One of the Two Certainties in Life

16687016624_caedfa2c01_b

Yep. That’s right. Taxes. By the way, in case you didn’t know or recall, the other certainty is death. But today I’ll talk only about taxes.

April 15 is the traditional deadline for filing Internal Revenue Service Federal Income Tax returns. This year it’s April 17. So if you haven’t done yours yet, it’s time to git ‘er done! Or file for an extension, which allows additional procrastination till October 15. But you can only delay filing your return till then. You’re still legally obligated to pay estimated taxes by April 17.

We often hear people complain about paying taxes. On the one hand, it’s not exactly my favorite duty either. On the other hand, notwithstanding imperfections and abuses, the taxes we pay support the life, safety, and freedom we enjoy in these United States. Compared with life in many other countries of the world, the blessings and benefits we enjoy make filing and payment of taxes worthwhile.

Some of the complaints most often heard have to do with the inefficiency and corruption of tax revenue distribution and expenditure. While some of those perceptions are reality, others are not well founded. The challenge is to discern which is which, a task not easily accomplished by the ordinary U.S. citizen. Accordingly, for example, some simply criticize government entitlement programs in general.

Even Winston Churchill is quoted as having said: “We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

Be that as it may, at tax time I’m always reminded of the question asked of Jesus by certain scribes and chief priests in biblical times who were trying to discredit or destroy him: “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Their plot was this. If Jesus said no, he would be considered a rebel by Pontius Pilate, governor (also known as procurator or prefect) of the Roman province of Judaea. If Jesus said yes, he would be accused of supporting the foreign rule under which Jews lived.

The answer Jesus gave, while looking at a Roman coin with the image, most likely, of Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, was: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

So as you prepare to pay your taxes every year, don’t forget about your duty, privilege, joy, and still tax deductible opportunity (if you itemize your deductions) to “give to God what is God’s.”

That’s the primary reason I’m still working past normal retirement age. Terry and I love to give, joyfully and generously! If you haven’t yet made that discovery, try it. You’ll like it! In a special way, discovering the blessing of joyful generosity prepares a person for both the certainties in life!

Advertisements

How will you be remembered?

Marbles

Tomorrow is our dear daughter Angie’s birthday. Next Tuesday is my dear wife Terry’s birthday. That very same date (but not the same year) is my dear Mother Elda’s 102nd birthday. Happy Birthday, sweet ladies! I dearly love each of you! I wonder how many men are blessed to observe within a few calendar days each year the birthdays of their mother, wife, and daughter!

Now to today’s topic. Recently a number of my friends have been called home to heaven. Each time a friend or loved one passes I reflect on that person’s life, recalling what I know about his or her joys and sorrows, blessings and difficulties. And I ponder for what he or she might be remembered.

Each person is uniquely blessed and leaves a mark, for better or for worse, on the people in his or her world. Here’s a story, author unknown, told by an observer of one whose life made a difference for the good of those he knew.

I was at the corner grocery store, buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly-picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes, but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas.

Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello, Barry, how are you today?”

“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas. They sure look good!”

“They are good, Barry. How’s your ma?”

“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”

“Good. Anything I can help you with?”

“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”

“Would you like to take some home?” asked Mr. Miller.

“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ‘em with.”

“Well, what do you have to trade me for some of those peas?”

“All I got’s my prize marble here.”

“Is that right? Let me see it,” said Mr. Miller.

“Here ‘tis. She’s a dandy!”

“I can see that. Hmm, mmm. Only thing is, this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?” the store owner asked.

“Not zackley, but almost.”

“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble,” Mr. Miller told the boy.

“Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.

With a smile, she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community. All three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever.”

“When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all. So he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.”

I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later, I moved to Colorado. But I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.

Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community. While I was there I learned that Mr. Miller had died.

They were having his visitation that evening, and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary, we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts, all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket.

Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband’s bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.

“Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about.”

“They just now told me how much they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size, they came to pay their debt.”

“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided. “But right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath his hand were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

The moral of this story: We will be remembered not only by our words, but especially by our deeds of kindness.

Jesus said: “Whatever you have done for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matt. 25:40)

For what will you be remembered?

Resurrection!

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 9.09.54 PM

As most Americans are aware, this is Holy Week. The days ahead include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, aka Easter.

Amid all the aspects of the secular observance of Easter, Christians focus on the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s an awesome story, recorded in the New Testament in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. I highly recommend you read all four accounts this week.

Lots of people will be in church this Sunday. Some are those lovingly referred to as CEO Christians: Christmas and Easter Only. Be that as it may, I hope and trust that pastors will focus not on the sporadic attendance of some but on the reality of death and our belief in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” (Apostles’ Creed: circa 390 AD)

This statement of belief in the resurrection provides hope and comfort, especially at the time of death of loved ones and friends. Earlier this week I wrote a letter to a friend whose wife passed away suddenly last week. Here are some of the words I wrote:

The author of Ecclesiastes writes: “There is an appointed time for everything  … A time to give birth and a time to die … A time to weep and a time to laugh … A time to mourn and a time to dance …” (Eccl. 3:1-2, 4) The times of dying, weeping, and mourning are not happy times.

That’s true whether a loved one dies after a lengthy illness or with no advance warning. At a time like this we echo the words of Simon Peter to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) That’s where we go at a time like this. We go to Jesus.

Many years ago his loved ones went to his grave, grieving deeply. They had lost the one who had been expected to change the history of the whole world. But he had died, as all men do, and his was a bitter and painful death.

