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Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. – Lamentations 3:40

Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. – 1 Corinthians 6:17

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San Antonio Architecture | January 2020

Diane and I, along with three others from St. John returned two days ago from a mission trip to Kenya and Tanzania. There are many notable things about this trip: the 38 hour return trip (three flights, 11 hours of airport layovers, and a 16 hour final leg flight), the amazing experience of a serengeti safari, the God-ordained connections we made with church leaders while there, and the eye-opening experiences we as we connected with the ministries there. I look forward to sharing some of the particulars of each of these. It was a faith-enhancing, joyful, and blessed experience!

But it is always good to come home. We’re still adjusting to the significant time change, and jet lag. We hope to be able to enjoy full and refreshing sleep soon. Our body clocks are not quite readjusted. But we’re home. We are able to sleep in our own bed. We’re able to eat fresh vegetables. We’re not worried about negotiating rough roads. We’re in our element.

But we’re not really home in the fullest sense. That is reserved for that Final Day when we will be brought to our eternal home in heaven. And although we may get glimpses of this place of perfect peace here on earth (coming home from a long trip for example), these are only glimpses.

Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We might paraphrase that by saying, “We are not truly home until we are at home with you.

God invites us to come to him, examine our ways and return to him. We too easily get distracted by the things of this world. We too often lose our way and wander from God. God even more often invites us back home to him. And when we make our way back – through repentance and faith – he welcomes us with his open heart and gracious love.

This may not be a dramatic conversion, but it is a needed one every day. So when we think of returning home – after a long excursion, a quick trip to the grocery store, or after a long day of work – we might also think of our true home with God. When we rest in him, we have the truest peace and most blessed abode.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:34-40

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San Antonio Riverwalk | January 2020

NOTE TO DEAR READER: You’re not supposed to bury the lead, but I did. Please look to the end of this post for an important reminder.

I don’t want to be absent minded. That, however, does not prevent me from doing things a bit more thoughtlessly than I ought. I’ll lay down a book in an odd spot – without really thinking about it – and wonder where it is as I wander all over the house looking for it. I’ll put my coffee cup in an odd place, or even my computer or camera(!) and have to search the premises in an effort to locate these items. I don’t want to be absent minded…except in the case Jesus points to here.

Notice the reaction of the people here: “When did we see you…?” They were unaware of their acts of kindness toward Jesus. And this is more than simply doing acts of kindness, or even that thoughtlessness with which we do them. This is about Jesus’ willingness to identify with the least of his brothers – in this particular case the disciples to whom he refers here.

The disciples are the “these brothers of mine” to whom Jesus refers here. Jesus cares about how his followers are treated. This is not to say we ignore anyone who is not a follower of Jesus. It is not to say that we do not serve Jesus when we serve people who are not believers. It is to say that our service to Jesus’ followers – and especially those who carry the gospel message far and wide – is noted by Jesus. When we feed Jesus’ followers, we feed him.

When we feed the hungry in general (perhaps including “the least”) we also feed Jesus. We are following Jesus’ own example when we feed the hungry. He had compassion on the multitude and provided a banquet in the wilderness for them. To do less cuts short the impact of Jesus’ love for us and for all people.

Furthermore, when we do these things, we should we do so without giving a second thought to it. One of the very real dangers of taking the Red Letter Challenge seriously is that we can become cryptically self-righteous. It’s very easy to play the part of the humble sacrificial giver while keeping secret score of what we are doing and expecting appropriate rewards (however we might define “appropriate”). To that we take to heart Jesus’ own words, “When you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3-4).

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. 14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children! – Matthew 14:13-21

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San Antonio Cowboy In Situ | January 2020

It was a gruesome scene. The Jeep had rolled six or seven times. Shoes, clothing, and bodies littered the highway. We stopped to see if we could help. One young lady lay on the pavement in near delirium. She had been thrown from the vehicle. And as we approached the people gathered there, I asked, “May I help?”

“You a doctor?”

“I’m a doctor of the soul.”

I knelt beside her. Two others who were along for the trip were by my side. Someone was clearing her mouth of the remnants of teeth that had been knocked out. I took her hand an prayed. It was all I could to.

Soon the life flight helicopter arrived and she was taken away. We learned that she died later that week. I can only hope that the prayer I offered pointed her sufficiently to Jesus. I couldn’t do much, but I gave what I had. I pray it was enough.

We may think that what we have is too little. We may imagine we need extraordinary resources to have an impact. But God calls us simply to give what we have. Rather than apologizing for what we don’t have, we need simply to give what we’ve got. This is the message of the Bible: “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have'” (2 Corinthians 8:12).

