Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Faith & Practice’ Category

Maura is “hooked,” but she has faith in the Savior of her life. His Word is real to her. It will speak to her conscience. Maura also has a friend who will be honest with her and always remind her why setting boundaries and guarding body, mind and soul is healthy and hopeful.

But, Nichole has faith in the things of the world. She doesn’t have a friend who will be honest with her. She, too, is “hooked,” but doesn’t realize it. Nichole, like Maura and most every other young (or older) woman, doesn’t know about neurochemicals.

Oxytocin is a neurochemical. It is present in both male and female, but is primarily active in females. The female body releases oxytocin at four different times. Take note! Each has to do with procreation and the care of children. Oxytocin is released:

During meaningful or intimate touching with another person (Action: bonding and trust)
During sexual intercourse (Action: bonding and trust)
During the onset of labor in a pregnant woman (Action: causes uterine contractions, results in birth)
After baby’s delivery (Action: stimulates nipples and produces flow of milk from mom for nursing)

How does the human race continue? God said that husband and wife would become “one flesh.” Sexual intimacy results not only in the bonding of two people, but in procreation. Oxytocin plays a vital role in the continuation of the human race. With sexual touch, the woman’s brain is flooded with oxytocin. She wants to be with the man she has bonded to. Long-term connectedness often results in healthy male-female relationships. It is actually rare for an American woman in an intact marriage to have sexual intercourse with anyone except her husband. Such stability is affected by oxytocin. Think of the significance. The bonding of father and mother greatly increases the chance for a child to be raised in a healthy, two-parent home. Such a child is blessed, not necessarily with a perfect home (do they exist?), but with a hopeful environment for becoming all God desires them to be.

The world speaks about the emotions of love. The emotions of connectedness. In reality, the desire to connect is more than an emotional feeling. Bonding is like glue. And it can’t be undone or ripped apart without great emotional pain.

Whether Maura or Nichole realize it, they are “hooked” to the men with whom they are sexually intimate. The flow of oxytocin serves to promote trust. Oxytocin will trigger the bonding process even if a girl hasn’t “gone all the way,” but has kissed and hugged a boy. For this reason, if he wants to “do more,” it will become increasingly difficult for her to say “no.” Parents! Do you know this? When you allow your thirteen-year-old daughter to spend long periods of time with a boy, you are placing her in serious jeopardy. Her protective boundary of modesty and inhibition will gradually break down with each kiss, each touch, each pledge of love… even though the boy she’s with has no intention of marrying her or having children with her.

Maura’s confession to me said it all. “. . . It’s so very strange. The more time I spend with my boyfriend, the more I need to be with him.” Does Nichole find herself in the same circumstance? Before a well-meaning counselor, Planned Parenthood clinic, or parent gets her on The Pill (or whatever), do they tell her about oxytocin? Do they explain that she’s going to be “hooked” because neurochemicals are doing what they’re supposed to do?

The cruelty is this. Our culture removes all the boundaries. It encourages sexual activity among boys and girls. Then it washes its hands by saying, “We explained how to do this safely.” But, who turns off the oxytocin? Maura has difficulty breaking with the boyfriend who isn’t good for her because she has bonded with him. Nichole has been in several intimate relationships. She has “hooked up.” Has “friends with benefits.” All seems so casual. So harmless. So sophisticated. But, oxytocin is at work. Every time that Nichole and her “friend” break up and she moves on to a new sexual partner, a bond is being broken. This is emotional. Painful. Sometimes paralyzing.

In truth, being sexually intimate with one person, breaking up, and being sexually intimate with another is like a divorce. Repeating this cycle again and again places a girl in danger of negative emotional consequences. Nichole doesn’t realize it, but she is acting against — actually fighting — her own body and the way she was designed to function. Eventually, damage is done to her brain’s natural connecting or bonding mechanism.

Sexual intimacy, as Maura has discovered, is addictive. But, she has the hope for change in God’s Word and the honesty of a friend. What does Nichole have? Who will speak on her behalf? Who will guard her body? Mind? Soul?

(Source: Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children by Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., M.D., and Freda McKissic Bush, M.D.) Recommended reading: The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity by Linda Bartlett)

Note: This blog was first posted on May 18, 2011. Since that time, Maura separated herself from an unbelieving and verbally abusive man to begin a new life. Today, Maura cares for others as a nurse and has stepped in to rescue her youngest sister from a mom addicted to meth. Maura, who sees what is good and right, has undertaken the huge responsibility of raising a sister, yet she herself is still “hooked” to sexual intimacy outside of marriage. There is someone special in Maura’s life, and she hopes to marry. But while the neurochemicals of her female body tell her that she should become the wife of a loving and protective man, her fears seem to have paralyzed her. My prayer is that Maura will trust the One Man, Jesus Christ, who knows her body, mind, and soul.

