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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


(This post is a continuation of last week's post. Please scroll down to see that one)
 In some ways, this thought of persecution is related to another statement of the apostle Paul. This verse is found in the book of Philippians, where Paul says that the goal of his life is to “Know Him (Christ), and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10 NAS).
What does he mean, I have often thought to myself, when he talks about the “fellowship of His sufferings”?
Actually, this statement is part of a more complete declaration of Paul’s concerning his life’s intent and drive. It is a passage of scripture that I have often read and quoted to myself as I was driving or doing other daily chores. In part it reads,

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11 NAS)

I will not comment on this entire passage here, since to do so would require me to write far more than you wish to read, but you can see why it is such a rich statement concerning purpose in living, and why it is such a fertile field for thought and contemplation. The question remains however: What does Paul mean when he speaks of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ?
"Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer
these things and enter into his glory?"
When we use the word suffering, it is usually in connection with a specific situation or ailment, as it is when we say that someone is suffering from cancer. Also, we most often connect it with some kind of pain or physical distress. Thus, when Paul speaks of “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings,” we normally think of it in terms of His death of the cross and the physical and psychological sufferings that led up to it.
In part, this is accurate, but just as we saw when we examined the Greek word for persecution, we can learn something when we look at the Greek word for suffering. When the gospel writers talked about the suffering of Christ on the cross, they use the word pascho, which in the Bible always does speak of suffering from a specific and painful experience. However, when Paul speaks of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, he uses a different word, pathema.
This word pathema also can carry the same specific significance and can mean the same thing as pascho, but it is sometimes also used in a broader sense, such as it is in Romans 7: 18-215:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (ESV)

