Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Remembering Fred, farmer and soldier

Fred was one of my neighbors; he was a World War II Army Veteran. He died recently at home on the farm.

About ten years ago we had some business to discuss since our farms border each other. I put on the coffee pot and we discussed our business. Then I tried to get Fred to discuss World War II. As usual, he was reluctant. He turned the tables on me; he said “Where did you serve when you were overseas?” I replied, “Clark Air Base in the Philippines.” Fred said, “I was in the Philippines. Did you ever get down to the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila?” I told him I had and as a matter of fact, I visited it with a Danube native, the late Bruce Grosklags, an Air Force Veteran who served in Viet Nam.

Fred had a story about that cemetery. “We were bivouacked outside of Manila. We would march out to the field or jungle, be there about 2 ½ weeks and then march back into Manila for a few days of rest. One time when we were marching out to the jungle, the old Sarge said, “Look to the right boys, they’re starting an American Military Cemetery.” They were already in the process of burying bodies.”

An aside, some facts about this Cemetery: it is the largest military cemetery outside the Continental United States: buried there are 17,202 American soldiers and 514 Filipino Scouts who served and died with them. Listed on the walls are names of 36,285 American soldiers missing in action. If we put just the Missing in Action in a straight line, single file, on three foot centers, the line would stretch to just under 21 miles long.

Buried in this cemetery are 28 Medal of Honor winners, twenty pairs of brothers are buried side by side. All this, a sobering reminder of the high price paid for freedom.

“Two and a half weeks later” Fred said, “we were marching back to Manila. We were tired and disgusted. The old Sarge said to the troops, ‘Tighten it up boys, we’re getting close to the American Cemetery.’"

Then Fred said, “Not another word was spoken. Cigarettes were put out, chin straps tightened, weapons in place. As they walked by the American Cemetery, the only thing you could hear was the in-cadence click of their heels as they hit the road.”

Fred sat quietly at our table and did not say anything for a long time. He then looked up at me and said, “Jerry, there is nothing much left to be said.” I agreed.

Fred Nyquist and his wife Jeanette were both World War II Veterans. Jeanette died a number of years ago. They were active in the American Legion; they worked hard to uphold the high ideals of that organization. It was a job well done. We thank them. Blessed be their memory.

Even though they are dead, freedom lives. Yes, freedom lives and many men and women paid a very high price to keep it. It would do our country well in these not too heady days to remember this. I must admit some days I feel it is already too late. Even though, I have peace, we are in God’s hands.

Note: I was asked by the Legion to say a few words at Fred’s funeral and this was what I shared.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

At Least I Don’t Have Idols

We think we don’t have idols. I mean there are not any little carved, distorted, gold-plated men on my shelf that I worship every morning. Oh no, I don’t do that; I must be home free. No we are not.

What do you have in your life that you treasure--your wife, your husband, your children, your reputation, your land, your money? Yes, we should be good stewards of them but if asked by God, could we live without them and not be angry with God?

In Genesis 22 we have the account of the proposed sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Isaac was the son of promise; the son of Abraham’s old age. Isaac must have become the center of Abraham and Sarah’s lives. A life of drudgery, hard work, old age, and routine was thrown into disarray, happy disarray, with the presence of a baby boy who grows into a lad. Isaac had become an idol in their life.

God asks Abraham to sacrifice his own son. Any man would have to be angry with God, especially Abraham who had his son of promise in his old age. Why Lord? Why now? Isaac had pushed God out of the center of the life of Abraham.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this, “Would I be willing to sacrifice my _______________ (fill in the blank) who has become the center of my life, my idol?” Could we still praise God without our “idol”?

Oh, how the thought of this hurts. Timothy Keller in his book “Counterfeit Gods,” Dutton 2009 says in part: “Something is safe for us to maintain in our lives only if it has really stopped being an idol. That can happen only when we are truly willing to live without it when we truly say from the heart ‘Because I have God, I can live without you.”

The mere thought of this makes the back of my arms get goose bumps. Forgive me, Lord.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Not So Supreme Court

"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. " 1 Corinthians 4:3-5

The media is full of positive and negative information about The Supreme Court appointee Elena Kagan. I find it interesting that with her assumed approval, a nation founded primarily by Protestants will have no Protestants on The Supreme Court. I realize all groups have a part in “The Great American Experiment,” yet I feel Christians as a whole, Protestant and Catholics, are being marginalized in our culture and politics.

Our founders understood “our rights” came from the Almighty God alone, our Creator. No judge, no king, no potentate, no congressman, no senator nor governor gave us our rights, God did. No man may take our “inalienable, God-given rights and dignity” from us. America was the first country to put this most important fact in writing. Our God is a God of liberty, freedom and might.

These same leaders knew as men, that we are all sinful by nature. Left to our own selves, we sin.

In light of this fact, our founders developed the idea of checks and balances. Power was shared in three branches of government. Each branch is accountable to the other two branches. Left unchecked and left non-scrutinized, men will sin and let power go to their head.

