A New Calling

audience-1677028_960_720

Today marks the opening session of the 61st Convention of the Texas District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS is a national church body with approximately two million members. The Texas District is one of 35 LCMS regional judicatories.

Conventions are held in each district every three years, between January and July, with the great majority occurring in June. Texas is one of 25 districts meeting this month.

One very important event at a convention is the election of a president. In a number of districts incumbent presidents are either retiring or have served the maximum number of allowable terms. Such is the case in Texas as Rev. Ken Hennings completes his fourth three year term.

Having served faithfully and with distinction, President Hennings will be replaced by a new district president to be elected this afternoon. Five men have been nominated for this significant office, which is an honor in itself. They serve the church in agreeing to stand for election and to serve if elected.

This scenario brings back memories in my life and ministry. In June 1991 – 27 years ago – my name was on the ballot for Texas District President, along with four other nominees. On the fourth and final ballot I was elected. My life has never been the same since that day.

After serving three full terms and one year of the final term in Texas, I was elected president of our national church body in 2001. Installation in St. Louis was Sept. 8, three days before 9/11. Nine years and two more elections later, I was not elected to a fourth term in 2010.

Encouraging and supporting me every step of the way was my dear wife Terry. She worked long and hard in extending hospitality to the literally thousands of people who were dinner guests in our home those nine years in office. With great joy she also loved and cared for many pastors’ wives, including the 35 women married to district presidents and the five women married to national vice-presidents.

When all this began 27 years ago we were mere kids and had absolutely no idea what life would be like in public office. That would be true of anyone elected to a responsible position of  regional or national leadership, particularly in an ecclesiastical setting.

There have been many joys and blessings, with no small amount of stress and disappointment along the way. The man elected today in Texas, with his wife, will discover those realities.

They will walk together on the often happy and fulfilling but sometimes sad and frustrating journey of service that will be their new calling from the Lord. Whichever nominee and his wife are chosen, Terry and I wish them well and will hold them in our hearts and in our prayers.

Advertisements

Inauguration Day

inauguration

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.”

 

Political and Ecclesiastical Nominees

Luther's Coat of ArmsOnly those who have been living in a cave for several months are unaware of the remarkable distinctions among the candidates eager to occupy the Oval Office in the White House. Areas of disagreement exist, both within major political parties and across party lines. These differences include positions on everything from the economy to immigration to Supreme Court appointees to foreign policy and more. Some differences are minor. Others are vitally significant.

Perhaps not quite so obvious to some are similar distinctions in the ecclesiastical world, particularly that of my own church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Nominees for the office of national president to be elected in the coming months have been announced. All three candidates are clergymen in good standing on the Synod’s roster of ordained ministers of the Gospel. They all also strongly profess allegiance to the authority of Holy Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions as a correct interpretation of Scripture. We would expect and accept nothing less.

That commitment works well where basic matters of faith and life are concerned but not so well for issues on which Holy Scripture and the Confessions may be silent or non-conclusive or on which varying interpretations simply are not in agreement. Basic general commitment to these important documents does not necessarily imply concurrence among these men on matters of importance for the future of the LCMS. Here are some topics on which LCMS nominees might differ:

  • View of the role of the church in society.
  • Flexibility or rigidity in worship style and content.
  • Interpretation of the biblical doctrine of eternal election.
  • Attitude toward clergy participation in public civic events.
  • Application of biblical principles of inter-Christian relationships.
  • Understanding and commitment to the mission of Christ’s Church.
  • Approach to biblical interpretation of the role of women in the church.
  • Evangelical or stringent attitude toward administration of the Sacraments.

In addition to that list, other important considerations differentiate candidates from one another in both the political and ecclesiastical arenas. These include personal integrity, courage, management style, leadership effectiveness, ability to work well with others, trustworthiness, collaborative spirit, loyalty and moderation in all things. A basic question many people ask is whether they would be proud to be represented by the person elected to the office of president of the nation or the church.

In the political arena, personal attacks and ad hominem criticisms prevail. In the ecclesiastical arena of the LCMS, what used to be a highly politicized process for electing a national president prior to and during the triennial national convention has been replaced by an electronic balloting process several weeks prior to the convention. More than any other factor, that new process has contributed greatly to the peaceful climate of recent national conventions.