Here, Paul is not speaking about a specific instance when he suffered from abuse or something else. Rather he is speaking about the general state of our times, when the whole direction of the culture and society of the world is constantly at odds with the teachings and the life of Christ.
In fact in some ways, even nature itself is in a stage of suffering. I do not know if Paul is speaking here of things that happen in nature like disastrous storms, floods, earthquakes and volcano eruptions, or if it is just the fact that there is the steady process of decay and death that is present. Perhaps it is all of these.
It is the very fact that we are called to live through these times, when we must deal with death, destruction and godless societies, that we share in the sufferings of Christ. This is what he means in our verses in Philippians, when he speaks of the fellowship of sufferings of Christ. That is why Paul told the Corinthians that “the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance.” However, with those sufferings, “so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Though our lives in this world present us with suffering, we also have the promise of comfort in the power of Christ.
There is something especially powerful about the bond between two people who have gone through a specifically difficult or stressful situation together. These people often feel as if there is a part of them that no one can understand, except for this other person who was with them and lived through those times. The most obvious example of this is two war veterans who endured the extreme stresses of combat together. When they reunite after the conflict, even many years later, they often do not even say a word, but simply look in the eyes of one another and know that the other person knows what has been endured. This is the fellowship of sufferings.
We may not normally compare our everyday life in the world with the stresses of war, but actually, in light of what is truly the situation, there are similarities. We are in the midst of a great conflict, and often the forces of this world seem to be tearing down the very fabric of all that has been accomplished in Christ. This is not the case, of course, but sometimes in midst of conflict, it difficult to maintain a realistic perspective.
When Paul speaks of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, we have the knowledge that Jesus has also experienced the stresses of living through this conflict. It is not that He is a sort of general, who merely directs troop movements and decides strategies from the comfort and security of an office, removed from the horrors of the war. He has lived through all of the conflicts Himself and actually, He has already achieved the victory.
We will notice that when Paul speaks of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, he puts it in the context of the power of His resurrection. One day this present conflict will also be over. When it is, we will look into the eyes of Jesus and share an understanding that goes beyond any words that we could speak. This is an understanding that comes from the fellowship of His sufferings.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Some time ago I read an interview with a Christian man from Ethiopia, one of the African countries in which persecution against Christians has been extremely violent in recent decades. I was taken with the fact that this man was not surprised in the least about the persecution that was occurring in his country. He almost expected that this should happen, and quoted the Apostle Paul, who said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV).
The Stoning of Saint Stephen - Rembrandt Van Rijn
This Ethiopian man, who had himself suffered greatly and had lost several family members who had been murdered because they were Christians, then asked a question that, I must admit, has haunted me in some ways. He asked, “Why is there no persecution in the United States? Do not the Christians in there desire to live godly lives?”
Despite what some individuals or groups may say, it is true that persecution against Christians in the United States is extremely rare; at least persecution at this same level. I will not deny that there is a definite political and social trend in America that is markedly anti-Christian, but our understanding of the word persecuted goes well beyond simple social trends. We think of persecution more in terms of what the Ethiopian man and the other Christians there were facing (and still are in many countries). However, there is an interesting twist to this word in the way that the apostle Paul uses it in various places.
In its root, the word in the Greek language for persecution does not necessarily mean what we normally take for the meaning of the word in English. The Greek word dioko is more general in its significance and means to pursue, or to follow. It is like a hunter tracking down his game or a detective looking for clues in order to solve a case he is working on: persistent and determined. It is true that it is mostly used in the very negative sense in the Bible, just as we use it today, but it is not always.
For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14, which immediately follows Paul’s great writing on the meaning of love in chapter 13, the apostle then says in the first words of the next chapter, “pursue love,” or “follow after love.” The word that he uses here is the word dioko, but if the Bible translators would have written persecute love, we would misinterpret entirely what Paul wanted to say to us.
There are several other similar uses in the New Testament, such as in Romans 14:19, which reads, “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
The word here for pursue, is persecute, but it would change entirely the meaning of the sentence for us to put in the word persecute. Paul certainly is not trying to tell us to bring harm and to fight against the things that make for peace. Rather, he is telling us to do all that we can to ensure peace and to build up one another.
Having brought out this root meaning for the word dioko, I should again say that most often it indeed is used in the negative sense and in a way that is similar to how we use it in English. However, seeing the real root meaning of the word, we can also see that persecution of Christians can take many forms, all of which are characterized by a relentless battle against believers and a wearing down of their values and lives. As Christians, we find that we must constantly be vigilant in a world that does not share our perspective.
Persecution then, means more than being beaten and murdered by a hostile government or an extreme religious group. If we take a stand against the world’s values, we can expect that there be some consequences. These consequences may come in the form of a relentless pursuit against our beliefs and principles, like a hunter stalking his prey. 
We will continue to be especially concerned, and to pray for our brothers and sisters who, like the man in Ethiopia, are going through severe persecution. However, we must also realize that if any of us truly desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus, we will also know what it is to see persecution.

In the next post I will talk about another verse that has always been intriguing to me and is related to this same subject of persecution. It has to do with the title of this post and I sometimes wonder especially what the apostle Paul meant by the phrase, “the fellowship of His suffering.”
“…That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Philippians 3:10 NAS)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


In our men’s Bible study this week we asked the question, “Where did evil come from and why did God allow it into His creation?” In order to get a handle on this thought, we examined the presence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that was found in the garden of Eden. The following writing is actually an excerpt from my book, Reaching for Eternal Truths. This specific passage of the book deals with the questions we were considering and is taken from the following Bible verse:

And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
 Genesis 2:8-9, NAS, emphasized text added

(Book excerpt, Reaching for Eternal Truths)
It is this second tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that is troubling to me. Of this tree, God told Adam, from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, NAS).
Why was this tree placed in the Garden at all? Certainly, God must have known that Adam and Eve would fail in this test. Would it not have been better to have no such tree—no such test that we could not pass? I say “we,” for in Adam and Eve, who were the progenitors of the human race, there is a sense in which they represent all of us in the Garden of Eden.
There is also another thought that has been somewhat troubling to me about the Tree of Knowledge. It is this: why is it that the knowledge of good and evil should represent death? Surely, the act of gaining knowledge should not mean death, should it?