Read Full Post »

Maura, a young and spirited woman, invited me into her life. She seems to welcome the experience of age and expresses the need for a “mother” figure. Maura is intelligent. More mature than most her age. She has a tangible dream and works hard in college. Maura displays all the normal feelings and emotions that come with being female. But, there is more. Wisdom speaks to Maura through her conscience. The answers to my questions consistently reveal that Maura delights in all things of God… but, she is “hooked” to her boyfriend.

Her boyfriend’s words of love cause Maura to feel special. He has demands. She tries to please. The warmth of his embrace encourages her loyalty. But, his lack of commitment makes her vulnerable. She isn’t sure how he really feels about her because his attention is easily distracted away from her. She hopes the relationship will change.

Time passes between our visits. We have talked at length about our identity as creations of God, so every now and then, I remind her of her value by mail or text. Maura almost always responds with a request: “Can we get together?” At lunch or on a walk, she brings me up to date. She is busy with work and studies. When the conversation turns to relationships, Maura smiles when she talks about her dad. “I’m happy when I’m with him. I feel safe at home.” But, when I inquire about her boyfriend, Maura’s smile always fades.

During our last visit, Maura seemed less confident. More sad. She uttered not one positive or hopeful word about her boyfriend. “So,” I asked, “why do you stay with him?” Her shoulders drooped. She stared past me for a few seconds. Sighed. Then shuttered. “He isn’t good for me,” she confessed. “But, it’s so very strange. The more time I spend with my boyfriend, the more I need to be with him.”

The honesty of our friendship compelled me to take a deep breath… then look into her eyes. “Maura, you’ve fallen into a bad habit. You’re hooked.” Tears that flowed were evidence of the tug-of-war for Maura’s heart. Mind. And soul.

Maura is “hooked” not because she is uneducated, but because she is wrongly educated. The culture has told her: “We are sexual from birth.” (What does this mean?) Maura is “hooked” not because she missed out on “Sex 101” but because she was encouraged at a young age to “be comfortable with” her “sexuality.” Maura is “hooked” not because she is rebellious, but because she followed the rule: “Be responsible by practicing safe sex.”

Planned Parenthood-style sex education instructs in the act of sex, sexual fantasy, contraception, abortion, self-pleasure, gender role stereotypes, sexual diversity, HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Maura’s well-meaning school, counselors, and adult mentors probably followed SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.) guidelines, thus believing they had provided everything Maura and her peers needed to know.

Sex education seems comprehensive, doesn’t it? Would appear to reveal all the facts, right? Then why is Maura, like countless other young women, in conflict with herself? Why is her soul troubled? Does her heart ache? Are her thoughts confused? Because, observe physicians, psychologists, and biologists, some vital information has been kept from Maura and her generation. I agree. Truth has been withheld. That truth is: Male and female are different.

Militant feminists deny this difference. They’ve been working feverishly to repress this difference so that women can shed their role of “helper” and, instead, compete with men. So, everything girlish and womanly is minimized, managed, and sadly misguided. No one informed Maura that her female brain predisposes her to yearn for love, understanding, connection, and communication. No one informed Maura that her chemistry promotes attachment and trust of her boyfriend. No one told Maura that her female wiring causes her to take risks by overlooking her boyfriend’s shortcomings. Maura’s unique physiological vulnerability to intimate behavior was never explained because that would be a “gender stereotype.”

Maura knows her relationship isn’t what it should be. As a Christian, she knows it isn’t what God desires for her. But, even if she wasn’t a Christian, she would sense that something was wrong. What is wrong is that educators in “sexuality” have failed girls and boys.

As a “helper,” I have promised not to fail my young friend by fooling her. Or manipulating her. There is one truth for Maura… and all the rest of us. It is the truth of our design. Divine design. This design by God is evidenced by our anatomy. Pure biology and scientific study.

Sure. This messed up world complicates everything. We may be “hooked” into harmful relationships. But, Maura matters. So, we are discussing a new life — unhooked and set free. Set free to be the woman she was created to be. Set free, because of Jesus Christ, to be a daughter and heir of God.

Continue to Unhooked and Set Free: Part II

(Note: Maura is one of the young women in my life who doesn’t realize how much she encouraged me to write The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity by Linda Bartlett (Amazon). I also recommend You’re Teaching My Child What? by Miriam Grossman, M.D. This blog was first posted on May 17, 2011.

Read Full Post »

As a Christian woman, mom, and grandmother from Iowa, I am compelled to ask:

When Jesus returns, what will He say to pastors who advocate for abortion in His name? Who deny rights to unborn children, indeed the most vulnerable of all humans? Who praise a woman’s freedom from motherhood but seemingly care little about a woman held captive to sin?

