“Republicans and Ex-Crackheads”

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Credit: Aranami

When Terry and I are home, after dinner we sometimes turn on the TV and look for something worth watching. This past Monday we had done the first part of that routine but not yet the second. The TV was on but we were reading and hence paying no attention to program selection.

The channel on our screen was showing the 70th Emmy Awards. I looked up from my book after a few minutes and noticed two men, apparently co-hosts. Neither looked familiar to me. I later discovered that that they appear on Saturday Night Live, which we never watch.

Here’s how CBN News summarized a portion of a dialogue between these two co-hosts: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2018/september/emmys-host-says-only-white-republicans-and-ex-crackheads-thank-jesus

Hollywood’s biggest celebrities descended on New York City Monday night for the 70th Annual Emmy Awards. The show began with the usual political banter but it took a bad turn during Michael Che’s opening monologue with co-host Colin Jost when he took a jab at conservatives and a particular racial group.

“My mother is not watching,” Che said. “She says she doesn’t like watching white award shows because you guys don’t thank Jesus enough. That’s true. The only people … the only white people that thank Jesus are Republicans and ex-crackheads.”

Later in the evening, Best Supporting Actress winner Thandie Newton continued the theme about mocking winners who thank Jesus [telling] the crowd, “I don’t even believe in God, but I’m going to thank her tonight.”

One can only imagine the media furor that would have erupted had similarly derogatory comments been made in the same venue, by the same people, about Muslims or atheists.

Welcome to the Year of our Lord 2018. In some circles the Christian church no longer occupies the position of honor and respect it has enjoyed almost since the birth of America. I wonder how many Christians have responded in protest to NBC or whoever is responsible for the Emmy awards. I would hope such responses would be multitudinous yet reasonable and responsible.

St. Peter seems to encourage such with these words: “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.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Frankly, a spirit of gentleness and respect is not easy when communicating with individuals who say the only people who thank Jesus are “Republicans and ex-crackheads.” Know what I mean?

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Remembering September 11, 2001

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This week I’ll be sending two issues of Perspectives. Although it regularly comes on Thursday, I cannot let today pass without a remembrance of what happened on this day 17 years ago.

Terry and I had just settled into our home in St. Louis after leaving behind our family and friends in Texas. Three days earlier, September 8, I had been installed as the 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, our national church body.

What happened September 11, 2001 occupies only a couple pages in the history books now being studied by high school students, most of whom who were not yet alive in 2001. But the events of 9/11 are indelibly etched in the memories of those of us who lived the experience.

Terry and I hold in our hearts and prayers all who were directly or indirectly affected by the events of this day 17 years ago. That includes children whose parents did not pick them up from school that day and parents whose adult children did not return to their homes that evening.

My prayer is that the memories of 9/11 will cause us to give thanks for the women and men who provide first response to disasters in our beloved country. Especially in times of catastrophe and chaos, these heroes unselfishly rush to the scene to do whatever they can to preserve the lives of those who survive and to honor the lives of those who don’t.

We also give thanks to God for the women and men of our military forces. They bravely confront the sources of evil around the world, leaving behind spouse, children, comfort, and safety in order to prevent a repetition of the events that catalyzed the memories of this day.

Evil men will always be inspired by satanic forces to inflict death and devastation wherever possible. September 11, 2001 is a prime example. Although the context is different from that in which these words were written by the apostle Paul, they are nonetheless appropriate for this day: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

May the remembrances of this day, with the power of almighty God, inspire and encourage us to do exactly that!

The Middle Class

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“Middle class” is a term often used but widely misunderstood. How would you define it? A dictionary definition of middle class is “the social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business workers and their families.”

In an August 24 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Brookings Institution scholar Homi Kharas defines the middle class as “people who have enough money to cover basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter, and still have enough left over for a few luxuries, such as fancy food, a television, a motorbike, home improvements, or higher education.”

Kharas goes on to say: “After thousands of years of most people on the planet living as serfs, as slaves, or in other destitute scenarios, half the population now has the financial means to be able to do more than just try to survive. There was almost no middle class before the Industrial Revolution of the 1830s—just royalty and peasants. Now we are about to have a majority middle-class world.”

The Pew Research Center defines middle class income in the U.S. as “between 67% and 200% of the average median income.” The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average median income was $59,039 per household in 2016. Using the Pew percentages, households making less than $39,556 are low income and households earning at least $118,078 are high income.

Using similar but slightly different category definitions, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 32% of households in our country are low income, 42% are middle class, and 26% are high income. To be sure, those are somewhat subjective numbers. And they surely vary from country to country.

