+Dr. Jean Garton+ and +Dr. Betty Duda+

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Near the conclusion of the Year of Our Lord 2016, I share the news of the passing of two very dear sisters in Christ, Dr. Jean Garton and Dr. Betty Duda. Jean went to heaven Friday, Dec. 23 and Betty followed on Saturday, Dec. 24. They now rest in peace, free from the illnesses that beset them, rejoicing eternally at the throne of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Each of these gifted women served The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod faithfully, tirelessly, humbly, and courageously in numerous capacities:

  • Jean became a world-renowned expert on pro-life issues, testifying before the U.S. Congress. She wrote the book Who Broke the Baby?and traveled the world speaking before royalty, government leaders and even at gatherings of three or four people to deliver the message God entrusted to her. Jean was the first woman to serve on an LCMS board — the Board for Public Relations, and chaired the LCMS Task Force on Women, President’s Commission on Women, Office of Government Information Advisory Council, and Task Force on Ministry with Families.
  • Possessing significant leadership and organizational skills, Betty served as president of the national Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, the Florida-Georgia District LWML, and as chair of the boards of Concordia College New York, Lutheran World Relief, and Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots. She also served on the boards of Concordia University Chicago, Concordia University Minnesota, Wheat Ridge Foundation, Aid Association for Lutherans, People of the Book Lutheran Outreach, and Mill Neck Manor. In addition, she was a board member of numerous Florida civic organizations, chairing many of them.

Both Jean and Betty also served a number of years together on the Board of Directors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Their support, encouragement, and dedicated service during my term of office as LCMS president were remarkable, especially during a time of stress and conflict in our beloved Synod. They steadfastly espoused an evangelical direction for our beloved Synod for which I will always remain deeply respectful and truly grateful.

At a significant point in his life Old Testament King David acknowledged in prayer to God: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” (1 Chron. 29:15)

And Jesus said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

Terry and I thank God for Jean Garton and Betty Duda. This year they celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus in a manner you and I can only imagine! It’s a celebration that knows no ending!

A Special Christmas Gift

christmas-giftAlthough I first wrote this true story for Perspectives in 2009, I think it’s worthy of a repeat.

Quite a few years ago, Terry suggested that I make a doll house for our seven-year-old daughter’s Christmas present. I agreed.

We drove our station wagon to the lumber store, purchased the necessary material, and headed home. Child restraints and seat belts were not what they are today, so Angie sat in the back of the vehicle on the small stack of lumber that would soon become her doll house.

As we drove home, she asked, “Daddy, what are you going to build with this lumber?” While I don’t clearly recall the answer I gave, I suspect my response was not exactly the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There was no way I was going to spoil the surprise Terry had in mind.

To keep the surprise a secret, I confined my work on the project to the garage after our children’s bedtime hours. On Christmas Eve Angie was totally surprised and thrilled. Terry was happy. The doll house hasn’t fallen apart after all these years. It was a special Christmas gift!

Much more special at Christmas is God’s gift—Jesus, the Holy Child born in Bethlehem’s manger. Having been long foretold, his birth was neither a secret nor a surprise. It was very special!

Heralded by angels to humble shepherds, sought out and worshiped by kings from afar, worshiped by people around the world after all these years, this King of Kings and Lord of Lords is the most special gift ever given!

Terry and I send personal greetings and fervent prayers for a Blessed Christmas!

Divisions Among Us

divided-churchA couple millennia ago the apostle Paul wrote a special letter to some new Christians in the city of Corinth. He had started a new church there, a church that subsequently became sorely divided.

One portion of his letter says: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you …” (1 Cor. 11:17-18)

He went on to address the particular matter of their improper understanding and observance of the Lord’s Supper. Other portions of his letter spoke to additional conflict, including immorality, adultery, idolatry, lawsuits, etc. Some of the Corinthian problems still divide the church today.

Divisions in the church and in the world are fairly epidemic. Of course, that’s nothing new. Divisions have existed since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Recognition of that truth makes divisions no less serious, hurtful, or divisive.

Divisions almost always have their root in the basic nature of human beings to want things “my way.” Often people are so focused on achieving their objectives that they disregard ethical, moral, and legal considerations to accomplish their desires. They may feel the end justifies the means.

Divisions in the national political arena produce protests, riots, flag burning, and death threats. Divisions around the world catalyze civil war, terrorism, and ethnic “cleansing.” Divisions in the church result in disenchanted new Christians, bruised impressions of fellow Christians, and tarnished images of Christian churches in the public eye.

On a prior occasion, described in Acts 15, Paul was involved in another dispute among believers. The resolution of that dispute included the statement: “… we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

Therein lies the real problem with disputes among Christians. Non-believers understand the truth of the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and quickly turn away when that love is obviously absent from Christians they observe. It should not be so among us.

Remember Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

Wise words for healing the divisions among us!

Elections

votingThe topic of elections is one I never thought would be as significant in my life as it has become. Little did I know while growing up that elections would direct the course of my life and career.

Some elections occurred early, including leadership roles in Future Farmers of America, Walther League, Gamma Delta, Phi Eta Sigma, and Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. Those were religious, extracurricular, and academic organizations of my high school and college years. It wasn’t until I entered pastoral ministry that elections impacted my professional career.

There were elections by voters’ assemblies of congregations extending calls for me to be their pastor. I accepted two and declined many others. There was an election by a mission board to be a mission developer and another by a different board of directors to serve as a leader of Lutheran Foundation of Texas. A more recent election by the current board of that organization means I’ll begin serving next month in the same role I occupied 25 years ago.

On a broader scale, there were four elections to the office of district president of our statewide church in Texas by 600 delegates at each election, followed by three elections to the office of national church president by 1200 delegates at each election. The fourth election to that office turned out to be an un-election, which was an invitation for me to leave that office.

Sadly, that last election was characterized by organized negative publicity that included rumors, mischaracterizations, half-truths, and downright lies. Nothing is more disappointing than witnessing a group of people, sacred or secular, conducting pre-election campaigning against honorable men or women willing to serve to the best of their ability if elected.

We saw a great deal of that type of campaigning in the recent U.S. presidential election. We see it also in other campaigns of lesser import. In some cases, we don’t see it but it’s happening nevertheless, under a shroud of secrecy. How sad it is that the presence of sin in our lives prompts unkind, untruthful, unbecoming behavior that elevates one person and denigrates another.

In a perfect world, voters would be simply but earnestly encouraged to exercise their right and privilege of electing the most qualified candidate for any office for which an election is held. We don’t live in a perfect world.

It’s my conviction not to participate in any such negative behavior. I don’t mean that in a pietistic way. I simply speak the truth that’s in my heart. I encourage you to do the same. Ignore and do not participate in uncharitable campaigning. Better yet, discourage it. Speak out against it.

Martin Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment says it quite well: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” So be it!

Obstacles in Life

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A story: One day a man walking down a path saw a butterfly cocoon that was about to open. As he watched, a small opening appeared in the cocoon. For several hours the butterfly struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared to have gone as far as it could go.

So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and opened the cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily, but it had a withered body. It was tiny and its wings were shriveled.

The man continued to watch because he expected that at any moment the wings would open, enlarge, and expand, to be able to support the butterfly’s body. That didn’t happen. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a withered body and shriveled wings. It never was able to take flight.

What the man in his kindness and good intentions did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If allowed to go through life without any obstacles, we would not be as strong as we might otherwise have been. Essentially, without struggles or obstacles we might never be able to achieve what God created us to accomplish.

One writer’s applications of this story to life:

  • I asked for strength and was given difficulties to make me strong.
  • I asked for prosperity and was given a brain and brawn to work.
  • I asked for courage and was given obstacles to overcome.
  • I asked for love and was given troubled people to help.
  • I asked for wisdom and was given problems to solve.
  • I asked for favors and was given opportunities.
  • I received nothing I wanted but everything I needed.

The moral of this story: Live life without fear and confront obstacles that arise, knowing and trusting that by God’s grace and with his power, nothing is impossible! (Luke 1:37)