Last week, a group of Iowa clergy and religious leaders signed a letter to the Des Moines Register advocating for abortion on demand. Signers included Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, and Lutheran.

The letter spoke against a bill that would prohibit abortions from the moment an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable which is about six weeks of pregnancy. Some scientists give evidence for an unborn baby’s heartbeat beginning at 21 days; still others link to evidence that the heartbeat begins at about 18 days.
Oddly enough, the clergy who signed this letter claim that the Iowa bill prohibiting abortions is based on religion, not science. Now here is a real switch-a-roo. Government leaders are speaking up in defense of unborn babies because their hearts are beating, but church leaders are blaming them for being religious.

There are more questions.

The pro-abortion religious leaders maintain that women deserve to make their own decisions about their bodies and their pregnancies. Haven’t we heard this before? Slave owners used to say, “I have the right to do as I please with my property.” Which one of us dare look at another human person created in the image of God—of any color, age, stage of development, or place of residence—and declare them “property?” How does a female pregnant with a male child get away with claiming he is her “body?” What reasonable feminist would agree that an unborn baby girl with her own unique DNA is the “property” of the older woman who carries her?

When a biologically astute Christian woman willingly consents to or encourages sexual intercourse, what does she think might result? Does her choice about motherhood come before she is sexually intimate, or after?

Let’s say that a Methodist, United Church of Christ, or Lutheran woman has longed to be a grandmother. What she would think if her eight-months-pregnant daughter claims, “It’s my body and I’ve decided to abort.” Abort what? To abort means to “end” or to “terminate.” What pastor can, in Jesus’ name, tell a mother and her pregnant daughter that a grandchild is not to be considered human life worthy of protection?

And, speaking of protection, what about the man who fathers a child, but has no legal right to save his child from abortion by scissors, spinal injection, or chemical burning? According to these religious leaders, must a daddy who turns to his own Heavenly Father for courage to do right by his unborn child be ignored?

I am ashamed for these pastors and religious leaders who signed a letter calling pro-life legislation “immoral.” The Lord God, through Isaiah, said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). That time is now.

But there is hope! There is always hope! As a Lutheran who believes God is faithful and just, I confess with all repentant sinners:

Most merciful God, we have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed. We have not loved You with our whole hearts, nor have we loved our [littlest, biggest, youngest or oldest] neighbor as ourselves. We deserve Your punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us not according to our will but Yours.

Looking to the Cross of Christ, we hear the One who began His earthly life as an unborn Child say to His Father, “Forgive them.”

 

Link to list of signers

 

Read Full Post »

Do not be faint of heart by what you see and hear! In every culture of madness, the unchanging Word of God gives fathers and mothers what they need to parent their children, resist evil, and build a future of hope. First,

Trust that Light has no fellowship with darkness.

When parents determine the time and place to discuss sex and family life with their children, they do well to discern the language. For 50-plus years, we have been taught to believe that “children are sexual from birth.” Nowhere in Scripture does God describe children this way. The phrase was coined by a secular humanist named Alfred Kinsey who believed infants and children can enjoy and benefit from early sexual activity. His social science was wrong, but his research was widely accepted, setting our nation, and even the Church, on a dangerous course. A mistaken identity and compromised purity puts human life at risk. For the sake of children and the future of the Church, we need to know the origin of sex education, then ask: “What fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

Those who inspired modern sex education did not intend that parents do the teaching. Mary Calderone, who established the Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), had a perspective on sex and family life that mirrored Kinsey’s. She believed that children should learn about their “sexuality” in the classroom and under the direction of a trained expert. Such a classroom, however, can become an encounter group. Under the direction of even the best intentioned “family life” or “sex education” facilitator, boys and girls together encounter something new about themselves, their feelings and desires, their relationship with the opposite sex, and detailed information about sexual intercourse. God, however, intends that children encounter these things in the home under the direction of their parents.

Christian parents serve their children best by putting every thought or idea under the microscope of Wisdom. Guarding the body and soul of a child, respecting the differences between boys and girls, preserving modesty, and teaching self-control grows out of the purity of Truth. Sex education, by virtue of its origin, is not pure; rather, it is stained with earthly colors. The palette of sex education is tainted by the very things that fooled our first parents: deception, doubt, pride, flesh, fear, and words that God has never spoken. A parent may attempt to use only the best of secular material and pair it with God’s Word. But when God’s Word and human ideas are joined together, there is a very real danger that God’s Word will simply adorn and lend credibility to a false, secular teaching like beautiful and fresh white paint on a tomb. Second,

Let no one deceive you.

A sexualized culture is Satan’s playground. He slithers up to moms and dads, hissing, “Did God really say that you are capable of parenting your child?” He may attempt to wrestle from parents the authority given to them by God, but they need not be deceived.