The Rebellious Thought
 Although we are now, in this age, born with the inclination to do evil, it was not initially this way. God saw that all he created was good. In the very beginning, there was not the inclination to do evil. However, the possibility of evil did exist. What was this possibility of evil? Put simply, the possibility of evil was the knowledge that one could choose to reject good.
Adam and Eve at first existed in a perfect environment. They had ideal living conditions and fulfilling work. All that they had came from the hand of God. They knew it. God had provided everything and Adam and Eve were completely dependent upon Him. But the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil offered them something different. It offered them independence. Having the knowledge, they could then choose to follow God’s plan or not. They could become masters of their own destiny.
Certainly, God knew that given the opportunity, his created man would eventually choose to be independent from Him. It was this enticement of independence that Satan used to beguile Adam and Eve.
“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” he told them (Genesis 3:5 NAS).
It was the rebellious thought. It was Adam and Eve’s desire to be their own masters. This was the same primordial evil thought that entered the mind of Satan. Satan had said of himself, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14 NAS).

The Redemptive Power of Love
 Why did God allow such a possibility of evil to arise? Why did he place the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden? The answer to this question, I think, has much to do with something that Jesus said to his disciples:
“No longer do I call you slaves,” Jesus said, “for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, NAS).
When seeking the answer to why the Tree of Knowledge was placed in the Garden, it is good to begin the search with the realization that the reason that the tree was there must lie, to a very great extent, as a concession to the free will of man. We all know that it is possible to have the power to force someone to obey, but we do not and cannot have the power to force someone to love. There is something about the very essence of love that is tied up in the will, and without the individual’s act of the will, there can never be love.
God, in his creation of man, did not desire to create us to live according to his plan whether we wanted to or not. Rather, God seeks a people who desire to love him of their free will.
But it is also the second part of what Jesus said to his disciples that is of interest to me: “all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Here also is knowledge. However, this knowledge is unlike that which came to Adam and Eve in the garden. The knowledge to which Jesus is here referring is knowledge from the Father and is knowledge without corruption. I will not play the “what if” game and try to determine what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not sinned. Nevertheless, these words of Jesus to his disciples lead me to believe that it has always been the intent of God to reveal his full knowledge to us—not to become like gods, as Satan desired and with which he tempted man, but more as children growing in the understanding of their father.
It is a recurring theme with the Apostle Paul. The passages that have to do with this topic are many, but I will cite only one or two:
“Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7 NAS). Here is the image of God teaching us as a father would his son—knowledge without corruption.
A second passage is what Paul wrote concerning the churches in the cities of Colossae and Laodicea, that they would attain to “all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3 NAS).
Perhaps one more: Paul also told Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 NAS).

A Wrong Turn that is Made Right
 Paul’s basic teaching on this subject is that our quest to become like gods went wrong, and we instead have enslaved ourselves to sin. We sought freedom, but because we did so rebelliously, we found only slavery.
Beguiled by Satan, we decided to do away with innocence, thinking that it would lead us into knowledge. Indeed, it is true that innocence is not a part of knowledge, but we know from practical experience the dangers of “a little knowledge.” Any knowledge that has the capacity to be helpful can only come from maturity and experience. It is for this reason, we as parents do not teach our children about all the evils of the world as soon as they can talk. We allow them a time of innocence and first try to form in them values that will help them make wise choices when they begin to experience and learn knowledge in new areas. And when we teach them—we do it gradually. It is a process and it is growth.
Fortunately, for all of mankind, God has provided a path to restore our lost relationship to Him. We have learned that through Jesus Christ we can once again have a new manner of life. The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “For you were formerly darkness,” he says, “but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8, NAS).
With our redemption came forgiveness of the penalties that came with the rebellion. We have been freed from our position of slavery. We have been, so to speak, renewed in our relationship with God. We cannot say that it is exactly the same state of relationship as it was in the Garden of Eden, because innocence, once it is lost, can never be regained. However, with our redemption, we can begin again at the point where our Father is leading us into understanding. It is not as in the Garden after the rebellion when man was seeking understanding apart from the will of God.
It has never been God’s intention to keep us in the dark. Rather, like a loving father, he gives us what we can bear and understand. Jesus said to his disciples shortly before he was crucified, “For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light” (John 12:35-36, NAS).

Thursday, October 4, 2012


On a July day in the year 1969 (for those of us who are old enough to remember), all of us in the United States listened with great anticipation to what was about to happen. Some days before that day, a Saturn V rocket had taken off from Kennedy Space Center, and now, much to our amazement, the lunar module had actually landed on the moon and the first man was about to set foot on the lunar surface. As we sat and watched TV and as events unfolded, we saw the grainy video and we heard the crackling voice of Neil Armstrong saying, “That is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The mission of Apollo 11 had landed on the moon. It was the very first time man had visited another celestial body.

Do you believe that this really happened?

It was during the fourth lunar landing that I found myself sitting in a tea stall in a village high in the Himalaya Mountains. Across the table from me sat an old man from those mountains. As we talked, the crew from Apollo 15 was on the surface of the moon, not only walking around, but they even had a little car up there that they were driving around.
The old man had heard about this and asked me if I thought that it were true. It was evident to me that he did not. Frankly, I must say, that at that moment and in those primitive circumstances where the most advanced piece of technology was the tea strainer, I also found it a little difficult to believe (see the post from Feb, 2012).
There are, of course, people who do not believe that the United States ever landed on the moon and will vehemently put forth arguments that we did not. All of the video, all of the effects, they will say, took place on some Hollywood movie lot, and it was all contrived to convince the world of the superiority of the United States over the Soviet Union, with which we were in a “space race.”
Do you believe we ever landed on the moon? If you do, how would you prove it to someone who is an unbeliever? Any evidence that you could logically show him, he would simply deny or call into suspect its viability. Is there a way to physically prove it to him?
Ideally, one could say that if we could take the skeptic up to the moon and show him the hardware that was left behind, the American flag planted there and the footprints of the astronaut, these things could be presented as proof that was without denial.
However, there is a difficulty here. This is something that took place outside our field of experience. One could even say that it took place in another realm of existence about which we have no way of knowing or perceiving with our senses. Despite all of the evidences that we really did send men to the moon and despite how strongly you may believe all of these pieces of evidence to be true, there is no way to empirically prove this to a skeptic.

We come upon much the same problem when talking about the existence of God. There are a host of evidences that we see all around us, but if we think that we would be able to put together a list of empirical proofs that could convince any skeptic, we will fall short of our goal. Indeed, I question whether this should not even be our goal. We should never expect that any relationship that we, as mortal man, could have with the eternal Creator of the universe could be based upon God proving to us that He exists, as if He were the lesser man trying to convince a greater man to be his friend.
God tells us about Himself. We can read about His personality and His creativity. We can grow to understand that He desires for us to have a relationship with Him, but He also gives us the freedom to reject Him. It is amazing that, in the pride and the arrogance of man, most actually do reject Him. I will never understand how men can do this.

          We have begun a Bible study at our church where we are going through all the basic teachings of the Scripture, and we have started with how we can know that God exists. In this short post, I will not try to reproduce everything that we spoke about in the study, including evidences in nature, evidences in logic, and even evidences within our own beings and personalities.

     The only point I will leave you with is what has become perhaps my favorite Biblical passage concerning creation and the existence of God. The ancient man Job was a wise man. In the following quote from him, there is simplicity and, if you care to look, also astonishing depth:

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.  Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?

(Job 12:7-10 NAS italics added)