Planted by the River

God spoke to me this morning—and, ironically, He used Facebook! Prayer Tree in EthiopiaNow, I don’t recommend starting off the day with Facebook, but that’s exactly what I did this morning; and it just goes to show that God can use any means He wants to get our attention.

What caught my eye this morning was a post from a friend who… well, you should read it in her own words:

Saturday night I was baking cookies for my boys when I burnt my hand badly. Brian came home from a work-trip at midnight and we were in the ER until 8:30 the following morning. My hand was so badly burned and swelling that they cut my wedding ring off and recommended that I see a plastic surgeon asap.

Twenty-four hours later, after a horrible reaction to the pain meds including multiple rounds of vomitting, I called the plastic-surgeon’s office. And, I cut off the bandage on my hand. Despite not being able to keep down any pain meds, I had NO PAIN and MY HAND WAS HEALED.

Later Monday, I was in the plastic surgeon’s office, reviewing pictures from the ER and said “I think maybe I’m here to encourage you…”

The doctor, a beautiful asian woman, Harvard Med School Grad, former Johns Hopkins Resident said, “Yes, actually, I’ve been really sad because my son is leaving for college. I could use some comfort!”

“Well, God is a God of comfort! I’m so thankful that he’s gifted you to be a healer for many! That’s just incredible!” I said.

She replied, “Well, thank you!”

Then I said, “I don’t normally do this but… can I pray for you?”

She said yes.

So I prayed, “Lord, you’ve known this doctor and watched over her all the days of her life and you have a plan for her future! I pray that she will experience your comfort like the arms of a kind, strong husband around her. I thank you for equipping her to help kids and grown ups heal from horrible scars, allowing them to be accepted in our culture. Lord, you know that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters to you. Thank you for helping others heal with this lady’s help from scars and may they heal from the inside out…”

I explained that praying is turning to God. That she could turn to God in prayer for comfort at any time.

The doctor said she had chills while I prayed.

It’s two days later and my hand looks perfectly healed. No pain.

Did I mention that my mom, sons and husband prayed for my healing? Because they did!

I shouldn’t be surprised that God still answers prayers like that, or that He heals people like that, but I confess: I am. But I’m also encouraged. And I needed that reminder of God’s sovereignty and His care for us.

But God didn’t use just my friend’s words this morning; He also spoke to me from His own Word. I’ve been slowly making my way through the book of Jeremiah recently and after closing down Facebook, I read these words in chapter 17:

The man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence indeed is the LORD, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water; it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn’t fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit. (verses 7-8)

Then this, in verses 14-15 (which hit me especially hard after reading my friend’s story!):

Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved, for You are my praise.

My prayer for today: Healing, Sovereign Father, help me to trust you today. Refresh me from the streams of Your grace. Sustain me in the time of drought. Free me from worry and keep me producing fruit. Heal me; save me, for You are my praise. Amen and amen.

What I Want for the Church

As I have searched for a Lead Pastor role, I have been asked a lot of different questions. One of the best was this one: In what area or areas are you passionate about seeing the American church change or move forward?

I am passionate about seeing the American church grow in health, unity, and mission.

Health is primarily a local church issue. Unhealthy churches cannot produce healthy fruit (see Matthew 7:17-18). For a church to be healthy, it must have a healthy pastor and healthy leaders. This doesn’t mean everyone in the church needs to be healthy, for as Jesus also said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” But for the church to be effective, the church itself must be healthy.

Unity is one health factor at the local level. There must be unity among the leaders, and the congregation must be united behind them. But unity is also needed across the spectrum of Christian faith: local churches need to unite to impact their communities; denominations and other regional and national church associations need to unite to impact their regions, the nation, and the world. A divided church at any level will not accomplish the world-transforming mission of God.

Mission is possible when churches are healthy and united. The mission of the Church—stated even more simply than “make disciples of all peoples”—is to Love God and Love People. This mission is lived out both locally in our communities and globally as we partner with, serve, and learn from the church in other parts of the world.

Why am I passionate about this? Because I have felt and seen the great pain caused by the American church. I am passionate because for too long, the American church has been marked by division and a separatist attitude that have increasingly driven people away from Jesus more than drawn them to Him. We have complained about our nation’s moral nosedive but have been helpless to stop it—not because we have been unable to elect Christ-following political leaders (see Jeremiah 17:5), but because we have not loved our neighbors. When the American church recognizes and acknowledges its own sickness, it can take the steps needed to get healthy; and when the church gets healthy, we will be able to unite behind God’s mission…enabling a far greater Kingdom impact on our nation and the world.

