A CODGER AND HIS UNCLE

June 27, 2021

I have the most amazing uncle! For starters it’s pretty rare for a 77-year-old codger to even have an uncle, let alone a lovable, energetic, unique soul like mine. He’s 86 but you may have trouble discerning which old vet is the uncle in this picture. (Clue: The uncle can still hold his head up straight.) Some folks roam the world looking for heaven on earth and some just bloom where they’re planted.  Boy, has he bloomed. His recliner is rarely used. He owns a flower shop and an antique store and is a master flower arranger. You can’t get properly married or buried in his community without his flower arrangements present. He just opened a coffee bar and softserve ice cream place in downtown Stronghurst, Illinois, a town with no traffic lights, few stop signs and 700-and-some salt-of-the-earth citizens. If a country boy can claim a hometown, this one is mine. It is where I went to church (still there), high school (closed) and cruised the streets as a teenaged jalopy driver. My uncle has built a cabin on the farm where he grew up, near our family farm, and where I spent many a happy day as a kid, and he splits his time between there and his village place. He transformed some untillable acreage with a stream running through it behind the cabin into a pond and arboretum/garden–Henderson County’s own Garden of Eden in the summer and fall that will put your eyes out with its multicolored beauty and rare botanical specimens. It gets used for a variety of public and private special events. He just bought another farm nearby for hunting and agriculture purposes.  He commenced these creative and entrepreneurial enterprises after he retired from a career in finance in the same community. In his spare time he’s an American Legion jefe and a civic Energizer Bunny. He puts his couch-potato nephew to shame!

He became a widower after 63 happy years a while back, but I was glad to see that his smile has returned when I visited with him this week. And, by the way, he drove with his daughter the 6 hours in my direction, not vice versa.

As the family patriarch he is a righteous example for us all, a great godly witness, and his prayers are soothing to my soul. He’s my momma’s half-brother and I’m just sorry I don’t have a larger percentage of his genes. I am blessed to call him Uncle Jim Blender. The psalmist describes him perfectly:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon … They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green…. (Psalm 92:12,14)

See you in church.

FATHER’S DAY

June 20, 2021

FB tempted me to repost from a Father’s Day past and I have succumbed…again. The message seems more important with each passing year: A grateful Father’s Day vow, writ large on our foyer wall, and I will keep it to the last beat of my heart.

My daddy’s been gone for a few decades now but he’s ever present in my heart. The heartland roots that grew from the seeds he planted and nurtured in God’s Word have served me well in my worldly wanderings.

Young’ns, hug your daddy while you can. “Honor your father…”

See you in church.


GUILT, GRACE, AND GRATITUDE

June 13, 2021

The sum of necessary knowledge for a life of joy in the Lord is contained in those three words. The journey to that joy begins with the realization that “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). An adulterer and murderer (David) spoke those words in his confession, but they are true of every human born since the fall of Adam. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Reread the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) and tell me if you meet the requirements for ”blessed.” The palest white lie will keep you out of heaven. Thoughts are as sinful as the deed itself. Hatred equals murder and lust equals adultery. Your best deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Bottom line, it is impossible for fallen man to keep the Ten Commandments—they are commands designed to show us the extent of our sins and our desperate need for a savior. Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “If you think you deserve Heaven—then you are not a Christian. Do you think that you deserve forgiveness? If you do, you are not a Christian.”

But God has provided a way. Grace—God’s favor to those who deserve his wrath! The Son of God has fully paid for all the sins of his chosen ones (Romans 8:29-30) with his precious blood. In an act of incomprehensible love the Son of God on the cross satisfied God’s perfect justice for the sins of those “who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28b). God’s infinite love saved his elect from God’s infinite wrath. How’s that for a mind-blowing concept? [“…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8)] Believe this, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31)–you are indeed among the chosen-by-grace ones.

And be assured, if the Son of God loved you so much he would die like that for you, he isn’t going to forget you before he brings you home to himself. By the Holy Spirit he sends to dwell within you, he will sanctify you (draw you closer to him as you live and breathe), assure your salvation and glorify you, (perfect you in heaven). There is nothing more certain in life than God’s Word. Amazing grace!

There is only one possible response to a realization of the greatness of your sin and the grace that justifies you before an infinitely Holy God, and that is to be heartily willing to live in gratitude to him. The hallmarks of such a life are 1.) Prayer–“Pray without ceasing”; 2.) continual repentance–“God, be merciful to  me, a sinner”; 3.) praise–“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the Earth”; 4.) proclamation–“Come and hear all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul”; and 5.) humility–“he adorns the humble with salvation”. How can you be other than humble? The only thing that separates you from that unrepentant rascal next door is God’s grace–everything you have in this life and the next is a gift from Almighty God.