It was quite a system with the help of God that they developed. They codified our inalienable rights which come from God alone and they put in place a system of checks and balances to bring restraint and control upon us wayward, sinful men.

I smile when I read about the highest court in our land, the Supreme Court. They may be supreme in the USA but their supremeness ends at our shores. Their influence and power is held in check by the other branches of government, or should be. This may be a more appropriate comment in these days.

There is much to concern us about this appointment. We as citizens of this country need to exercise our freedoms and participate in the process. Remember the Supreme Judge of the entire world is God; the same God who endowed us with our rights. It’s good to know He was, He is, and He will be the Supreme Judge and Ruler of the world. Yes, He is on the Throne. He will return some day and He will judge the world. No Supreme Court Justice will make any difference. Our advocate by our side at the bar of justice will be Jesus. When we are pronounced guilty by The Judge, Jesus will say, “He is mine, put his sin upon my account.” Because of Jesus Christ, His taking my sin upon Himself, I walk free—what a Savior!

Don’t fear the days ahead. Remember, this is how we are to live. I Peter 2:13-17 says, “13Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” It is good to be reminded of this." (Notice, in verse 13 supreme is in the lower case.) Yes, we will face trials but God is still on the Throne. He is Supreme!

Friday, May 07, 2010

When the Streets of Minneapolis come to Fairfax, Minnesota

I’m in the property management business in Minneapolis. I live 40 miles from Fairfax, Minnesota. I see Minneapolis influencing Fairfax more than Fairfax influencing Minneapolis.

In the last six months, street problems in Minneapolis have increased significantly. I know the statistics don’t recognize it yet but for us “front line people,” we see the change. I start checking properties at 6:00 a.m. In the past, I have felt safe but now the hair stands up on the back of my 62 year old head. Probably it is just because I’m an old man; it may be, but I think not.

In the last two weeks at least nine people have been murdered on the streets of Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. One of the deaths was the execution of Maplewood Police Sgt. Joe Bergeron. It is not just the killing but theft, assault and robbery have also increased. We see more prostitution and street level drug dealing. As unemployment benefits run out, some people feel forced to do things they once thought abominable.

Earlier this week in Fairfax, Minnesota, a 14 year old paper delivery girl was abducted and sexually assaulted. Yes, the streets of Minneapolis have come to Fairfax but do any of us give a damn?

Locally, I hear very little talk of this incident. Probably I’m on the outside looking in but I hear very little concern on the radio or in the press. Most internet comments for the paper were: “Lock him up and throw away the key” or “Cut his nuts off.” I can understand the deep feelings and frustration. Crime must be paid for; punishment must be meted out but what have we, as professing Christians, done to influence our culture for good or have we just become professional complainers after the fact.

I believe we live with our heads deeply planted in the sand. What message are we sending to our sons and daughters when we fail to openly discuss such things as sexual assault, physical violence, drug dealing, and prostitution when they are out in the open? You say, “Jerry, it may be happening in Minneapolis but not here.” Tell that to the young girl and her parents in Fairfax.

Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.” Some days I cannot find much cheer and to my limited vision I don’t see much overcoming. In Rev. William Hendriksen’s book “More Than Conquerors,” copyright 1939 (before World War II), he said this in part on page 99:

“The light shines in the darkness: the churches are lampstands. But the darkness hates the light: the World persecutes the church.”
“Whenever in history the church is faithful to its calling and bears testimony concerning the truth, tribulation is bound to follow. Aside even from this fact, the church is in the world. Hence, it suffers along with the world. Children of God do not escape the horrors of war, famine, and pestilence. The church needs these tribulations. It needs both the direct antagonism of the world and participation in the common woes that pertain to this earthly life as a result of sin. The church, too, is sinful. It is in constant need of purification and sanctification.”
“These tribulations, therefore, are employed by our Lord as an instrument for our own spiritual advancement. We see God’s footstool. Let us not forget his Throne! To be sure, we say that to them that love God all things work together for good, but do we really believe it?”
“Hence, when the world is enkindling the flames of hatred and slaughter and when the earth is drenched with blood, may our tear-dimmed eye catch a vision of The Throne which rules the universe. In the midst of trial and tribulation may our gaze be riveted upon the One who is King of kings and Lord of Lords.”
As Christians, may we not remain unmoved about what’s happening around us. Let’s go into the world and be agents of change. Let’s reach out to the hurting even if it is sexual perverts, prostitutes and street hustlers. We seldom, if ever, touch shoulders with these people. Jesus did and He was criticized for it. If we do so also, we will be criticized. Most will consider us weird. Standing for truth, ministering to the down and out will cost us. Are we willing to pay the price? In the meantime, keep your eyes on the throne. God is still in control. Keep your eyes on the cross. It is our only hope and it is the only hope for the world. Jesus will come again and set all things straight. In the meantime, let’s be an army on the move not one sitting in the barracks (the church) complaining. God help us in these days.