The servant of God said, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” – Isaiah 50:6

Jesus also suffered outside the city gate. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. – Hebrews 13:12–13

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New Growth | 100 Acre Woods | July 2018

I had the opportunity to share the essence of the gospel on Saturday with the students and their families who participated in our Operation Backpack event. We prepared 340 backpacks to give to students who registered for the event. Part of the process allowed me to use the EvangeCube to tell the story of God’s redemption by means of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It occurred to me that the suffering and death of Jesus as the means of our salvation means vey little if there is no concept of our sinfulness and God’s justice. In other words, the death of Jesus is more than a martyr’s execution. Jesus didn’t die just because he refused to give in to the religious leaders of his day.

This was the plan and offering of God for the sins of the world. We need a redeemer who is willing to suffer and die to rescue us from our sins. We need someone to balance the scales of justice that are tilted dramatically away from our acceptance by God. That would require that Jesus would give his back to those who would flail him and inflict untold suffering on him. But this was nothing compared to God’s justice being brought to bear on Jesus. This is the price Jesus is willing to pay is beyond our comprehension.

Going to Jesus “outside the camp” means that we accept his suffering for us, and are willing to acknowledge our need for such a savior and salvation. The abuse we endure is not necessarily physical, but it is real nonetheless. To admit that we are sinners, and that we need a Suffering Servant Savior requires humility and faith. It requires that we acknowledge the justice of God and rejoice in his mercy and grace. It means that we will not be left outside the realm of his grace and salvation when we face eternity.

You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live. – Deuteronomy 5:33

Jesus said to the lawyer, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” – Luke 10:26–28

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We are in the process of some major renovations at St. John. This involves work on three different buildings and a parking lot. It also involves a large number of specifications, plans, construction documents, and decisions relating to electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, finishes, equipment, and scheduling. All this subject to very strict county code requirements and permitting processes. If the “T’s” aren’t crossed appropriately or the “I’s” not dotted properly things can come to a complete standstill.

In Deuteronomy Moses tells the people of Israel that they must “follow exactly the path that the Lord” has laid out for them to follow. Exactly. Is that I not dotted properly? Stop. Is that T not crossed correctly? Go no further.

In Jesus’ day the Jewish lawyers had this down to a science in the extreme. In addition to all the laws of Moses they had constructed an extra set of rules which were designed to prevent people from breaking the other laws. Jesus, however, challenged them in this regard saying that they were all too prone to follow the minutia of these extra laws while ignoring the weightier matters of the law (cf. Matthew 23:23).

Those weightier matters had to do with loving one’s neighbor, which flows out of our love for God. In these verses above Moses’ command to follow God’s commands exactly is clarified by Jesus’ commendation to the lawyer,“You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer had recited the Great Commandment: Love God. Love your neighbor. These two commands summarize the 10 Commandments. Do this and you will life we are told.

If we rely on our own righteousness in keeping the commands of God we have little hope – unless God forgives us when we fail. By faith we claim the perfect righteousness and obedience of Christ. Having been forgiven and redeemed from the curse of the Law, we are called to follow the way of life by obeying the commands of God. We may never do this perfectly, but we must not neglect God’s commands, for that is the way of life.

The Lord filled Zion with justice and righteousness; he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. – Isaiah 33:5–6

Jesus said, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” – Matthew 10:7

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German Rose | Martinshöe, Germany | July 2018

These are not “God-is-in-his-heaven-and-all’s-right-with-the-world” times. Iranian nuclear fears, Russia election meddling, North Korean saber-rattling conspire against an “all’s-right-in-the-world, peaceful-easy-feeling.” Add to those global issues any personal angst, and the words of Jesus ring true in our ears: ” In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33).

Isaiah offers a ray of hope for people in challenging times: The Lord will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. What a refreshing assurance this is. No peace treaty; no global coalition; no miracle cure will ever deliver us completely from the turmoil of this life. But what we cannot provide for ourselves God gives by his grace.

Jesus tells his people to proclaim Good News as we go. The rule and reign of God has come. Jesus is on his throne. And he – to complete the quote above from John 16) has “overcome the world.”

God is in his heaven, but that does not mean he is not involved in the affairs of man. When we make our way through the world, and encounter people in turmoil, situations of upheaval, and evidence of Satan’s ploys, God’s people are to proclaim Good News. God rules and he is writing a story that has more chapters than the current state of affairs is revealing.

Remember when things looked their very darkest it was actually Jesus’ finest hour. His perfect faith, his unconditional love, and his unwavering obedience was earning our salvation. He was winning when it looked like all was lost.

When those “all’s right with the world” times come, thank God. But be sure of this that reality is not tied to any outward peace. It is tied to the rule and reign of God in the hearts of his people – a rule of grace, mercy, love, and peace.

You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ – Lamentations 3:57

When Jesus saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning. – Mark 6:48

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Tiny Flower | 100 Acre Woods | July 2018

The pastor at the church we attended while visiting our family in Germany made a very insightful point. He said, “The issue with most people is not one of belief in God. It is an issue of submission to God’s authority.” I believe he is correct. But what appears as willfulness and a stubborn refusal to repent is actually fear at its core. Fear can be a very inscrutable thing.

When people refuse to believe, or who make their belief in God something that is far off and not touching their everyday life, it is in the end a fear of losing control over their own destiny. I don’t want to give over control of my body, my decisions, my pursuits, or my goals to anyone who does not have my best interest at heart. In fact, I don’t even want to give control to someone who does have my best interests at heart. Otherwise we would obey God perfectly, trust those who love us completely, and follow Jesus perfectly.

