Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/25/09

A Word about Lent.

The time for spring flowers to grace the land, and warm weather, and growing rains, and new life.

It is a time when Christians take a fresh look at what the Cross means for them, their daily life, and their eternal salvation.

Oh, some will think, and even boast, of what they plan to “give up for lent.” As if by doing so they somehow improve their status before the Almighty God. Create an “in” with their good work, as it were.

In his Large Catechism Dr. Luther points out that the ten commandments, which tell us what we are to do and not do, are followed by the Creed, which tells us what God has done and is still doing for us.

Then, under the second Article, Luther writes, “In the Second Article we say, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, Son of God, is my Lord’. That means that He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. . . . We lay under God’s wrath and displeasure, doomed to eternal damnation, as we had deserved. There was no counsel or help until this eternal Son of God, in His unfathomable goodness, had mercy on our misery and came from heaven to rout those tyrants and jailers. . . .He has snatched us from the jaws of hell, made us free, and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace.” We now live under His protection.

That sums it up. LENT is the time when we spend special times in prayer, in meditation, and thanksgiving for this Mercy and eternal grace. Perhaps re-reading the chapters in the Gospel that tell the story of Jesus’ final days on earth, and the end of it all, His Glorious Resurrection, so that we may and do rejoice, He Lives. Our Lord and God. May these 40 days of Lent prove for you rich blessing, and a firmer walk in faith.

GPD 2/25/09

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/23/09

Speaking of bursting into song the other day reminded me of the 4th of July morning when I was on my morning walk. It was early yet, the air was cool and there was a slight breeze, the sun was shining, and it was a delightful morning. We had been to the pavilion the evening before for the Houston Symphony patriotic concert, and one of the melodies still hummed in my head. So I started singing, “She’s a grand old flag, a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may she wave. The emblem of, the things we love, the home of the free and the brave.”

You know how sound carries on a quiet morning? I heard, from a walker a block away, came chiming in, then, off to the left down another street, two women walking along joined the chorus, and a lady giving her dog some air joined in from the front door. The song ended, we wished each other a good morning, and went away, each feeling a bit better because of that.

William Congreve, English poet and writer, in 1697 wrote, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak". We are only now beginning really to recognize the power music has. Farmers have known for some time animals respond, cows give more milk, hens lay more eggs, hogs fatten better, when the farmer plays soothing music. Mozart calms unruly classrooms.

Pastor cited a study Sunday showing even plants responded when music either was soothing or rock. (The flowers having to listen to rock music died!). Does that explain why many establishments given to entertainment play very loud music, to inhibit behavior?

But I’m getting away form my first thought. I was remembering a Reformation Chapel service at the Seminary. The chapel was filled with young voices, Rechlin, famed organist, was at the instrument, and the hymn was the Mighty Fortress. I remember seeing Rechlin playing full organ, tears streaming down his face, and after the service saying he had never been so moved by that hymn sung as it was by young men more or less trained to sing.

That happens during festival services today when the congregation sings a familiar hymn with a celebrating heart and joy filled minds because of the story of the salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

May God give us moments like that, rich in memory, to gladden the heart, enrich our lives, deepen our faith. And God bless the singing.

GPD 2/23/09

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/22/09

Cool today, and sunny again. So far the report is that we are 4 inches short on rain for the season. Let us pray the Lord sends it now for the spring.

So many events are asking for comment that I will not comment at all. Instead, let me talk a little about a canoe trip down the Brazos river through Fort Bend and Brazoria counties in Texas. It is in connection with the Brazos River Trail, which represents the second phase of a Wilderness Preserve which will eventually form a 650 mile-route of green space through 24 counties around Houston.

While it offers hiking and biking, it also offers canoe trips from launch sites between Sugar Land and Freeport. No, I am not planning to take that since I am no expert in any water craft, but reading and studying about it makes for a pleasant and relaxing half hour or so. The canoe trip offers sights of many birds. A great egret spreads its great white wings and lumbers off in flight from a log. A belted kingfisher shoots down the river, and two red-shouldered hawks skim trees along the river front.

