Sunday, December 30, 2012


Yesterday our son Matthew became married to a wonderful young woman named Sarah. They gave me the privilege of officiating at their ceremony. The following is a short excerpt from the wedding message.

 …I called this ceremony important, because it is. It is here today, that you are soon to make a commitment that will change your lives in many significant ways. Many people in our society are afraid of commitment. I am not only talking about commitment in marriage, but commitment of any kind. They are afraid that if they should make a commitment, they will limit their freedom.
This attitude is ultimately a very selfish one, of course, because in it, the individual is focusing only upon himself or herself, wanting to bring fulfillment only to themselves. But not only is this selfish; it is also very short-sighted and stems from an uninformed perspective on what truly brings fulfillment.
Contrary to what one might at first think, to find fulfillment in living, a person will never find it by focusing on himself or herself. Even when one thinks he is avoiding commitment and maintaining his “freedom” (as he defines it), he really still is committed. However, the focus of this commitment is only upon himself. He is thinking about what can make him happy, and no one else. This also is commitment, but it is a kind of selfish commitment and one that can never bring fulfillment. This is the kind of self-centered commitment that inhabits so many people of the world.
But the culture of Jesus is not the culture of the world. Jesus taught us that true fulfillment, true happiness, comes not from focusing on one’s own needs, but on the needs of others. He illustrated this principle by giving us an impactful example. At the time of the last meal that He was to share with His disciples, Jesus bent down and washed each of the disciple’s feet – a custom and a necessity that was common in that area of dusty roads and sandaled feet.
Then He told them this: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-15, 17 NAS).
Jesus told His disciples that they would be blessed if they would serve one another. The application is much wider than only footwashing. Jesus was teaching us the principle of focusing not on one’s own needs, but on the needs of others. He told us that we would be blessed if we did this.
That word blessed is one of those words that, if asked, many people would have a difficult time to define or even describe. We sometimes get the picture of a holy man of some kind placing his hand on our heads and telling us that we are “blessed.” But really, the root meaning of this word is simply, to be happy. Jesus tells us that we will be happy if we focus on the needs of others instead of our own needs and our own sense of importance. Happiness can never come from selfishness.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


One of the aspects of the Christmas story that has captivated me this year has been the message that the angel and a host of heavenly beings brought to the shepherds on the night that Jesus was born. The passage reads like this:

Angels Appearing to the Shepherds - Rembrandt
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

As we can see, first a single angel appeared to the shepherds, and then a “multitude of the heavenly host” joined this angel, praising God. This must have been astounding beyond comprehension for these simple and unpretentious men who lived the quiet lives of watchers of sheep and who were accustomed to long hours of stillness in the night hours.

We really have no idea how those shepherds must have felt on that night. We have seen so many nativity scenes of the shepherds with their staffs and long clean robes (white robes with powder blue accents seems to be the favored colors) that it is difficult for us to imagine what these men really were like. I called them unpretentious, and so I think they were, but these were also rough and probably ill-mannered men. They were of the lowest class of the local society, and their demeanor no doubt made that obvious. Anyone who has worked with livestock of any kind knows that clean chore clothes do not stay that way very long; and if working with livestock is really a person’s only life, he often does not bother to clean up very much.

 These shepherds were also men who were not accustomed to unusual events coming into their lives. “Today is pretty much the same as was yesterday, and tomorrow will be a repeat of today.” It is no wonder that they were “sore afraid” (as it is put in the King James’ English) when they saw the angel and the “glory of the Lord,” (whatever that actually was). When one thinks of these staggering events of the evening as compared to their normally quiet life, it is almost surprising that these shepherds were able to grasp the information that the angel told them about how to find the Christ child.

But the part of the message of the angels that I have thought about is regarding what the news of the birth of Jesus means to us as people. First of all, the angel said that he brought to us “good tidings of great joy.” After that, the heavenly host, in their praise to God announced “peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

As I try to imagine what the shepherds must have felt that night; the news that God brought them good tidings of great joy was probably the type of news that they did not hear very much in their daily lives. Another thing that they probably did not hear was that God was “pleased” with them (at least this was the inference). People in the lower rungs of society usually are not accustomed to someone telling them that they are pleased with them. Usually they are made to feel like they are a nuisance or that they are in the way.

Yet God sent His message to these unpretentious men. It was a message of peace. Despite what the powerful and influential people of our world would have us believe, peace in our world is not negotiated in the U.N. building, nor is found in treaties made in the highest ranks of government between rival and competing nations. Peace is found one person at a time. It is not found in the pride of men, but in the lowly. It is found in the simple things of life. Peace is not found in the movers and the shakers of the world, but in the humble and the merciful.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Thursday, December 20, 2012


The snow came in like a torrent.
Covering every tree limb and beast.
And the wind, as if by warrant,
Searched out every crevice and crease.

But the birds continued to feed,
They’re small, but not in the least frail.
And the cows, a strong highland breed,
Stood contently – backs to the gale.

Our dog Tilly sees her main task
As annoying the cats in the mow.
But sometimes, and without being asked,
She runs out to pester the cows.

I did not see the hens about;
They preferred the warmth of their coop.
Perhaps tomorrow they’ll come out,
(They tend to do things as a group).

And as for my day in the snow –
I busied myself on the farm.
I moved not too fast – not too slow,
Enjoying all this bucolic charm.

Monday, December 17, 2012


 There is one part of the Christmas story that is usually ignored, since it does not fit well with the idyllic image that we like to portray in this season. Nevertheless, this year it may have a special significance.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

This little part of the Christmas story is called Herod’s slaughter of the innocents or his massacre of the innocents. Herod had learned from magi (the wise men) about the birth of what they called “The king of the Jews.” It was Herod’s plan to allow the wise men to find this newly born baby, and when he knew of the location of this potential rival to his throne, to kill the child.
The wise men, however, were warned in a dream not to tell Herod, so they did not return to the king to tell him where the baby Christ child was to be found. When Herod understood that he had been tricked by the wise men, he carried out the despicable and hideous act of sending his henchmen to murder all of the male children of the region who were two years old or younger.

This year, we have had the agony of witnessing our own slaughter of the innocents. I know that what we have experienced has no relation to the Christmas story and it is not my wish to draw any parallels, except one. This I will do in a moment.
However, first I need to say that I have been a little dismayed that even before these little ones of Connecticut have been allowed their funerals, and before their families have had time even to begin to process their grief, we have occupied ourselves in serving our own interests. Our blogs, our facebook postings, and our editorial comments in the newspapers and on the television news have largely been occupied with the pros and cons of gun control and what we should or should not do in relation to private ownership and registration of firearms.
Not surprisingly, there seems to be little change in opinions one way or the other. What has happened is that both extremes on this issue have come up with their own statistics, analyses, facts and figures to corroborate their already predetermined opinions. Ammunition for arguments have been amassed on both sides.
I am not saying that this is not a worthwhile discussion, but somehow it seems to me that this is not quite the time. I know that many disagree with me and say that this is exactly the time, because we suddenly have been confronted with this issue. However, there is something more important we must do first – something that we cannot do if we occupy ourselves with finding backing for our arguments.
What we must first do is the single parallel I would like to make with Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Here is how the story continues after telling of Herod’s horrific act:

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
I do not presume to know what any of the families involved with this dreadful incident prefer at this time, but I think I know that if it were me who was directly affected, I would not want to talk about gun control at this time. Certainly I know that I would not want to have the life of my child made ammunition for an argument on either side of the issue.
Rather than any of this, I would just prefer to be allowed the freedom to grieve the loss of my innocent one, and to look for others who would help me in my grief.
It is time to raise our voices, but not in argument.  Rather, as a nation, we need to weep and lament the lives of these little ones.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I have really nothing of great significance to write this evening, but thanks to Facebook (or no thanks), many people from several countries know that today was my birthday. So, I thought that I would chronicle my day. I thought of this beforehand so I even took some photos.
It was a wonderful day. I woke up to our first snowfall of any real significance, about four or five inches. It was sunny early in the morning and then clouded over, and the new snow did what new snow does – it transformed the landscape into something entirely magical.
The snow also gave me a chance to try out my new (new to me) little skidsteer for plowing the yard and driveway. It worked great! Zip-zip, and I was done.
For part of the day I made some shelves for the shop of my nephew (at least, my nephew in a round-about shirttail-relation kind of way), but a highlight of my day was going over to my folk’s house, sitting on the deck and having a cup of coffee. Both my dad and my mom died some years ago, but quite a number of years ago, when we were once home for the winter, it was a very mild 10th of December. I went over to visit mom and dad. Mom and I sat out on the deck for a nice visit and a cup of coffee. After that, every year when Vivian and I and the boys lived overseas, mom would sit on the swing on my birthday and have a cup of coffee, remembering our time together.
That’s what I did today. It was not quite the balmy day that it was those many years ago, but the coffee tasted very good and I recalled many pleasant memories of growing up on that farm, and especially the memories of my mom.
Now, this evening I have with my Vivian. What could be better?  For my birthday, she made me a lemon meringue pie from scratch and using real lemons. I hope each of you also have a 61st birthday as nice!

Monday, December 3, 2012


It is December and we are entering into the Christmas season. The choir at our church sang a song yesterday that reminded me of a poem that I wrote on Christmas Day several years ago.

The first part of the poem (From Mary to me) is loosely based on the song that Mary sang (the Magnificat) after she learned that she was to give birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

The second part (To Mary from me), is my response 

(from Luke 1: 46-55)   
From Mary to me:
There are no words that I can speak
In any language of man,
That can express my thoughts unique
And say what no tongue can.

It is only my soul that can give voice –
My spirit must express my mind.
It is through these I will rejoice
And sing my song to all mankind.

God has remembered me – me His maid,
Though in humility I dwell.
To God I looked, I saw, I prayed,
And now His majesty I tell.

Great and holy is His name.
His arm does mighty deeds.
To our fathers He also came,
And the hungry ones He feeds.

And those, like me, the lowly ones,
He has chosen to exalt.
All human rule becomes undone,
Stuck down by prideful faults.

Generations will call me blessed,
For truly blessed I am.
But it is God’s works that I confess
With the faith of Abraham.

To Mary from me:
Sweet virgin mother Mary,
This one of whom you sing,
That little one you carry,
He is my Lord and King!

He may seem small and meek,
His tired little head will nod.
But when you kiss that chubby cheek,
You kiss the face of God!

He is the stalwart Lion.
He is the Paschal Lamb.
The mighty God of Zion,
He is the great I AM!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Angelus, by Jean-François Millet
It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. This is the day of the year that we, as a nation, set aside to give thanks. The first official Thanksgiving Day was made by a proclamation from our first president George Washington on October 3, in 1789. This proclamation said in part, that the day was set aside “to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”
Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, while still in the depths of the American Civil War, made the following proclamation:

"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God." (October 3, 1863)

On this Thanksgiving Day in 2012, we wake up to see that a ground war in the Middle East has been averted, at least for the moment. In our own nation however, the so called “Fiscal Cliff,” which has the potential of plunging our economy back into recession, has not yet been averted. In both of these instances, we can see that any solution that we can come up with to deal with problems in our lives, are temporary at best. We have yet to figure out how to have a real and lasting peace in our world. We have yet learned to run our economies in a way that brings real stability to our lives.

Last night Vivian and I attended the Thanksgiving service at our church. During that service, many people present took the opportunity to tell of the things for which they were particularly thankful this year. My Aunt Myrtle, who I don’t think will mind me saying is getting a little older, stood up and reminded me of something for which I am also eternally thankful – the Word of God.
I, myself am also a little older, and I have lived a life where I have repeatedly seen the failure of we, as a people of the world, to be able to figure out real and lasting solutions to the problems that come our way. As a result of what I have seen, I have lost any confidence in the notion that we are even able to come up with any real solutions. Instead, we have only come up with ways in which we can create even more instability and more chaos. True knowledge evades us.
Any true and lasting knowledge is not something that we are able to figure out by our own intellectual and social resources and capabilities. True knowledge is something that can only be achieved when one is looking at life from the perspective, not only of many generations, but from the perspective of eternity.
We do not have that ability. We try to preserve peace for even for just our lifetime, and we fail. We try to fix our economy so that the burden is not shifted onto the next generation, and I am afraid that we will also fail in that. Solutions to problems that we come up with are patches on old worn out tires that will only allow us to struggle down the road for a few more miles.
It is only God who possesses the perspective of eternity. True knowledge can only come to us by revelation, that is, by the Word of the Lord, the Holy Scriptures.
When presidents Washington and Lincoln spoke of giving thanks to “Almighty God,” there was no doubt in the minds of the peoples of their days that these presidents were talking about the Almighty God of the Bible. Today, people in public life hardly dare to speak like that in fear that they may lose some votes. I am not even sure to whom a lot of people are giving thanks on this day. By the activities of a great many people, it seems that they are giving thanks to the big chain stores, which have extended their bargains and sales so that people can begin the frantic buying today, on Thanksgiving Day.
Today, I instead give thanks to Almighty God, and I give thanks to Him for His word which He has spoken to us, so that we might know real and eternal truths.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Russian icon of the prophet Samuel

The Old Testament prophet Samuel had himself grown old. For many years he had served as a judge to the nation of Israel, but now his time was coming to an end. In those years of Israel’s history, the judge was actually the political leader of the country. In Samuel’s case, he was also the spiritual leader, and he led the people of the country to place their trust in the Lord God.
The old prophet had hoped that his two sons would take the office, but quite frankly, they were not fit for the job. They had abused their position and become accustomed to using their influence to pervert justice and to accept bribes. The people of Israel were looking for a change.
But this desire for change was based not only the inadequacy of the sons of Samuel to assume the task of leadership; this seemed only to be a convenient justification for the people’s desire for a new rule. The real reason was the Israelites had begun to look at the other nations of the area as models for how they wanted to live. They told Samuel, “Appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 NAS).
Samuel explained to the people the disadvantages of having a king. Having a king would mean an intrusion into their private lives as never before. Samuel told the people that their sons and daughters may very well be taken from them in service of this king. Their best land could also be confiscated, and they would be taxed on their produce and their lands.
But the people did not listen. They told him, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 NAS).
Code of Hammurabi
This desire to be like the nations was troubling to Samuel. What was happening in the nations of that day was a steady growth in the power of the governments over the lives of their citizens. This trend actually began hundreds of years before this time and can be especially seen in the well-preserved Code of Hammurabi of Babylon. Even before Hammurabi, king Lipit-Ishtar of Sumer (ancient Assyria) wrote what was the first known set of laws that were intended to go beyond keeping peace in the country. The code sought to regulate society in every way. As far as historians have been able to tell, this is the first time that anybody thought that a set of laws could have this level of power and intrusion into the lives of people.
Surviving fragment of the Code of Lipit-Ishatar
These ancient codes are usually purported as the noble attempts of rulers to bring peace, stability and harmony in their societies, and so they were. But they also began a trend in which the ruling governments of the nations sought to determine almost every aspect over the everyday lives of its inhabitants. It was about this pattern of the nations that Samuel tried to explain to the people of Israel when he told them about what a king might demand of them.
We might ask about the reason for Samuel’s opposition to this desire. If the people wanted it and if the codes of some of the nations were attempts at bringing harmony within their borders, why should Samuel object?
Samuel’s objection was because the people already had a code. They had the Law of the Lord God. This Law also had as one of its purposes to bring harmony and peace for the people, but it did so in a way that the people would look to God to fulfill their needs – not to the government. In addition to this, the Law of God sought to preserve the individual freedoms of the people and not take them away.
        It is true that the Law of God also regulated many areas of living, but if the people would have continued to live by its statutes, they would have eventually seen that the ultimate purpose of the law would be to lead them into the grace of God. It would lead to complete freedom under Him. It is not the same with earthly governments. Once a government is given a power over the people, they will only increasingly seek more control.
The desire to be like the nations was a rejection of God’s law and provision, and a rejection of the Lordship of God. The people no longer wanted to look to God, but instead wanted a government to care for their needs. God plainly explained this to Samuel when He told him, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.”
However, the people were insistent and God relented. He continued and told Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint for the people a king.”
This was the beginning of the line of kings for the ancient Jewish people. As we read in the history of the kings, many of these kings led the people into evil, although several were good kings. The greatest of these of course was King David. The point of God’s initial objection does not seem to be because of a particular form of government, but that the people preferred to look to their earthly ruler for their needs instead of Him.
It is slightly ironic that it was the nations that the Israelites wanted to emulate that eventually would go to war with the Jews, occupy their country, and then deport them. Conversely, here is what the apostle Paul would say more than a thousand years later in service to God:

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NAS)

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Someone may want to help me with my history, but as a boy and young man, I do not remember anyone talking about “red states” and “blue states.” However, during election seasons in these days, we hear some application of that concept on every newscast. The blue states are those which will almost certainly vote to have their delegates cast their ballots for the democratic candidate for president, and the red for those who will vote republican. Of course, with those two divisions also come states that do not fall neatly into either category. These have been called the "swing states." This is where Wisconsin falls this election.
It is in the swing states where the candidates evidently put most of their money for political advertisement, and all of us are tired of reading them, seeing them on TV, hearing them on the radio, and receiving them in our mailboxes. As one citizen of the state of Ohio put it (Ohio is another state like Wisconsin but even more greatly contested), “Living in a swing state is not nearly as fun as it sounds.”
Another term for a swing state is a battleground state. This leads me to the subject of this blog post. Under our system of delegate representation for the states, I understand the need for the two parties to strategize in order to win the delegates from the various states. I also understand that there are certain positive aspects of the electoral college process, but in the past few decades, an unfortunate result has been a map of our country that highlights division: Red vs. Blue. It may be that the swing states are called the battleground states, but in some ways, the whole country has become a battleground.
Of course it is important in every election to distinguish the differences between the two candidates, but recent elections have become downright nasty. Not only are the candidates nasty to each other, but if you dare to look at facebook or any other social media, you can see that the supporters of these candidates are even more nasty to one another. We are becoming more divided as a country than we have been at any time since the civil war, more than 150 years ago.
And the red/blue map of the U.S. only tends to reinforce that division. It is sickenly reminiscent of the maps we used to study in U.S History that showed the division between the confederate states and the union states. We recently even had some war like tactics here in our state of Wisconsin, when there was an “occupation” of our state capital building. These types of things should not happen in a United States and shows that we have forgotten how to relate to those of differing opinions in a civil and courteous way.
On Tuesday we go to vote. No one in our country is able to predict with any amount of certainty who our next president will be. I encourage all eligible voters to cast their ballot for the candidate that they sincerely think will help our country the best, which may not necessarily be the one who will bring the most benefit to them personally. Then, when it is all over, I encourage all people to strive to work together to do some actual good for our country. We might be surprised what can happen – congress might even decide to get something done.
One of our greatest presidents was the one who presided over the nation at the time of its greatest peril and when our nation was divided along the lines of that other map of the states. This was Abraham Lincoln during the years of the Civil War. I close with a quote from him:
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

Monday, October 29, 2012


The name of the town near where we live is Ogema, Wisconsin.

Ogema is a word from the native American Ojibwa (or Chippewa) language, and means chief. I do not know much about that language, but my understanding is that it was a title, and when referring to the chief of a tribe, Ogema was put before the name of the chief.
For example, according to the centennial commemorative book for the town of Ogema, in the early days there were two Indian chiefs who would travel through the area from time to time. One of them was Ogemageshic, and another had the more impressive name of Ogemawausaukenaba.

You will also see in this last name the word “Wausau,” which is also a name for a larger town in our area. This word means “a place that can be seen from far away.” This is an appropriate name for this town since there is a very large hill there called Rib Mountain, which rises high over the surrounding hills of the area.

In the early years of the settling of our area, a railroad named the Wisconsin Central was built, coming up from the southern part of the state. For a time, the work was suspended at the site of the present day town of Ogema. A railroad turntable was built there by the company, and naturally, a settlement soon began to grow up around this railroad head.

When it looked like there was a beginning of a town there, the settlers decided that they should give it a name. It actually was first given a name by an official of the Wisconsin Central Railroad. He called it Dedham, after the town of Dedham, Massachusetts. This man had come from Massachusetts and had named many of the towns along the rail line after towns in that eastern state: Westboro, Chelsea, Medford, Dorchester and Marshfield.

The residents of our area decided that they did not want their town to be called “Dedham,” (we have never liked to have our ways dictated by someone out east) and met to decide on a better name. One of the early settlers was an Irishman named Holmes who had become somewhat prosperous for his time.  He had built a sawmill near the town, then a boarding house and a row of one-room houses for his mill workers. Because of his standing in the young settlement, someone suggested that the town be named “Holmesville.”

Much to Holmes’ credit, he did not want the town to be named after him. The people then decided to give it a native name: Ogema, named after one of the two Indian chiefs that I mentioned earlier.

So that is how our town came to have its name: Ogema (no, it is not Omega, as it is written on a good percentage of letters addressed to our town). It is not a French name, as many towns in Northern Wisconsin have, since the very first explorers were French and the area was even once called “New France.” Nor is it an English name, named after a town in England, nor any name from the European continent. It is an indigenous name. An Indian name. A Native American name.

I have always been glad that our town has had this unusual name. It is a gesture of recognition given to the very first settlers of our area. It also seems to me that it speaks rather highly of the early European settlers, who in giving this new town an Indian name, showed that they held these Native Americans in high regard.
I think this photo is the greatest. I had to add this in
 All of these photos are from private collections
and appear in the Centennial Book of Ogema, Wisconsin