4th Lenten Wed 2021

My thesis for this fourth Wednesday in Lent is that Easter is the greatest event in the history of the world.

The five events of our Lord Jesus, which form these Lenten Wednesday meditations, each are, in order, the greatest events of all time. How can this be? Think of these events as you would other achievements. Take the baseball home run record. When Babe Ruth hit his 139th home run, he became the greatest home run hitter of all time, passing Roger Connor. When Hank Aaron clobbered number 715, he surpassed Ruth. That Aaron was now the home run king in no way took away from Ruth’s achievement, or Connor’s.

The same goes for Christmas, then Good Friday, and so forth. But, with the events of the Lord, it was imperative that the next event take place, or the previous event would cease to be great.

Christmas was the greatest event of all time, but Christmas would not even have made it into the record book if Good Friday had not taken place, because if God had been born into our flesh, but had not died for our sins, Christmas would have done us no good.

The same goes for Good Friday. That God-in-the-flesh Jesus died on a cross means nothing if He is not raised from the dead, because everyone dies. That Jesus died was phenomenal, because Jesus is God—let’s repeat last week’s mantra: Jesus is God. Jesus died. Therefore, God died—but, truly, if Jesus had stayed dead, His death would have been just another death. As the Holy Spirit had Paul write in First Corinthians, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we would be stuck in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

But, Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who will be raised from the dead. That is, Jesus was first, and there will be a bunch more. You and I intend to be among that bunch more.

God’s Word makes it clear that Jesus’ resurrection was imperative to the plan of salvation, and God’s Word makes it clear that Jesus was raised in His body—the same body that had been laid in the tomb—and God’s Word makes it clear that His resurrection paves the way to your own resurrection.

Yet, as there are those who are offended at the idea of Christmas—that God would have intimate contact with this world, and that God has a Son, and that God took on a body—and as there are those who are offended at the idea of Good Friday—that God died in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and that it had to be the God-man Jesus who paid for the sins of the world, and that God the Father would require a blood sacrifice—so are many offended at Easter. And, as with Good Friday, the ones who are offended at the idea of Jesus Christ being bodily raised from the dead come from inside Christianity.

The thing that always nags at us old-fashioned Christians is that the Word of God makes it so clear that Jesus came back from the grave in a body of victory over death and devil and damnation. Jesus, Himself, when the disciples were scared at whom they were seeing, ate fish before them and declared that ghosts don’t have flesh and bone as, clearly, He had. And, Jesus made sure that His resurrection was verifiable by appearing on numerous occasions, in numerous places, to numerous individuals and groups of people.

Even with all of that, there are Christians who are skeptics. They have come up with every goofy idea under the sun as to what really happened on the third day after Christ’s death. Some have said that after Jesus had been laid to rest in the cool tomb, He revived from His wounds. Are you kidding me? He had been whipped and beaten to within an inch of His life, then He had been nailed to a cross, then they pierced His side, and the water that flowed from His side showed that He had suffered congestive heart failure.

If laying people in cool tombs is so wonderfully effective at bringing them back from such horrific damage to their bodies, then why aren’t we laying in cool tombs accident victims, and stroke patients, and those battling cancer and other debilitating diseases? It seems to me we have missed out on a marvelous cure for what ails us, if it worked so well on Jesus.

Others say that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, He only swooned. Swooned. That’s the word they use. I looked it up. To swoon means to lose consciousness, to faint, to conk out.

Still others say that, while Jesus really died, He didn’t really come back from the dead in His body. These say that Jesus’ resurrection was not from the grave, but in the hearts of the disciples. See, it’s like this: the disciples were so impressed by Jesus’ sermons and miracles, and they were doubly impressed by how He took His unjust arrest, conviction, and crucifixion, that they experienced a resurrection of Jesus in their hearts—they were so moved by Jesus’ love that they were able to conquer their fear that they, too, were going to be crucified, and they went out and became the apostles that Jesus appointed them to be.

I kid you not.

These are supposedly Christians I’m talking about, who have come up with this pure and utter nonsense. No, much worse than nonsense, it is heresy; it is dangerous to everyone’s faith, who puts their faith in any teaching that is contrary to the Word of God. Indeed, to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so vital to one’s faith, look how the Spirit had Paul write about it in Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

What we have in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world. Why would anyone want to dilute what God promised, what Jesus fulfilled, what the Holy Spirit had recorded in the Bible for our joy and edification?

And, yet, still more want to dilute it. There are those who feel that the spirit is more important than the body. Is our spirit—that is, our soul—more important than our body? We are made up of both body and soul. If our soul is more important than our body, why would God the Son have been born into a body, and died in that body, and resurrected in that body? Why do we keep wanting to dilute the greatest events of all time, the incarnation of God the Son for the purpose of dying for our sins and opening the gates of eternal life through His bodily resurrection?

Since you know the rest of the story of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, and that He will return on the Last Day to put an end to this fallen and corrupt world with the resurrection to the perfect Paradise of forever, consider how Jesus’ resurrection works for you—how Easter has come to you, personally.

In Romans 4:25, the Holy Spirit had Paul write that Jesus was put to death for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification. This means that His death paid for our sins and, with His resurrection from the dead, we stand before God’s throne with the declaration of being not guilty of our sins, for Christ’s sake.

This is the gift the Holy Spirit worked in you when He enlightened you with the gift of faith. This is the gift sealed in you when you were bathed in Jesus’ crucifixion and raised with Him in His resurrection.

He was born, and died, and raised to new life so that He would live with you and you with Him.

And so you do.

And so you do!

Easter, the greatest event in the history of the world, has set the table for our Lord’s ascension into heaven, which will be—you guessed it—the greatest event in the history of the world. Amen.

You took care of me

Dear St. John, Port Hope; my brothers and sisters in Christ~

As March 4 marked twenty years since I was installed as your pastor, I am reminded of April 29, 2001. It was as important a day in my life as any.