Legacy

Cru logoOver the past week, I have been enjoying a vacation reminiscent of summer trips my family took when I was young, but unlike any that my wife and I have taken with our own kids. Starting out in San Diego, we have visited the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde National Parks, stopped briefly to walk through Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico at Four Corners National Monument, watched as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train began its slow trek into the mountains, and rode the newly-rebuilt Royal Gorge Aerial Tram a thousand feet above the Arkansas River in Colorado.

For the past few days we have been with my parents, a treat that only happens every couple years. Many of our conversations have been about church ministry, family, current events, and the staff conference from which they’d just returned. There has also been plenty of catching up on old friends (“do you remember…?” or “have you heard from…?”) and reminiscing about the adventures we had as a family or that my parents have had in the thirty-plus years since I (their youngest) left home. And the adventures have been many, but far more than mere adventure….

Next year, my parents will celebrate fifty years on staff with Cru (known until four years ago as Campus Crusade for Christ). Those years have taken them from their childhood homes in Michigan to live in California, Minnesota, Texas, British Columbia, Germany, and Colorado. But they have served even more broadly on four of the world’s seven continents: Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, and North Africa, to name a few), Asia (Mongolia, Siberia, and China), Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, the Netherlands, and Russia), North & Central America (Canada, U.S., Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Cuba).

And they have shared their faith in Jesus Christ more broadly still, with global ambassadors and diplomats, national presidents and prime ministers, business executives, college students, athletes, and military leaders. They have trained thousands of men, women, and children, whether through a Sunday School class with six teenagers or a Dallas Cotton Bowl stadium with 85,000; in a church with a few hundred adults or a dinner with dozens of international diplomats. Mom has taught hundreds in an international women’s Bible study and Dad has talked about Jesus one skier at a time as he rode chair lifts with strangers for forty years.

During many of the conversations with my parents the past few days, our daughters have read books or played games on their phones. But they have also heard the stories, the names, the challenges and blessings. And as they’ve walked through Oma and Opa’s condo, they’ve seen the evidences of these lives lived for God: memorabilia from their travels, gifts from friends, photos of family. And I think my girls have caught something of the legacy they are inheriting—a legacy of faith and faithfulness, of devotion and obedience, of love for God and people. My prayer is that they will see a similar legacy in my wife and me, even if it will look different than their globe-trotting grandparents.

Convergence: More Than Just A Shirt

I want to tell you about three stories converging.

Story #1: In 1982 I graduated from Bonn American High School, aka The American School on the Rhein, in the capital city of what was then West Germany. During my four years in Bonn, my family met and became friends with the Liberian Ambassador and his wife, Dr. Zamba and Doris Liberty. When I graduated, the Libertys gave me a beautiful, hand-embroidered traditional Liberian shirt called a dashiki. To this day, the shirt is a treasured reminder not only of my time in Germany, but our friends and their West African nation.

Story #2: In 2008 I had the privilege of spending ten days in Liberia to work with pastors, a school, and a clinic. Just four years removed from a brutal and bloody civil war that had lasted roughly fourteen years, the nation was a wreck: 85% unemployment, hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, and even in Monrovia, the capital, only about 15% of the city had electricity or running water. At the school we were working with, I talked with one of the teachers about the challenges of educating students in that environment. 

Story #3: You know the word: ebola. An epidemic that claimed thousands of lives in western Africa and struck fear into the hearts of America when aid workers who had become infected were brought to the US for treatment. But ebola did more than simply kill individuals; it also killed economies—like the struggling one in Liberia.

Convergence: Enter Chidegar Liberty, better known as Chid. He is the son of Dr. and Mrs. Liberty, who gave me the dashiki more than thirty years ago. Chid grew up in the U.S. but since traveling back to Liberia for the first time in 2009, has had a passion and a vision for the people of his homeland. He started a women’s sewing center to train and employ the women of Liberia, making high quality clothing for international distribution. But the ebola crisis shut down the factory and sent its employees back home with no income and little hope. But Chid, a hero if there ever was one, is back at it, with a vision bigger and grander than before. Now he not only wants to employ and train women, but also put school uniforms on kids so they can get an education. Simply called ‪#‎UNIFORM‬, the dream is simple: make the world’s softest t-shirt, sell it around the world, and for every shirt sold, give a school uniform to a Liberian child.

