54 Years Ago Today

On bended knee, with fairly certain hopes for an affirmative response, I invited Terry to be my wife. It was then, and still is today, called engagement. Ours took place exactly 54 years ago today, August 15, 1965. By now you know she said yes.

Part of the proposal was that we would move from Austin, Texas to Springfield, Illinois. That was the location of the Lutheran Seminary that would accept graduates from a secular university. That was me. Bachelor’s Degree. Texas A&M. Animal Science.

Terry has occasionally mused about the dual nature of the proposal, with a slight twinkle in her eye, wondering aloud what I would have done had she said yes to the first part and no to the second. I quietly and teasingly respond by saying, “I guess we’ll never know, will we?”

How could we have known what personal experiences, family events, vocational challenges, and career opportunities would come from that invitation and its acceptance more than half a century ago?

  • Eighteen different residential addresses.
  • Two children, one son-in-law, two grandchildren, all genuine blessings from God.
  • Seminary in Springfield and vicarage/internship in Charlotte.
  • Sixteen years of mission development and pastoral ministry.
  • Fourteen years of Christian estate planning and higher education development.
  • Nineteen years of regional and national church body presidency.
  • The passing of parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends.

Along the way, both of us have worked hard, individually and together, in the home, in the world, in the marketplace, in the community, in the church. We’ve done things we didn’t really know how to do. None would have succeeded without the grace of God.

Our family has brought and continues to bring great joy, laughter, fulfillment, and godly pride. Flavored with occasional seasons of uncertainty, anxiety, tears, and concern. Navigated with imperfection, faith, hope, trust, and love.

Our many, many friends have been and continue to be remarkable sources of encouragement, camaraderie, stimulation, and companionship. All of them are gifts.

Sin and imperfection have led to times of disappointment and pain, both from outside and also from within our church body. Yet by the grace of God, our faith has provided hope in times of despondence, comfort in times of sorrow, assurance in times of doubt, inspiration in times of discouragement.

These are merely a few highlights of more than half a century together, with lots more to tell. It all began 54 years ago today. With a heartfelt invitation. And a trusting, loving response.

Regrets? None. Would I do it all again? Absolutely. And I’m fairly certain Terry would still say yes.

A Church and a Bar

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Last week I saw a story on Facebook:

A man went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone, which rang loudly during the prayer.

After church was over, the pastor scolded him for not turning off his phone before coming into church. A number of worshipers admonished him after the prayer for interrupting the silence.

In addition, the man’s wife kept lecturing him all the way home about his thoughtlessness and insensitivity. He felt ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated.

After that incident, he never again returned to the church.

That same evening, the same man went to a bar. He was still upset, nervous, and trembling. He accidentally spilled his drink on the table and on his lap.

Although the spill wasn’t his fault, he waiter apologized, brought a clean napkin for the man to dry his pants, and politely wiped the spilled drink from the table.

The janitor came and mopped up the liquid that had spilled on the floor.

The lady who managed the bar offered him a replacement drink … at no charge.

The manager also gave the man a huge hug and a peck on the cheek, while saying, “Don’t worry, sir. Who doesn’t make mistakes?”

And guess what? That man has not stopped going to that bar since his experience that night.

The moral of this story is obvious. Whether you’re manager of a bar or pastor of a church, people need and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

Demonstrating care and concern for people in, of all places, the church, goes a long way toward encouraging people to return to receive what really counts–proclamation of God’s forgiving love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wedding Venues

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Terry and I were married January 29, 1966, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Austin. St. Paul is Terry’s home church. It’s where we met. After our August 15, 1965 engagement, our plans were always focused on getting married at St. Paul. We never considered going anywhere else.

Most of our contemporaries also were married in church, traditionally the home church of the bride. Sometimes that was convenient, presuming both bride and groom lived in the same community or general vicinity. If that was not the case, it became a bit more cumbersome to work out the details long distance, especially with no internet, no email, no cell phones.

In recent times, things have changed. Weddings are now often held not in a church but at a wedding venue. Some are called “destination” weddings and may occur at an exotic location, sometimes requiring international travel and expensive lodging, normally at attendees’ expense. Not everyone who would like to attend can afford to do so. Crowds are often small.

Others are held more locally, often at a venue originally constructed or recently renovated for the purpose of accommodating large public gatherings, weddings, graduations, reunions, etc. Some are elaborately furnished and decorated. Others are fairly basic.

Not all such facilities have space for both the ceremony and the reception. That means the ceremony is frequently held outside. In the elements. In the summer when it’s hot and humid. Or windy and rainy. In the winter when it’s cold and frosty. Not always pleasant for the marital couple. Or for the guests. Sometimes the service is abbreviated as a result. But not always.

Many parish pastors I know tell me the overwhelming majority of the weddings at which they are asked to officiate are held at such a venue. The rationale seems to be that if the reception needs to be held at a place other than the church fellowship hall, it’s inconvenient for guests to come to church for the wedding, only to saddle up again after the ceremony and head to the reception at a different location.

Cost of renting both a sanctuary and a reception hall, providing flowers or other decorations at two places, coordination of details with people at each place, etc., are among the reasons for this growing trend. Permission to consume adult beverages, not always granted at a church facility, is not an insignificant factor in moving the entire operation to a secular venue.

You probably know all these things. I just felt the inclination to articulate them. And to add my non-judgmental observation that I’m thankful Terry and I were married at St. Paul. In a beautiful sanctuary. Before the altar of the Lord. With congregation singing worshipful hymns. With gusto. To organ accompaniment. With church aisle processional and recessional.

Is our marriage more sanctified or successful than that of folks who are married at a five star hotel or a remodeled barn or a repurposed fire hall? Not necessarily. The Lord can be worshiped anytime, anywhere.

And I believe he smiles on people who dedicate their lives to him and promise their faithfulness to each other, no matter where those lifelong commitments are made. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Till death parts us. According to God’s holy will.

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!

Don’t Laugh At Me

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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.