Yet as those mourners came, by a miracle of the grace and power of God, their grief was turned to joy, their despair to faith and confidence! Jesus had risen from the dead!

Ever since that first Easter morn, believing people have come to the grave of their loved ones in confidence and trust … weeping, mourning, but not despairing, not lost, awaiting the promised resurrection of their loved one and the new heaven and new earth that lie ahead. (Rev. 21:1)

Terry and I pray that your times of weeping and mourning will be mitigated by the joy and hope that come from the peace of God that passes all understanding. We love you and thank God for you! A Blessed Festival of the Resurrection! That’s what I mean when I say: “Happy Easter!”

The Gospel According to a Deck of Cards

pexels-photo-279009

This sermon outline was shared with me by Pastor Jim Fandrey, who served on the LCMS Board of Directors during my years as LCMS president. I thought you might find it of interest.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

God gives us his Word in the Bible, Holy Scripture.  There’s a lot to absorb in all 66 books, from Genesis through Revelation.  We cherish and revere the Bible, because it tells us about what God has done for us and for our salvation.  But there is so much to remember.  Maybe this morning, we all would be helped, if we would learn . . .

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO A DECK OF CARDS

  1. God reveals himself to us through his Word
    • Ace: one God
    • Deuce: Bible divided into two parts: Old Testament and New Testament
    • Trey: Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    • Four: Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
  2. Are we wise or foolish, when we hear God’s Word?
    • Five: five wise virgins, out of ten; faith was burning and they entered the kingdom at the Lord’s invitation
    • Five foolish virgins, with faith extinguished, were locked out
  3. God promises to provide us with all that we need to support this body and life
    • Six: the days of creation
    • Seven: God rested, the model for our Sabbath rest
  4. God assures us: his mercy never ends, and we must be grateful
    • Eight: the people saved on Noah’s ark, the people who received the promise
    • Nine: the unthankful cleansed lepers; only one returned to give thanks
  5. In God’s Word we receive both Law and Gospel
    • Ten: the Ten Commandments
    • Jack: knave and devil, defeated by Jesus
    • Queen: Mary, mother of our Lord
    • King: Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords

Perhaps you’ll think about this the next time you see a deck of cards. God bless your day!

Grief is love with no place to go

loving-1207568_960_720

Yesterday would have been my mother and father’s 79th wedding anniversary. They married Feb. 7, 1939, at Zion Lutheran Church in Alamo, Texas.

Dad went to heaven way too soon to suit Mom and the rest of our family. He was only 66 when he passed away New Year’s Day 1983. He’s been gone over 35 years.

Mother Elda, who might yet see her 102nd birthday April 10, prays every day that she would be blessed by God to join Father Martin. But her desired answer has not yet been granted.

Elda misses Martin every day and longs to be reunited with him in heaven. The rest of our family, even those who were not yet born when he passed away but have only heard lots of stories about him, miss him also. Although it would be selfish for us not to affirm Mother’s prayer that one day soon she’ll wake up in heaven, we’ll also truly miss her when she’s gone.

In a very real sense, people who lose a loved one grieve that loss. It never really goes away.

The other day I read this definition of grief: Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

Over the years our family has mostly learned to live with our grief. As the Apostles’ Creed states, we believe “in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”

That hope in our hearts keeps us from expressing grief by curling into a fetal position or doing a catatonic rock. We simply miss the man we called “Dad.” He was a good man. Not perfect. But a dedicated Christian, hard-working provider, faithful husband, loving father and grandfather.

Most people I know can tell a similar story about grief for a loved one they’ve lost. That’s likely true in your life as well. For me, some of the most consoling words in the Bible are 1 Thess. 4:13-14, 17-18: Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who are without hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him… And so we will always be with the Lord… Therefore encourage one another with these words. 

Humanly speaking, grief is just love with no place to go. But we can do as the hymnist suggests:

I lay my griefs on Jesus, my burdens and my cares; He from them all releases; He all my sorrows shares. (Lutheran Service Book 606)

A Day to Remember

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 10.08.17 AM

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!

The Power of Prayer

Prayer

Before reading the story below I had never heard of Pahrump, Nevada. Google it and you’ll see a listing of “adult entertainment” that gives an indication of what might be its “claim to fame.”

Here’s the story:

In Pahrump, Nevada, the Diamond D brothel began construction on an expansion of their building to increase their ever-growing business.

In response, the local Baptist Church started a campaign to block the business from expanding, with morning, afternoon, and evening prayer sessions at their church.

Work on Diamond D’s project progressed until the week before the grand re-opening when lightning struck the building and burned it to the ground! After the brothel burned to the ground by the lightning strike, the church folks were rather smug in their outlook, bragging about “the power of prayer.”

But shortly thereafter, Jill Diamond, the owner/madam of Diamond D, sued the church, the preacher and the entire congregation on the grounds that the church “was ultimately responsible for the demise of her building and her business, either through direct or indirect divine actions or means.” 

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently and vociferously denied any and all responsibility or any connection to the building’s demise.

The crusty old judge read through the plaintiff’s complaint and the defendant’s reply, and at the opening hearing he commented, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this case, but it appears from the paperwork that we now have a brothel owner who staunchly believes in the power of prayer and an entire church congregation that thinks otherwise.”

The moral of this story is we’d better be careful about how and for what we pray. And if we really trust God to answer our prayer, when he answers the way we asked, we’d better be willing to say that that’s exactly what happened and to give him the credit.

God bless your day!