I’d been your pastor only eight weeks. This Sunday afternoon was the quarterly voters meeting. When I was called on to open the meeting with prayer, I did not. Instead, I informed you that my wife was divorcing me.

I explained all that I could, and that since I learned of it on April 2 I had spoken with our Circuit Visitor, Pastor Lueke, and then with a few of our church leaders. I told Pastor Lueke that if I needed to resign, I would. After he looked into things, he came back to tell me that my resignation would not be necessary.

Even so, when I spoke with the leaders of the congregation, I said, “If I am a disgrace to the congregation, I will resign.” They echoed Pastor Lueke. Now, to bring it before the congregation.

I concluded my part saying that I had offered my resignation to Pastor Lueke, and then to the leaders, and they all had told me it wasn’t necessary. Still, I said, if you all decide that my divorce is too big an offense I would resign immediately.

I then left the meeting. After a bit, Pastor Lueke walked over to the parsonage. His words are etched in my memory: “I don’t know what you’ve done in the two months you’ve been here, but these people love you. They voted unanimously that they want you to stay.”

You took care of me. And—keeping in context what I will now say—you saved me.

If I had to resign, I had no idea what I was going to do, where I was going to go. And I had three of my four children living with me, the new single parent. Emotionally ripped apart by the divorce, I was depressed. And I was scared.

You took care of me. With your vote of confidence, the repairing of my heart was able to begin.

And then, for thirteen years, you kept on taking care of me.

My divorce still fresh, in September I introduced Julie to you. You received her with the same affection you gave me. And, adding suddenness to suddenness, we married before the year was out. And how did you react? You rejoiced with us. You filled the church for our wedding and threw us a lovely reception.

And then you kept taking care of us. You were generous to me in the salary you provided, in the regular raises, and the outstanding health care benefits.

And the parsonage! Do you know that I told anyone and everyone that we lived in the best parsonage in the Missouri Synod? If only I had a pizza for every time I said that!

You took care of the parsonage, which meant you took care of us. You installed new windows, new carpeting and linoleum, a new water heater, a patio (using Julie’s design) off the basement door, and an entirely new kitchen (allowing Julie and me to select everything), and remodeled the bathroom in the master bedroom.

And you took care of us by treating us as regular folks. You never pressured Julie to do this or that. (How often, in the past, the pastor’s wife was expected to lead the choir or teach Sunday School.) Julie was free to be her own person. When she became secretary for the church school, it was her choice. She loved the work and interacting with staff and families.

And you took care of our kids. You didn’t treat them like PKs—pastor’s kids. They got to be regular kids. Regular kids. Never pressured to act better—as if they could!

And when the boys made a studio out of a corner in the basement, and their electric guitar and drums could be heard on the street, no one every told me, “Pastor, we can’t have that.” Nope, not once.

You know, I had been warned that Port Hope was a challenging place to be a pastor. That the members of St. John could be hard on their ministers. I never understood that. I never experienced that. I never had to tell anyone, “They sure are!” Rather, I always said, “If they used to be, they sure aren’t now. They treat me wonderfully.”

You proved it at the beginning, and you proved it at the end. When I needed to take a leave of absence, you rallied behind me. When I returned from a month away, you received me with joy. When I said I was going to try to hang in there and not retire, you encouraged me. And when I wasn’t able, you threw us a splendid going away party.

You took care of me. From the folks who came to Iowa to move me to Port Hope, to the folks who came to the parsonage to pack the truck for our departure, and every day in between, you took care of me. You took care of us.

Remember how I often concluded the Sunday announcements, “It’s just another day in paradise”? It was you, who made living in Port Hope a paradise for me.

Though I am sad not to be with you in Port Hope, I rejoice that we will enjoy the ultimate Paradise together, when we are gathered to our Lord Jesus. He is the reason I was sent to you. He is the reason you took care of me. Soon, we will rejoice together with Him, and never again have to say goodbye.

3rd Lenten Wed 2021

My thesis for this third Wednesday in Lent is that Good Friday is the greatest event in the history of the world.

Last Wednesday, I said that Christmas was the greatest event in the history of the world. And, it was—for the time being. God had come in the flesh of a human being. He did it in humility, allowing Himself to begin life the way that you began life. He made it so that He who created hearts and lungs and mouths was now required to have His heart continue to beat, and His lungs keep on breathing, and His mouth take in food, if He were to continue to live.

That’s the thing. Now that God was a human being, He was subject to the laws of the world He had made. Jesus was able to take on the sins of the world, though He would not sin and was without a sinful nature. He was free from sin, because sin comes from Adam, and the Bible traces the sinful nature through the father, and the Lord Jesus had no earthly father.

The wages of sin is death. Jesus was born into the world for the purpose of paying for your sins. Therefore, Jesus was born to die. This is what makes Good Friday take over the position of the greatest event in the history of the world, because, in the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus Christ, God died.

Um, what? God can’t die!

Right?

Wrong.

It was my first semester of my first year of seminary. I was sitting in Dr. Burgland’s New Testament Isagogics class. Isagogics is too fancy a word; they could have called it Introduction to the New Testament, but they love confusing first year students, which Dr. Burgland immediately did when he challenged us with the question: can God die?

We virtually hollered back to him that, no, of course God can’t die. God is eternal, with no beginning and no ending. He can’t die. He’s above death. Death comes from sin. God isn’t a sinner. Dr. Burgland was clearly seeking to lead us astray.

Over the years, I asked the question in Bible class probably a few dozen times. The vast majority answered that God can’t die.

Here’s where we get hung up. The problem doesn’t begin with the notion of God dying. Rather, it begins with the fact that God became a human.

You don’t have a problem with God becoming a human. As I said, last week, you celebrate Christmas with birthday party-like revelry. But, if you are so easily over the hump of God becoming human, then it should be no leap of faith to hurdle the fact that God died.

