Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:7-14

San Antonio Cowboy Statue | January 2020

The girl on the school bus – way back when I was in 6th grade – said, “You’re cute.” Two thoughts came immediately to mind. One was, I knew she was lying. I didn’t believe she thought I was cute. The other thought…WOW! That’s a whole lot better than my mom telling me I’m cute. Mom is supposed to say that. A pretty sixth-grade girl…well I could only hope.

The other issue in receiving praise has to do with when the reward comes. It’s one thing for a sixth grade girl to tell me that I’m cute. It’s quite another to gain the attention of a beautiful young woman I met in my college years who ultimately became my wife. That reward was well worth waiting for!

Contrast that with the boy who struts and shows off when he’s in junior high and high school. He may get the girl then, and if he continues to gain attention by that means it’s very likely that the relationships will be a string of thrills that all too quickly fade.

Jesus speaks of an even deeper need and reward even than the best marriage on earth can provide. And to gain his attention we had better not think of strutting your stuff. Jesus will not be impressed! We will never gain attention or notoriety before God by appearing to be religious or super-spiritual.

The most Christlike Jesus follower will choose the lowest seat, the place out of the limelight, an attitude of humility. And even though Jesus tells his disciples not to choose the places of honor for fear of being outed when their hubris is uncovered, that’s not the the reason to remain humble. The real reason for being humble is that Jesus gave us the example, the command, and the promise to those who live a humble life.

You may be one of those beauty queens, or star athletes who managed to attracted a lot of attention in your early years. You may still try to strut your stuff. Sadly, though, people who strut their stuff soon become the subject of behind-their-back slurs and laughs. It’s not too late, however, to seek the seat of humility. It’s not too late to leave the limelight behind.

Sometimes that requires a degree of faith that looks far beyond this life to the life of the world to come. Sometimes it requires a faith that trusts God in the face of evidence that you are not favored by God. Remember, in those moments, that Jesus says that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. – John 13:1-16

 

San Antonio Statue | January 2020

I’ve had the opportunity to serve in various ways over the years beyond the local church and my responsibilities as Senior Pastor at St. John. I’ve had the privilege of serving the president of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod during three national conventions. I’ve also served on a couple of non-profit boards, including the photo club of which I am a member. Serving is easy for me; especially if I can be the soldier and not the general. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.

But life isn’t always that clear cut. And sometimes I have to assume the role of boss, leader, or director. That involves strategic thinking, planning, coordinating, and caring for others who serve under me. Some think such a job is easy, an enviable position to have.

Some really like the idea of being called boss. My take is significantly different. For me boss means responsibility, care, and helping those whom I boss to do their best. I guess I really buy the idea of Jesus’ servant leadership model of leadership.

It may be in part due to my impinging retirement, but I’m feeling more and more ready to assume to role of soldier and let someone else take the helm. In the meantime, however, I realize that I need to serve, and to avoid this calling is to neglect my duties as a follower of Jesus and a church leader and senior pastor.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I do it perfectly. In fact my greatest strength is also sometimes a weakness. That’s true for all of us. We have strengths, but in using them, we fail to do what needs to be done in other areas of ministry.

What might this mean for you? It might mean picking up the trash in the parking lot on the way into your office building and corner office. It might mean picking up the toys in the Sunday School room even though you’re not the teacher or in charge of that particular area of ministry. It could mean filling up the gas in your wife’s car, or helping a struggling student with her homework.

One thing for sure. It will mean something if we take these words to heart. This isn’t theoretical. Someone has to wear the servant’s towel. And if Jesus wore it, it would be more than appropriate for his followers to do the same.

Thankfully Jesus did wear that towel, but even his one-piece tunic was ultimately stripped from him two days earlier. He served us ultimately by offering his life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and the sins of the whole world.

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” – Mark 9:33-35

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San Antonio Riverwalk | January 2020

It’s a challenge for most people to put themselves last. We experience that every day in traffic. People want to cut in front of each other. There are very few people willing to let others go first. Traffic, grocery check-out lines, movie theater tickets, or Black Friday shopping bargains: all have very few “You-go-first-ers“.

It’s understandable. I once saw a movie from the very first row of the theater. No fun! Who wants to miss out on a 65” TV for $199? And don’t get me started on driving. I am constantly reminding myself that it’s not a race, and I don’t own the road!

The real challenge of putting others first is to keep our motives pure. We don’t do that so that we can be first. It’s not a trick we pull on God or our neighbor by putting others first believing that in the end we will be rewarded the best seat, the fastest lane, or the limited-time-offer.

Jesus tells us that life is more than getting the best seat, the fastest lane, or any other of the spoils of being first. In fact, Jesus says that if we want to be first we should put ourselves last. Lowest seat. Place of service. This is where Jesus followers should be found.

Jesus not only teaches this, but lives it out. He became servant of all and sacrificed himself for us. His last-place sacrifice gave way to complete and total exaltation. He reigns above all. Every knee will bow to him. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – to the glory of God the Father. Those who are his will enjoy the spoils of his exaltation.

Psalm 2

Why do the nations rage

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds apart

and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;

the Lord holds them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

and terrify them in his fury, saying,

“As for me, I have set my King

on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

and the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron

and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;

be warned, O rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear,

and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son,

lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 32

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly

offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;

surely in the rush of great waters,

they shall not reach him.

You are a hiding place for me;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,

which must be curbed with bit and bridle,

or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,

but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,

and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence;

from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will all of you attack a man

to batter him,

like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.

They take pleasure in falsehood.

They bless with their mouths,

but inwardly they curse. Selah

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;

my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us. Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath;

those of high estate are a delusion;

in the balances they go up;

they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no trust in extortion;

set no vain hopes on robbery;

if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;

twice have I heard this:

that power belongs to God,

and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.

For you will render to a man

according to his work.

Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

and your faithfulness by night,

to the music of the lute and the harp,

to the melody of the lyre.

For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

How great are your works, O Lord!

Your thoughts are very deep!

The stupid man cannot know;

the fool cannot understand this:

that though the wicked sprout like grass

and all evildoers flourish,

they are doomed to destruction forever;

but you, O Lord, are on high forever.

For behold, your enemies, O Lord,

for behold, your enemies shall perish;

all evildoers shall be scattered.

But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;

you have poured over me fresh oil.

My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;

my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They are planted in the house of the Lord;

they flourish in the courts of our God.

They still bear fruit in old age;

they are ever full of sap and green,

to declare that the Lord is upright;

he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Psalm 122

I was glad when they said to me,

“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Our feet have been standing

within your gates, O Jerusalem!

Jerusalem—built as a city

that is bound firmly together,

to which the tribes go up,

the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel,

to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

There thrones for judgment were set,

the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

“May they be secure who love you!

Peace be within your walls

and security within your towers!”

For my brothers and companions’ sake

I will say, “Peace be within you!”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your good.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44

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Cascade Mountains | Northwest Washington | December 2019

In their remarkably sensitive and insightful book, The Wounded Heartthe authors make an extraordinary claim. In fact, when I first read it, I didn’t think it was merely extraordinary. I thought it was crazy, offensive, and wrong. After reading the book, I believe they are right.

Their assertion had to do with the need for forgiveness of the one who has been a victim (!) of abuse. I hesitate even to write those words because they are so extraordinarily countercultural, and counterintuitive. The abuser needs forgiveness, not the abused! But Allender and Lee-Thorp unfold the need for the grace and healing of God in the heart of one who has been abused which comes from forgiveness.

The need for forgiveness has nothing to do with causing the abuser to abuse the victim. It has nothing to do with the abuse being the victim’s fault. It has everything to do with the way our hearts naturally protect themselves. It has to do with loss of hope. It has to do with our imperfect faith and our fallen nature.

