54 Years Ago Today

On bended knee, with fairly certain hopes for an affirmative response, I invited Terry to be my wife. It was then, and still is today, called engagement. Ours took place exactly 54 years ago today, August 15, 1965. By now you know she said yes.

Part of the proposal was that we would move from Austin, Texas to Springfield, Illinois. That was the location of the Lutheran Seminary that would accept graduates from a secular university. That was me. Bachelor’s Degree. Texas A&M. Animal Science.

Terry has occasionally mused about the dual nature of the proposal, with a slight twinkle in her eye, wondering aloud what I would have done had she said yes to the first part and no to the second. I quietly and teasingly respond by saying, “I guess we’ll never know, will we?”

How could we have known what personal experiences, family events, vocational challenges, and career opportunities would come from that invitation and its acceptance more than half a century ago?

  • Eighteen different residential addresses.
  • Two children, one son-in-law, two grandchildren, all genuine blessings from God.
  • Seminary in Springfield and vicarage/internship in Charlotte.
  • Sixteen years of mission development and pastoral ministry.
  • Fourteen years of Christian estate planning and higher education development.
  • Nineteen years of regional and national church body presidency.
  • The passing of parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends.

Along the way, both of us have worked hard, individually and together, in the home, in the world, in the marketplace, in the community, in the church. We’ve done things we didn’t really know how to do. None would have succeeded without the grace of God.

Our family has brought and continues to bring great joy, laughter, fulfillment, and godly pride. Flavored with occasional seasons of uncertainty, anxiety, tears, and concern. Navigated with imperfection, faith, hope, trust, and love.

Our many, many friends have been and continue to be remarkable sources of encouragement, camaraderie, stimulation, and companionship. All of them are gifts.

Sin and imperfection have led to times of disappointment and pain, both from outside and also from within our church body. Yet by the grace of God, our faith has provided hope in times of despondence, comfort in times of sorrow, assurance in times of doubt, inspiration in times of discouragement.

These are merely a few highlights of more than half a century together, with lots more to tell. It all began 54 years ago today. With a heartfelt invitation. And a trusting, loving response.

Regrets? None. Would I do it all again? Absolutely. And I’m fairly certain Terry would still say yes.

Evil Grieves the Heart of God

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Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr

Last week brought two more incidents of “domestic terrorism” in Texas and Ohio. Most recent tallies indicate at least 32 dead and more than 50 wounded, all at the hands of two individuals with no apparent motives. Our hearts hurt each time this kind of news arrives.

As usual, pundits, politicians, and other people are quick to decry these dastardly deeds and to offer solutions that might provide a quick fix. Gun control, background checks, psychological or psychiatric help for people who flash signals of mental imbalance or leave a trail of racial hatred or indicate vengeful predisposition are the most frequently suggested remedies.

Each of those suggestions might be somewhat helpful. But none really gets to the heart of the matter. The bottom line is: It’s the heart that matters. “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Genesis 8:21 (ESV).

My father used to say that if you believe children are born without original sin, just put two toddlers in the same room, with only one toy, and shut the door.

The biblical quote above was spoken by God after he had sent the great flood, described in Gen. 6-9. It begins like this: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” Gen. 6:5-7

The flood was caused by 40 days and 40 nights of constant, torrential rainfall. After a total of approximately 370 consecutive days on the ark, God created the rainbow as a visible sign of his covenant never again to destroy the earth by the waters of a flood. Gen. 9:8-17

Just before that covenant, “The LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. ’” Gen. 8:21

The bottom line is that nothing anyone does now or in the future will change the evil nature of man’s heart. Steps we take, guns we confiscate, laws we make, restrictions we place, speeches we hear … these and other decisions or actions might be somewhat helpful in minimizing the massive and rapid loss of life that occurs in a mass shooting. We should and must do whatever we can toward that goal.

Yet people with evil hearts will always find ways to do evil deeds. Not even the almost total destruction of mankind in the flood sent by God removed the evil from man’s heart.

So we teach our children and our children’s children that life is a precious gift of God. And we endeavor to teach others that truth as well. That won’t eradicate the evil in man’s heart. And it won’t totally stop mass shootings. But it might go a long way toward curbing the unbridled insanity that happens far too often. For evil still grieves the heart of God. And my heart as well.

Sold! Not Sold!

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Credit: Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Sold! That’s the word repeatedly spoken by the auctioneer this past Sunday at Camp Lone Star in LaGrange, Texas. The event was the annual camp celebration. Activities included Bible study, outdoor worship (with indoor video projection for those who don’t do well in 90+ degree heat), delicious BBQ beef and pork with homemade noodles, followed by live and silent auctions.

Terry and I were there, along with a few hundred other folks. Soon after the auction began I told Terry that Lutheran Outdoors Ministry of Texas would most likely be the beneficiary of the greatly improved U.S. economy. That prognostication turned out to be quite accurate.

This year, for the first time ever, I dutifully recorded the winning dollar amount for each of the 116 items presented for bid. Only 115 items were actually sold. More about that later.

Monday morning I tallied the winning bids, which amounted to an actual total, if I recorded all those numbers correctly, of $52,080! That amount does not include the silent auction, worship offering, and other contributions. God be praised!

Not Sold! That’s what the auctioneer said about the only item that did not successfully solicit even an opening minimum bid. It was an estate planning program, valued at $800. No one offered the initial amount suggested by the auctioneer. When that suggested amount was lowered from $500 to $200, there still were no bidders.

Finally, the auctioneer simply instructed the camp staff assistants to pull that item off the bid list. It was simply not sold. No one was interested.

Intrigued, I pondered the fact that bidders had spent a total of $3,200 for four 15-packs of delicious homemade cinnamon rolls, $3,100 for a quilt and pillow case, $4,000 for a painting of Jesus (a priceless possession), $4,500 for a softball signed by camp staffers, and $1,000 for a wine basket. But nobody was interested in the estate planning package.

So I come to you with the fifth of seven estate planning myths: “Charitable estate planning advisors only want me to include the church in my plan, not my family.” I have no idea if that myth contributed to the lack of interest in the auction package, but it is certainly not true.

The Bible says: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Tim. 5:8

Legacy Deo exists to help folks like you make plans to provide for your loved ones and, if you so choose, for your favorite charitable causes. We’re pleased to make available to you our electronic Wills Planning Guide. Request it at mailto:info@legacydeo.org or call (512) 646-4909.

Not sold! It’s free!

Ten Little Vignettes

The first six vignettes below are from an unknown source. The last four are mine.

  1. In a drought, the villagers decide to pray for rain. On the day of prayer all the people gather. Only one young boy brings an umbrella.

That’s FAITH.

  1. When a father throws babies in the air, they laugh because they know he will catch them.

That’s TRUST.

  1. Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning. But still we set the alarm to wake up.

That’s HOPE.

  1. We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future.

That’s CONFIDENCE.

  1. We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children.

That’s LOVE.

  1. On an old man’s shirt is written a sentence: “I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.”

That’s ATTITUDE.

  1. A leader behaves in a way that embarrasses his constituency and the organization he leads.

That’s INCOMPETENCE.

  1. A public figure apologizes for public mistakes without changing his behavior.

That’s MANIPULATION.

  1. A leader is motivated by values that do not contribute to the organization’s success.

That’s DISAPPOINTMENT.

  1. Constituents who share a dying organization’s core objectives are inspired to take steps to resurrect it.

That’s HOPE.

+Rev. Robert Charles Greene+ (1938-2019)

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Credit: Alexander Boden on Flickr

By now many of my readers have heard about the passing of a very dear friend, Rev. Robert Charles Greene. Bob had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer on May 28 and went to heaven July 10, a short 41 days later.

Bob’s obituary is at https://www.ramseyfuneral.com/obituary/pastor-robert-greene. It’s a comprehensive yet concise review of the highlights of his life. Without writing a book, it’s simply not possible to capture adequately 81 years of faith, family, life, love, and leadership.

Jean Greene, Bob’s wife of nearly 57 years, and their children Steve and Diane shared with me a 16 page document titled “Biographical Record and Remembrances of Robert C. Greene.” On those pages Bob shares highlights of his life, family, and career, including vignettes that provide interesting insights into this man’s life, values, and character. Here are a few examples:

As a student at Concordia High School in St. Paul, Minn., Bob worked in the kitchen: “I had a difference of opinion with the President of the College about which of the two people working in the kitchen should become the head person. About this time the President came into the kitchen and told me to go hang up my apron. I was no longer to work there. I was told to come by his office and pick up my check.” Bob wasn’t reticent about expressing his opinions.