If God can become a man, then God can die, because humans can die. God became fully human. God the Son became the Son of Mary, and was given a human name: Jesus. Jesus is God. Jesus died. God died.

When we keep it that simple—Jesus is God, Jesus died, God died—we can grasp it and we get it right. But people don’t keep it simple, and as I outlined last week regarding how philosophers and other religions are offended at the thought of God coming into direct contact with this corrupt world, and finding it patently ridiculous that God has a Son and that Son became a human being, so are many offended at the talk of God dying. Only now when I talk about those offended by talk of God dying, I’m not talking about other religions, but about our own Christians.

One of the theological opponents of Martin Luther—the man with my favorite name: Ulrich Zwingli—could not accept God’s dying. So, Zwingli decided that, just before Jesus was nailed to the cross, the God part of Jesus fled back to heaven, leaving only the human part of Jesus to die.

In this sort of thinking, Zwingli is not alone. Throughout the last two thousand years of history, Christians have reasoned and rationalized how Jesus’ death did not mean that God died.

To jump this hurdle, we have to ask: God the whom?

I am not saying the Father died, nor did the Holy Spirit die. Jesus is God the Son. But, Jesus is God, one hundred percent.

Jesus is God. Jesus died. God died.

Why is it important for us to get this right?

Which typical human is able die for the sins of the world? Which humans can pay for their own sins with their own deaths?

You likely know the verse, that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). You all know the truth, that everyone dies. That you keep on burying your loved ones, and that you, too, are heading toward the grave, is proof that all of us are sinners.

But, Jesus wasn’t a sinner. Jesus was born without Original Sin. Jesus faced Satan for forty days and forty nights and fended off the devil’s every temptation. Throughout His life, Jesus never gave into a temptation and never failed a test. Jesus always loved, always served, always obeyed—both God the Father and His fellow man.

Here is where it all comes together. We couldn’t die for our sins as payment, because we are sinners. God had to become a human being so that there could be one person in the history of the world who was without sin, who was perfectly obedient to the commandments, who loved without fail.

This one sacrifice had to be a man, because, otherwise, God can’t die. This one sacrifice had to be God, because sinners can’t die for their own sins. This one sacrifice had to be God in the flesh, born of a woman. He was named Jesus, because Jesus means the Lord saves.

The verse which speaks directly to the amazing truth that God died for us is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Because God became a human being in the person of Jesus, He made it possible for Himself to die, because it was possible for sinless Jesus to take our sins into Himself. Because God so loved the world, He gave His only Son into death—God died on the cross—so that, believing in Jesus, you have eternal life.

Since you know the rest of the story of Easter, the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, and that He will return on the Last Day to put an end to this fallen and corrupt world with the resurrection to the perfect Paradise of forever, consider how God’s death works for you—how Good Friday has come to you, personally.

Romans chapter six enlightens you as to how Jesus’ death with your sins in His flesh was personally given to you: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” More than your sins having been buried with Christ in His grave, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Here’s the beauty of God having died for the sins of the world, and your having been baptized into Christ’s death: you have already beaten death. Through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior has joined you to the reason He took on your human flesh—to die for you so that you could live with Him.

And so you do.

And so you do!

The death you will die will only be to your body; your soul will live in eager expectation of the resurrection you will have, which will be exactly as Christ’s resurrection.

Just as personally as God died for the sins of the world in the person of Jesus, Jesus’ death has come into you, so that when you die you can go into heaven.

Good Friday, the greatest event in the history of the world, has set the table for Easter, which will be—you guessed it—the greatest event in the history of the world. Amen.

How do you react?

When something big has happened in your life, how do you want others to react? If you share good news, do you want hooray and good job and hugs? If you share bad news, do you want commiseration and compassion and hugs? And if you share news that’s hard to reveal, do you want others to listen, to truly hear you, to dig in with their love for you … and hugs?

This piece is about how people have reacted when a loved one or colleague told them they are transgender. To set the stage, I return to an event of thirty years ago.

Back in the days of my working in an office, one afternoon a car veered off the road, came into our parking lot, and hit the car of one of my coworkers. Her husband worked nights and they lived nearby, so she called him.

Some of us were in the parking lot as he arrived. Exiting his truck, he was huffing and puffing and screaming bloody murder: “We’re going to sue!” He did not wait for anyone to speak. He asked no questions. He only began ranting. His embarrassed wife tried to calm him.

I had never seen such a display of someone with no concern for anyone else, who took no control of his temper. Any respect I might have had for him was out the window.

Our immediate reaction to a big event can set the stage for everything to follow. Think of your first impression of people upon meeting them. It’s the same idea.

As my books are gradually finding a wider audience, I’m hearing from more folks—the trans persons telling family of their gender dysphoria, and the family members of trans persons. I’m struck by the first reactions.

I return to Julie’s first reactions to me. Before we married, I told her I was a crossdresser. Her reaction was to calmly say she knew nothing about this, that she wanted me to teach her, and that she could tell this was an integral part of who I am.

Twelve years later, when I was crushed with gender dysphoria, I told Julie I didn’t know if I would survive if I had to remain male, that I might need to transition to living as a female. As previously and according to her nature, she calmly replied, “We’ll figure it out.” (Here’s what I wrote about it, in 2016: https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/well-figure-it-out/)

If Julie had replied with the “We’re going to sue!” equivalent—“I didn’t sign up for this”—I can’t imagine our marriage surviving or, perhaps, me surviving.

As I went public about my experiencing gender dysphoria, the initial reactions ranged from understanding to judgmental. When I announced I was transitioning, the hardest ones to swallow were “The devil is leading you by the nose” and “You’re following the ways of the world” and, addressing the severity of my suffering that was leading me to try transitioning, one pastor said, “Surely, it’s not that bad.” That ended our relationship.

Many first reactions were two quotes of the Bible. First, that God created males and females. Second, that men shall not wear women’s clothes and vice versa. Every time these reactions were presented, the person thought they provided the absolute judgment and the case was closed.

