Hurricanes

Hurricane Lester on Approach to Hawaii

We’re in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season. This week’s devastation expected from Hurricane Florence on our country’s East Coast is a stark reminder of the reality of our country’s vulnerability to these powerful and violent storms. Here are a few other examples:

Today, September 13, is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Ike (2008), which ripped through the Houston and East Texas area, flattening homes and obliterating entire towns with a huge storm surge that destroyed buildings and businesses along Galveston’s Seawall.

August 29 was the 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (2005), an extremely destructive and deadly Category 5 hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, causing catastrophic damage from central Florida to eastern Texas, devastating the city of New Orleans.

August 29 was also the 1st anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s arrival in Houston (2017), damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses in that huge city and, for several days before and after, in other smaller communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. Flooding of homes and highways in Houston captured the media’s attention, while equally serious damage in smaller communities lagged behind in news coverage and recovery efforts.

Other historic storms in America include, to name only a few of the worst, Camille (1969), Andrew (1992), Charley (2004), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Sandy (2012), and Irma (2017).

A few days after Katrina’s and Ike’s arrival I made trips from St. Louis to affected areas, visiting people, pastors, and congregations. Those efforts were simply tokens of encouragement, prayer, and support for those whose lives were drastically affected by the wind, waves, and rising water that inundated their homes, churches, and businesses. More tangibly significant is the work of those who contribute their time, money, and energy in recovery and restoration.

Recently I asked Julie Tucker, Director of Disaster Response for the Texas District LCMS, about ongoing relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Here are excerpts from Julie’s response:

Though headlines from Harvey have faded, the devastation is still apparent, especially in the Coastal Bend and Golden Triangle regions. But thanks to generous support, homes are being restored and families are being helped. To date, 3,519 people have volunteered, 107,252 volunteer hours have been logged, and 325 households have been helped. One area recently reported to me that they have hung over 18,000 pieces of sheetrock – in one area!  

Progress is clearly being made. But, of course, there is still much to be done. At one of our sites, 356 homes have requested help. Another site reports 300 homes still awaiting some kind of assistance. Clearly, the need is massive. Experts predict recovery from Harvey will take five to ten years. Our work continues and your support continues to be needed.

You can help by donating to our Disaster Relief Fund. Remember, 100% of the funds collected are used to help those in need. You can also sign up to serve at one of our sites. Or, even better, you can do both! Please consider how you might be able to help. Your help is sorely needed.

I cannot thank you enough for your prayers, your gifts, and your willingness to lend a hardworking hand. The devastation of Harvey is no match for your generosity and love!

Until they all know Him,
Julie Tucker

Check out this link for a first-hand look: https://youtu.be/PFImCIMuQi4

Thank you for any assistance you, your congregation, and your community can provide for the thousands of people still reeling from the damaging effects of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

Lord, have mercy!

Advertisements

Don’t Laugh At Me

Landscape

These lyrics to a song by that title touch my heart: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVjbo8dW9c8)

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek,
A little girl who never smiles ’cause I’ve got braces on my teeth.
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.

I’m that kid on every playground who’s always chosen last,
A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past.
You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain.
In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all have perfect wings.
Don’t laugh at me.

I’m the cripple on the corner, you’ve passed me on the street.
And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat.
And don’t think I don’t notice that our eyes never meet.

I lost my wife and little boy when someone crossed that yellow line.
The day we laid them in the ground is the day I lost my mind.
And right now I’m down to holdin’ this little cardboard sign.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain.
In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all have perfect wings.
Don’t laugh at me.

I’m fat, I’m thin, I’m short, I’m tall, I’m deaf, I’m blind, hey, aren’t we all.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names, don’t get your pleasure from my pain.
In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all have perfect wings.
Don’t laugh at me.

I’m not convinced we’ll all have “perfect wings.” But I’m absolutely certain that the people described in this song know and feel the pain of insensitive, scoffing, ridiculing and bullying.

The Bible says: “Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) Those described in this song say: “Don’t laugh at me. Just love me.” God bless your day!

My New Book

Life, Love, Faith, Family: Perspectives from a Veteran Church Leader. That’s the title of my new book now available for pre-order from Concordia Publishing House. Here’s CPH’s description:

The Christian life is often not an easy one. Struggles occur in marriages and vocations. Death cannot be avoided. Natural disasters and illnesses arise unexpectedly.

With pastoral care, a spiritual perspective, and real-life wisdom, Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Kieschnick has written on matters of life and faith for years. This collection combines some of his best writing on a variety of everyday topics, encouraging you to turn to God’s Word, the ultimate source of wisdom, for guidance in navigating the Christian life.

May these brief musings offer you spiritual encouragement and comfort as you experience all that the Christian life encompasses—grief, happiness, tension, contentment, fear, and joy.

The Preface sets the stage in my own words:

For more than half a century, I’ve served in numerous Christian leadership capacities, from developing a mission church starting with nothing to president of a national church body of over two million members. Throughout those years, I’ve met and known many people who experience much joy, meaning, and fulfillment in life and love. Yet, many of these wonderful people have encoun­tered challenges and difficulties along the way, often in the arenas of family and faith.

 Every week, for the past nine years, I’ve written my personal perspectives on these and a variety of other topics. In this little book, I share one hundred of those stories and reflections for your reading enjoyment, emotional encouragement, and spir­itual enrichment.

Late last week I received word from CPH that this book is now available for pre-order. Go to:

https://www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx Copies will begin shipping on August 15.

My first book published by Concordia Publishing House was Waking the Sleeping Giant (CPH, 2010). It’s an honor and privilege to work again with CPH. I pray this new book will be a blessing to those who read it. And if you happen to have your copy with you next time we’re together, I’ll be happy to sign it.

God bless your day!

Not One Sparrow

Sparrow

Early one morning last week on the way to the office I was traveling at 45 mph on a two-lane road. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, two small birds flew from the grass and trees on my right, directly into my path. One flew at an altitude that allowed it to continue its flight. The other one flew directly into my right front fender and fell to the ground.

This was not the first time my vehicle had accidentally and unintentionally become an instrument that terminated the life of a living creature. Over my 59 years of driving experience, I’ve hit other birds and a few squirrels. Transparency requires me to confess that willfully and intentionally I have also sent a few rattlesnakes to their eternal destiny. Scold me, if necessary.

The day of my encounter with the bird in question turned out to be the same day of yet another school shooting. This one was in Santa Fe. Not New Mexico. Texas. Frankly I don’t recall ever knowing there was a Santa Fe in Texas. It’s just a few miles south of Houston, my hometown. Sadly, Santa Fe is now known around the world as the site of a willful and intentional eruption of evil activity resulting in the death of eight students and two teachers.

As soon as the bird fell to the ground I remembered the words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Matt. 10:29

And when I heard the news that ten people had died that day, I immediately recalled more of Jesus’ words in almost the same breath: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28

But the words that have stuck with me even more poignantly are these: “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:30-31

Is it possible to compare the life of a human with the life of a sparrow? No way. In God’s eyes, all living creatures have value. But Jesus says the intrinsic value of human life far outweighs that of many sparrows.

That’s why many more tears are shed when a human dies, regardless of the cause of death, than when a sparrow dies. Yet God’s love is so magnificent that not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father.

Mother’s Day Love

Mother

In our home Terry and I often ask each other what gifts we’d like to receive for our respective birthdays, our wedding anniversary, at Christmas, and on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Our response to each other is often: “I don’t really need anything more than your love.”

It’s challenging to put love in a box with a ribbon. Tangible gifts sometimes accomplish that objective more successfully than do intangible emotions. The gift of love is often enhanced by a palpable expression of that love. Jewelry usually comes in the right color. So do gift cards.

Yet gifts in a box are no substitute for what our loved ones need and want the most. Many years ago I heard a simple statement that rings quite true: Children and spouses spell love T-I-M-E!

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a special opportunity to honor our mother, whether she is still living this side of eternity (my mother is 102) or already in heaven (where she’d like to be). Either way, thank God for the positive memories and try really hard to forgive your mother for the unpleasant recollections.

Reflect on the following words from a mother, expressing what she wants for Mother’s Day:

“Every year my children ask me the same question: What do I want for Mother’s Day?

After thinking about it, I decided I’d give them my real answer: I want you. I want you to keep coming around. Ask me questions, ask my advice, tell me your problems, ask for my opinion, ask for my help.

I want you to come over and complain or brag about whatever is on your mind and heart. Tell me about your job, your worries, your dreams. I want you to continue sharing your life with me.

Come over and laugh with me, or laugh at me. Hearing you laugh is music to my ears. I spent a large part of my life raising you the best way I knew how. Now, give me time to sit back and admire my work.

Raid my refrigerator, help yourself, I really don’t mind. I want you to spend your money making a better life for yourself and your family. I have the things I need. I want to see you happy and healthy.

When you ask me what I want for Mother’s Day, I say ‘nothing’ because you’ve already been giving me my gift all year. YOU! I want you!”

Most mothers are the first to admit they are not perfect. Yet a mother is a special gift from God. So in addition to this Sunday, take many other opportunities throughout the year to honor your mother, to express your love for her, and to thank God for her role in bringing you into this world and into her 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?

A Day to Remember

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 10.08.17 AM

January 29, 1966, was a long time ago! For me, it’s a day to remember.

At 5:00 p.m. that day Terry and I stood before the altar at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Austin and pledged to one another our faithfulness “… to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death parts us, according to God’s holy will.”

That was 52 years ago! And although many things that happened more than a half century ago have been lost in the maze of my seemingly totally stuffed gray matter, other recollections are quite clear. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Our wedding day was preceded by our wedding rehearsal the night before. Friday afternoon, January 28, I drove from my nearly completed graduate school semester classes at Texas A&M in College Station to Austin for the rehearsal at St. Paul. All went well and was followed by the rehearsal dinner hosted by my mother and father at the Villa Capri Hotel.
  • After kissing Terry goodbye on her front porch at midnight, I drove the 100 miles back to College Station, getting to bed shortly after 1:00 a.m. Saturday. At 7:00 a.m. I arrived in class to take my final final exam … in Biochemistry. Both because of our wedding and my decision to leave grad school to go to the seminary, neither my heart nor my head really gave a rip about that exam.
  • After concluding those last few moments at my alma mater I packed my few worldly goods in my ’57 Chevy, turned in the key to my dorm room, and drove back to Austin in time to hang around the hotel with my parents, three sisters, and other family members.
  • The wedding began promptly at 5:00 p.m. The officiant was the sainted Rev. Dr. Albert F. Jesse, who had hired me in August 1964 to teach the fourth grade at St. Paul. My entire preparation for that memorable year was a B.S. degree in Animal Science. Go figure! Mid-August, the date I was hired, was only two weeks prior to the beginning of school. I had a pulse and was willing to work for $200 per month. I was his man!
  • After the wedding service and ceremony, our reception was held at the Villa Capri Hotel. I remember the beautiful wedding cake. I recall Terry and I posing for a photo, both with a piece of said cake in hand, lovingly feeding it to each other. What I failed to see, discovered only when asked en route to our honeymoon destination by my new bride, was the groom’s cake. I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about! Never saw it! Haven’t yet lived it down!
  • We arrived at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado, a short 48 mile drive north of Austin. It was late and we were newlyweds, so we chose not to do any midnight sightseeing. Money was tight in those days. One night in the hotel cost 10% of my monthly salary. We stayed two nights … 20% of my monthly salary. After a semester of grad school, the bank account was not quite non-existent but was far from flush. I think we ate in the restaurant only once. Another 10% of my monthly salary!
  • Monday morning we packed the car and headed back to Terry’s parents’ home in Austin to pick up her clothes, other belongings, and our wedding gifts, and headed to our first home in Houston, arriving late Monday afternoon. The apartment on Bellefontaine in southwest Houston cost $75 per month, half of which was payable every two weeks.
  • The next day, Tuesday morning, I started my second teaching job, also in the fourth grade, at Pilgrim Lutheran School in Houston. Angie Bielefeldt was on maternity leave that semester and I needed a job prior to moving to Springfield, Ill. to enter the seminary, so it all worked out just fine. Terry worked with my father at Rice Food Market those four months in anticipation of the move to the seminary in June.

Lots of water has gone under the bridge since those days. Neither Terry nor I could possibly have had any clue whatsoever about what the Lord had in store for us. Perhaps in the weeks ahead I’ll be moved to share some of those stories as well.

In the meantime, I thank God for his priceless gift of a beautiful wife who became an awesome mother, an incredible grandmother, a gracious hostess, an excellent cook, a friend and mentor to many women including countless pastors’ wives, a tireless companion on many weekend trips for preaching engagements across the country, a fearless travel companion on many international trips to the mission fields and partner church locations around the world, including numerous third world countries where she was the only woman in the entourage, and a woman who loves to give of herself to people she meets … friends, family, and strangers alike.

Happy 52nd Anniversary, dear Terry! I love you more than words can express and thank God for you every day!