One morning, as the canoe eases down the river, a flock of anhingas, birds they say look like flying snakes, erupt from their roots and spiral into the sky. And later, several dozen wood storks swish their beaks in the low water for tadpoles and minnows.

Canoeing the river is a trip through Texas history. In East Columbia is Bells landing, built by Josiah H. Bell in 1823 for his sugar plantation, and it later served as a ferry dock during the Texas Revolution and as a river port in the early days of the Republic.

Sounds interesting, and soothing, calming and a thing to rest the weary bones and ease one's soul. Why, one might even be tempted to burst into Song.

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the works Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
O Lord, How Great Thou art.”

GPD 2/22/09

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/19/09

Yesterday it was a balmy 80 degrees. It started this morning at 62. That’s quite a change. But to brighten the day – sunny again – there is a bush in the backyard with the prettiest pink flower. I believe it is the Redbud but am not sure. It is just a delight to the eye. God puts such things there, unexpected, but so warmly welcome.

A study of history shows “change and decay in all around I see”, as the hymn reminds us. But the next line is also true, very true, “But Thou who changest not, abide with me”. Civilizations have risen and are no more. Think of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, once world powers. When was the last time a man from one of these nations worshipped with you? Pretty much all the nations and tribes mentioned in Bible times with Israel are gone. Why did Israel survive? Not only survive, but how did a tribe of desert nomads change the way the world thought and felt?

Surely, it wasn’t power, for much of its history it was a vassal state. Nor was it wealth, it was never a major economic player, nor size, dwarfed by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia Greece ad Rome.

What did they have? They had a Book. Scrolls written over the centuries that most people, being illiterate, had read to them. These scrolls told them there was One God, not many little tribal gods. One God who created the world. The scrolls showed them the story of life from God’s viewpoint. The story of creation, of the Fall into sin, of the results of that. It showed in detail what happened then, and it predicted that God had a plan to rescue man from his predicament. It also had writing of prophets who told what was to come, and who preached to kings and common people about sin and the punishment that would follow such life style.

We have that Book too. It is the Bible. It has never been so accessible, available, all or in part, in 2,656 languages. People own the Bible – the average household has at least three copies, they give the Bible, they cheer it, but don’t actually read the Bible. 80 percent of Christians believe the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves’ is in the Bible. It is not. (Ben Franklin’s saying).

So the problem is getting people to believe the message of the Bible, truly the message of salvation. The message of the Gospel. God speaks to us, and we must, must, believe what He says. It is, as Moses said, “Your life”.

GPD 2/19/09

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/19/08

Well, sunny today and pretty warm. They are having snow in the Midwest, so I imagine son Dan is getting to use his snow blower. Funny, isn’t it, how easily we get used to and accept conditions? They become so common that we don’t really see them any longer.

Maybe that’s why the Bible is so filled with warnings about the dangers that surround us every day. Conditions we live with become “there”. We see them, we know they are there, and after awhile they don’t disturb us at all. It’s something like getting used to a new car, or a new piece of clothing. The jacket or coat we used to hang so carefully gets draped over a chair or simply dropped on the floor.

Am I being unduly alarmist? What brings this up is something I read in the sports page of this morning’s paper. The writer tells of an Oregon native who elected to play for UCLA being taunted and greeted with hate filled signs when he played in an Oregon-UCLA game. And of an Illinois native playing for Indiana needing security for himself and his family to remain safe when the two teams met. Then he speaks of ancient Rome and says “Emphasis on sports drags down empires”. Suggesting when Rome reached great success their eye was no longer on civic responsibility and good for the populace, but on self-gratification in games. The poet Juvenal says of them they wanted only “Bread and Circuses.”

Peter writes, “Be self-controlled and alert.” Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know your brothers in the faith throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering”. 1 Peter 5, 8.9. Keep your eye on the goal.