I wish I’d kept track of how many times I was told, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Of course, this is true. Also of course, it has nothing to do with the topic. Using this with a person whose sense of self is in conflict with his biological sex, that it can’t be because God doesn’t make mistakes, is akin to telling a person with cancer that it can’t be because God declared “good” the creation of everything and, clearly, cancer is not good. I guess these tumors are all in these folks’ heads.

The reactions I’ve quoted all served to shut down the conversation. In some cases, I suspect that’s what people wanted. It’s like with an in-person conversation, when someone says, “Well, I just don’t agree!” and leaves.

In other cases, they kept writing to me on social media and using email, but never came off their initial reaction. While they might have been convinced that I wasn’t making my case, because of their initial reactions I feared they had their minds made up and there would be no budging.

I won’t make the joke, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” but I’ve thought it often.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I received an email from a woman. She’d just found my books, bought both of them, and was midway through reading. That evening, she had finished them.

Here are the opening words of her review of my memoir, A Roller Coaster through a Hurricane:

Suppose you found out that a terrible fire had left your adult child a burn victim? You would look for every answer that might minimize your loved one’s suffering. If you found the memoir of someone who himself was a burn victim and had been treated by the finest care available, you would scour that book, searching for understanding of how your child feels and any clues to effective treatments.

Now, there’s a first reaction for the ages.

Her full reviews are worthy of reading. Here are screen shots of both. Following them are the links to both pages, where you can read many more excellent reactions.

2nd Lenten Wed 2021

My thesis for this second Wednesday in Lent is that Christmas is the greatest event in the history of the world.

Christmas is the birth of Jesus. Christmas is the birth of God in human flesh. Christmas means that true God now dwells in the skin and with the heart of a human.

It’s the greatest event, and it’s the craziest scheme in the history of the world. Indeed, what you celebrate with joy as the most natural thing in all the world—that God loves you in such a way that He would become one of you, because that’s what it would take to save you—that you mark the occasion without batting an eye at the notion, with birthday-party-like merriment—is completely contrary to how people have thought about God down through the ages, and how God can or cannot, would or would not, come into contact with the created world.

You are familiar with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, those great Greek thinkers who lived around four centuries before our Lord Jesus walked the earth. Those philosophers recognized that the world is a fallen place, that, even if they didn’t believe in Adam and Original Sin, they agreed that the world is a corrupt place. And, they reasoned, eternal God—however one conjured a creator—so transcended the created world, and was so set apart from corruption, that He thus could not, nor would He, have direct contact with the created world.

So, the Greek philosophers reasoned that God must have created the world by a series of emanations. Think of a stone thrown into a pond, and the concentric waves set off by the stone’s splooshing into the water. In this view, God is in the position of the stone, and the world is way out at the furthest of the waves which the stone has created. To the philosophers, this is the closest God can get to fallen, corrupt creation.

Before the Greek philosophers, there was Buddha. Well, the man, Siddhartha Gautama, who came to be called Buddha—which means awakened one—didn’t consider himself fully weaned off the snooze button until he spent many hours under the Bodhi tree. Buddha determined that enlightenment had to come from within one’s heart, that the only way to become a liberated human being was to completely let go of this world.

Buddha came up with a list called the Four Noble Truths. First, he recognized that suffering exists. But, number two, suffering is attached to our earthly desires. So, number three, suffering can only cease when we cut off all earthly desires. Thus, number four, to achieve the total ending of all desires, one must follow his eight-step program and to live by right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Regarding God, Buddha believed that believing in God actually is a form of desire, one of our many attachments to this world which causes suffering. Thus, the desire for God must be given up. To Buddha, humans are their own gods, and they will only be at peace when they reach nirvana—a complete freeing of one’s mind from all worldly things.

Buddha would say that the notion of God becomes harmful, where the Greeks found it impossible for God to interact with the world. That takes us to the religion of Islam, where they are completely offended at the possibility that God has a Son.

The funny thing about Islam is that they don’t reject the idea of Jesus, but, to them, Jesus is not the Son of God. Rather, He is a prophet. And he’s not as important of a prophet as is Mohamed. But, that Jesus is God’s Son—that anyone could be God in the flesh of man—that is a complete impossibility.

These are but three of the many and various views about God and, clearly, none of them can embrace the idea of Christmas. For Muslims, Allah is very much as the Greeks thought of him—so set apart from this world that he could never be born into it. The Greeks had to come up with a pantheon of gods who ruled the world—Zeus and Hera, who are the king and queen gods; Poseidon, god of the seas; Apollo, god of light; and so on.

As for poor Buddha, who rejected the very notion of God, the Hindus made him a god and added him to their stable of millions of gods.

Finally, there is the modern philosopher, Bette Midler, whose popular song epitomized a common view of the deity: “God is watching us, from a distance.” Sounds Greek to me.

You might be familiar with the Bible verse, that we humans cannot conceive what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). Conceive is exactly right. We are so busy trying to figure out God, and how to get to God, and how to be God, that we could never conceive that God could or would be conceived in a human being. This is the beginning of why Christmas is the greatest event in the history of the world.

  • We couldn’t conceive that God, being so above this creation—so holy and separate from the fallen and corrupt world—could or would make a human body for Himself.
  • We couldn’t conceive that the way to true enlightenment about God could be or would be for Him to descend to us to teach us from His own mouth.
  • We couldn’t conceive that God is not the image of we human’s what you see is what you get, but is, in fact, a complex being of three-in-one, one-in-three, ultimately revealed to us for who He is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We couldn’t conceive that God could or would be content to watch this fallen and corrupt world from a distance, but that He would enter it, commune with it and—gasp!—suffer and die for it.

All of these reasons, and a heavenly host more, are why God didn’t leave it to us to come up with the way to eternal life. Because we are, in fact, a fallen and corrupt world, we never could come up with the way to eternal life. We are confined to our corruption. We are trapped in our own way of thinking, which only and always leads to death.

