Freedom Isn’t Free

Flags Lowered

This past Tuesday would have been my father’s 100th birthday. Martin served in the U.S. Navy in San Diego in World War II. He was not assigned to combat duty and returned to his family at the end of the war with life and limb. Not all who defended our country were blessed in that way.

Sometime ago I read the following poem, author unknown:

I watched the flag pass by one day. It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it, and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform, so young, so tall, so proud.
With hair cut square and eyes alert, he’d stand out in a crowd.

I thought how many men like him had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil, how many mothers’ tears?
How many pilots’ planes shot down? How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves? No, freedom isn’t free!

I heard the sound of Taps one night, when everything was still.
I listened to the bugler play and felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times that Taps had meant ‘Amen.’
When a flag had draped a coffin of a brother or a friend.

I thought of all the children, of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands with interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard at the bottom of the sea;
Of unmarked graves in Arlington. No, freedom isn’t free!

God bless the women and men who put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedom and safety. Because of their sacrifices we can celebrate the 4th of July in peace and security, always remembering that freedom isn’t free!

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Party Time!

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 7.03.52 AMAs some may recall, my dear mother attained her 100th birthday this past April 10. Prior to and on the actual date, appropriate but relatively low key celebrations took place. There’s a reason.

Some of Mom’s grandchildren and great grandchildren are still in school, which made coming from out of state for a Texas weekend in April a tall order! Having the main celebration this summer allows the branches of our family that still have school aged twigs and leaves to attend.

Accordingly, nearly 50 of Mom’s 54 living immediate family members from Illinois, Colorado, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas will soon descend on New Braunfels, Texas, for the big celebration. It’s almost party time!

How does one celebrate a centennial birthday? With cake and candles and balloons, just like any birthday! In our case, we’ve rented a spacious old home in New Braunfels, which will serve as headquarters for the event. While not large enough to house all 50 of us, it will allow us to have our home cooked meals together, along with activities, laughter, conversation and devotions.

The main character, of course, is Mother herself. While quietly but happily anticipating the event, she’s certainly not as active or as vibrant as she has been for nearly a century. Her physical condition has weakened significantly, making it nearly impossible to walk. Although still in good spirits, she regularly expresses her fervent desire to go home to heaven to see Jesus.

Those of you who have experienced the lengthy illness of a loved one, particularly one who has achieved advanced chronological maturity, can understand what I’m about to say. There may come a time when a loved one reaches the point where a return to physical health and strength is almost assuredly not going to happen. Under those circumstances, for family and friends to pray for restoration of health and strength for that loved one in all reality becomes a selfish prayer.

So my prayer for our dear mother is that her real party would soon begin. Birthday parties may not even occur in heaven. If they do, they may or may not have cake, candles and balloons.

Be that as it may, that eternal party will be held in the place where all believers in Christ will someday be at home. The hymn aptly states: “I’m but a stranger here. Heaven is my home!”

Happy Birthday, dear Mother! It’s party time! Let the celebration begin!

Reformation Trip with Wendish Territory Option

Germany 1

“In the Footsteps of Martin Luther and the Reformation 2017″— May 9-17, 2017
“Wendish Territory” Pre-Tour Option — May 5-9, 2017

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a most appropriate time for a trip to Germany to visit the places of importance in the life and ministry of Martin Luther. With great joy I announce the tour noted above! Terry and I are pleased to be your on-site hosts for both the basic tour and the pre-tour option described below.

The tour is hosted by Lutheran Foundation of Texas (LFOT), with travel, lodging and local tour arrangements by Educational Opportunities Tours (EO).

  • LFOT is a Lutheran Christian organization devoted to helping Christian people create a legacy for family and faith based endeavors with assets the Lord has entrusted to their care.
  • EO is a Christian tour company with whom Terry and I have traveled a number of times. They do an excellent job of handling the many details associated with a trip of this nature.

Historic towns on the basic Reformation tour itinerary include Berlin, Wittenberg, Halle, Eisleben, Erfurt, Eisenach, Worms, Heidelberg, and Mainz, returning home from Frankfurt. The basic tour price of $3,448 includes international airfare from New York, with other U.S. cities of departure also available. Early registration discounts are noted in the brochure.

The Pre-Tour option is a four day visit to the ancestral land of those from Wendish heritage. Towns on this itinerary include Dresden, Bautzen, Klitten, Weigersdorf, Hoyerswerda, Schleife, Spreewitz, Raddusch, Cottbus and Lubbenau. Those who choose this $1,098 option will depart the U.S. on May 5 and connect on May 10 with the Reformation tour in Berlin.

An electronic brochure can be viewed at this link:  http://www.eo.travelwithus.com/tours/in-the-footsteps-of-martin-luther-the-reformation-2017-with-dr-mrs-jerry-kieschnick#eotours

If you prefer a printed brochure, please feel free to request one and I’ll be happy to send it to you. Send your request, including your name and physical mailing address, via email to GBJK@LFOT.org or via snail mail to:

Dr. Jerry Kieschnick
Lutheran Foundation of Texas
7900 East Highway 290
Austin, TX 78724-2499

If you have questions best answered over the phone, feel free to call me at 512.578.6035. Terry and I hope you’ll be able to join us on what promises to be a trip of a lifetime!

Father’s Day

Father

Not long ago I read an article lamenting the lack of respect frequently experienced by fathers, especially those who have primary responsibility for raising their children. The author had received emails from stay-at-home dads, single dads, widowed dads, step dads, grand dads, divorced dads, separated dads, and dudes who can’t wait to be dads. Regrettably, I don’t recall the author’s name but following are some of the notes I captured from what she wrote.

