Necessities of Life and Financial Priorities

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Before getting into this topic, here are two recently published books for your consideration:

  • How Long, O Lord, How Long? by Dale Kreienkamp (Tenth Power) — The unemployment journey
  • Life, Love, Faith, Family by Jerry Kieschnick (CPH) — Perspectives from a veteran church leader

Dale, a friend of mine, shares both practical and spiritual insights on life after losing a job. Most of you know the other author. My book is available at www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx. Dale’s is at howlongolord.org. Take a look at both.

Providing the necessities of life requires paying attention to financial realities people face every day. Should I buy the Lexus or the Lamborghini? The Maserati or the Mazda? The Starbucks Toasted White Chocolate Mocha for $6.00 or the McDonald’s Peppermint Mocha for $2.00? You get the picture.

Perhaps except for the wealthiest among us, people are cost conscious, to a greater or lesser degree. But many people around the world have never even thought about decisions like those above. They are concerned about the necessities of life and can’t even begin to think about the luxuries, even if they knew they existed. In many cases that is highly doubtful.

In a recent sermon I said: Making decisions about what to eat and what to wear are first world issues. Many folks in third world countries have only one choice and it’s not made from a full cupboard or a multi-wardrobe closet. Their choice is often: “Do I beg for food on the street or go to the dump to try to fill my empty stomach?” And “Do I wear my one pair of pants and my one shirt before or after I wash them in the Ganges River?” By the way, the levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of that river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government’s official limit.

The topic of necessities of life became even more vivid for me when I read an Aug. 25, 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal: Pet Insurance Not So Niche Anymore. It stated, among other things:

  • In 2017 Americans spent $17 billion on routine veterinary care for cats and dogs
  • Pet accidents or illnesses can greatly increase veterinary costs
  • The old method of repairing a dog’s torn cranial cruciate ligament (canine ACL) costs $1,200
  • Setting the bone and putting in a plate to make the knee as good as new costs $4,500
  • In the face of such rising costs, Americans spent $1 billion for pet insurance in 2017
  • These policies cover only 1% of the 94.2 million cats and 89.7 million dogs Americans own
  • With 12 million puppies and kittens being born every year, that number will explode

While it may be difficult to consider all pets a necessity of life, they are often very significant in people’s lives. For example, service dogs, comfort dogs, seeing-eye and guide dogs, owned by people who live alone, especially the elderly, are among the animals who play a very important and necessary role. Cat owners could probably articulate better than I how the feline species fills significant roles as well.

Puppies and kittens are God’s gifts to mankind. Yet spending billions to care for them in the face of worldwide poverty causes one to scratch one’s head about necessities of life and financial priorities. That’s particularly true as Christmas approaches. Especially during this season, Terry and I are acutely aware of the people and possessions God has entrusted to our care. He has blessed us with the necessities of life and many of the wants. Thanking him as good stewards is our Christian privilege.

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+George Herbert Walker Bush+

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On Friday, November 30, the 41st President of the United States died at the age of 94 years, five months, and 18 days. He was born in Milton, Mass., and died at home in Houston, Tex.

At the time of his death he was the third-longest-lived vice president, and the longest-lived president in U.S. history. Since the day he died, U.S. news sources have highlighted his career and family, including wife Barbara, who passed away earlier this year; son George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. President; and son Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor. George H.W.’s personal life was accentuated by boating and parachuting activities that extended into his ninth decade.

President Bush was raised in the Episcopal Church and expressed his faith publicly in numerous ways, including his Thousand Points of Light speech, his support for prayer in public schools, and his pro-life views. His faith was also reflected in the music he chose for the arrival of his body in Washington D.C. to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. The selections played by a military band were Beautiful Savior and A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

People of all ages and physical conditions waited for hours in the Washington cold to enter the Rotunda. Memorable sights were many, including a Boy Scout standing at attention and saluting for an extended period of time; 95-year old former U.S. Senator Robert Dole, in a wheelchair, with great effort standing and saluting the casket with a crippled left hand; and numerous world famous professional sports and political figures.

Yesterday the casket was moved to Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service clearly reflecting President Bush’s Christian faith. The service featured powerful Christ centered preaching, with numerous inspirational hymns and dynamic choral presentations. It was seasoned with both serious reflections and humorous comments from family members and political personalities.

Another memorial service will be held today at 10:00 a.m. CST at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. From there his body will be transported to College Station, Tex., where he will be laid to rest at the Bush Library on the campus of Texas A & M University next to his wife Barbara and their three-year-old daughter Pauline Robinson Bush (Robin), who died of leukemia 65 years ago.

Of particular note to me this week have been the broad and non-partisan expressions of respect and even love for this man, particularly at a time of hugely partisan political division in America. It was also quite encouraging to hear again the clear expressions of his Christian faith.

The New York Times reported: His [Bush’s] longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him. Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. “Where are we going, Bake?” he asked. “We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered. “That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said. Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead.

Fox News Sunday reported: Baker, who called Bush his best friend, discussed his peaceful final day. “He had a very gentle and peaceful passing,” Baker said.  “They made arrangements for all of his children to call in to in effect tell him goodbye. His son former President George W. Bush called in to say ‘Dad, I love you, I will see you on the other side’ and President Bush said ‘I love you, too’ and those were his last words. He had a very gentle and easy passing, the kind we ought to all hope we have.”

Guy Benson, Political Editor for Townhall.com, concluded: Death is an inevitability, so perhaps this is the best way to go: Saying final, loving goodbyes to everyone who matters in your life before dying at a ripe old age, after living an incredibly full and consequential life. Bush was a war hero, a Congressman from Texas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican National Committee Chairman, Director of the CIA, Vice President of the United States, and President of the United States.

And I add: “George Herbert Walker Bush, rest in peace. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Acts of Nature

Credit: MaxPixel

Are you as weary as I am of the seemingly never ending hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, floods, fires, droughts, and earthquakes? Enough, already!

More important than our weariness is the loss experienced by those directly or indirectly affected by these powerful and destructive acts of nature. The list includes demolished homes and businesses, damaged or destroyed property and possessions, loss of life or limb.

These events are often called “acts of God” but almost always have human or meteorological causes. I wonder about the role of the God of the universe in the manifestation of power in the forces of nature. Obviously he allows such things to happen. But does he always cause them? Such quandaries belong in the category of questions to ask the Lord someday.

To be sure, examples of God acting through nature are found in the pages of Holy Scripture, most notably the great flood, undoubtedly the single most destructive event in world history. Yet we also know, on another occasion, that the Lord’s appearance to Elijah was not in a great and mighty wind, nor in an earthquake or fire, but in “a still, small voice.” 1 Kings 19:12

What then are we to do when hurricanes named Harvey or Katrina or Michael ravage communities and ruin lives? When fires in California turn assets into ashes? When torrential rainfall in Texas converts peaceful rivers into raging floodwaters?

We say “Lord, have mercy!” We do what we can to relieve the suffering of those directly impacted. We assist with picking up whatever pieces of their lives remain. We help rebuild and replace their property and possessions. And we do our best not to become weary in doing well. Gal. 6:9

“Republicans and Ex-Crackheads”

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Credit: Aranami

When Terry and I are home, after dinner we sometimes turn on the TV and look for something worth watching. This past Monday we had done the first part of that routine but not yet the second. The TV was on but we were reading and hence paying no attention to program selection.

The channel on our screen was showing the 70th Emmy Awards. I looked up from my book after a few minutes and noticed two men, apparently co-hosts. Neither looked familiar to me. I later discovered that that they appear on Saturday Night Live, which we never watch.

Here’s how CBN News summarized a portion of a dialogue between these two co-hosts: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2018/september/emmys-host-says-only-white-republicans-and-ex-crackheads-thank-jesus

Hollywood’s biggest celebrities descended on New York City Monday night for the 70th Annual Emmy Awards. The show began with the usual political banter but it took a bad turn during Michael Che’s opening monologue with co-host Colin Jost when he took a jab at conservatives and a particular racial group.

“My mother is not watching,” Che said. “She says she doesn’t like watching white award shows because you guys don’t thank Jesus enough. That’s true. The only people … the only white people that thank Jesus are Republicans and ex-crackheads.”

Later in the evening, Best Supporting Actress winner Thandie Newton continued the theme about mocking winners who thank Jesus [telling] the crowd, “I don’t even believe in God, but I’m going to thank her tonight.”

One can only imagine the media furor that would have erupted had similarly derogatory comments been made in the same venue, by the same people, about Muslims or atheists.

Welcome to the Year of our Lord 2018. In some circles the Christian church no longer occupies the position of honor and respect it has enjoyed almost since the birth of America. I wonder how many Christians have responded in protest to NBC or whoever is responsible for the Emmy awards. I would hope such responses would be multitudinous yet reasonable and responsible.

St. Peter seems to encourage such with these words: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Frankly, a spirit of gentleness and respect is not easy when communicating with individuals who say the only people who thank Jesus are “Republicans and ex-crackheads.” Know what I mean?

Hurricanes

Hurricane Lester on Approach to Hawaii

We’re in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season. This week’s devastation expected from Hurricane Florence on our country’s East Coast is a stark reminder of the reality of our country’s vulnerability to these powerful and violent storms. Here are a few other examples:

Today, September 13, is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Ike (2008), which ripped through the Houston and East Texas area, flattening homes and obliterating entire towns with a huge storm surge that destroyed buildings and businesses along Galveston’s Seawall.

August 29 was the 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (2005), an extremely destructive and deadly Category 5 hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, causing catastrophic damage from central Florida to eastern Texas, devastating the city of New Orleans.

August 29 was also the 1st anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s arrival in Houston (2017), damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses in that huge city and, for several days before and after, in other smaller communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. Flooding of homes and highways in Houston captured the media’s attention, while equally serious damage in smaller communities lagged behind in news coverage and recovery efforts.

Other historic storms in America include, to name only a few of the worst, Camille (1969), Andrew (1992), Charley (2004), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Sandy (2012), and Irma (2017).