Christmas is the greatest event, and the craziest scheme, in the history of the world. With Christmas, God turns the tables on humankind: we don’t go to God, God comes to us. We doesn’t save ourselves, God does the saving. Whodathunkit? Well, actually, no one woulda thunk it.

Since you know the rest of the story of Good Friday, and Easter, and the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, and that He will return on the Last Day to put an end to this fallen and corrupt world with our resurrection to the perfect Paradise of forever, consider how God has been born in you—how Christmas has come to you, personally.

In calling you by the Gospel, the Savior came to live in you, just as He came to live as the man named Jesus. In washing you in Holy Baptism, the Savior has joined you to the reason He took on your human flesh—to die for you so that you could live with Him.

And so you do.

And so you do!

Just as personally as God came into the world in the person of Jesus, Jesus has come into you so that you can go into heaven.

Christmas, the greatest event in the history of the world, has set the table for Good Friday, which will be—you guessed it—the greatest event in the history of the world. Amen.

My toilet paper disaster

I have made a grave error. I purchased single ply toilet paper. And now Julie and I are paying the price.

You’re thinking, “Hey, goofball, just double up how much you use. It won’t cost more because you paid less. It will all work out in the end!” That’s exactly where I want it to work out—in the end. Sadly, it ain’t so simple.

Since single ply is one half of 2 ply—thank you, public school!—I figured out that for every two squares of single ply it would equate with one square of 2 ply.

If only.

To save you the effort, I examined the situation closely. I got out my slide rule. I then put away my slide rule because I never learned how to use a slide rule and, honestly, I have no idea why there is a slide rule in our house.

Next, I googed the quest. According to numerous sites, 2 ply is single ply times two. I was skeptical.

Thus, I did what any concerned TP user would do: I laid one square on top of another. Having done that, I used my ever-trusty memory to tell me whether it matched up to 2 ply. I didn’t think so.

Finally, I was ready to press it to the flesh. But, I was thirsty, and a cola sounded good. I had bought some Coke and some Pepsi, and I had planned this week to do a blind taste-test to see which I prefer. Ever since the Pepsi Challenge commercials began in 1975, I’d been meaning to do this. What better time than the present? Be sure to come back to my blog for the intriguing results.

I was now ready to pull up to the throne and pull down my BVDs for the TP Challenge. Fearing the fruit of the gloom, I unraveled twice as many squares as I normally would for my task. I neatly folded them in the manner in which I habitually do so.

Examining my work, I was riddled with doubt. But, I’m a brave soul, so I went in for the wipe.

I’ll spare you the gory details.

I reloaded. As I unfurled the squares, I saw visions of pennies floating upward from the roll.

I feel duped.

How did this happen to me? I’m a careful shopper. You know those stickers on the shelves, the ones that tell you how much items cost, say, per ounce? I read those things with the zeal of a shirtless Packers fan on a December day in Lambeau Field. And, it’s crazy that I should be taken by bathroom tissue, as the usual five or six options at my Aldi don’t match up in how they present the cost-per info. This one has more squares per roll, and that one has thicker plies, and they vary in rolls per package, so that comparative pricing is almost more than my public school education can handle and I find myself tapping my pockets in search of my slide rule.

And this single ply versus 2 ply thing? I always check. Always! I am so averse to single ply that noting this aspect is the first thing I do.

What happened to me? Am I slipping? Is shopping a young man’s game? Though at age 63 I’m still able to jog six miles at a time, does that not translate across my skills range?

I was really stewing about this when I called on my ever-trusty memory and pictured myself back in the store, in that aisle, in front of the bathroom tissue. That’s when I had my eureka! moment: there was only one option!

As it had been in your store, there was a period last year when the hopes of seeing TP were DOA and not to be fulfilled ASAP. I was thankful I had bought the mega-sized package early in 2020. No, not prescient about the coming lockdown and stock-up, but simply because we were low.

Thankfully, by autumn Aldi had caught up. They even removed the “limit one” sign. Still, we didn’t need it. Until now.

So, there I was, in need of both facial tissues and toilet paper. To my surprise, there were zero boxes of facial tissues. And though they had been “limit two,” I didn’t recall them ever being out. I made a mental note, “Put those on the Meijer list,” and stepped forward to the TP.

The Aldi where I shop has two pallets for bathroom tissue. Those pallets looked lonely. There might have been four twelve-packs stacked on it. I looked closely. Yup, they were all the same thing. But in my concern over that, I missed the key thing: single ply.

If I’d noticed, would I have forgone purchasing it and added it to my mental Meijer list? That’s a dangerous game to play. What if I had, and we ran out? What if Meijer were out? What if Meijer were stocked, but only had … wait for it … single ply???

At this rate, we will go through this package of TP fifty percent quicker than normal. There goes our bathroom tissue budget.

This entire fiasco has left me tired and thirsty. I need a cola. Which one do you think I’m going to choose?

Ash Wednesday 2021

We begin this Lent with the worst event in the history of the world: Adam’s fall into sin. It’s the worst, because it brought death into the world.

The Lord had given Adam fair warning, that if Adam did the one and only thing the Lord forbid he do—eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—he would die.

But death didn’t only mean physical death for Adam. Where the Word of God tells us that the Lord created Adam in His image, after Adam fell into sin and Eve began to bear children we are told that the next generation of humans were born in Adam’s image. The meaning? That they were born sinners. That they began their lives already beginning to die. That they began their lives already spiritually dead.

The apple, indeed, does not fall far from the tree.

And every generation that came from them, came from them. As a man and a woman cannot do anything but pass on their physical DNA to their children, so they cannot do anything but pass on their spiritual DNA, their sinful nature, which came by Adam’s Original Sin.

Original Sin is the gift that keeps on giving, yet no one wants it. Thanks, Adam. How could you do such a thing?

