The Gospel According to a Deck of Cards


This sermon outline was shared with me by Pastor Jim Fandrey, who served on the LCMS Board of Directors during my years as LCMS president. I thought you might find it of interest.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

God gives us his Word in the Bible, Holy Scripture.  There’s a lot to absorb in all 66 books, from Genesis through Revelation.  We cherish and revere the Bible, because it tells us about what God has done for us and for our salvation.  But there is so much to remember.  Maybe this morning, we all would be helped, if we would learn . . .


  1. God reveals himself to us through his Word
    • Ace: one God
    • Deuce: Bible divided into two parts: Old Testament and New Testament
    • Trey: Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    • Four: Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
  2. Are we wise or foolish, when we hear God’s Word?
    • Five: five wise virgins, out of ten; faith was burning and they entered the kingdom at the Lord’s invitation
    • Five foolish virgins, with faith extinguished, were locked out
  3. God promises to provide us with all that we need to support this body and life
    • Six: the days of creation
    • Seven: God rested, the model for our Sabbath rest
  4. God assures us: his mercy never ends, and we must be grateful
    • Eight: the people saved on Noah’s ark, the people who received the promise
    • Nine: the unthankful cleansed lepers; only one returned to give thanks
  5. In God’s Word we receive both Law and Gospel
    • Ten: the Ten Commandments
    • Jack: knave and devil, defeated by Jesus
    • Queen: Mary, mother of our Lord
    • King: Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords

Perhaps you’ll think about this the next time you see a deck of cards. God bless your day!


Reformation 500


Next Tuesday, October 31 is the day we’ll observe as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Many Christians, especially we Lutherans, have been anticipating this day for some time.

The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the central truth of Christianity that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, through faith in Christ our Lord.

Here’s a brief summary of the Reformation and its primary causes:

  • In the late 15th century the Catholic Church was afflicted by internal corruption.
  • The sale of “indulgences” raised money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • Indulgences made people believe deceased loved ones could be released from purgatory.
  • The slogan was: “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
  • Onto this scene arrived a troubled man named Martin Luther.
  • Luther saw God as a God of justice and was tormented by unforgiven guilt and sin.
  • In a thunderstorm during which Luther’s traveling companion was killed by a bolt of lightning, Luther exclaimed, “Save me, St. Anne. I will become a monk!”
  • He survived, became a monk, but could find no peace with God through his own effort.
  • Luther’s discovery of God’s grace came primarily from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by what Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke biblical truth to the church’s power by posting his 95 theses, intended as an invitation for debate on topics of faith and church practice.
  • Pressure was placed on him to retract his criticism of church belief and practice.
  • He refused to do so and was threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.
  • Asked to retract his writings, Luther simply stated: “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, for I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
  • Ultimately, Luther was excommunicated for refusing to retract his beliefs.

The assertion that salvation comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our own doing was the primary catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. That truth is the essence of the Christian faith still today and I pray that will continue till Jesus comes again!

Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship


An online article by Kenny Lamm lists the following reasons people aren’t singing in worship:

  1. We don’t know the songs.
  2. We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing.
  3. We are singing in keys too high for the average singer.
  4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.
  5. Worship services become spectator events, building a performance environment.
  6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.
  7. We fail to have a common body of hymnody.
  8. Worship leaders ad lib too much.
  9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation.

See the article in its entirety at

While all these statements may not describe worship in your church, some very well might. In my denomination #7 is not a problem, unless we’re talking only about “contemporary” worship services.

The opportunity to sing hymns and songs of worship with heartfelt gusto is one of the most important matters on my mind when I enter the sanctuary. When that objective is frustrated, for the reasons above or for any of many other reasons, I become a bit grouchy on the way home!

Conversely, when the hymns and songs, whether familiar or unfamiliar, are joyfully singable, my spirits are lifted! When that happens, I’m actually friendly on the way home!

I’m not a worship leader and never will be. So I can only imagine the challenges such talented and important artists face, week in and week out. That’s why at every opportunity I go out of my way to express appreciation to worship leaders when their work produces the desired result.

In my simple way of thinking, the role of a worship leader is to enhance the worship experience for the people in the pew in order that God is glorified and the faith of the worshipers is assured and strengthened. When that is achieved, people will sing with joyful hearts.

In an amazing way, that’s what happens at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Tex. When a month has five Sundays the fifth Sunday is “Bluegrass Sunday.” Occasionally we have “Gospel Sunday.” Either way, simple, old time, familiar, easy to sing songs and hymns draw people by the droves. These services are easily the most heavily attended non-festival services of the year.

Here’s to celebrating reasons why people are singing in worship! And bringing glory to God in the process! “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6)

Entrepreneurial Ministries and Conferences

ConferenceIn the early years of my ministry, programs and conferences sponsored by districts of our national church and also by the national church itself were designed to provide ideas and materials for use by the local congregation. That was then. This is now.

