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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Birthday!

The tenth anniversary of the first service of the Wheatland Parish was last Saturday, July 20.  Below is a poem my wife, Wanda, wrote for the occasion.


Ten years done
Wheatland Parish as one
With Pastors Gary, Susie, and Don
Then we came along
Gettysburg, Onida, and Agar
Each one is a star
A three-point charge
Is not too small or too large
Every Sunday on Highway 83
Lots of pheasants and deer to see
With a handshake when through
And a “How do you do?”
Through the parish the word is spoken
A strand of three cords can't be broken
With many years to come
Serving God with joy and fun.

The Plan

Below is the message at the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg July 24, 2013.  The Bible verses are Genesis 37:1-36.

The story of Joseph is worthy of a sermon series by itself.  In fact, maybe we'll do that sermon series sometime.  It starts in Genesis 37, which is what we ready tonight, and covers pretty much all the rest of the book of Genesis.  In fact, there's probably more there than we could do in one sermon series, unless it was a pretty long one.

We just read the beginning of the story tonight, the opening chapter, we might say.  In this part of the story, Joseph gets favored by his dad, Jacob.  Now, that's always dangerous, when one sibling gets favored over the others.  It's especially dangerous when the favoritism is really obvious, as it clearly is here, with Jacob giving Joseph this fancy multi-colored robe to wear.

And what happens to Joseph is what happens a lot of times to kids who get favored.  He got the big-head.  He starts telling his brothers about these dreams he has where he becomes greater than they are and all of them, and even their dad, are bowing down to him.  Now, as far as we know, Joseph was telling the truth.  He actually had these dreams.  Still, there's nothing in the Bible that says God told him to tell everybody about these dreams.  As far as we know, this knowledge of Joseph's future greatness was just meant for Joseph.  He did not have to let everyone else know how great he was going to be.

But he did, and that worked about about like you'd expect it to.  Joseph's brothers got pretty mad at him.  Finally, they decided they'd had enough of seeing their brother act like he was better than they were and get treated like he was better than they were.  They were originally going to just kill him, but then they decided they could get something for him, so they sold him into slavery in Egypt.

Now, if you know the rest of the story, you know it all worked out in the end.  Joseph ends up being the number two person in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself, and is put in a position to save Israel when a famine hits it.  And we can draw a lesson from that, that God can take even really bad things and use them for good.

That's an important lesson for us, of course.  In fact, it's a really good thing for us to know when something bad happens to us, or when we don't understand what's going on.  We need to know that, no matter how bad things are, God can always use those things for good.

That does not mean, though, that God necessarily caused those bad things to happen.  It also does not give us an excuse for bad behavior.  We should not just feel free to do what we want and trust that God will bring good out of it.  God may do that, but there could be some pretty tough things to go through in the mean time.

After all, look at what happened to Joseph.  In the long run it all worked out for him, but it was a pretty long run.  It took a long time for those things to work out, and Joseph had to go through a lot of hard stuff before it did.

First, he gets sold into slavery.  This favored kid from a wealthy family is all of a sudden the lowest of the low.  That had to be a pretty rude awakening for him.  Then, he got taken to a foreign country.  We don't even know if he could speak the language there.  After he got to Egypt, he had to wait until he got sold to a specific person.  I don't know how long that took, and I don't know where they kept slaves before they got sold, but I'm pretty sure it was not a very nice place.

Joseph was sold to a man named Potiphar, and eventually worked his way up to running all of Potiphar's affairs.  But then he ran afoul of Potiphar's wife, and even though he did nothing wrong, Joseph was thrown in prison.

Now, I know prison is not a nice place now, but it is compared to what it was in Joseph's time.  I'm not going to go into detail about it, and I'm not going to show you a picture, either, but if you're interested, go home tonight and do an internet search for something like “ancient prisons”.  I'll just say that if there's one thing they knew how to do back then, it was punish people.  Prison back then was a really hard thing to endure.

And that's where Joseph was for over two years.  So yes, God worked everything out for good, but it was a long, hard road to get there.  There were at least three years there where Joseph's life was anything but good.  And it was all because Jacob favored Joseph, and Joseph let it go to his head.  I have to think that God would've preferred for Joseph to have been a little more humble to begin with, so God would not have had to work so hard to work everything out.

So, what's the point?  Well, I think there are a couple of points.  One is that God does have a plan for our lives.  Those dreams Joseph had were real.  He was not making them up.  God did plan for Joseph to be a great and powerful person.  And no matter what we do, God will keep working to make God's plan come about.

The second is that you and I can mess up God's plans.  Not because we're more powerful than God or anything, but because God allows us free will.  God allows us to make our own choices, and God sometimes makes us deal with the consequences of those choices.  Joseph did not have to become arrogant and brag about how great he was going to be, but he did.  And he had to deal with the consequences of that.

And we have to remember that other people have free will, too.  That means that God allows other people to make their choices, and the choices those other people make affect our lives.  I mean, we can understand why Joseph's brothers got mad at him, but their reaction was a little extreme.  They did not have to first threaten to kill him and then sell him into slavery.  But they did.  Potiphar's wife did not have to get Joseph thrown into prison.  But she did.  The choices those other people made had consequences for Joseph, too, and he had to deal with those consequences.

But even through all that, God kept working in Joseph's life.  God kept working to make God's plans work out.  I doubt that God's plan for Joseph was for him to become an arrogant jerk, but after that happened, God still kept working to make God's plan for Joseph come about.  I doubt that God's plan for Joseph was for him to become a slave, but after that happened, God still kept working to make God's plan for Joseph come about.  I doubt that God's plan for Joseph was for him to be thrown in prison for a couple of years, but after that happened, God still kept working to make God's plan come about.  No matter what happened to Joseph, no matter how many mistakes he made, no matter how many things people did to him, God kept working to make God's plan for Joseph come about.  And ultimately, it did.

God will do that for each of us, too.  God has a plan for your life.  God has a plan for my life.  Sometimes we make bad choices, and we mess up God's plan.  But when we do, God still keeps working to make God's plan come about.  Sometimes other people make choices that affect our lives.  But when they do, God still keeps working to make God's plans come about.  God never stops working to bring about God's plan for our lives.

But notice one thing.  Through everything that happened, Joseph never lost faith in God.  Even when he was kind of an arrogant jerk, Joseph still believed God had a plan for him.  When Joseph was sold to Potiphar, Joseph still believed God had a plan for him.  When Joseph was thrown in prison, Joseph still believed God had a plan for him.  Through it all, Joseph kept believing in God's plan for him, and kept believing that God would make it come about.

