Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels

Canadian_pointer

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!

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Prayer Shaming

Prayer

In the wake of ongoing acts of terror that have become almost daily events in places around the world, it’s heartening to see responses of young people. Although perhaps a bit naïve in some respects, they are to be commended for speaking out about such important matters as prayer.

This past week I saw a Facebook posting from a group of Catholic High School students. It uses the increasingly popular format of numerous individual students, each holding one sheet of paper, with printed words that, viewed sequentially, form a message. The title of this one is “prayer shaming.” Each line represents the content of one or more hand held pages.

The secret of Christian living is love. Only love fills the empty spaces caused by evil.
Our generation doesn’t remember life before September 11 but we’ll never be able to forget life after it.
What’s terrifying about San Bernardino, Newtown, and so many others…
…is the shattering sameness of them.
It seems like every week there’s another report of death and destruction.
Many ask, “Where was God when that shooting happened?”
Until we realize that we’ve told God to leave.
So many have told God that he’s not welcome in public, on TV, in schools.
We’re told our “thoughts and prayers” shouldn’t be with the victims…
…that “prayers” should be reserved for “forgiveness.”
It’s as if a new trend is sweeping the country – “Prayer shaming.”
Football players are glorified for drugs and immoral actions.
But a football player talks about his faith and he’s judged.
On college campuses students are told to hide their faith so they don’t “offend” anyone.
So today, we as students of East Catholic High School – and as Americans – are taking a stand.
We encourage people of all faiths to stand together, and to pray.
Pray for the victims.
Pray for the families.
Pray for our First Amendment, that lets us all pray freely.
Pray for safety.
Pray for peace.
Pray that God is allowed back into our lives, without the prayer shame.
And pray that we may once again become one nation, under God, indivisible…
…with liberty and justice for all.

Possible or even probable collateral naivety aside, I say, “Right on, young friends in Christ!”

Inauguration Day

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Tomorrow, January 20, is Inauguration Day in America. Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. However, some may question that number.

Actually, Grover Cleveland is counted as both the 22nd and 24th President. He was elected, then lost, then won again four years later. The factual way to count U.S. Presidents is to say Donald Trump will be the 45th President but only the 44th person ever to take the oath of office.

Nearly one million people are estimated to be in Washington D.C. to witness the event in person. Tens of millions will view the ceremony across the country and around the world.

Interestingly, crowd size estimators use aerial images from satellites, helicopters and balloons, plus basic math. Three pieces of information are needed: the total area of the space, the proportion of the area that is occupied, and the density of the crowd. But I digress.

More important than the number of people who witness the inauguration, whether in person or via electronic media, is the meaning of the event. In many countries around the world, leadership transitions are less than peaceful. Historically, nations of the world have experienced change in leadership following a decisive battle, a horrific insurrection, or a regal beheading.

Not so in America. Notwithstanding protests from individuals and groups regarding the legitimacy of this presidential election, the fact remains that tomorrow we will witness the non-universal phenomenon of a mostly peaceful transition of presidential power.

Of course we’ve been told to expect demonstrators. That’s nothing new. We’ve also seen news reports predicting thousands of motorcyclists known as “Bikers for Trump” who are expected to provide unofficial security at the event. That’s not quite as common.

Tomorrow will come. Tomorrow will go. Your life and mine might not be discernibly different, at least for now. But like it or not, change will occur. Some change will be good, some not. It’s not a simple task to lead what is arguably the most powerful country in the world.

Regardless of whether our new president views prayer the way most Christians do, the best suggestion I can offer today is that we hold our new leader and our country in our prayers. Here’s one suggestion from Lutheran Service Book’s Prayer for Responsible Citizenship:

“Lord, keep this nation under your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve you faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

 

A Prayer for Responsible Citizenship

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One of the blessings of my nine years as president of our national church body is Lutheran Service Book, published January 1, 2005 by Concordia Publishing House. I’m thankful to the LCMS Commission on Worship for its excellent work in producing this highly valued hymnal.

A significant section of LSB is titled “Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings.” One prayer in that section seems particularly fitting for today, only five days before national Election Day:

A Prayer for Responsible Citizenship: Lord, keep this nation under your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

If you have not already done so, with that prayer on your lips and in your heart, exercise your privilege and responsibility as a citizen of our land to cast your vote on or before next Tuesday, September 8, for the next president and vice-president of the United States of America.

If you need a reminder of some important matters that may be helpful in your decision, I humbly offer my October 20, 2016 Perspectives article at https://jerrykieschnick.wordpress.com/.

God bless you and God bless America!

