How, When, Where Will My Life End?

rainbow, cemetery, sky, outside, tombstone, graves, graveyard, HD wallpaperThose are questions about which most folks don’t like to think or talk. The topic of death hits close to home. And it’s probably best that we don’t know the answers. Yet death happens.

It’s in the news, almost every day. We’re hearing a lot about shootings in major cities, claiming the lives of people of all ages, races, colors, and creeds. Sadly and tragically, that beat goes on.

In addition to those violent deaths, people in the U.S. are dying from other causes. Here are the numbers for one recent year (2017):

  • Heart disease: 647,457
  • Cancer: 599,108
  • Accidents: 169,936
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
  • Stroke: 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
  • Diabetes: 83,564
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
  • Kidney disease: 50,633
  • Suicide: 47,173

While some would not include in statistics like these the number of unborn children who die by abortion, that number, 623,471 for 2016, is impossible to ignore. That’s less than half the high of 1,429,247 in 1990 but does not include California, Maryland, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, none of which reported in 2016.

The newest reportable cause of death, coronavirus, has taken more than 143,000 lives in the U.S. so far this year. That number will surely rise in the months ahead.

This past week two of my longtime friends passed away. One suffered with cancer for four years. The other died suddenly of a heart attack. Each had lived about eight decades.

Neither method of dying is easy for surviving family members.

Lengthy illness is draining on the patient and also on primary caregivers. It does provide time for putting one’s affairs in order. But even still, some do not get those matters taken care of. Procrastination rules.

Sudden death is more shocking for the family because of its unexpected arrival. In those cases, unless the deceased has made plans for distribution of his/her assets, that important unaccomplished matter can cause huge distress for the survivors.

Often I’ve observed that the people in my genealogical family tree have two things in common. They all were born. They all have died.

So while it’s on your mind and while you have a bit of spare time, it would be a stellar idea to put the tasks of estate planning, asset listing, and other related matters on your “do it now” list.

Legacy Deo can help. For a free electronic copy of our Wills Planning Guide, The Red Book (asset listing tool), and Funeral Planning Guide, contact us at info@legacydeo.org or (512) 646-4909.

You will be relieved. Quickly. Your loved ones will be blessed. Eventually.

And it will take away much of the stress related to the questions of how, when, and where your life will end. Thankfully.

Homographs and Heteronyms

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Homographs are words of like spelling but with more than one meaning. A homograph that is also pronounced differently is a heteronym. Here are some examples of both (author unknown):

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
9) I did not object to the object.
10) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
11) They were too close to the door to close it.
12) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
13) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
14) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? People recite at a play and play at a recital?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? One has to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which a house can burn up as it burns down, you fill in a form by filling it out, and noses run and feet smell!

English reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Throughout the history of mankind, including biblical times, words have been important. St. Paul writes: “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.” 1 Cor. 2:13

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving DinnerGifts for which I am thankful to God every day include life, love, faith, family, freedom, forgiveness, health, home, happiness, safety and security. A few other gifts are listed below. All these gifts are signs and symbols of the grace of God, for which I’m particularly thankful!

November 15 I was privileged to preach for a special anniversary celebration at Messiah Lutheran Church in Longmont, Colo. Former Rocky Mountain District President Roger Krause initiated the invitation. He and his wife Bernice are wonderful servants of the Lord!

While in Colorado I saw nephews J.W. and Doug. Doug and Diana are grandparents of the triplets born Christmas Day 2013. Christopher Logan went to heaven the day after he was born. Many of you have prayed nearly two years for Emma Grace and Anna Christine. Photos below.

Both are doing as well as can be expected. Emma has been declared legally blind, is still on oxygen much of the time but is not as dependent on the ventilator as in the past. She has a good appetite and smiles a lot. Anna is doing well, needs to gain some weight but otherwise is in relatively good health. Anna walks and runs independently. Emma walks and runs with the aid of her four wheeled walker, usually with a lengthy oxygen supply tube as her tether.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers for these two miracles! They have come a long way since being born at one pound four ounces each! Praise the Lord for his marvelous grace!

November 8 Terry and I were in Nashville, Tenn. to honor the nine pastors who serve or belong to Our Savior Lutheran Church. Former Mid-South District President David Callies and his wife Nancy were special honorees! These pastors and their godly, patient, supportive spouses are a blessing! We also were blessed to see my niece Rachel and her beautiful family while in the area!

