Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Only Experts in Raising Children


“Train up a child in the way he should go;
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6


I once heard a comedian say this about parenting – “The only experts in raising children are those who don’t have any.”   From my perspective no truer words about parenting have ever been spoken.  Linda and I are perfect examples.  When we were first married but still childless, we were experts.  We could watch parents in action and see exactly what they were doing wrong.  If any of them had asked, we would have had all sorts of advice on parenting. It’s a good thing no one asked for as soon as we became parent, all that expertise disappeared.  So what I share now, in this blog, is shared with that in mind.  My purpose is to be encouraging not preachy.  I hope I succeed.  These are things I learned as dad of four kids and Pop Pop to 6 grandchildren.

First, children are a gift from God.  Being a parent is perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done.  In the first years of their lives they depend on you for literally everything.  They are challenging, and time consuming.  You laugh when they laugh.  You worry over them.  You hurt with them and sometimes because of them.   There are all sorts of costs over the years that you don’t know how you will afford – car insurance… college… weddings.  Having children was a much bigger change to our lifestyle than getting married.   And I would not trade being a dad for all the money in the world.  Among the biggest joys in life have been holding each baby and grandbaby, having them hold your hand as they walk down the street, or sit on your lap while you read a story, playing catch, watching them hit a home run or dance a ballet, seeing them confirmed and then graduate, walking her down the aisle.  Every single moment has been a treasure.  I am glad that when they were little we didn’t take vacations without them.  We have plenty of time for that now.  I know Linda agrees with me – Thank you Lord for our children and our grandchildren.

Second, there are no perfect children.  Your children are going to do or say wrong things.  I was not doing them a favor, when I refused to believe it when a teacher told me something I didn’t want to be true.  Yes I wanted my children to like me.  But more than a friend, I needed to be their dad – to love them enough to discipline them when they wrong, as well as praise them when they did well. 

Along with this, there are no perfect parents.  I made mistakes.  I made dumb mistakes.  I jumped to conclusions.  I got upset when I should have stayed calm.  I said things in anger I shouldn’t have said.
All parents make mistakes.  Moms and dads, cut yourselves some slack.  Forgive yourselves.  God will.  Your kids will.  This is why I wouldn’t do premarital counseling for my kids and their spouses.  I was sure that I was one of the issues they would need to talk about.  The most important words that parents and kids can speak to one another , are words we learn from our God – to tell Him “I’m sorry,” and to hear from Him, “I forgive you.”   The most costly loving thing, we can say to one another is “I forgive you.”  It cost God His own Son to say that to us.  He was more than willing to pay that cost.  Parenting is an opportunity to share that gift with your kids through your humble, repentant, loving heart.  When you are wrong mom and dad ask your kids for forgiveness.  When they are wrong don’t say “it don’t matter.”  Tell them you love them the way God has told you.  Tell them, “I forgive you.”

You see, your kids really belong to God.  They are on loan to you from Him.  He has brought them into your life to do exactly what our verse for today says.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  They are your most important mission field. Share Jesus with them at bedtime, in stories you read, and around the dinner table.  Be in worship with them.  Go to Bible class as they go to Sunday School.  Let them see you read your Bible. Prepare them to walk with Jesus in life, by letting them see you walking with Jesus. In your prayers entrust them to God – after all, the only expert in raising children is Him… their heavenly Father and yours.  And you can’t do this without Him. Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ever Wonder What God is Doing?


“Beloved, we are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.”
I John 3:2


When I first came to Frankfurt there was a really ugly, abandoned building on this lot.  When I came back five months they had started to tear it down.  Because there was asbestos in the building, taking it down took many months.  Finally, they began to build a new building here on this spot.  The whole process from tearing down the old, to building this beautiful new building took over three years.  I have walked or driven by the building pretty much every day since I arrived in Germany.  It’s right on the way to Trinity.  For a long time, I watched and wondered – what are they doing?  What will the new building look like when it’s finished?  What purpose will the new building serve?  For a long time, this place looked only like a mess.  Even as things began to take shape, what they were building remained a mystery.  Only now, when everything is done – do we really see what they were building – a brand new class room building for one of Frankfurt’s Universities. 

