Ten Little Vignettes

The first six vignettes below are from an unknown source. The last four are mine.

  1. In a drought, the villagers decide to pray for rain. On the day of prayer all the people gather. Only one young boy brings an umbrella.

That’s FAITH.

  1. When a father throws babies in the air, they laugh because they know he will catch them.

That’s TRUST.

  1. Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning. But still we set the alarm to wake up.

That’s HOPE.

  1. We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future.

That’s CONFIDENCE.

  1. We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children.

That’s LOVE.

  1. On an old man’s shirt is written a sentence: “I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.”

That’s ATTITUDE.

  1. A leader behaves in a way that embarrasses his constituency and the organization he leads.

That’s INCOMPETENCE.

  1. A public figure apologizes for public mistakes without changing his behavior.

That’s MANIPULATION.

  1. A leader is motivated by values that do not contribute to the organization’s success.

That’s DISAPPOINTMENT.

  1. Constituents who share a dying organization’s core objectives are inspired to take steps to resurrect it.

That’s HOPE.

+Rev. Robert Charles Greene+ (1938-2019)

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Credit: Alexander Boden on Flickr

By now many of my readers have heard about the passing of a very dear friend, Rev. Robert Charles Greene. Bob had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer on May 28 and went to heaven July 10, a short 41 days later.

Bob’s obituary is at https://www.ramseyfuneral.com/obituary/pastor-robert-greene. It’s a comprehensive yet concise review of the highlights of his life. Without writing a book, it’s simply not possible to capture adequately 81 years of faith, family, life, love, and leadership.

Jean Greene, Bob’s wife of nearly 57 years, and their children Steve and Diane shared with me a 16 page document titled “Biographical Record and Remembrances of Robert C. Greene.” On those pages Bob shares highlights of his life, family, and career, including vignettes that provide interesting insights into this man’s life, values, and character. Here are a few examples:

As a student at Concordia High School in St. Paul, Minn., Bob worked in the kitchen: “I had a difference of opinion with the President of the College about which of the two people working in the kitchen should become the head person. About this time the President came into the kitchen and told me to go hang up my apron. I was no longer to work there. I was told to come by his office and pick up my check.” Bob wasn’t reticent about expressing his opinions.

In a congregation he served as a young pastor: “There was a real need for Sunday school classrooms, youth room, kitchen, and office. But when the decision went to the Voters it was defeated, primarily under the influence of one family. So I went to a member of that family who had young children and asked him to chair the building committee for a redo of the building vote. When it came up again for a vote, this time it was easily adopted.” Bob knew how to lead.

During my last term of office as President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod I appointed Bob as chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, aka BRTFSSG. One of his duties was to visit each of the 35 districts of the Synod for a meeting of the Board of Directors or District convention. At one of those meetings way above the Mason-Dixon Line, in the winter, he had no overcoat. I lovingly chided him and presidentially “ordered” him to buy a coat and send me the bill. Not long thereafter I saw him. With a coat. But I never received the bill. Bob knew how to listen. Sometimes with only one ear.

Much more could be said about Rev. Robert C. Greene. Much more will be said at his memorial service this Friday. Suffice it to say here that he was an intelligent, bold, strong-willed, visionary pastor and church leader. More importantly, he was a loving husband and devoted father.

One of Bob’s favorite Scripture readings was Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Amen! Rest in peace, dear friend and brother in Christ!

Like Father, Like Son

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Sometimes events creep up on us. Such is the case with my article a couple weeks ago. After it was already posted, I realized that it went out a few days before Father’s Day. Duh. I missed it.

But I can’t let this important day go by without a few words about fathers. Today is the day before my father’s 103rd birthday. I believe this is an appropriate time for this topic.

A teacher asked her students to write a story about “My Father.” One eight-year-old wrote:

“My father is great. He can swim big wide rivers and climb very high mountains. He can fight tigers and jungle animals and can even beat monsters. He can wrestle alligators and jump very high. But most of the time he just takes out the garbage.”

On a more serious note, here’s a poem about a father:

To get his goodnight kiss he stood beside my chair one night
And raised an eager face to me, a face with love alight.

And as I gathered in my arms the son God gave to me,
I thanked the lad for being good, and hoped he’d always be.

His little arms crept ‘round my neck and then I heard him say
Four simple words I can’t forget – four words that made me pray.

They turned a mirror on my soul, on secrets no one knew.
They startled me, I hear them yet; he said, “I’ll be like you.”

Charlie Shedd (1915-2004), Presbyterian pastor and author, quotes a famous psychiatrist as saying: “No little child will think more of God than he thinks of his father.” A youngster apparently cannot contrast. He can only compare.