While our national church and some districts still offer such programs and conferences, growing congregations and visionary leaders are initiating ministries and hosting conferences that impact churches across the nation and even around the globe. Today I’m highlighting some of them.

In preparation, I contacted the leaders of each of these ministries or conferences, requesting one long or two short sentences briefly describing their purpose and focus. Those descriptions are posted below my signature. Here are the ministries and conferences, listed alphabetically:

•  Best Practices for Ministry
•  Dwelling 1:14
•  FiveTwo
•  J2e3
•  LCMS Mega Church Conference
•  MinistryFocus
•  Mission of Christ Network
•  Pastoral Leadership Institute

Congregations and individuals with a vision for intentional, strategic, faithful and fruitful Gospel proclamation through word and deed are finding encouragement, support and inspiration through these and other entrepreneurial ministries and conferences. Read the descriptions below and check them out for yourself. I believe you’ll be blessed by what you discover!

Entrepreneurial Ministries and Conferences:

Best Practices for Ministry is a free conference sponsored by Christ Church Lutheran (that’s not a typo) in Phoenix for those who love the local church, the lost and the LCMS. Last year’s conference had over 1,500 lay leaders and pastors.

Dwelling 1:14 is a ministry that helps leaders disciple their people to join Jesus on His mission in the places they already live, work and go to school. This simple lifestyle is described in Greg Finke’s book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission.”

FiveTwo is a network that fuels sacramental entrepreneurs who start new to reach new. To reach the millions of lost people in the U.S. and beyond, we need a variety of new ministries and the men and women wired to start them.

J2e3 (Jesus to Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day) Missions Summit will be held May 4-6 at Concordia Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex. Featuring inspiring speakers who will share best practices of missional efforts that effectively reach the lost, the purpose of J2e3 is to send you to be Jesus to everyone, everywhere, every day.

LCMS Mega Church Conference is a fellowship of the senior pastors of congregations of our Synod that have, on average, over 1,000 people in weekly worship. These pastors and their wives meet annually and also offer support and encouragement to one another throughout the year.

MinistryFocus is a grassroots organization within the LCMS, established in 2013 to eliminate systemic barriers to the proclamation of the Gospel. To achieve our mission, we provide certain “tools” that are commonplace outside the church, that within the church provide energy and focus for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Mission of Christ Network is a lay-led pastor advised tax-exempt organization whose primary objective is to multiply intentional Gospel proclamation worldwide through existing networks of Christian people groups, congregations and organizations. This includes age appropriate local, national and international short and long-term mission work integrated with long-term discipleship internationally and in your home congregation.

Pastoral Leadership Institute trains and invests in leaders for a changing world. PLI believes pastors and spouses gain confidence and courage to lead in community so that fear and isolation are defeated and ministries can best reach lost and broken people with the Gospel of Jesus.

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!

God’s Special Gifts


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!


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!

Relationships among Pastors



Recently a seminary student asked me to address the question: “As a pastor, what is your relationship with other pastors?”

As written, the question is a bit non-specific and unclear. I responded to the student’s request: “Do I understand your question to be what is or what should be your relationship with other pastors, or both?” His response was also non-specific, so here’s how I answered:

Ideally, my relationship with other pastors should be characterized as (in alphabetical order):

  • Collegial and cooperative: As colleagues in the ministry, we work together, not at odds with one another. We might actually be helpful to each other in addressing issues/questions that we have forgotten from seminary or perhaps didn’t even hear or learn about there.
  • Respectful and tolerant: While individual personalities, ideologies and philosophies often lead to differing perspectives on ministry issues, I need to realize that my way is certainly not the only way and, whether I believe it or not, my way may not always be the best way.
  • Selfless and cooperative: For any of many reasons, parishioners may be inclined to leave the church I serve and go to one served by another pastor, who may or may not be a close colleague and friend of mine. When such inclinations are properly motivated, it may be in everyone’s interest for me to swallow my pride and assist in such a move. Special care, concern and cooperation are necessary when authentic reasons for church discipline exist.
  • Sensitive and supportive: All pastors experience times of trial and tribulation, both personally and professionally. Pastoral ministry is not easy these days! Sensitivity and support from fellow pastors, which may not be available from parishioners in an equally meaningful way, often help immensely!
  • Transparent and truthful: Fellow LCMS pastors and I have the same commitment regarding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet varying interpretations will arise from time to time regarding specific questions, both in matters that are adiaphorous and also in issues on which different pastors with the same level of commitment simply disagree. Pretending those differences don’t exist is not helpful. Only when pastors speak the truth, in love, will such issues ever be able to be addressed and maybe even, by the grace of God, resolved.

Much more could be said about relationships among pastors. Perhaps these thoughts will prime the pump for future conversation in pastoral circles. Although not addressed only to pastors, St. Paul says it well: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11)