After nearly five years at Concordia University Texas, December 31 will be my last day as Presidential Ambassador for Mission Advancement. The very next day, January 1, 2016, I will begin a new adventure as Inheritance Legacy Consultant with the Lutheran Foundation of Texas.

Prior to election as president of the Texas District and then as LCMS president, I served LFOT as Executive Director. I’ve often said that when no longer involved in church leadership and ecclesiastical supervision I would love to get back in the planned giving saddle. While this move will fulfill that ancient aspiration, Concordia Texas will always have a special spot in my heart.

My new LFOT role will be to assist individuals and families in exercising their privilege as Christian stewards in a manner that makes it possible to create a financial legacy for family members and charities of their choice. Those choices may include local congregations and many other not-for-profit organizations like Concordia. I’m looking forward to this new opportunity for service and thank God for his gift of Christian vocation! A blessed Thanksgiving to you all!

A Weekend in Paris

IMG_3581Following last weekend’s terrorism in Paris I’m postponing until next week what I had intended to be today’s article. In the wake of the Paris killings and on the heels of the conclusion of the series Islam’s Future in America, I feel compelled to offer these thoughts:

  • Along with most Americans and others around the world, I decry and condemn these most recent acts of violence that took the lives of innocent people in a peaceful country.
  • I’m thankful that at last some Muslim leaders finally spoke out against the violent acts of Islamic jihadist perpetrators of death and destruction. May their numbers increase!
  • While mindful of the admonition of Jesus to love our enemies, I’m also keenly aware of biblical injunctions regarding the value of life and respect for authority: “Anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and they will be punished. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good … sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.” (Rom. 13)
  • In that light, I consider France’s military response under President François Hollande in bombing ISIS installations in Syria to be most appropriate. I also commend the many U.S. governors who have said they oppose allowing Syrian refugees into their states, at least for now.

An inscription by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a candidate for U.S. president, observed that no mention is made in the Statue of Liberty inscription of sending to our land your terrorists. I agree.

The Statue of Liberty words aptly describe many immigrants who have come to America, including my ancestors (and probably yours as well). Yet our ancestors came here seeking a better life to be lived under the umbrella of numerous freedoms. They came not plotting to destroy the lives of those whose freedoms they sought to adopt as their own.

While making every effort to communicate the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ to everyone, including those who worship Allah, we dare not be naïve regarding the agenda of those who are aptly and accurately called Islamic jihadists, such as those of al Qaeda, ISIS, etc.

Consider the traumatic events of 9-11, the recent explosion of airplanes from ISIS bombings, and the horrific events in Paris last weekend. Jesus said: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Lord, help us in that difficult endeavor!

Islam’s Future in America—Part VI—Conclusion

Muslim PrayerThis is the final part of a series resourced by Dr. Adam Francisco’s article cited in Part I.

“What might Islam look like in America in the future?” That’s the question prompting this series of articles. Dr. Francisco says: “Islam will continue to assert itself and even enjoy greater influence. There are currently about five million Muslims in America … expect that number to rise. Muslims typically have larger families than your average American [family].”

The Muslim population will be diverse, including Shias, who are more moderate, and Sunnis, “who are progressivists, secularists, Islamists, and even jihadists. The institutions representing American Muslims and public discourse on the character of Islam in America will be predominantly Islamist of one sort or another.”

“These Islamist organizations have learned to contextualize their speech. They say one thing but mean another. For example, Islam means peace, it has been said, and in a way—though not literally—it does. But it is a peace defined by Islam and one that will not be realized until all individuals, their institutions, and societies submit entirely to Allah.”

“Amidst America’s Muslims there will be and already is a contest for the soul and posture of Islam. Moderates and progressives are already battling with conservatives. Mark Steyn (“Apostasy in Moderation”) offers a word of caution as well as a corrective in which Christians could certainly participate. He has argued that promoting moderate Islam is a quick fix to the challenges posed by radical Islam and, in the end, will be ineffective as it is virtually impossible to get around the injunctions to violence in the Qur’an.” Steyn says: “The most effective strategy against the resurgence of Islam may be the oldest of all—an evangelizing Christianity.”

