Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV

Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-34

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Cadillac Ornament | Moody Mansion | Galveston, TX | August 2018

“Can’t buy me love, Oh! Can’t be me love, Oh! Money can’t buy me love.” So sang the Beatles many years ago. Funny thing about that realization: it comes from a group who managed to amass a whole pile of money, only to discover that it didn’t really satisfy. They could have listened to Solomon who spoke not only about those who love money not having enough, but also about having amassed more worldly treasures than anyone in his time – but found them to be totally unsatisfying.

They say that people who are stranded at sea can kill themselves by trying to slake their thirst with seawater. It never truly satisfies. It does not provide true hydration. It provides false relief.

So too, money. But for many Christians money is not only a source of false-satisfaction, it is the chief rival god. The Bible does not say that money is evil. Money, however is a false god, and we cannot serve God and money. That’s why we are warned against the love of money. If it is our goal, it becomes our master. If it is our master, it is our god. Not only does money not buy love, it doesn’t save. Ever.

As a young boy I had trouble with this. My dad would say, “You can let your money be your master, or you can be the master of your money. You can control your money or your money will control you.” I believe I have finally learned this.

Jesus offers true riches – grace, love, mercy, truth, justice, forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation. He says these things will never be lost or stolen. They will not decay. They will not prove false. And they can be stored up in heaven. Purses that never wear out are made of faith, hope, and love. When we hold to our faith in Jesus Christ, fix our hearts on the hope of the resurrection, and love God first a most, we are storing up worthy treasure. Then our hearts will be fixed on God’s word and promises. And we will be eternally satisfied.

Those who run after other gods will never slake their thirst and will be eternally sad.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Deuteronomy 6:1

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10

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It was a moment for a parental victory dance – or at least a high five with my wife. Our son was in a particularly rebellious mode. He was ready to do something he knew was wrong and in direct opposition to what I had told him. I wish I could remember the specifics. But I do remember the specifics of what I said to him. “Don’t take me on,” I said. “You will not win.” Or perhaps it was more like, “You. Will. Not. Win.”

It was a moment that I had to draw the line. I had to prevail. Not for my own good, but for his. In that moment I was like God…almost. I was at least partly bluffing. God never bluffs. I had some power over my son. God has all power over all of life of all of us. I love my son. But my love is a pale reflection of God’s love for us.

God says not to put him to the test. That means – somehow – there is a limit beyond which we must not go. That means that there is a breaking point at which something happens. That something is not good. There will be an end. There will be an accounting. There will be judgment.

Saul was brought up short on his way to Damascus. God asks, “Why do you persecute me. It is hard to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). He also said he would show Saul how much he would suffer for the Jesus’ name (Acts 9:16). Far worse was the deception of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). When they sought to deceive the believers and lied to the Holy Spirit, they were struck dead. Jesus warns the lame man he had healed to be careful lest something worse happen to him (John 5:14).

The fear of the Lord is a secondary motivation for obedience. It is not primary. The primary motivation for obeying God’s commands is our love for him – engendered by his love for us. But once in a while it is good for us to remember to “fear and love God” Thanks, Martin Luther, for those words which begin his explanations to each of the Ten Commandments.

A friend of mine, served as a missionary in  Papua New Guinea. The treasurer of his nascent congregation was discovered to have embezzled money from church funds. When he was confronted, a fellow church member said, “What were you doing? Don’t you fear God!”

Sadly, we’ve all winked at sin. We’ve all failed to fear and love God as we should. Thankfully Jesus never failed in that. Furthermore, he offers forgiveness and his righteousness to us by faith. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20). But as Paul says, “Shall we sin more that grace may abound? By no means. We’ve died to sin. How can we live in it any longer?” (cf. Romans 6:1-4).

So we do pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

O greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong! Daniel 10:19 NKJV

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

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Tools of His Trade (B&W Version) | Guatemala City, Guatemala | September 2018

We were at the Church Leadership conference in Chicago several years ago: we six staff members from the church I served at the time. It was a great conference, the highlight of which was the message delivered by John Ortberg. John is a pastor, a quietly-spoken conference speaker, and author of several books. The Life You’ve Always Wanted, and If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, are two of my favorites.