Sometime life is like that.  You look at the things happening and you wonder, “Why?  Why did my Aunt get cancer?  Why did I lose that job?”  Something unexpected, unplanned for happens… it changes all our plans and we wonder, “What is God doing?”    Part of that is that we live in the middle of whatever God is doing.  Construction is underway, but the end product is not yet evident.  Someone recently compared it to looking at the underside of a quilt.  The underside has strings hanging everywhere.  It looks like a mess.  Only from the top side can you see the beautiful design of the quilt. In the same way, we see life from the underside of the quilt.  At times life looks like a mess.  There doesn’t seem to be any design.  You can’t see from our side what God is doing.  It’s no wonder we sometimes question Him, even get angry when things happen that hurt, that don’t make sense to us. 

I want to share with you today a couple of things about God that help me at such moments. The first thing is that God is a master architect.  He is the creator.  Look at the world around you and you see what great and beautiful things He has made.  It’s like this building behind me.  I would never have known how to build such a structure.  But the architects, the designers, the builders – they knew how to do it.  Our God can do anything. 

What’s more, our God really cares about us.  You could tell that these builders really cared about what they were doing here.  Think about the time they took to do a great job.  Look at the beautiful building that resulted.  In the same way, even when we have no idea what God is doing, we do know that He loves us.  We know because He gave His own Son.  His Son lived and died for our sins, then rose again because God wants to spend forever with us.  Obviously God loves us.   We can trust Him.  After all “if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him freely give us all things?”

Finally, even if we only see things from the underside of the quilt, God sees everything from the top. He knows what He is doing.  Like this building, when God is done with His work on your life and mine, He will have created a masterpiece.  After all, we have His promise.  “Behold, I am making all things new!”    As John put it in His first Epistle, “Beloved, we are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.”  That’s what God is doing.  Amen. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Searching for Answers in the midst of Tragedy



“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Luke 23:42


For the last 6 weeks it has been one tragedy after another.  There have been three catastrophic hurricanes – ripping apart southeast Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.  There have been major earthquakes near Mexico City, huge fires in the northwest United States, and typhoons in the Pacific.  Now there is this horrible massacre in Las Vegas.  Quite naturally, during all of this, people have started to do what we always do at such moment – we have started to search for answers. 

For example, people are searching for someone to blame.  But who do you blame for a hurricane or an earthquake?  Those things are natural disasters.  Yet still people point to God and blame Him as cruel and unloving.  Some in the news have even claimed that God is punishing people for their lifestyle, for their politics and other ridiculous reasons. Other blame comes after the fact.  Some blame the government, the President for not responding quick enough.  It would seem there is an obvious person to blame in what happened in Las Vegas – the villain doing the shooting.  Yet that isn’t enough. People want to blame the different sides in the gun control debate.  Who did this is a big, important question.  But does it really provide the healing and comfort people need right now? 

Another question people ask is the “why” question.  “Why did this happen?”  People want to make some sense out of any horrible, tragic situation.  I suppose you could point to the natural phenomena that bring about hurricanes and earthquakes.  But I don’t think that’s what people are looking to understand.  The why question is deeper.  “If God is a loving God, why did He let this happen?”  In the case of this gunman in Las Vegas – the last three days in the media there has been relentless speculation on his motive.  “Did he have gambling problems?”  “Had he been radicalized?”  “Did he have psychological problems?”  “Was he upset about politics?”  Yet even should we answer these questions, will that help?  You can’t make sense out of a senseless situation.  You can’t make sense out of evil.  The Bible doesn’t even explain how evil began, only that evil is real.  Evil exists.

Too often there aren’t any good answers.  Yet there is something else worth searching for.  What we need to search for is hope in the midst of tragedy.  A lot of that has been happening.   After each of these tragedies we have found great hope in how neighbors and strangers have reached out to help each other.  There have been countless stories out of Las Vegas of great heroism as people shielded others from the bullets.  A good friend who lives in California, is searching for the man who shielded her and her daughter, even as he took a bullet in the leg.  Those stories really do help.  They lift up our spirit at a time of great sadness.

