Jesus came to this earth to seek and save those who were lost. It was necessary for him to suffer, die, be buried, and raised from the dead. These are all clearly attested to in the Gospel accounts. He had to do this to show fully the rule and reign of God in his life, his complete faith in his Heavenly Father. He also had to do this because of his full and complete love for us.

Jesus begins his public ministry – immediately after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness – with this call:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 [ESV]

John’s arrest and imprisonment does not negate the rule and reign of God. This is key to enduring disappointment, the apparent triumph of evil over good, and every set-back against the good and gracious will of God. Jesus saw John’s imprisonment as part of a grander story of God’s redemption, his reward for righteousness, and the victory of faith (cf. 1 John 5:4). Jesus knew that God would ultimately triumph over every evil – even that which was being visited upon his friend and fore-runner, John the Baptist.

Jesus’ announcement of God’s rule and reign at this particular moment is also testimony to Jesus’ embodiment of that rule and reign in Jesus’ own life. He was perfectly obedient to God the Father. He was completely submissive to God’s will in all things. He never wavered – even when he called out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (cf. Psalm 22 and Matthew 27).

In those times of anxiety, worry, and uncertainty, the rule and reign of God is especially comforting. When I hold to the belief that God rules over all, and that his rule is gracious and good, I am most fully at peace. This is not a matter of saying uncle as though God has my arm up behind my back. It is a matter of recognizing that God’s goodness, love, and kindness will ultimately prevail. Satan will not have his way. The thief will not steal our joy, kill our souls and destroy our hopes.

That’s why Jesus came: to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

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Guatemala Produce Delivery Truck | August 2018

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge. – Psalm 57:1

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. – 1 John 2:12

[Continued from yesterday’s post.]

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 [ESV]

Sometimes these words can seem almost trite. We know things won’t always go well. We know there will be winning seasons and losing streaks. We know disease will intrude and raises will come. We know we’ll get the girl, or lose the guy. We might even sigh about the ebb and flow of the ups and downs of life. But in the core of our being we don’t always know how to transform the knowledge in our heads to a sense of peace in our hearts.

It starts with lament. David Swanson writes:

The Bible provides a word that helps us imagine faithfulness when the tragic moments begin piling up. Lament is what the Israelites do in exile as they wonder about God’s presence. Lament is what the people do when they listen to Ezra read God’s forgotten law. Lament is Nehemiah weeping and fasting upon hearing about Jerusalem’s disgrace. Lament is Mordecai’s sackcloth and ashes, his loud and bitter wailing in response to Haman’s plan for genocide (CT Pastors, Learning to Lament).

When we lament we acknowledge that we live in a fallen world, and that the fallen creation rubs up against us. It scratches, abrazes, wounds, and rubs our souls raw. The world conspires against everything good. The devil seeks to destroy us. Our own flesh is compromised and we become our own worst enemy. To lament is to acknowledge that.

Lament, more importantly, is also an acknowledgement that there is someone to whom we may turn in times of sorrow, distress, and trouble. Lament is an exercise of honest faith. Our God does not turn us aside when we call on him. God not only allows for this, but promises that he will not despise “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), not blessed are those who slap on a happy face and say praise the Lord no matter what happens, in some false they’ll-never-hurt-me bravado.

Some say that the Christian faith perfectly applied brings pure happiness, success, and an end to all troubles. This is folly and the shoddy foundation of a life destined to implode, leaving behind the rubble of failure and doom. The Christian faith gives us someone to whom we can turn with confidence in the turmoil of despair. God does not despise us when we’re sad, he welcomes us. Jesus came for the sick and weak sinners.

When we were traveling across the western slope of the Rockies, I did not lament. I beat myself up. Better had I called out to God, O God, help me! Save me! Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. You are my only hope (cf. Psalm 39; 62; 109). Right now I should feel this way. I don’t want to. But that’s where I am. I need a Savior. I may wish I didn’t. But I do. That’s why Jesus came.

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Two-and-a-Half Birds? | Galveston, TX | August 2018

God’s faithfulness is a shield and buckler. Psalm 91:4

The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3

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Little Bird, Large Ocean II | Galveston, TX | August 2018

Our Ford Pinto station wagon was filled with personal belongings appropriate to a cross-country trip of our family of four. Far from home and family and continuing ever farther. Two car seats with our sons, ages 2 and 6 months filled the back seat. As we drove across the western slope of the Rocky Mountains the countryside became evermore sparse. Small towns punctuated Highway 40. Craig. Elk Springs. Massadona. Dinosaur. There the road that allowed a turn to the south would lead to Rangely, Colorado – the second point of my newly-assigned dual parish. Onward to Jensen, Naples, and finally to Vernal, Utah, our new home, and Our Savior Lutheran Church – the first point and larger congregation which I would serve.