God has a plan for your life.  God has a plan for my life.  No matter what happens, keep believing in that plan.  Even when we mess up, keep believing in God's plan.  Even when other people do things to you, keep believing in God's plan.  No matter what happens, no matter how far-fetched it may seem, keep believing in God's plan for you, and keep believing God will make it come about.

We have free will, and that free will has consequences.  Other people have free will, too, and their free will has consequences for us.  But God has a plan for you.  If you keep believing that, God will keep working.  And ultimately, God's plan will work out.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cross Purposes

This is the message given in the Wheatland Parish Sunday, July 21, 2013.  The Bible verses are Mark 15:16-39.

One of the best-loved hymns of all-time is The Old Rugged Cross.  I was really kind of surprised it did not go farther in our hymn tournament than it did, although the hymns that went farther are all really good, too.  It made it to the Elite Eight of our bracket challenge, defeating All Creatures of Our God and King, Just As I Am, and When We All Get to Heaven before narrowly losing to What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

The Old Rugged Cross was written by George Bennard in 1913.  George Bennard was born in Youngstown, Ohio.  His family moved to Albia, Iowa, and then to Lucas, Iowa, when he was young.  He aspired to be an evangelist, but he had to support his family when his father died suddenly.  He later got married, was active in the Salvation Army, and preached throughout the United States and Canada before retiring to Reed City, Michigan.

Bennard wrote a number of other hymns, but none of the others became famous.  He wrote The Old Rugged Cross the day of a revival service he was holding in Albion, Michigan, where he was living at the time, and it premiered that evening.  At some point, the famous evangelist Billy Sunday heard it and started using it his services, and it became popular all over the country.  The success of the song did not make Bennard wealthy.  He sold the rights to a music publishing company for five hundred dollars.

The cross is, of course, one of the greatest Christian symbols there is.  I think that fact tells us a lot about our Christian faith.  The cross is, as Bennard says, an emblem of suffering and shame.

See, crucifixion was not a punishment that was given to just anybody.  In fact, it was not even the only way of putting someone to death.  Crucifixion was reserved for people who had committed the worst crimes possible.  First, you had to carry the crossbeam of the cross, which weighed about a hundred pounds, out to the place where you were going to be executed.  Then you would be tied or nailed to the cross, completely naked.  Then you would be exposed to the elements, and to the scorn of all the people, until you died.  The actual death could come in any number of ways.  It could be heart failure, running out of air, infection, dehydration, you could be killed by animals, or lots of other things.  

Crucifixion was a particularly slow, cruel, painful, and shameful way to die.  Crucifixion was intended to be a deterrent.  It was supposed to be a warning to people not to do what this person had done, or they'd die the same way.

And yet, the cross is probably the number one symbol of our Christian faith.  Why?

The cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us.  This punishment, the worst punishment humans were able to come up with, was given to the one person who has ever walked the earth who was without sin.  Jesus Christ had done nothing to deserve it.  All of us had.  We humans deserved punishment for our sins.  But Jesus had not.  Yet Jesus endured it.  Jesus took our place on the cross.  He suffered that punishment for each one of us, for you and for me.  Think about it.  The one person who had done nothing to deserve punishment took on the worst punishment possible.

And he did not have to.  To me, that's the most amazing thing about it there is.  Jesus did not have to do any of it.  He could've put a stop to it at any time.  And he did not.

As the song says, he “left his glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.”  That's something we need to remember.  Jesus did not begin to exist when he was born on this earth.  That was when he came here.  Jesus has existed since the world began.  You remember in John, where it says “It the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God.”  That's talking about Jesus.  Jesus is the Word, the Word made flesh.  Jesus existed in heaven long before he came to earth.

What the song reminds us is that Jesus made a deliberate choice to come to earth.  It also reminds he came to earth for a specific reason.  Jesus chose to come to earth specifically and purposely to be crucified, to take the punishment for our sins.  He did not have to.  He chose to.

After he was on earth, Jesus still could've put a stop to things at any time.  He could've backed off from some of the things he said and did.  He could've made some concessions to the Pharisees, said and done some things to get himself out of trouble.  When things got tough, he could've gone into hiding.  Or, he could've allowed his disciples to protect him.  He could've raised an army and fought.  He could've used his divine power to wipe out his enemies and take power on earth.  There are any number of things Jesus could've done to avoid being crucified.  Even when he was on the cross, he could've used his power to come down.  He did not.  He accepted the punishment.

And he did it for us.  For you and for me.  As the song says, he did it “to pardon and sanctify me.”  And you, too.  Through Jesus, not only are our sins are forgiven, our sins are wiped out completely.  That word “sanctify” means to make holy.  We are not made holy because we're so great.  We're not made holy because of anything we've done.  We're made holy because of the incredible, willing sacrifice Jesus made for us.

Think about what that says about our faith.  The most important Christian symbol is a symbol of sacrifice.  It's not a symbol of power.  It's not a symbol of wealth.  It's not even a symbol of holiness.  It's a symbol of sacrifice.

What that does for us is remind us that, as Christians, we are supposed to sacrifice, too.  That's what the last verse of the song tells us.  We are asked to be true to that cross.  We're asked to be true to the sacrifice Jesus made.

How do we do that?  I think the way we're true to the cross is to do what Jesus told us to do.  The way we're true to the cross is to live the way Jesus told us to live.  The way we're true to the cross is to love the way Jesus loved.  We are to do to others as we'd want them to do to us.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are to do that no matter what anyone else says or what anyone else thinks.  We are to do that even if it's inconvenient or even costly to us.  That's the way we bear the shame and reproach of the cross, the way Jesus did.

That's not easy.  Jesus knows it's not easy.  We're not expected to do it perfectly.  If we could do it perfectly, Jesus would not have had to come in the first place.

But we should not use that fact as an excuse.  Even though we cannot do it perfectly, we're expected to try to do it perfectly.  We are expected to do everything we can to live the way Jesus told us to live, to love the way Jesus told us to love, to do what Jesus told us to do.  If we are going to accept what Jesus did on the cross, if we're going to be true to the cross, to the sacrifice Jesus made, we cannot do any less.  We should not use our imperfection as an excuse for not doing everything we can.

