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.