All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient. Exodus 24:7

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

20190316-DSC07861

Z-Gauge Model RR | Tomball RR Depot | March 2019

A favorite imagined conversation between Jesus and a Lutheran goes like this…

  • Jesus: Love your neighbor.
  • Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus! Please forgive me. I know I should love my neighbor, and I’ve failed to do so. I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me.
  • Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. Love your neighbor.
  • Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus! I know I’m forgiven, but I don’t want to try to do something to gain your favor. I know I can’t earn my salvation.
  • Jesus: I know that. You are forgiven. Love your neighbor.
  • Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus! I know I should love my neighbor. But I know I’ll never do it perfectly.
  • Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. Love your neighbor.

Sometimes it comes down simply to doing the thing we’re supposed to do. We may fail. We may struggle with motives. We might not do it perfectly. But we must obey God’s word. Not in order to be saved. Not to gain a better place in God’s heart. Not more concerned with doing it perfectly than about doing it.

A better conversation between Jesus and a Lutheran – or any other follower of Jesus – would go like this:

  • Jesus: Love your neighbor.
  • Follower: Yes, Lord. I do love my neighbor…because I know you love him.
  • Jesus: Indeed, I do. I love you too.
  • Follower: Yes, Lord, I’m so thankful that you love me. And I love you.
  • Jesus: I delight in your love for me. Love your neighbor. If you love me, you will love your neighbor.
  • Follower: Thank you Jesus. Please keep loving me!
  • Jesus: I will. I’ll never stop. You can count on it.

Yes. We can count on it. That also means he will never call us to do anything that would bring us harm. You can count on that. Thanks be to God!

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. Psalm 146:8

For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 9.15.12 PMDiane and I are at the PLI Leadership Essentials gathering this week at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas. It’s been a great beginning of the process today. Jock Ficken, Executive Co-Leader (along with Gail, his wife) of PLI shared a key teaching about leadership in the church.

Three pillars of leadership: respect, confidence and trust. These are built on three foundations: competence (respect), clarity (confidence), and character (trust).  While all are essential and important the first – the connection between trust and character is perhaps most important to seeking God’s reign and rule as a leader.

We are spending significant time here dealing with issues around identity, context of ministry, and competence. We are leaning especially on issues of identity and character in these initial days of the teaching. Character is forged in a matrix of integrity, honesty, loyalty, self-sacrifice, accountability, self-control, and humility. Especially important in this matrix is the H-Factor: humility.

We often see passages like this used to encourage people who are in distress to remain hopeful of God’s favor and confident of God’s help in difficult times. Humility has to do with more than being encouraged when you’re under the gun. Although people in leadership are sometimes under the gun, promises of God’s blessings to the humble are valuable and precious to leaders in times of joy and favor as well.

Humility is essential for Christian leadership. It opens the door to deeper conversations about God, grace, truth, repentance and faith. Humility allows me to speak into someone’s life without being overbearing or pedantic. Humility allows me to listen when someone questions my ideas and even my motives. Humility is a reflection of the character of Christ:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  – Philippians 2:5-9

If we are truly seeking God’s reign and rule we will also remember the last part of that passage:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

Any leader could do worse than seeking to reflect Jesus’ character as a key element of his or her leadership efforts.

Then all flesh shall know that I am the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer. Isaiah 49:26

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. His slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. Matthew 22:2,10

20190316-DSC07859

Communications Tools – Old & New | Tomball Railway Depot | March 2019

Perhaps I simply have an overly-sensitive conscience. It’s not active in every area of life – sadly. But there are some things I just won’t do. I’m not afraid of being struck down by lightning, or rendered mute, or even some milder form of immediate retribution. But I just don’t understand how people can do certain things.

Recently I decided to stop watching an Amazon TV program that highlights cars of many types, but especially race cars. The three hosts do crazy and impertinent and irreverent and politically-incorrect things – some of which are truly funny. But they use Jesus’ name derisively and all-too-frequently (once is one too many!). So, I’ve stopped watching the program. I guess I’ll have to go back to watching guys cut down large trees on Youtube for my entertainment distractions!

We’ve had break-ins at St. John (where I serve). Over the years thieves have stolen lawn tractors, tools, and other items…from a church! Many years ago people stole decorative pots at the entrance to the church I served at that time. When I replaced the pots for a second time, I put a sticker on the bottom of each pot: “Be not deceived. God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:2”

That reality is lost on the world. As one pastor put it, people today don’t have much trouble believing in God. The problem that keeps them from connecting with a church is much more about submission. We believe in a good and kind God. But don’t make us actually obey him or align our lives to his will.