Because Jesus will “call us some day to our home far away.”  We will lay down all the trophies we've won on the earth, all the things we've achieved, all the accomplishments of this life.  In other words, some day we all die.  But if we truly cherish the cross, if we truly love the cross, if we truly understand what it stands for, we don't have to fear death.  Because Jesus died on that cross, because Jesus took the punishment for our sins, we know our sins are forgiven.  If we accept what Jesus did, if we cherish that cross, then we will some day go to share Jesus' glory.  We will exchange that cross for a crown.  Not a crown that makes us kings, but a crown that makes us children of God in heaven.

The Old Rugged Cross.  Not a symbol of power or might.  Not a symbol of holiness or virtue.  A symbol of sacrifice.  A reminder that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us.  And a reminder that we are to make those same sacrifices for others.  If we do, we truly will be true to that old, rugged cross.  And then, someday, we will share in Jesus' glory in heaven.

Friday, July 19, 2013

And Now, The Weather

So we got some rain last weekend.  The amounts varied a lot.  Just in this area, I heard reports of anywhere from 0.30 of an inch to three inches.  Still, everyone got some rain, at least, which is a good thing.  We've been wanting rain, and praying for rain, for some time.  So, one would expect that everyone, at least everyone who was praying for rain, would be grateful to God for giving it to us.

And we are.  I've heard several people express thanks to God for the rain.  Still, even within the words of thanks, there was another word.  Sometimes it was spoken, sometimes it was implied, but the word was always there.  The word was “but”.  “But, God, pretty soon we're going to need some more.”

I get that.  I grew up on a farm.  When your livelihood is dependent on the weather, you live with certain realities.  One of those realities is that it could stop raining any time.  Not forever, obviously, but for long enough that the crops will be damaged, if not made completely worthless.  I understand why our thanks are a little bit subdued.  We may have gotten enough rain for the moment, but we know it won't last.  In fact, given the hot spell this week, there are places that already need more rain.

As I thought about that, I thought about the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness.  God gave them manna to eat.  But if you remember the story, God just gave them enough manna for one day at a time.  Did you ever wonder about that?  I mean, God could've given them enough manna for the whole year.  God could've given them enough manna for a month, or for a week.  But God did not do it that way.  God did not even give them enough manna for tomorrow.  God just gave them enough for today.  No less, but no more, either.  In fact, if they tried to make the manna last for longer than just today, it spoiled.  God only gave them enough for today.

It seems to me that's how God often works when God grants our requests.  It seems like there are a lot of times God grants just enough.  Not less than we need, but not necessarily more, either.  Not enough for the whole year, or the whole month, or the whole week.  Sometimes, not even enough for tomorrow.  God only gives us enough for today.  And God asks us to trust God to give us enough for tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

Maybe that's how it works with rain, too.  Some people, as I said, got a really good rain.  But a lot of us only got enough rain for now.  We got enough rain to get them by for a while, but not enough to assure that the crops will be good.  Maybe God did that on purpose.  Maybe God just gave us enough rain for now because God is asking for our trust.  God wants us to trust God to give us enough for tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

That's what I'd like to suggest we do.  Now, I'm not saying this is some sort of magic spell.  I'm not saying that if we all just trust God, we'll all have great crops.  Drought is always a possibility.  So, of course, is flooding, as we found out a couple of years ago.  I have no idea what the weather is going to do tomorrow, or the rest of the week, or the rest of the month.

I do believe, though, that God is worthy of our trust.  So let's trust God to do what's right.  And then, let's go out and do our best to serve God.  If we do our best, we can be assured that God will do God's best.  And then, things will go the way they're supposed to go.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tough Love

This is the message given at the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg July 17, 2013.  The Bible verses are Genesis 18:12-33, 9:1, 12-16, 24-25. 

One of the questions we sometimes have about God is whether the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.  What I mean by that is that a lot of times we think of the God of the New Testament as a God of love and forgiveness, but we think of the God of the Old Testament as a God of judgment and punishment.  Naturally, we like that God we think of in the New Testament a lot better than the God we think of in the Old Testament.

Because of that, we tend to read the New Testament a lot more than we do the Old Testament.  That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this sermon series focusing on Old Testament stories.  The Old Testament is just as much a part of the Bible as the New Testament, and it’s just as much a part of our faith as the New Testament.  It may be harder for us to understand, and it may not be as warm and fuzzy in places, but it still is a part of the Bible.  Come to think of it, there are parts of the New Testament that are not particularly warm and fuzzy, either, but that’s a different sermon series.

As we’ve looked at these stories, I think we’ve found that the God of the Old Testament really is the same as the God of the New Testament.  The God of the Old Testament was a God of love and forgiveness, too.  We've talked about how God gave Cain second chances, and how God promised Noah that no matter what humans did, they would never be wiped from the face of the earth.

We've also talked about something else, though.  We've talked about how, some day, our second chances come to an end.  That’s why it’s important that we take advantage of the chance God has given us now, today.  After all, no matter how old we are, and no matter how healthy we are, God does not promise a tomorrow on this earth to anyone.

Which brings us to our story for today, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  If you’ve heard this story before, or even if you were just listening to the scripture reading this evening, you know what happened.  The people of Sodom and Gomorrah had completely forgotten about God.  Everyone did whatever they wanted.  Not only had they forgotten about God, they’d forgotten the basic principles of right and wrong.  Those towns were in a state of complete lawlessness, chaos, and sin.  So, God sent down fire from heaven and wiped them out.  Both cities were completely destroyed and all the people in them except Lot and his family were killed.

I've heard this story many times, of course.  Many of you probably have, too.  As I thought about it this week, though, it occurred to me that a lot the discussions I’ve heard about it missed something.  Too often, this story is interpreted as the story of a vengeful God eagerly executing a death penalty on people who got too far out of line.  I don’t think that’s what was going on here at all.  As I look at this story, I see God doing everything possible to avoid destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.  God only went ahead with it when there was no other way.

How else do we explain the discussion between God and Abraham?  God could have just gone ahead and taken out Sodom and Gomorrah without saying anything to Abraham at all.  In fact, the way the story reads, God considered doing exactly that.  Instead, though, God not only told Abraham what he was about to do, God allowed Abraham to bargain with him to provide the two cities a way out.

We don’t know how big the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were.  They’re mentioned a few other times in the Bible before this, so they were big enough that people knew about them and knew where they were.  Cities were not as big back then, so say they had a couple thousand people or so.  Abraham got God to agree that if there were even ten good and righteous people out of those couple of thousand, God would not destroy those towns.

To me, that does not sound like a God who’s eager to bring about destruction.  That sounds like a God who wants to give these people another chance.  Think of it:  if less than one percent of the people in these towns were found to be good and righteous people, God would save all the people of both towns just for that fraction of a percent.  That sounds to me like God is trying very hard to avoid destroying these towns, not looking for an excuse to do it.