Shedd imagines a child thinking, “God is like my father. I’m not so sure my father really cares much about me. He’s always playing golf, watching television, reading the newspaper. Besides, he isn’t very nice to my mother. He’s not even fair. I don’t think I’d like God.”

Shedd suggests a good short speech for a father to give to his children: “Listen to me, troops. When I’m the kind of father I should be, that’s what God is like! Where I am not so hot, I hope you’ll learn the all-important process of contrast.”

“Wherever the Bible says that God is like a father, you can understand it means that God is like a perfect father. You know I’m not perfect. But I’m going to keep on trying. And I want you to know that I know I’ve got a long way to go.” – Christianity Today

I hope your Father’s Day two weeks ago was as much a blessing to you as mine was to me. And I also hope your father is, or was, as much a blessing to you as mine was to me.

A Church and a Bar

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Last week I saw a story on Facebook:

A man went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone, which rang loudly during the prayer.

After church was over, the pastor scolded him for not turning off his phone before coming into church. A number of worshipers admonished him after the prayer for interrupting the silence.

In addition, the man’s wife kept lecturing him all the way home about his thoughtlessness and insensitivity. He felt ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated.

After that incident, he never again returned to the church.

That same evening, the same man went to a bar. He was still upset, nervous, and trembling. He accidentally spilled his drink on the table and on his lap.

Although the spill wasn’t his fault, he waiter apologized, brought a clean napkin for the man to dry his pants, and politely wiped the spilled drink from the table.

The janitor came and mopped up the liquid that had spilled on the floor.

The lady who managed the bar offered him a replacement drink … at no charge.

The manager also gave the man a huge hug and a peck on the cheek, while saying, “Don’t worry, sir. Who doesn’t make mistakes?”

And guess what? That man has not stopped going to that bar since his experience that night.

The moral of this story is obvious. Whether you’re manager of a bar or pastor of a church, people need and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Demonstrating care and concern for people in, of all places, the church, goes a long way toward encouraging people to return to receive what really counts–proclamation of God’s forgiving love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notre Dame Fire and Communion on the Moon

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Credit: Earthrise by William Anders

Much has already been written and reported about the tragic fire causing severe damage to Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral earlier this week. My sadness joins that of many in the world.

Historical structures with cornerstones dating back to the early 12th century are priceless. More importantly, notwithstanding differences between Lutherans and Catholics, this cathedral has served as a place of worship for nine centuries. I hope and pray reconstruction will occur.

Today is Maundy Thursday, observed in the Christian Church throughout the world as the anniversary of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It happened as Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples. Biblical accounts are Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23.

On several occasions I’ve written about the Lord’s Supper, aka Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Eucharist, etc. But I don’t recall writing a Perspectives article that tells the story of Communion on the moon. So here we go.

Apollo 11 landed the first two human beings on the moon in July 1969. Those of us old enough to do so remember it well. It also marked the first occasion on which a Christian took the sacrament of Communion on an astronomical body other than Earth.

This event took place in the interval between the lunar module’s landing on the moon on July 20, 1969 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface several hours later. During that period of time, astronaut Buzz Aldrin privately observed Holy Communion using elements he had brought with him to the moon.

Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life. Knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his pastor to help him. The pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and on to the surface of the moon.

On the silent surface of the moon, nearly 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John and quietly took communion. Here is his own account of what happened:

“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’”

“I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute Mission Control had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly.”

“Then I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: The very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements. Neil [Armstrong] watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time. I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”

Not incidentally, another astronaut has done the same. Col. Jeff Williams, longtime faithful member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston, communed numerous times during his lengthy stays aboard the International Space Station in 2006, 2009, and 2016, with sacramental elements consecrated at Gloria Dei.

I spoke with Jeff and his former pastor, Rev. John Kieschnick (my second cousin-once removed and very close friend) this week. Both men humbly and thankfully honor this wonderful spiritual and sacramental blessing from our Lord Jesus.

Regardless of where it is received, whether in a centuries old cathedral or on the moon, Holy Communion is a precious gift of God. It’s as close as a human can come to Christ this side of heaven. Receive it with a heart of thanks for God’s love, made real in the human being named Jesus, Savior of the world and Lord of the universe!

Terry and I pray that your observances of Holy Week and Triduum, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, will be blessed. And we pray for you and your family a joyous Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

A Basketball Coach’s Prayer

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Credit: Wikipedia

As basketball fans know quite well, March Madness ended this past Monday night. In the final game, Virginia won the championship over Texas Tech in overtime. Numerous other games were played in a single elimination format. One loss and the team goes home.

After one of those earlier games, Virginia Tech’s Coach Buzz Williams prayed for the team’s three graduating students in the locker room following a two point loss to Duke in the Sweet 16. His prayer was a blessing and moved many to tears—even those who don’t follow college basketball.