An August 3, 2017 report by Nancy Birdsall titled Middle Class: Winners or Losers in a Globalized World? says that “almost 50% of the world’s population, with incomes of less than US$1 to US$4 per day are counted as poor and live almost entirely in the developing world.”

Birdsall continues: “Approximately another 40% of the world’s population, with income between $4 to $50 per day make up an ‘incipient’ (below $10 a day) or truly arrived middle class.” A much smaller “rich world middle class” has income between about $50 to $177 a day, including the top one percent of households in the world with income of $200 a day.

My experience in “third world” countries convinces me that while some may be middle class and a very small number high income, abject poverty still exists in the lives of far too many people. This is nothing new and the solution is anything but simple. In the meantime, we are called to help.

Moses said: “There will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deut. 15:11.

Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20.

Jesus also said: “To whom much has been given, of him much will be required.” Luke 12:48.

Half-Truths

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Credit: Max Pixel

One of the greatest challenges of a listener is to discern the truthfulness of what is spoken. That’s not always easy. Some speakers speak half-truths.

Here are a few definitions of half-truth:

  • “A statement that is only partly true, especially one intended to deceive, evade blame, or the like … a statement that fails to divulge the whole truth.” (Dictionary.com)
  • “A statement, especially one intended to deceive, that omits some of the facts necessary for a full description or account.” (Your Dictionary.com)
  • “A deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may use some deceptive element … especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame, or misrepresent the truth.” (Wikipedia.com)

Notice the common thread in these definitions? They all include the element of deception. Here are a couple examples of half-truths:

  • “You should not trust Peter with your children. I once saw him smack a child with his open hand.” In this example the statement could be true, but Peter may have slapped the child on the back because he was choking.
  • “I’m a really good driver. In the past thirty years, I’ve gotten only four speeding tickets.” Statement may be true, but is deceptive if speaker started driving a week ago.

Most speakers say at least some things that are true but not all speakers say everything that needs to be said about the topic they are addressing. When that happens, the listener hears only part of what needs to be heard to be fully informed and to make subsequent decisions.

In my life and career I’ve heard many speeches and presentations. If I don’t know anything about the topic being presented, I’m inclined to believe what I hear, especially if the speaker occupies a position of trust and responsibility.

On the other hand, when a speaker presents a topic with which I am quite familiar, it’s much easier to discern when he or she is presenting only half-truths. In that case, I know that the speaker is omitting certain details that, if divulged, would result in the speaker needing to accept the responsibility he or she is trying to evade by speaking half-truths.

Wise Old Testament King Solomon said: “He who speaks the truth declares what is right, but a false witness speaks deceit.” Prov. 12:17 There’s that word “deceit” again—“the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.”

Half-truths. Not good, to say the least.

St. Paul writes: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head.” Eph. 4:14-15

That’s a much better way! God bless your day!

Two Good Friends and Faithful Servants

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 9.30.24 PMAt the end of this month a longtime friend of mine, Bill Siegrist, is retiring after 30 years of service with Texas Church Extension Fund. He was just a kid when his work at CEF began. If you don’t believe me, check out a photo from that time in his life.

Bill had previously served on the national team of Zig Ziglar, an internationally known American author, salesman, and motivational speaker. Bill’s CEF legacy will be the development, training, and motivation of CEF representatives in congregations across the State of Texas. Bill and his dear wife Pam will continue to live in Austin.

In addition, a few months from now another longtime friend will be retiring from the same organization, Texas CEF. Steve Block has served 25 years as Executive Director of Texas CEF and was duly honored at last month’s annual CEF Conference in Austin. He was a little older than a kid when he came to CEF, but still a relatively young man.

Steve had previously served in the banking industry, distinguishing himself with the use of his God-given intellect and ability to make fiscally prudent decisions. Steve’s CEF legacy will be the significant increase of CEF assets during his time of service. He and his dear wife Sandra will spend some of their retirement in Austin and some in Door County, Wis.

It seems appropriate at this milestone in the life of each of these men and in the history of Texas CEF for this article to be dedicated to the glory of God in thanksgiving for Bill and Pam Siegrist, Steve and Sandra Block.

These two wonderful women are also included because, as I’ve often said: Behind every successful man is not only a surprised father-in-law but also a faithful, patient, forgiving, loving, and godly wife. Those words are aptly descriptive of Pam Siegrist and of Sandra Block.

It also seems fitting to include in this article a few quotes about friendship from famous people:

  • There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. Thomas Aquinas
  • Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. Albert Camus
  • Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. Ann Landers
  • Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Jesus Christ

Thank you, Bill and Steve, for being my friends and for being faithful servants of our Lord Jesus!

One of the Two Certainties in Life

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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!

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?