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!

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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 Break and Holy Week

CrossesSpring break and Holy Week each attract millions of people annually. That’s where the similarity ends. Consider the following differences and disparities between the two.

Several newspaper and TV reports this week have focused in a graphic way on recent spring break activities. Video clips have shown raucous and even lewd behavior of young people by themselves or in small groups in the midst of huge crowds of barely clothed humanity.

In almost every case mass consumption of alcohol is involved. One method of such volumetric booze delivery is a beer-filled plastic funnel attached to a tube that goes straight into the mouth of the consumer. Another shows scantily clad young women and men chug-a-lugging gin or vodka straight from the bottle. Other methods might be both more creative and destructive.

Tragically, those reports include news of seven young people being shot last weekend in Panama City Beach, Fla. During February and March up to six million young people visit that small town of 12,000, which has been dubbed “the Spring Break Capital of the World.”

Other reports are of young spring breakers who have died from excessive alcohol consumption or drug abuse. Contributing factors include a large number of under-age drinkers and widespread availability of heroin, together with an increasingly popular club drug called Molly.

Contrast that dangerous and deadly scenario with the meditative, reflective, penitential mood of Holy Week. Celebrated by billions of Christians worldwide, this week’s events include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, the Festival of the Resurrection.

Scripture and worship throughout this week will focus on the passion of Christ, including:

  • The Passover in the upper room, with Jesus initiating the Lord’s Supper
  • The suffering and arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • His trial and sentence of death before Roman authorities
  • His crucifixion on a hill named Calvary, also called “the place of the skull”
  • His embalming by faithful women and burial in a borrowed tomb
  • His miraculous resurrection from that grave three days later!

Spring break focuses on the unchecked and uninhibited natural inclination of mankind toward self-gratification. Holy Week’s emphasis is the sacrificial act of Christ for the forgiveness of humanity’s self-centered failure to live life according to the purpose for which God created us.

Terry and I join each of you, especially this Holy Week, in thanking God for his Son Jesus! Soon we’ll all be saying: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

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!

Important Questions

QuestionThis past week I spent a few days with 19 other fellow pastors. Some are retired; others are still active in parish ministry. All are wonderfully gifted and talented men.

During one of our sessions, the leader asked those of us who are no longer active in congregational ministry a number of important questions:

  1. What’s a Bible passage that means a lot you?
  2. What attribute of God is most important to you?
  3. What’s going on in your life that is significant?
  4. What’s a question you would like to ask the rest of us or anyone else, perhaps even God?
  5. What’s an insight you would like to share with the group or with someone else?

The ensuing conversation was awesome! The seven of us in that group had a combined total of 317 years in ministerial leadership of one kind or another. That’s an average of over 45 years each! We all shared heartfelt matters, not the least of which is the desire “to finish well.”

In a subsequent conversation it was clear that finishing well referred not simply to vocational retirement per se. It was mostly about doing whatever it takes to influence for Christ as many people as possible, especially family members and non-believers, as long as we’re alive.

Regardless of your current age, vocation, experience, personal or family circumstances, I encourage you to contemplate those same important questions. They very well might have the same impact on you that they had on seven chronologically mature clergymen last week!