Monday, December 29, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/29/08

Remember the song, I think in 1955 or so, that began, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me”? Does that come o mind when you hear the angel chorus “Praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men”. Luke 2,14

It’s not the same peace. The song speaks of peace between men, neighbors, countries, factions, quarreling families, or whatever. The angels speaks of the peace we have, now, as His children. Paul says it very plainly, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with god through our Lord Jesus Christ?” Romans 5,1

That fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah (53,6). “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

It is the very same peace that the Lord Jesus speaks about when He said on leaving them, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.: John 14,1.

The peace speaks about the rift that was torn between man and God when Adam and Eve left the perfect world, dissatisfied that God was doing what was best for them, and followed the devil’s tempting. That created a rift, tore them apart, and Jesus, by His coming, living, dying, and rising again, healed that rift by paying for the sins we are guilty of. So brining peace.

That is the peace the angels sing about.

Now, as we come to the end of this year, may I just close with words you have heard many times at Funerals “For as much as it has pleased Almighty god, in His wise providence, to take out of this world the soul of the departed, we therefore commit the body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change this vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.
May God the Father, who created this body,
May God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body together with the soul,
May God the Holy Ghost, who by baptism has sanctified this body to be His temple,
Keep these remains unto the day of the resurrection of all flesh, Amen."

May the Lord ever bless all who remain in the faith.

GPD 12/29/08

Friday, December 26, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/26/08

Have you seen one yet?

A red swing hanging where you did not expect to see a swing hang?

They’re starting to be seen all over. It began when a professor of architecture assigned his class to dream up ”an urban intervention”. He challenged them to find something to make city dwellers take a fresh look at their surroundings. Something out of the ordinary that will evoke hindsight or thought of something else.

Andrew, - he doesn’t want his last name used - imagined red swings. His friends liked the idea, so they sold an old TV set for $25, and used the money to buy wood, rope and red paint. In the middle of a February night they launched the first salvo, hanging red swings in Austin, Texas. They developed a system for getting ropes slung over tree limbs. Each swing took about 15 minutes to hang.

UT employees quickly removed the swing dangling in front of Goldsmith Hall, evidently the school of architecture did not appreciate “urban intervention”.

Most of the swings were used, well used, and the project acquired a name – The Red Swing Project – and a website where interested people could suggest places to hang a swing, or donate the $2 cost of one.

Interesting, a swing on Harvard’s campus barely lasted two days.

New Orleans, on the other hand welcomed the swings. They are used wherever they are hung, something in this woebegone city actually works.

In Houston the Chronicle chronicled the swing hung on Menil Museum property. Ralph Ellis, manager of properties, was first inclined to take it down. You know managers of property are ever alert to suits. But then, it was nearing Christmas, and he did not wish to be a Grinch. The swing, known officially as Swing 054, is admired, and used.

So have you seen one? Just a simple red swing, reminding of a playground in our youth, or other joys of days long gone. Reminiscing is good for the heart, and the life. Sometimes it helps slow us down just a little bit, and maybe give a boost to the flagging spirit today. Often so surrounded by bad news, it needs to be reminded again “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” And HE is indeed “The Prince of Peace”.

GPD 12/26/08

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/23/08

The financial air is gloomy. The word is out. “We have to cut back this year”. The news is grim, it could not be any worse, and will I still have work in 2009? Or not? Yet, people are determined to make the best it, celebrate just the same, though more subdued than other years, fewer frills.

But Christian, hear this, familiar words to you:
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is given,
So God imparts, to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear His coming’ but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls may receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” LSB 361,3.
Then think of the glorious end of it: “O come to us, abide with us, Our LORD, Immanuel”.

What a Gift this is. He comes, Jesus, as the Babe at Bethlehem. Born to give us life. Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8,12.