Adam could do such a thing this way: his fall into sin showed how difficult love is. God is love, and He made Adam from His love. In love, He gave Adam the most challenging gift one can give: freedom. You parents know what I’m talking about.

The first time you let your child play at another child’s house, you experienced the pangs of fear which freedom brings. After that, it was your child heading off to school. Then it was sleepovers, then the first job, and traveling out of town without you, and going off to college or the service, and getting married, and moving to another town or another state.

Because you love your children, you don’t build fences around them. You give them freedom to move about, to stretch their wings and find their own joys and test out their talents.

But this freedom comes with a huge price tag.

Your children are free to reject you. Your children are free to associate with people who are not good for them. Your children are free to do things which might harm them. Your children are free to learn ideas and religions which hurt them both now and for eternity.

Your children might not love you back, but does that fear keep you from giving them freedom? Because God is love—total, unhindered love—He takes the leap without looking back and creates Adam with total, unhindered freedom. Even knowing that Adam will reject Him.

The Lord had put Adam in Paradise, and Adam could enjoy everything the Lord had created, except for the fruit from one tree, and that one tree was way across the state. And the first thing Adam said to Eve was “Road trip!”

It was Adam’s fault, solely Adam’s fault, that death came into the world. While it seems unfair to us that we should be born with no choice in the matter, that we inherit Adam’s sin and death, and there’s not a thing we can do about it, we have only our first father to blame.

We often question God, that if He knew that Adam would sin and bring death to every generation of mankind, why would He create Adam this way—why would He allow it—why wouldn’t He do things differently?

Hey, we know harm will come to our kids. We know they will get sick. That they will one day die. Knowing these things, why do we have them? If God is to be shamed for creating humans, when He knew what would happen, then we are to be shamed for bearing children, knowing what will happen.

To understand these things, we must be grounded in love. It’s our love that creates kids. Our love is a reflection of the Lord’s creative love.

To love means to reach out. To love means to think first of the object of one’s love, and only after that to think of oneself. To love means to provide freedom to those whom we love, but providing freedom means giving up control, and giving others the right to their own opinion. It means that we must walk around in a spirit of humility, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control.

And that’s not the way we want to be. The worst event in the history of the world has made us the center of our world. Do you want proof?

  • Why do parents harm their children?
  • Why does one country invade another country?
  • Why do the rich ignore the poor as they amass more riches?
  • Why do the poor hurt each other in the search for food and clothes and shelter?
  • Why does a spouse abandon a spouse?
  • Why does a husband or wife do the things that cause the spouse to want out?
  • Why do we kill each other?

Do I need to go on? Of course, I don’t. There’s nothing new here.

You are trapped—trapped in a body of death which you inherited from the worst event in the history of the world, the fall of Adam into sin. That’s why one day soon the pastor will say over your casket or urn, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”

The worst event in the history of the world requires the same love from the Lord by which He created you. Now, He has to love you enough to save you—to win back your freedom to live.

Over the next five Wednesdays, my premise will be that Christmas, and Good Friday, and Easter, and the Lord’s ascension, and the Last Day, are the greatest events in the history of the world.

Since you are familiar with the Lord Jesus’ birth and death, His resurrection and ascension, and that He promises to return to this earth to bring about your own resurrection into the Paradise of the recreated earth, think now on the greatest event in the history of your own life.

The greatest event in your life was the Holy Spirit calling you by the Good News that Jesus was born, Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus ascended, and Jesus is going to return. The greatest event was the Holy Spirit creating faith in you—bringing your dead spirit back to life—washing you in the baptismal waters of renewal and regeneration.

This is love, dear friends. Not that you love God, or that you love each other, but that He loves you. That He never stopped loving this fallen world. That the Father sent His one and only Son as the sacrifice for your sins—to die your death so that you might live in His love.

And so you do.

And so you do!

This is your Lenten reflection: the greatest events in the history of the world all center around the Father’s gift of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus’ gifts to you: forgiveness, life, and salvation in His name. Amen.

In the land of few masks

On a recent Saturday, a task took Julie and me away from Indianapolis, out of our county, to a rural area of Indiana. We went from where facial coverings are required to where they are not.

We drove far enough that we needed to make a stop. As we proceeded through a village, we spied a convenience store that looked nice enough to have clean restrooms. Automatically, we covered our faces before leaving our car.

In the store, we greeted the young man at the cash register. He stood behind plexiglass. He was unmasked. After we used the bathrooms and were looking for a snack, the fellow eagerly made suggestions of some local favorites. The woman at the food counter, also unmasked, chimed in.

Julie and I took them up on suggestions. We were not disappointed.

The two employees continued to show their friendly nature and our conversation lasted past our transaction at the cash register. Though we kept our distance, several things went through my mind. First, that when scanning our purchases the guy touched them. Second, that because they both were unmasked the air from their mouths could make it to us, and the woman’s onto the food she was preparing.

I recalled the saying: my mask protects you, and your mask protects me.

While in the store, a man came in. Unmasked. Another entered. Unmasked. A woman entered unmasked, but a few steps in she put one on.

I’m not hyper-sensitive. I’m also not naive. None of this freaked me out, but it stayed on my mind.

At our destination, we met two men. Neither wore a mask. While we were there, a number of people filtered in and out. None were masked.

We remained outside for all but a few minutes. We kept our distance.

I asked how bad the virus has been in this county. I’ve actively monitored statistics and knew there were a few counties in Indiana that didn’t have their first COVID-19 death until late last year, and still have had few, and fewer cases percentage-of-population-wise. Because of the lack of masking I’d witnessed, I thought this county might be one of them.

I was surprised when the man told me that they’ve been hit about as hard as anywhere. He told of folks he knows who’ve gotten really sick, and of one co-worker who has died.

A few days later, we had a chance to have our daughter, her fiancé, and our grandkids over for dinner. They take great care with the pandemic. We consider each other safe to be around.