Martin Luther wrote The Small Catechism for the head of the family—the fatherly steward—to teach God’s commandments to his household. The First Commandment to father and mother, son and daughter is this: “You shall have no other gods.” This means we are to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Satan knows that with this command comes the promise of life for people who will live forever in the presence of God. For this reason, he accuses parents of ineptitude and tempts the fearful, weary, or doubting to turn the education of their children over to someone “more qualified.” Every parent needs encouragement, sound biblical resources, and support from their church family, pastor, and Christian teachers, but what children need most are moms and dads who courageously accept their God-given role.

God gives to parents His Word—the treasure of true wisdom. God’s Word speaks clearly to parents about their role as educators (Deuteronomy 6; Proverbs 1:8); about purity and holiness (Psalm 119:9; 1 Peter 1:14-16); about training for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-12). “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). Third,

Whether male or female, be holy!

In Genesis 1:27, we learn that we are created by God and in His image; therefore, we are called to be holy. We learn that we are human, different from the animals and compatibly different from one another as male and female.

Sin distorted God’s perfect design and rhythm of life. Sin causes the relationships of men and women—married or not—to be difficult. But even in chaos, God’s design and order of creation stands. Whether male or female, we are to be holy because God is holy and expects us to conform to Him. Whether married or single, men are to remember God’s Word and use it to protect life. In marriage or singleness, women help men remember God’s Word and encourage them to do good.

Our daily life as male or female glorifies God. God does not tell us to abstain from being male or female, but He does tell us to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage. We don’t do battle with the attributes of maleness or femaleness, but with “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry . . . [T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:19-24).

We do not need sexual intimacy to be a man or to be a woman, but men and women do need to be relational. We are created to be in relationship first with God and then with others. We do this best in the light of our true identity. Therefore,

Hold fast to your identity and that of your children.

Christian parents can help their children identify themselves in the light of their Baptism, vocation, and sanctification. What does this mean? Our Baptism makes us sons and daughters—true heirs—of God in Christ. Our vocation of engaging life as His son or daughter is to be practiced daily whether we are married or single. Our sanctification through faith in Jesus Christ is God’s work in our life through the Holy Spirit who helps us resist the sensual world and be transformed to what is holy.

Because of our Baptism, sons and daughters of God are brothers and sisters who can relate to one another in non-sexual ways as they work together, enjoy life together, pair up to problem-solve, serve in church or neighborhood together, and always trust that God knows the desires of our hearts.

How we identify ourselves affects the way we fear, love, and trust God. It affects the way we act in His presence and understand His purpose for our lives. God does not identify us as “sexual from birth” because the phrase confuses our created maleness or femaleness with the corrupted state of our current sexual desires. A “sexual” identity is all about “me.” It means being in debt to our own flesh and bound to live according to its fickle ways. But a “holy” identity is all about God claiming us as His dear children in Christ. In Christ, our fallen nature has no claim on us. Our flesh side may tempt us, saying, “This is who I am,” or “I owe it to myself,” but we aren’t obligated to obey its impulses or satisfy its desires. Why? Because we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (Romans 8:15). What a difference this makes in the way we live and worship.

Identity matters. If the earliest education is about the child’s identity as a son or daughter of God in Christ and not a “sexual being,” then it will be much easier to train the child in the “way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). The parent, obedient to God, is on guard keeping the walls up and acting as the child’s good judgment.

In a sexualized culture, what is a parent to do? Be uncommon. Stand on holy ground. Engage in honest and kind dialogue. This happens every time The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity is presented in Lutheran congregations or schools. To date, over 50 pastors have participated in panel discussions with parents and grandparents all over the country. Won’t you consider hosting a dialogue, too, so that we might “be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12).

 

The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity
Published by Titus 2 for Life
ouridentitymatters.com
Amazon.com

Read Full Post »

God brought a woman named Margaret into my life just before my mother died. He knew I would need the continued encouragement and mentoring of an older woman, a woman who would be an example of faithfulness, kindness, and self-control. In the years after my mother’s death, I was challenged in my vocations of wife, mother, and national president of Lutherans For Life. Margaret could always be counted on to listen, ask questions that helped me to think, and influence—not with her feelings, but with the Word of God.

A few weeks ago, Margaret’s daughter called to tell me that her mother was nearing the end of her earthly life. It was ok. Margaret, nearly 90, was looking forward to leaving this world behind and going home. Satan, however, couldn’t stand the thought of losing one more soul to heaven, so he visited Margaret now and then to see if he could tempt her. “We both know my mom’s faith,” Margaret’s daughter told me, “but I think now would be a good time for you to write her.”