The author suggested that if we could simply shift the way we talk about fathers, the effect could be world changing. What would happen if more parenting publications started writing for fathers with realistic information and encouragement that accurately reflects the era in which we live?

What would happen if more hospitals changed the content of their prenatal and postnatal classes to recognize that childbirth is something that happens to men as well as women?

Imagine what would happen to the mostly unseen and undiscussed yet staggering rates of male postnatal depression if we talked widely about the issue and more men felt socially supported to say “Hey, I’m having a tough time! I need some help!”

What if more maternity wards referred new fathers to a local dad’s group? What if more workplaces took the topic of dads to the boardroom, talked about it, and realized the economy probably wouldn’t implode if fathers were given additional paid time off when a child is born?

Do working fathers have an equal right, as do working mothers, to be at home, to bond with their new baby and wrap their heads and hearts around their new world? Does a newborn need more time to learn not only from mother but also from father’s face, voice, smell and heartbeat?

Fathers, either raising a child alone or sharing that responsibility with the child’s mother, play a huge role in the development of that child. Greater emphasis on that very important part of child rearing would produce more children for whom Father’s Day is more than just a national holiday.

My father has been in heaven for over 33 years. He was a very important part of my life. Martin wasn’t perfect, yet he loved his children. We knew his love, which together with the love of our dear 100 year-old mother Elda, established a foundation for my life and for that of my three sisters.

This Father’s Day, whether or not you are a father, remember that you have one. He may or may not still be living here on earth. He is or was most likely no more perfect than my father. Nevertheless, take this Father’s Day to give thanks to God for the life he and your mother gave you.

These words are well spoken: “Listen to your father who gave you life and do not despise your mother when she is old…Let your father and mother be glad.” Prov. 23:22, 25

Vernon and Betty Gundermann

GundermannsLast Saturday afternoon, June 4, Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, held a special worship service of thanksgiving to God for his servants Vernon and Betty Gundermann. It was my challenging privilege to be the preacher. Sermon title: God’s Gifts. Your Legacy.

It was a privilege because Terry and I were blessed to have Vern for our pastor during our nine years in St. Louis when I served as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Vern was an excellent pastor in every respect. I also considered him the best preacher in the LCMS.

Sadly, not all of our nine years were filled with joyful activities and experiences. Particularly during some of my most difficult days in office, I had the “privilege” of receiving communications from or attending meetings with people who my dear Terry aptly describes as “joy suckers.” They sucked the joy right out of life and ministry.

At such times, Pastor Gundermann had an uncanny, almost surreal, perhaps even supernatural way of knowing and feeling the struggles we were experiencing. Incredibly, upon returning from such joy sucking experiences, Terry and I were greeted, virtually every time, with a phone message from our pastor, assuring us of his prayers, his love, his support, his encouragement.

In addition to Vern’s wonderful pastoral ministry of encouragement and support, his dear wife Betty became a very important person in the life of my dear wife Terry. Not many folks who live outside a pastor’s home know or understand the unique concerns, stresses, frustrations and worries of a pastor’s wife. Betty possessed a keen sensitivity to what pastors’ wives were likely to experience, including a pastor’s wife whose husband had become a national church president.

In our toughest times, Betty was there for Terry, to encourage her, to cry with her and to laugh with her. Betty was and to this very day still is an indescribably close friend of my dear Terry.

Preaching at last Saturday’s service was a challenge because Vern’s normal activities and abilities have been altered by the effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Knowing what to say and how to say it was tough. Yet through it all Vern maintains a realistic attitude of joy and thanksgiving. I pray the Spirit blessed my words.

In one of his weekly updates, Vern acknowledged that no longer will he be able to say or sing a single word. He also wrote: “Life is good. Life is changing. Life is good. Do keep Betty in your prayers. Every change for me adds a task to her life! She now shaves me, puts on my socks and so much more. And she does it all with a good spirit. Little did we understand [on June 25, 1961] the words of our marriage vows ‘in sickness and in health.’ It is not easy living with one who cannot speak and whose eyesight is quite dim.”

Last week hundreds gathered to thank God for Vern and Betty Gundermann! It was a day to remember! God has given them many gifts! They will leave a legacy!

Memorial Day Legacy

Enduring FreedomThis past Monday our nation celebrated Memorial Day. It’s a day to remember and to give thanks to God for the women and men who gave their lives while serving in our country’s armed forces and those who are still living today. If you are a veteran or are related to a veteran, especially one who died while in the armed services, please accept my sincere appreciation and that of a grateful nation for your or your loved one’s faithful and self-sacrificing service.

Last Friday’s USA Today in a table titled “The Toll of War” listed the number of U.S. deaths in major wars of the past 250 years. Information came from Congressional Research Service and U.S. Defense Department. Here’s the list:

Revolutionary War                          4,435
War of 1812                                        2,260
Mexican War                                    13,283
Civil War                                        625,000
Spanish-American War                 2,446
World War I                                     116,516
World War II                                  405,399
Korean War                                       36,574
Vietnam War                                    58,220
Persian Gulf War                                   383
Afghanistan War                               2,349
Iraq War                                               4,424
Total                                               1,271,289

Those who have served in the military, whether or not that service required the ultimate sacrifice of life itself, have created a legacy. That’s a word that means gift, bequest, inheritance, heritage, contribution. The gift given by those we honor each Memorial Day is that of defending and protecting our country’s freedoms and the safety of its citizens. Beyond that is the gift to their living family members of the godly example of honor, valor, courage, humility and commitment.

1 Pet. 4:10-11 reminds us: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Thank God for those who have served and continue to serve in our nation’s armed forces!