I was texting about their coming over on Wednesday when it occurred to me that we needed to allow at least five days since our Saturday potential exposures. We held off seeing them until Friday.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A year ago, masking up was as alien an idea as wearing a seatbelt was when I started driving in the 1970s.

Early in the pandemic, we heaved a collective sigh of relief when we were told that it wasn’t necessary to cover our faces. At the time, I cringed at the thought of having to wear a mask whenever going to a store.

By summer, in many places—including the county in which I live—required the covering of faces when out in public.

And, by autumn, we had mostly fallen into a routine: keep masks by our car keys and wallet, in the car, our coat—without thinking, popping one on when leaving our car.

The biggest challenge has been at church. Singing hymns, one draws in far more air than when speaking. My mask sucked onto my mouth. I corrected the problem enough to relieve most of the discomfort. Tying it tighter keeps the cloth from moving as much.

A few weeks before masks were mandated in our county, I took to wearing one. Immediately, I noticed those with uncovered faces. I don’t rudely go up to strangers and question them, so I only wondered about it.

Now, each store has a sign at the door, informing us that masks are mandatory.

A few days ago, while in a grocery store I walked by a woman who did not have one on. I wanted to ask her about it. Is she not able to wear one for a medical reason, or has she had COVID-19 and feels she’s safe, or been vaccinated? If any of these, how do the rest of us know?

I wish we’d wear informative stickers for every occasion.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the 1980s, when wearing a seatbelt became law, it took a bit to get used to putting it on every time. At first, it seemed a nuisance. Soon, we were used to it. And buckling up probably became automatic before we would have guessed. And then we finally recognized we are safer wearing one than not.

And so it has gone with covering one’s face—or, at least, it has for me. And quickly noticing when others don’t. And wondering why. And, more than anything, wishing they would, believing we are safer with them on.

With seatbelts, when we remove ours it means we’ve reached our destination. How sweet it will be when we do the same with our masks.

We’ll know we’ve arrived.

Men: how do your wives describe you?

A recent article in USA Today grabbed my attention. The topic was how differently men and women (in traditional, heterosexual relationships) have responded to the pandemic, and how many husbands have not been supportive of their wives with coronavirus protocols. The article caused me to reflect on my experiences with men and women.

Here’s the article:
https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/01/28/women-take-covid-19-more-seriously-and-relationships-suffering/4288514001/

As I write, keep in mind I speak of generalities and not stereotypes. A stereotype is something such as “All Germans are stubborn,” where a generality is “Germans are blond-haired and blue-eyed.” Generalities can turn into stereotypes, usually unfairly. Sometimes, they are earned. I fear in the discussion here, men might have earned a stereotype, and a negative one at that.

Regarding the pandemic, women tend to take it more seriously than men. More men than women believe it is a hoax, or are “COVID-deniers.” (That more males than females have died from the disease, might these be greatly contributing to this?)

Women obediently wear a face covering in far great numbers than do men. And mind their distance with others. And refrain from potentially unsafe gatherings. Again, this is in general.

That’s one aspect, but here’s information from the article that prompted me to write: when wives appeal to husbands to mask up, keep distance, and mind where they go, many men don’t listen, or they argue, and they do as they please. And, in the process, leave their wives frustrated, unsupported, going it alone. For the woman in the article, she reached the point where she’s speaking of divorce.

These things remind me of differences I saw when I was a pastor, and with my current experience with parents who have transgender children.

At my church in Port Hope, Michigan, we had a church school. Few fathers attended the meeting of the Parent/Teacher League. Parent/teacher conferences saw mostly moms sitting with their child’s teacher. While fathers were far more visible at big events—such as talent shows and science fairs—they lagged behind mothers.

In all of these instances, might the men have been working? Yes. And, in the old days—say, when I was a kid—that explained most instances of dads not being available for these things, but these days? When women are working in numbers nearly equal to men?

I occasionally asked women about their hubbies. “Oh, he’s hunting,” was the, um, stereotypical response. Another comment made by women—well, I bet you know it: “When he gets home from work, he’s done working for the day. When I get home, I have to make supper, do the laundry, and help the kids with their homework.”

Are stereotypical reasons behind why more men don’t attend parent/teacher conferences, and other occasions typically handled by women?

When I received calls of concern over whatever-it-might-be, I suspect it was easily eight out of ten times that it was the wife who contacted me, regardless of the situation.

Because I was familiar with this, when I sat with couples I was preparing for marriage, I stressed to the men the need for them to be supportive of their wives, not to leave everything in her hands, to step up when a situation calls for it, to remember their marriage vows and be the person they promise to be.

Some men did well—remember, I’m speaking in generalities—yet, for all of my appeals, over the years my attitude became that I found women far more responsible than men in vital areas.

It’s way more than women stepping up and taking action. In everyday life, it’s men simply not being supportive. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to be bothered. They have other stuff to do. So, instead of getting roped in, many men avoid.

These are situations I observed, things I heard, where I was personally involved.

What causes this difference in men and women? The age-old areas at which we point are the way males and females are built, testosterone versus estrogen, how we’ve been socialized, nature versus nurture.

I don’t exclude any of those areas from having at least some effect on all of us. Do these mean that we—all of us—don’t have brains and hearts? Cannot men figure it out? Care deeply? Unite thinking and caring for their wives’ sakes and change their behavior?

I’m pleased to report I know many who do. I also know far too many who do not.

Where it concerns transgender, I see this exacerbated. Of all the parents who have found me because they have a trans child, read my blog or/and books, and then contacted me, only one has been a father.

And, regarding transgender, when I inquire about the husband/father, the women often report that these men don’t want to deal with it. It is not unusual for them to be offended by transgender, and that it has entered their home has left them deeply disturbed.

Not only is it left to the child’s mother to help their child and to become informed on the topic, these wives and mothers don’t have these husbands and fathers to lean on. Because of the sensitive nature of this subject, these women often find they can’t bring it up to family and friends, so they are left to go it on their own.

