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Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. -Ephesians 5:20

The annual Northwest Houston Photo Club Christmas party affords me the opportunity to offer a prayer before we eat. I write a prayer for the occasion with specific connections to our group. Here’s this year’s prayer.

O Lord, You’ve been so good to us
With gifts and blessings pure.
We’ve come again to celebrate 
With friends and food and much good cheer.

Thank you for this food and crowd:
The people we hold dear,
And for the many good experiences 
We’ve encountered this past year.

Programs that open our eyes anew,
And keep us keen and sharp;
Those who have shared their knowledge and art:
We’re thankful for their part.

We’ve seen and clicked and captured the print,
And shown it for review.
We’ve enjoyed a growing fellowship
Of friends both old and new.

We’ve enjoyed our new meeting space
And with it a larger crowd.
And much more competition 
And images of which many should be proud.

So whether ours is Sony, Nikon, Pentax,
Canon, or any other gear,
We raise our glasses and say thank you
For Christmas joy and cheer.

As I end this Christmas Prayer,
I’m thankful most of all
For your great love and kindness shared

In the Babe of Bethlehem’s stall.

I offer this prayer in Jesus’ name,
And if you wish, my photo friends,
To join me in the same,
You may add your Amen as this prayer now ends.

Amen.

We also sang this prayer which I wrote (to the tune of O Tannenbaum).

Chorus:

O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together!
O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together!

Not only when we win the prize,
But also where the rule of thirds applies!
O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together! [Chorus]

It’s time for Christmas cheer at last
And food and fun for every guest.
O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together! [Chorus]

So with a prayer, good will toward all
I’ll say this prayer: God bless us all.
O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together! [Chorus]

As Jesus’ birth we celebrate
So to our God we can relate.
O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together! [Chorus]

So welcome here all and one,
We’re glad you’re here for all this fun!
O photo club O photo club
What fun we’ve had together! [Chorus]

 

With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil. – Ephesians 4:17-27 [NLT]

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Taken in the Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium | Springfield, MO | October 2019

I was struck today by the NLT’s translation of v. 25: “So stop telling lies.” This is not a sugar-coated, easier-to-swallow, form of confrontation. These words make the point straight to the point. Stop telling lies. Tell the truth (implied).

Truth must be told. Have you heard of the last ten percent? Biblically, people tend to think of the first ten percent: the tithe. That’s a good thing. God deserves our first and our best. We honor God with our first fruits – not with our leftovers. The last ten percent is another thing entirely. And it can be more challenging than the first ten percent.

When we interact with others it’s easy to say the safe things. We can talk about the weather, our health, our children, sports, and sometimes even religion and politics. Most of the time we tend toward safe conversations about these. We might amp it up when it comes to our favorite or least favorite sports team. We may get a bit excited about a political issue, or even a religious topic. But most often there is little anxiety in those conversations – unless we are hopelessly tied to a team or a tenet.

There are those deeper truths, however, that require that we take off our shoes because we might dare to tread on holy ground. It’s the difficult conversation with a friend about his incessant gossiping, or with a family member about her drinking. That’s when we step into that rarified air of deep truth spoken in humble love. That’s the last ten percent. It’s beyond telling someone they have a sprig of broccoli in his teeth. It’s beyond telling your friend that her slip is showing. It’s bringing a word of truth that touches the heart of another.

Sometimes such conversation takes a bad turn. Sometimes we may not say it as carefully or as lovingly as we ought. Sometimes people take offense. But the last ten percent is to be spoken in a sincere desire for the good of the other. It must be spoken in humility. It must be conveyed with love.

And when all that comes together, God’s work is revealed. It short-circuits anger. It throws the devil off balance. It builds up the body of Christ. It forges stronger bonds of friendship and fellowship.

The full truth is not merely brutal, it also abounds with grace. The full truth is embodied in Jesus: the one who forgive sinners. The one who prays for those who struggle. The one who died and rose again to bring us to God and allow us to embrace the truth of our need for God’s grace and the superabundance of that grace for all who embrace the Truth.

With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil. – Ephesians 4:17-27 [NLT]

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Taken in the Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium | Springfield, MO | October 2019

I couldn’t believe my ears. The man – a member of the church I was serving at the time – sat in my office. It was mid-morning, and he was matter-of-fact in his speech and demeanor. “I’m leaving my wife and moving to [another town]. I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to do it.” I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. How do you respond to someone so brazen? Whatever he wanted from me, I’m still not sure. I certainly couldn’t give him permission. Nor could I stop him.

Paul speaks to the Ephesian Church and says, “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.” To my mind, “confused” is putting it mildly. The ESV has, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” 

Futility of mind or hopelessly confused: our way of life as followers of Jesus is to be nothing like that. There ought to be a difference. We must not go along with the rest of the world. We must not ignore God’s ways of faith, truth, and love.

Closed minds, and darkened hearts show up in many ways. An attitude of superiority and a haughty outlook toward others can often be seen by those who reject God’s ways. They may offer as nodding condescension toward people who believe God is Creator and one to whom we must give an account. They might make fun of those who refuse to go along with the so-called fun or excesses of the holiday season.

But they are hopelessly-confused. They are functioning with futile minds. Let’s be different. Let’s not be afraid to stand out. Let’s not be intimidated when others try to undercut our faithful obedience. We have it on good authority that God’s ways are true, good, and worth standing for.

