgiveness through His death and resurrection. Other people want to have a Jesus who doesn't really care about sin - at least the sins we like to do.

God gives us pastors, teachers, and parents who make sure that Jesus isn't changed into something He's not. We can be thankful for Joseph, who took care of Jesus, and for all the other Josephs who take care that we will know the true and only Jesus, our Savior.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for Joseph and for all the fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, who still today make sure that people will know the real Jesus for salvation. Amen.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Eve Prayer

Eternal God and Lord of All, not a second passes that You aren’t aware of us and deeply concerned about us. You created this world and placed us in it. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, You called us to eternal life.

Though our earthly life may be short and troubled… though it might be long and full of satisfaction and happiness… We give thanks for each and every day and for every opportunity that we have had to live by faith. Thank You for every good and noble work, for every expression of love, and for every declaration of truth that the world has witnessed from us. Forgive us for every mistep and transgression that has reflected badly on You and has hurt those around us. Renew us again in Jesus that we might again be lights in the world as another year begins.

Heavenly Father, hear the cries the rise up from this troubled globe. We pray for the sick, the hungry, the lonely, the confused, those struggling in doubt, the sad and sorrowing souls drowning in despair. Come to them through Your Spirit’s word and drive away the effects of sin that tire and torment.

Restrain the evil-doers in Your will, and bring the full number of those whom You have chosen into the kingdom of Your grace. Guide our nation’s leaders that their governing may reflect the peace, justice, and righteousness of the child born Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
Protect all who serve in our armed forces and are far away from home. We especially remember Joe Rincker in Kuwait, Chris Mentz, Brian Schiller & Jim Petersen in Iraq, and Jim Pfaff in Kyrgyzstan.

Help us continue living by grace. Help us to forget the past year’s sorrows, cherish its joys and blessings. Perpare us for all tha awaits in the future that with wisdom we might approach every challenge and opportunity.

We know that no man knows the time of Christ’s return, but that He called us to watch and pray. Lord, keep us ready, serving at our posts until the trumpet may sound. And then take us to join the wedding feast that has been prepared.

Hear us in Jesus’ name. Amen.