Ponderings from ...

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May 11
Ponderings from ... the boat.

Why does our Lord permit so much tragedy to take place in the world?  This question has been asked many times in the history of humankind and there are certainly different trains of thought that attempt to explain this reality of life upon this earth.  There is one theory as described in the book of Job where Satan is the culprit behind human suffering.  Poor Job is faced with one tragedy after another all at the hands of the guy in red tights carrying a pitchfork.  Martin Luther believed that it was indeed the devil that caused all of human misery.  In seeing all the hurt in this world it certainly does appear that an evil force is at work.  However, even if we believe all human suffering is the work of the evil one the question still remains, “Why does God allow this to happen?”

The author of the book of Job deals with this question and tells us that God allowed Satan to torment Job so that the strength of Job’s faith could be made known.  Satan is quite sure that Job will turn against God when many of his earthly possessions are destroyed, but God is convinced otherwise.  Personally, I have a difficult time accepting this theology.  Why would a God that loves us so much be rolling dice with Satan to test our faith?  Needless to say, Job is not one of my favorite books in the Bible.

Another theory brought forth in the book of Job and other places in scripture is that not only does God allow suffering, but God is directly responsible for the suffering.  Job’s friends were convinced that Job must have done something really bad to anger God and Job’s misery was the direct result of God’s punishment.   In his early years Martin Luther was absolutely convinced that God carried a mighty lightning rod and was ready to strike Martin down for even the smallest of sins he committed.  I would argue that this particular understanding of God is still prevalent in society today.  Since God is a just God then sin must be punished.  This theology might hold some weight if only evil people were inflicted by tragedy, but we know for certain some really bad things happen to really good people.  I have a very difficult time believing that a loving God would inflict tragedy upon us so that God could get our attention.  

There are times when a tragedy takes place because of our own bad decisions or the poor decisions of others.  God created us with free will and history has shown us that this gift from God can be a curse when it runs counter to God’s will.  I think of the Nazi concentration camps as just one example of free will running astray.  Much suffering can be credited to humankind inflicting hurt upon one another by misusing our free will. However, not all tragedy can be explained in this manner.  There are times when heartbreaking events take place for reasons we simply cannot explain.  How does one explain the expectant mother who carries out every bit of pre-natal care to a tee and then deals with a miscarriage?  Or give the reason why a person living an absolute healthy lifestyle is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Some would say that everything happens for a reason, but as humans we are just not capable of knowing those reasons.  This may be true, but I am not in this camp of thought.  

In the end I am sorry to tell you that I do not know why there is so much tragedy in this world.  I do know that Jesus never promised his followers tragedy would not be a part of their lives.  In fact, Jesus made it clear that suffering would indeed be something they would be confronted with.  The promise that Jesus did make was the promise that God would never abandon us, especially during our most difficult trials.  If you want proof of this look no further than the cross and the empty grave.

March 15
Ponderings from ... the thinning ice.

With all that took place during the 2012 presidential cycle I didn’t think it was possible for this country to become more divided.  Wow, was I ever wrong.  In my fifty-five years on this earth I have never seen anything like what is taking place in our current presidential election process.  So many emotions rise up in me as I watch the evening news.  Those emotions range from anger, sadness, embarrassment, fear, and hopelessness.  I will admit that there are times when I just laugh out loud and this is probably the best emotion that this political climate brings forth in me.

For much of my life I was more of a “glass half empty” type of person, but I have worked very hard on being more optimistic about life.  With that in mind, I have been asking myself what good this crazy election can possibly bring forth for the future of this nation and the glory of God.  I am not sure I have an answer to this question.  However, one thing that has become clearly evident is that racism has not been eradicated in this country.  In my opinion, racism has been the elephant in the room for far too long.  There seemed to be an unwritten policy that if you didn’t talk about racism then the problem would just go away.  Unfortunately, major issues such as racism don’t just go away.  It takes a lot of work on all parts to improve the situation, especially those who hold the power.  What has taken place in recent events makes it crystal clear that racism remains a major problem in this country.  In NASA terms they would say, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”.   If there is good news in all of this it is the fact that you cannot fix something if you refuse to acknowledge that it is broke.  Well folks, it’s broke!

There has been controversy as of late with Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, Rebecca Bradley.  If you have not heard of the controversy, it involves papers that Justice Bradley wrote while she was in college.  The papers in question were highly racist in nature and some would say her college writings should disqualify her as a Supreme Court judge.  Ms. Bradley has made the argument that her positions in college are not where she is at today.  She claims her views have changed and I truly hope she is being honest.  Some say a person cannot truly change what is in one’s heart and soul, but to that I say, “Hogwash!”  I for one am deeply embarrassed of my views on race and human sexuality when I was a college student. For years after college my views remained the same and I feel deep shame for the jokes I told and the ones I laughed at when others told them.  Often times those jokes even made it into the fellowship hall at church.  These jokes were not told in a mean spirit, but they were simply a part of the culture one grew up in.  I am far from where I want to be as a child of God when it comes to racism, but I do believe the Spirit of God has been at work and continues to work at changing my heart and mind.  If God loves the look of everyone’s skin color then I ask God to allow me to do the same.

My prayer is that one day the church will truly live out the title to one of my favorite songs, “All are Welcome”.  I consider the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to be one of the more inclusive denominations, and yet only 2% of our current membership is non-white.  It is clear that there remains a lot of work yet to do, but let us not forget that God is still in charge.  With God in control one day all things will be made new.  Until then let us work to bring a piece of God’s kingdom to this earth here and now.