In a congregation he served as a young pastor: “There was a real need for Sunday school classrooms, youth room, kitchen, and office. But when the decision went to the Voters it was defeated, primarily under the influence of one family. So I went to a member of that family who had young children and asked him to chair the building committee for a redo of the building vote. When it came up again for a vote, this time it was easily adopted.” Bob knew how to lead.

During my last term of office as President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod I appointed Bob as chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, aka BRTFSSG. One of his duties was to visit each of the 35 districts of the Synod for a meeting of the Board of Directors or District convention. At one of those meetings way above the Mason-Dixon Line, in the winter, he had no overcoat. I lovingly chided him and presidentially “ordered” him to buy a coat and send me the bill. Not long thereafter I saw him. With a coat. But I never received the bill. Bob knew how to listen. Sometimes with only one ear.

Much more could be said about Rev. Robert C. Greene. Much more will be said at his memorial service this Friday. Suffice it to say here that he was an intelligent, bold, strong-willed, visionary pastor and church leader. More importantly, he was a loving husband and devoted father.

One of Bob’s favorite Scripture readings was Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Amen! Rest in peace, dear friend and brother in Christ!

Julie Andrews

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Credit: Wikipedia

To commemorate her 79th birthday a few years ago, actress and vocalist Julie Andrews made a special appearance at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP. One of the musical numbers she performed was My Favorite Things from the legendary movie Sound Of Music. Here are the lyrics she used. If you sing it, it’s especially funny!

Botox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in strings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillacs and cataracts, hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak, When the bones creak, When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don’t feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pain, confused brains and no need for sinnin’,
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin’,
And we won’t mention our short shrunken frames,
When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache, When the hips break, When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I’ve had, And then I don’t feel so bad.

In the spirit of talking about growing older, here’s Estate Planning Myth #4, as promised several weeks ago: “If I don’t have a will, my family will be able to figure it out.”

Here’s the reality: If you don’t have a will, the probate judge will appoint an administrator. Do you actually think a court-appointed person will carry out your wishes?

In all likelihood, that administrator will not have known you. So how would that person have any clue whatsoever about your wishes on how to distribute the possessions and assets you have worked hard all your life to accumulate?

One of the important decisions you’ll make when preparing your Last Will and Testament is appointing an independent executor. Pick someone younger than you. Pick someone you trust. If you can’t think of anyone, pick Legacy Deo. We’d be happy to help.

Numerous other planned giving topics of significance are addressed in our Planning Your Legacy — A Guide to Planning Your Will and Trust. Contact us at info@legacydeo.org or call (512) 646-4909 or (800) 880-3733 for your free electronic copy. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t already have a Last Will and Testament, git ‘er done! I have a feeling Julie Andrews would approve. God bless your day!

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A Plan to Destroy America

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Today’s article is the first of my 11th consecutive year of writing weekly Perspectives. Hard to believe, but very true! Thanks for your interest, thoughtful comments, and sincere appreciation.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, a federal holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776. On that day, the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject to the monarch of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states.

The Fourth of July is a day to give thanks for the blessings of living in America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Most governmental offices are closed and services curtailed. Many businesses are closed for the day. It’s a day to celebrate the unique freedoms we enjoy.

Last week I saw a news report titled St. Louis Park will no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance at City Council meetings. It appeared in the Jackson Star Tribune. St. Louis Park is a southwestern suburb of Minneapolis. Here’s an excerpt:

The St. Louis Park City Council has decided to drop recital of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag at its meetings, citing a desire to accommodate the city’s newest and more diverse residents.

“I hope it’s not too controversial,” Council Member Tim Brausen said. “Our community tends to be a very welcoming and increasingly diverse community, and we believe our citizens will understand. I don’t think we’re going to be any less welcoming by not starting our meeting out with the standard ritual.”

Not everyone was happy with this decision. One resident is quoted as saying her grandparents wanted to be American when they immigrated to the United States. She said she didn’t understand how the council could eliminate this part of their history, calling it “obnoxious.”