Know guilt, know grace, know gratitude and you will know the good life for eternity. As a popular Southern Gospel song proclaims, “…it gets sweeter as the days go by.”

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

Our Gracious God reigns! See you in church.

JOY AMID THE MADNESS

June 6, 2021

In a world gone mad my week was delightfully sane and overflowing with love and joy. It was the one week of the month that I get to hang out with dear friends, ages 77 to 101, in our church family, calling on them in their homes. If the love and light of God’s grace that abounds in our time together could leaven the whole world, there surely would be lot more peace on earth.

There was an unearned bonus blessing this week—that’s redundant, for emphasis.  Juxtaposed with my geriatric peers was a 12-year-old boy who rode his bicycle over to my house for a lesson in scroll saw art. He’s a handsome little dude with a smile that’s going to melt a lot of hearts, and smart as a whip. I converse with him as with a peer, in spite of our 65-year age gap. He had a heartbreakingly rough start to life, but he and his brother were fostered and then adopted by a wonderful couple who love the Lord after they had raised their own family. I am just in awe of such noble souls, and immensely blessed for their allowing me to be a part of their son’s life. His hand/eye coordination is excellent, and I only have to demonstrate an action to him once and he’s got it. Sometimes he figures it out without me even showing him. And I thoroughly enjoy his company—a new friend! I had forgotten what a tonic an enthusiastic adolescent can be to a still-sentient septuagenarian.

Our church family life was capped off this week with a blessed memorial service on Saturday morning and a high school graduation celebration in the afternoon. Sunrise. Sunset. Swiftly flow the days, everything in its season and ever secure in the ark of God’s chosen, shut in by our heavenly Father from a flood of worldly woes as the devil rages in his death throes. Thank you, Lord, for leading me into the family of God.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together [and not just in worship], as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

See you in church.

STILL THE NOBLEST CALLING

May 31, 2021

Wall Street Journal, May 24, 1996. I visited with three old friends recently at a park in my town. It seems like only yesterday that we were all together, but actually it had been 28 years. There was a crowd at the park that day, and it took us awhile to connect, but with the aid of a computer we made it. I found Lance at Panel 54W, line 037, Lynn over at Panel 51W, line 032, and Vince down at line 103 on Panel 27W. We were gung-ho young fighter pilots in Vietnam, the cream of the crop of the US Air Force pilot training system, and now their names are on that 250-foot-long, half-size model of the Vietnam Memorial that moves around the country. I had intentionally avoided visiting the wall when it came to town in years past, because I did not trust myself to behave in a composed manner, but after nearly three decades it was time to try for some closure on this issue. I told my wife that I preferred to go alone, if that was all right, and, truth be known, I nearly backed out at that.

Standing in front of that somber wall, I tried to keep it light, reminiscing about how things were back then. We used to joke about the psychiatric term for a passionate love affair with inanimate flying objects—we flew F-100’s—and we marveled at the thought that the taxpayers actually paid us to do this “work.” We were not draftees, but college graduates there by choice, opting for the cramped confines of a jet fighter cockpit over the comfort of corporate America. In all my life I’ve not been so passionate about any other work. If that sounds like an exaggeration, then you’ve never danced the wild blue with a supersonic angel.

I vividly remember the Sunday afternoon, in the summer of ‘68, when we flew out of Travis Air Force Base, California, on a troop transport headed for Vietnam. Lynn, Lance and I crowded around the same porthole and watched the Golden Gate Bridge disappear below broken clouds. We had gone through fighter pilot school together and had done some serious bonding. In an exceedingly rare moment of youthful fighter pilot humility, I wondered if I would live to see that bridge again. For reasons I still don’t understand, I was the only one of the three who did.

Once in Vietnam, we passed the long, lonely off-duty hours at Dusty’s Pub, a lounge that we lieutenants built on the beach of the South China Sea at Tuy Hoa Air Base. The roof at Dusty’s doubled as a sun deck and the walls were non-existent. The complaint heard most often around the bar, in the standard gallows humor of a combat squadron, was that it was “…a lousy war, but it’s the only one we have.” (I’ve cleaned up the language a bit.) We sang mostly raunchy songs that never seemed to end—someone was always writing new verses—and, as an antidote to loneliness, fear in the night, and the sadness over dead friends, we often drank too much.