There is however an even more important place to search for hope in the midst of tragedy.  Look to the man on the cross next to yours.  What?  I am thinking of the thieves crucified with Jesus.  Both men were in the last hours of messy lives that were now ending in their execution.  One sought to blame someone.  He hurled insults at Jesus.  The other one looked at Jesus next to him and found reason for hope.  After rebuking the first thief, this second man turned to Jesus in hope and called out,   “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.’  Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”   In the midst of his suffering this thief found hope in the fact that God’s own Son was nailed to the cross next to him.

That is where hope is always to be found – in Jesus hanging on the cross next to yours.  Often there is no sense to be made out of our suffering.  But there is sense to His suffering.  He came to live, suffer and die in our place… to redeem us from sin and death. He rose again so that all who believe in Him – no matter what mess we have made of our lives, no matter what tragedies befall us – that we might have eternal life.  He entered into our suffering, that He might bring us into his glory!  Ours is a God who is with us in tragedy… who hangs, as it were, on the cross next to ours.  Indeed, He hangs on the cross that should have been ours.   And He rose again so that we might have a hope that will never disappoint. 

So, may I suggest this, as we search for answers after tragedy big or small.  Look over to Jesus on the cross next to yours.  Let this be your prayer, “Lord remember me!  Find real hope for every situation in Him, in His answer spoken from His cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who Taught You?


Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
Hebrews 13:7


This past weekend, Trinity in Frankfurt celebrated its 60th anniversary with a banquet on Saturday night, then a festival worship and reception on Sunday.  It was a great weekend.  One of the highlights of the weekend for everyone, myself included, was the fact that three former Trinity Pastors were in attendance – Pastor Larry Myers, Pastor Sam Wolff and Pastor Bob Flohrs.  As part of the banquet on Saturday night each of them was given the chance to bring greetings to the congregation.  They each shared great stories from Trinity’s history.  But what really stood out to me was how much they loved the people of Trinity and how much the people of Trinity loved them.  For me it was a reminder of the close intimate bond that forms when you share Jesus with people and teach them God’s word.  As a teacher of God’s Word you become an integral part of their lives.  You literally become family to them, and they to you.  On Saturday night the members of Trinity were living out the words of Hebrews 13:7 - “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” 

So, my question to you this week is, “Who taught you the Word of God?”  Who have been the significant spiritual leaders whom God has used in your life? What stands out in your memories of them? For me there have been many. One was Pastor Ty Miles who taught me in confirmation instruction.  He made learning about Jesus interesting and fun.  He was a great preacher.  I will never ever forget how he cared for our family when my sister died.  He has been my model for ministering to the grieving ever since.  Another is Ralph Iverson, the layman who taught our Sunday School class in 7th and 8th grade.   I learned that anyone could love the Bible, not just Pastors.  He showed me that a man could teach Sunday School… it’s not just for women.  That’s important for a young man to see.  Another man was Pastor Koch.  He was the campus pastor when Linda and I were students at Concordia Milwaukee.  Although I have never belonged to one of his congregations, David Koch became my Pastor – marrying us, ordaining me, preaching at my dad’s funeral, and being my spiritual mentor until the day God called him home.   His wife, Ruth is another one.  I still call her for advice and counsel.  Or there was Mr. Werner Engelmann, the German born layman who gave up every Friday night for 4 or more years, to meet with us teenagers and teach us about Jesus.  I could go on and on, because the list of people God has used in my life is a long one.

Who are they in your life?  Who spoke the Word of God to you?  What did you learn from them? That’s the second part of the verse from Hebrews 13. We are to do more than remember them.  “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”    In the seminary I learned a lot of Theology.  However, most of what I learned about being a Pastor, a husband, a father, and more I learned from watching and imitating others.  My dad taught me the joy of being a dad, the value of hard work and more.  He taught me by showing me… by being a good dad and a hard worker.  Because of all the time Mr. Engelmann spent with us teens, youth ministry has always been a high value to me.   I learned from Pastor Koch how to lead, how to teach, how to preach, how to be a pastor.  I learned by watching him. 

Now all of that sobers me up a bit, as it should sober up everyone who teaches God’s word.  People are watching us, listening to us, learning from us.  I had one person tell me they had their second child because I urged them too.  I thought, “Oh my!  People take my words seriously.  I better be careful.  I certainly need to pray.  I have clay feet and make all sorts of mistakes.  Lord help me!”

