COVID-19 and Resurrection

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Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Obviously the greatest impact of COVID-19 on life in the world today is the death of thousands of people. Lots of medical researchers and hypothesizers are trying to figure out the best ways to flatten the curve, to save the lives of those infected, and to create a vaccine that works.

Another notable result of this pandemic is that many events have had to be postponed, such as weddings planned for months in advance and funerals that allow little if any pre-planning. Brides and grooms can be flexible. But it’s painful to delay the grief process as the world waits for coronavirus to be brought to its knees.

In the midst of these new but hopefully temporary realities, Holy Week is upon us. The customary worship experiences of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are replicated online, from empty sanctuaries, by small choruses of disbursed voices, softly and remotely spoken words from Scripture of the life and death of Jesus.

Then, on Easter Sunday morning, the responsive greetings, this year also spoken remotely: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Especially at Easter, those of us who have lost loved ones from this life on earth cannot help but recall the joys and sorrows, difficulties and blessings that were fruits of the relationships we experienced with those dear people. That list includes beloved parents, grandparents, spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and dear friends.

They are gone but not forgotten. At this Eastertide, we give thanks for the love we shared with them, and they with us, during the times of our togetherness.

Even more importantly, we look forward to that day of reuniting with them, of seeing them again, of occupying that immortal, spiritual, imperishable body of which Paul in 1 Cor. 15 so intriguingly speaks. All because of our hope and God’s promise of resurrection.

Resurrection. I say that word with conviction when I speak The Apostles Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!” And I speak that belief when I conduct a funeral: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

COVID-19: Where is your sting? Where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Terry and I pray for each of you a blessed Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

It’s Not What You Know

This Saturday is the birthday of one of my sisters, Carol. I’ve always known her as Carol Ann but these days she seems to prefer Carol. So I’ll stick with that. At least for today.

The number of years she’ll be celebrating this week will be left to your imagination. My parents taught me never to ask or reveal the age of a woman. So if I need to know a woman’s age, I simply ask for her date of birth. Sometimes that works just fine. Other times, not so much.

This particular lady has been my sister all my life. Contrast that with the observation that I have been the brother of my other two sisters all of their lives and you’ll come to the conclusion that the birthday girl is my senior. But not by much.

In our earlier years I might have been a bet reticent about affirming this particular sibling. When we were kids there seemed to have been a fair amount of sibling rivalry. Not so anymore.

This lady is very smart. Always has been. Always will be.

One of the nuggets of wisdom Carol shared with me a few years ago is an expanded and improved rendition of the familiar saying: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”

The meaning of that statement is simple. The premise is that if you know the right people, they will contribute to your advancement in life. As a personal favor. Whether or not your knowledge and experience are sufficient for such advancement.

Carol’s revised version of the “It’s not what you know” statement goes like this: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know who knows you and knows you know what you know.”

It took me a few minutes to commit that saying to memory. But since I learned it, I’ve never forgotten it. And it’s so very true.

Advancement in life is connected to relationships. But relationships alone are not sufficient for advancement that’s truly earned and intrinsically valuable. Yet relationships are often the link that connect a person’s knowledge and experience with people who can offer opportunity.

In my ministerial leadership career, I’ve often been guided by inherent perception when “hiring” folks to work with me. I’m a fairly good judge of character, trustworthiness, and integrity. In my mind, those are critical qualities for a potential colleague to possess.

Happy Birthday dear sister Carol! And thank you for a memorable and helpful cliché: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know who knows you and knows you know what you know.”

 

The Future is Here

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Before getting into today’s topic, a couple family notes. February 6 was my sister Karen’s birthday. I’m not telling her age–“many” years younger than I am will need to suffice.

Karen was born the day before our parents were married–February 7. Of course her birth was 10 years later than their marriage. I’m thankful for Mom and Dad, my sisters–Carol, Karen, Debbie–and the rest of my immediate and extended family members. All are gifts from God.

Now to today’s topic. The future that was forecast by self-appointed seers years ago is here. Along with that future has come many changes. Examples abound.

In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within a few years their business model disappeared. They went bankrupt. That has also happened to other organizations unwilling to adapt to technology and creativity affecting life everywhere.

More change is ahead and even already upon us. Artificial Intelligence, health care that melds medicine with engineering, remote diagnostics, autonomous and electric cars, Uber, Lyft, Alto, Airbnb, 3D printing, hypersonic aircraft, and much more. Welcome to the Exponential Age.