God uses what we have not what we don’t have. He takes a few fish and loaves and feeds a multitude. He uses ordinary people to further his extraordinary work. When we give what we have, people are blessed and God gets the glory. When we hang back we lose the opportunity to be part of God’s work and people are bereft of our blessing.

Psalm 9:1-2

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.
I will be filled with joy because of you.
I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.

Psalm 39:6-7

We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.

Psalm 69:5-6

O God, you know how foolish I am;
my sins cannot be hidden from you.
Don’t let those who trust in you be ashamed because of me,
O Sovereign Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Don’t let me cause them to be humiliated,
O God of Israel.

Psalm 99:1-3

The Lord is king!
Let the nations tremble!
He sits on his throne between the cherubim.
Let the whole earth quake!
The Lord sits in majesty in Jerusalem,
exalted above all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Your name is holy!

Psalm 129

From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me.
Let all Israel repeat this:

From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me,
but they have never defeated me.
My back is covered with cuts,
as if a farmer had plowed long furrows.
But the Lord is good;
he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly.

May all who hate Jerusalem
be turned back in shameful defeat.

May they be as useless as grass on a rooftop,
turning yellow when only half grown,
ignored by the harvester,
despised by the binder.

And may those who pass by
refuse to give them this blessing:

“The Lord bless you;
we bless you in the Lord’s name.”

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

12 And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” – Mark 2:1-12

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San Antonio Cowboy in High Key | January 2020

I was sick. Miserable. Really hurting. Fever. Congestion. Cough. I felt really crummy. Then I started to feel even worse! The fever began to rise. I had the chills. I felt really, really bad. So I asked Diane to pray for me. I remember this moment. She gathered our sons who were present then, and they prayed for me.

What a wonderful feeling that was! Her hand on my head felt cool – a relief to my fevered temperature – and kind. She cared about me. She loved me. Had I not gotten better, I still would have felt loved and cared for.

But I did begin to feel better. The fever broke within 5 minutes! I began to be relieved of my headache. The coughing began to subside. Diane prayed. God answered. I was grateful.

I imagine that after the man who was paralyzed may have felt a bit self-conscious being carried through the town toward the house where Jesus was. He may have felt discouraged when he learned that the crowd was so large that they could not get to Jesus. He might have felt embarrassed when his friends carried him up to the roof and begin to tear it open and lower him through the hole they had made. Maybe he felt those things.

It is clear, however, that when Jesus healed him he felt great joy. I suspect that he felt deep gratitude toward Jesus and his friends who brought him to Jesus.

And so it is: We may sometimes need to be carried to Jesus. We may sometimes carry our friends. We may sometimes see a miracle. We may sometimes simple sit and pray. Whenever we do bring a friend to Jesus – through prayer or the milk of human kindness – God notices. Just like Jesus saw their faith, and like when he reports to the gathered people at the end of time, “you’ve done it for me,” God takes note of us.

And I promise you…if you pray for a friend, you will bring the love of Jesus to him or her. If she is healed there will be praise to God. If he must wait for the healing to come, they will feel the tough of his love. Either way, we are part of a good and holy moment.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. – Matthew 19:13-15

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San Antonio Cowboy Sculpture in Color | January 2020

When I was in junior high school I learned that I was going to have second a little brother or sister. I was excited about the prospect. I would teach him how to play football. We could have all kinds of fun. Her name was Kathy. No football, but many great memories and lots of family fun. Another sister followed two years later. I loved my three sisters.

I have always cared for children. I love children. So I cannot imagine the disciples trying to prevent the people from bringing their children to Jesus for his blessing.

But Jesus is important. The disciples recognized that. They thought that children were an interruption. Jesus had more important things to tend to. So they thought. But they were wrong. Jesus’ more important thing was to point people to the rule and reign of God.

Somehow children possess the rule and reign of God. How does one own God’s reign and rule? How do you have something that possesses you? Isn’t that the essence of God’s reign and rule? He is over all. He reigns. He rules. He is in charge. Everyone answers to him. How do you own the One who owns everything?

It’s called the presumption of faith. In faith they presume upon your attention and care. They presume they have a place. They presume upon others’ love. They have no resources of their own.

Jesus’ lesson about children’s value and and their place in the kingdom of God points us to an attitude of humble faith. Children rely on God. They are completely vulnerable to any evil. They desperately need God’s protection and care. They are not aware of all this. They are simply the object of God’s loving mercy, fatherly love, and providential protection.

We should not push this too far. Suffice it to say, however, that children are important to God. Their wellbeing and connection to him through Jesus is more important than any other business on this earth.

Whether it’s teaching Sunday school, or telling Bible stories, saying bedtime prayers, or bringing them to Jesus through the waters of baptism, bringing them to Jesus is vital kingdom business.