My prayer is for that kind of spirit to prevail, both politically and ecclesiastically, and for the leader selected in each realm to lead and govern faithfully, responsibly and effectively!

The Truth, the Whole Truth and …

Kieschnick GrandnieceBefore beginning today’s Perspectives, I’ll share one important update and one brief reflection:

  1. Update: My prematurely born great grandnieces are progressing quite well. Anna is blessed with good health and Emma (photo above) continues to improve, having had her breathing tube removed for 20 minutes recently. Thank you for your prayers for these two young ladies, their parents Amanda and Jesse and grandparents Doug and Diana.
  2. Reflection: This week marked the 14th anniversary of my initial installation as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod on September 8, 2001. Three days later our world changed. In some ways it seems like yesterday. In other ways, a lifetime ago!

Now today’s edition. Most Americans know the words that follow the words in the title above. They are part of the oath Americans are required to make prior to taking the witness stand in a court of law. The entire oath is a question that goes something like this: “Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

While legally required to make this oath in court, is it not reasonable to assume that trusted leaders, both public and private, should adhere to the same standard at all times? Even when not called to testify in a court of law? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were really the case?

In 1998 a 49-year-old national leader denied having a certain kind of improper relations with a 22-year-old woman. That leader told the American public he was telling the truth. But he wasn’t telling the whole truth. While denying that he had had a specific kind of relationship with this woman, it later came to light that he had had other equally improper relations with her.

That man held what is considered the most powerful office in the world. A number of others are now seeking that same office. Each of them has equal responsibility to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Several historical figures have said: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Abraham Lincoln said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Jesus in the four gospels said “I tell you the truth” 80 times.

What’s the bottom line? Leaders at all times should be held to the standard of speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That standard is universally applicable to powerful leaders, both secular and sacred, in whom their constituencies place confidence and trust.

A Very Special Tribute

Flower 1This edition of Perspectives concludes the fourth year of these weekly articles. Frankly, sometimes it’s a challenge to decide what topic to address and to do so with a reasonable degree of quality prior to the all too quickly arriving deadline of 5:00 a.m. each Thursday.

From time to time I think perhaps I should give this endeavor a temporary or permanent rest. Occasionally a few readers will complain and criticize. (By the way, if you don’t like what I write, feel free to delete or unsubscribe.) But then a bunch of readers will reply to an article they particularly appreciate and I get flooded with requests to keep on writing.

Since that’s happened often in recent weeks, I’ve decided to proceed with the fifth year of weekly articles. I have a fun one in mind for next week, so stay tuned. Invite your friends to subscribe or send them to jerrykieschnick.wordpress.com. Also feel free to suggest topics about which you’d like to hear my perspective. While I can’t promise to get to all of them, I’d appreciate your suggestions.

Much more significant than the end of Volume IV of these articles, today marks the 48th anniversary of the day I asked for Terry’s hand and heart in marriage. I remember that moment like it was yesterday, which is why it’s so hard to imagine it was almost a half century ago! When I tell people we’ve been married over 47 years, Terry quickly adds, “We married when I was just a child!” Actually, she is a few years younger than I, and always will be! Funny how that works!

It’s impossible to express how sincerely I thank God for Terry and how deeply indebted I am to this very special lady. She has been incredibly loving, forgiving, supportive and encouraging to me and the rest of our family. She has also tolerated, sometimes patiently and sometimes not, the interruptions, headaches and heartaches that have accompanied the variety of callings in which we have been involved together during the 43 years of our ministry in the LCMS.

There have been many such challenges, especially during our nine years in St. Louis. In lots of ways those were very meaningful and fulfilling years. In other ways they were quite difficult. I could say much more about the tough times, but I’ll save that for another time and place.

Even in times of trial and tribulation, Terry’s love for Christ, firmly established early in her life and lovingly nurtured during childhood, especially by her maternal grandmother, Blanche Gruesen, is as strong as it ever was. That love motivates her to encourage and pray regularly and fervently for family and friends. Her encouragement is frequently expressed in the form of hand written notes and cards, which she often writes early in the morning or late at night, endearing her to many.

So, my dear Terry, this is a very special tribute to you! You are loved and respected by many, especially all of us who are blessed to be part of your family! May our gracious Lord continue to hold you in the palm of his hand!

With all my love,
Jerry Kieschnick with Blog Background