Funny thing is, however, God’s will is ultimately tied to being saved. He showed that when he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world. Jesus came and called all sorts of people into his kingdom. He invites everyone to his wedding feast.

One day everyone – all flesh – will know this truth. Sadly many will deny themselves the gift and refuse the invitation to the feast. They see submission to Jesus as a burden, and fail to realize Jesus’ invitation is to lift the burden of sin, and a path of life rather than the path of death their wayward ways leads.

Once one his embraced the fullness of Jesus’ redemption he cannot blatantly profane God’s name or despise the church of God. These behaviors are not “so that” behaviors; they are “because of” behaviors. Because we have been redeemed we will honor God. We will not take his precious name in vain.

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed. Isaiah 10:1,2 NIV

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

20190316-DSC07857

Telegraph Key | Tomball Railway Depot | March 2019

Perhaps you know the Golden Rule of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Some people twist that to say, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” In other words, get in the first punch. Don’t let your enemy or friend take advantage of you by your kindness. I had a college professor who rejected Jesus’ Golden Rule outright. He was a staunch personal responsibility guy. “Take care of yourself; don’t worry about others. Let them take care of themselves.”

Sadly, however, there are all too many people who will take care of themselves even at the expense of others’ legitimate needs. Their Golden Rule is: “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” There are those who design laws and rules that accrue to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the weak, poor, orphan and widow. They care little for the little person because their plans are so big and important. Why let a widow stand in the way of a work of wonder that the whole world will see and appreciate? They have the gold. They make the rules.

Why, indeed? The world clamors for the latest and greatest experiences: ballparks and stadiums, urban and city-center redevelopments, entertainment venues and theme parks. Why let a few disadvantaged or weak people stand in the way of such progress? We need more highways, rail systems, better airports, and mass transportation options.

Jesus calls us to be careful of such goals. He warns of the danger of gaining the whole world and forfeiting one’s soul. God has a special place in his heart for widows, orphans and others easily overlooked by the world.

That’s good news because the pinnacle of the pyramid is supported by many layers of blocks beneath it. The weak and lowly bear the weight of too many of those who take advantage of others. I’m all for progress. It’s the American way. But justice must be equal to all if we are to be true to Jesus’ calling and God’s values.

This is good news for all people, for there will always be someone more powerful than we are, and if not, we’re easy targets for those who wish to push us off our pedestals!

Fathers make known to children your faithfulness. Isaiah 38:19

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14 NIV

20190316-DSC00964

Black Hatted Cowboy with Cell Phone | Tomball, TX | March 2019

We’ve been reflecting lately – Diane and I – about our faults and failures as parents as our children were growing up. We did the best we could, but there was so much we did not know, so much we of which we were not aware.

On the one side of the equation is the very real hurt and disappointment our children suffered because of our failures. Whether it was not being involved enough in their school work – urging them forward – pushing them to achieve, or not being their advocate with teachers or coaches when we might have. Nevermind they had their own ability to pursue academic or extracurricular excellence, and no one likes a helicopter parent. We could point to several ways we didn’t do it right.

On the other hand, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. No one does. If we didn’t know we could appeal to the coach, the chemistry or math teacher, or that there were ways to encourage them in their schooling, how could we do these things?

Fact is, however, God’s grace and providential care provided a path forward for each of them. We are very thankful for our sons, their wives and families. They’ve done well, in spite of our failures, and perhaps because we also had some successes. Our greatest success was in regard to their grounding in Jesus Christ. Whatever else we didn’t do, or we did wrong, we did make the teachings, grace, mercy, love, and goodness of God in Jesus Christ a high priority for them to learn and practice. We weren’t perfect in this regard, but we were dedicated, and certainly did not fail to provide for them a strong spiritual foundation. It was the air we breathed in our family.

The responsibility of passing along the faith from generation to generation belongs to the family. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is written so that the head of the household could teach the truths of Scripture in a simple way to the household. This would presumably include not only the children, but household servants and others in the extended family. Faith starts at home. It is celebrated in worship. It is deepened in Bible study, and made ever more strong in discipleship experiences alongside others. These are the most important experiences we can give our children.

Whatever else you and I may wish for our children and grandchildren, access to Jesus must be highest on the list of our desires and hopes for them. Fathers telling the great deeds of God to their children has a far greater potential impact than the best Sunday School or youth program or the most eloquent preacher. They need to know that they who are weak, humble, and brought to Jesus are heirs to the Kingdom of God.

I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts. Psalm 119:63

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Colossians 3:16

Day Lily

Day Lilly | Cypress, Texas | July 2013

There are some things that strike fear in my heart. A sudden rush of adrenaline will course through my system if I’m traveling over the speed limit and see a previously-hidden DPS vehicle with radar gun aimed my way. For a very different reason I am extremely fearful of going over the speed limit in a school zone. I do not want to hurt a child! I am fearful of causing my bank account to be overdrawn. Fear can be a powerful motivator for good.

Sadly, however, self-serving fear is a very dangerous and harmful force in the world. For fear I may fail to speak a word of defence when someone is being maligned by a group of friends or acquaintances. I may refuse to provide financial help to someone in need for fear of what others may think of me. Fear can be a good thing, or a bad thing.

When the psalmist speaks of being a companion of those who fear God, he is expressing a worthy sentiment. It is good to surround yourself with people who value God’s commands and precepts. It is good to travel with a group that is committed to following in God’s ways. That is at least part of the purpose of gathering with other believers in worship, fellowship, study, and mission. We are better together. We can do more in concert with others who add their strength to ours for the cause of Christ’s rule and reign in the hearts of people.

Note well, moreover, that it is especially good if these with whom we travel through life have a reverential fear of God. They will help us resist the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. They can encourage us to follow Jesus in the difficult times. They can direct us toward a clearer understanding of God’s word. They can even offer a word of admonishment if necessary.

To offer such a word of admonition is another fearful thing. We may be afraid of our brother’s or sister’s response toward us. We may lose their friendship. We may be ostracized or falsely accused of judgmentalism.

But let’s be clear: we can choose to order our lives based on our fear of God or our fear of man. The ways we would be led if we are to be directed by the fear of man may or may not be right and true. But the ways to which the fear of God directs us are true, right, and good. For that reason the fear of God – when connected with love and trust of God – is a powerful and vital force for good in life.

Fear, love, and trust are the proper, good, essential, and true foundation stones of a vital relationship with God. Fear will keep us from doing bad things. Love will draw us back to God so we can know more about him. Trust will enable us to stay the course when it is difficult.

My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. Psalm 13:5

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. James 5:13

Sebastian & Co

H.W. Sebastian Co. Bridge | Old Appleton, MO | February 2015

With the advent of the microchip cameras have taken major steps forward in both complexity and potential automatic control. You can set your camera on “A” and it will do all the work for you: focus, aperture, shutter-speed, ISO, color balance. It is almost true when someone will say, “Wow! That’s a nice camera. I bet it takes good pictures.” When someone says that, I want to set it on the table and say, “Yes! Let’s watch it take a photo.” Obviously it’s not that automatic!

In fact one can control how automatic the camera is, and even how the variables within some choices may be manipulated. Focus is one example. You can set the camera to read the entire field of view, average it all out and set the focus on an average of the various focus points in the frame. You can set the automatic focus to find faces, or a specific spot in the frame. My go-to is center focus. I can find the point on which I want to focus and then re-frame, and shoot.

Our center-focus as followers of Jesus Christ must be Jesus. He is the most important element of all of life. He is the center from which all good radiates, and by which true balance is achieved.

When we reflect on Jesus’ salvation our hearts will rejoice. But when times are difficult we can pray through Jesus. And when times of joy return we sing his praise. What does this look like for me?

  • Remembering to use Jesus’ name to pray, praise, and give thanks to God – not to swear or express disgust.
  • Remembering Jesus’ love to me when I face difficulty, and his ultimate deliverance from all adversity and trouble
  • Centering my hopes on Jesus’ gifts of life, salvation, forgiveness, and grace
  • Keeping in mind that true riches are those which Jesus purchased and won for me by his death and resurrection – and seeking those true riches above all else
  • Living under Jesus’ reign and rule in my heart; a reign of grace, and a rule of faith in the goodness of God
  • Believing, trusting, and hoping for Jesus’ vindication and justification in the face of whatever loss, injustice, or suffering I may ever have to endure
  • Learning more about Jesus by reading his word and by living a life of service and love for others
  • Embracing the truth he embodied: whoever seeks to gain life will lose it, but whoever loses life for Jesus’ sake will find it; not seeking to be served, but serving others for their eternal good and blessing

I’m certainly not perfectly Jesus-Center-Focused, but I seek to pursue that in all of life. How about you?