So, with that News ringing in our ears, Ruth and I wish you a blessed Christmas, join us as we sing:
O rejoice, ye Christians loudly,
For our joy has now begun.
Wondrous things our God has done.
Tell abroad His goodness proudly,
Who our race has honored thus,
That He deigns to dwell with us
Joy ! Joy beyond all sadness,
Christ has done away with sadness,
Hence all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining.” LSB 897

GPD 12/23/08

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/18/08

Sort of drizzly and dreary these early mornings, and foggy with it. But then the sun comes out and it usually turns into a pretty nice day after all. It is tending to get warmer for the rest of the week, and then, on Sunday down to 40 again, a drop of some 40 degrees from Saturday. No wonder we feel it. Dan, stop giggling.

But the weather made me think of the North East which had a considerable damaging storm, leaving one and a quarter million without power. And work crews often had to work in stormy conditions, making the work slower and harder to do. Now you know, without power, stuff doesn’t work. So let’s continue to pray for their rapid recovery.

I rarely go to a mall these days, since I have reached the years when my wants are few and easily satisfied. But I had an errand for Christmas, and the other day I was on the ring road, so I thought I’d skip in quickly and get it out if the way. Lo and behold, I looked in vain for a parking space. All were taken, so I came away, errand undone. (P.S. I asked a friend to see if she couldn’t do this errand for me, and I pray she has better success than I did.)

And have you noticed, people seem to be friendlier these days. Maybe it is the time of year – No, not when we are aiming for the same parking space, then friendly flies out the window, doesn’t it? But in general, the air seems more pleasant. A study I read recently says if one says ‘hello’ to a stranger on the street, more often than not that stranger will return the greeting with a smile. I’ve experimented with this at church when the crowd sort of looks past others without seeing anyone. Say the name and a hello and see what happens. The same study also shows that a teacher who greets her class by name as they come into the room will have a class doing better work by some 37%. The pupils simply do better work because they feel they have been acknowledged. Simple, isn’t it?

And talk of friendly and helpful, I find in a grocery store people go out of their way to be helpful. Recently I was looking for an item and before I found it there were 4 shoppers helping me look, and rejoicing when we had success.

Soon we celebrate Christmas. The prophet Micah said, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Micah 4,3. He was foretelling the coming of the messianic age. The first stage is the birth of Christ. Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you.. . .let not your hearts be troubled.” John 14,27. That is what we celebrate now, and we join in the angel chorus, “Peace on earth, good will to men”. Because His name is Jesus, who shall save His people from their sins.” That is what the peace consists of, peace with God because Jesus settled our sin account. Praise His Holy Name, and rejoice.

GPD 12/18/08

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/15/08

The man checks with his boss to see if he could have the next day off saying, “We’re doing some house-cleaning tomorrow, you know, getting the house ready for the Christmas visits, and the wife needs me to help with the attic and the garage“.

“We’re short-handed, and I’m sorry, you need to be here, Christmas rush, you know.” The boss says.

“Thanks, boss,” said the man, “I knew I could count on you”.

Sorry, it’s the best I could do on short notice. But you have noticed the TV news and the papers are tending to mention holidays more and more. Just this morning the Houston Chronicle devoted an entire section to exercises most helpful for stress and weight control. As an example, they said if you eat a 6 ounce slice of ham with 280 calories, you needed to exercise 43 minutes to burn those calories. The exercise they refer to is a brisk walk. And they list other foods, sadly including green bean casserole. (A 6 ounce portion equals 30 minutes!) And that’s really sad, green beans?

And then the family visits. To get away for a bit, take a nice brick walk in fresh air to clean the lungs and do some thinking. Walking, by the way, is one of the best ways I know for deep thought, isn’t it?

But here is something you can use when you are baking those cookies. You are doing some of that, aren’t you? Anyway, when you measure something like honey or syrup, grease the cup lightly, and the stuff will flow out more readily. I learned that from my mother! ! !

And the best news yet. We are nearing the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. That news remains ever fresh and useful, for it brings us the best news of all, we are saved because HE came to suffer, die, and rise again in our stead.


GPD 12/15/08

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/14/08

We are moving closer to the time of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. The wonders of this amazing Gift cause me to think of others of God’s wonders that we so often ignore or take for granted.

