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.”