Vince joined us at Dusty’s Pub halfway through my tour of duty, and since he was a like-minded country kid from Montana, we hit it off. He had a wide grin, slightly stooped shoulders, and his own way of walking—he just threw his feet out and stepped on them. But what he lacked in military bearing he made up for with the heart of a tiger. He often flew as my wingman, and we volunteered for the night missions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. One starless night, the longest, saddest night of my life, we got into a really nasty gun duel with some anti-aircraft artillery batteries. I watched Vince die in a mushroom shaped fireball that for a moment turned night into day.

Lance—a New York boy who took unmerciful grief from the rest of us because he talked like a New Yawker—crashed into the side of a mountain in the central highlands while attacking a target. Lynn, a happy-go-lucky jock from Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock College with a hound named John the Basset, returned to his base on a stormy night in July after weather aborted his mission. Two miles of wet runway weren’t enough to stop an F-100 landing at 160 knots with all it bombs still on board. He ran off the end, flipped over, and slid through the minefield at the perimeter fence, setting off a gruesome sound and light show.

At the wall, I told the guys only about the good parts of the last 28 years. Lacy, one of our associates from Dusty’s Pub, became an astronaut, and a few summers ago I watched from my back yard, near Tampa, as he blasted off. His voice over the radio from space was at least an octave lower than it was the day I heard him radio for help while swinging from his parachute hung up in a tree in Laos. Another Dusty’s patron, Rick, is now a two-star general, and I reminded them of what we used to say about the military promotion system—it’s like a septic tank, only the really big chunks floated to the top.

I didn’t tell them about how ostracized Vietnam vets are, that during that same week, one of the nation’s leading newspapers has run an article that implied we Vietnam vets were, to quote one syndicated columnist, “either suckers or psychos, victims or monsters.”   I didn’t tell them that the Secretary of Defense they fought for back then has now declared that he was not a believer in the cause for which he assigned them all to their destiny. I didn’t tell them that a draft age kid from Arkansas, who hid out in England to dodge his duty while they were fighting and dying, is now the commander-in-chief. And I did not tell them we lost that lousy war. I gave them the same story I’ve used since the Nixon administration: “We were winning when I left.”

I relived that final day as I stared at the black onyx wall. The dawn came up like thunder after a year and 268 combat missions in the valley of the shadow. The ground trembled as 33 F-100’s roared off the runway, across the beach, and out over the South China Sea, climbing into the rising sun. On the eastern horizon a line of towering deep purple clouds stood shoulder-to-shoulder before a brilliant orange sky that slowly turned powder blue from the top down. From somewhere on that stage, above the whine of spinning turbine blades, I could hear a choir singing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” in fortissimo: The “…Lord God Omnipotent reigneth…,” and He was bringing me home, while Lance and Lynn and Vince will remain as part of the dust of Southeast Asia until the end of time.

I was not the only one talking to the wall through tears. A leather-vested, bare-chested biker two panels to my left was in even worse shape. I backed about twenty-five yards away from the wall and sat down on the grass   under a clear blue sky and mid-day sun that perfectly matched the tropical weather of the war zone. The wall, with all 58,200 names, consumed my field of vision. I tried to wrap my mind around the mega-tonnage of violence, carnage and ruined lives that it represented. Then I thought of how Vietnam was only one small war in the history of the human race, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of mankind’s wickedness.

My heart felt like wax in the blazing sun, and I was on the verge of becoming a spectacle in the park. I arose and walked back up to the wall to say good-bye and ran my fingers over the engraved names—Lance and Lynn and Vince—as if I could communicate with them in some kind of spiritual Braille. I wanted them to know that God, duty, honor, and country will always remain the noblest calling. Revisionist history by the elite dodgers who are trying to justify their actions cannot change that.

I have been a productive member of society since the day I left Vietnam. I am proud of what I did there, and I am especially proud of my friends—heroes who voluntarily, enthusiastically gave their all. They demonstrated no greater love to a nation who’s highbrow opinion makers are still trying to disavow them. May their names, indelibly engraved on that memorial wall, likewise be found in the Book of Life.