I guess that is my point to all of you this week.  Take a moment to think about those who have taught you the Word of God.  What have you… what can you learn from their faith and life?  Then take a moment to thank God for whoever they are… and pray for them.  Oh yeah, and even if I don’t happen to be one of those people – please pray for me anyway.  I need all the help from the Lord I can get.  Amen.   


Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Meal You Never Want to Miss


“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna,
Which neither you nor your fathers had known,
To teach you that man does not live on bread alone
But on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 8:3


As you can readily tell by looking at me, I almost never miss a meal.  In fact, if the truth be told, if you consider snacks and so forth – I go above and beyond the call of duty in my eating habits.   Indeed I am somewhat puzzled by those who almost never eat breakfast. That’s supposed be the most important meal of the day.  Or what about those who are so busy they don’t take time for lunch?  If I do that, I get the “hangries.”  The evening meal is my favorite, especially because that is when Linda and I eat together and because she is a fantastic cook.  I hear about families where everybody fends for themselves at dinner time, but that just doesn’t seem right to me.

There is however one meal… one that I should never miss… that far too often I skip – my daily time in the Word of God.  My suspicion is that this is also the case for many of you.  There are many excuses – “I was tired so I slept later.” “I was in hurry to get going.” “I was just too busy today.”  We are hurting ourselves.  Skipping the time in the word is as unhealthy spiritually, as skipping breakfast is physically. The text for today from Dt. 8 makes that clear – “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Friends, daily time in God’s word is a gourmet meal you never want to miss.  “Come,” is the invitation in Isaiah 55, “ Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fair.”  Here you meet Jesus, for as He said of Scripture “these are they that testify about Me.”  Through His word God works in our hearts “to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ...”  Through Scripture God works to change hearts, to equip us for “every good work.”

I was reminded of all of this as I listened online to the funeral sermon for Dr. John Saleska.  I didn’t really know him well but I did have a chance to listen to him to teach the Word.  He had a great sense of humor.  More importantly he knew the Scriptures backward and forward.  After you sat in a class he led, you left full to overflowing, like you just got up from your Thanksgiving feast.  In the sermon, the Pastor noted something very important about Dr. Saleska – that his love of the Word of God was more than a scholarly love.  Through God’s word God worked in his heart – convicting him of sin and grace, changing his heart and life.  Through His Word God invited him to know Him, into a personal relationship of faith in our God and His Son Jesus.  That’s what God wants to do in your life through His word – to fill your heart to overflowing with the joy of knowing Him.  That’s why His word is a meal you never want to miss.

There is a prayer I want to offer you today, one I learned as I grew up in church.  This prayer summarizes the point of today’s blog. I offer it to you as a prayer for you each day before you take your time in God’s Word.  Although a newer wording is found in the Lutheran Service Book on page 265, I offer you the one I learned -

“Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning.  Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.”


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Faith Like a Palm Tree


“So then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, Strengthened in your faith just as you were taught.”  
Colossians 2:6-7a


The last couple of weeks I have spent a lot of time watching news reports of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Those were two powerful and destructive storms.  Many, many people have lost everything in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean.  Our hearts go out to all who are hurting and our prayers go up to God.  If you are looking for a way to help, I would send you to the website of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod  (www.txlcms.org).  You will find a link there that will tell you how you can help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.  I imagine you would find a similar link if you went to the website of the Florida-Georgia District of the LCMS.

Watching the news clips of the storms, you can’t help but be amazed by the powerful and destructive winds.  This time, however something caught my eye in those clips – the palm trees.   What amazed me is how many of them took the beating of the hurricane and survived.  Watching them blown in the wind, some bent over to the ground by the wind, I wondered, “How is it that they don’t break?  Why aren’t they uprooted?”  I know that some were broken and uprooted.  But many were not.  Watching how strong those storms were, I wondered – what is it about palm trees that enables them to withstand terrible storms?  So, like all good modern-day knowledge seekers, I googled it.