Francisco continues: “Nevertheless, we should expect more of the violence happening across the globe to find its way here. It already has. What to do with it or how to preempt it is still the question. Muslims have the right to practice their religion and—according to popular notions of what liberty or freedom means—order their life as they see fit. For religions committed to a distinction between religion and politics or theology and civil law, the first amendment poses little to no problem to the integrity of that religion or the state. For Islam—at least classical orthodox versions of it—it does. Herein lies one of the most basic problems associated with Islam in the West, particularly in a secular and pluralist democracy like America.”

“Regardless of all the trends, debates, policies, and postures associated with the problems of Islam and its future in America, we can count on the fact that Islam is and will continue to become a part of mainstream American culture. Whether it gets stirred up in the melting pot or not is anyone’s guess at this point. Whether it succeeds in influencing the broader culture or not will probably not be determined by Islam itself. Rather, the future of American culture will be determined by those, as it has been said, who show up for it. Muslims are poised to do just that. So are secularists. Are Christians? Only the future will tell.”

Head Shakers, Breath Takers, Heart Breakers

NYXA number of recent news stories, events and experiences have produced for me what I believe can be accurately called head shakers, breath takers and heart breakers. I’ll list a number of them and you can decide for yourself in which category you would place them. Here we go:

  • Internal Revenue Service tax forms that are complicated, convoluted and confounding.
  • Reports of people who fraudulently access federal government funds, often frivolously spending the hard earned money of taxpayers who comply with IRS regulations.
  • Reports that the University of Texas paid nearly $10 million to buy out the contracts of their recently fired and newly hired football and basketball head coaches.
  • Reports from various world hunger organizations that 17 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and that at least one million of them die every year.
  • National arguments and protests surrounding Indiana and Arkansas legislators’ attempts to agree on religious liberty legislation.
  • Concerns expressed by some that Religious Freedom Restoration Acts would encourage discrimination against specific segments of society, such as atheists or homosexuals. Never mind that discrimination is freely demonstrated against Christians every day.
  • An agreement struck by the United States and other nations designed to restrain Iran’s nuclear facilities and capacity.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comment on the Iranian agreement: “Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it. It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war.”
  • A German airliner’s co-pilot who locked his captain out of the cockpit and proceeded, intentionally and deliberately, to take the lives of all passengers and crew by crashing the plane into rugged mountainous French terrain.
  • Medical reports that this co-pilot had suicidal tendencies, yet succeeded in camouflaging what would surely have disqualified him from the incredible responsibility borne by the thousands of pilots who fly millions of passengers around the world every day.
  • The brutal slaying of 142 students, three policemen and three soldiers by al-Shabab, an Islamic jihadist terrorist group, during a 13-hour massacre at a university in Kenya.
  • Al-Shabab’s subsequent warning of more attacks in retaliation for killings by Kenyan troops fighting al-Shabab in Somalia. They said: “Kenyan cities will run red with blood.”

You could add some shakers, takers and breakers of your own. In a very sobering sense, it’s no surprise that such realities occur, especially breath takers and heart breakers. We live in a broken world where Satan “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

In the midst of that fallen world, this past week those of us who bear the name of Christ rejoiced at the anniversary of his death defying resurrection! Someday, in the new heavens and new earth, righteousness will dwell and death will be no more. (2 Peter 3:13) I’m hoping that means no more head shakers, breath takers or heart breakers!

Spring has Sprung!

FlowersThat’s a saying that may or may not be grammatically correct. As a matter of fact, Spell Check on my computer took a second look at it, with a squiggly frown on its electronic face.

Many in our land have been inundated with an unusually brutal winter. Records have fallen in numerous categories, particularly total snowfall in the Northeast. But not in Texas.

Here in central Texas winter was more messy than record breaking, with many misty and chilly but not frigid days of drizzle and dreariness. At least for the moment those things have given way to sunshine and warmth, the stuff we’re accustomed to experiencing here at this time of year.

Another sign of spring in Texas is the eruption of colors in the landscape. Earlier this week I was traveling along a road that provides a multi-mile view of rolling hills and valleys. I saw beautiful shades of green, provided by newly-leafed trees awaking from their winter hibernation.

In addition, I saw some of my favorite wildflowers—bluebonnets—which seem to have appeared overnight. Some of the uninformed mistakenly call them bluebells. That’s the ice cream company. The flower is a bluebonnet. But I digress.

