My Lenten Journey

Labyrinth

I thank God for my Lenten journey this year.  I’ve learned so much already. It began with a total knee replacement surgery on February 28, which was Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove Tuesday is the first Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  It officially ends the season of Epiphany and is the vigil for the beginning of Lent. 

The surgery went well, but there were complications that nearly landed me in the intensive care unit.  Consequently, I suffered three days of migraines and severe nausea, which left me exhausted and unable to eat. My anticipated three-day hospital stay for surgery ended up being six days instead.

Among the lessons and reminders of my journey, it was comforting to see so many caring people on the hospital staff. It reassured me that there are still many good and loving people in our society, despite all the violence and hatred we see every evening on the news. 

It has given me insight into the pain and suffering so many handicapped and elderly people endure every day. I have to use a walker and my physical therapy has, at times, been torturous.

I’ve been so happy and encouraged to see how concerned and eager to assist our eldest grandson (age 9) is. It’s a sure sign that the hard work of his parents is paying of.

It has reminded me how blessed I am to have a loving wife and a marriage that has endured 40 years.  Marriage is a lot of work, but the rewards of persevering are tremendous. 

It has helped me begin some very healthy lifestyle changes. I’m an active person who enjoys exercise. At present, I won’t be able to do any serious exercising for several more weeks. I’ve had to closely watch what I eat and drink while incapacitated–something I should have been doing all along.

But most of all, it’s reminded me that, no matter how much I try,  I can’t handle everything by myself. How comforting it is to have a loving God to help me with every aspect of my life.  We’re only 12 days into the 40 days of Lent and I pray the lessons will keep coming as I recover at home and dig deeper into the scriptures.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the
Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits

who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
O
Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. Psalm 5:1-3

How sweet are your words to my taste,
   sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
   therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path. Psalm 119:103–105

Take a Lenten Journey

lenten-journey-2

Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent.  For many Christians, Lent is little more than a period of 40 days on the church calendar.  But for others, it is a solemn time of preparation and reflection looking forward to Easter, the most holy day of the Christian faith on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin.

If you’re a Christian for whom Lent has no special significance, I challenge you to take a Lenten journey beginning tomorrow. The journey doesn’t have to be anything extravagant—I’m not suggesting that you give up coffee or chocolate for 40 days (although that might not be a bad idea).   I recommend simply beginning each day during Lent by spending a half hour reading scripture, praying and reflecting (something I hope you’re already doing) on Christ’s final journey to the cross.  You might begin by reading a brief Lenten Primer, which was written a few years ago. It’s located at this link:  http://visitor.stcdio.org/primer-season/

After reading the Primer, I suggest using a Lenten devotional to guide you on your journey.  The devotional will provide a reading for each day of Lent. There are many good ones available online at no cost.  If you have trouble choosing one, here are a couple of suggestions. The Bible Gateway website is offering a Lenten devotional focusing on the writing of renowned German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Because Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazi regime, he was incarcerated in a concentration camp.  He was executed near the end of World War II.  You can sign up at this link to have each daily devotion emailed to you:

https://www.biblegateway.com/landing/easter/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=alert&utm_campaign=easter

The Lutheran Hour Ministries is also offering a Lenten devotional.  You can find it online at this link beginning March 1https://www.lhm.org/lent/dailydevotions.asp

Starting this year, let Lent become a special church season for you!

Almighty and Everlasting God,
You have given the human race
Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility.
He fulfilled Your Will by becoming Man
and giving His life on the Cross.
Help us to bear witness to You
By following His example of suffering
and make us worthy to share in His Resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son.
Amen.

A New Beginning

new-years-resolution

The New Year has arrived and for many it’s a time for making resolutions and new beginnings—trying to set aside bad habits and/or adopt new, beneficial routines. Unfortunately, for most people it’s nearly impossible to succeed in such endeavors. 

A Forbes Magazine article published in January 2013 reported on a study conducted at the University of Scranton. It indicated that only about 8 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions achieve their goals. Looking at this a different way, 92 percent fail!

Despite the slim chance of succeeding, many will continue to make New Year’s resolutions year after year.  I confess that I’m guilty.  Last year I made a resolution to lose 10 pounds—I now have only have 15 pounds to go (sigh).

The Bible is full of promises and stories about new beginnings. (all citations ESV)

  • Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
  • Ezekiel 36:26 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 – “…the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
  • Revelation 21:5 – “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’.”

Fortunately for us all, God makes new beginnings and he never fails if we will simply let him do His work.  His greatest new beginning was foretold in the Old Testament, described in the Gospels, and recounted in the Epistles. It was God’s gift of His son Jesus to save us from our sins.

Christ’s salvation of mankind was completed over 2,000 years ago through Jesus’ crucifixion. His resurrection from the dead on the third day is evidence of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death.

Jesus died to cleanse all mankind from their sins.  For those who don’t already know him, that salvation is like a beautifully wrapped present sitting beneath a Christmas tree.  The present has no owner until someone opens it, takes what is inside, and makes it their own.

St. Paul describes how to do this in his epistle to the Romans. There is no long list of do’s and don’ts.  God’s plan of salvation is beautiful in its simplicity, requiring only confession and sincere belief.

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  Romans 10:9-10

Martin Luther wrote about what it means to be “justified” before god, saying that justification is a “… righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”  Even though those who have accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation will continue to sin, because of Christ’s sacrifice they remain righteous in the eyes of God.

It is my hope that you have already received this free gift.  If not, however, please consider making it your own today!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there
will be no end, on the throne of David and over his
kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice
and with righteousness from this time forth and  
forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

                                                                                            Isaiah 9:6-7

A Message of Hope – Christmas Eve 2016

christmas-2017

“Oh come let us adore him!”