And so, without letting Margaret know her daughter’s request, I spent Friday, December 8 writing the kind of comfortably honest letter she would have written to me.

My dear friend, Margaret…

I miss you! I miss our meaningful discussions about the Lord of our lives and why we must cling to Him. I miss the encouragement we have always given one another.

It has been my deepest desire to come see you and spend another one or two wonderful days together. I’ve wanted to do that ever since our last visit when I was in your area speaking and stayed with you. Now, over two years later, I’m wishing I could quickly drive up to see you, talk with you, and share the love we both have in Christ.

Nine grandchildren keep me on the go. I’ve learned, as you learned before me, how important grandparents are. We can encourage and pass on wisdom in a unique way. Parents can be so overwhelmed with the day-to-day parenting. They need encouragement, too, and it helps them to know that their children have the added strength and guidance of grandparents.

You will probably not be surprised to know that I have started writing a second book. After the first book, The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity, I was asked by several parents, “So now what? Now that we know why our children are being sexualized, what can we do for them? How can we equip them to live in this world?” Margaret, I did not want to write the first book, let alone a second book! Then it came to me. I didn’t have to write it! There have been more than 50 pastors who have served on the pastors’ panels following my book presentations. Twelve of them accepted my invitation to help write the lessons for this book. I am assisting them… and serving as general editor. God is good to provide me with an assistant editor. You would like her! She is a young wife and mom who understands the need of our society for Titus 2 mentoring of biblical womanhood and manhood. This stay-at-home mom was in the perfect position to say “yes” when I asked her to help with this second book entitled Male and Female by Design: What Does This Mean?

Margaret, you and I talked about the most important message of my first book which is this: our identity in Christ matters! We are far more than sexual beings! With our Baptism, we become heirs and children of God because of what Jesus Christ has done for us! Our identity remains the same, no matter our age, health, or any other circumstance in life. You and I, Margaret, are daughters of God! Always and forever! Through water and Word, the Holy Spirit was given to us and He continues to work in us.

Our baptized identity cannot be snatched away! Our holiness and purity in Christ cannot be snatched away! Satan may deceive us. He may tempt us to believe that he has power over us, but he does not! He is the loser! He is the poor, pitiful creature that Christ has won victory over. You and I have talked about this so many times… and we must continue to remind one another of this truth.

This second book that I’m working on will help parents and their children better understand the importance of our baptized identity. Yes, it will teach what it means to be a boy or a girl. It will teach about biblical manhood and womanhood. But, even more so, it will remind both parent and child that with our Baptism, we have a barricade against Satan. Our Baptism isn’t a one-time “event” that serves no purpose for us as we grow older. Our Baptism makes us part of God’s family and connects us with Jesus Christ!

I so appreciate the book Afraid by Rev. Robert Bennett. He writes about the very real spiritual warfare that we experience on this earth. You and I have talked about this spiritual warfare… and it is something we engage in until we are carried home by Jesus. You and I can THANK GOD that no matter how arrogant or bold Satan might be, we’re the ones who hold power over him! With the life of our Baptism and with forgiveness of sins, Satan has lost his stronghold and peace is found (Acts 26:17-18). Rev. Bennett quotes Dr. Klaus Detlev Shultz, who says that the Sacraments of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession/Absolution “ultimately serve as a barricade against the perpetual onslaught of non-Christian elements on the believers.”

You and I both know, Margaret, that we are God’s daughters living in an alien and hostile world. I have seen how the Lord has been faithful to provide for you and help you endure very difficult situations. You have always been very private about your personal life, Margaret, but I know enough to recognize you as a daughter of God who has trusted her Lord and Savior in the toughest of times. You have pointed your children and grandchildren to Christ. You carried them to the Baptismal font and taught them who they are in Christ.

I hope that you are remembering your own Baptism. I hope that you are remembering that your identity is not found in your service to others, your youth, or your good health… but in your connection to Jesus Christ! We do not stop being God’s vessels on this earth. Even if we must move to assisted living or can’t drive our own car or can’t go help everybody else, we are still His instruments and He works through us.

When my big, strong farmer father-in-law was flat on his back and near death with a brain infection, he bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t serve us. I looked him in the eye and said, “But you are serving us! Helpless as you may feel, God is using you to teach us how to serve you and one another. He is teaching me to be less selfish, more patient, and trusting of His will and not my own.”

Oh, my dear Margaret, no matter where you are or what you can or cannot do, never forget that you are God’s own. If I could be sitting there with you, we could talk about Job. We could remind each other of what Job experienced and how God showed His faithfulness to Job in the worst of situations.