Jeremiah speaks of God coming near and telling him not to be afraid. This is a refrain of God, Jesus, and the angels: “Don’t be afraid…”

  • I bring you good news of great joy. (Luke 2:10)
  • for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:8)
  • go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)
  • for your prayer has been heard (Luke 1:13)
  • only believe, and she will be well. (Luke 8:50)

When Jesus came to the apostles walking on the water they were terrified. Once they realized it was Jesus they also had to realize how awesome, mighty, majestic, holy, glorious, and dangerous he really is. I’m reminded of the song that says that God’s love is like a hurricane. Yes: in its power and might. But even the hurricanes are directed by a hand we cannot see. God is behind it all.

In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia one of the characters speaks of Aslan – the Christ figure. “Safe! Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Our God is dangerous to all who would refuse to repent and believe, all who would for this time fail to submit to him. But he is eternally good, merciful, gracious and loving to all who believe and – even with fear – welcome his presence.

Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. – Psalm 41:1

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

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Tattered but Still Beautiful | 100 Acre Woods | July 2018

At one time in our lives, Diane and I were nearly destitute. We counted our money, and we had a total of $4.17 to our name. We counted every penny. We had food in the refrigerator and cabinets, and anticipated a paycheck at the end of the week. But we had no other funds. By today’s standards we were poor. Thankfully, however, our poverty was soon alleviated, and we were blessed by some people who were very generous toward us. Someone considered us and helped us bear the burdens of studying to be a pastor and dealing with a very menial job that Diane had to support me.

We’ve tried never to forget those days. It set the scene for our approach to giving and caring for people in need. We feel guilty today if we don’t respond to people in dire straits. We’ve received so much. We truly want to be generous.

Our motive for doing this is not to insure that we will be delivered in the day of trouble. It is in part be to fulfill the law of Christ. But most of all, it is out of deeply thankful hearts that we are moved to be generous when we are able. That and an awareness of the incredible blessings we have received from God in the financial realm alone – not to mention the blessings of family, friends, opportunities to travel, and open doors of life and ministry that God sets before us so often.

When I think of poor people, I think of people far worse off than we ever were. People in refuge camps like Aleppo, or the down-and-out people who are truly destitute. Then comes the inevitable question: How about the panhandler on the street corner? I see him there day after day, week after week, for years! He’s going home at night having made a nice haul. He’s on the dole. I consider such people more lost and poor than they know. Either they have sold their soul for the money they are collecting, or they are in such desperate need that they will subject themselves to ridicule, abuse, and inhuman treatment to get their needs met.

If I help out someone who doesn’t really need the help; shame on him. If I fail to help someone who really does need help, shame on me. The answer for me, therefore, is simple: Consider the poor. Help them as I am able, to bear the burdens which they carry.

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. – Isaiah 56:7

Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” – John 4:23

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Dancing Flowers | 100 Acre Woods | July 2018

After a round of golf many years ago, I was enjoying a cold drink with a member of the country club where we played. He asked of someone else, “Is he a MOT?” MOT stands for member of the tribe, and for him it was important to know that. In his mind if you were not a MOT you weren’t as important or worthy as one who was.

Not so with God. He desires that all people come to him. He opens his heart to all who would seek him in spirit and truth. He wants his house to be a house of prayer for all peoples, nations, people groups, tribes, and ethnicities.

The cornerstone of St. John has the Isaiah passage engraved on it: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” We  desire that people will find our church to be a prayerful church, living and breathing with the grace and truth of God in Jesus Christ, and offering people the opportunity to call on God in prayer, seeking his mercy, help, and guidance.

That means we give attention to prayer not just as a formal activity during the worship service, but as a living reality that shapes our meetings, fellowship, ministry efforts and mission activities. We spend time praying at the beginning of the elders meetings, and will regularly offer to pray for those who express a concern our reveal a trouble in their life.

We do so because we believe that prayer honors God, is the essence of worship, and a treasure of the church for which we thank God. I am struck by the desire of God for all people to come to him and find their life and salvation in him. I am delighted that he is seeking me out and desires that I worship him. I pray that more and more people will discover with us the blessings of God’s goodness, and join us in his house of prayer called St. John Lutheran Church.

O Lord, you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Psalm 142:5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3

Black Eyed Susans | Martinshöhe, Germany | July 2018

When we left our family in Germany our daughter-in-law told her children that she had a surprise for them that afternoon. The surprise, albeit a delayed one, was that their dad would be arriving back home that day – a couple of days earlier than they had planned. They two young girls cried, again and again, “Tell me what is the surprise!” They desperately wanted to know. They would have to wait; she would not tell them.

I some manner or another such is the plight of we who hold faith in Jesus Christ. We want to know what the future will bring, but it is not ours to know. With one major exception: There will be a Great Last Day, and Jesus will return, and those who are his will be forever with him in eternal gladness, praise, and joy. The remainder of the details are strongly hinted at in the New Testament by parable and teaching, but those details are sketchy and many mysteries remain.

In the mean time, we live in eternal hope. In the mean time our living faith sustains us. In the mean time, even when we face death we can hold to a hope for life, victory, and salvation.

This is, for me, the on-going life-long challenge: keeping heaven in mind while living in the here and now. The hope we have for and on the Great Last Day is real and truly good beyond our wildest dreams. In the mean time we have a living hope for each day.

Whether facing uncertain financial challenges, dealing with family relationship difficulties, navigating complex work-related dynamics, or battling a potentially terminal disease, we have a living hope in God’s goodness, faithfulness, love, grace, salvation, and mercy. Jesus’ resurrection establishes that hope and holds it secure for us.