Futurists are predicting that some auto manufacturers will cease to exist. Traditional car companies will try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car. Tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will use the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.

It’s also predicted that such computers on wheels will result in much safer driving and fewer accidents. Time will tell. I’m aware that auto insurance leaders are discussing the long term impact of self-driven vehicles on the auto insurance industry. Whose computer is liable?

Online learning and costly delivery of traditional models have created huge challenges and significant anxiety in the field of higher education. In my own church body, two institutions of higher education have closed– in Selma, Ala. last year and Portland, Ore. earlier this week.

Solar, wind, nuclear, and fossil fuel energy sources are competing for market share with huge economic and environmental ramifications. And we’re seeing a significant increase in business leaders and workers working remotely via cell phone, computer, and video conferencing.

Even some in the church are thinking and acting futuristically. Virtual worship services live streamed are attracting large crowds of folks worshiping in their own living room. Distribution of The Lord’s Supper remains a challenge but electronic giving works just fine. The Amazon mentality is universal.

Here are just a few of the many quotes about the future by famous people:

Trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window. The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different. Peter Drucker

Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future. Ulysses S. Grant

I don’t know what the future may hold, but I know who holds the future. Ralph Abernathy

Blessed! Thankful!

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Credit: Kiy Turk on Unsplash

Yesterday marked Terry’s and my 54th wedding anniversary. Our marriage was solemnized on Saturday, January 29, 1966, my 23rd birthday. You can do the math.

The past 54 years have been exciting and challenging, full of a mixture of joy and sorrow, blessing and difficulty, victory and defeat, laughter and tears.

Through it all, faith in God, dependence on God’s providence, love for each other, and marital commitment, all under the umbrella of God’s grace, have sustained us through the valleys and taken us up the mountains. Suffice it to say that I am blessed and thankful.

Here are just some of the people by whom I’ve been blessed and for whom I’m thankful:

  • My wonderful, loving, talented, forgiving, patient wife Terry
  • Our dearest favorite daughter Angie and her gifted husband Todd
  • Our special favorite son Andrew and his four legged menagerie
  • Our beautiful favorite granddaughter Kayla and her special friend we call Super Trooper
  • Our handsome favorite grandson Kolby and his life of faith, service, and leadership
  • Sainted parents Martin and Elda Kieschnick and their legacy of love and hard work
  • Sainted grandparents Walter and Martha Kieschnick, Fred and Bertha Hellman
  • Sisters Carol, Karen, Debbie and their husbands Jerry, Mel, Curtis
  • Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins
  • Sainted in-laws Emil and Dorothy Roos and brother-in-law David
  • Lutheran congregations served in my career: St. Paul Austin, Trinity Nokomis, Ascension Charlotte, Good Shepherd Biloxi, Redeemer Beaumont, Hope Winnie, Faith Georgetown
  • Lutheran organizations served in my career: Lutheran Foundation of Texas, Texas District LCMS, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia University Texas, Legacy Deo
  • Parachurch organizations and boards served: LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, LCMS Council of Presidents, International Lutheran Council, Mission of Christ Network, Pastor360, Ministry Focus, Driving Hope of Texas, B. M. Woltman Foundation, Lutheran Social Services of the South

In compiling and reviewing that list, it’s obvious that my life has been and continues to be a combination of being served to serve. I see life as the Jordan River, not the Dead Sea.

In my Legacy Deo presentations I explain it this way: Our legacy from God is who we are and what we have. Our legacy to God is what we do with who we are and what we have.

For 77 years I’ve been loved and served by God, my family, and many friends. For most of those years, I’ve endeavored to love and serve people and organizations I’ve been blessed to know. It’s pretty easy to sum it up in two words: Blessed! Thankful!

Her Last Cab Ride

As we settle into the New Year, it’s appropriate to focus on how we demonstrate love, care, and concern to people around us, whether or not we know them. Here’s a reminder in a story forwarded to me by a dear friend about some of the important things in life. It’s a bit lengthy, but well worth the read.

I arrived at the address and honked my taxi’s horn. After waiting a few minutes, I honked again. Since this was going to be the last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away. But instead I put the cab in park and walked up to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened.

A small woman in her 90s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she asked. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. I replied, “It’s nothing. I try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.” She replied, “Oh, you’re such a good boy!”