HUNGER AND THIRST

May 30, 2021

We don’t watch TV at our house aside from an occasional golf match on weekends, though neither of us has played the game in decades. What an exciting match the PGA tournament was this past weekend, as history was made by a nice guy dedicated to his sport long after most golf pros have joined the codger circuit, or retired to count their money. Sports writers, perhaps the best writers in the literary world, had a heyday waxing poetic on a success story for the record books. It was a story of dedication, discipline, focus and passion of Biblical proportions. I have no idea of the state of Phil Micholson’s soul or his relationship with God, but it was clear from what I saw and read that he hungered and thirsted after golfing perfection the way Christ said, in the Sermon on the Mount, a child of God should hunger and thirst after righteousness. (Matthew 5:6).

We turned the TV off and headed for Sunday evening church service in the middle of the greatest excitement—the back nine. Our pursuit of righteousness drives us back to church to worship our Lord on Sunday evening, but watching the contestants walk down the final fairway in the video the next morning gave me chills from head to toe. The crowd was so enthusiastic for old man Micholson (age 50) winning that it took a “phalanx of security forces to hold them back.” His ability to focus on the final green in the face of all that cacophonous adulation was a tribute to his masterful self-control, and his modesty when accepting the massive Wanamaker Cup and a check for $2+ million dollars made me whimper as I watched. Admiration, not envy. Motivation to go and do likewise in pursuit of my passion—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I would not trade places with Phil Micholson for a check of any amount. If family history marks the course, I’m walking the final fairway of life and there’s no adoring multitude in sight, no garish silver chalice awaits, nor filthy lucre—just a few wonderful words of invitation from my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and I expect to be face down when I hear them: “Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your master.” Forever. The ultimate win, by grace alone!  (Matthew 25:23).

See you there?    

THE NOBLE ONE-HUNDREDS

May 28, 2021

In 1854 England committed one of the worst military blunders in its history in the Crimean War. The ill-fated cavalry charge was memorialized by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his classic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. I beg Lord T’s pardon this Memorial Weekend as I lean on his poetic genius to honor four F-100 pilots, representative of all the fighter pilots who did not come home from America’s ill-fated Vietnam venture, no less noble than the riders of the Light Brigade.  

Every day, every day, 
Every day airborne.
All o’er the valley of Death
   Flew F-100’s.
“Scramble the Huns!
Go save the grunts!” they said.
Into the valley of Death
  Flew the one-hundreds.

Was there a jock dismayed?
Sure, but feared not the fray.
Politicos blundered.
Theirs not to make reply, 
Theirs not to reason why, 
Theirs but to do or die. 
Into the valley of Death, 
   Flew the one-hundreds.

Guns to the right of them,
Guns to the left of them,
Guns in front of them,
Some with deadly effect.
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they flew and well, 
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Flew the one-hundreds.

Brought all their weapons to bear,
Flashed as they turned in the air.
Savaged the enemy there, 
While all the world wondered.
Viet Cong and allies
Reeled from the Sabres’ blows—
   Shattered and sundered.

Then they flew home, but not
Not all one-hundreds,
All that were left of them.
Lance, Larry, Lynn, Vince et al,
They that had fought so well,
Flew into the jaws of Death
   And into eternity. 

When can their glory fade?
O the brave fight they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honor their God-given grit,
Honor their virtue, so fit—
   Noble one-hundreds.

[Painting by my friend, Marine fighter pilot Ed “Mofak” Cathcart (Mofakdotcom) of F-100’s over Mu Gia Pass, the northern terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, “The Deadliest Airspace in the History of Modern Air War” (YouTube). I’m responsible for some of those bomb craters, as are Vince and Larry, MIA, presumed KIA, awaiting Jesus’s return 75-100 miles south on The Trail from here.]


See also:

Still the Noblest Calling

The Wall Street Journal

May 24, 1996

PERSEVERANCE

May 23, 2021

America is being led where it has never been before—a world of moral insanity, ethical madness and flagrant hostility to God and His people—at a rate never seen in my lifetime, perhaps not in our history. There are intimations of the Biblical judgment of God (Romans 1) and of Revelation end times in current events. Even one who is near and dear to me, a liberal Christian who was overjoyed at the results of the last election, recently confessed a sense of gloom and doom. A popular newscaster declared the situation “dangerously flaky.” Perhaps it’s time for true Christians to consider that New Testament master of perseverance—the Apostle Paul. 

Paul suffered mightily in his ministry. Five times he received 40 lashes less one. Thirty-nine lashes (13 strokes with a three-strand whip) because 40 was considered enough to kill a man. In other words he was whipped 5 times within an inch of his life. Three times he was beaten with rods and once he was stoned—a death sentence that failed. (2 Corinthians 11:24).  He suffered shipwreck, starvation, deprivation, despair, imprisonment 6 years and died by the executioner’s axe.  As R. C. Sproul said, “A man who kept the faith in spite of every single terrifying thing the world could throw at him.” And yet he told the Corinthians, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:18). And he told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain… I desire to depart and be with Christ…But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (vs 21, 23, 24). 