Each Sunday, I read 5 Psalms. Starting with the psalm that corresponds to the day of the month and adding 30 to that number. So today it’s Psalm 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. If you do that every day of the month, you will have read through the entire book of Psalms. December has 31 days, so I will skip Psalm 119 when it hits the rotation (it’s very long), and I’ll read that on the 31st. Today’s Psalms…

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 31

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!

Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!

Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.

Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.

Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.

I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.

For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
O Lord, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go silently to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be mute,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!

In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.

Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your sight.”

But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
when I cried to you for help.
Love the Lord, all you his saints!

The Lord preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!

Psalm 61

Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah

For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!

May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.

Psalm 91

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Note: this was published on the St. John blog page on Friday evening. It was to have been published on this blog earlier on Friday.

And Jesus gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:8-16

Taken in the Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium | Springfield, MO | October 2019

We’ve managed to navigate the annual Thanksgiving meal and Day with all it’s required accoutrements. Turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, pecan pie – to name but a few. We struggled to watch the Cowboys lose to the Bills on TV as we played the Davis Game and then Mexican Train dominoes. Now comes the Lollipop Guild and soon Dorothy and her friends will “Follow the yellow brick road” and be off to see the wizard!

All this seems mere prelude to the real attraction for many people this weekend: Black Friday. Some stores are already open on Thanksgiving evening. I think I’ll pass on the Black Friday festivities. I hope, however, that local merchants and shoppers enjoy many great sales this morning. I’m sure some children’s Christmas happiness and many merchants’ bottom line are riding on this day.

God’s agenda is much more far-reaching than happy children on Christmas and merchants’ successful business endeavors. For apart from him the happiest of Christmases or the most successful of business efforts are empty joys and vain success.

God’s purpose in giving his gifts are not merely to give us financial success or happy holiday celebrations. His purpose is to build us up in the faith and to help us reach maturity in our Christian walk. He gives gifts so that the body of Christ is built up.

Three quick take-always flow from God’s gifts to us.

1. God desires that we grow in our maturity and faithfulness, but is not content simply to wish it for us. He gives gifts so that we are able to grow in our faith.

2. This is corporate desire and purpose. If we absent ourselves from other brothers and sisters in Christ, we are short-circuiting God’s purposes and will. The Body of Christ is a collection of people with different gifts and functions. We need each other in order to work together.

3. There are forces at work against God’s purposes and plans. There is danger in every wind of doctrine, human cunning, and craftiness in deceitful schemes. God grounds us in fellowship with one another.

There are many today who criticize the Christian Church. Some say that the world would love Jesus, but not his people. This is a false dichotomy. The body of Christ is the true and great hope for a lost world. The more we grow up into the head, the greater impact for good we will have. We similarly cannot do this alone. So I’m all for building up the body of Christ and working together in that body for God’s glory.

And Jesus gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:8-16

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Taken in the Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium | Springfield, MO | October 2019

Imagine this: You’ve finished your Thanksgiving dinner and now heading out the door for a walk. You happen upon a new neighbor and strike up a conversation. You couldn’t quite figure out why the neighbor had such a funny look on his face the whole time of your conversation…until you get back home and happen to catch your reflection in the mirror. You had a big glob of gravy on your shirt. A big glob of gravy. Ugh!

Why didn’t someone tell you as you went out the door, “Hey Dad! You’ve got a big glob of gravy on your shirt!” No truth there. It would have been better to have known the truth.

Scene 2: You’re just finishing your workout. You’ve made some progress but you still have a long way to go. You’re heading out the door of the gym when your trainer says, “I’m not sure we can help you. You’re too far out of shape.”

[Neither of these examples is autobiographical!]

Dismissal. Lack of commitment. Failure to love. These are not the hallmarks of truth spoken in love.

Navy Admiral Stockdale is credited with postulating the Stockdale Paradox. It has to do with surviving severe hardship and  succeeding in life. The paradox boils down to the need to Face the Brutal Facts,  while Holding onto Hope. If you don’t face the brutal facts you’ll never be able to navigate the challenges before you effectively. But if you have no hope you’ll likely not try.

Today I’m thankful for people who love me enough to tell me if I’ve got a glob of gravy on my shirt, and who are kind and loving to me in the process. There are plenty of brutal facts to face in all of our lives. Thank God for the loving people in our lives who stand with us as we face them, and who speak truth and love together to our hearts.

And Jesus gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:8-16

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Wind Vane | Branson, MO | October 2019

When I first began to look more closely at the teachings of Jesus, and the confession of the Christian faith by Lutheran believers, I discovered a great treasure. The twin towers of gospel-centered and Scripturally-grounded teaching made a deep impression. I was impressed that when I had a question, there was a solid answer from the Bible, not simply a human-reason-based logical answer.

I was also deeply impacted by the fact that I was learning about Jesus and the Christian faith in a manner that was grounded in the grace of God. I so deeply appreciate this treasure of Jesus’ love and grace! The center of the Christian faith is in the forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life, and the hope of the resurrection. Everything in Lutheran theology radiate from that center.

My faith was not so easily to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” I was centered in the grace of God and standing on the solid ground of God’s word. 

This is the purpose of Jesus’ gifts to the church. That we may hold fast to this hope and truth of God, and that we may grow up into him who is the head, and that we may support each other in that faith and calling.

We are being equipped by God through pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles, and prophets for the work of ministry: the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are being prepared for works of service so that others may come to know and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

One of the saddest experiences in the Church is when someone who has the truth of God’s word fails to speak the truth in love. An equally sad experience is when someone who has great love abandons the truth in order to grant a kind of grace that has no true foundation.

Truth and love – when held in their proper tension – together with Scripture and grace are the DNA from which the body of Christ is built.