Along with spring comes the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord. In many ways the things I’ve just described about spring are subtle seasonal reminders of the awakening, the eruption, the appearance of our Lord Jesus from his time in the tomb. Thankfully, his season of embalmed hibernation was brief and temporary. Unlike spring, his reappearance and reemergence are not seasonal but eternal.

Remember that reality as you walk next week with billions of Christians around the world the path of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It’s the week we Christians call Holy.

Many blessings to each of you! Spring has sprung!

Preaching and Praying

Pulpit 1Having attended many worship services in my lifetime, I’ve come to appreciate the challenge of planning and leading meaningful worship. Combining elements of worship in a spiritually stimulating manner, week in and week out, is not as easy as some might think. Two specific elements of worship come to mind—preaching and praying.

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the awesome task of preaching. It’s not easy to find and to fashion a timely topic based on a biblical text that truly touches the hearts of the vastly diverse audience in most Christian congregations every Sunday.

Public prayers in worship bring to Almighty God the praises, thanksgivings, confessions, needs, thoughts, longings, hopes, doubts and fears of young and old alike. What a blessing it is for a pastor to pray for, with and on behalf of his people!

Most preachers and other people have a few pet peeves when it comes to preaching and praying. So do I. Here are a few bothersome matters and mannerisms that can be very distracting:

  • Failing to translate theological concepts and truths into practical life application.
  • Saying “Uh” and “Um” unnecessarily and habitually in sermons and prayers.
  • Repeatedly and predictably using colloquial expressions when praying and preaching.
  • Praying in a manner that sounds more like a speech than a conversation with God.

There are many more, but this short list is enough for now. Suffice it to say that the work of those who are called to preach and to pray is not only very important but also quite difficult. I have great respect for those called by God to this noble task!

To those on the pulpit side of the sanctuary I offer encouragement to continue to take seriously and endeavor faithfully to accomplish the monumental task to which you have been called.

To those on the pew side of the sanctuary I encourage praying for and supporting your pastor, freely and frequently offering positive encouragement for his most significant responsibilities.

The desired result is pastor and people working together to the glory of God in fulfilling his purpose of making known the love of Christ in our churches, communities and world!

God’s Special Gifts

Presents

Today I’m writing about a number of people I’ve known for many years. All of them passed away within the past few months. All but one died in Texas. A few details about each are included under my signature at the end of this article. Here are some basic facts:

  • Wilson Whiteside, 97, passed away in Dallas December 22 after a lengthy illness.
  • Rev. Kim DeVries, 64, passed away in San Antonio suddenly January 1 while jogging.
  • Rev. Dr. Michael Snow, 71, passed away in Houston January 21, 2015 after a lengthy illness.
  • Milton Cockrum, 87, passed away in Georgetown January 25 after a lengthy illness.
  • Sharon Doering, 46, passed away in Round Rock January 27 after suffering more than seven years with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Dr. Keith Loomans, 83, passed away in Austin February 5 after a lengthy illness.
  • Orene Easterday, 86, a dear friend of our family for many years, passed away in southern Illinois February 8 after a lengthy battle with dementia.

This is only a partial list. Each of you no doubt could write your own list of people you know and love who have passed away, recently or a long time ago. Each, in some way, left behind a legacy of family members, friends, professional, vocational and spiritual endeavors.

It’s a reality that people make a lasting impact on other people. It’s also a fact that the death of people with whom a close relationship has been developed makes another lasting impact.

It’s my hope and prayer that this brief article will provide a gentle reminder for each of us to thank God for the life of those who are near and dear to us. They are God’s special gifts!

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Wilson Whiteside, 97, passed away in Dallas December 22, 2014. He was very active at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Dallas and other charitable organizations. Wilson served as chairman of the Texas Church Extension Fund and was almost always accompanied by Marilyn, his dear wife of 59 years.

Rev. Kim DeVries, 64, passed away suddenly in San Antonio January 1 while jogging, though seemingly in excellent health. Kim had been pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio for 30 years. He left his wife Cathy, two sons, their wives, two grandsons and other family members to mourn his passing.

