My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word. Psalm 119:81

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” John 8:31

20181230-DSC00379-B&W

Cattails’ Reflection | Deception Pass, WA | December 2019

When I was six years old each of the children in our Sunday School class were given a Bible. The pastor of First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau signed it, “W.T. Holland.” To receive a Bible at our church was a rite of passage of sorts. The intent was that we would learn to use it, read it, and be grounded in God’s word as young Christians.

There was another reason for giving us the Bibles. It would prove to be not only a ground of our faith, but it would engender in us a love for the Word of God and a respect for the Bible. In both cases the intent and hope was fulfilled. I did and still do read the Bible, look to God’s word to shape my faith, and have a great love for and respect for God’s Word.

There are plenty of people who mock Bible lovers. Some say the Bible is outdated, old fashioned, and worthy of no more than quaint curiosity. Very few of those who make that charge have read it or looked deeply at the message it contains.

Our staff recently considered one of the values we have identified as important to us at St. John: The Grace and Truth of Scripture. We looked as passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 1:14-18; Psalm 119:105; and Hebrews 4:12. Important to this value is the fact that the Bible isn’t merely a collection of religious sayings or spiritual thoughts. It’s not just the ponderings of holy men or godly women.

The Bible, rightly understood, is a book of grace and truth. Grace that is centered in Jesus Christ and truth that is clearly declared in God’s word (cf. John 17:17). Grace makes truth palpable. Truth makes grace precious.

If we are to discern the fullness of God’s love and salvation we will learn, ponder, believe, and trust God’s word. If we are to be true disciples of Jesus we will not abandon that path. Jesus’ disciples will find truth and grace and overflowing refreshment for their souls – all through the precious words of the Bible.

God wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal. Job 5:18

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

20190101-DSC00551-B&W

Fort Casey Hook | Fort Casey, WA | January 2019

I’m not certain she was a glad hander: the girl on the bus when I was in 6th grade who told me I was cute. I suspect she may have been sincere, but she could have been after an invitation to come to have a swim in our new swimming pool at the motel my mom and dad owned, and at which we were living at the time.

I did have one cool shirt at that time. It was the kind that had a little loop of matching material at the top of a pleat in the back. We called it a “fruit loop”. But to this day I don’t really know what that meant. Girls would yank them off boys’ shirts as a sort of trophy. I think I had a fruit loop shirt on that day. She may have wanted to gain the trophy. I suspect she might attribute it to some really cool guy. But I digress.

Glad handers – at least those who are good at it – have a way to sound so sincere and reassuring. I would never doubt a glad hander’s motive. One such a man was a business associate of my dad. He gave me a really cool looking (emphasis on “looking”) watch one day. He said we were really good folks, but he was really saying he was a good man. His actions were not to make me or my dad feel good. They were to make us feel indebted.

What if, however, you have a true friend who will risk hurting your feelings for the benefit of your betterment. This is the one who will never pull a punch. He’ll give it to you straight. He is the friend whose wounds can be trusted (cf. Proverbs 27:6).

Better, even, than a friend who wounds is our God. Sometimes his words and the truth he brings to our minds and hearts are difficult to hear. Sometimes they hurt. Sometimes they expose things we would rather keep hidden. But he exposes only to heal. He brings to light only to disinfect.

Sometimes we bridle under the heavy hand of correction. Some people will learn only the very, very hard way. Some will resist to their own peril. Some kick against the goads (cf. Acts 26:14). They are wise who will humble themselves under God’s mighty but healing hand. For he exalts. He lifts up what cannot be toppled. He strengthens those who align themselves with his will.

I have been tempted on occasion to force God’s hand. I’ve been known to seek to get my will at nearly all costs. In kindness and love God has stood in my path and redirected me to his ways which are far better, and of eternal blessing. Perhaps I should do that more often.

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. Psalm 66:8-9

We, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:12

20190101-DSC00605-B&W

Fort Casey, WA | January 2019

I’ve been listening to Andy McCabe speak with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes, the CBS Sunday night news magazine. McCabe is the former acting director of the FBI, and ultimately was fired from the FBI. There is great political intrigue and many eddies of personal and political nuances and alleged conspiracies from all sides. I have my opinions about all who are involved in this, but that is not the point of this paragraph. I share this to contrast the affairs of men with the ways of God.

Those who hope in men will never be truly secure. The ways and whiles of man are twisted and without solid foundations. Men and women will always seek to undercut one another. There will always be deception, duplicity, deceit and dishonesty.