One last time, I stress that I’m talking in generalities—strikingly dramatic generalities.

Men: for the sake of your wife—to whom you have vowed your love and devotion—and for your children, wake up to your shortcomings.

Women: if you’ve seen yourself as the one who is the guilty party, do the same.

Women: if you are carrying the load, I commend you. Whether it’s the pandemic, or kids in school, or a trans child, or any of the other many areas of life, keep up the good work.

Men: if you are the husband and father needed by your wife and children, kudos to you. Continue to shine your love and concern for your loved ones.

It’s as simple as treating others the way we want them to treat us.

Do you like it when others don’t listen to you? When others are unsupportive of you? When others are stubborn? When others are unavailable? When others leave you frustrated and upset?

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. And nope.

So, don’t be that way. In this particular conversation, men, break the stereotype. Give your wives someone they want to brag about: “Oh, I never need to remind him to mask-up. And he makes sure the kids wash their hands when they get home.”

Yeah, be that guy.

A letter to my brother

When my brother Jim was an infant, his brain was damaged when his doctor treated him for whooping cough and encephalitis. When Jim turned five and I was on the way, Mom would no longer be able to provide Jim the intense care he needed and take care of Tom, Sue, and me. Dad and Mom made what Mom always called the hardest decision of her life: so that Jim could receive the care he needed, they signed him over to be a ward of the state of Michigan.

Initially, Jim lived in Coldwater. By the time I remember visiting him, he’d been moved to Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, two hours from us in Montague. In 1974, a place was built in Muskegon—thirty minutes away—and Jim was moved there. A few years later, he went into the best setting of all: a group home in North Muskegon. He’s been there ever since.

A few years ago, I began receiving birthday and Christmas cards from Jim. Tom—who, along with Mark, took over caretaker duties when Dad died—told me the man asked for the addresses of all of us siblings. Jim cannot read or write, but every card has his scribble of a signature.

I took to sending him birthday cards. This year, I included a letter. I assume one of the staff will read it to him. I have no idea whether Jim will understand a word of it. No matter. I had to write it. I needed to tell my brother how he impacted my life. My letter follows the photo, which was taken at Dad’s funeral in 2010—the only photo of all us us kids that I’ve ever seen.

John & Floye Eilers’ six kids. From left: Mark, me, Sue, Jim, Dave, Tom.

Dear Jim~

I hope this finds you doing well as you turn 69 years old!

Though I see you rarely, please know that I think of you often. It helps that I have the photo (printed on the back of this letter) of you and mom next to my computer. The photo is from August 1970, so you were 18. It was taken in the yard at Fort Custer, where, when the weather was nice, we ate a picnic lunch.

Those visits to you formed an important part of the person I became. Since you’re five years older than me, and Dad and Mom had to have the state take over your care when I was coming into the world, my earliest memories are populated by our visits.

When I was young, Fort Custer could be a scary place. When we arrived and Dad went to get you, we kids sometimes walked across the way to the building in which you lived. We couldn’t go in past the lobby, so we waited. Residents—either on their own or escorted by staff or family—would come through. Often, their reason for being at Fort Custer was obvious in their physical appearance. And some were so unusual to us, it scared us.

We must have told Mom. Being kids, we might have made comments or jokes that were inappropriate. Mom wasted no time teaching us.

First, she made sure we knew we didn’t need to be afraid. That physical appearance didn’t mean anything about a person. That every resident was safe to be around.

She then told us that all of you were no different than us. That you were human beings. Sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, and beloved by families just as we loved you. She encouraged us to say hi to you all, even to talk to folks. Just treat everyone as we would anyone else.

And she made sure we knew that you all were like us in being precious to the Lord, and that just because we were healthy so that we could live at home didn’t mean we were better than anyone. Those two things really stuck with me. I learned to respect all people, to treat them as I want them to treat me.

When I became a Lutheran minister, I went into a lot of hospitals and nursing homes. Because of my experiences as a kid, and knowing you, and Mom’s lessons, I was able to have a compassionate heart and friendly face for everyone. I was very thankful for being formed as that kind of a person.

Back to Fort Custer. When Dad wheeled you to where Mom was, I watched how you lit up with joy when you could see her. Your smile! It was huge! It was electric! Mom called your name as she met you. She kissed you and hugged you, and you soaked it in. You talked as best you could. Though we couldn’t make out your words, we knew what they were: “Hi, Mom! I love you!”

We kids gathered around. We told you everything a kid has to say—what we got for our birthday, or how our baseball team was doing, or about school. You looked at us intently. We were sure you understood. You smiled and laughed in all the right places.

In the mid ‘70s, when you were able to live in the new facility in Muskegon, we brought you home for special occasions. We loved watching you rip into Christmas presents—paper flying everywhere! And when you got to the gift, you looked at it wondering what it was, and then you looked at us. You smiled widely. We smiled with you. And laughed. And it was grand.

Tom and I walked you to the bathroom. You were a handful! Jim, you grabbed onto everything you were not supposed to grab—the door, the sink, the shelf. Ugh! What a challenge to get you onto the toilet. When we were done and had you back in your chair, Tom and I wiped the sweat off our brows and fell into our own seats!

Those were the days. Oh so long ago. I often long for those years. I miss Mom and Dad so much, as I am sure you do. I look forward to us all being reunited in heaven with our Lord Jesus. Be prepared, Jim, because I’m going to talk your ear off. I can’t wait for you to give it right back to me!

I love you, dear brother.

There you are with Mom in the photo from 1970. The little boy on the left is your nephew, my first child, Johnathan. Sadly, Johnathan got sick with a strep infection the day he was born and died the next day. His mom’s heart and mine were broken, but we didn’t waste time having another child. First, Erin. Then we had Jackie. Then, Addison. Finally, Alex. Two daughters and two sons to enjoy on earth, and they have so far given us seven grandchildren!