In these Lenten watches keep the eye on Jesus. “I come to do Thy will, holy Father.” He said. In the Garden He prayed, “Not My will, but THINE, be done.” So that, at the end, He could cry, “It is finished.” The work is done. The cost is paid in blood. Christ’s blood.

So we are saved by His blood. Called God’s precious children, holy, righteous before Him. Our sins are forgiven because Jesus paid the price for them. So the word from Hebrew is urgent and pressing. “Hebrews 12:2 (MSG) “2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. May God bless the walking, and the living with eyes on the goal.

GPD 2/19/08

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/17/09

The Writer says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” Eccl. 3,1.

I was reminded of this during the last day or so when I was gathering together the facts of last year so my tax man could do my income taxes. Funny how some figures that seemed so easy to remember find a way to hide away and make life difficult. Oh, I know there are computer programs that will do much of the work for you. What am I complaining about, now anyway, the Lord has provided for the years as He always has so I am content still.

But it does remind me that there are so many things one keeps that ought to be given short shrift, put to the shredder, and out of life. How is the state of your attic, and the spare closet, and the stuff you have stored in the corners of the garage? The story here is that people have their garage so filled with stuff that the cars stand out in the driveway. The ‘stuff’ is more or less worthless, the cars cost around $40,000.00. Go figure.

Towns used to have dumps, and citizens took their unwanted or outgrown or broken stuff there to be trashed and burned. We had an “Uncle Ed”, the town handyman, who would take a truck filled with stuff to the dump, and come home, truck jammed with stuff he ‘found’ at the dump, and stored in his barn.

Ecclesiastes goes on “A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent, and a time to speak:. Chapter 3, 6-7.

In it all, let us always remember who we are. Peter calls us “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2,9. And whatever we do, we do it “for the Lords sake” 2,13. And we do it “so that in all things God may be glorified” 4,11.

Keep all this in mind, then “for everything there is a time” makes sense, because the hand of God is in it.
GPD 2/17/09

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/15/09

The Old Testament reading, and the sermon Text this morning was that story of Naaman, Syria’s army Commander who was a leper. The reading calls him “a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper”. He was sick, and there seemed to be no cure. Then a slave girl in the kitchen told her mistress, “If my master would only to be with the prophet in my home country, he would heal him”.

I believe it shows the desperation for healing that sent Naaman on this journey on the word of a slave girl. And it was impressive, outriders along, all the trappings of an important man, and carrying a gift of gold, silver, and clothes, five sets of new clothes, meant as a gift for the healing.
The king of Israel receives his visit with fear. “Can I heal? Am I a God,” he cries, and he tore his clothes, probably in despair, for he feared if he failed to heal this leper the Syrians would make short shrift of Israel.

Then Elisha heard of this matter and sent word to have Naaman come to him. So the parade lands at Elisha’s door, and, I always enjoyed this part, he sent a message to Naaman telling him to bathe seven times in the Jordan and he would be healed. Well, the man is insulted! “I thought he’d come out, perform some magic, maybe wave a wand over my head and chant some incantation. Bathe in the Jordan indeed. It’smuddy. My rivers at home are crystal clear.” And he starts to leave in a rage. But the servants point out this was “a great word the prophet has spoken”, and besides, “we’ve come all this way now, might as well, and see”.

So he did, was healed, and the word of the prophets proved true.

And the point is that the ordinary is all too often God’s way of dealing with us. Through Baptism, for instance, the ordinary water becomes “the water of life connected with His word of promise”. The Lord’s Supper, ordinary things become for us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Jesus’ own countrymen saw him only as “that carpenter’s son whose family we know”. Why, He grew up around here, he did work in our home, a teacher? Isaiah had predicted this, “He was stricken and afflicted, and we esteemed him not”.

