Inauguration Day

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Tomorrow, January 20, is Inauguration Day in America. Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. However, some may question that number.

Actually, Grover Cleveland is counted as both the 22nd and 24th President. He was elected, then lost, then won again four years later. The factual way to count U.S. Presidents is to say Donald Trump will be the 45th President but only the 44th person ever to take the oath of office.

Nearly one million people are estimated to be in Washington D.C. to witness the event in person. Tens of millions will view the ceremony across the country and around the world.

Interestingly, crowd size estimators use aerial images from satellites, helicopters and balloons, plus basic math. Three pieces of information are needed: the total area of the space, the proportion of the area that is occupied, and the density of the crowd. But I digress.

More important than the number of people who witness the inauguration, whether in person or via electronic media, is the meaning of the event. In many countries around the world, leadership transitions are less than peaceful. Historically, nations of the world have experienced change in leadership following a decisive battle, a horrific insurrection, or a regal beheading.

Not so in America. Notwithstanding protests from individuals and groups regarding the legitimacy of this presidential election, the fact remains that tomorrow we will witness the non-universal phenomenon of a mostly peaceful transition of presidential power.

Of course we’ve been told to expect demonstrators. That’s nothing new. We’ve also seen news reports predicting thousands of motorcyclists known as “Bikers for Trump” who are expected to provide unofficial security at the event. That’s not quite as common.

Tomorrow will come. Tomorrow will go. Your life and mine might not be discernibly different, at least for now. But like it or not, change will occur. Some change will be good, some not. It’s not a simple task to lead what is arguably the most powerful country in the world.

Regardless of whether our new president views prayer the way most Christians do, the best suggestion I can offer today is that we hold our new leader and our country in our prayers. Here’s one suggestion from Lutheran Service Book’s Prayer for Responsible Citizenship:

“Lord, keep this nation under your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve you faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

 

One Local Event, One National Event

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This week I share with you reflections on two recent events, one local and one national:

Local: This past Monday night Zion Lutheran Church and School in Walburg, Texas held its 45th annual Wurstbraten, a German sausage dinner. Proceeds are used to support church and school projects. Hundreds of Zion members worked to feed over 4,000 people. Including sales of sausage by the pound, Wurstbraten workers produced and sold 13,500 pounds of pure pork sausage!

Terry and I are active members of Zion. Our church is known for more than simply a sausage supper. Yet this event brings together members of church and community who work side by side to prepare and conduct this historic dinner. In addition, it gives wide visibility to our congregation, most likely bearing fruit that won’t be known this side of eternity. To God alone be the glory!

National: Late this past Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, depending on what part of the country you’re in, the results of the national election for president of the United States of America were announced. It’s a reality that regardless of who had won the election to become our next president, roughly half our nation would not be happy with the results. Time will tell whether the choice of American voters through the electoral process proves to be wise or otherwise.

It’s important to remember that the God of the universe uses people and events, good or bad, to accomplish his purposes. Throughout history God has used some leaders to prosper his people and other leaders to punish them. While we would all prefer prosperity, punishment is sometimes necessary, not only for individuals but also for nations. America is no exception.

God told the Old Testament people of Israel: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

That’s my prayer for America, wistfully with help from the leadership of our new president but more likely under the influence of those of us who proclaim the Name of Christ and promote the biblical values we hold so near and dear.

A Prayer for Responsible Citizenship

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One of the blessings of my nine years as president of our national church body is Lutheran Service Book, published January 1, 2005 by Concordia Publishing House. I’m thankful to the LCMS Commission on Worship for its excellent work in producing this highly valued hymnal.

A significant section of LSB is titled “Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings.” One prayer in that section seems particularly fitting for today, only five days before national Election Day:

A Prayer for Responsible Citizenship: Lord, keep this nation under your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

If you have not already done so, with that prayer on your lips and in your heart, exercise your privilege and responsibility as a citizen of our land to cast your vote on or before next Tuesday, September 8, for the next president and vice-president of the United States of America.

If you need a reminder of some important matters that may be helpful in your decision, I humbly offer my October 20, 2016 Perspectives article at https://jerrykieschnick.wordpress.com/.

God bless you and God bless America!

Election Day

voting-boothOnly 18 days remain between now and Election Day. On one hand I’ll be glad when that day has come and gone. On the other hand, I’m very concerned about hearing the news to which America will awaken on November 9. Frankly, like many Americans, neither candidate rings my chimes.