We don’t forgive like Jesus did. He forgave those who were nailing him to the cross. But we can’t just claim, “Oh well, I’m not Jesus. He could forgive his abusers. But I won’t.” The example of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, helps ground us. Stephen – a mortal sinner like you and me – forgave those who put him to death! We don’t have a pass here.

That’s where our own need for – and God’s gift of – forgiveness comes in. We need forgiveness desperately. God gives it freely. Let that soak in. Whatever dark secret lurks accusingly in your soul, God shines the light of his grace and love to banish it. Whatever scar might have been inflicted on you, the balm of Gillead soothes and heals.

The highest act of Christian love is to forgive someone. It may be the most difficult, but it will also be the most impactful. It lays a path for reconciliation. It opens the floodgates of our true baptismal identity. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. He prayed for his enemies and forgave them. We show our true identity in Christ whenever we do the same.

Pray this way…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22

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Pines and Snow | Northwest Washington | December 2019

I have always considered myself as one who easily forgives others. I don’t hold grudges. So I thought. Turns out that maybe I do…or used to at least. 

I was at Camp Lone Star near La Grange, Texas. It was a time of retreat for me, a time of spiritual searching and prayer. I spent time reading the Bible and praying. And I would journal. That evening as I wrote in my journal, I wrote something like this:

Dear Lord, I don’t have an unforgiving heart. I forgive those who have sinned against me. I don’t seek retribution. But it occurs to me in this moment, that I am holding a grudge against you! I don’t want to forgive you for doing some of the things you have done to me, or allowing some things to happen to me. Forgive me Lord! I repent. I should never accuse you! Please forgive me.

I wish I could say that handled the issue for me. But it seems that the spirit of unforgiveness bubbles up all too frequently and easily from the dark reaches of my heart. I see a colleague who was unkind and judgmental toward me and I have to will myself to be respectful to him. Maybe I’ve forgiven him. Maybe there’s still work to be done. I encounter someone who is demeaning the Christian faith or causing someone I love to doubt or be harmed, I’m not quick to offer a kind hand.

I am thankful that is not how God treats me. Jesus’ blood flowed freely for my sin and pardon. It flowed for you as well. May that forgiveness overflow into the lives of others who have sinned against us, giving them a taste of the kindness, mercy, and grace of Jesus which is forgiveness!

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:32-36

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Sun Breaking Through the Clouds on a Snowy Mountain Top | Northwest Washington | December 2019

“Lord, have mercy!” This is my three word prayer. So often the situation is so dire, the pain so grave, all I can say is, “Lord, have mercy!” Perhaps others will offer more words and express more fully the needs and concerns that bring this prayer to my mind. But when I cannot fathom the pain or disappointment others have experienced I am reduced to this three word prayer: “Lord, have mercy!”

I hear of a Christian pastor being beheaded in a Muslim country and I cry, “Lord, have mercy!”

I learn the story of a survivor of an abortion who years later was reunited with her birth mom who had given her up for adoption. She was the twin of the sister whose life was taken. When reunited they wept in each others’ arms and I cry, “Lord, have mercy!”

I read about a group of Christians who are chased from their homes and must watch their daughters being abused, and I pray, “Lord, have mercy!”

Grace is God’s undeserved kindness, love, and gift of life and salvation for the sake of Christ. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting the punishment we do deserve. Mercy is relenting and withdrawing punishment.

But there is another facet to mercy that I love. It has to do with God’s heart of kindness and compassion toward us in response to our pain. So when I awake in the middle of the night, and I cannot sleep, I cry, “Lord, have mercy!”

When my hip or knee is causing pain, I cry, “Lord, have mercy!”

When I see a friend who is suffering, or learn of an injustice that touches my heart, I cry, “Lord, have mercy!”

God has had mercy on us. His heart is moved toward us in kindness and love. He sees our suffering. And just as he heard the cries of the children of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt, he hears our call now. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of that.

I want to reflect that kindness of heart toward others and give tender love and care to any who need it. That is, after all, Jesus’ calling for us.