For an example. Here is a bird, the Arctic Tern, that flies some 22,000 miles round trip for its annual migration, from Cape Cod they fly across the Atlantic ocean to Africa, from there across the Pacific to the Antarctic Circle, and the young do this at just about three months old.

I mention this because today the National Audubon Society begins its 109th annual Christmas Bird Count. It runs from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. In the first count, organized by New Jersey ornithologist Frank Chapman, the bird counters covered 25 North American locations and counted 90 species and about 18,000 individual birds. In 2007 nearly 60,000 people counted in more than 2,000 locations. They tallied 2,267 species and 57,000 individual birds. The Houston and Galveston areas rank high in numbers of species and number of birds counted. Reason for this is the mild season, the network of bayous, ponds, lakes, and marshes, and the abundance of wild berries, seed, and insects. So the area is the winter terminus for many migratory birds.

And this passage comes to mind, “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are you not much better than they?” Matthew 6,26

When you look out and see the birds at your feeders, think of what an amazing creation it really is.

Then remember this same heavenly Father has you, and me, in His care, providing for us the salvation only He can provide.

With that thought, enjoy His coming in the flesh, The Babe at Bethlehem, Our Savior.

GPD 12/14/08

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/11/08

What joy is this. I come out of church last night after midweek Advent devotion and I find the car covered with a light dusting of snow! We have not seen snow since the first winter we were here. One Sunday it had snowed overnight and everything was covered, and people were out with cameras taking pictures as we were driving to church. When we came home at noon, the snow was already gone. But snow has a way of covering up and making even the worst stuff pretty nice, doesn’t it?

The snow reminded me of when we returned from winter vacation at Concordia, Milwaukee then,( Now it’s in Mequon.) The city had flooded our baseball field and this served as the neighborhood ice rink. I do not remember anyone suing the city or the college when little Suzy fell and scratched her knee. Nor do I believe the college got any pay for that use, or did the city charge for the water. But the college had a good relationship with the city, and that reminds me of our annual “Gym Nite”.

The coach and his staff planned a weekend for showcasing what the students were doing in athletics. Our play was mostly intramural except for basketball, we had a team in some league or other. But this gym nite was offered over a weekend, and tickets were sold, the event was so popular it was always sold out. And the funds went to pay for the entire athletic program and equipment needed. One year it featured the very first trampoline in the city. And there were students who were very talented athletes.

And that, finally, brings me to the latest Lutheran Witness. It has several excellent articles and is quite newsy. But lately I turn first to the “In Memoriam” page. It lists another classmate called home by our Father. He was one of those excellent gymnasts on the trampoline. The item has maybe ten lines and covers 40 years of active work in God’s Kingdom. Just the bare facts, not any of the results, or the efforts, or the prayers, or the care and concern and shepherding of God’s flock. Just bare dates and names. Maybe that’s as it should be, ever giving God the glory.

For that, finally, is what we celebrate at Christmas time. Christ Jesus was born so we could live eternally, and in the great plan He devised, He sends people to invite other people to the wedding feast He prepared for us. Just as the angels said, “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord” Luke 2,11. And the message to Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins”. Matthew 1,21.

That living, vital, life-saving message is ours to cherish, and to share.

“Down in a lowly manger, the humble Christ was born,
And God sent us salvation, that blessed Christmas morn.
So go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain, That Jesus Christ is born.” LSB 388

GPD 12/11/08

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/8/08

The news is starting to reflect that we are officially in a ‘recession’. One columnist figures the total cost of attending the inauguration of president-elect Obama would be $10,000.00, and they are not going. Hotels in DC have hiked their price, some double, some triple the normal rate for the event. Peter Funt, son of Allen Funt of Candid Camera fame, writes an article suggesting the Democrats stop fund-raising please. He says the funds from under the mattress have been spent. Yet Austin reports lobbyist are still busy sending emails to raise funds.

And here comes an article about how parents are trying to get the message across to their children. One father in Webster Groves, Mo, (a suburb of St. Louis), suggested his sons also put down the price to things on their Christmas wish lists, and his 8 year old was amazed to find his came to $906.00. Other parents are cutting back on snacks and other ‘extras’ in lunch, and some are starting to carry brown bags to work, instead of going to a nearby restaurant. And many teens are looking for after school jobs! ! ! And the paper boy sticks his usual Christmas card into the delivery.