So far, more than 1,000 supporters have backed a crowd funding campaign, committing more than $200,000—enough to put uniforms on more than 8,000 kids. As I write, the campaign is in its final 40 hours.

What started for me as a gift shirt in 1982 is now coming full circle, as my support will put shirts on the backs of Liberian students so they, too, will be able to attend—and graduate from—high school. Who knows; maybe one of those students will grow up to be an ambassador to Germany and give a shirt to another young person.

If you want to join this campaign, go to tiny.cc/uniform; to learn more, check out the story on Facebook at tiny.cc/UniformFB. I hope you’ll join me in this!

Messy People

For most of the past six months I have been delivering mail in the Bankers Hill area, about a mile north of the heart of downtown San Diego. My route covered about six square blocks of Class A and B offices and high rent apartments and condos. The businesses I delivered to were predominantly lawyers, dentists, and other professionals. 

Two weeks ago I moved to a new route covering about nine square blocks in the East Village. The differences between the two areas could not be more palpable. Now I deliver to low-income housing, homeless shelters, and day centers for the homeless. I see a lot more people but almost never any suits and ties. The cleavage I see now is far less likely to be a from a shapely woman’s low neckline and far more likely to be an indigent’s posterior. While there is some racial diversity farther north, here I am encountering people from all over the world. Last week I met a young girl and boy—maybe 14 and 10—who moved here from Baghdad two years ago. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I imagined what they had experienced in their young lives. 

The route I’m doing now is longer: I rarely finish in much less than eight hours, compared to the six it took in Bankers Hill. It’s messier; I’m often greeted with the odor of urine—fresh or stale—when I stop to get out of my delivery van. But there is a refreshing realness to the people whose paths I cross every day. These people, by and large, are broken, but they don’t hide their brokenness. They’re messy, but they don’t mask it. Farther north, the brokenness and messes are masked by perfect manicures, nice clothes, and gated buildings. 

If I have to deliver mail for the time being, this is a good place for me to do it. Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of serving the messy people for whom you died.

Preparing to Worship

Mount Helix

Photo copyright 2011-2015 by Randall J. Ehle

Rock music was part of my teen world. In those days before earbuds were ubiquitous, I would sometimes pull the stereo speakers down from the shelves, place them on the floor facing each other, and lay with my head between them while Led Zeppelin or the Eagles pumped into my ears like an IV. The same music filled my head on Sunday mornings, too, while I was getting dressed for church…until, that is, my dad would ask me to turn it down or even off, replacing my selections with Bach, Beethoven, or whatever he had in the way of Christian music. His reasoning: we need to prepare our hearts for worship. I grumbled about the change then, with the same type of argument my kids give me today.

As parents ourselves now, my wife and I have one-upped my own parents and talked about how preparing for worship needs to begin on Saturday nights, not just Sunday mornings. Sometimes those preparations are practical, like laying out clothes for the next day; sometimes they’re mental or even spiritual in nature—after all, how well does watching Braveheart prepare my mind to hear from God? But preparing to worship is not only about music and movies and clothes. It is about my heart, my mind, my soul… this is starting to sound like something God said on more than one occasion, and saw fit to write down for us:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” —Mark 12:30

In fact, this command is repeated several times throughout the Bible and, for Jews, has been a centerpiece of twice-daily prayers for thousands of years. It’s also a good guide to preparing for worship. Here are some thoughts on how to do that:

Heart: Think of the heart as the seat of our emotions. We can prepare to worship God by keeping our emotions and relationships in check. This might be as simple as a pleasant morning greeting or a hug and kiss for our family members, or as difficult as intentionally avoiding a relational conflict about clothes! (That’s one reason setting out clothes on Saturday night can help so much on Sunday morning.)

Soul: The soul represents what we most often think of as the spiritual. We can point our soul toward God by listening to God-focused worship music—as my dad exhorted—or by reading a devotional book or the Bible (especially some of the Psalms). The discipline of silence is also helpful; not just refraining from speech, but blocking out the noise around. I know what you’re thinking: “But I’ve got three kids under age six—where am I supposed to find silence?!” Be creative in location and brief in duration. You may not find silence on the couch, but bathrooms—even the shower—are usually good alternatives. And if you’ve never intentionally sat silently before, then you’ll find that even thirty seconds seems long…and can do wonders.

