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Cross Views

Turning the Ugly into the Beautiful

October 11, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Psalms/Now Book
Professional fine woodworker Michael Doerr of Door County, Wisconsin, turns a rough Walnut burl into a beautiful bowl in his rural shop.

 

Wood artisan Michael Doerr works in his studio located along a quiet wooded road in Southern Door County, Wisconsin. For each project he selects a piece of wood that he fashions into something that honors the beauty and life of the tree. He combines the best flow of the grain with his dynamic design. The result is a unique table, chair, or bowl that is both a practical piece and a work of art.

While biking recently, I discovered his workshop. Michael was about to begin creating something out of a large previously cut Black Walnut tree that had been offered to him. The chips were flying, covering his fluffy white beard as he stood with chisel in hand before a powerful lathe. A handsome bowl was emerging from an aged burl of striking grains.

A burel is a growth on a tree formed by unsprouted bud tissue. The large, knobby looking, ugly growth on the trunk of the tree is raw material for wood turners. The intense grain patterns are caused by injury, fungus, virus, and insects.

 

Some large burls are sliced by saw instead of turned by lathe,  producing table tops like this one cut from a large White Oak.

Michael in his workshop showroom of furniture displaying an Oak burl table.
 
A handsome rocking chair made from select grains of Maple.

 

"A place for everything and everything in its place."
 
 

Afterwards, it occurred to me that the Creator takes the ugliness of human behavior and reshapes it into something beautiful for His ultimate purposes. In theology, it's called restoration or transformation.

We find this truth illustrated in the betrayal of Joseph by his eleven brothers and in Judas' betrayal of Jesus before His crucifixion. In both cases, evil was transformed into good for the salvation of all.

Likewise, the risen and reigning Christ takes the ugliness and evil of this world and turns it into transcendent beauty, truth, and love.

When I stay alert, I see that our world contains spiritual truth hiding in nature and in people who honor its beauty.

Paul Emmel

Minneapolis
October 8, 2021

Doerr's website: michaeldoerr.com

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

Psalm 83/Now: Bone-Weary, Defeated, and Lonely

August 25, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Psalms/Now Book

 

I am so depressed, O God.
I feel like I am the sole target
of an enemy barrage -
like all the demons in hell are bent
on damning my soul for eternity.
 
I remember Your promises,
but I do not witness their fulfillment.
I talk to people about Your love,
and they drown my enthusiasm with scorn.
I step forth to carry out Your will,
but I feel no sense of accomplishment.
I say the right words,
but my heart is not in them.
 
Then I fall like a wounded warrior,
bone-weary, defeated, and lonely.
And I wonder if You are truly my God
and if I am truly Your child.
 
Consume, O God, these demons that depress,
these enemies that plague my soul.
May the whirlwind of Your Spirit
sweep them out of my life forever.
 
May I awaken with a heart full of joy
and with strength and courage
to walk straight and secure
in the dangerous and difficult paths
before me.
 
 

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My Commentary

Everybody — believer and non-believer — falls into pits of depression from time to time. For the faithful it's when we no longer sense the joy and levity we once enjoyed. When the promises of God get "stuck on the page" but not in the heart. When we're living more on memories of His power than experiencing it in the moment.

Most of the famous saints tell of times when it seemed they were "running on empty" for long period. Mother Theresa of Calcutta described several years when she just "kept going", laboring without benefit of dramatic signs of the Lord's presence. Bone-weary and lonely, saints persist by faith, not by feelings or sight.

During dry times, doubt creeps in and saints become filled with self-doubt. "Am I truly God's child? Where is His power?" In fact, "Where is He? Give me a sign!"

It is during lonely dessert experiences when we are taught to dig deeper into the Word, to persist despite our feelings, to persevere whatever the circumstances. "Nevertheless" becomes our mantra. "Yet, still" our cry in the night. In faith, we put one foot ahead of the other trusting we are on the right road.

In the valleys of life we learn spiritual warfare as we plead with God's Spirit to consume the demons and send the enemy back to where he came from. We claim victory that we do not yet see. We shout an "alleluia" we can not yet feel. We stand our ground even when it seems no one else stands with us.

We fall asleep in the hope that "tomorrow is another day." God Himself alone knows what that new day will bring. He will determine when and if our burden will be lifted. He will not test us beyond what we are able, but will with the temptation provide a way out. Then our strength and courage will return. We will again emerge stronger and more secure in Him.

And if you doubt that outcome, ask any older Christian who's been around for a while. They will say, "Amen!"

 
Paul Emmel

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2021

Psalm 83 adapted from Psalms/Now by Leslie F. Brandt (Concordia: 1974, 1996).

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

Remember Rationing?

August 04, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Psalms/Now Book
My personal ration book from World War II, ca. 1942.

 

In my mother's collection of memorabilia were ration books from World War II. These books were issued to each American family by the Office of Price Administration (OPA). Mine was five pages of tiny stamps showing drawings of guns, airplanes, tank and aircraft carriers.

Each stamp authorized the purchase of rationed goods in the quantities and at the times designated by the OPA. Without stamps these goods could not be legally purchased.

Rationing was a vital part of our country's war effort. Price ceilings were established by the Federal Government. Dealers were required to post their prices conspicuously. Buyers were encouraged to support rationing, thereby conserving vital goods necessary for defense. They were to be guided by the rule, "If you don't need it, DON'T BUY IT".

To be sure, there were many goods sold on "the black market" that circumvented rationing, even though severe penalties threatened violators.  Just as in Prohibition, rationing was not popular but it afforded many people the bare necessities of wartime living.

My mother noted, "All families were required to register with their local OPA for ration books. The books were numbered and required for the purchase of meats, butter, lard, oleo, sugar and soaps. Later, stamps were required for shoes and some wool clothing."

She continued, "When meat and butter purchased did not amount to the ration ticket, the merchants gave the change in red and blue tokens. Soaps used for washing were hard to find in the stores because of the scarcity of fat needed to manufacture soap powders. When dissolved they made little suds so stains and spots remained in the laundry after washing".

It's been a long time since the days of rationing. Many of us now in our eighties were youngsters. We may have other memories of the sacrifices and efforts all families made to survive and win the war.

If it were absolutely necessary in the future, I hope Americans could still unite and make a concerted effort as our parents and grandparents did in the 1940's. Who knows what it will take to set aside our differences and face a common enemy? Americans have been tested by COVID and will soon be tested by even greater problems. How we face them will depend upon what we remember of the past.

 
Paul Emmel

July 28, 2021

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

Psalm 46: A Prayer of Faith

July 22, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Psalms/Now Book
Although reprinted in 2003, this hugely popular book of paraphrased Psalms is no longer available. Its message encourages people to think anew about the psalms and realize the timeless meaning they hold for believers.

 

Our great God is still our Refuge and Strength.
He knows our problems and fears.
Thus we have no business doubting Him
even though the earth is convulsed in tragedy
by ethnic hatred, disease,
drugs, crime and abuse.
 
God continues to reign as all-wise
and as almighty as ever.
His eternal plan is not canceled out
by the whims of human leaders
or the freakish accidents of nature.
 
Nations will destroy each other.
Civilizations will perish.
The earth itself may one day become
a smoking cinder
but God will not leave us.
He is our sure Refuge and Strength.
 
Just look around you; read the pages of history.
Refresh your flagging spirit with the reminder
of His great feats throughout the ages.
And you will again hear Him speak and remember
that "I am still your God.
I still hold the reins of this world."
 
God is here among us.
He continues to be our Refuge and Strength.
Amen!
 
 

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My Commentary: "Faith in Today's World"

The role of faith is still a hot topic. On July 16, Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper readers wrote about "To keep going, keep the faith". One observed that "All the faith in the world doesn't give us immunity from sorrow, illness and being in the wrong place at the wrong time". True enough.

Another reader wrote: "Secularists replace religious faith with naturalism, rationalism and empiricism. I think if you ask any secularist, you will hear that they work quite well." 

Oh, really? That's not the world I live in.

Still another secular writer stated, "Faith does not play an enormous or any role in our lives for many of us. We prepare and plan and then can comfortably trust that we've increased the probabilities in our favor. But succeeding in life requires constant preparation and study to develop trust in your abilities and a keen understanding of the environment you have to deal with, not faith."

To which I respond, " How's that working for you?  Good luck with trusting in your abilities and research!"

 Life has taught me not to trust in my abilities but to trust in my God who continues to be my Refuge and Strength. I can relax because He holds ultimate control of this old world. Most convincingly, He has demonstrated His involvement in His world by sending His Son to live, suffer, die and rise again to defeat the worst that life can bring.

It's true that "faith soothes but doesn't protect." Any honest believer will tell you that. However, in our deepest suffering Christ enters even deeper with us to give us peace, power and purpose.

It is also true that every soul must trust in something whether it's our innate abilities or a power greater than us.  As for me and my house, I choose to trust in an unfathomable God who will always be my Refuge and Strength whatever happens. And, I have no doubt about that.

 
Paul Emmel

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 18, 2021

Psalm 46 from Psalms/Now by Leslie F. Brandt (Concordia: Reprinted 2003).

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

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