Job’s friends were of no comfort to him when he was suffering the loss of wife, family, possessions, and good health. Their ears could not hear and their eyes could not see the Almighty God. But the Almighty God had worked faith in Job that did not fail. When Job questioned His Maker, God said,

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were the bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? … Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? … Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? … Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars … Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it … Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
(from Job 38-40).

Margaret, may you and I be like Job who answered: “I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.”

May we continue to entrust one another to God our Father who calls us by name (Isaiah 43:1). May we entrust one another to our Father who bears with us, carries us, and saves us (Isaiah 46:4). May we live confident in our Baptism which makes us daughters of God and connects us to Christ on this earthly journey… and forevermore!

_______
The timing of the letter I had been nudged to write was, well, God’s own. On December 17, Margaret was carried home by her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Driving to her funeral four hours from our home, I asked my husband, “Do you think the letter mattered?” The answer came from Margaret’s daughter. “She read your letter. She called for the pastor she trusted. There was peace.”

There was peace for Margaret in dying and there continues to be peace for me in living. It is the peace of the Lord that passes all understanding for those whom God calls by name.

Read Full Post »

Jack Phillips is the kind of gentleman that most of us would want for a neighbor. I know because I had the privilege of meeting Jack, visiting with him, and buying one of his cakes while recently in Denver.

Jack Phillips is an artist. He is gifted with the ability to paint and design masterpieces both on canvas and cakes. Jack owns and operates Masterpiece Cake Shop in Littleton, CO., and, in this way, has provided an honest living for his family.

Jack is a Christian who incorporates the teachings of Christ into his daily life and decisions. The masterpieces that he creates reflect Ephesians 2:10. So, on the day that Jack was asked to create a wedding reception cake for two men who had married outside of Colorado, Jack politely explained why he could not. Jesus says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jack is the kind of guy who invites others to believe what he believes, but does not force them. People of all colors, beliefs, and sexual identities come into Jack’s shop and he sells to all of them. But designing a wedding cake is very different from baking a brownie. “What I design,” says Jack, “is not just a tower of flour and sugar, but a message tailored to a specific couple and a specific event—a message telling all who see it that this event is a wedding and that it is an occasion for celebration.”

Jack could not celebrate a same-sex marriage and remain faithful to God. “The two men coming into my shop that day were living out their beliefs,” explains Jack. “All I did was attempt to live out mine. I respect their right to choose and hoped they would respect mine.”

They did not. Instead of tolerance, Jack and his family received hate mail, obscene calls, death threats, and a law suit. Jack and his staff were ordered to undergo re-education and file quarterly “compliance” reports to Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. Jack stopped creating all wedding cakes and, suffering the loss of 40 percent of his income, was forced to lay off employees.

On December 5, Jack’s case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. As I await the decision, I know it will affect my religious freedom. It will affect the freedom to speak… or not speak… of us all.

The morning after Jack’s testimony before the U.S. Supreme Court, my morning devotions included Psalm 56. I could think of nothing better to give Jack than the words of this Psalm handwritten on a personal notecard:

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
All day long they injure my cause
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the people, O God!
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
For You have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life.
(Psalm 56:1-2, 5-11, 13 ESV)

Read Full Post »

The following may seem a strange blog for Ezerwoman. However, on this Independence Day of 2017, I think it an appropriate way to express gratitude for a godly man but also to explain what it is that sustains godly men (and women) in times of difficulty and peril. 

Howard Linn was born an Iowa farm boy. Today, at 94, he confesses that he was also born a sinful creature. Indeed, he had inherited the sin of his ancestor, Adam. But, on his Baptismal day, Howard was washed clean by water and the Word. The gift of faith was given to him and his identity was forever changed. He was marked with the sign of the cross and, because of what Jesus Christ did for him, Howard became a son and heir of God.

Did Howard think much about his Baptism and its effect on his identity? Did he fully understand the significance of Jesus’ invitation to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven”?

From childhood on, Howard prayed, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Did Howard understand that he was asking God the Father to strengthen and preserve him and, through times of suffering, keep him steadfast? What would this mean?

Howard has vivid memories of going to church with his parents and family. Like most Lutheran boys, he was catechized in the Christian faith. Would he ever appreciate the liturgy, hymns, and Scripture verses committed to memory?

On May 19, 1944, Sergeant Howard A. Linn was forced to evacuate the gun turret of his B-24 Liberator while on a bomb run over Germany. Under attack of a group of German Faulke-Wulf 190s, and with engines engulfed in flames, Sergeant Linn had no choice but to parachute. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” His prayer was answered when Howard landed safely and undetected by the enemy.