For months we’ve been hearing and seeing ads, debates, and interviews espousing the minimal virtues of each candidate and eschewing the multiple vices of both. Name calling, half-truths, and allegations have filled the airwaves. No matter who wins, we won’t have a perfect president.

That in itself is nothing new. We never have had a perfect president. Yet in this year’s process of nominations and campaigns, seemingly unprecedented negative personal attributes and questionable values have emerged regarding each candidate. What are we to believe?

Hillary Clinton has been described as a deceitful, manipulative, self-serving, mean spirited, callous, angry, forgetful, dishonest, power hungry woman with no true love of country and no genuine desire to honor and preserve the basic religious values on which America was founded.

Donald Trump has been described as a rude, crude, ambitious, arrogant, womanizing, combative, name-calling New York narcissist who spends more time defending his reputation on social media than actually stating how he would make America great again as United States president.

Our country is at a critical crossroads politically, economically, morally, socially, and spiritually. Frankly, at face value, the descriptions in the paragraph above of the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land don’t offer much hope for America’s future. Yet, barring an act of God, it appears that one of them will become the 45th president of the United States of America.

Do we, therefore, simply wring our hands in despair? Do we stay home from the polls? Do we, as some suggest, hold our nose and vote for the one we think might be the lesser of two evils?

While I have no rocket science solutions, the suggestions I humbly offer are these:

  1. Pray fervently for divine direction in this election. See Rom. 13:1-4.
  2. Consider the qualifications of the two nominees in light of how they express their hopes and dreams for America’s future, notwithstanding their personal behavior and character.
  3. Review each candidate’s stance on terrorism, national security, foreign policy, military might, national debt, health care, economy, Supreme Court appointees, sanctity of life.
  4. Examine the official positions on the issues listed above as contained in the platforms of the two political parties the candidates represent. This is a most critical exercise! We’re not just voting for a person. We’re voting for the political platform that person represents!
  5. Evaluate the vice presidential candidates on the ballot, considering the attributes of the person who would be one heartbeat away. This is also a vital consideration!
  6. Pray again and cast your ballot for the candidate and platform most nearly aligned with your values and convictions as a Christian citizen of the United States of America!

Declining Churches

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That’s the subject of articles authored by Thom Rainer and Alan Danielson. Here are the links:  http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/08/16/the-most-common-factor-in-declining-churches/ and http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/153332-alan-danielson-the-number-one-reason-churches-decline.html.

Both articles identify a common pattern among churches in decline: an inward focus, to the exclusion of an outward focus. No surprise! Here are some highlights from Rainer’s article:

“Ministries in declining churches are only for the members. Budgeted funds are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of the members. Times of worship and worship styles are geared primarily for the members. Conflict takes place when members don’t get things their way.”

“Other symptoms include very few attempts to minister to people in the church’s community. Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires. Members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, church staff, and lay leaders in the church.”

“In declining churches, any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance. The past becomes the hero. Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light. Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.”

Danielson adds: “Our churches are not here to make us (the believers) happy, meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or affirm our opinions. Our churches are here to reach people who are desperately far from God. Our churches do not exist for us. Our churches exist for the lost.”

He continues: “We need to ask ourselves some tough questions. What do I not like about my church? What if the very thing I don’t like is the thing that will reach people for Jesus? What do I love most about my church? What if the very thing I like most is the thing that is a barrier to reaching people for Christ? Am I willing to support changes I don’t like? Am I willing to lay down my preferences and opinions for the sake of people who are lost?”

“While our own desires don’t automatically contradict our mission, we must be diligent never to allow our desires to supersede the mission. What should we want more than seeing people come to faith in Christ? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Sound familiar? This syndrome is not uncommon in congregations of the national church body of which I am a member. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is no stranger to decline.

Rainer helps with words of hope: “For those of us in Christ, however, there is always hope—His hope. Times are tough in many churches. Congregations are dying every day. Many church leaders are discouraged. But we serve the God of hope. Decline does not have to be a reality.”

My additional comments are these: There are lots of moving parts in the process of transforming a declining church to a church of health and vitality, many more than can be satisfactorily covered in Perspectives articles. But do not despair. Hope comes in various ways.