This St. Louis Park decision brought to mind an article I recently read about a speech given several years ago by Richard D. Lamm, a Democrat who served as governor of Colorado for twelve years (1975-1987). Lamm told Snopes: “Yes, it is a speech I gave a year and a half ago in Washington D.C. It was a 5 minute speech, and I am amazed and gratified it has received so much coverage.” Here are a few excerpts from a revised version of his speech:

I have a secret plan to destroy America. If you believe, as many do, that America is too smug, too white, too self-satisfied, too rich, let’s destroy America. It is not that hard to do. History shows that nations are more fragile than their citizens think. No nation in history has survived the ravages of time. Arnold Toynbee observed that all great civilizations rise and they all fall, and that “an autopsy of history would show that all great nations commit suicide.” Here is my plan:

  1. We must first make America a bilingual-bicultural country. History shows, in my opinion, that no nation can survive the tension, conflict, and antagonism of two competing languages and cultures. It is a blessing for an individual to be bilingual; it is a curse for a society to be bilingual.
  2. I would then invent “multiculturalism” and encourage immigrants to maintain their own culture. I would make it an article of belief that all cultures are equal: that there are no cultural differences that are important. I would declare it an article of faith that the Black and Hispanic dropout rate is only due to prejudice and discrimination by the majority. Every other explanation is out-of-bounds.
  3. We can make the United States a “Hispanic Quebec” without much effort. The key is to celebrate diversity rather than unity. I would encourage all immigrants to keep their own language and culture. I would replace the melting pot metaphor with a salad bowl metaphor. It is important to insure that we have various cultural sub-groups living in America reinforcing their differences rather than Americans, emphasizing their similarities.
  4. Having done all this, I would make our fastest growing demographic group the least educated – I would add a second underclass, unassimilated, undereducated, and antagonistic to our population. I would have this second underclass have a 50% drop out rate from school.
  5. I would then get big foundations and big business to give these efforts lots of money. I would invest in ethnic identity, and I would establish the cult of victimology. I would get all minorities to think their lack of success was all the fault of the majority – I would start a grievance industry blaming all minority failure on the majority population.
  6. I would establish dual citizenship and promote divided loyalties. I would celebrate diversity. “Diversity” is a wonderfully seductive word. It stresses differences rather than commonalities. Diverse people worldwide are mostly engaged in hating each other, when they are not killing each other. A diverse, peaceful, or stable society is against most historical precedent. People undervalue the unity it takes to keep a nation together. We can take advantage of this myopia.
  7. Then I would place all these subjects off limits – make it taboo to talk about. I would find a word similar to “heretic” in the 16th century – that stopped discussion and paralyzed thinking. Words like “racist” or “xenophobe” that halt argument and conversation.
  8. Having made America a bilingual-bicultural country, having established multiculturalism, having the large foundations fund the doctrine of “victimology”, I would next make it impossible to enforce our immigration laws. I would develop a mantra – “that because immigration has been good for America, it must always be good.” I would make every individual immigrant sympatric and ignore the cumulative impact.
  9. Lastly, I would censor Victor Davis Hanson’s book Mexifornia— this book is dangerous — it exposes my plan to destroy America. So please, please — if you feel that America deserves to be destroyed — please, please — don’t buy this book! This guy is on to my plan.

For the full text of Lamm’s speech go to: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/richard-lamm-on-multiculturalism/.

Knowing the controversial nature of this topic and realizing many Americans, including some of my closest friends and numerous readers, would see Lamm’s speech as radical, myopic, short-sighted, discriminatory, and even unpatriotic, I was reticent about addressing it.

Yet my sense is that although many traditions of German and Wendish origin were observed after our forefathers and foremothers settled in America, our genealogical and spiritual patriarchs and matriarchs accepted American principles and values and chose to support and become part of the country that, for the most part, welcomed them with open arms.

If any organization or country is to survive, there must be an overwhelming sense of unity of purpose and values, while allowing reasonable diversity among its members and citizens.

Much more could be said on this topic, including the role of the church and its constituents in promoting and participating in responsible resettlement efforts. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is one such organization. Many individuals and congregations are also involved.

Remember the words of Jesus in Matt. 25:35: “I was a stranger and you took me in.” I’d surely like to believe we can do that without destroying America!