And December the 7th passed without so much of a mention that I noticed. And I can still hear the voice of our then president FDR intone, “December 7th, a day that will live in infamy”, as he called on the Congress for a formal declaration of war on Japan. A declaration that sent the country on a different course and changed so many lives in so many ways.

BUT, here is some news most of you won’t really care to hear. The Houston Texans played the Green Bay (Wis) Packers at Green Bay yesterday, the temperature was a frigid 3 degrees, and the Texans won with a field goal kicked when time was running out. In the course of history, an event that is soon forgotten, not “long remembered”. I just threw it in to sort of change the course of the dreary news I have been talking about.

Because there is Good News, the best. The shepherds heard the angel give them this direction, “And this shall be a sign unto you. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”. Luke 2,12. And after hearing the multitude of angels praising God and singing, they “came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe, lying in a manger”. V.16.

So familiar, we heard it so often. Doesn’t it move us? The fact that things had come to such a pass that Almighty God had to take on human flesh in order to save us from the sins we do and are daily engaged in? That fact ought to shock us to our roots. God comes to us, and we, sin-drenched and bedraggled, say proudly that “I accepted Christ”? What amazing thinking leads to such a conclusion. St. Paul had it absolutly right when He said, “It is a GIFT of GOD, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2,8.9.

This is the Gift we celebrate, and rejoice because He came.

Down in a lowly manger, the humble Christ was born;
And God sent us salvation, that blessed Christmas morn.
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain. That Jesus Christ is born.
LSB 388

GPD 12/8/08

Friday, December 5, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/5/08

What is the Christmas Spirit, and do you have it? I believe I caught a bit of it in action just yesterday. I was driving on the way to the market, and as I rounded the curve I saw, about a block ahead of me, a truck pulling a trailer loaded with bags of leaves. This was followed by a car. Just as I rounded the curve I saw a bag slip off the trailer in front of the car, which hit the bag and split it open. The truck driver didn’t notice and went on. But the driver of the car pulled over, put on the flashers, got out, picked up as much of the broken bag as she could, and placed it neatly on the side of the road. Yes, It was a lady, dressed for lunch or a meeting, and driving a Mercedes. About this time I drove by, gave her a big smile and a thumbs-up sign, she smiled back, got in, and drove off.

Is that it?

After Thanksgiving it begins, the rush and anxiety of getting everything ready for Christmas, the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the cards sent and received, the letters and notes addressed and sent, the choir practices and seemingly endless chores that need doing. We are so used to this that we take it for granted. Yes, we get a warm glow and a caring feeling, we send checks to needy causes and we try to visit a friend who is shut in. But there seems to be something missing in all this activity and busyness.

Many really do not understand what the Spirit is. They just get caught up in all the activity connected with the Season and enjoy it for its presents, parties, visiting, and gifting.

So maybe, if we re-read the story again, and really try to understand what it says, maybe then we can catch the Christmas Spirit.

Usually you can count on it. Every Christmas about this time, it starts. The public debate about manger scenes. When I as a child, nearly every city hall had one on display. But no more. While many want them, the anti-Christians, the atheists, the ACLU do not, and are vocal about it.

Many homes have them. Some simple, others quite elaborate. I have seen manger scenes carved by artists from Bavaria and the Black Forest. But we have seen them so often we are sort of immune to the real implications. Instead of putting us into as ‘holiday mood’, it ought to shake us to the roots of our souls. That’s what it was intended to do. And maybe that is the real reason for all the fuss about manger scenes. It comes from folks who, while they don’t believe a word of it, are still disturbed by its implications.

Because here is the message of Christmas, told to the shepherds. “You will find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”. Our GOD, lying in a manger. Think of that. Our need was so great that God humbled Himself to take on human flesh. He loved us in our need, and came to rescue us. And in believing that, we begin to understand the real Spirit of Christmas.