If your church is declining, begin now to pray. Respectfully express to your pastor and other church leaders your concern and offer to assist. Consider encouraging him or them to take the step of reaching out to someone who might be able to help. For ideas of where to find such help, contact leaders of a healthy church. If all else fails, let me know.

It’s important to remember what Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Hurricane Katrina and Louisiana Flooding

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Credit: John Oubre / The Advocate

This week Monday marked the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on August 29, 2005, in southeast Louisiana. That horrendous storm strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but weakened before making its second landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on August 29 in southeast Louisiana. Wikipedia provides details:

Katrina was the eleventh named storm and fifth hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the costliest natural disaster and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. The storm is currently ranked as the third most intense United States land falling tropical cyclone, behind only the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille in 1969.

Overall, at least 1,245 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, making it the deadliest United States hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. Total property damage was estimated at $108 billion, roughly four times the damage wrought by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Katrina caused severe destruction along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas, much of it due to the storm surge and levee failure. Severe property damage occurred in coastal areas, such as Mississippi beachfront towns; over 90 percent of these were flooded. Boats and casino barges rammed buildings, pushing cars and houses inland; water reached 6–12 miles from the beach.

Over fifty breaches in New Orleans hurricane surge protection were the cause of the majority of the death and destruction during Katrina. Eventually 80% of the city and large tracts of neighboring parishes became flooded, and the floodwaters lingered for weeks.

In addition, earlier this month the state of Louisiana suffered heavy flooding from torrential rainfall that caused rivers to overflow their banks, leaving many people homeless. In one part of Livingston Parish, more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours.

One Red Cross worker said, “Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now!” Disaster relief folks from numerous congregations and agencies of our church body have responded with volunteers and monetary support, yet many of those affected have no flood insurance. The need is great for human and financial resources!

For more information on how you can help, go to http://southernlcms.org/southern-district-deploys-district-disaster-response-coordinator/.

Although Terry and I have never directly experienced damage and destruction from flooding, my mother’s home in New Braunfels flooded twice in four years. Through her experience we’ve seen up close the heartache and financial burden that result. Thank you and God bless you for responding in any way possible to help those facing this time of personal loss and need!

Rio Olympics 2016

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A very important person in Terry’s and my life, our beautiful granddaughter, turns 21 today. Happy Birthday, dear Kayla! Mimi and I love you very much and pray for you every day!

Also this weekend the Games of the XXXI (31st) Olympiad, more commonly known as the 2016 Summer Olympics, will conclude. This major international multiple-sport event began August 5 and will end August 21. It has virtually dominated major TV coverage for 17 days.

The decision to hold this event in Rio de Janeiro was made by the International Olympic Committee in 2009. More than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries have competed in 28 different sports at 33 venues in the host city and at five more locations in Brazil.

Numerous controversies preceded the Games, including the instability of the Brazilian government, pollution in Guanabara Bay and health concerns caused by the Zika virus. Use of illegal drugs by Russian athletes added to the list of challenges faced by the host city and country.

Nevertheless, Rio Olympics 2016 has provided many hours of viewing pleasure for people around the world. Almost every event included manifestations of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Just a few of my many memorable highlights include:

  • USA men swimmers, with Michael Phelps’ record of 28 medals, including 23 gold!
  • USA women swimmers, particularly Simone Manuel. The first African American woman to win a gold medal in swimming, she said: ““All I can say is all glory to God …!”
  • USA women gymnasts, led by Simone Biles’ championship performances. Her height is 4’9″!
  • Numerous track events, including Jamaican Usain Bolt’s gold medal in the 100 m. race. He’s a bit too cocky for my blood but does make the sign of the cross before every race. He’s 6’5″!
  • Two 70+ year old female coaches, South Africa’s Tannie Ans and Hungarian-Romanian Márta Karolyi, USA gymnastics team coordinator who lives in Huntsville, Tex. Both have coached athletes with incredible life stories who won gold medals!

Many other highlights occurred, too numerous to mention. You most likely have your own list.

Olympic contests remind me of St. Paul’s words: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25)

Young Olympians with incredible athletic skill today will someday become elderly former Olympians with bodies that refuse to do what they once were able to do. The last half of that sentence already describes many people, whether or not they ever were great athletes.

By God’s grace, young and old alike can look forward to a crown that will last forever! Thanks for the short term memories, Rio Olympics 2016!