As the countryside opened to a new and unique beauty – vast and barren – my stomach began to churn. They’re all going to hate me. None of them will be true Lutherans. I’ll have to correct a host of problems, and deal with too many troubles to count. I desperately sought to correct these false, disrespectful and defeatist thought. You shouldn’t feel this way. Don’t you trust God? Do you think you’re the only one who loves Jesus and wants to be true to his word?

You shouldn’t feel this way. That is the double-edged sword of truth without grace. Surely I should not have felt that way. But I did. By the time of my installation service – three days after our arrival I was a nervous wreck. My stomach was in knots. Diane saw how washed out I appeared as only a wife can tell. The anxiety forced me to the bathroom too many times to count.

I made it through the service that warm Sunday afternoon. There were many people there to congratulate me and wish me well. I only now – these 39 years later – wonder if some of them weren’t worried about their church, their youth and their own spiritual wellbeing. They should have worried about those things; not because I would utterly fail them, but because if they pinned their hopes on me there were sure to be disappointed.

Truth without grace is a terrible taskmaster. It leads to fear, self-reliance, self-justification, self-righteousness, and a whole host of other self-things, with the emphasis on self. Truth without grace condemns – for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Truth without grace kills, for the law always accuses and kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). Truth without grace judges, condemns, and divides. Truth without grace destroys hope. It squashes love. It steals joy. It kills the soul.

The truth I was facing in those days was that I was far less confident, prepared, or certain of myself than I let on. Inside I knew it. Thank God I also knew grace, and with that grace and the foundational core of my being and ministry: Jesus’ love, biblical truth, and the blessings of faith. These would need to conspire together with the Holy Spirit to carry me forward. And they did – thanks be to God.

I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time. It’s working title has been, Don’t Feel Bad about Feeling Bad. The major premise is that there are times when it is legitimate to feel bad. Bad things sometimes do happen. The diagnosis does come back malignant. The phone call does bring bad news of a terrible accident. The pink slip can arrive at a time of great financial vulnerability. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters impose their unique destructive forces with no permission, and sometimes without warning. There are times to lament.

To be continued…

In the meantime we rejoice in God’s promises. These are premature to the fuller development of the role of lamentation and the reality of troubles and hardships. But these words are to sustain us in times of trouble. They are the grace we all need as truth’s partner.

I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. Jeremiah 15:20

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1

 

It was a four-poster bed, high off the floor, a good climb for a three-year-old boy. His parents were faithful church-goers, and made arrangements for one of the more dependable maids to watch the office of the small mom and pop motel they owned and ran. He stood on his parents’ bed, singing Jesus Loves Me, as he got ready for Sunday school. That’s the way it was every Sunday. I can still recall that scene some 63 years later.

I am thankful for my parents’ commitment and faithful church attendance. I am even more grateful that they pointed me to Jesus from my earliest years. There was built a solid foundation that would never fail. Faith in Jesus, confidence in the Bible, and delight in God’s love for me would shape my heart and life throughout the years.

Whatever else I share through this unfolding project without this foundation it would be worthless. Apart from a deep faith in God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, and a absolute confidence in Scripture, I have little of value to say. With God’s word as the absolute foundation of faith, the grace of God and the blessing of faith find their faultless foundation.

I’ve had a book in mind for many years. It’s foundation is Jesus’ love, biblical truth, and the blessings of faith. It is, however, a book about the profound implication of being justified by God, by faith and for the sake of Jesus. You, dear reader, are getting to see the first draft of this effort. I hope it proves to be worthy of your time and mine. I believe the lessons I’ve learned over these past years may prove helpful to you. I certainly hope that proves to be the case.