A few days after Katrina’s and Ike’s arrival I made trips from St. Louis to affected areas, visiting people, pastors, and congregations. Those efforts were simply tokens of encouragement, prayer, and support for those whose lives were drastically affected by the wind, waves, and rising water that inundated their homes, churches, and businesses. More tangibly significant is the work of those who contribute their time, money, and energy in recovery and restoration.

Recently I asked Julie Tucker, Director of Disaster Response for the Texas District LCMS, about ongoing relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Here are excerpts from Julie’s response:

Though headlines from Harvey have faded, the devastation is still apparent, especially in the Coastal Bend and Golden Triangle regions. But thanks to generous support, homes are being restored and families are being helped. To date, 3,519 people have volunteered, 107,252 volunteer hours have been logged, and 325 households have been helped. One area recently reported to me that they have hung over 18,000 pieces of sheetrock – in one area!  

Progress is clearly being made. But, of course, there is still much to be done. At one of our sites, 356 homes have requested help. Another site reports 300 homes still awaiting some kind of assistance. Clearly, the need is massive. Experts predict recovery from Harvey will take five to ten years. Our work continues and your support continues to be needed.

You can help by donating to our Disaster Relief Fund. Remember, 100% of the funds collected are used to help those in need. You can also sign up to serve at one of our sites. Or, even better, you can do both! Please consider how you might be able to help. Your help is sorely needed.

I cannot thank you enough for your prayers, your gifts, and your willingness to lend a hardworking hand. The devastation of Harvey is no match for your generosity and love!

Until they all know Him,
Julie Tucker

Check out this link for a first-hand look: https://youtu.be/PFImCIMuQi4

Thank you for any assistance you, your congregation, and your community can provide for the thousands of people still reeling from the damaging effects of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

Lord, have mercy!

Remembering September 11, 2001

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This week I’ll be sending two issues of Perspectives. Although it regularly comes on Thursday, I cannot let today pass without a remembrance of what happened on this day 17 years ago.

Terry and I had just settled into our home in St. Louis after leaving behind our family and friends in Texas. Three days earlier, September 8, I had been installed as the 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, our national church body.

What happened September 11, 2001 occupies only a couple pages in the history books now being studied by high school students, most of whom who were not yet alive in 2001. But the events of 9/11 are indelibly etched in the memories of those of us who lived the experience.

Terry and I hold in our hearts and prayers all who were directly or indirectly affected by the events of this day 17 years ago. That includes children whose parents did not pick them up from school that day and parents whose adult children did not return to their homes that evening.

My prayer is that the memories of 9/11 will cause us to give thanks for the women and men who provide first response to disasters in our beloved country. Especially in times of catastrophe and chaos, these heroes unselfishly rush to the scene to do whatever they can to preserve the lives of those who survive and to honor the lives of those who don’t.

We also give thanks to God for the women and men of our military forces. They bravely confront the sources of evil around the world, leaving behind spouse, children, comfort, and safety in order to prevent a repetition of the events that catalyzed the memories of this day.

Evil men will always be inspired by satanic forces to inflict death and devastation wherever possible. September 11, 2001 is a prime example. Although the context is different from that in which these words were written by the apostle Paul, they are nonetheless appropriate for this day: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

May the remembrances of this day, with the power of almighty God, inspire and encourage us to do exactly that!

The Middle Class

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“Middle class” is a term often used but widely misunderstood. How would you define it? A dictionary definition of middle class is “the social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business workers and their families.”

In an August 24 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Brookings Institution scholar Homi Kharas defines the middle class as “people who have enough money to cover basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter, and still have enough left over for a few luxuries, such as fancy food, a television, a motorbike, home improvements, or higher education.”

Kharas goes on to say: “After thousands of years of most people on the planet living as serfs, as slaves, or in other destitute scenarios, half the population now has the financial means to be able to do more than just try to survive. There was almost no middle class before the Industrial Revolution of the 1830s—just royalty and peasants. Now we are about to have a majority middle-class world.”

The Pew Research Center defines middle class income in the U.S. as “between 67% and 200% of the average median income.” The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average median income was $59,039 per household in 2016. Using the Pew percentages, households making less than $39,556 are low income and households earning at least $118,078 are high income.

Using similar but slightly different category definitions, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 32% of households in our country are low income, 42% are middle class, and 26% are high income. To be sure, those are somewhat subjective numbers. And they surely vary from country to country.

An August 3, 2017 report by Nancy Birdsall titled Middle Class: Winners or Losers in a Globalized World? says that “almost 50% of the world’s population, with incomes of less than US$1 to US$4 per day are counted as poor and live almost entirely in the developing world.”

Birdsall continues: “Approximately another 40% of the world’s population, with income between $4 to $50 per day make up an ‘incipient’ (below $10 a day) or truly arrived middle class.” A much smaller “rich world middle class” has income between about $50 to $177 a day, including the top one percent of households in the world with income of $200 a day.

My experience in “third world” countries convinces me that while some may be middle class and a very small number high income, abject poverty still exists in the lives of far too many people. This is nothing new and the solution is anything but simple. In the meantime, we are called to help.

Moses said: “There will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deut. 15:11.

Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20.

Jesus also said: “To whom much has been given, of him much will be required.” Luke 12:48.