As we know, though, not even ten good and righteous people could be found in those towns.  The only ones found were Lot and his family.  So, God went ahead and destroyed the towns, only allowing Lot and his family to escape.

It must have made God very sad to do that.  Still, though, we hear that and we think, if God was so sad about it, could God not have let them off the hook anyway?  Could God not have bailed them out, protected them, given them another chance?

Well, yes, I suppose God could have.  After all, God can do anything God wants to do.  As I was thinking about that, though, here’s what occurred to me.

Wanda and I don’t have children, of course, but we’ve known a lot of parents, including some of you.  Sometimes, when we raise kids, those kids go off and live a lifestyle that’s totally opposite what we’d hoped when they were growing up.  Sometimes kids get into drugs.  Sometimes they get into a life of crime.  Sometimes they refuse to work, and live off handouts.  There are lots of other things that can happen, too.

As parents, you want to bail out our children.  You want to protect them.  You always want to give them another chance.  It’s a natural, loving instinct.  There are times when you do that, though, that you do them more harm than good.  When I worked as a deputy state’s attorney, I saw that all the time.  Either we or the judge would try to give a kid a break, give him or her another chance, and instead of being grateful and straightening out, they would inevitably think, “Gee, I did that, and nothing much happened.  I wonder what else I could do.”  Inevitably, they’d do something even worse, and a lot of times they’d start bringing other people down with them.  We thought we were helping those kids, but in reality we were hurting them and others.

I would think that one of the hardest things parents ever have to do is to see their children in trouble and know that this time, the loving thing to do is to not bail them out.  Instead, the loving thing to do this time is to let those kids sink or swim on their own.

Now, when you let someone sink or swim on their own, of course, you take the chance that they’ll sink.  That has to be so hard, to watch your child sinking and know that you cannot bail them out.  It’s called “tough love” not because parents want to be hard on their children, but because the toughest thing a parent can do is see their child in trouble and know that they cannot do anything to rescue them.

I suspect that’s how God felt when God saw that there were not even ten good and righteous people in the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Every loving instinct of God must have wanted to bail them out, to give them another chance.  It had to be incredibly hard for God not to do that.  Yet, God knew that if God bailed them out, things would not improve.  They would keep getting worse.  What was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah would spread to other towns.

God must have wanted so badly to avoid destroying those towns.  God knew, though, that doing so would not help the people there.  They would continue what they were doing, and they would drag others down with them.  It must be one of the hardest things God ever has to do.  It has to be so hard for God to see God’s children in trouble and to know that this time, the loving thing for God to do is not to bail them out, but to allow them to sink.  It’s hard for me to even imagine what God must go through when God has to do that.

I think the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah is not that God is a judgmental, punishing God.  The lesson is that, at some point, our second chances come to an end.  The lesson is that, if we refuse to turn back to God, at some point God has to let us sink.  It’s hard for God to do that, but God has to, so we don’t take others down with us.

        When we do turn back to God, though, God promises to always be there for us.  That does not mean God will always take away our problems, but God will always help us through our problems.  The help may not come the way we wish it would, but the help will be there.  Every time we turn to God, God will be there for us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Doing What We Can

This is the message given in the Oahe Manor Communion service on Thursday, July 11, 2013.  The Bible verses are Luke 10:25-37.

You know, it strikes me that most projects involve two basic things.  The first one is know what to do.  The second one is actually doing it.

Those things are both important, of course, but a lot of times, the second one is harder than the first one.  It seems to me that there are a lot of times when we know what the right thing to do is.  We just really don't want to do it.

That brings me to the story of the Good Samaritan that we just read.  We're told that an expert in the law came up to Jesus.  He asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus basically says, “Well, you're the expert in the law.  What does the law say?”  And the man gives him a textbook-perfect answer.  “Love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus says, “See?  You've got the first part covered.  You know what to do.  So now comes the second part.  Go do it.”

But again, it's that second part that always causes the problem.  This guy really does not want to go do it.  It's too hard.  It seems like it's asking too much.  So, he tries to come up with a reason for not doing it.  As the verses say, he wanted to justify himself.  So, he asks, “But who is my neighbor.”

Now, that's thinking just like an expert in the law, right?  Always trying to get out of things on a technicality.  And, of course, Jesus does not let him do it.  That's when Jesus goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan.

You know, this story of the Good Samaritan is not just a nice story, the way we sometimes think of it.  If we take this story seriously, it's a very challenging story.

We've been conditioned to think of the two who did not stop, the priest and the Levite, as the bad guys in this story.  But are they, really?  I mean, think about this story from their point of view.  They're walking down the road, minding their own business.  They see this guy on the side of the road.   They don't know him.  They don't know anything about him.  They don't know how he comes to be there or what's happened to him.   They're busy people with things to do.  It's not their fault this guy got beaten up.  It's nothing to do with them.  They really don't have the time to stop and help him..  Besides, this is a really dangerous area.  If they stop, what happened to this guy might happen to them, too.

You see, they have all these reasons to not treat this man as their neighbor.  And they're not just making those reasons up.  They're good reasons.  They're logical.  They make sense.  If someone heard about what they'd done—or, more accurately, not done—no one would've thought badly of them for it.  They would've been able to justify themselves.

How many times do we do that?  We see a situation in which somebody needs help.  We probably know, somewhere deep down, that we should help.  But we think, well, I don't know this person.  I don't know how they came to be in this situation or what's happened to them.  I have things to do.  It's not my fault this person got into trouble.  It's nothing to do with me.  I really don't have time to stop and help.  I'll just mind my own business.

We want to identify with the Samaritan.  We want to think we'd be the one who stopped and helped.  We want to think we'd be the one who'd go the extra mile, who'd do a lot more than what's expected of us.

That's what we want to do.  But the truth is that, a lot more of the time, we're the priest or the Levite.  We're the one who does not help, and who comes up with all kinds of “good reasons” for not helping.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, but what can I do?”  I get that.  I know you cannot do all the things you used to do.  If you could, you would not be here.  I know you do not have the energy or physical ability to do the things you used to do.  Some days, it's probably all you can do to get out of bed and get dressed.  In fact, I know some of you can no longer even do that for yourselves.  And while I cannot say I know how that feels, I know it has to be really frustrating.  So you hear a message like this, and you think, “Yeah, it's easy for him to say.  If I could be out there helping people, I would.  But I cannot do that any more.”

Like I said, I get that.  But here's the thing.  God does not ask us to do everything.  What God asks us is to do everything we can.  And everyone can do something.  No matter what your condition is, you can do something.  You can smile at people.  You can listen to people who need to talk.  You can give a compliment to somebody.

You know, sometimes, when I'm having a bad day, just having someone smile at me and ask how I'm doing means more to me than anything.  Just knowing somebody cares can be so important.  We all need people who care about us.  And sometimes, we need to be the person who cares about somebody else.  Little things like that can mean an incredible amount.

God never allows us to retire from being Christians.  No matter what our age is, and no matter what our state of health is, we're still supposed to be like the Samaritan.  We're still not allowed to come up with “good reasons” for not helping.  We still need to do whatever we can do to help others.

You cannot do everything.  You cannot do what you used to do.  That's okay.  You don't have to.  Just do what you can.  When we do, God will do the rest.

God Is Not On Vacation

It's July.  July is kind of the heart of summer.  We've had a jam-packed June and we're planning for a really active August.  So July is the time we can all relax and take a little bit of a breath.

That does not mean nothing is happening in the Wheatland Parish, however.  In fact, there will be quite a few things happening.  In Gettysburg, especially, we'll be starting the work of raising money to build a new addition to the church.  That means we'll be having meetings of the Building Committee and of the Fundraising Committee.  Those committees will not do their work alone.  They want and need your input.  If the new addition is going to happen, it's going to take everybody working together to make it happen.

The new addition in Gettysburg is not the only thing going on in the parish, though.  We'll continue to have our Wednesday worship services in Gettysburg throughout the summer.  In Onida, we'll continue to recruit people to work with our new audio/visual equipment, and we'll also learn more about what it can do.  In all three churches, we'll continue to work on mission projects.  In other words, it may be the middle of summer, but there are still plenty of things going on in our parish.

That's a good thing.  As Christians, we've been given a big job.  Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations.  We're supposed to baptize them and teach them what Jesus taught us.  That means we need to teach them to love God and love each other.  The best way for us to do that, of course, is for us to model the love of God and the love of others in our everyday lives.

We're not supposed to take a vacation from that.  Yes, Jesus spent some time apart, by himself, but Jesus did not spend that time lying on the beach listening to the ball game on the radio.  He spent that time in meditation and in prayer.  He used that time to get closer to God.

Now, I'm not saying we can't take a vacation.  What I'm saying is that, even when we're on vacation, we're still Christians.  If we're on vacation with our kids, we need to use that time to teach them more about God.  When we're on the road, we need to model Christian behavior, even when we're with strangers.

We also need to keep our minds and our hearts open to God's leading.  We never know when God might place a hurting person in our path, someone who desperately needs to hear an encouraging word or to know that someone cares.  That can happen when we're on vacation, when we're at the ball game, when we're at the convenience store, or when we're at work.  It can happen at any time and at any place.  The smile we give someone, the minute or two of conversation, the acknowledgment that there is a real person behind the cash register, can turn someone's day around.  It might even turn someone's life around.

It's okay to have some fun and enjoy the summer.  That's one of the reasons God gave it to us.  But even when we're on vacation, we are still God's people on God's earth.  When we go on vacation, let's make sure we take our faith in God with us.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

In the First Place

This is the message given in the Wheatland Parish Sunday, July 14, 2013.  The Bible verses are 1 Corinthians 15:1-26.

As we continue our Hymn Hysteria sermon series, we look today at “Because He Lives”.  As with the other songs we've looked at so far, Because He Lives made it to the Elite Eight of our bracket challenge, defeating Standing on the Promises, Trust and Obey, and He Leadeth Me.

Because He Lives is one of the newest songs in our hymnal.  It was written in 1971 by Bill and Gloria Gaither.  Many of you probably know who they are.  Bill Gaither was born in 1936, Gloria in 1942, and they married in 1962.  They've written many hymns over the years, including three others that are in our hymnal:  There's Something About That Name, He Touched Me, and Something Beautiful.  In fact, “He Touched Me” is one we're going to be looking at in a few weeks, because it made the Final Four.

The Gaithers wrote 'Because He Lives” at a time when they were expecting a child.  They were going through a tough time in their lives, and they started thinking about all the problems in the world and how hard it cam be to raise a child the way things are now.  The Gaithers believe God gave them the words to this song as a message of hope that, no matter how bad the world gets, we can still always face tomorrow, because Jesus is not dead.  He lives.

And you know, if we were to try to boil down our Christian faith to one thing, that just might be it.  Jesus lives.  Jesus died on a cross, he was buried, and he rose from the dead.  In doing that, he conquered death not just for himself, but for all of us, too.

The Apostle Paul, in our reading from First Corinthians, said this was “of first importance:  that Christ died for us, according to the Scriptures, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared” to the disciples and others.  The reason this is of first importance is not because nothing else about our faith is important.  It's because unless this is true, nothing else about our faith matters.  If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then he is not the Son of God.  He's just this guy.  A good guy, maybe, a guy who helped some people, a guy who said some good things, but still, he's just this guy.  If Jesus is just this guy, then the stuff he said is just advice, which we're free to accept or ignore, whatever we want to do.

In fact, Paul takes it even further than that.  Paul says if Jesus is just this guy, then he has no power to forgive sins.  If Jesus is just this guy, our faith is for nothing, because we still have to deal with all the consequences of our life of sin.  In fact, Paul says, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, if he's just this guy, then we deserve pity, because we've put our faith in a lie.

It can be easy, sometimes, to start wondering if we've put our faith in a lie.  We look at the world, the way the Gaithers did forty years ago, and we wonder.  A lot of people would say things have gotten worse since then.  We wonder what good our Christian faith is doing.  We wonder what real difference in makes if we believe or not.

We wonder that about our own lives, too, sometimes.  You know, when I was younger, I used to think that everyone else had their life together, and that I was the only one who did not.  I've come to find out that almost everyone has some kind of struggle in their life.  If it's not us personally, it's people we know.  We deal with the struggles of life, and we think “what good is my faith doing?  I have all these problems.  The people I care about have all these problems.  I pray to God, and I try to trust God, and yet, the problems don't go away.  And if one does happen to go away, here come three more to take its place.  What good is it doing me to believe in Christ as my Savior?”

And I think the reason we like this song so much is that it recognizes that.  It does not claim that faith in God will solve all our problems.  It does not claim that believing in Jesus as our Savior is going to give us an easy life.

What it does, though, is say that our faith will help us deal with the problems and the struggles of life.  It says, “Think about who Jesus is.  He came to love, heal, and forgive.  He lived and died so our sins would be forgiven.  The empty grave is proof of that.”

Then it says what's really the key to the song.  It says that, because we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we can face whatever tomorrow brings, good or bad.  It says that we can face it without having to be afraid.  Because we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we know the future is in God's hands.  And knowing that makes our lives worth living, even while we deal with all our problems.

That's true from the first day of our lives to the last.  A newborn baby is an incredible wealth of possibility.  That child could grow up to cure cancer, or to solve poverty, or to do all sorts of incredible, wonderful things.  Yes, there are bad things that could happen to that child, too, and the song recognizes that.  But it says that the child will be able to face the uncertainty of life through belief in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior.  All of us can face our uncertain days, because Jesus lives.

The song also recognizes that, no matter what happens, no matter what we do in our lives, good or bad, there will come a time when our lives come to an end.  One day, we'll fight the final war with pain, at least in this life.  Death is an uncertainty, too.  None of us can prove what happens to us when we die.  But just as we face the uncertainty of life through belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we can also face the uncertainty of death through belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.  Again, Jesus holds the future.  Through our faith, we will someday see Jesus in his full glory.

You know, this is really an incredibly simple song.  You know how many words are in each verse?  About thirty-two.  There are about that same number in the chorus.  It's not a hard song to memorize.  In fact, I'll bet a lot of us could sing the chorus and at least some of the verses from memory..

And I'd encourage you to do just that.  If you don't want to sing it, then say it.  When you start to feel like the world is beyond hope, go back to the words of this song.  When you start to feel overwhelmed by the problems of your life, go back to the words of this song.  When you start to feel afraid, when you feel like you cannot face another day, go back to the words of this song.

Think about how Jesus lived and why Jesus died.  Think about how Jesus conquered death, not just for himself, but for all of us.  Think about that empty grave, the proof that Jesus Christ, our Savior, lives.  And remember that because he lives, we can face the future without fear.  Jesus holds the future.  Our lives will always be worth living because Jesus Christ, our Savior, lives.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What's the Plan?

This is the message given at the Worship on Wednesday (WOW) service in Gettysburg on July 10, 2013.  The Bible verses used are Genesis 11:1-9.

The story of the Tower of Babel appears in the Bible shortly after the story of Noah, which we talked about last week.  After the flood is done, we get a little bit about Noah's life after the flood, and then we get a list of the genealogy of Noah's descendants.

At this point, Noah's descendants are still all living in one area.  They all speak the same language and they all have a common culture.  So, they decide to build a city.  And in that city, they decide to make a huge tower.  The reason they want to do that, we're told, is “So that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

We're then told that God was not pleased with that.  In fact, God was so displeased that God confused their language so nobody could understand each other.  And because they could not understand each other, they all wandered off, going their separate ways.  In fact, what happened was exactly what the people had not wanted to happen.  They were scattered over the face of the earth.

I read that, and I wonder, what were these people doing that was so terrible?  I mean, really, think about it.  They wanted to make a name for themselves.  Is that so bad?  I mean, don't most of us want to do that in some way?

I do.  I think a lot of us do.  We don't want our lives on earth to be meaningless.  We don't want our time here to just be forgotten.  We want to make a contribution.  We want to make a difference.  We want to create something that will last.  Most of us would like to be remembered for something or other after we're gone.  What's so wrong about that?

And as for not wanting to be scattered all over, that does not seem so bad, either.  I don't know about you, but I wish I had more family that was close.  My parents live in Armour, four hours away.  That's not so bad, but it would nice if they were closer.  The brother that lives closest to me lives in Ashland, Nebraska, eight hours away.  My other brother lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.  I have cousins scattered from Georgia to California.  I wish we were not so scattered.  Why is that a bad thing?  Why was God so upset with people for wanting things that seem like pretty natural things to want?

Now, sometimes, when we hear this story explained, we hear it said that the plan to build the Tower of Babel is an example of human arrogance.  That's why God was mad at humanity, for what they were doing.  God was punishing humans for their pride and arrogance.

When you read the story, though, that's really not what it seems to say.  In the first place, God does not really seem to be mad at humanity at all.  God does not say that what the people planned to do was evil.  God does not say people needed to be punished for their sins.  God does not even say the people sinned.

Listen to what God actually says:  “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”  That's why God stopped the building of the tower.  It was not because people had sinned.  It was because God was afraid humans would become too powerful.

But what's the problem with that?  What's so wrong with humans working together to accomplish stuff?  Was God just jealous?  Was God thinking that if humans were allowed to get too powerful, we would not need God any more?

Well, I suppose it's possible.  We're told in the Old Testament that God is a jealous God.  That's really not what that means, though.  If God could be jealous of mere human beings, then that would indicate that God is not really the all-powerful God we think God is.  There is no power we humans have, and nothing we can do, that does not come from God.  If God could be jealous of mere human power, God would not be worthy of our worship.

I think the reason God was afraid humans would become too powerful is that we would not know what to do with that power.  Our power would be greater than our wisdom.  That's the problem God was worried about.  Power with wisdom can do great and wonderful things.  But power without wisdom can do terrible and tragic things.

And those things are not necessarily done with evil intent.  They can be, but not necessarily.  I'll bet we can all think of situations where someone tried to help us, and they had the best of intentions, but they did not really know how to help, and so just made matters worse.  Maybe we've even done that ourselves.  When our power is greater than our wisdom, it can lead to terrible problems, even when we're only trying to help.

The people in this story had a plan.  It was not an evil plan.  It was not a sinful plan.  But it was not God's plan.  And so, even though it was not an evil, sinful plan, it was not the right plan, either.  

The people wanted to stay where they were.  They wanted to build a city with a big tower and just stay there, admiring what they'd done.  That was not what God wanted for them.  God had told Noah and his family to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  God did not want humanity to just stay in one spot.  God wanted people to go out into the entire creation God had made.  That was God's plan for the people.  And God did what was necessary to make that plan come about.  After God confused the language, we're told, “From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
God was not afraid that we would not need God any more.  But I think God may have realized that, when humans have too much power, we think we don't need God any more.  We think we can do things our own way.  We think that our wisdom is as great as our power.  And every time we think that, we get ourselves into trouble.

I think that's something for us to remember in our lives.  All of us, as we go through our lives, make plans.  They're not bad plans, most likely.  They're not evil, sinful plans.  But sometimes, they're not God's plans.  They're not made with God's wisdom.  And so, even though they're not bad plans, they're not the right plans, either.

