+George Herbert Walker Bush+

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On Friday, November 30, the 41st President of the United States died at the age of 94 years, five months, and 18 days. He was born in Milton, Mass., and died at home in Houston, Tex.

At the time of his death he was the third-longest-lived vice president, and the longest-lived president in U.S. history. Since the day he died, U.S. news sources have highlighted his career and family, including wife Barbara, who passed away earlier this year; son George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. President; and son Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor. George H.W.’s personal life was accentuated by boating and parachuting activities that extended into his ninth decade.

President Bush was raised in the Episcopal Church and expressed his faith publicly in numerous ways, including his Thousand Points of Light speech, his support for prayer in public schools, and his pro-life views. His faith was also reflected in the music he chose for the arrival of his body in Washington D.C. to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. The selections played by a military band were Beautiful Savior and A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

People of all ages and physical conditions waited for hours in the Washington cold to enter the Rotunda. Memorable sights were many, including a Boy Scout standing at attention and saluting for an extended period of time; 95-year old former U.S. Senator Robert Dole, in a wheelchair, with great effort standing and saluting the casket with a crippled left hand; and numerous world famous professional sports and political figures.

Yesterday the casket was moved to Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service clearly reflecting President Bush’s Christian faith. The service featured powerful Christ centered preaching, with numerous inspirational hymns and dynamic choral presentations. It was seasoned with both serious reflections and humorous comments from family members and political personalities.

Another memorial service will be held today at 10:00 a.m. CST at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. From there his body will be transported to College Station, Tex., where he will be laid to rest at the Bush Library on the campus of Texas A & M University next to his wife Barbara and their three-year-old daughter Pauline Robinson Bush (Robin), who died of leukemia 65 years ago.

Of particular note to me this week have been the broad and non-partisan expressions of respect and even love for this man, particularly at a time of hugely partisan political division in America. It was also quite encouraging to hear again the clear expressions of his Christian faith.

The New York Times reported: His [Bush’s] longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him. Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. “Where are we going, Bake?” he asked. “We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered. “That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said. Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead.

Fox News Sunday reported: Baker, who called Bush his best friend, discussed his peaceful final day. “He had a very gentle and peaceful passing,” Baker said.  “They made arrangements for all of his children to call in to in effect tell him goodbye. His son former President George W. Bush called in to say ‘Dad, I love you, I will see you on the other side’ and President Bush said ‘I love you, too’ and those were his last words. He had a very gentle and easy passing, the kind we ought to all hope we have.”

Guy Benson, Political Editor for Townhall.com, concluded: Death is an inevitability, so perhaps this is the best way to go: Saying final, loving goodbyes to everyone who matters in your life before dying at a ripe old age, after living an incredibly full and consequential life. Bush was a war hero, a Congressman from Texas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican National Committee Chairman, Director of the CIA, Vice President of the United States, and President of the United States.

And I add: “George Herbert Walker Bush, rest in peace. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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Important Facts to Remember as You Grow Older

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A Facebook friend posted the following thoughts, probably not original:

  1. Death is the number one killer in the world.
  2. Life is sexually transmitted.
  3. Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.
  4. Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.
  5. Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.
  6. All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
  7. In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.
  8. Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long.

Obviously my friend had his tongue at least partially embedded in his cheek. Some of these are more humorous than others. Yet within the humor lies one basic truth. We are mortal, finite human beings. Our human life had a beginning. It will also have an ending.

King David says it like this: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” 1 Chron. 29:15

For Christians, that’s not the end of the story. At the death of his close friend Lazarus, Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26

To some, that’s double talk. How can someone die and yet never die? That’s the mystery of death, solved only by the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ. For when a person dies, he/she takes off his/her body and moves to another existence. In that new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1) that person’s life never ends.

That’s a truth worth living for … a truth worth dying for … a promise to remember as you grow older.

Life is a Miracle. Death is a Mystery.

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A longtime friend of Terry’s and mine, Doreen Bohrer, passed away last week. She was a pastor’s wife, talented musician, great polka dancer, dedicated educator, and gifted administrator. She loved the Lord, loved life, and loved her family.

Her memorial service was held earlier this week at Christ Lutheran Church in Austin. A good friend of mine, Dr. Bill Knippa, preached and led the service. I was also invited to participate by reading scripture, leading the prayers, and offering these pastoral comments:

It’s never easy to lose a loved one, either after a long illness or unexpectedly and inexplicably. Death is a part of life. Old Testament King David said: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” 1 Chron. 19:14-15

Who can understand the miracle of life and the mystery of death? Life is a miraculous co-mingling of systems: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, exocrine, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, renal, reproductive, respiratory, and skeletal, each working with the others to sustain in the body what we call life.  

Death is a deep, dark mystery. One moment a person is warm, animated, conversant, mobile, alive. The next moment the body of that same person is cold, still, silent, vacant, dead. A beautiful woman or handsome man in a casket deteriorates into a pile of dust and a box of bones or is reduced in a cremation furnace into only a pile of ashes. Death is a reality of life that awaits us all. 

The most helpful insight I’ve ever heard about life and death came from Terry’s and my own daughter. When she was three years old, little Angie asked the thoughtfully perceptive question: “Daddy, when a person dies does he take off his body?”

For a moment I was completely stumped! After reflecting and recovering, I replied: “Yes. That’s exactly what happens when a person dies.” To this day, over 45 years later, I still turn to that insightful understanding when death occurs.

