On Your Lap, On Your Heart

My sainted father used to say: “Your children are always with you. When they’re young, they’re on your lap. When they’re old, they’re on your heart.” Truer words were never spoken.

Those words especially came to mind late last week and early this week as news reports focused on 12 teen-aged soccer team members and their young adult coach. All of them were trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand near the border with Myanmar.

Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. The remaining four boys and their 25-year-old coach were brought out safely Tuesday.

News reports properly focused on the 13 captives, along with the sophisticated, valiant, and dangerous efforts required to rescue them. That task was accomplished safely and successfully. Sadly, however, one rescuer, an experienced volunteer diver, died in the process.

One report (http://time.com/5334374/boys-rescued-thailand-cave/) said: The plight of the boys and their coach has captivated Thailand and much of the world — from the heart-sinking news that they were missing to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found 10 days later by a pair of British divers. They were trapped in the Tham Luan Nang Non cave on June 23, when they were exploring it after a soccer practice and it became flooded by monsoon rains.

Each of the boys, ages 11 to 16 and with no diving experience, was guided out by a pair of divers in three days of intricate and high-stakes operations. The route, in some places just a crawl space, had oxygen canisters positioned at regular intervals to refresh each team’s air supply.

One Thai man who helped provide food and necessities to rescue workers and journalists, said a “miracle” had happened.  “It’s hope and faith that has brought us this success.” Because the vast majority of people in Thailand are practitioners of Theravada Buddhism, the country’s official religion, it’s certainly possible and perhaps probable that people in Thailand are thanking Buddha for this rescue. You and I would direct our thanksgiving to the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Be that as it may, can you imagine the anguish and fear the parents of these boys experienced during their sons’ 18 days of captivity? During that time my father’s words must have been accurately descriptive of the emotions of these parents.

For 18 days these boys were nowhere near their parents’ laps but assuredly and absolutely were on their hearts. God be praised for the safe reunion of these parents and their sons!

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A New Calling

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Today marks the opening session of the 61st Convention of the Texas District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS is a national church body with approximately two million members. The Texas District is one of 35 LCMS regional judicatories.

Conventions are held in each district every three years, between January and July, with the great majority occurring in June. Texas is one of 25 districts meeting this month.

One very important event at a convention is the election of a president. In a number of districts incumbent presidents are either retiring or have served the maximum number of allowable terms. Such is the case in Texas as Rev. Ken Hennings completes his fourth three year term.

Having served faithfully and with distinction, President Hennings will be replaced by a new district president to be elected this afternoon. Five men have been nominated for this significant office, which is an honor in itself. They serve the church in agreeing to stand for election and to serve if elected.

This scenario brings back memories in my life and ministry. In June 1991 – 27 years ago – my name was on the ballot for Texas District President, along with four other nominees. On the fourth and final ballot I was elected. My life has never been the same since that day.

After serving three full terms and one year of the final term in Texas, I was elected president of our national church body in 2001. Installation in St. Louis was Sept. 8, three days before 9/11. Nine years and two more elections later, I was not elected to a fourth term in 2010.

Encouraging and supporting me every step of the way was my dear wife Terry. She worked long and hard in extending hospitality to the literally thousands of people who were dinner guests in our home those nine years in office. With great joy she also loved and cared for many pastors’ wives, including the 35 women married to district presidents and the five women married to national vice-presidents.

When all this began 27 years ago we were mere kids and had absolutely no idea what life would be like in public office. That would be true of anyone elected to a responsible position of  regional or national leadership, particularly in an ecclesiastical setting.

There have been many joys and blessings, with no small amount of stress and disappointment along the way. The man elected today in Texas, with his wife, will discover those realities.

They will walk together on the often happy and fulfilling but sometimes sad and frustrating journey of service that will be their new calling from the Lord. Whichever nominee and his wife are chosen, Terry and I wish them well and will hold them in our hearts and in our prayers.

Mother’s Day Love

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In our home Terry and I often ask each other what gifts we’d like to receive for our respective birthdays, our wedding anniversary, at Christmas, and on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Our response to each other is often: “I don’t really need anything more than your love.”

It’s challenging to put love in a box with a ribbon. Tangible gifts sometimes accomplish that objective more successfully than do intangible emotions. The gift of love is often enhanced by a palpable expression of that love. Jewelry usually comes in the right color. So do gift cards.

Yet gifts in a box are no substitute for what our loved ones need and want the most. Many years ago I heard a simple statement that rings quite true: Children and spouses spell love T-I-M-E!

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a special opportunity to honor our mother, whether she is still living this side of eternity (my mother is 102) or already in heaven (where she’d like to be). Either way, thank God for the positive memories and try really hard to forgive your mother for the unpleasant recollections.

Reflect on the following words from a mother, expressing what she wants for Mother’s Day:

“Every year my children ask me the same question: What do I want for Mother’s Day?

After thinking about it, I decided I’d give them my real answer: I want you. I want you to keep coming around. Ask me questions, ask my advice, tell me your problems, ask for my opinion, ask for my help.

I want you to come over and complain or brag about whatever is on your mind and heart. Tell me about your job, your worries, your dreams. I want you to continue sharing your life with me.

Come over and laugh with me, or laugh at me. Hearing you laugh is music to my ears. I spent a large part of my life raising you the best way I knew how. Now, give me time to sit back and admire my work.

Raid my refrigerator, help yourself, I really don’t mind. I want you to spend your money making a better life for yourself and your family. I have the things I need. I want to see you happy and healthy.

When you ask me what I want for Mother’s Day, I say ‘nothing’ because you’ve already been giving me my gift all year. YOU! I want you!”

Most mothers are the first to admit they are not perfect. Yet a mother is a special gift from God. So in addition to this Sunday, take many other opportunities throughout the year to honor your mother, to express your love for her, and to thank God for her role in bringing you into this world and into her life.

We’re Kidding Ourselves

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This past week a friend of mine forwarded to me a video recording of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s response to a question regarding a comment he made about school violence. Essentially, he says the multiple shootings at schools, churches, and other public places is a cultural problem and that we are kidding ourselves if we think it can be solved by a single law or regulation.

Gov. Bevin talks about the cultural shift in America in recent decades, mostly the reality that we’re “… desensitized to the value and dignity of human life.” He identifies rampant pornography, abortion, and disrespect for women as causal factors. He also mentions violent video games, where you get points for kill counts and you slaughter people.”

“We’re desensitizing people to the value of life. We see it through the lyrics of music, television shows, and movies, through the fact that the mores of this country have changed, and the fact that we increasingly want to remove any sense of moral authority from everything.”

“In a nation where over the last 40 years we’ve aborted 50+ million children and where we have multiple states with medically assisted suicide being provided by doctors, at both ends of the life spectrum we’re losing the value for life that we once historically had.”

“Young people are increasingly becoming more suicidal and depressed because of the use of social media. All this is part of the cultural issue, why homes are broken. We need people in positions of influence to step up and call people to a higher moral authority.”

“Shame on us if we don’t sound the alarm! … You want to change the mores of a nation, remove any sense of higher responsibility, and assume the government and a piece of regulation or a rule is a solution. And then we’re shocked when these things (school shootings) happen! We’re kidding ourselves!”

His response is nearly eight minutes in length but well worth watching and hearing.

Here’s the YouTube link: http://www.kentuckynewera.com/multimedia/video/news/youtube_c2674705-960f-52ed-b8d8-9d2c34d514e4.html. You can also access this video at: Governor of Kentucky.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I believe sensible gun control and increased security in schools is sorely needed. I also agree with Gov. Bevin that unless we address the core problem of what we in the church call sin, these problems will continue. If we think only laws, regulations, and restrictions will solve our nation’s problems, we’re only kidding ourselves!

Parkland, Florida

Observances of last week’s Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday were overshadowed by news of the latest in the ongoing series of school shootings. This one occurred Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Broward County, near Fort Lauderdale.

Seventeen students and staff lost their lives. Imagine the horrendous grief of parents and family of those who died that day and the thankful relief of those who were spared that trauma.

Anger is being directed toward the FBI, whose agents apparently received information about a comment the shooter made on YouTube: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI said they investigated but were unable to identify the person who made the comment.

The  AR-15 rifle used in the attack was purchased legally one year ago, according to a federal law enforcement official, who said: “No laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon.”

Renewed demands for gun control legislation have arisen, mostly pointed at outlawing rapid fire weapons and prohibiting people with documented mental illness from purchasing them.

Sadly, such legislation would not totally solve the problem. Unless assault weapons could be totally confiscated, people who want to use them will be able to get them, legally or illegally.

Yet what harm could come from legislative restriction that still protects the second amendment right to bear and keep arms? What need exists for American citizens to own an AR-15 or any similar weapon other than the unlikely need for self-defense against an aggressor armed with that same weapon? The exceptions are officers of the law and members of our military forces.

In 1994, U.S. Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan co-signed a letter urging the U.S. House of Representatives to support a ban on the domestic manufacture of “assault weapons” such as semi-automatic AK-47s (used in a 1989 shooting in Stockton, Cal.).

The letter said, in part: While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.

Respecting the right of any who disagree, I concur. I also believe more serious consideration should be given to training and arming carefully selected school faculty and staff.

As long as “… the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour …” (1 Pet. 5:8), deranged individuals he controls will place more people in the horrible position of mourning the loss of their victimized loved ones. Yet we have the responsibility to keep from making the mass shootings our country is experiencing way too easy for those so possessed.

Winter Olympics, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday

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Lots of stuff going on this week!

The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games began a week ago. Incredible displays of power, grace, endurance, speed, and daring athleticism! If you’re interested, Google “Olympic Trivia” and read some interesting history of the event. One factoid is that athletes in contemporary Olympics do not compete in the nude, as was the ancient tradition. Imagine the frostbite!

The Olympic Creed reads: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

It’s reported that 92 nations are officially represented at this year’s Olympics. Terry and I are blessed to have visited nearly half those countries in our travels on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Great memories of wonderful Christian leaders and friends!

How notable and sad that the collegiality and fraternalism existing in athletic competition and international ecclesiastical circles are not always present in global political relationships.

In addition to Olympics, this week we also observed Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring an early saint named Valentinus. Legend has it that he was imprisoned in Rome for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. Today it’s a day to express love and affection. Hallmark sells lots of expensive cards!

It’s ironic for Ash Wednesday to be observed this year on Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a 40 day season of prayer, repentance, and fasting to recall the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert. It’s especially a remembrance of the suffering of Christ prior to his crucifixion, the ultimate sacrifice for those he loved. The six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are considered Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent.

The vastly different but at least somewhat similar objectives of Winter Olympics, Valentine’s Day, and Ash Wednesday are cause for prayer for peaceful coexistence among nations, remembrance of a saint who served, and thanksgiving for the God made flesh who saves.

A Day to Remember

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January 29, 1966, was a long time ago! For me, it’s a day to remember.

At 5:00 p.m. that day Terry and I stood before the altar at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Austin and pledged to one another our faithfulness “… to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death parts us, according to God’s holy will.”

That was 52 years ago! And although many things that happened more than a half century ago have been lost in the maze of my seemingly totally stuffed gray matter, other recollections are quite clear. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Our wedding day was preceded by our wedding rehearsal the night before. Friday afternoon, January 28, I drove from my nearly completed graduate school semester classes at Texas A&M in College Station to Austin for the rehearsal at St. Paul. All went well and was followed by the rehearsal dinner hosted by my mother and father at the Villa Capri Hotel.
  • After kissing Terry goodbye on her front porch at midnight, I drove the 100 miles back to College Station, getting to bed shortly after 1:00 a.m. Saturday. At 7:00 a.m. I arrived in class to take my final final exam … in Biochemistry. Both because of our wedding and my decision to leave grad school to go to the seminary, neither my heart nor my head really gave a rip about that exam.
  • After concluding those last few moments at my alma mater I packed my few worldly goods in my ’57 Chevy, turned in the key to my dorm room, and drove back to Austin in time to hang around the hotel with my parents, three sisters, and other family members.
  • The wedding began promptly at 5:00 p.m. The officiant was the sainted Rev. Dr. Albert F. Jesse, who had hired me in August 1964 to teach the fourth grade at St. Paul. My entire preparation for that memorable year was a B.S. degree in Animal Science. Go figure! Mid-August, the date I was hired, was only two weeks prior to the beginning of school. I had a pulse and was willing to work for $200 per month. I was his man!
  • After the wedding service and ceremony, our reception was held at the Villa Capri Hotel. I remember the beautiful wedding cake. I recall Terry and I posing for a photo, both with a piece of said cake in hand, lovingly feeding it to each other. What I failed to see, discovered only when asked en route to our honeymoon destination by my new bride, was the groom’s cake. I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about! Never saw it! Haven’t yet lived it down!
  • We arrived at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado, a short 48 mile drive north of Austin. It was late and we were newlyweds, so we chose not to do any midnight sightseeing. Money was tight in those days. One night in the hotel cost 10% of my monthly salary. We stayed two nights … 20% of my monthly salary. After a semester of grad school, the bank account was not quite non-existent but was far from flush. I think we ate in the restaurant only once. Another 10% of my monthly salary!
  • Monday morning we packed the car and headed back to Terry’s parents’ home in Austin to pick up her clothes, other belongings, and our wedding gifts, and headed to our first home in Houston, arriving late Monday afternoon. The apartment on Bellefontaine in southwest Houston cost $75 per month, half of which was payable every two weeks.
  • The next day, Tuesday morning, I started my second teaching job, also in the fourth grade, at Pilgrim Lutheran School in Houston. Angie Bielefeldt was on maternity leave that semester and I needed a job prior to moving to Springfield, Ill. to enter the seminary, so it all worked out just fine. Terry worked with my father at Rice Food Market those four months in anticipation of the move to the seminary in June.

Lots of water has gone under the bridge since those days. Neither Terry nor I could possibly have had any clue whatsoever about what the Lord had in store for us. Perhaps in the weeks ahead I’ll be moved to share some of those stories as well.

In the meantime, I thank God for his priceless gift of a beautiful wife who became an awesome mother, an incredible grandmother, a gracious hostess, an excellent cook, a friend and mentor to many women including countless pastors’ wives, a tireless companion on many weekend trips for preaching engagements across the country, a fearless travel companion on many international trips to the mission fields and partner church locations around the world, including numerous third world countries where she was the only woman in the entourage, and a woman who loves to give of herself to people she meets … friends, family, and strangers alike.

Happy 52nd Anniversary, dear Terry! I love you more than words can express and thank God for you every day!