His message that day was quiet, not rhetorically-driven, almost underspoken but powerful. He had arranged that we each were given a 3X5 index card. He instructed us to write these words: “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” They come from Isaiah 43:4. And as soon as I saw the words above from Daniel, I remembered that message and that 3X5 card. I carried it around for a long time. It was a reminder of Ortberg’s message to us: God’s love is for you. It’s real. It’s powerful. It’s unchanging. It is most important of all things.

She came out of the church and shook the pastor’s hand. He was the strongest, most energetic 77-year-old man I have ever known. He was tanned with sun reflected from the snowy mountains he and his wife still skied. He was focused and intense. He was not only the District President of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, he was my vicarage supervisor.

This young woman – about my age – took his hand that day after worship, looked into his dark eyes, and said, “Thank you so much for that message. It was truly what I needed to hear.” The message? “Jesus says, ‘Whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” Based on John 6:37, Pastor Nierman talked about whoever we are, whatever we have done, when we come to Jesus he receives us graciously and in love. He will not turn us away. Powerful. Intense. Gracious. Filled with the love of God.

One day in chapel at the seminary I attended a professor delivered a sermon, “Based,” he said, “on Second Isaiah.” He was making a theological point, launching a theological missile across the chapel at a colleague who held a much higher view of the Bible (as do I). The next day the professor at whom he had launched the doctrinal dart, launched a counter attack, his own ecclesiastical mortar round, preaching he said, “On the second half of the scroll of Isaiah.”

Then came the third day. The seminary professor whom I most admired – a true mand of God, humble, gifted, gracious, sincere, but no “easy-A” type (though I aced all his classes, because I really studied!) – provided the balm of Gilead for us all. His message: Every Christian Counts. He poured oil on the troubled waters of the divided faculty, and helped us all to recognize that God loves us all, and we are to have that same heart for one another. Speaking the truth in love.

There are others who have expressed that same kind of love to me. Bruce, my counselor. Murlyn, a wise and older colleague. Robert, my campus pastor. Gary, a friend who reached out to me and asked if we could be friends. Jerry, my high school buddy who got me to agree to study to become a pastor. And, of course, Diane, my wife. Their love for me is a reflection of God’s love. It is precious and pure. We cannot flourish without God’s love.

We are precious in God’s sight. He loves us. This is the balm of Gilead we all need to receive, and rest in God’s pure and precious goodness and love. John says, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). God’s love is perfect. Whatever fear you face, embrace God’s love. Receive Jesus’ peace. Find courage to go on, knowing that God loves you.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Psalm 25:7

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5

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Houston Police Officer’s Memorial at Elenor Tinsley Park | November 2018

The sinful inclination of a men and women in their early years may be summarized as lust for the three G’s: Gold, Gals/Guys, and Gin. The glitter of gold can lead a man to abandon his family for the sake of his career and a higher salary, and better benefits. It can lead a woman to shopping sprees and maxed-out credit cards. Of course, it can be the other way around. Men are no less susceptible to overspending than women, and women can easily give themselves to climbing the career ladder at the expense of more important things of life. Who hasn’t heard of someone getting caught up in an affair, who has been seduced by smooth talk or good looks, and who has made a wreck of their lives and everyone close to them? Whether it’s gin or GHB, the pursuit of addictive drugs has ruined all too many lives.

Yes Lord. Do not remember the sins of my youth!

In later years those sins are replaced by other dangerous lusts: anger, criticism, and saying whatever comes to mind: in short open self-righteousness. After a while one learns that being good doesn’t pay off. The good guy gets left at the station. The good gal doesn’t get invited to the fun parties. Anger replaces pain. From that cauldron of bitterness flows criticism of others. All this leads to taking off the filters, speaking one’s mind – no matter the collateral damage it may cause. In a way such self-righteousness is even more dangerous and destructive. For we may forget that we need grace if we feel we deserve to be angry, judgmental, and vociferous. If we believe we’ve earned the right to say what’s on our mind, what is there to repent of.

Lord, convict me of these sins of my later years!

I have twin fears as I move into the latter third of my life’s span. One is losing my mind, not being able to remember what I need to remember, becoming senile, suffering from dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. Another is being found out – that I actually need the mercy of God and forgiveness of sins.

But don’t we all?

 

Your people say, “The way of the Lord is not just,” when it is their own way that is not just. Ezekiel 33:17

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15

Men waiting in Antigua, Guatemala | September 2018

Martin Luther is famously to have said, “Love God!?! I hated him.” He was being honest about his relationship with God insofar as he knew God to be a righteous judge, who justly and inscrutably condemns sinners. He knew he was a sinner. He knew he was justly to be condemned. He knew, also, that he was to love God. His heart simply was not in it. Only when he discovered the truth about God’s grace, mercy and love did he begin to embrace this commandment wholeheartedly.