Jesus one time complained, “Why do you now believe me”. Jesus also teaches, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” John 6,29. The truth is that “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than life, because their deeds were evil”. John 3,19. Instead, let us take the Word as Truth, and, like the disciples, admit “To whom shall we go, Thou hast the words of eternal life, for we believe that Thou art the Holy One of God.” John 6,68-69.
May the Lord bless such obedience to the ‘simple’ word God speaks.
GPD 2/25/09

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/14/09

Valentines Day and I am sending a dozen red roses. You can appreciate them best in your imagination.

What a day this is for this country. Washington passes a ‘stimulus package’ that one side says will ‘get this country moving again’, while the other side snorts that it is filled with a “massive collection of unnecessary spending, pet projects, and giant earmarks.” Only the future will tell.

What I firmly believe is that what we need is to work where we are to the best of our ability. There was a time when my freedom stopped where yours began. I was responsible for my own affairs, and if I could not afford a better car, I used the one I could afford. If a person could not afford a big home, he made do with what he could.

A business that failed to produce what people wanted, failed, and was replaced by another that did. In other words, each was personally responsible for his own actions.

Today, what a difference. People who can only afford coach demand first class. If they cannot afford to pay for something, they expect someone else to provide it for them. Instead of spending the time to acquire skills, they either cheat or demand standards be lowered so they ‘fit in’. And if they make a mistake, there is always someone else to blame.

In short, victimhood and entitlement has replaced common sense, self-reliance, and prudence

I was reading a letter written by one of the survivors of that Hudson river plane landing, and his conclusion seemed to be that each helped another. He and a fellow passenger, for example, pulled a woman who slipped into the icy water back on the wing and helped her to safety on a ferry.

That sort of attitude is what we need again in this land. Let us pray that the LORD will help us find the way, and keep us in safety while we blunder about finding the track again.

He does say, “This is the Way, walk ye in it,” and Jesus said, ”I am the Way the Truth, and the Life” words that are eternally true.

GPD 2/14/09

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shade Tree wisdom 2/11/09

Honesty is a clear conscience "before myself and before my fellow human beings." Honesty is the awareness of what is right and appropriate in one’s role, one’s behavior, and one's relationships. With honesty, there is no hypocrisy or artificiality which create confusion and mistrust in the minds and lives of others. Honesty makes for a life of integrity because the inner and outer selves are a mirror image.

That’s a quote from an encyclopedia. The laws of Moses detailed behavior about weights, about payments, etc. We say, “He has an honest face”, or “Give me an honest day’s work”, or “give me an honest answer”, or “I expect you to use honest measures”.

And maybe that is what is missing in all the debate and the many works and ideas floating around about our country’s problems. I was struck by the reaction to the speech of the new Secretary of the Treasury. The DOW fell 4.5%, and the general reaction seemed to be "what did he say?”.

Loren Steffy, a columnist in the Houston Chronicle, quoting Mr. Geithner, saying “We are exploring a range of different structures for this program, and will seek input from market participants and the public as we design it”, summed it up with this: “In other words, as we careen toward catastrophe, our plan is on work on a plan.”

How frustrating, and how hopeless does that make it sound.

So, where do we stand in all this, or how do we regard the problem the financial world faces?

Where the child of God always stands, and what he always does, listen to the Bible. St. Paul urges “1 The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. 2 Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. 3 This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. 4 He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we've learned: 5 that there's one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us — Jesus,” 1 Tim. 2,1-5. That ought always to be first in any agenda, for this God speaks a Word that is eternally truth.

May this God hear, send wisdom and care to the planning ones, and grant us patience to await His answer.

GPD 2/11/09

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/9/09

Well, we had a nice warn and easy rain when we awakened this day, but then it stopped. Though the predictions are for more rain today and for the rest of the week. We are 4 inches low for the year, I believe I mentioned that, but we shall leave the weather in the hands of our God, and rest content.