Here is what I learned.  “There are two main advantages the palm tree has over other trees, the roots and the shoot structure.  Unlike other trees, the roots can fare well in both very wet and very dry soils.  Generally preceding the heavier storms, the soil gets very wet.  Whereas, this allows most trees to slide easier (and thus fall over more easily), with the palm tree this actually makes the roots attach to the ground better and stronger… The shoot of the tree is strong and yet flexible, with few branches for the wind to catch – helping the tree to bend but normally not break.  There you have it – the two things that make a palm tree strong in a storm – good roots and a strong core.

Those same two things also make all the difference for you and me when it comes to weathering the storms of life – having good roots and a strong core.  Storms in life – big and small will come.  Like hurricanes they will have many names – death, cancer, divorce, failure, job loss, among others.  You live in Florida you will have sunshine and hurricanes.  You live in a sinful world, you will have good days and stormy days.  You can’t expect every day to be sunny and easy.  You need to be prepared for the storms. One friend, describing the impact of Hurricane Irma, thanked God that her home had been built to the latest hurricane standards.    In the same way, if you want to be ready for life’s storms, you need to set down strong spiritual roots and strengthen the core of your faith in Christ.   That’s Paul’s point in Colossians 2 -  “So then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthen in your faith just as you were taught.”    A growing faith in Jesus… a faith fed on the word of God, faithfully receiving God’s grace at the Lord’s Table – that is a faith being more and more rooted and built up on Jesus. That’s how God grows in you and me faith like a palm tree – faith that can bend in life’s storms but will not break and will not be uprooted… no matter how bad it gets.  Jesus Himself explained what a difference such faith makes – “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose , and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”   


Friday, September 8, 2017

Things You Should Never Take for Granted


“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure
Whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –
Think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8


You never really appreciate what you have until you don’t have it anymore.  This is a lesson I have had to be taught again this week.  I have had growing pain in my knee all summer as the result of a small injury in early May.  That pain reached a climax on Tuesday night when I didn’t sleep at all, all night.  You never realize how great a good night’s sleep is, until you can’t sleep all night.  On Wednesday, I went to a doctor who concluded that by compensating for the pain in my right knee, I have caused inflammation to the tendons of that knee.  The result is, I now have crutches, a brace, and medicine.  I can’t climb the steps to my office at Trinity, for a while. Putting shoes and socks on my right foot is now quite a challenge.  You never know what a blessing a healthy knee is till you have to do without one for a while.  Watching the aftermath of hurricane Harvey also brought this home.  We take for granted our homes, our cars, our highways and more.  They will always be there when we need them.  They people living in and around Houston would tell you that is not true. There are many blessings in life we should never take for granted.

My purpose in this is not to be negative.  My purpose is to take seriously the words of St. Paul to the Philippians.  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –think about such things.”  I’ve had a lot of time the last couple of days to do just that. 

The first is Linda, my bride.  As always, she has been amazing… sitting with me all day at the hospital yesterday.  She then drove me down to get the brace, into a part of Frankfurt where she hates to drive.  She has been patient and compassionate as I have groaned about my pain.  She has helped me get socks and shoes on my right foot, gone and gotten things for me rather than me having to get the crutches so I can get up.  The list of things she is doing for me and I know will do for me is too long to list here.  Thank you, Lord, for Linda and thank you Linda for all you do.

There are also my colleagues at Trinity- the staff I work at.  Marion is always ready to help me.  I called her at 6:30 am yesterday to help me figure out what I could do.  She also helped Linda get to where I was in the hospital.  Johanna came over and helped Linda find the way with the car to pick me up and take me home.  Kendra will be helping us with Molly, our dog.  I have a great team!  Then you add in the members of the church – Dr. Dany Doc who took me to the hospital and set up a meeting with a Dr. there, Kristen Ruesges who helped me get in to get the first MRI early this summer, members who have been sending emails, offering to help, offering prayers.  Then there are our kids who are so concerned, friends and others who are sending notes and offering prayers. Yesterday while skyping with our kids, our little granddaughter Hailey, without any prompting, asked me if I was okay… was I hurting? I have a lot of praiseworthy things to think about, and to be thankful for.

My point is – so do you!  It’s easy to sit around, feel sorry for yourself, to moan and groan.  Believe me, I know.  I have been doing a lot of that.  Yet the truth is that even at the worst moments God has been very good to you and me.  So, I would join with Paul in urging you and urging myself - “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –think about such things.”