For reasons different than Luther’s I have had trouble also with the notion of loving God. Part of the problem is that of the concept itself. I love pizza, good wine, my wife, my grandchildren, and technology (not in that order!). Am I to have those same feelings and intentions toward God as I do toward pizza and technology?

Obviously the language gets in the way. To love God is the first commandment of the two great commandments. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are commanded to be all in on God. He is to be everything to us.

Perhaps that’s why I feel so disconnected from this commandment. I’m all in on too many other things – or better put – I’m all in on God until something else gets in the way of my love for God. My pride, my fear, my appetite, my desire for applause: All these vie for attention and clamor for the #1 spot in my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Too often they win.

I do not want to do the same thing I accuse good Lutherans of doing in my blogpost from yesterday. I can be more careful and committed to loving God from my heart when I recognize that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Moreover we must remember that “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son” (1 John 4:10).

His love kindling and fanning the flames of my love for him makes this a commandment which is true and good.

All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient. Exodus 24:7

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

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Z-Gauge Model RR | Tomball RR Depot | March 2019

A favorite imagined conversation between Jesus and a Lutheran goes like this…

  • Jesus: Love your neighbor.
  • Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus! Please forgive me. I know I should love my neighbor, and I’ve failed to do so. I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me.
  • Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. Love your neighbor.
  • Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus! I know I’m forgiven, but I don’t want to try to do something to gain your favor. I know I can’t earn my salvation.
  • Jesus: I know that. You are forgiven. Love your neighbor.
  • Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus! I know I should love my neighbor. But I know I’ll never do it perfectly.
  • Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. Love your neighbor.

Sometimes it comes down simply to doing the thing we’re supposed to do. We may fail. We may struggle with motives. We might not do it perfectly. But we must obey God’s word. Not in order to be saved. Not to gain a better place in God’s heart. Not more concerned with doing it perfectly than about doing it.

A better conversation between Jesus and a Lutheran – or any other follower of Jesus – would go like this:

  • Jesus: Love your neighbor.
  • Follower: Yes, Lord. I do love my neighbor…because I know you love him.
  • Jesus: Indeed, I do. I love you too.
  • Follower: Yes, Lord, I’m so thankful that you love me. And I love you.
  • Jesus: I delight in your love for me. Love your neighbor. If you love me, you will love your neighbor.
  • Follower: Thank you Jesus. Please keep loving me!
  • Jesus: I will. I’ll never stop. You can count on it.

Yes. We can count on it. That also means he will never call us to do anything that would bring us harm. You can count on that. Thanks be to God!

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. Psalm 146:8

For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 9.15.12 PMDiane and I are at the PLI Leadership Essentials gathering this week at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas. It’s been a great beginning of the process today. Jock Ficken, Executive Co-Leader (along with Gail, his wife) of PLI shared a key teaching about leadership in the church.

Three pillars of leadership: respect, confidence and trust. These are built on three foundations: competence (respect), clarity (confidence), and character (trust).  While all are essential and important the first – the connection between trust and character is perhaps most important to seeking God’s reign and rule as a leader.

We are spending significant time here dealing with issues around identity, context of ministry, and competence. We are leaning especially on issues of identity and character in these initial days of the teaching. Character is forged in a matrix of integrity, honesty, loyalty, self-sacrifice, accountability, self-control, and humility. Especially important in this matrix is the H-Factor: humility.

We often see passages like this used to encourage people who are in distress to remain hopeful of God’s favor and confident of God’s help in difficult times. Humility has to do with more than being encouraged when you’re under the gun. Although people in leadership are sometimes under the gun, promises of God’s blessings to the humble are valuable and precious to leaders in times of joy and favor as well.

Humility is essential for Christian leadership. It opens the door to deeper conversations about God, grace, truth, repentance and faith. Humility allows me to speak into someone’s life without being overbearing or pedantic. Humility allows me to listen when someone questions my ideas and even my motives. Humility is a reflection of the character of Christ:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  – Philippians 2:5-9

If we are truly seeking God’s reign and rule we will also remember the last part of that passage:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

Any leader could do worse than seeking to reflect Jesus’ character as a key element of his or her leadership efforts.