Mind: Reading the Bible can focus the mind as well as the soul, though this is a different type of reading. If you can find out ahead of time what passage the sermon will be focused on, read that. Or if your pastor sends an email or newsletter during the week, read that. These can get your mind pointed in the direction the message will soon be taking it.

Strength: Loving God with your strength isn’t about doing push ups in the morning (though that may be good for you, too). Rather, it is about preparing your body to worship Him. That can mean anything from the clothes you wear to the breakfast you eat to the sleep you get on Saturday night. Setting out clothes the night before—especially for kids or indecisive dressers—can reduce worship-inhibiting morning stress.

All of this can be challenging enough when you’re single; add a spouse and any number of kids—from infant to teenager—and it becomes exponentially more difficult. My wife and I, for example, have opposite ways of getting ready to go to church on Sunday mornings: she prefers to wake up leisurely and relax with a cup of coffee as she slowly dresses and does makeup, then rush the drive to church. I’d rather quickly get myself all ready to leave so I can relax for ten or fifteen minutes before we get in the car, then drive casually, and have plenty of time to find parking and seats before the service starts.

Here’s the rub: going to church is easy. Preparing to worship the Creator of the universe, though, takes forethought and planning… and that can’t happen on Sunday morning. Sometime this week, take time to think through and write down how you can best prepare for worship. Include each of these areas—heart, mind, soul, and strength (body)—noting what is needed in each and what time constraints there may be. If you’re married, do this together; if you have kids, share it with them (or better yet, work with them on it). Here’s a quick sample, assuming your church service starts at 9:00am.

Saturday evening: after dinner, everyone sets out clothes—right down to underwear, socks, shoes, and jackets—and gets appropriate approvals (from mom, dad, husband, wife). Iron what needs to be ironed. Do something fun together as a family, like a board game, puzzle, or fun G or PG movie that ends by 8:30.

Sunday morning: everyone is up in time for showers, breakfast, and coffee. Get dressed, put on makeup. Mom helps younger kids with hair; Dad helps them get dressed while Mom does her makeup. Aim for everyone to be dressed, hair combed and teeth brushed, and ready to leave fifteen minutes before departure time. Relax. Be quiet. Read. Listen to worship, praise, or instrumental music. Finish coffee. Five minutes before you have to leave, get out the door. 

A word of caution: this isn’t simply about having a preset morning schedule; it may mean changing your perspective on things. It may mean that the time nazi who’s always watching the clock needs to chill out, and the one who has no concept of time needs to gracefully receive reminders. And as far as time is concerned, keep in mind that this isn’t about “being on time for church,” it is about preparing to encounter and worship God—and in that worship, we get to bless God.

Measuring “Success” – A Guest Post

Emotionally Healthy SpiritualityI received the following today in an email from Pete Scazzero, founding pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York; author of two books, The Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality; and, with his wife Gail, founder of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a ministry that equips churches in deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm that integrates emotional health and contemplative spirituality. I encourage you to check out these books and other resources from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

I particularly appreciate the bullet points Pete includes, which offer the best and most measurable guidelines for transformation that I have seen. Now to work on putting these principles to work in my own life and ministry. From Pete:

Measuring ministry impact with numbers is biblical.

The book of Acts uses numbers to describe the impact of the gospel – about 3,000 baptized (Acts 2:41), about 5,000 believers (Acts 4:4), crowds coming to faith (Acts 5:14). We have a whole book in the Bible called Numbers. So, in the context of the church, it is good to measure things like attendance, baptisms, membership, number of small groups, and financial giving.

The problem comes when that is all we measure.

Measuring deep, beneath the surface transformation in people’s lives is also critically important – if not more important. (Consider Paul, Gal. 4:19, Jesus mentoring the 12). The specifics of these internal markers will differ from ministry to ministry and from context to context.

The following are several examples we set to measure at New Life Fellowship Church:

  • Each leader at New Life will develop his or her relationship with God by spending ten to thirty minutes in prayer and Scripture reading in the morning, and a few additional minutes of prayer and reflection in the afternoon/evening.
  • Our staff, board, and key leaders will slow down their lives by practicing Sabbath for twenty-four hours each week.
  • Our staff, board, and key leaders will pray the Examen at least once a day in order to discern and follow God’s will in their lives.
  • Every member of our pastoral and administrative staff team will consistently seek to integrate emotionally healthy skills into their ministries and relationships.
  • Each member at New Life will develop a personal Rule of Life that enables them to receive and give the love of God. They will share it at their membership interview.
  • Eighty-five percent of our members will connect in a small group or ministry (i.e. a smaller community) for support as part of their spiritual formation.
  • Every child will participate in a discipleship small group with an appointed leader.
  • Fifty percent of married couples will go through training to view their relationship as a living sign of God’s passionate love for the world.

Some of these are fairly easy to measure, but others have proven to be more difficult. Yet, even when the measurement is fairly straightforward, it is vitally important to humbly acknowledge our limits in “measuring” a person’s transformation into the image of Jesus.

But one thing is sure. Every one of us must wrestle with our teams and do the painstaking discernment work of identifying precisely what those internal markers of success are for us at any given point in time.

-Pete

Church Music

My mother-in-law shared an article on Facebook that got me thinking about church music. What she shared was a blog post called “13 Solutions for a Church That Just Won’t Sing,” by Jonathan Aigner, the Director of Music in a United Methodist church. I’ve never heard of Jonathan before; all I know about him is what he wrote on his blog, www.theologyinworship.com, where he says he grew up Southern Baptist, has Bachelor’s and a Master’s degrees in music, as well as Master’s degrees in both theology and educational leadership. In other words, he seems to have some credentials backing what he wrote. And what he wrote was good, even if I don’t agree with some of his proposed solutions.

You really should read Jonathan’s article because I’m going to respond to some of his thoughts and there’s a good chance that something will get lost in translation going from him to me to you. I don’t want to misrepresent him; neither do I want to come across as disagreeing with everything he says. Rather, I want to use his article as a springboard for some of my own thoughts. Briefly, here are his thirteen solutions (all are direct quotes except where italicized):

  1. Teach—how, what, and why to sing.
  2. Dust off the organ console.
  3. Bring the choir back.
  4. Don’t perform.
  5. Get rid of the lead soloist.
  6. Don’t sing so much.
  7. Sing all the time.
  8. Build a resonant sanctuary.
  9. Encourage and support the arts in the community.
  10. Bring the kids back into corporate worship.
  11. Use hymnals.
  12. Make the music worth singing.
  13. Stop doing the same songs over and over and over.

For starters, I agree that churches can teach us how to sing, what to sing, and why to sing. That’s how learned: standing in church between my alto mother and my bass father, I learned to follow the little black dots as they floated up and down the clefs. Those lessons laid the foundation for my three years of clarinet, a year of high school chorus, and four years in a singing and drama club.

But learning to sing—even for the purpose of worshipping and praising God—is not what church is really about, so I’d go a step farther than Jonathan suggests and use music as a teaching tool. After all, many of the great hymns were written, at least in part, to teach about God, not only to praise him. Since music by its very nature tends to stick with us, the songs we sing on Sunday mornings have the potential to stick in our minds far longer than the words of my sermon. We need to tap into that potential.

As for choirs and organs, I agree with Jonathan’s reasoning even if I don’t think his solutions are necessarily the right or even best options. What he wants is instrumentation “able to support sustained, hearty congregational singing” and “a sizable, confident, prepared group” to lead that singing. Both of those goals can be achieved with options other than an organ and a choir, but it takes a skilled and intentional worship leader and team to do so…just as it would demand a skilled organist and choir. I’ve seen—or rather heard—the difference in singing when a well-trained and versatile person is on the piano instead of someone who simply plays the little black notes. No instrument in the world will make an average musician sound great; on the other hand, a truly exceptional musician can make an average instrument do wondrous things.

Having said that, I certainly agree with Jonathan that an organ is a uniquely adept instrument for supporting congregational singing. But that doesn’t apply to every organ; electronic organs can be little more than glamorous synthesizers. A pipe organ, though, is unbelievably versatile, especially at the hands and feet of a well-trained organist. [Full disclosure: I married into a pipe organ family; my father-in-law has been building them for longer than the half-century I have been alive, so I’m just a little biased. That said, if you are at all interested in church music—which you probably are if you have read this far—you owe it to yourself to get in on some good pipe organ concerts.]