To me, the most easily understandable explanation of life is that everyone has a body in which that person’s soul or spirit, that person’s real being, resides as long as he or she is living on this earth. When death occurs, that person’s soul or spirit leaves the body and moves on. Angie had it right. The person who dies takes off his or her body and leaves it behind.

That’s what’s in the box in this sanctuary – the physical body inherited and inhabited by the soul, the spirit, the real being, the true essence of the woman we knew and loved. That body was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That body was the home of a soul redeemed by the blood of Christ. That body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. That body contained the woman who lived her life as both saint and sinner.

Where has that real being gone, the soul or spirit that animated her body for over 79 years? Jesus answers that question: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The real being that resided in this body has gone out of this world to eternal life in heaven. Eternal means everlasting, undying, perpetual, endless, ceaseless, timeless, infinite, immortal, never ending.  

It’s hard to comprehend how someone can go on living or existing forever, in a place where the pain and problems of this earth no longer exist. But that’s the promise of God, through Christ our Lord.

Believing that promise gives me hope. And I pray it gives hope and comfort to each of you as well!

Doreen had taken time in advance of her death to plan her memorial service. It’s tough for family to try to guess what their departed loved one might have wanted. Taking care of those important details is a great relief to an already grieving family.

We at Legacy Deo have a Funeral Planning Guide – Celebrating  Victory in Christ – available to you at no cost. Request your electronic or printed copy by emailing me GBJK@LegacyDeo.org.

God bless your day!

Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels

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This is purported to be a true story by an author named Catherine Moore, found in my file. It’s longer than my normal articles, but worth the time to read. It was untitled, so I created the title above.

“Watch out! You nearly broadsided that car!” My father yelled at me, “Can’t you do anything right?”

Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn’t prepared for another battle.

“I saw the car, Dad. Please don’t yell at me when I’m driving.”

My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?

Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn’t lift a heavy log, he joked about it. But later that same day I saw him outside, alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn’t do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctors’ orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband Dick and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.

Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue.

Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind.

But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done. It was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and called each mental health clinic listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.

Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, “I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.”

I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens.

Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs, all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons – too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen, a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world’s aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.

Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hip bones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

I pointed to the dog. “Can you tell me about him?” The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. “He’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.” He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. “You mean you’re going to kill him?”

“Ma’am,” he said gently, “that’s our policy. We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog.”

I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. “I’ll take him,” I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. “Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!” I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. “If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it!” Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. “You’d better get used to him, Dad. He’s staying!”

Dad ignored me. “Did you hear me, Dad?” I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him.

Then, slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night.

I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father’s room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.

The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life.

Then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” “I’ve often thanked God for sending that angel,” he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle I had not seen before: The sympathetic voice on the phone that had just read the right article; Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter; his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father; and the proximity of their deaths.

And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Now you know why I titled this story “Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels.”

God bless your day!

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!

The Precious Gift of Life

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“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” That’s how the book of Genesis describes the beginning of life on earth.

Since the time of creation, mankind has survived tragedy and trauma, death and devastation. People have experienced joys and sorrows, blessings and difficulties, victories and defeats.

Through it all, the precious gift of life has been passed from one generation to another. The normal cycle of life is for babies to be born and for old people to die. But things don’t always happen as predictably as that.

This week Terry and I attended a memorial service for the daughter of a longtime friend, Nita Horn. I buried Nita’s husband 33 years ago. In the past few years she’s also lost her son, son-in-law, and daughter. That’s not the way things are supposed to be, even for a 90 year old.

Also consider the seemingly countless number of recent incidences of unexpected violence. Yet another one occurred this past Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Like many of the 3,000 small towns in Texas, Sutherland Springs was virtually unknown until last Sunday. Now this small community about 30 miles east of San Antonio is etched into the memories of people around the world, all because of the demonic act of one man who killed 26 people in a church. Many of them were children, with most of their expected life ahead of them.

In all cases where life is lost, especially unexpectedly, I’m struck anew by the precious gift of life and how fragile that gift really is. So take a moment to call, write, or in any way possible to tell someone you love how precious he or she is to you. And thank God for bringing that person into your life.

Pearl Harbor and Hacksaw Ridge

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As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the decision was made earlier this week to continue with another volume of Perspectives articles. Thank you for the encouragement expressed by so many of you for me to keep writing. It’s not a simple chore, so I do appreciate your appreciation!

This past weekend Terry and I watched two movies at home. Pearl Harbor was produced in 2001 with Ben Affleck as Capt. Rafe McCawley, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who bravely responded to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson and released in 2016 with Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who was ostracized by fellow soldiers for refusing to bear arms. In the Battle of Okinawa Doss risked his life, unarmed, to save 75 men.

Both films graphically and gruesomely show horrific realities of war. One such reality, in real life and also in cinematic portrayal, is the traumatic injury and death inflicted upon young men. Many are still teenagers anxious to serve their country yet unprepared for the powerful persistence of the enemy.

In that context, a quote originally attributed to Greek historian Herodotus was repeated by a soldier in Hacksaw Ridge: “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”

Though I am a son who has buried his father, I have not borne the pain of burying a son or a daughter or a grandchild. I have great empathy for parents or grandparents who have, including some of you.

As a Christian I’ve often marveled at God the Father’s experience of seeing his son buried. The song writer says it well:

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure… that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.