The Eighteenth Anniversary

Hard to believe today marks the 18th anniversary of the day we know as 9/11. How well I recall where I was and what I was doing Sept. 11, 2001, when hearing the news of an airplane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. How well I also remember the second such incident, another plane hitting the other World Trade Center tower moments later.

Then the tragic news continued. A third airplane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. And yet a fourth plane whose passengers thwarted another hijack attempt crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93. Those airlines and flights are etched into the annals of American and world history.

The four attacks killed 2,996 people, injuring over 6,000 others. Additional women and men died from 9/11-related cancer and respiratory diseases in the months and years that followed.

All four attacks were coordinated against the United States by Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda. The events of 9/11 comprise the deadliest terrorist attack in human history and the single deadliest incident for firefighters (343 died during and following the attacks) and law enforcement officers (72 lost their lives) in the history of the United States of America.

As some of you are aware, all this occurred only three days after my installation as 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I was leading a staff meeting in the LCMS International Center. Numerous related events transpired during my nine year presidency.

One of my most poignant memories of this historic tragedy is the full page letter unanimously approved by the LCMS Council of Presidents for publication in USA Today and The New York Times Oct. 2, 2001, three weeks after the event. Here is the letter:

A Promise – The New York Times and USA Today – October 2, 2001

In the aftermath of our nation’s tragedy three weeks ago today, we of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod wholeheartedly offer our love and prayers for those tens of thousands of people whose lives have been drastically altered by the sudden loss of their loved ones and friends.

At such a time it is natural to wonder how we can get on with life.

Still heavy with the burden or our enormous loss, we face the potential for even more danger at our doorstep. And as we look out upon the world seeking a promise of comfort and hope, we may see only darkness.

Yet we are not the first people to suffer such darkness, nor to long for such a promise.

David in the Old Testament, in time of great personal and national distress, looked to God and took comfort in His promise:

“The Lord is my shepherd … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” 

Jesus, to whom the Scriptures refer as our “Good Shepherd,” spoke words that are particularly poignant right now:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”    

That Good Shepherd understands suffering and death … and His own death and resurrection promise hope and comfort to us all.

In these days of great personal and national trial, it is important to remember the words of St. Paul as we struggle with ‘getting on with life’:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And that’s His promise!

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Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
St. Louis, MO
www.lcms.org

This day will never be forgotten. Lord, have mercy!

Evil Grieves the Heart of God

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Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr

Last week brought two more incidents of “domestic terrorism” in Texas and Ohio. Most recent tallies indicate at least 32 dead and more than 50 wounded, all at the hands of two individuals with no apparent motives. Our hearts hurt each time this kind of news arrives.

As usual, pundits, politicians, and other people are quick to decry these dastardly deeds and to offer solutions that might provide a quick fix. Gun control, background checks, psychological or psychiatric help for people who flash signals of mental imbalance or leave a trail of racial hatred or indicate vengeful predisposition are the most frequently suggested remedies.

Each of those suggestions might be somewhat helpful. But none really gets to the heart of the matter. The bottom line is: It’s the heart that matters. “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Genesis 8:21 (ESV).

My father used to say that if you believe children are born without original sin, just put two toddlers in the same room, with only one toy, and shut the door.

The biblical quote above was spoken by God after he had sent the great flood, described in Gen. 6-9. It begins like this: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” Gen. 6:5-7

The flood was caused by 40 days and 40 nights of constant, torrential rainfall. After a total of approximately 370 consecutive days on the ark, God created the rainbow as a visible sign of his covenant never again to destroy the earth by the waters of a flood. Gen. 9:8-17

Just before that covenant, “The LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. ’” Gen. 8:21

The bottom line is that nothing anyone does now or in the future will change the evil nature of man’s heart. Steps we take, guns we confiscate, laws we make, restrictions we place, speeches we hear … these and other decisions or actions might be somewhat helpful in minimizing the massive and rapid loss of life that occurs in a mass shooting. We should and must do whatever we can toward that goal.

Yet people with evil hearts will always find ways to do evil deeds. Not even the almost total destruction of mankind in the flood sent by God removed the evil from man’s heart.

So we teach our children and our children’s children that life is a precious gift of God. And we endeavor to teach others that truth as well. That won’t eradicate the evil in man’s heart. And it won’t totally stop mass shootings. But it might go a long way toward curbing the unbridled insanity that happens far too often. For evil still grieves the heart of God. And my heart as well.

Help for Kenyan Girls facing FGM and FEM

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For more than half a century I’ve known Flora and Ray Tacquard. They live in Spring, Texas, a northwest Houston suburb. Ray and Flora are faithful members of Trinity Klein Lutheran Church in Spring, which has been involved for over a decade in ministry among the people of Kenya.

Kenyan Schools of Hope (KSH) is an organization that provides ministry to children from the Maasai tribe, who live in the African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Ray chairs the KSH Board of Directors and Flora is Rescued Girls Coordinator. Here’s what they say about KSH:

Kenyan Schools of Hope believes all children should have a place to feel safe, be loved, and have the opportunity to reach their potential. We base our efforts on the great commandment “love your neighbor as yourself” to fulfill the great commission “go and make disciples.”

Though prohibited by law, it is estimated that 70% of young girls from the Maasai tribe in Kenya still undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Forced Early Marriage (FEM).   

Normally “cutting” is done under secrecy to girls 5-17 years of age in unhygienic conditions using crude instruments. Sterilization and anesthesia are seldomly used. The results of this brutality are obvious. Sometimes even death occurs. Following FGM, FEM is immediate, no matter the age of the girl. 

With no choice of when or whom she marries, young girls are sold for a dowry of cows or goats, often to an older man as his third or fourth wife. The possibility of attending school ends forever.

After offering free vision clinics among the Maasai people of Kenya for over ten years, we were approached by two Chiefs and other Kenyan leaders to build a rescue center for these vulnerable girls. The dormitory/hostel is presently housing 21 girls with more expected to be welcomed soon. The classrooms will be completed in March (that’s this month), and the school is currently open with 29 students in temporary accommodations.   

As part of the education offered at Kenyan Schools of Hope, the saving love of Jesus is paramount. In fact, the Board of Directors in Kenya named the school Osiligi Lutheran School.  Osiligi means “hope” in the language of the Maasai.

Partners in this significant mission outreach are welcome. Whether individual, church, business, or organization, the opportunity is there for you to help change the life of a girl forever.

Donations may be made at kenyanschoolsofhope.org or checks may be mailed to Kenyan Schools of Hope, 5201 Spring Cypress Rd., Spring, TX 77379. For more information, send an email to hope4kenyangirls@att.net. We pray God will touch your heart to support Kenyan Schools of Hope, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization.

I encourage you to add your support, as the Spirit of God moves you.

Donald J. Trump

Donald John Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America. As is true of most leaders, he is loved by some and hated by others. Frankly, there are times when my respect for the office enables me to live with some of his most unattractive personal and political attributes.

For example, I dislike the use of derogatory rhetoric to criticize opponents. Is it really necessary to use terms like “Crooked Hillary” (Clinton) or “Lyin’ Ted” (Cruz) or “Crazy Joe” (Biden)? Others like “Pocahontas” (Elizabeth Warren) or “Little Marco” (Rubio) or “Little Rocket Man” (Kim Jong Un) or “Low Energy Jeb” (Bush) are perhaps not quite as egregious. But necessary? Or helpful?

There are also certain narcissistic characteristics manifested in President Trump’s verbal and non-verbal actions that are unbecoming a man who occupies the highest office in the land. Narcissism is “the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s idealized self-image and attributes.” The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. It describes someone who thinks of himself more highly than he ought. Egotistical is another descriptive term.

Other points of disagreement and dislike could be added, but these are sufficient for now.

On the other side of the coin, there have been many positive accomplishments during President Trump’s first two years in office. Surf the Internet and you’ll find long lists of such achievements. One such list identifies 289 accomplishments in 18 categories, including economic growth, jobs, business expansion, deregulation, tax cuts, health care, law and order, border security, international trade, energy, foreign policy, defense, veterans’ affairs, etc. Those achievements are obviously arguable.

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address President Trump addressed a litany of issues, both foreign and domestic. For me and for many, one of the highlights of the one hour, 21 minute speech, interrupted by a reported tally of 102 standing ovations (mostly Republicans), was his emphasis on the sanctity of life. Here are his most pertinent and powerful statements on that topic:

  • “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.”
  • “To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”
  • “Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life, and let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.”

Whether you’re one who loves President Trump or has the opposite feeling, I hope you join me in thankfulness for the positive statements he made about life to a national and global audience.

Abortion Abomination

Last week I saw an article on Facebook titled Faith Leaders to Bless Abortion Clinic. In my opinion, it’s an abomination. Here are portions of the article, dated October 24, 2018:

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“Faith leaders” will be gathering next month for an abortion clinic blessing in Columbus, Ohio.

“Anti-abortion advocates do not have the monopoly on faith or God,” the notice from Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio reads. “Many faith leaders and people of faith hold that accessing and providing abortions are good and godly decisions.” The title of the notice? “Holy Ground: Blessing the Sacred Space of Decision.”

“During this clinic blessing, participants will gather with local faith leaders and guests to ask for God’s blessing upon Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s East Columbus Surgical facility, the abortion providers and staff, and all those who pass through the center,” the notice adds.

The event also will feature interfaith blessings, prayers, and testimonies about receiving and providing abortion care. The “clinic blessing will create space for progressive voices of faith to speak boldly in support of comprehensive reproductive health care, especially abortion.”

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In addition, a recent decision by the state of New York protects women’s access to abortion, even if the historic case decision Roe v. Wade is overturned.

On Jan. 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”

Arguing against this measure, NY State Assembly Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said: “We need to be honest with the public and say that this bill does not simply codify Roe v. Wade… what this bill does is expand abortion up to birth and the third trimester.”

New York’s Catholic Bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Nolan, said: “Our Governor and legislative leaders hail this new abortion law as progress. This is not progress. Progress will be achieved when our laws and our culture once again value and respect each unrepeatable gift of human life, from the first moment of creation to natural death.”

My comment? A newly forming embryonic fetus is a life, not just a part of its mother’s body. Upholding the sanctity of life and helping support those whose personal and financial circumstances make it difficult to carry a child to full term is a Christian responsibility.

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.

+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.”