Let me take on several of Jonathan’s points together—numbers 3, 4, 5, 11, 12, and 13—and boil them down to this: if you want the congregation to sing, then invite them and allow them to do so. Don’t drown out the congregation with amplified instruments (even a pipe organ) or worship team (even a choir). As Ed Stetzer has written, sing singable songs in singable ways. Follow these ideas and you will probably avoid having your up-front team being performers before an audience. Hymnals can help people sing…if they’re inclined to sing, know how to read music, and are familiar enough to find the song in the time they have to do that. In other words, hymnals might help church people sing. But if you’re trying to help non-church people encounter God, then projecting the words on a screen is a far better choice. (Just be sure your tech people are good enough to stay with the musicians and get the right words on the screen at the right time.)

I may write about worship again another time, but let me close with one more encouragement to read Jonathan’s blog for yourself, and not simply to either argue against or agree with, but to reflect on and impact your own thinking about corporate worship.

Dear Pastor

Old BibleDear Pastor,

Last week I wrote to Youth Pastors asking them to encourage kids to bring their Bibles to church—and to use them there! Not because it makes them look holy, or just because it’s a good habit, but to help them learn to read, know, and understand God’s Word. I acknowledged the changing technologies (from scrolls to books to smart phones) and the changing cultures (from oral to visual and, some say, a return to oral).

Now, thanks to one of those Youth Pastors, it’s time to put in a request to you: encourage us to bring and use our Bibles at church; help us as adults also learn to read, use, know, and appreciate God’s Word. This idea isn’t mine; one of my former pastors put it in my mind when he stood in front of the church and announced that we would no longer be projecting the day’s Scripture reading, for just those purposes: to help train us. Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Don’t put the main Bible passage on the screen. Instead, ask people to use their own Bible, whether print or electronic. Make sure there is enough light for people to read by. Verses read during the message may be projected, but not the whole text.
  • Have Bibles available in the sanctuary. If you don’t have Bibles in the seats, be sure they are readily available at the entrance doors. For a while, you may even offer a Bible to each person entering, along with the bulletin or other printed materials. Well before you are ready to read the passage, ask if anyone needs a Bible, and have ushers ready to pass them out. Oh, and be sure they are all the same translation and format (see next point).
  • Announce the passage at least twice. Make sure the reference is in the bulletin and put it on the screen.
  • Help us find the passage. Tell us the page number in the available Bibles, but also give some hints on finding it in our own Bibles (e.g., table of contents, general location, major books before or after the passage, etc.). Give us time, too! You may even print a QR code in the bulletin, linking to the passage in an online Bible such as www.biblegateway.com. (QR codes are easy to generate and can be used to link to just about any website. But be sure to test it each week, or you might end up with some surprises.)
  • Give a Bible to anyone who wants one, no questions asked! This should be the first priority in your annual budget, or at least a non-negotiable. They don’t have to be high-quality leather Bibles; inexpensive paperbacks are fine. But be generous with God’s Word!

One last thought: Ask everyone to stand up when reading the main passage. In this we follow the example of the people of Israel, who stood in honor of God’s Word when Ezra opened the Book of the Law (see Nehemiah 8).

If God’s Word is worth proclaiming each Sunday, and worth teaching our kids, then it’s certainly worth these simple steps. And you just may convince me, too, Pastor, that knowing and listening to God is even more important than listening to you!

5.25.15

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

marble whitecaps undulating on seas of green
each cross, each star, an etchéd mem’ry
	of some fallen one
heroes all, though none would deign
	to claim the title
we’ve given them today

they trained for war yet prayed for peace
	and wrestled freedom from tyranny’s grasp
while longing for home and love and life
	and one more day with son or wife

for us they fought, who never knew
	the battles’ fears and weapons’ fury
for us who now too oft forget
	the price our precious freedoms carry

they fought in wars not understood
	in fields and jungles, skies and seas
in desert sands, on snowy peaks
	in skirmish lines or unmanned planes
through rifle sights or satellites
	with bayonets and house-to-house
in blood-filled trench or concrete bunker

while some returned to ticker tape
	or ship’s first kiss
		or great surprise
still others came in flag-draped box
	or not at all—
		interred at deep
			or buried ‘neath some foreign soil

today we stand beside the sea
	of marble white and fescued green
unable now to fully grasp
	the weight of sacrifices past
the names unknown to but a few
	rememb’ring what we never knew
		and cannot know…
we honor them no less


Poem and Photo Copyright 2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.