This is why God’s providential care, gracious love, compassionate protection, and faithful promises are so precious. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther speaks of God’s Fatherly divine goodness and mercy as the reason for God’s care. Then he says, “for all this it is [our] duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

There will always be those who seek political power; those who take advantage of others; those who abuse the power they have amassed to themselves. Sadly sometimes that happens even within the church. Those who are thusly abused must turn to God, seek justice, and rely on his promises.

This is no glib platitude. Nor should our praise be thoughtless and trite. We who hope in Christ have a secure, good, reliable, and guileless One to whom we may turn in every situation. May we praise him from our hearts and entrust ourselves only to him.

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me. Isaiah 46:9

Let us look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12:2

20190101-DSC00546-B&W

Passageway | Fort Casey, WA | January 2019

Recently World founder, Joel Belz, offered this observation in a commentary about remembering the works of God.

It’s pretty hard to remember something you didn’t know in the first place. And that fact, sooner or later, could put a lot of people in jeopardy when they come face to face with God.

God tells us repeatedly in the Bible to remember his mighty acts. That involves two crucial steps: You have to know the acts themselves. And you have to recognize them as coming from God.

People’s ignorance today on both fronts is profound. They’re ignorant of the simple facts of what is happening in the world. And they’re ignorant of the reality that what is happening is God’s doing.

It is vitally important that we know what God has done in order that we remember what he has done. That seems obvious. But to remember in the biblical – and especially the Old Testament – sense is more than finding the correct piece of data on the spinning hard drive. It’s more than calling something to mind and having that oh-yeah-I-had-forgotten-that moment.

Good as that may be, there is a deeper sense of meaning around remembering that requires faith. In the Old Testament the act of remembering was not so much a matter of having data in one’s brain as it was about placing yourself back into the event which you remembered. In other words, it was an act of imagining you were actually present at that time and place of God’s acts. To remember the Exodus was a visceral experience of slogging through the receding waters of the Red Sea as they dried up before your feet and walking that path with the whole throng on dry ground (cf. Exodus 14:22).

Such is a faith-requiring and faith-bolstering experience! Put yourself into the story because God desires all of us to receive the gifts of his redemption. Put yourself with the armies of Israel as David slays Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Place yourself at Isaiah’s side as he encounters God (Isaiah 6). Go with the disciples into the upper room at the Last Supper where Jesus commands, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22).

I love to ask people what is their favorite story of Jesus. I have received some interesting answers from time to time (including some references from the Old Testament!). It is good to remember those stories and to place ourselves in them in some manner. Perhaps you will recognize yourself as a judgmental Pharisee when the sinful woman came to anoint Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). If that’s the case listen ever more clearly to the story Jesus tells of the forgiven debtor, and remember that God welcomes sinners and even eats with them. Enjoy the meal!

You, O Lord, are our father; our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Jesus said, “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Matthew 6:9

20190101-DSC00584

“Nameless Lock with Yellow Ribbon” | Fort Casey, WA | January 2019

We exposed our children to the Star Wars saga very early in their lives. In fact our oldest son was just weeks old when we saw the movie ourselves, and we took him along! They, on the other hand went far beyond us in learning about the intricacies of the plots and memorizing lines from the movies. Some have even read books about the movies.

Of course, high on the list of quotes from Star Wars is the shocking revelation in The Empire Strikes Back. Darth Vader says to Luke, “…I am your father.” It was so remarkable that people had to check with others before they talked about that lest they would spoil the surprise! If you’ve not seen this movie yet, too late! The secret is out. Sorry.

It ought be no secret, however, that God is our Father. The earliest references to God as Father in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 32:6. “Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” Isaiah (above) speaks of the LORD (YHWH) as their father in the sense of being the One who gave life to Israel and who also redeemed them.

That’s what dads do. They bail out their children. They pay their fines, get them out of hock, rescue them from the bullies, falls, and fails that go along with being a son or daughter, growing and maturing as the years go on. They teach, direct, discipline, provide for, and protect, and correct their children. So do mothers. This is not a father-exclusive job description.

To be fair there are some references to God that reveal a motherly heart toward his people. God speaks through Isaiah, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” – Isaiah 42:14. Isaiah 62:14-15 reads, But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Jesus’ example leads us to speak to God as “Father.” As such God is all that we could ever wish our earthly fathers to be. Even the most dedicated, faithful, conscientious, loving, and good human father will fail his children at one time or many. We cannot help it. We are of limited power, knowledge, resources, and character. We are fallen creatures.