But the thing is that, sometimes, we decide to rely on our own power, rather than God's wisdom.  When we do, we try to force things to go our way.  We try to force our plans to work.  We have the power to do things our way, but we don't have the wisdom to make our plans the right plans.  And so, with the best of intentions, we make things worse.  And in fact, sometimes trying to force things to go our way can lead to terrible and tragic things.  Those terrible and tragic things can not just affect us, but can affect others as well.

It's okay to make plans.  In fact, we pretty much have to.  It would be almost impossible for us to go through life with no plan whatsoever, and it probably would not be a good idea if we did.

But when we make our plans, we need to keep God in mind.  We need to pray.  We need to ask for God's help and for God's guidance.  We need to do everything we can to make sure our plans are the same as God's plans.  And if it turns out that they're not, we need to be willing to change our plans so that they are the same as God's plans.

God had a plan for Noah's descendants, and it did not involve staying in one place and building a tower.  It involved going out and spreading all over the wonderful, incredible earth that God had created.  That was God's plan, made with God's wisdom.  And God did what God needed to do to make sure that it was God's plan that got carried out.

God has a plan for you, too.  And God has a plan for me.  It's God's plan, made with God's wisdom.  Sometimes, we think we know what that plan is.  Sometimes we don't.  Sometimes we think we know what the plan is, only to find out that we were wrong.

We can try to force our plans through, but it usually does not work.  We can try to rely on our own power, but we're a lot better off when we rely on God's wisdom.  When we go along with God's plans, made with God's wisdom, it pretty much always works.

So let's make sure, as we go through our lives, that we spend some time in prayer.  Let's spend some time asking God what God's plans are.  Then, let's pay attention, so we can get the answer.  That way, we'll rely on God's wisdom and follow God's plans.  And then, we'll be doing what God wants us to do.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Don't Settle

Below is the message given in the Wheatland Parish Sunday, July 7, 2013.  The Bible verses used are Jeremiah 18:1-10.

Today we're getting back into our Hymn Hysteria sermon series with a look at the hymn we just sang, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”  It got to the Elite Eight of our bracket contest, defeating “Shall We Gather at the River”, “Hymn of Promise”, and “Stand Up for Jesus.”

The words to this hymn were written by Adelaide A. Pollard in 1902.  Adelaide A. Pollard was actually born as Sarah Addison Pollard, and was born in Bloomfield, Iowa.  She did not care for the name Sarah, and eventually adopted the name of Adelaide.  She was a very humble woman—there are no pictures of her that I could find, and she often would not even put her name on the hymns or poems she wrote.  She attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and eventually went to New York, where she trained to be a missionary.

She wanted to do mission work in Africa, but did not have the money to get there.  She was at a prayer service one evening and heard an elderly woman say, "It really doesn't matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives.”  That reminded her of Jeremiah 18:6, where God says, “Can I not do with you, house of Israel, as this potter does?  Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.”  She is said to have written over a hundred other hymns, but this is the only one that really became famous, and it remains prominent until this day.

The tune was added in 1907 by George C. Stebbins, who also had a connection to the Moody Institute and was a well-known Christian musician and song-writer in his day.  Mr. Stebbins also wrote the tune to “Take Time to Be Holy”, which of course is also in our hymnal.

In looking at why we like “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”, it's interesting to look at the passage that Ms. Pollard based her poem on.  In that reading, God, speaking through Jeremiah, says, “I will have my own way.  I am the potter.  You are just clay in my hands.  What I say goes.  When I say a nation or kingdom is going to be destroyed, then it will be destroyed unless it does something to make me change my mind.  And when I say a nation or kingdom is going to be built, up, then it is going to be built up unless it does something to make me change my mind.  Things happen the way I say they happen, and that's it.”

The passage from Jeremiah is a statement from God, a warning about God's power.  That's power God just has, because God is God.  God does not ask for permission to use that power.  God does not care whether we mere human beings like it if God uses that power.  God is not interested in our opinion as to how God uses God's power.  The way God comes across in Jeremiah is that God will use God's power in whatever way God thinks it should be used, and so the kingdoms and nations had better be careful.  If those kingdoms and nations get on God's bad side, God will use God's power in a way that may be fair and just, but it's a way that the kingdoms and nations won't like very much.

That's not what the hymn says, though.  The hymn invites God to have God's way.  It asks God to have God's way.  It wants God to use God's power.  And it does not talk about nations or kingdoms.  It talks about individuals.  It says “I am the clay.  Mold me.  Make me.  I'll just humbly and quietly wait for you to do whatever you want to do.  You have the power.  Use it however you want to.”  The hymn begs God to take control of our lives, to fill us so full of the Holy Spirit that everyone can see Jesus Christ living in us.

And I think that's why the hymn is so popular.  We know that's what we're supposed to do.  We know that's how we're supposed to feel.  The song tells us the way Christians are supposed to be.  We're supposed to give up our own wants and desires and be totally submissive to God and God's will.

We read that in other places in the Bible, of course.  The prime example of it is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that he's about to be arrest and tortured and killed, not wanting to go through that any more than anyone else would, but knowing that it's God will that he go through it, and so saying to the Father, “Not my will, but your will be done.”  It's what we pray every week in the Lord's Prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  We know this is the attitude were supposed to have, where we put our own will aside and simply go where God wants us to go and do what God wants us to do.

If only it was that simple.  Well, that's not really the right way to put it.  It is that simple.  It's just not easy.  It's not that it's a hard thing to understand.  It's that it's a hard thing for us to actually do.

Think about it.  What would it mean for your life, or for my life, if God molded us and made us after God's will?  What would happen if we simply waited, yielded and still, for God to do with us whatever God wanted to do?  What would we be doing right now if God held absolute control, “absolute sway” as the song puts it, over my life or your life?  What would it be like if we were so full of the Holy Spirit that everyone could see Jesus Christ, only and always, living in us?

These are not just rhetorical questions.  They're questions we need to ask ourselves.  When we sing this song, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”, we need to ask ourselves if we really mean it.  Do we really want God to have God's way with our lives?  Or is it just a nice thought, something that sounds good, but something we're not going to really do anything about?

It's an important question.  The reason it's so important is that when we pray this with honest and sincere hearts, God will answer it.  When we come to God openly, honestly, emptied of all of our selfish wants and desires to the extent that's possible, and truly ask God to take control of our lives, God will do just that.