Dealing with Church Bullies

Church PewsLast week I shared an article by Thom Rainer identifying nine traits of church bullies. This week’s Perspectives focus is another article from the same author, who now moves “from descriptive to prescriptive.” Highlights of his article are below. To view the entire article, go to http://thomrainer.com/2015/04/nine-ways-deal-church-bullies/

How do we deal with church bullies? How do we prevent bullying? Here are nine suggestions:

  1. Fight bullying with the power of prayer. The most common targets of church bullies are the pastor and church staff. Ask humbly for people to pray for them daily.
  1. Seek to have an Acts 6 group in the church. Check out the manner in which the Jerusalem church dealt with murmuring and complaining.
  1. Have a high expectation church.Higher expectation churches tend to be more unified, more Great Commission focused, more biblically defined, and more servant oriented. High expectation churches don’t offer an environment conducive to bullying.
  1. Encourage members to speak and stand up to church bullies.Bullying thrives in a church where the majority remains in silent fear of church bullies. Bullies tend to back down when confronted by strong people in the church.
  1. Make certain the polity of the church does not become a useful instrument to church bullies.Many churches have ambiguous structures and lines of accountability. Bullies take advantage of the ambiguity and interpret things according to their nefarious needs.
  1. Be willing to exercise church discipline.Church discipline is a forgotten essential of many churches. Bullies need to know there are consequences for their actions, and church discipline may be one of them.
  1. Have a healthy process to put the best-qualified persons in positions of leadership in the church.Bullies often are able to push around less qualified people who have found themselves in positions of leadership.
  1. Have a healthy process to hire church staff. A unified church staff is a major roadblock for a church bully.
  1. Encourage a celebratory environment in the church.Joyous churches deter bullies. They like somber and divided churches.

Church bullying is more widespread than we often like to admit. Actually, last week’s article was forwarded to more people than any Perspectives article in a long time. That’s an indication that the article hit home with many of my readers, who very likely have encountered a church bully.

As stated last week, I encourage you to remember that church bullies, like you and like me, are “poor, miserable sinners” for whom Christ died. They, too, are in need of the forgiving and life changing grace of God.

Accordingly, our goal should not simply be to “run off” church bullies from our congregation, but to seek and pursue ways of helping bullies become blessings! That will not always work. Yet while such an endeavor is easier said than done, it’s certainly a worthy effort to consider!

God Said No

Credit: clker.com

Credit: clker.com

Here’s something I received this week from a friend. Perhaps it will be helpful to you, especially in times of doubt, difficulty, depression or despair.

I asked God to take away my habit.
God said, “No. It is not for me to take it away, but for you to give it up.”

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, “No. His spirit is whole. His body is only temporary.”

I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, “No. Patience is a byproduct of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is learned.”

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, “No. I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you.”

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, “No. Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, “No. You must grow on your own. But I will prune you to make you fruitful.”

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, “No. I will give you life so that you may enjoy all things.”

I asked God to help me love others, as much as He loves me.
God said, “Aha! Finally you have the idea!”

God bless you abundantly!

Excellence in Leadership!

Tom CedelLast Friday night Terry and I joined over 500 of our nearest and dearest friends at the annual Concordia University Texas Excellence in Leadership Gala. Okay, not all in attendance were nearest and dearest friends. However, it was obvious that we all had much in common:

  • Attendees cared enough about Concordia University to spend a lot more than pocket change for a very nice dinner and more than a very nice contribution to benefit Concordia students.
  • All respected Dr. Tom Cedel, this year’s honoree, enough to offer three standing ovations and extended applause when he was introduced and at the end of his brief Christ-centered remarks.
  • We all joined in thanking Tom’s wife, Penny, who has worked faithfully at his side voluntarily representing Concordia locally and nationally as a cheerful ambassador of good will.

During Dr. Cedel’s 12 years as president of Concordia, the University has, among other things:

  • Moved from its 23-acre site in north central Austin to a 389-acre site near Lake Travis.
  • Doubled in enrollment. Ten times more students now graduate from Concordia each year.
  • Added several new undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
  • Developed the Accelerated Degree program for part-time and adult returning students.
  • Formed partnerships with local school districts for teacher education programs.
  • Developed a nursing program that is one of the fastest growing in central Texas.
  • Achieved numerous academic and athletic milestones.
  • Grown in success in achieving its mission of Developing Christian Leaders.

Thanks to God for his healing hand through months of successful chemo and radiation treatment for Tom’s recent illness, discovered shortly after he announced his retirement last summer. Being chosen as honoree at the Excellence in Leadership Gala is an appropriate testimony to the gifts God has given Dr. Tom Cedel and the excellence with which he has used them to God’s glory!

Tom, Terry and I wish you and Penny the best, in the words of a toast learned from my father many years ago. I originally learned it in Spanish, but it’s spoken here in English: “May God bless you with his gifts of good health, much love, sufficient money and enough time to enjoy them all!”