“My dear friends, on this Christmas . . . let us seek, in the Babe of Bethlehem, the One who came to us in order to bear with us everything that weighs heavily upon us. . . . God Himself has built a bridge from Himself to us! A dawn from on high has visited us!”

Rev. Martin Niemoller
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Christmas Eve, 1944

Isaiah 9:1-7    For to Us a Child Is Born

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Click for a Christmas message from the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America:      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSs4Nk1RlOw&feature=youtu.be

 

 

Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom

                                  cornucopia-by-edvard-munch

Cornucopia, oil on canvas by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

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And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  –Colossians 3: 15-17 (ESV)

Besides getting senior discounts in restaurants and AARP rates on hotel rooms, one of the benefits I’ve reaped by growing older is developing a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inward, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

As a new Army lieutenant, fresh out of college, I loved the excitement of living a soldier’s life.  I liked going out and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life.

As I got a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I had married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known.  She is also one of the humblest and most generous people I know!

Having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was steered towards God.  Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I can’t help but feel blessed every day. Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows for nearly 40 years.  Our daughters are both grown and successful, we have a wonderful son-in-law, and we’ve been blessed with three adorable grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

This is the day that many Americans pause to give thanks to God for the blessings in their lives.  I urge everyone to take a few moments to consider your blessings and give thanks for your Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom—the  things that truly matter in life.

Do You Have A War Room?

This blog post was inspired by the new book by Karen Ehman titled, Listen, Love, Repeat which releases on November 15, 2016 you can purchase a copy at http://listenloverepeatbook.com.

What exactly is a War Room, you ask? Merrimack-Webster defines a War Room as a room where battles are planned that is equipped with maps, ideas, information, etc. Basically a military headquarters where a status is kept on troops that are in battle. The battles I want to talk about, however, are of a spiritual nature and our battles are fought (and won) on our knees.

Do you ever feel like you are fighting a battle with the people God’s placed in your life? Every conversation becomes a way to defend your opinion, justify your actions. Wouldn’t life be grand if everyone saw things your way? These moments can often times put an added stress on friendships and family relationships…

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Count Your Blessings

faucet-with-drinking-water                                            Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

                                                                                                  —Johnson Oatman Jr.

 

Our Daily Bread is one of the daily devotionals I read regularly. A recent piece by David Roper titled Stage by Stage, focuses on the Old Testament book of Numbers 33.  The chapter tells us God commanded Moses to write down the story of the Jews’ 40-year pilgrimage that began with escaping from slavery in Egypt and ultimately took them to the plains of Moab, a strip of land that today is part of Jordan.

Roper speculates that God’s reason for commanding Moses to document this pilgrimage was to allow the Jews to “…retrace that journey in their thoughts and record God’s faithfulness at each location.”  The Seder meal the Jews celebrate to mark the beginning of Passover is closely tied to Numbers 33, which seems to support’s Roper’s argument.  Each course of the Seder meal recalls an event in God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, as told in the book of Exodus.

God is truly faithful and His faithfulness alone is blessing enough—but there are so many additional blessings in our lives if we will simply look for them. Focus determines attitude.  I’m no spring chicken, so I’ve developed a few medical problems over the years, like having four root canals.  What a blessing to have a root canal!  What did people do a hundred years ago?

I could focus on other, more lingering medical problems and quickly become depressed as I grow older.  Instead, I’ve tried to heed the lesson of St. Paul who says in Philippians 4:11 (NIV), “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Focus on the positives in life and you’ll find your blessings. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States and other developed countries in the West, it shouldn’t be difficult to compile a long list of blessings. Think about it!

                                              ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…                                                                             (From “Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848)

During my military career I spent some time in Saudi Arabia. Unless you’ve been there, I could never begin to explain how lacking in personal freedom the average Saudi people are.  Saudi Arabia reminds me how blessed we in the Western World are to simply be free.    

Westerners can turn on a faucet and draw a drink of clear, clean water. This truly is a blessing that most people take for granted.  Serving in Somalia when I was in the Army drove the point home, as I watched Somali workers building a bridge drawing water directly from the muddy Juba River and drinking without disinfecting it. I’m frequently reminded of this blessing when I take a drink of cold water.  

Westerners can walk into a grocery store and find food in abundance that, 200 years ago, would have made the great kings of Europe envious.  Here in my hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D., we even have a Christian ministry called The Banquet that serves free meals to anyone who walks in the door—no questions asked (https://thebanquetsf.org/).  

My family and friends are all blessings to me. Proverbs 5:18 tells men to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (NIV). I’ve been blessed with nearly 40 years of marriage to my wonderful wife who I met when I was 17 years old. We have both been blessed by children and grandchildren.

I have a good number of dear friends, some of whom I’ve known since high school. When I say dear friends, I’m talking about the ones I could easily trust with my money, my house keys, and caring for my children.

One such friend was recently involved in a head on collision.  He was banged up pretty badly, but I’m blessed to still have him around. I have a couple of friends who have died.  I was blessed to have had them in my life. I have another friend who has been blind for life; he taught me what a blessing it is to simply be able to see.

Comedian and actor Bill Murray recently received the Mark Twain Award for humor from the Kennedy Center.  He grew quite emotional during his acceptance speech and closed by saying to the ceremony attendees:  “Look at each other. Look at who we are. Look at how we are all together here right now. Alive! That’s pretty good, right?”

Bill Murray gets it! Do you?

“Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

                                                                                                                          –Psalm 40:5 (NIV)