The Houston Chronicle has a little section titled, “Looking Back”. Today’s item mentioned that on this date in 1587 Mary, Queen of Scotts, was beheaded after she was implicated in a plot to assassinate her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. We know stuff like that has always been going on, but we don’t seem to gather any insight from it. So many times we are caught unaware by happenings in our lives.

Our financial problems will be in the news for some time. It seems it always takes us a longtime to gather insight. Why did this happen? One simple answer is we spent too much, often way beyond our money, and charged things, for the housing prices are always rising and there is always tomorrow. And our savings dwindled to almost nothing.

Here is a surprising thing. Your eyes blink twenty-five times an hour, and each blink last one fifth of a second. So, if you take a ten hour car trip and drive 40 miles an hour you will drive 20 miles with your eyes closed. That’s natural.

But there are people who drift through life with their eyes closed. They look, but don’t really see. They don’t develop insight. An example are the disciples in Mark 6. They had just seen Jesus feed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish with so much as 12 baskets filled with leftovers. Then He sent them on a boat trip and they ran into that storm. Jesus came, walking on water, and rescued them, and “they were astonished, or they had no gained any insight from the loaves, for their hearts were hardened.” Mark 6.51b-52.

The letter to Hebrews complains about that too. “11 We have a lot to explain about this. But since you have become too lazy to pay attention, explaining it to you is hard. 12 By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word. You need milk, not solid food. 13 All those who live on milk lack the experience to talk about what is right. They are still babies. 14 However, solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to know the difference between good and evil.”

Discernment between good and evil, for instance, is the result of training, study, prayer, and careful attention to what our God says and what is happening. Let not Satan divert your attention and cause dull hearing and lack of insight in this world we live in. May God ever help us guard against such.

GPD 2/9/09

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/3/09

Another sunny and rather warm day. The paper this morning called Texas a tinderbox and some counties have issued burn bans. This has been the 6th driest January in recorded history, nearly 3 inches less than normal rainfall. And the Midwest is receiving more snow, and Kentucky is still struggling with the aftermath of that ice storm.

And today, in 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. That’s the one that provides for federal income tax.

Life goes on, doesn’t it?

I’ve been reading again in the Book of Revelation the letters to the seven churches. I was especially drawn to the letter to the seventh church, at Laodicea in chapter 3, 14-22. It was a city in Asia Minor situated in the Lycos valley. The city was founded by Antiochus II and named after his wife, Laodike. The emperor populated it with Syrians and Jews who were transplanted from Babylonia. It was of little consequence till the Roman province of Asia was formed in 190 B.C. Then suddenly it became a wealthy center of industry. It was famous for the fine black wool of its sheep. Phrygian powder for the eyes was manufactured there. (3,18). It had a school of medicine and was home for extensive banking operations. A wealthy city, so much so that when earthquakes destroyed it, citizens rejected the offer of aid from Rome and rebuilt at their own expense.

Paul probably never visited there, but Christianity was probably introduced by Timothy, Mark, and Epaphras (Col. 1,7). It was the seat of a Bishop.

This is the Christian Church now called to account. Rich, self-sufficient, worldly, and that is what the letter mentions especially. You wear tattered clothes and aren’t aware of it! You’re stale, stagnant, self-sufficient, and say, “I need nothing”, and aren’t aware of how terrible your condition really is. Get eye salve from ME so you can see, let me furnish white clothing, dress you properly.

Then the letter adds, “The people I love, I rebuke and chasten, so repent, and I will sup with you.”

One of the dangers of the church is just that, becoming proud of who and what we are, and stopping to read His Book to see what He has for me today. They are not condemned for a specific doctrinal error, but for “luke warmness”. That can be fatal.

Complacent, stopping to do what Peter urges, “Grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Taking on the thoughts and actions of the world around us without thinking it through, simply doing what the world about us does and neglecting to look at issues and principles in the light of God’s Word.

I Pray the Lord preserve us from that illness, and keep us “only unto Him” till He calls us home.

GPD 2/3/09