And from there, we never know what might happen.  For Adelaide Pollard, it led her, not to Africa where she wanted to go, but to Scotland, where she did missionary work after World War I.  It led a lawyer in Wessington Springs to become a United Methodist pastor in the Wheatland Parish.  That's not to say that I always open myself up to God that way, because a lot of times I don't.  The one time I did, though, God took me in a direction I never thought I would go.

And that's the thing.  We don't have to do this perfectly.  We don't have to do this all the time.  That's the goal, of course.  That's what we're trying to do.  But even if we don't, even if we just do it once in a while—in fact, even if we just do it once—God will use that one time to completely change our lives.

Adelaide Potter wrote these words when she was going through what she termed a “distress of soul”.  And sometimes, that's what it takes for us to really give God control of our lives.  When things are going well, or even when things are not going exceptionally well but just kind of okay, we tend to not want to make any changes.  We don't want to rock the boat, or upset the apple cart, or whatever other cliché you want to use.  Sometimes it takes being miserable, feeling depressed, feeling that “distress of soul” Adelaide Pollard felt, before we're really willing to turn our lives over to God.

That's understandable.  I'm sure God understands it, too.  But it's sad.  It's sad because it shows a lack of trust in God.  It shows that we don't have enough faith in God to believe we could have something better, to believe that God wants us to have something better, that God wants us to be something better.

It's not sad because we're hurting God.  It's sad because we're hurting ourselves.  When we don't give control of our lives to God, we don't become everything God wants us to become.  We settle for “okay”, for “good enough”, for “could be worse”, rather than having the full, satisfying lives God wants us to have.

After all, we say God loves us, right?  We believe that, don't we?  If God loves us, then God must want what's best for us, right?  So, if we give God control of our lives, then it only makes sense that God will lead us to what's best for us, to what will make us the people God wants us to be, the people God created us to be.  That's an awesome thing to think about.

We don't have to settle for less.  The only reason we settle for less is because that's the choice we are making.  The only reason we settle for less is because we don't trust God enough to give control of our lives to God.  So let's not settle any more.  Let's come to God openly and honestly.  Let's empty ourselves of all of our selfish wants and desires.  Instead, let's ask God to have God's way with us.  We may not know what will happen when we do.  But if we trust God, we know it'll be something incredible.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Tribute to Paul Nadenicek

Paul Nadenicek is my uncle.  He passed away Wednesday, July 3, 2013.  Below are remarks I intend to make at his funeral Saturday.

I don't know that I'm necessarily the best person in the family to do this.  Obviously, we all knew Paul and have our memories of him.  I'll just say a few things I'll always think of when I think of him.  The first thing for a lot of us, of course, was his music, and I'll talk about that in a minute.  First, though, I want to say a few other things I'll remember about him.

One thing I remember about Paul is that he loved baseball and rooted for the Minnesota Twins.  That always gave us something in common to talk about, because of course I love baseball and the Twins, too.  In fact, I remember when I was a little kid, Paul would always get me a spring baseball preview magazine.  And of course, this was before the internet a twenty-four hour sports channels and all that, so those baseball preview magazines were a big deal.  I really enjoyed them, and I appreciated Paul getting them for me.

Paul would do stuff like that, especially for his family, because his family was important to him.  He was kind of the keeper of the family records, especially of his parents.  But he kept up with his family, too.  He wrote lots of letters.  He wanted to know what everyone was doing.  It was important to him to be able to do that.

Paul was a very intelligent man.  He read a lot, and he read a wide variety of stuff.  There were a lot of times when something would come up and he'd say, “I was reading this article the other day, and it said that...” and he'd give some little fact that I'd never known before.

He read the Bible a lot, too, of course.  He studied the Bible.  He could quote scripture easily.  In fact, he could quote the Bible a whole lot better than I can.  You give me a scripture passage, and I'm going “Uh, yeah, I think that's in the Old Testament someplace.  Um, Proverbs, maybe?”  Paul would say, “That's Proverbs 21:9.  But what it actually says is...” and then he'd go on to quote the verse exactly—the King James Version, of course.  He always wanted to read or hear the Bible in the King James Version.

Paul had a very giving spirit.  He gave what he could give.  Sometimes it might be a small thing, because he never had a whole lot of money.  Other times, it might be giving of his service or of his talent.  But he wanted to give.  He enjoyed giving.

And that brings me to Paul's love of music, and especially of the guitar.  I don't think Paul was ever happier than when he had the guitar in his hands and could make music.  Music was his passion.  Times when he'd come to visit us out on the farm, he'd usually bring a guitar with him and play something for us.  If he did not bring the guitar, he'd play something on the piano.  He just loved to make music.

There were times in his life when he played for lots of people, and there were times when he played for just one.  I remember a couple of years ago, shortly before we moved away from North Sioux City, I stopped to see Paul and I asked him to play something for me, because I had not heard him play for a while.  He reached over, picked up the guitar, and played a piece of jazz music.  I asked him what it was, and he said it was not anything.  He was just making it up.  That's such an amazing talent he had, to just pick up the guitar and start playing a tune on the spot like that.

I don't think it really mattered to Paul who he played for or how many there were.  He just wanted to make music.  That's why it was so wonderful that, in the last years of his life, he was able to sing in the church choir and play in the praise band.  It meant so much to him to be able to continue to share the gift of music God had given him.  I really think that's what kept him going and helped him live as long as he did.

In a sense, you could say that God put Paul on this earth to make music.  That's not the only reason Paul was put on earth, of course.  But what I mean is that I think, when we're really passionate about something, it's because God has put that passion into our hearts.  God gave Paul a passion for music.

Paul got his first guitar on his fourteenth birthday.  He kept playing the guitar almost until his ninety-fifth birthday.  Think about that.  That means Paul made music on the guitar for over eighty years.  That is such an amazing thing.  And a few days ago, not very long after Paul finally got too weak to play any more, God called Paul home.

My wife, Wanda, wrote a poem about Paul that I'd like to share with you.

Tip your hat to the man
With a guitar in his hands
Stars of heaven
With guitar number seven
His spot in church
Treasured memories perch
A helping church congregation,
Paul's passionate sensation
A man who always knew his part
Whether in praise team
Or choir to sing,
“How Great Thou Art”
The letters he wrote assert,
Family comes first
Imagine heaven's jubilee
Giving was his creed
Whether talents or time
Paul would shine

A couple of weeks ago, I got one of Paul's guitars.  I cannot play the guitar, but I'm going to learn.  In fact, I'm going to have my first lesson Monday.  I'll never learn to play like Paul did, of course.  I don't even consider that a possibility.  But I'm going to learn to play a little.  And when I do, I'm always going to think of Paul.