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice facility.”

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. She continued in a soft voice, “I don’t have any family left. The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.

For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.

She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow down in front of a particular building or corner, and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low small building, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. 

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse. “Nothing,” I answered. “You have to make a living,” she said. “There are other passengers,” I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent down and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

For the rest of that day I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,  impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

In reflection, I don’t think I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said. But they will always remember how you made them feel. 

That’s the end of the story but the beginning of the motivation to respond in like fashion.

It’s a blessing for me to serve two charitable organizations that demonstrate Christian love in tangible but different ways.

My vocational calling to Legacy Deo, formerly Lutheran Foundation of Texas, enables me to help people plan their estate for the benefit of their family and favorite charitable causes.

This week I spent two days initiating the probate process for a single man, never married, who made plans to provide for his extended family members, Texas Church Extension Fund, and Concordia University Texas. We can provide that same kind of assistance for you. For information and help with your plan, call (512) 646-4909 or go to www.legacydeo.org.

In my avocational time I serve on the Board of Directors of a few worthy organizations. One is Driving Hope of Texas, established to provide non-emergency medical transportation for rural Texans, particularly low income or needy people. For information on how you can help, call (800) 674-3489 or go to www.drivinghopetexas.org.

Even if you’re not a cab driver, there are many ways to use your God-given gifts to help people experience a moment of joy in this life and an eternity of joy in the life that is to come.

Legacy Deo and Driving Hope of Texas are among many organizations that can enable you to use your blessings of time, energy, and money to be a blessing to others. What a great way to start this New Year!

A New Year Prayer

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Credit: Jamie Street on Unsplash

Several years ago my dear friend and former Pastor Vernon Gundermann, now in heaven, shared with me A New Year Prayer. Frankly, I don’t recall whether he was the author. But that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. And unless someone demonstrates otherwise, he gets the credit.

The words of Vern’s prayer are particularly poignant. His last months of life on earth were full of challenges and burdens brought by the disease that captivated his body. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was the culprit.

The gradual but progressive death of neurons controlling his voluntary muscles transformed his athletic frame to one of virtual incapacity. Yet through it all, Vern demonstrated a rare and inspirational mixture of grace and peace.

He knew who he was. He knew whose he was. And he knew where he was going, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Here’s his prayer, which is also my prayer for you:

A New Year Prayer

May God make your coming year a happy one!

Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;

Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;

Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;

Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;

Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most;

And by making you anxious to be there to help.

God’s love, peace, hope, and joy abound in you and your loved ones in the year ahead!

Happy New Year! A Blessed 2020!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a tradition observed by many Christians. This celebration begins with the birth of Christ on December 25 (Christmas) and concludes with the coming of the Magi, the wise men, on January 6 (Epiphany).

You’ve heard the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and probably know most if not all the words. It begins “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me … a partridge in a pear tree.” The song continues with the second through twelfth days of Christmas, identifying each of the other gifts “my true love gave to me” on each of those days.

A popular theory is that the song’s lyrics are coded references to Christianity and that the song was written to help Christians learn and pass on the tenets of their faith while avoiding persecution. Though the myth-debunking Snopes website disagrees with that theory, the spiritual connections are interesting enough to share. So here we go:

The Twelve Days of Christmas

A partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens = Faith, Hope, and Love
Four Calling Birds = the four Gospels and/or the four Evangelists
Five Golden Rings = the first five books of the Old Testament, aka the Pentateuch
Six Geese A-Laying = the six days of Creation
Seven Swans A-Swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids A-Milking = the eight beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten Lords A-Leaping = the Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
Twelve Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

On another more serious note, some of you might remember that this will be the first Christmas after my dear mother went to heaven January 10 of this year. The following words are most meaningful to our family and I hope to yours as well:

The first Christmas after you lose someone you love is hard.
You won’t feel like celebrating, but you’ll go along with it. For the kids. For the family.
It will hurt. The presents not bought. The chair not sat in.
The memories of past Christmases that threaten to suck the joy out of the whole day.
But you will get through it. You may even smile through the tears. It’s OK.
If you can, thank God for the Christmases you had with your departed loved ones.
Start a new tradition in their memory.
And remember the love you shared through the holidays.

Terry and I pray for you and your family a joyful and blessed Twelve Days of Christmas!