GPD 12/5/08

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/3/08

The report is that Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, has added a third shift. They make SPAM. Remember it? It seems to be selling rapidly these days, and Wal-Mart can’t keep its Romani noodles in stock. So the paper said this morning we are in a depression.

And one of the signs of the season is every mail brings appeals, for this and that, with your name tags printed as their “free gift” to you as their lure.

I suppose you do what most of us do. Select several dear to our hearts and ignore the rest, which seems a logical choice to make.

But on this matter of giving let me tell you a story. It happened many years ago in a time when there weren’t so many Pastors retired and ready to serve as needed. So, my neighbor in Missouri asked me to fill his pulpit on a Sunday afternoon while he took a much needed vacation. He said he would have the worship set for 2 o’clock if I would fill in. I said I would, but said there probably would be few here since it was a hot day and afternoon yet. He told me not to worry about that.

So after my morning services and a quick lunch, I set out. It was a drive of some 35 miles, mostly rural roads, and so I took son Ned, who was maybe 4 at the time, to keep me company. His lively chatter made time fly by. We arrived at the church a bit early. The door was open, so I took my Bible and robe to the sacristy and came back to the front. Meanwhile Ned has been looking around and spotted a little locked box with a slit in top marked “for the poor”. He pointed that out and said, “Dad, we should put something in here”. So I took a quarter and a five dollar bill, all the money I had, and asked him to make a choice. He took the bill and stuffed it into the box.

Well, people started arriving, so I greeted the Elder on duty and prepared for worship. The church was full. And their choir, consisting of 12 men and women, were
a really fine group (Our choir director would take them all in, I am sure).

So after worship I greeted the people, and after they left prepared to leave for home. Then the Elder stopped me, and said while unlocking that box, ‘we give our visiting preacher whatever is in this box for his gas money.” And handed me my five dollars.

So I ask you, even at this late date, what should I have done? But does it not say
something about this whole business of sharing what we have, and doing it cheerfully
and gladly?

God bless the day.

GPD 12/3/08

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 12/1/08

This is what the Psalm teaches:
“The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord,
And Thou givest them their meat in due season.
Thou openest Thine hand, and
Satisfiest the desire of every living thing”. Psalm 145, 15.16.

And a phrase from the favorite Psalm teaches that my cup runneth over.” 23,5.

We need not search very far to see stories of God’s rich goodness to all his creation. When Jesus fed the 5,000 there were 12 basketfuls left over! Plenty. “All things are ready, come to the feast” invited the King.

God’s provision is always in full measure, as he assures his hearers. “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For in the same measure you measure, it shall be measured.” Luke 6,38.

So there is always lots. And when the Lord asks us not to worry He uses the fowls of the air as example. They don’t “gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them” Matthew 6,26, and then asks us, “Are ye not much better than they?”

So take it as a given, that this is true of squirrels also.

Squirrels live on nuts etc. One nut they prize is the Pine nut which grows at the base of each cone. They shuck them out and chow down. Get the picture?

Now, our home has Pine trees, and they have lots of cones each year. So,
naturally, squirrels gather to harvest and enjoy the feast. And I am glad they do.

But I do have this problem. They sit up there, shuck out the pine nuts, and drop the leavings down. That is OK, because eventually the leavings decay and become mulch, enriching the forest floor. The trouble is they aren’t in the forest, they are sitting over my concrete driveway and littering like crazy. Why, the other morning I think I even overheard them tell some newcomers to move to the tree they were in because “it bugs this guy no end to have to sweep his walk all the time, titter, titter”.

But then, squirrels have been sort of getting to people all their lives. I remember one in Michigan who would come down a tree and tease a cat till it tried to chase it, and ended up frustrated because the squirrel was too nimble and always eluded that cat. Or those who clean out bird feeders, even those constructed to be “squirrel proof”. None ever are.

So, instead of frustration, I really ought to be thanking God that He does provide for His creatures, just as the Scripture teaches me that He does.

The Word is still true, “You remain the same, and your years will never end.” Ps. 102,37.

So I am content.

GPD 12/1/08