But fallen fathers and forgotten children may call upon God our Heavenly Father with all confidence, hope, certainty, and boldness. Just as a young child runs to his father when he is hurt with abandonment of fear, God invites us to come to him with every hope exposed, every need acknowledged, every failure confessed, every joy held high. Our Father will not turn us away. He is the good, good Father. The great I AM (YHWH) is our Father. May his name be holy among us all!

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving. Daniel 9:9 NIV

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36

20190102-DSC00664

“Psalm 121” | Whidbey Island, WA | January 2019

I was standing in the stairs of Loehe Hall at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Our oldest son was 18 months old at the time, and I was holding him as I stood there. My friend looked at me and suddenly shouted, “Clone!” We’ve been told that he looks very much like me. I think that’s easier for others than it is for me to see. But I believe it’s true. I’ve been told many times I look very much like my dad as well.

God would have us look like him in our character and reflect his grace and truth to others in all our interactions. If we are his children we should reflect that fact in some manner.

But what about the fact that we are his adopted children? Paul speaks of this:

In love [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:4b-6

This verse, I believe is the key to the meaning of the universe. Some day I hope to write about that in such a manner that I more fully convey what I believe. I believe it better than I seem to be able to explain it. Beyond that, however, it is clear that we are God’s adopted children. We have standing before God as one of his children.

We have an adopted grandson. His outward appearance is different from his brothers and sisters. But his mannerisms, values, love for his mom and dad, brothers and sisters and his grandparents is very like that of his family. It’s the air that they breath. It’s part of who they are.

These verses may be used to indict us of failing to be merciful. They may be used to point out the difference between God and us. How many of us are truly merciful? But let these verses serve to call us to reflect God’s character of mercy in our interactions with others. Whether it’s your server at dinner this Valentine Day, the barista who hands you your morning half-caf, French press, venti, extra whip, checkout person at the grocery store, the person who took your parking place, or your neighbor’s son who had a party until 2 a.m. while his parents were gone last weekend, reflecting God’s mercy can be a challenge. But that is precisely our calling. He has more grace (cf. James 4:6).

God’s election of us, his adoption of us as his sons and daughters, is an act of mercy and grace. That will be the focus of our eternal praise: God’s glorious grace. Whenever we give grace and mercy to others we are reflecting that for which God most wants to be praised.

In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

20190101-DSC00580

“ABUS EIGHTY THREE-II” | Fort Casey, WA | January 2019

Several years ago a 10-year-old boy was struggling with his parents’ divorce. For good cause: his world was being ripped apart. He was struggling to find any place of security. Everything was changing. He had no way of knowing where he would sleep at night, no way of knowing what might happen when time came for breakfast or what life would look like each day after school. He was afraid, sad, and deeply worried. Appropriately so.

We tried as best we could to help him through this turmoil of his parents’ broken marriage. We offered his mom emotional and financial help. We made worked with him  in our Sunday School and midweek ministries to give him some social space and friend opportunities. This was not for naught, but he remained deeply fearful and profoundly sad.

His 12-year-old sister was certainly no less traumatized, but seemed to have personal resources that allowed her to deal with the situation. She even helped her brother deal with his anxiety and disappointment.

One day a breath of fresh air blew into this young boy’s soul. His mom attended a divorce recovery workshop and took her children with her. The young boy walked into the room where other children his age and in similar situations to his had gathered. His eyes widened. He looked toward his mom and his sister and felt incredible relief. He was not the only one in this situation. It may not have been joy, but it certainly might have seemed to be such – in light of the dramatic difference in his soul on this occasion. If it wasn’t joy, then it certainly was relief.

Relief from pain and difficulty is a good thing – especially if you’re in the caldron of tumult. That comes sometimes by means of context (like the young boy above). Other times we experience relief when someone simply gives us the milk of human kindness. How sweet that tastes! These are gifts of God for which we can certainly be thankful.

Joy is found and experienced in the presence of God. His gifts of mercy, kindness, love, and goodness are eternal. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we discover the richness of God’s gifts. For not only does his presence provide us with joy, but also peace, patience, love, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These graces form a powerfully-good alliance in the heart of a believer who draws near to God through prayer, meditation on his word and promise, and faith. None of them are ever perfectly formed in even the most consecrated believer. But to the extent that they are found glory and thanksgiving goes to God who is the giver of true joy.