Here are excerpts from an article by Megan Briggs, a writer and editor for ChurchLeaders.com:

Williams prayed for Ty Outlaw, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill, players who have been with him for the majority of his five years as coach of Virginia Tech men’s basketball. According to sports commentators, these young men have built Virginia Tech into a respected contender on the national college basketball scene, a fact that is clearly not lost on Williams and is apparent in his prayers.

Coach Williams said: “These young men will lead Fortune 500 Companies and will be good men, not just looking to the immediate future, but also down the line.” Williams prayed for Robinson: “I pray for his life as a leader, I pray for his life as a father, I pray for his life as a husband. As he becomes the governor, as he becomes the mayor, as he becomes the head coach, anoint him with the opportunity to impact people’s lives.”

Williams thanked God for Outlaw’s and Hill’s respective mothers, who he says supported their sons to be able to go to school and play basketball.

Indicating that Hill had had a troubled past or difficult family situation, Williams said, “I pray that as he becomes a husband, the examples that he’s seen since he’s been here will break the cycle in his life. I pray that as he becomes a leader, as he becomes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that he would continue to dispel every potential possible stereotype that’s been labeled to him.” 

Williams also prayed for the players to have humility. “God I pray that you would fill these guys with the right kind of humility and the right kind of love—that it’s not selfish, that it’s not for them…that they would know that the best kind of leadership is servant leadership.”

“Help them not to go astray. I pray that your spirit would guide the steps that they take.”

Williams ended his prayer assuring the players he would always be there for them. “Anytime you need a hamburger, anytime you need a place to stay, you call me. You’ll have my cell number the rest of your life…I will always take care of you. I will always take care of your mom.” 

“I’m incredibly thankful for the example you’ve set for my sons. I’m incredibly thankful for the example you’ve set for my daughters. Your character will always win,” Williams concluded.

It’s clear that character is a big theme in the Virginia Tech basketball program, and that Williams is an awesome coach. Telling the players he loves them, the heart of God the Father was on display that night in the locker room.

Interestingly, just a few days after losing to Duke, Coach Buzz Williams accepted the head basketball coaching position at Texas A&M, my alma mater. Regardless of the success of his team on the court, his godly influence will be a blessing!

As an added bonus, go to this link to get a glimpse of the way Coach Williams teaches his players about life, not just about playing a game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Qz58jMhDDA

One final note. After a valiant effort in the overtime championship game against Virginia, Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard headed to the locker room, followed by a CBS camera crew. As soon as he joined his team in the locker room, he and the team knelt for prayer. Almost immediately the camera switched from the locker room to the studio. I’m just sayin’ …

Perhaps we’re seeing a trend. Whether or not the Triune God actually cares about collegiate basketball or sports of any kind, it’s always OK to pray! God bless your day!

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

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At my mother’s memorial service last month I was invited to share a few reflections. One story I told described the time she washed my mouth out with soap. I can still taste that nasty soap! I was probably nine or ten years old and she had heard me say a bad word. I learned my lesson and never again said that word … at least not in her presence.

The last sentence in the paragraph above illustrates another life lesson I learned—always to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In that sentence I could have said only “I learned my lesson and never again said that word.” But that would not have been totally truthful. The real truth is in the words “… at least not in her presence.”

It was through a stern warning of my dear father that I learned that lesson about telling the truth. Daddy was bigger and stronger than I. So I chose not to test the sincerity of his warning because I had no desire to taste the punishment I’d likely receive if I ignored it.

Accordingly, when it was time to fess up regarding matters of importance about which my father was inquiring, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It worked. He never had to make me taste his recipe for corporal punishment.

Perhaps that’s why I become so aggravated today with those who don’t adhere to that principle about truth. I see and hear partial truths or half-truths in the lives and words of public figures in the political, secular, and even ecclesiastical worlds.

All too often I’ll hear something said that I know is not completely truthful. It may contain a grain of truth. But if it leaves out critical parts of the story, it falls woefully short of actually being the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

To add insult to injury, when caught, some with that propensity will offer an apology to “anyone who was offended.” But when the apology itself also includes half-truths or omits salient portions of the real truth, disdain and disrespect are further fueled.

That’s particularly true when those who hear the apology don’t know the rest of the story and treat the culprit as a hero, thanking him for his apology, applauding him for his humble spirit. It’s frustrating to see uninformed people misled by someone in a position of trust and authority.

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” Prov. 12:22

I love the Old Irish Blessing: “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping!” The same blessing applies to those who don’t tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Beware of twisted ankles! And Happy Valentine’s Day!