The Master and Commander Notices

The other day as I was donating platelets at the Red Cross center. The process is quite long and they have movies you can watch so you can keep your mind occupied. I chose out the movie “Master and Commander”. As my own blood was exiting one arm and coming back to me in the other arm after going through multiple processes (quite amazing if you ask me) so that others might live, I was watching how an English captain resolutely chased a French warship half way around the world. As he did so, young men were drown, cut up, shot up, and generally not well treated as human beings. All for the sake of “England” and “France”, king and queen, pride and glory. It was a fine story! I guess?

“Master and Commander” is a movie and I have no idea if it was based on any sort of factual reality. But we know this sort of thing has been played out continuously throughout human history. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we play deadly games with the lives of our young men and women? Why is there ANYTHING like war and conflict? It is just nonsensical and daft! And yet… THIS is our lot in life: To watch and consider a young person’s LIFE… and see it summarily concluded by a piece of lead in the head or a knife through the torso. It is so distressing.

As I watch, though, I have to steal myself as I consider the reality illustrated.  My heart asks: What real difference do each of those lives (or rather deaths) make in the whole scheme of things? People live. People die. What does it all matter when the life blood of one – or many – is drained? Bodies that were beautiful only a fleeting time previous are sewn up in the canvass and sink to the sea with a splash. Mere atoms in the vast universe. Life really does not even pause to look back. It is indifferent. Even cruel.

However, (thanks be to God) lest we fall for the lies of Satan, it is necessary for our hearts to be stolen back by Christ.  It was lovely to hear the words of the Psalmist this last Sunday:

Psa. 8:1           O LORD, our Lord,

                how majestic is your name in all the earth!

        You have set your glory

                above the heavens.

2         From the lips of children and infants

                you have ordained praise

        because of your enemies,

                to silence the foe and the avenger.

3         When I consider your heavens,

                the work of your fingers,

        the moon and the stars,

                which you have set in place,

4         what is man that you are mindful of him,

                the son of man that you care for him?

5         You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

                and crowned him with glory and honor.

I am preparing for a memorial service this coming Saturday of a decorated veteran of World War II. I am guessing there will not be many in attendance as the vast majority of his friends and family are not living anymore. We have all forgotten his valiant efforts on behalf of our life and freedom. His death, like so many others, will pass easily from this age. But yet how beautiful is this: Mr. Rogal’s life mattered to the Lord of the Universe. He knew him by name. His every hair.  He cares for him.  The true Master and Commander counts him washed in the blood of the Lamb.

The Master and Commander notices and counts little me too! I matter to Him.

I like that a lot.

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PTSD and Putting on the Full Armor of God

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10-11, ESV)

Today during our Eastern District Pastoral Conference near Pittsburgh, we heard several sessions of sharing by the LCMS chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Steven Hokana on the topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Of course he is trained to deal with PTSD in the military… however he reminded us that PTSD is not limited to the military.  PTSD is often a factor in our lives as congregational members – and neighbors and co-workers.   We regularly face traumatic situations that can and do negatively impact our well being.  Whether it is the tragic death of a child or loved one, a significant material loss (such as in a disaster), we should be prepared and girded for the battle against the devil and the spiritual powers that would tear us down and keep us from the comfort and joy of the Lord.  The reality is that disaster and the attacks of the devil in one form or another are bound to befall us all.

There were many learnings today, but high among them was the idea we need to be thinking in “we” instead of “I”.  We are in this together – as the Lord’s body the church!  An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us.  If you are feeling trauma, please remember you are part of a great train of saints from the beginning of time, and with the Lord and all of His church we can know His grace and care!

We also need to remember that while PTSD is significant, it does not define who you are as God’s child!  If we know that God is indeed bigger than our problems and that in our Baptism we are saved, life becomes bearable – no matter how difficult it becomes!  We have the Peace that surpasses all understanding in the blood of Christ.

I am not looking forward to struggling with the great lies of Satan in PTSD – and I pray that the Lord spares me.  However, I am eager to seek after the most excellent way of the Lord and always be prepared for the time when I am at my weakest and needing to trust in the Lord completely!  Please join me in putting on the FULL armor of God!

Definition of Poverty

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. -Lk. 6:20

Yesterday I attended something of a strange event. The United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA, a local non-profit social service organization, is celebrating their 90th anniversary this year and as part of its celebrations, gathered three knowledgeable individuals to speak on the topic of “Poverty and Poor Health: Changing the Equation”. There were probably about 60 folks at the new Medical College (I went in large part because I was curious to see what the new building was like. It was of course very “rich”.) The audience members were all dressed in suits and obviously pretty healthy. It was a fairly engaging conversation, although of course the problem was that any one hour discussion was only going to scratch the surface of this huge topic.

Or IS it a huge topic? Interestingly one of the points made was that, politically speaking, the topic of “poverty” is simply not a priority on the government’s agenda. We talk around the subject obviously, but, for example, the actual word “poverty” has only appeared in three of President Obama’s speeches since he became president.

I learned a couple other things along the way, but the thing that made me somewhat thankful I attended was a definition of poverty which I think has some merit. I have always struggled with the whole idea of “poverty” and what it means to be poor in our excessively rich nation, but in this discussion it was suggested that an individual (or group, I suppose) can be defined as poor when they simply do not have the power to change the bad situation they find themselves in.

If we understand poverty as a lacking of “power” we can broaden the scope of the problem to not only the lack of money, but the lack of skills and mental/emotional/spiritual resources that can be applied to effectively make the life changes needed to improve one’s negative living situation.

Applying this to the life of the church and the ministry of Jesus, I think church members often think that we can’t help the poor very much because the church doesn’t have a lot of money. I think this definition helps us to see that poverty is much more than just money… and we as the people of God have a chance to make a real difference in the lives of those who are stricken by poverty by “enriching” their lives with the mental/emotional/and spiritual resources that are so often even much MORE important than money.

I did skip the wine and cheese and grand buffet that greeted us out the auditorium… I walked right out!!! Just crazy!!!!!! Such a disjointed and obtuse world we live in! “Boy, we feel so sorry for those poor people who are in such bad health! Let’s go and talk this over with some wine and cheese, shall we?”

As an aside, I recently listened to a series of lectures on St. Francis of Assissi who tried to embrace poverty as a way of following Christ – and struggled with what that meant and looked like in “real life.” What we learn from St. Francis is that truly, we can be rich even without money. Check out how his female counterpart, St. Clare of Assisi, coined the term “The Privilege of Poverty”.

The key question for me is: “What does this mean for me and my life?”