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Back to Basics - By Pastor Thomas Engel


I have to say that I miss my “Cubbies” this summer. We are approaching mid-June, and I am seeing that my whole summer routine is off.

Without baseball, I am lost about what to do on a Saturday afternoon. It was my time to sit and relax while watching a game. So, I am left thinking about the past years.

This past Saturday while having my self-pity party about not having baseball to watch, I googled “Cubs,” and I went way back and saw a video of 1970 when Ernie Banks hit his 500th home run. So many memories-I almost cried.

In my search, I found other Cub players. Do you remember the Shawon-O-Meter? Shawon Dunston was the shortstop in the '80s. He was known for his arm that hurled baseballs at the speed of a rocket. Shawon Dunston was a good player, but he was not consistent.

Looking back, it sparked a memory of an interview when he was in a slump. I still remember what he said about going back to the basics of a good swing.

To admit as a seasoned ballplayer that he was going to start over again with the fundamentals took-what I think-humility.

Hearing someone else say that it was time to get back to basics made an impression on me and gave me some food for thought. Through the years, I have seen often that when life does get hard and perplexing, it is time to go back to what is most important.

To put it into simple steps:

  • do not overthink too much

  • keep going on life’s grounded principles

  • and then, watch how life has its way of coming together.

In education, we are trying to help students to become members of a quickly progressing global network of advanced technologies. In our goal to be so advanced, we can lose focus on the three “R’s” of education.

With a student who is struggling, we need to be sure that the student is grounded with the basics before moving forward, for nouns, verbs, pluses, and minuses are in everything.

When a married couple is experiencing some difficulties in their relationship, some marriage counselors use a method that brings the couple back to the first time that they met. Not to do a commercial for a romantic vacation resort in the Caribbean, but a couple needs some intimate time remembering why they had fallen in love and put those reasons back into their current relationship.

As we live in a world of unrest that is calling for change, we need to go back to the basics.

We need revamped systems and new programs. The world is always in flux, so we need to overhaul systems and make innovative programs. We should always be working towards having our emerging ideas for a better world to be put into practice-or in the words of Winston Churchill, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” We have an example of the change in a system that just hits too close to home right now. Because of the pandemic, we are doing church differently to have the best health practices. As you came into church today you had to have your temperature checked and you picked-up a sterilized communion cup.

Changes come and go, and sometimes we do step back again, but I doubt polyester leisure suites will ever come back.

Our country is looking for a change, and we know our country has been through many changes. Here is a part of a speech talking about a historical change:

“We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality.”

This speech by John F. Kennedy was given on June 11th, 1963 to propose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many changes were made then, and many changes have been made since that time, and we still have a ways to go.

We have these calls to make more changes. With any call to change, we need to go to the root of the problems and get back to basics before we move forward with any changes.

If we do not get back to the basics, any changes to any system and all the new programs that are implemented will not satisfy, for they have not gone back far enough to the very bottom of what is basic to all human problems.

The fifth chapter of Romans gives us the basics of our faith. It is in these basics that we get the foundation for our salvation, and from our salvation, we get the basis for all that we do in life, even when trying to make the world a better place for every human.

Many verses can be quoted here from this chapter, but I will use parts of verses six through eight, to sum up, St. Paul’s basic talk on faith: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly... but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

At the center of our faith is the fact that Christ died for our sins. Our Lord is a just and righteous God. Sin needs to be punished, and we are sinners, so we need to suffer that punishment.

That is the bad news, but this bad news is good news.

God also loves us and knows that we could never stand the punishment of hell itself for our sins. The phrase “for us” is so important to our faith. In this phrase, we see how God shows his love “for us” by having Christ die “for us.”

This basic knowledge of our faith of what God has done “for us” in Christ is central to how we get up on our feet every day to live. Knowing that our salvation has been won “for us” by Christ is our reason for living a joyful life of praise.

We are hearing a lot of getting to the root causes of conflicts, but in looking at these causes, they are not going far enough. We must see that the root cause of our problems is that all humans are sinful.