After a brief night of forested sleep, Howard began walking toward a village where he could get his bearings. About noon, two-thirds of the way through town, a boy sighted Howard just as a policeman on a motorcycle came around the corner. The boy flagged the policeman down and pointed to the American soldier. The policeman took Howard into the boy’s house. Calls were made. Then he was placed in a barbed wire enclosure where people from the village came to look at him. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” Later, Howard learned that if he had been shot down near a town that had suffered a bombing, he might have been beaten and tortured by angry citizens. The people of this village, however, had never experienced a bombing. They were curious about this American flyboy, but not hateful. Around 4:00, Howard was picked up by a German Luft-Waffe officer and delivered in a Volkswagon to a forced labor camp.

The following day, Howard and two other American airmen were transported to an interrogation center in Frankfurt. Every two hours, Howard was taken from his basement cell to be questioned by a stern German officer. Howard knew how to answer: Name. Rank. Serial number. And he knew how to pray. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.”

“Our Father … give us this day our daily bread.” Howard was given a loaf of heavy, dark, sour bread before he was packed into a railroad car with other U.S. Airmen. That bread sustained him for four days as the train carried him to Stalag Luft 4, a prison camp about 100 miles north of Berlin in Stettin, Pomerania.

On June 1, Howard’s parents were notified that their son was “reported missing in action since Nineteenth May over Germany.” On June 30, they were informed that their son was “a Prisoner of War of the German government.”

That young man, known as Prisoner 1525, continued to receive “daily bread” in the form of barley cereal, ersatz coffee, and sour bread in the morning; thin soup at noon; and boiled potatoes at night. The camp was crowded with allied soldiers and heavily guarded. Police dogs were turned loose every night.

There was plenty of time to think in prison. Howard often thought about the day he was shot down. He was acutely aware that many of his fellow crew members were married men. Why was he, an unmarried man, allowed to survive? A buddy in the turret where Howard was usually positioned was killed. Only two other crewmen and Howard lived. He grieved for his buddies and, although he bore them no harm or ill-will, he suffered under the weight of guilt for a long time. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There was peace for Howard in knowing the merciful forgiveness of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There wasn’t a German chaplain to pray with Howard or strengthen him through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. But he could draw upon all that he had been taught as a child. The liturgy and hymns that Howard had grown up singing, the Scripture verses that he had been encouraged to memorize, and parts of the Catechism that he had not fully appreciated as a boy served him well.

This was true for many of Howard’s Christian brothers in that POW camp. Men who had been involved in their congregations back home helped lead worship services on Sundays for anyone who wanted to attend. Everything was done from memory. There was opportunity to ponder the things that really matter most and to come to grips with the fact that earthly life is short in comparison to eternity. There was a visible difference between the men with faith and those who didn’t appear to have any. Those men constantly worried about not having any control of their lives. They had little hope of getting out alive. As a result, there was a ward full of guys who were mentally unstable. Perhaps they didn’t know the Lord who invited them to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One day, Howard watched a man run for the high barbed wire fence. He was given a warning, but persisted in climbing halfway to the top knowing full well what would happen. There was a single shot. The man fell to the ground, dead.

In times of suffering, Howard learned that we do one of two things. We either depend on ourselves, or on God. Howard knew God. He had grown up, learning to trust his Heavenly Father; therefore, he had hope outside of himself. Suicide wasn’t an option. A son of God can pray, “Our Father, Who are in heaven … lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.”

Today, when Howard thinks about the circumstances he endured, the prophet Elijah comes to mind. Elijah was threatened by an intimidating enemy, the evil King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. In fear and loneliness, Elijah asked the Lord to take his life. The Lord’s answer was a cake of bread and jar of water. Elijah was strengthened for forty days and nights. Howard admits to feeling very much like Elijah, alone and far from home. Countless times, he wondered, “Will I be shot?” “Will I be put through more than I can endure?” But, for Howard, there was always a cake of bread. A jar of water. And then, a Christmas Eve.

On the night before Christmas in 1944, the German Commandant told the prisoners they could stay outside their barracks until midnight with floodlights on if they promised not to try to escape. The singing of Christmas carols filled the night and comforted troubled souls.

Howard was in Stalag Luft 4 for about nine months. Life had been miserable, but it was going to get worse. His stamina and will to live were to be sorely tested. On February 6, 1945, with the Russian army quickly approaching, Howard’s compound was evacuated. The men were told they would be on the road for three to four days. But the forced march across frozen land extended to 87 days.

The guards, among them the hated Gestapo, marched the prisoners as much as 18 miles a day. Destination was unsure. Nights were spent in barns, sleeping on hay atop manure, or outside in the rain and snow. Food consisted of bread, thin soup ladled into a can, and powdered milk from Red Cross parcels. Sometimes, vegetables were stolen from a farmer’s winter stockpile. If possible, prisoners scrounged for wood and built a fire. Latrines were trenches dug by the prisoners. Many of the men had dysentery. Howard was sick with such terrible cramping that he felt he wouldn’t make it, but at the end of three days, the illness was removed and never plagued him again.

The forced march paused to camp in Hanover, but continued advancing when rumors that General Montgomery and the English army were getting close. Passing through cities that had been heavily bombed, Hitler youth spit and shouted at the POWs. In April, some of the guards fled, but others stayed with the POWs because they didn’t want to be captured by the Russians. On May 2, 1945, after marching some 600 miles, Howard learned that the war was over. Two thousand men started the march. Howard was one of the 1500 who survived and was granted freedom.

The men were instructed to continue walking and hitchhiking west. No encouragement was needed. Upon arrival at British command, the clothes Howard had worn for 87 days were burned. There was a trip—no, maybe three or four—through the delouser. A haircut and a shave. Gentle food for his shrunken stomach. A pillow for his head. Slowly, human dignity was restored. With the White Cliffs of Dover in the background, Howard set sail for Boston Harbor. Hearing the song, “Sentimental Journey,” stirs his emotions to this day.

Howard shares this and so much more with family, friends, and groups who invite him to speak. He is held is high regard by members of his Lutheran congregation. Do we listen to Howard, but then say, “I could never endure such things.” Do we hear Howard describe atrocities, but then respond, “I do not know such evil.” Do we applaud Howard, but then walk away, asking, “What is his story to me? He was held captive by the enemy. I have no such bondage.”

Howard would respond: You can endure such things. Evil does exist today. In this earthly life, we are too often held captive. The only Savior from Satan, ourselves, and any false hope to which we cling is Jesus Christ.

We can endure “such things” as indignity and suffering. Jesus knows our suffering because He, too, suffered. During the indignities of war—or cancer, bullying, or false rumors that stain a reputation—we can look to Christ who suffered humiliation, hatred, and death for us. Jesus does not promise ease of life, but says, “If you would be My disciples, pick up your cross daily and follow Me.” Jesus does promise to be with us in every circumstance. He promises to be in His Church. He is in the Word of Divine Service, in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Communion, and in Absolution.

Howard found himself in enemy territory, and so do we. Satan, the world, and our sinful nature assault us every day. Howard endured by remembering his Baptismal identity and praying, “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” We can do the same. The faith given to Howard provided light in the darkness. His childhood catechesis and familiarity with Scripture as sung in liturgy and hymns comforted and renewed him. He was grateful, and we can be, too. Howard could trust that an ascended Jesus had kept His promise to send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who interceded for him in times of weakness. We have that Helper, too.

Evil does exist today; it comes naturally in a fallen world. We are vulnerable people because we are corrupted by sin. Cain killed Abel. Hitler and his Nazis killed six million Jews and five million Christians, gypsies, “useless eaters,” and so-called “undesirables.” The United States has sanctioned the killing of over 56 million little boys and girls by the hand of abortionists since 1973. Human life is at dreadful risk when we do not believe that God is our Father and we are His children.

Howard confesses to being born a sinful creature, and so are we all. In war, Howard learned that our corrupted nature is reality. We are capable of terrible evil. Until we recognize our sinful nature, we cannot resist it; instead, we do awful things out of fear, or for power, or to gain control. We raise ourselves above God. We love ourselves more than our neighbor. Freedom to resist evil and do good comes only in Jesus Christ. His mercies are new every morning for the repentant sinner who looks to the Lord for his salvation. Evil has no dominion over a child of God.

In this life, we are too often held captive. It is not barbed wire, but our own sin that binds us. Whenever we cling to human desires, fears, false hope, guilt, and bitterness, we fall into the despair of slavery.

One would think that Howard sees a better world than during WWII, but he does not. We seem to think we are entitled to happiness. We trust our own feelings first and, if God is needed, it is to make our life trouble-free. We make a vow on our wedding day, but the commitment is too quickly dishonored when things become difficult. Human life has value when it pleases us, but not when we are inconvenienced by it. There was nothing convenient about being a POW on an 87-day forced march, but Howard could see even unsightly men covered with lice and bent over with dysentery as children of God for whom Christ died. That made them his brothers.

But could Howard ever accept the German people as his brothers? Yes, but only with the example of Christ before him. In forgiving Wilfried Beerman, the German boy who alerted the police, Howard was free of bitterness. Today, the families of Howard and Wilfried enjoy an abiding friendship.

Howard was physically taken captive by his enemies, but they could not threaten his identity or imprison his spirit. He was always a free man in Christ. Looking back, Howard knows that he was always under the protection of his Heavenly Father. Strength was given when he was weak, bread when he was hungry, a cup of water when he was dry. War raged all around him, but Howard’s spirit was at peace.

Seventy-two years later, Howard still trusts the promise of His Heavenly Father:

Even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Is. 46:4).

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »