Willing to be captured

Donald Trump has gotten a lot of media attention recently for questioning the war hero credentials of Sen. John McCain. McCain spent five-and-half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Regarding McCain’s imprisonment Trump said, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

An uncle of mine who I was close to when I was a kid served in the U.S. Army in World War 2. He survived the Bataan Death March and three years of suffering as a prisoner of war. Yes, he was captured. He was captured while defending our country. In my view he is a war hero.

Last fall a member of our congregation, Ed Leonard, died. Like Sen. McCain, Ed was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was captured while rescuing other soldiers. Because he was the ranking officer during much of his five years as a prisoner, Ed faced more severe punishment than those who were below him in rank. He did so willingly, in the hope that the suffering of the others would be lessened. He was a war hero.

Last summer I read the book Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini. It is a great book and a well written story of an amazing life. Zamperini was captured by the Japanese in World War 2, certainly not through some fault of his own. He was tortured severely but endured. After the war he came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He too was a war hero.

Trump liking people “who weren’t captured” sounds like someone who doesn’t like those who get defeated and suffer loss. That kind of mindset has led some to dismiss the cross of Christ as an impossibility. Some think it is inconceivable that God would allow His Son to be captured by sinful people, suffer incredibly cruel torture and then die a humiliating death by crucifixion. But He did.

Jesus told His disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34). The disciples just couldn’t believe what Jesus was telling them. They didn’t like at all the idea of their Teacher being captured.

Our human nature esteems the winner. We have a difficult time figuring out the One who was willing, in a way, to look like a loser. The Bible says Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus willingly took on the appearance of a humble, unsuccessful servant.

In Isaiah 53:7 it describes Jesus as being “led like a lamb to the slaughter.” He let Himself be captured and taken to the cross. He could have called legions of angels to fight it, but He didn’t. A price needed to be paid for our sins, and He was willing to pay it. Jesus “was despised, and we esteemed him not. … But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3, 5).

I love the One who was willing to be captured so that we can be set free from our sins.

Thankful for 90 years

In some church bodies their policy is that when a pastor retires he is suppose to no longer attend the church he had served before retiring. I’m very thankful that is not the policy in our church body: the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations. Because if it was I wouldn’t be in the same congregation as the man who has been my pastor for 40 years and who turned 90 years old today: Pastor Alvin Grothe.

I can understand a little bit the reasoning behind saying retired pastors need to go to a different church than the one where they used to serve as pastor. Some guys have a hard time making the transition from being the leader upfront to being a church member in the pew. Some retired pastors have been a real pain in the neck to the pastors who have followed them.

Instead of being a pain it is possible for a retired pastor to be a great source of encouragement and support. Pastor Grothe has demonstrated that. It requires, though, humility and the grace of God.

Soon after stepping down after serving the congregation for 15 years as pastor, Pastor Grothe and his wife, Loretta, started serving as the janitors of the congregation. I’m afraid some retired pastors wouldn’t consider doing that. He may not have been teaching from the pulpit regularly, but as he vacuumed floors and cleaned toilets, he taught a lot about being a humble servant: not needing to be recognized, not needing to be in control, not needing to have things go your way, just willing to serve God’s church in whatever way you can.

I was uniquely blessed to have him as my pastor from the time I was 13 years old until after I became a pastor. I am uniquely blessed today to have such an encouraging and supportive retired pastor in the congregation I serve. He is doing pretty well for being 90, but he can’t do all the things he used to do. But he can still do what is most important. He still prays for me daily and is a constant source of encouragement. I am thankful for the 90 years God has given him and the special gift God has given me and so many others in him. Happy Birthday!