Rev. Dr. Charles Michael Snow, 71, died January 21, 2015 after a lengthy illness. Mike was a retired pastor who served Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Longview and Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Houston. He was a good friend for many years and is survived by his wife Clara, a faithful pastor’s wife, along with their children and grandchildren.

Milton Cockrum, 87, passed away in Georgetown January 25 after a lengthy illness. Milton and his wife Josephine, together with two of their children, Bradley and Patty Dee, were charter members of the congregation Terry and I started in Georgetown, Tex. in 1981—Faith Lutheran Church. I performed the marriage of Patty Dee and Doug Groves 30 years ago!

Sharon Doering, 46-year old wife of Terry’s cousin Jeff Doering, passed away in Round Rock January 27 after more than seven years with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jeff, their children Thomas, Gracie and Hayden, with assistance from Jeff’s parents Sonny and Laverne and other family members, were godly examples of faithfulness in caring for their dear loved one!

Dr. Keith Loomans, 83, retired Executive Director of Parish Services of the Texas District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, passed away in Austin February 5 after a lengthy illness. Keith and I worked together for many years before and during my time as District President. He was a blessing to many and his wife Margie still is!

Orene Easterday, 86, a dear friend of our family for many years, passed away February 8 after a lengthy battle with dementia. Orene and her husband Dave lived in Nokomis, Ill., along with their children Dan, Marc, Ken, and Christi. They were Terry’s and my family away from home during our years at Concordia Theological Seminary, then in Springfield, Ill. Orene and Dave were baptismal sponsors for our daughter Angie in 1970. They were genuine blessings to us, to our family and to many others!

Houston, Do We Have a Problem?

Houston Skyline 2Although this week’s Perspectives article title “Ebola” was released this morning, I feel the necessity of adding this article on the same day. Unless moved to do otherwise, I intend for this second installment today to take the place of next week’s article. But stay tuned. Who knows?

The first I heard about Houston’s problem was yesterday morning in a number of emails from folks I know and love. They brought to my attention the news that “The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.” (Source of that quote: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/14/city-houston-demands-pastors-turn-over-sermons/)

Today I learned that “Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Parker asking that she withdraw the subpoenas “immediately.” (Source of that quote: http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2014/10/16/houstons-mayor-backtracks-on-church-subpoenas-tosses-her-own-lawyers-under-the-bus/)

Interestingly, the city’s attorney says: ““I’m just doing my job. I don’t have any issues with these pastors. What I’m doing is defending a lawsuit that was brought against us.” See more on this matter at: http://www.tpnn.com/2014/10/15/pastors-to-mayor-dont-mess-with-texas-pulpits/

Here are my non-legal but hopefully common sense observations and perspectives:

  • Out of context, for sermons written and delivered by Christian pastors in America to be subpoenaed by any governmental authority smells like a violation of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech.
  • The context of this particular incident seems to be the response of a city attorney to a lawsuit filed against the city of Houston dealing with homosexuality and other gender identity issues recently addressed by the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance (which sounds absurd) and involves a number of pastors who allegedly used their pulpits and other communication vehicles to speak and lobby against the ordinance and those responsible for its adoption.
  • Putting the best construction on everything, which is very difficult to do in an emotionally charged matter like this one, the city attorney who represents the defendant in this lawsuit would appear to have the right to gather evidence to support the city’s defense during a time of discovery. If that’s the only purpose for the subpoenas, what’s the problem?
  • However, if the intention of the city of Houston is to sensor or take legal action against any pastor or other private citizen for what that citizen writes, preaches or otherwise communicates, that would be quite problematic and undoubtedly unconstitutional.
  • My own personal and ecclesiastical perspective is that I have no problem showing the world everything I write, preach or otherwise communicate. That’s simply because I take great care to be as sure as possible that the things I write are true, accurate, responsible and helpful. If the pastors in Houston follow that same principle, why would they have any problem with providing everything the subpoenas are requesting?
  • Finally, I love the idea that civil authorities would actually care about what a clergyman in the 21st century is preaching! And if I as a preacher am doing the job I’m called to do, those civil authorities would get from my sermons a meaningful dose of the severity of God’s law and judgment, along with an unmistakably clear witness to the precious truth of the love and forgiveness of a gracious God whose Son Jesus paid the price for humanity’s sinfulness by his innocent death and miraculous resurrection.

The apostle Peter says: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)

And I say: “Houston, what’s the problem?”