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!

Advertisements

A Different Spirit

It’s pretty hard not to have noticed in recent years, particularly recent months, the depth of division that exists in our country. From vitriolic attacks in social media to public protests on city streets to flag burning incidents outside congressional offices, people are expressing disagreement with one another, with our country, and with its leaders.

It’s not just happening in the political arena. Differences abound in the ecclesiastical realm as well. That’s not new. Disagreements have existed among God’s people since the days of the disciples and apostles.

Shortly after Jesus instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, a dispute arose among his own disciples as to which of them would be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24). After working together as a team Paul and Barnabas separated from each other because they disagreed on whether to include John Mark on a mission journey (Acts 15:36-40).

Fast forward to the 16th century’s embryonic stages of Lutheranism. Disagreements about faith, forgiveness, penance, papacy, and purgatory were prolific and perpetual. Since that time there has been and still is nearly constant contention about what constitutes pure biblical doctrine, particularly regarding practical application of the Christian faith in daily life and church practice.

So today, like many national religious organizations and our nation itself, Lutheran Christians share with one another many quite similar beliefs but some significantly different perspectives on matters of faith and life. Here are examples from two sources, constituents of which are of one mind about many aspects of faith and life but not of one accord on a number of matters:

  • The Lutheran Clarion: “Building faithfulness to true Confessional Lutheranism and a clear voice of Christian concerns against actions and causes which mitigate against faithfulness to the One True Faith.”  Website: http://lutheranclarion.org/
  • Congregations Matter©: “A movement of churches, laypeople and pastors committed to the restoration of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to its historic roles of strengthening and supporting congregations.”  Website: http://congregationsmatter.org/

Notwithstanding such differences, an overwhelming majority of Lutherans agree on major points of Christian doctrine. Yet freedom from disagreement escapes us. Why is that?

Martin Luther put his finger on a significant causative factor when he said to one of his opponents 500 years ago: “You have a different spirit than we.” I believe he was right. More about that next week. Stay tuned. God bless your day!

Kiss me. I’m Wendish!

Image result for texas country

Credit: Jim Nix

Today’s edition marks the beginning of the tenth year of Perspectives. For the past 468 Thursdays at 5:00 a.m. an article has been posted. Each year I ask myself how long I’ll continue meeting this self-imposed weekly deadline, grinding out an article of interest and value to you, my readers.

Last year I expressed that wonderment and received in the mail a beautiful sport shirt with the stars and stripes of our U.S. flag and an unsigned note encouraging me to keep writing. Thank you to the yet unknown anonymous donor. I’m still writing. At least for now. So stay tuned. Here we go.

For years I’ve seen a lapel button that reads: Kiss me. I’m Wendish! To those of Wendish descent, those words are meaningful. For those who have never heard of Wends, they mean absolutely nothing.

Here’s a portion of a brief introduction to Wendish history, written by Ron Lammert and published January 1, 2010 (http://texaswendish.org/): “Who Are the Wends?”

In December of 1854, an English sailing vessel, the Ben Nevis, docked in Galveston harbor loaded with some 500 immigrants from Lusatia, an area in Germany comprising parts of Saxony and Prussia. These immigrants were not the typical lot of Germans, Swedes, Czechs, and Poles who flocked to Texas in the 1850’s seeking cheap land and economic opportunity. This group was different.

It brought a strange new language to the frontier state — the Wendish language. And even more striking, these Slavic pioneers who were to settle in Lee County made the journey from their homeland, not in search of prosperity, but rather in search of religious liberty and the right to speak their Wendish tongue. 

The Wends were descended from a group of Slavic tribes that had developed a common language, and, in the tenth century, occupied much of central Europe. By the 19th century, the Wends had been decimated by conquest and assimilation with other cultures until only a small area along the River Spree was inhabited by true Wends.

The Wendish migration to Texas was impelled, in part, by the Prussian insistence that the Wends  speak and use the German language, even to the extent of Germanizing their names. The oppression of the Wendish minority extended to working conditions, with Wends being denied the right to do the skilled labor for which they were trained.

But most intolerable was the requirement that the Lutheran Wends join the Evangelical Reform[ed] churches in one state-regulated Protestant body. The Wends believed this action would dilute their pure Lutheran faith and, rather than accept this decree, they made plans to immigrate to the New World.

Since those days nearly 164 years ago, Lutheran Christians, including Wends, Germans, and people of other nationalities, have strived to maintain religious freedom and pure biblical doctrine while also endeavoring to proclaim the Christian faith to all who would listen. More about that next week.

Much has been written, especially during last year’s observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, about the impact of Martin Luther on the church that bears his name. Last year another important publication made a significant contribution to that body of information.

The book is titled Five Centuries: the Wends and the Reformation. Its 99 pages are beautifully illustrated and very nicely bound. It was published by Concordia University Press in Austin and The Wendish Press in Serbin, Texas. This first Wendish coffee table book, the winner of the Concordia Historical Institute Honorable Mention Award, is available for $26 from the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Museum Bookstore, 1011 County Road 212, Giddings, Texas 78942-5940.

Take a look. I think you’ll like it. And you’ll have the added benefit of a glimpse into the faith of the people of my family’s ancestry. Kiss me. I’m Wendish!

Legacy Deo

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-9-55-49-pmLegacy is a word that means bequest, inheritance, heritage. Deo is the Latin word for God. Those two words comprise the new name of Lutheran Foundation of Texas: Legacy Deo.

Our legacy from God is who we are and everything we have, including possessions, wealth, fullness of life, faith, forgiveness, and eternal salvation. Our legacy to God and to our loved ones is thanking God for his gifts by using them wisely, during, at the end of, and beyond our lifetime. Helping people in that process is the ministry of Legacy Deo.

Here are portions of a recent public letter from Larry Ohls, Chief Executive Officer of Lutheran Foundation of Texas for the past seven years:

A God Honoring Legacy

The year 2017 will be a very special NEW year for this organization. It will be the beginning of a new era for this foundation that was chartered over 56 years ago.

Over the last 15 months our organization has evaluated the brand identity of this ministry. We spent a great deal of time considering and discussing our core values, mission, purpose, and vision for the future. After extensive research, examination, and prayer the decision was made to change the Foundation’s name to Legacy Deo.

Our new name reflects the essence of what we do as an organization: to assist Christians in leaving a legacy that honors God and builds His kingdom. Over the past 56 years, this Foundation has worked to inspire giving that impacts life forever. Going forward, it is our vision that God’s people, each and every one, will leave a legacy for faith and family like so many before them.

I also want to inform you that effective December 31, 2016, I am retiring as Chief Executive Officer. I plan to continue as an advisor with Legacy Deo and assist in any manner that adds value to the organization. The Board of Directors has selected Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, President Emeritus of the LCMS, to lead this ministry as Chief Executive Officer. We are blessed by God to have a man of Rev. Kieschnick’s talent, experience and commitment to guide us into the future.

It has been an honor to direct this organization over the past seven years. I consider it a blessing to have served alongside a talented staff that is dedicated to influencing the lives of Christian donors and the life-enriching ministries they support. To God be the glory!

Larry P. Ohls

Larry has been a great leader of this organization for the past seven years. I’ve known him all his life and pray his retirement will be a blessing for his wife Carolyn and their family.

It is my privilege to accept the leadership role of this very important ministry. With God’s help and Terry’s blessing, I look forward to helping individuals and families create a legacy for their loved ones, their congregations, and other charitable organizations with the gifts God has entrusted to their care.

For information and assistance on how to begin that process for your family and your favorite faith-based endeavors, see the contact information below.

Legacy Deo. God’s Gifts. Your Legacy.

Joint Statement of Catholic and Lutheran Leaders

bishop-munib-younan-pope-francis

Credit: Bishop Munib Younan and Pope Francis (Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

A matter of interest that occurred on Reformation Day came to my attention after the fact. Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a Joint Statement at this year’s Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation at the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, Sweden.

The statement begins: “With this Joint Statement, we express joyful gratitude to God for this moment of common prayer in the Cathedral of Lund, as we begin the year commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Fifty years of sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us to overcome many differences, and have deepened our mutual understanding and trust…Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers. Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”

For the full text of the statement go to: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/full-text-joint-declaration-for-the-500th-anniversary-of-reformation/.

The 16th century Reformation spawned documents known collectively as Lutheran Confessions. One of them, The Smalcald Articles: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, was completed February 17, 1537. Written by Philip Melanchthon, it states in part: “… the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ…” (Art. II) and “… the doctrine of the pope conflicts in many ways with the Gospel…” (Art. XI). Those statements make unity difficult.

Arguably, those and other confessional comments could be considered descriptive of popes who lived and ruled centuries ago but may not be accurate assessments of all popes since that time. Some in the LCMS and the rest of Christendom might strongly disagree with the application of those words to more recent popes, including John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis.

Be that as it may, here are my perspectives:

  1. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian body in the world with 1.2 billion members. It has many commendable beliefs and practices, yet numerous theological points are problematic, including the doctrine of justification, the authority of the pope, the sacraments, the veneration of saints, the holiness of Mary, and the use of indulgences.
  1. The worldwide Lutheran Church is much smaller in number. About 74 million members are scattered among 160 different Lutheran bodies, 145 of which belong to The Lutheran World Federation. Any healing of the wounds between Lutherans and Catholics that have existed before, during, and since the Reformation would most likely occur at that level. The rest of Lutheranism, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, would need to make independent decisions regarding setting aside the differences that have existed for nearly 500 years. It would take a miracle for that to happen in my lifetime.
  1. The overwhelming majority of Christians, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, some Baptists, and other Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed a belief in “the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints …” While that term means different things to different people, my hope, prayer, and conviction is that those who confess the truths of the Apostles’ Creed are the folks I’ll see in heaven, even though we disagree on points of doctrine and practice here on earth. Such disagreement fostered the Reformation and continues to make the kind of unity envisioned by the Joint Statement signed last month a difficult alliance to achieve, assuming it is based entirely on genuine agreement on basic articles of faith and life.

Motivation for genuine unity in the Body of Christ must be based on the words of Jesus himself:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent… I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:1-3, 20-21)

Reformation Courage

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-02-35-pmOctober 31 is the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, observed this Sunday. The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the 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:

  • In the late 15thcentury 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 sales 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 fears over unresolved sin and guilt.
  • In a thunderstorm during which his 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 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.”
  • Also Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…The righteous shall live by faith.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by the truth Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke truth to 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 words, Luther stated: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for 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 newfound beliefs.
  • Thus began what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

My Reformation question, to you and to myself, is this: If we were to conclude that a teaching or practice of the church was not based on clear passages of Scripture or was mandated by the church but not commanded by Holy Scripture or was not allowed by the church but not forbidden by Scripture, would we have the courage to speak our conviction?

Thank God for the Reformation courage Luther displayed in doing just that nearly 500 years ago!

The 66th Regular LCMS Convention

LCMS ConventionIn its 169 year history, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has held 65 regular conventions. This weekend marks the beginning of the 66th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Three former national presidents upon whom the honorary title of President Emeritus has been bestowed are still living. Dr. Ralph Bohlmann, Dr. Robert Kuhn and yours truly were invited to send a written greeting to convention delegates. Here is the text of my greeting:

Dear Delegates and Guests, Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

As this 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS begins, I offer words of greeting, encouragement and challenge as you determine at least a portion of the future direction of our beloved Synod.

More than half a century ago the LCMS was recognized as a dynamic, evangelical leader in the United States religious community. Cutting edge endeavors like The Lutheran Hour, This is the Life, Each One Reach One, etc., emanated from a conviction that we had a message to share with the world and that doing so required more than just paying a pastor to mount the pulpit, proclaim the Word of God and praying he would succeed.

Today, some congregations experience health, growth and vitality. Others, perhaps including yours, are uncertain about the future, in many cases less than one generation away from congregational extinction.

A Synod is only as healthy as the congregations that comprise it. Recent decades have seen a steady decline in congregational membership and in dollars contributed for national and international mission and ministry through Synod headquarters in St. Louis. Institutions, including religious ones, are no longer highly respected and trusted.

In this world of complexity and confusion, it is more imperative than ever that the simple, clear, certain hope that is ours in Christ be communicated as widely and broadly, as sincerely and sensitively, as clearly and courageously as possible. We are called to proclaim the great news that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not counting our trespasses against us.”  (2 Cor. 5:19)

We do so Upon this Rock, the statement of faith uttered by Peter, a man whose stalwart commitment to Christ was marred only by his notable failures. We, too, as sinful human beings, are called to repent, to confess and to rejoice in the assurance of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation through Christ our Lord.

May that assurance fill your hearts and direct your thoughts and decisions these days.