How could he say that? After all that he suffered how could he continue, not only unbroken but with such ebullient optimism and good cheer?

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 has the answer. The Apostle told the Corinthians of visions and revelations of the Lord that he once had. Telling the story in the 3rd person he said, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things which cannot be told, which man may not utter.” [“unlawful”–KJV]

God revealed things about his future destination to Paul that he was not free to divulge to other mortals, things inexpressible—too wonderful for words. John Calvin explains this passage beautifully for us: “Paul was given a glimpse of the glorious, to give him grace to persevere through tribulation that would have broken a thousand hearts.”

That is the “glorious” that awaits a child of God—too wonderful for words. That is why the first century persecuted Christians were so willing to face even martyrdom—they were absolutely convinced, with Paul, of the resurrection of Christ, and that death was not the final dimension but a transition to a glorious greater reality.

Is not such a glorious reality worth light momentary affliction? Do not cave and do not even try to accommodate the insatiable spirit of the antichrist (1 John 2:18) permeating our culture, even infiltrating some churches, on so important an issue as your eternal soul. Take heart, Christian. God is not sleeping. He has not abdicated nor lost control. He is working His sovereign will, and that includes our “…inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Eph. 1:1).

The Apostle John’s comforting words to first century Christians suffering widespread persecution and martyrdom equally apply through the ages:

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them [the godless], for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

See you in church.

UNHINDERED WORSHIP

May 16, 2021

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

“I was glad when [the elders] said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD” without a mask! Two weeks ago our church returned to normal! We met together with no masks and no social distancing. What a difference a smile makes, and the human touch, even if it is only a fist bump! It’s so much more conducive to love and good works and encouraging one another in gathered worship and the social interaction before and after.

In the providence of God a ten-year-old boy got baptized and took membership vows on that special day. He stood before the congregation, immaculately attired like a mini-parson, with no mask to hide behind, right at the limits of his solemn fidgeting courage, and answered the membership questions with no hesitation. We all vowed to do our part as the family of God. Then he returned to his pew with a sigh of relief and his mother went forward and sang a soulful song—A Mother’s Prayer, by Keith and Kristin Getty—as she gazed into her son’s eyes. That frozen-chosen Presbyterian congregation was stirred up to a weepy loving smiling mess by the time she finished that hymn of encouragement and admonishment and calling on our Sovereign God’s leading for her beloved son.

In the dark times ahead it will not be the last time that earnest young man has to take a courageous stand for our God, and the hearers may well be the opposite of supportive. But Jesus has won the war and we are just mopping up against a tenacious devil in his death throes. All things are coming to pass precisely according to God’s perfect providence, for His glory and the good of those who love Him. 

Meantime, as Puritan Thomas Watson said, “the profaneness of the times should not slacken our zeal, but heighten it.” We will not neglect to joyfully meet together to worship the One True God as the day of His return draws nearer. We have a sound church and a sweet cloud of witnesses who work for the unity of the body in the bonds of The Spirit, who love and encourage one another, defying a dying world’s attempt to split us from one another and our God-given faith.  It is such a blessing to be a part of this family of God.

See your smiling face in church!

Happy Mothers’ Day in heaven, Mom!

May 9, 2021
Of all Mom gave her eldest son,
A poet’s bent was only one.
Her words and deeds, with steadfast love,
Instilled the same for God above.

TO THE MEMBERS OF BETHEL LUTHERAN CHURCH
[On the death of my father, by Alberta L. Wetterling]

How do you tell your Bethel friends
How much they mean to you?
How words of comfort gave your strength
And helped to see you through—
A trying time—
A sad time—
And yet a victory!
For one who was among us
Has earned his rest, you see…

THIS THING CALLED SIN
By JD Wetterling

Astounding is this thing called sin,
It makes the God of love and grace
The enemy of men.

Those with the deepest sense of sin
Still can but weakly comprehend
The sinfulness of sin.

But this we know from Holy Writ,
It took the blood of His own Son 
To sate His hate of it.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, 
And the teaching of her kindness is on her tongue…
Her children rise up and call her blessed…” 
(Proverbs, 31: 26, 28)

See you in church.

%d bloggers like this: