A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

The video of the Notre Dame spire falling into the flames of the cathedral on fire is not as indelibly impressed on my mind as some other events. But it is surely a strong and lasting image. That beautiful tower and iconic edifice is a shell of its former self. Who would have thought it?

Who would have thought it also that the twelve closest followers of Jesus would end up in an argument as to which was the greatest…on the very night Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper and told them he would be betrayed, handed over to be mocked and killed? Who would have thought that those who had been the closest to the humble servant of all would jockey for a position higher than the others? Who would have thought that these would worry and fret to the extent that they were actually placing themselves higher than Jesus?

We would never do such a thing. We would never wonder why we would experience betrayal, suffering not of our own making, or failure when we’ve done everything right. We would never wonder how God could close his ears to us who call on his so earnestly and faithfully. We would never consider ourselves so aggrieved that we need not forgive one who has hurt us. We would never close our eyes to the needs of another simply because we’re too tired, too lazy, or too ignorant of what we actually should do?

Those are sarcastic comments, for which I apologize to the reader. We’ve done all these things and more. We may be more subtle and sophisticated in our position jockeying. But we do worry about our proper place of honor.

Our true place of honor is at the foot of the cross of Jesus. The ground is level there. There will come a day of glory. There will come a day of victory. But for now we must embrace our need for this Savior Jesus who will suffer and die for our sins.

I don’t believe we’re any better than Peter or any of the other disciples. But even Peter – the one who would deny knowing Jesus three times – will be given the opportunity to strengthen his brothers. That’s the beauty of Jesus gift of repentance, faith, forgiveness, and salvation. Not only does Jesus forgive. He restores. Not only will he restore. He empowers. Not only will he empower. He will honor. Not only will he honor. He will seat us at his table of salvation, redemption, glory and victory.

First we must walk with him through the valley of the shadow of death. Then will come the table of victory in the presence of our enemies. Then will come eternal joy and life.

One day as Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”

“Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?”

They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” So they finally replied that they didn’t know.

And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Luke 20:1-8

Bluebonnets on the Willow City Loop | April 2019

One of my go-to sayings to my children when they were young was a response to their unreasonable and insceccant questioning about my reasons for what I was telling them to do. “Why?” they would ask. “Because the sky is blue when the sun shines,” I would reply. In other words I was not going to answer to them. It was my responsibility as their dad to tell them what to do. It was their responsibility to do what I told them to do.

C.S. Lewis calls this kind of attitude – when we demand an answer or justification for his actions – putting “God in the Dock.” The dock is the place in a British court of law where the defendant stands trial. They are there to be examined, called to account, and give an answer to the judge. It is not proper to put God in the dock. We answer to him. He is not required to answer to us.

Jesus is not yet standing trial, but he is being called to account for his actions and his teaching. “By what authority are you doing these things?”

Jesus will not play their game. He doesn’t even offer a “because the sky is blue when the sun shines” snarky remark. He simply won’t answer to them.

He will, however ask them a question. In doing so, he actually does answer their question. He shows them that they were willing to pick and choose what they challenged and what or who they accepted. They really didn’t want to know the truth. They simply wanted to sustain their power. They didn’t want to risk themselves for the sake of truth. They would rather keep their skin than learn the truth, or reveal what they thought of John’s baptism. Jesus had caught them in their duplicity.

Jesus has the authority of truth. He has the authority of faithfulness. He has the authority of his submission to his Father in heaven. He has the authority of a truly righteous man. He has the authority of being on his mission to save the world. It will take him to a place of complete submission and absolute subjection to the wiles of man. He is committed and he will give his all for our sake.

Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said. – Luke 19:45-48

Rocks & Bluebonnets | Willow City Loop | April 2019

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Kondo method of cleaning out closets.

Before you move a single thing, the first step in Kondo’s method is to visualize the life you wish to have with a clutter-free space. A free closet or uncluttered walls isn’t deep enough. Dig deeper. What does a life free of clutter mean to you? Maybe it means hosting more parties for your friends or adopting a pet or raising a baby. For me, I visualized a more creative home life: one in which I could bake more, draw more, paint on canvas more (a hobby I’ve all but abandoned since my move to New York). These things have been put aside for dealing with my everyday messes. And who wouldn’t want to spend time with friends over organizing china in the cabinet? Kondo asserts that by discarding things, we’re freeing up space for the things we love. – Martha Stewart’s Website

Keep only that which brings you joy. I’m sure it’s a good idea. I’m certain it would be very helpful for making a significantly better experience of walking into our closet. Diane and I really do need to do something to tame the closet clutter monster in our house.

There are situations, however, when even a radical Kondo clean-up approach isn’t enough. A toxic waste site must be attacked with every resource available to rid the area of dangerous chemicals.

This is what Jesus is doing. He recognizes that the practices of the money changers in the temple were eclipsing God’s true purpose for his house. They are bringing a toxin into the place of God’s mercy and presence. God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all peoples – not a place of commerce for taking advantage of innocent and unsuspecting people.

The antics of the money changers (thieves according to Jesus), not only cheated the people who were coming to worship, but obscured the true nature and glory of God. They made religion into a false transactional exchange: money for acceptable sacrifices to appease God and gain his favor.

God’s favor isn’t something we can simply buy off. He is predisposed to kindness, love, mercy and grace. His nature is revealed by those who fear, love, and trust him. It is seen in the faithful life and ministry of Jesus. It is displayed in Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and Second Coming.

God’s purposes, and the success of his rule and reign are not dependent on tax revenue, fund raisers, or even free-will offerings. His purposes are advanced when people call on him, pray to him, believe in him, and give him the honor he alone deserves.

The true currency of God’s kingdom is grace, faith, mercy, truth, righteousness, and love. Jesus will go to the cross because of his commitment to those treasures. May we never obscure them by religion or false dealing.

As Jesus approached and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” – Luke 19:41-44

Boots on Fence Posts | Willow City Loop | April 2019

“What’s the use of getting angry? She’s going to do what she wants no matter what you say.” These were the wise words of a rebellious child’s father to his wife. He was being a pragmatist. Anger was getting them nowhere with their willful child. She was bent on wearing clothes they hated and hanging out at school with kids they believed to be bad influences. Nothing they said changed their daughter’s mind.

“I’m just writing him off my list. He obviously doesn’t care that he’s hurting everyone in his life by his irresponsible behavior. I’m just not going to invite him to any of our gatherings.” Such is the conclusion of an all-too-often disappointed mother-in-law. He son-in-law had hurt her daughter and grandchild one too many times. Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me! That’s the mantra of those who simply run out of patience and love.

Those who come to these conclusions do not do so out of a deep love and commitment to the welfare of others. They don’t have as their number one priority that of redeeming others – even if those they seek to redeem refuse to acknowledge the gift.

When Jesus weeps over Jerusalem it is not a moment of softness or weakness on Jesus’ part. This is no wimper. This was not simply a quiet moment when Jesus had his guard down. He was not just more susceptible to his emotions in that moment.

Jesus’ weeping betrays a deeper truth about himself. He will not force anyone to receive his redemption. There will be a time when every knee will bow – some willingly, and others under duress. There will come a time when he will sit on his glorious throne and judge the nations of the world. There will come a time when those who have faith in Jesus will be welcomed into his eternal kingdom of joy, life, grace, and splendor. Those who deny him, sadly, will be allowed to go their way to eternal destruction.

Jesus weeps because he realizes that the people of Jerusalem are rejecting the most precious gift of all. They are without hope. They are blind. They are lost. And they will not see. They will not follow him. They will not open their eyes to the hope that he has for them and all people.

Jesus will not force them to believe. He will grieve over their unbelief. They are farther from God than they know. He will go to them, be rejected by them, suffer at their instigation, and die before their very eyes. Even more sadly, they will not recognize that his death is their peace.

Let that not be said of us today – though all too often it is true. For this we may need to lament with Jesus and wish for his grace to break through into the lives of others.

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. Psalm 25:8

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

Bluebonnets | Willow City Loop, Texas | April 2019

Is it your rude and grumpy next-door-neighbor? Perhaps a petty and unkind co-worker. It might be a very close family member. Possibly an unkind and unloving teacher comes to mind. Most everyone can identify at least one person who is an Extra Grace Required (EGR) person.

There are two problems with EGR’s. One is their drain on us. If people require extra grace, it truly does exhaust us. We run out of compassion. We lose sight of the possible reasons for their troubling and challenging demands. One person always complains. Another always finds fault. Someone tries to find ways to cause trouble. Still another never tires of accusing you of doing wrong.

The other problem with EGRs is how we learn to see them. They become EGRs and not people in their own right. We make them into projects – people to fix – or troublemakers – people to avoid. We don’t see them for who they are.

I recently learned about a Chic-Fil-A training video. It pictures people coming into the restaurant, each with a thought bubble above his or her head superimposed in the video frame. One says, “I just lost my job and my wife doesn’t know about it yet.” Another reads, “I just heard that my child is acting out badly at school.” Still another: “I just came from the vet and my dog isn’t going to make it.”

There is never truly an excuse for sin. When we do wrong, we cannot undo the harm we’ve inflicted by saying, “I’m sorry, but I just learned that my bank account is overdrawn and I don’t have any money.” But Jesus calls us to forgive our brother or sister in Christ who sins against us – even if they come to us seventy-seven times asking for forgiveness.

“Fool me once, shame on you,” they say. “Fool me twice, shame on me.” That message says wee must not get taken in by someone who sins against us more than once. Any honest person would have to admit that they would never wish to be judged by such a standard. Who hasn’t sinned more than once against another?

Everyone has a bubble. Everyone has a story. Everyone needs grace. Truth is we all need extra grace. Thank God his grace abounds ever more – and even more than our sin.

It was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. Isaiah 45:12

In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16

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Texas Bluebonnets | Willow City Loop | April 2019

Uncle Eugene was a renaissance man. He was a world traveler. He was the head of the Speech Department at Wayne State University. He was truly a favorite uncle – though I actually had several favorite uncles on both sides of my family. But Uncle Eugene was first among equals.

I recall one time when he was visiting our home town that he asked for a ride to the Southeast Missourian newspaper. I gladly obliged. I took him there in my bright red VW beetle. He was appreciative and somewhat self-conscious about the reason for the trip. He went to provide them with a press release about his recent and future accomplishments.

The were worthy of a newspaper article. He had finished a significant stint as a visiting professor in Japan. He had also signed up for another stint. Apparently he was quite well-respected, and well-liked. After delivering the news release about this, he returned to the car and remarked, “You have to toot your own horn once in a while.” I was surprised at this. It didn’t seem to me that he needed to do that at all.

While Jesus does make some major claims of himself. He says he is the Son of God. He said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He proclaimed that “all authority” had been given to him (Matthew 28:18). But Jesus never asked to be honored. His whole life on earth was one of humble service. He created all things. To him everyone will give an account. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow.

Jesus’ example provides us with great hope and a great example. The hope is that those who call him Lord are “on the right side.” We will spend little time worrying about or working on getting God on our side. We recognize him as the one to whom all will give an account. We cannot manipulate God into giving us any kind of special privilege.

All things belong to Christ. All glory is his. May the name of Jesus ever be praised. It will be.

 

Thus says the Lord: I will encamp at my house as a guard. Zechariah 9:8

Jesus said to Peter, “The gates of Hades will not prevail against my church.” Matthew 16:18

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Bluebonnets and a Windmill Under the Texas Blue Sky – III | Willow City Loop | April 2019

The state of the church in North America is not good. Congregation after congregation is reporting declining attendance. Our own Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has lost almost 1 Million members since its high point. Even though St. John has been an exception to this decline over the past decade, more recently we have seen a decline in worship attendance. So when Jesus tells Peter that the gates of Hades will not prevail against his church, we have to wonder: are we seeing Jesus’ words evaporate before our eyes? Is this still true?

A look around the world, however, reveals just how true Jesus’ words actually are. Decades ago we were sending missionaries to Africa. Now the largest Lutheran Church in the world is in Ethiopia. The church there is adding thousands upon thousands to the company of believers there each year. They are seeing the same kinds of growth and power of God as is recorded in the book of Acts. There are amazing things happening in India and other areas of East Asia. In fact we support missionaries who work in that area of the world – although we can’t name them or the places they serve.

Luther once warned his dear Germans that the gospel is like a summer rain shower. Therefore, we are to be eager to hear Jesus’ words while they are proclaimed in our midst. The prophet Amos warns of a famine of the Word of God when through man’s persistent rejection, God lets his Word move on to other places. There are places mentioned in the New Testament where once there were Christian congregations alive and thriving, but if you go there today you will find none. Think also of the majestic European cathedrals that today are nearly empty on a typical Sunday. Do you realize that on any given Sunday, there are more people attending Lutheran services in Africa than all of North America and Europe combined? The eternal gospel moves on. – Prof. John T. Pless teaches Pastoral Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN as quoted in Logia Lutheran Theological Journal

The water of the gospel may pass us by for a time. That is largely because we as a nation and people are far too proud, wealthy, and (we think) in control to embrace our need for it. The church has a bad name in many people’s minds because of the truly bad behavior of some who have had the highest offices of trust. We may wonder whether the church can even survive.

God will see that his church is protected – and more. The gates of hades will not prevail against Christ’s church. Whatever the devil may send our way will not overpower, overcome, or defeat the gathering of those called out by God: his Church. We’ve been called out by God for his grace, protection, love, and salvation. That’s what “church” (ἐκκλησία) means in the original – the called-out ones.

This Easter will find thousands upon thousands of people around the world celebrating the victory of Jesus over sin, death, and the devil. His victory was complete. No power of the enemy will ever prevail against Christ and his church. For those who call Jesus Lord, there is protection and safety. The Lord, “will encamp at my house as a guard.” For that we can say, “Thanks be to God!”