I rely deeply on God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. I am deeply thankful for God’s forgiveness. And I commend you to these biblical truths

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17

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Little Bird – Large Ocean | Galveston, TX | August 2018

Below are some photos from my trip to Guatemala to look at possible mission site opportunities. We saw three potential Care Points – a school, a drop in children’s ministry, a church with a ministry to area at-risk children, and a community center that serves children through senior adults with education, medical, social, and spiritual care. It’s been an enlightening and inspiring week. Although I’m ready to get back home (bunk beds and long van rides aren’t my idea of pleasure travel), I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’m thankful for the people I’ve met and look forward to seeing how God directs our paths in the future. The needs here are obvious, and some very dedicated people are working for the cause of God’s kingdom in various places of ministry. Enjoy these photos…random shots, straight out of the camera, but capturing at least some of the Guatemala experience.

Do not be afraid of sudden panic, for the Lord will be your confidence. Proverbs 3:25,26

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Ephesians 6:10

Guatemala, Day 3: It’s been quite an experience here in Guatemala City and surrounding areas. Yesterday we visited Piedras Vivas (“Living Stones”) Church in Quetzal, Guatemala – about an hour away (through very heavy traffic). The church has a drop-in ministry that engages about 100 children and their families. Pastor Saul and his wife Esabel Chay have such a heart for children. She shared at one time her deep exhaustion and prayer to God at one time during the early stages of their work there. “Why do I care for these children? They’re not mine. I don’t have the energy. I just want to leave.” They had no facility, little help, and more needs than resources. But, she told us, God would not let her leave. They were in her heart and there was no way she could turn her back and walk away from them.

They currently operate a Saturday afternoon children’s program as well as a Sunday morning worship and Sunday School ministry. They teach the children Bible passages, songs and dances, and art. On the day we were there they recited Matthew 19:14 to us in unison, “Entonces Jesús dijo:—Dejen que los niños vengan a mí, y no se lo impidan, porque el reino de los cielos es de quienes son como ellos.” (Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”)

The tin roof and sides of the 2500 square foot building echoed with their songs and laughter. We took soccer balls, sidewalk chalk, sticker books candy and other gifts for the children. An art context yielded some delightful chalk drawings on the concrete floor of the building.

Both Pastor Saul and Esabel have a huge heart for these children. They are doing a good work for the cause of Jesus’ reign and rule in the hearts of these children. They embody the idea of these verses: Their strength is in the Lord. He is their confidence.

What a lesson for me! As is usually the case, whether it’s a mission trip or a vision trip such as this to see the ministries and opportunities and what God is already doing in places like Piedras Vivas, I come away encouraged, inspired, and a little guilty. More often than not I rely on God’s strength as a backup to mine. I’m probably not alone in that, and pray that we who call Jesus Lord would more often have that as a first resort!

Return, O faithless children, I will heal your faithlessness. “Here we come to you; for you are the Lord our God.” Jeremiah 3:22

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

I am in Guatemala City this week looking at potential mission sites with a group called Children’s Hope Chest International. The trip has been very inspirational, encouraging, and edifying. The children are delightful. The Care Point (CP) leaders are dedicated. The buildings are small and very basic. But the Ministries are thriving and life-changing.

High on the list of encouragement is the approach of Hope Chest in screening and facilitating partnerships for mission support here. They identify ministries through a thorough vetting process to determine whether they will offer them as a potential CP. These CPs must be Christian, dedicated to spreading the Gospel, and have a sustainable ministry plan (aided by US partnerships and support).

The two CP’s we visited yesterday had more than 300 children in each place. One was a private Christian school. The other a drop-in before and after school care ministry. Key to the ministry at the drop-in center is a model by which students who come there (at no cost) must volunteer for chores and eventually may even serve as unpaid volunteer teachers in the center. Parents – often single mothers – must also volunteer and serve on a monthly basis.

I was able to share the Gospel with the children at the school by means of the Evangelcube (a small cube that unfolds in a creative way, showing various pictures depicting the essential elements of the Good News of Jesus). They loved it and wanted me to repeat the story again and again. These children have a special pace in my heart and, more importantly in God’s heart. We are children of God through Jesus Christ. We have been adopted into God’s family.

These verses remind me of the need of many of the children we saw yesterday. They are not orphans in the traditional sense of the term. Their homes may be made of tin. They may not have a father present. They definitely need the loving care that they are receiving – together with hope for a better future through their education.

The Good News reflected in the Bible passages for today is that God’s love reaches out to us. He has a special care for the widow and the orphan. His love transcends even our faithlessness.

How much more hope and confidence can we have as we hold faithfully to his promises and seek his reign and rule in more and more people’s lives!