And we must see that the only solution to any problem is God showing His love “for us” in Christ, and then knowing what Christ has done “for us.”

This teaching is basic to our faith, and we know we are justified by this faith, and we know that we live every aspect of our lives by faith.

In looking at articles about the tensions that our world has been experiencing, I read a neuroscience explanation about the reactions to our many current conflicts.

The article took a behavioral approach to how we talk and listen to each other. What struck me about talking and listening is that humans have a tendency to only politely listen until it is their turn to talk.

And when we are listening to one another, we are only listening so that when it is our turn to talk, we see it only as an opportunity to pounce on what the other person has said. We do not listen to understand but to defend and countermand.

I have never been in Zoom meetings until the last few months. In the explanation of talking and listening, the article made the point that in looking at others in those little headshots while a person is speaking, it is easy to see who is listening with an intent to understand and who is just waiting for his or her turn to talk.

At times, I have to admit I have been one of those people who wander off into my own world until it is my turn to say something.

This article goes into more depth about how we can change our behaviors to make for better ways of finding solutions to problems.

To be clear, we can be all for changing human behaviors, but as much as we try to change them, they will never “fix” our problems.

At first, it sounds that we are going back as far as we can by changing our behaviors to make the world a better place.

But, we can still go even further back to make changes. The deepest that we can go is to our repentance that makes a full turn to God for all things.

When we turn to God, we find salvation for our souls, and from our salvation, we move out into our lives with the joy of knowing that God has us in His care now and for all of eternity.

We see the world and our lives from the light of eternity. When praying as our Lord has taught, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven has perfect peace and joy, so we pray that this world will also know this peace and joy.

The truth is that on this side of heaven humans will never have perfect behavior.

Again, this sounds like such bad news that can make this world seem so hopeless. But let us rephrase the directions to life here and to keep them the simplest and the most basic: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

I know we want to do something about bringing order to this chaotic world, so we can have some peace and joy. But, the truth is that we cannot bring in God’s kingdom into this world.

Only God can bring in His kingdom as He did once by sending Jesus into the world to teach, proclaim, show, and give God’s love and grace by his living, dying, and rising for us.

It is all very basic for us, but let us not get caught up in its simplicity-all we need to do is seek Jesus, and ask for forgiveness, and we will receive that forgiveness for every sin. And in that forgiveness, we have to power to move forward to a new life.

And all we need is to ask for peace, and we will receive a peace that is so comforting that it is beyond our understanding. All we need to do is ask for joy, and we will receive a joy that causes us to rejoice in every moment.

As we look at this messy world, we think we have a human problem, and systems and programs will “fix” it all. But, our problem is a God problem. We are not seeking God who is the creator of everything and only God can “fix” the problems of the world.

And God has “fixed” the world in His Son, Jesus. And Jesus will tell us that he has already “fixed” the world by overcoming it by his death and resurrection.

Do not get me wrong, we do have to follow through on our faith in Christ. We have our things to do, but even for that work, we know that God has made us to do good works, for we are His workmanship.

And this good work is also so basic-“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I like the sport of golf, but I am not much of a golfer. In trying to improve, I have bought a lot of the gimmicky contraptions to help a golf swing, but they have not really helped.

What I have found most helpful is what Jack Nicklaus said about a good golf swing. He spent a lot of time finding the best way to set-up to a good position in hitting the ball. For him, it was all about a proper stance.

Although the swing is important and takes hours and hours of practice, a proper stance solves a lot of problems. Anyone can learn to stand properly to hit a golf ball.

Looking at the news, we can be discouraged to the point of despair about the messes of the world. Can it get any better?

Our comfort is that all is going to God’s plan and His purposes to bring the world to Himself. God is looking for every human to get down to the basics-“produce fruits in keeping with your repentance,” which anyone can do with a good dose of humility.

It seems the problems are too complex to be “fixed.” So, let us get back to the very basics and call on God and call on Him often. And when we do, we will see simply but also deeply how God in Christ has done all things, is doing, and will be doing all things “for us.”


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