Peace, Pastor Bill

January 15
Ponderings from ... the portable ice shack.

When I was about four years old I found myself digging 
through the drawers of my mother’s dresser looking for interesting things.  Even though my mother had clearly told me to stay out of her dresser the temptation was just too strong for the curiosity of a four year old.  I had a sense that my mother was hiding something good from me and sure enough, there it was.  I found a big chocolate candy bar in the top drawer of my mother’s dresser.  The candy bar was already missing a couple of small pieces so I didn’t think my mother would notice  if I just took one small piece.  It was so good that I took another piece and then another until I figured my mother would surely know so I just ate the whole thing.  
Mom was in town working at the local department store so I went outside to find dad.  I couldn’t find him in the barn so I took off down the lane heading for the woods as that was Dad’s favorite spot to meditate.  The lane was full of mud holes and about three quarters of the way to the woods I stepped in a mud hole that I couldn’t get out of. To make things worse I now had a terrible stomach ache and all the straining to get out of the mud wasn’t helping.  I started calling for dad and by the time he arrived to help me out I was a mess in more ways than one.  I remember dad carrying my clothes wrapped up in a bundle as I walked bare naked back to the house.  By now mom was home and as dad told her the story I heard my mother’s words, “What did you eat today?”  Even early on I wasn’t good with guilt so with tears in my eyes I confessed that I had eaten her chocolate candy bar.  At four years of age I didn’t know what Exlax was, but from the scream of my mother’s voice I knew it wasn’t good.  
My story reminds me of Adam and Eve in the garden when they had permission from God for everything except the fruit from one tree.  What is it in our human nature that is never content with what we have but always desires more?   Even when the Lord provides abundantly we still have the temptation to seek for more.
Dear Lord, help us to be both thankful and content for what you have blessed us with. Amen

November 22
Ponderings from ... the boat.

After two failed marriages I decided to swear off the opposite sex forever.  I settled down in the north woods and began to carve out the life of a single man.  To be quite honest I was doing just fine as a bachelor and life was good.  But as time went on I began to realize that forever was a long, long time and as my heart healed I became lonely for companionship from the opposite sex.  I certainly was not looking for a serious relationship when I made the decision to go on Match.com, but I was hoping for conversation or perhaps a casual date.  That all changed on December 15th of 2013 when I got a “like” from this gal living in North Branch, MN. Life has not been the same since that day and for that I give God thanks.  My life went from being good to excellent in the matter of few weeks and Rhonda continues to brighten my life each and every day.  Rhonda makes me laugh and laughter is a tremendous gift for the soul.

It took a great deal of discipline on my part to go slow in my relationship with Rhonda, but I also knew it was the right thing to do.  I entered into a new relationship far too early after my first divorce and I realized later that doing so was not one of my better decisions.  Now after nearly two years of dating Rhonda I came to the realization that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this wonderful woman.  On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in November Rhonda and I took the boat out for one more fishing expedition before the boat would be put away for the winter.  On this day we did not get a single bite from the fish in the lake, but I caught the catch of my life.  With the engagement ring tied to the end of the line on my fishing pole I dangled it front of Rhonda and asked her to marry me.  There was so much excitement that after a few minutes I said to Rhonda, “You never said yes”.  To my good fortune she did say “yes” and a private spring wedding is in the plans.  I am a very, very, happy man and I give God thanks for new beginnings.

November 20
Ponderings from ... the deer stand.

I didn’t get as much time from the tree stand as I had planned this fall because I shot a nice buck with my crossbow the second night out.  Last week I just couldn’t take it anymore and I climbed up in one of my tree stands and sat there taking in the beauty of God’s creation.  As I sat there letting my mind wander freely I had this thought, “If you could change just one thing about your past what would you change?”  I considered that perhaps I would not have married my first wife, but then I thought about my three wonderful children from that marriage along with a grandchild and I quickly ruled out making this change.  In addition there were a lot of good times during the period of my first marriage.  I thought about how I was not ready to enter into my second marriage so soon after my first divorce and considered that this could be the one thing I would change.  However, my second wife, Deb, was a wonderful step-mother to my children and in addition she helped me to see the world in a much more compassionate and grace filled manner.  Failing at a second marriage was painful and frustrating, but I grew much as a person during those years and that growth has helped shape my ministry.  I would not change this part of my life.
There were many small things that I wish I would have done differently such as how I handled being removed from the starting lineup on the college football team.  And I would have got my hair cut for my college graduation to please my folks.  However, most of the changes that crossed my mind seemed sort of trivial in the big picture of life. I finally came to the conclusion that if I could change just one thing it would be how I dealt with my first divorce.  
When my first wife told me she no longer wanted to be married to me I was deeply hurt and very angry.  I said and did some things during that time in my life that I now regret and am deeply embarrassed by.  You would not have seen Jesus reflected in either my words or actions.  In all honesty, I was an absolute jerk.  In my ministry I have had many people come walking into my office and share their hurt and anger with a spouse.  Most knew that I had been down this road and many were looking for words of wisdom.  My great words of wisdom usually began with, “Don’t do what I did.”  Then I would typically follow by suggesting that one should always take the high road.  And if there are children involved don’t get them in the middle or use them as pawns to vent your anger.  Never speak in a negative light about your spouse with the children present.  Wow, did I ever violate all of my own advice when I was walking through that dark tunnel.  Still, I truly believe my advice is accurate and years later you will be glad you took the high road instead of writing about the one thing you wish you could change.