Psalm 51:13

I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Mark 1:15

Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

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Martin Luther is famously to have said, “We live on earth only so that we should be a help to other people. Otherwise, it would be best if God would strangle us and let us die as soon as we were baptized and had begun to believe. For this reason, however, he lets us live: that we may bring other people to faith as he has done for us.”

We might point out that Martin Luther was a singularly-unique individual; that he would be much more likely able to evangelize someone than an ordinary you or me. We might point to Paul, the greatest missionary ever and rightly say, “I’m not like him!” The same would be true for David who was king of Israel, and who wrote these words of Psalm 51. And no one is as righteous, holy, or missional as our Lord himself.

What’s more, when we seek to bring another person to faith, we’re actually calling for a profound change to occur. Repenting and believing the Good News of Jesus is a radical reorientation of mind and heart; a totally different way of embracing life itself. And it’s not like we’re on the front lines of the mission field. We live in a Christian nation with Christian ethos. How can we possibly teach transgressors God’s ways? Who needs to repent?

Perhaps we do. Perhaps we need to think again about the mission field right in our own family: who needs to reorient his life toward God? Who needs to reset her agenda toward a godly outcome? Perhaps there is a coworker, fellow student, neighbor to pray for. It all starts, however, when we repent. David’s famous words, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…” are his prayer of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. He also prayed that the Holy Spirit would not be taken from him. Then he would teach transgressors God’s ways and sinners would return to God.

We who believe we’re not on the front lines of the mission of God need to repent – no matter what our vocation may be. Until we embrace our own need to repent, and believe the Good News of God’s love, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation, we will not be able to teach transgressors or bring sinners to God. But once we do repent, we will better see the people God puts into our path as gifts and opportunities to lavish God’s love, and speak God’s truth, and invite them to stand with us at the foot of the Cross.

Psalm 40:17

I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.

Mark 6:41–42

Jesus blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled.


I’m not certain how anyone with a flatscreen TV, a house with more than three rooms, appliances, furniture, a car, and a computer would be considered poor and needy by the world’s standards. That was brought home to me when we visited Kenya and were invited to our driver’s home before heading back to the United States. The family of four lived in a rented mud hut with a kitchen (replete with charcoal-burning fire-pit “stove”) and a single room which served as eating area, sleeping quarters, and living area. They served us coffee with milk and sugar, and bread and butter. I’m not certain how they afforded the loaf of bread or the milk and butter they gave us.

Somehow, however, he realized that God had not disregarded him and his family. He is a believer, serving in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, driving for the local bishop and guests the church hosts. Hence we were he charge for the afternoon. More important, he did not despair of God’s grace, nor even make much of his poverty: not one word of complaint. He had dreams of building his own tin-roof hut some day, but in the mean time he was serving God as a driver for the church.

Perhaps, however, the stark contrast between his life and ours belies a greater kinship than we might imagine. We can judge our poverty or wealth by the world’s standards. There are TV shows that showcase homes which would make all but 1 in 100,000,000 of ours look shabby. There are chauffeurs who earn more than a successful middle class businessman. And there are people living in cardboard boxes in the city dump in Nairobi who envy our driver.

But the One who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills,” who claims the gold and silver of the world as His own (cf. Hagai 2:8) is little impressed with our 55 inch flatscreen TVs. We may not think of ourselves as poor by the world’s standards. But by God’s standards we have nothing all that impressive. God gives grace to the humble – those who recognize their real poverty, and live in humility before him. When we receive his favor we are truly filled.

Ecclesiastes 5:7 (NASB)

For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.

Titus 3:9

But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Painted Church

One of the Painted Churches near Schulenberg, Texas

After worship children of staff (including my own grandchildren) may be seen running around the chancel area of the church building. Some number of years ago the mere idea of such carryings-on would be unthinkable. Today we half-heartedly shush our children, and then carry on with our conversations and activities. Some would worry that this is an abuse of holy space. Others would dismiss such worries as ill-advised at best.

I’m not advocating an abandonment of reverence in the house of the Lord. Neither, however, am I demanding that people keep their children out of the altar area. But lest we mistake a reverence for the house of God for a true fear of God in all of life, an observation seems appropriate. Fearing God has to do with not only the one to three hours we spend in a church building each week; it has to do with how we spend the other 165 +/- hours each week.

People can engage in words and dreams, or in stupid controversies, and quarrels about rubrics or liturgical etiquette without ever encountering God. Forms may help us express our reverence and worship of God, but they may also cover over unbelieving hearts, and prevent people from loving their neighbor. God desires mercy person to person, not just ritualistic sacrifice. In fact, Jesus says that if you’re bringing your offering to church and remember that you have a bone to pick with your brother, leave your offering and go first be reconciled to your brother then bring your offering!

Thank God that Jesus shows us what this looks like in real life – including things like healing on the Sabbath. He died for us who don’t get that right -despite our best efforts. And his Holy Spirit enables us to grow more Christ-like in our dealings with others; as more and more we fear and love God above all things.

Job 31:4

Does God not see my ways, and number all my steps?

Hebrews 4:13 (NIV)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

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On a good day, it makes me happy. On a very bad day it brings me comfort. Most days, however, I don’t think of it all that much: God’s all-seeing eye upon the steps of my life. Once in a while we, like Jonah, might try to hide from God. Once in a while we might even cringe to think of God’s awareness, knowledge, watchfulness, and uncovering.

Those, however, who embrace the goodness of God, and see him as a loving and merciful Father in heaven, who sent his Son to die for us and our salvation, will delight in the omniscience of God. That God knows and sees all things is good because he is good. His steadfast love endures forever. Great is his faithfulness.

There is, however, an edge to God’s all-knowing and all-seeing nature. Because God is also just, there will be an accounting. Our actions matter to him. Our way of life for good or ill is weighed in the scales of his justice. We know and believe that Jesus balances those scales. We also know that God deeply desires that we act and live as though we are his children, and not children of wrath and rebellion.

How do you see God? Do you know and believe that he sees you with eyes of grace and love?

Proverbs 10:12

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. 

1 Corinthians 13:4–6

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 

Sometimes the shortcomings, failures, bad choices and sins in our world fill the air with a stale odor. Sometimes we add to that odor: we have clearly failed to do what we ought to have done. We have done the very things we ought not to do. Then there are times when we may simply make the wrong call, when our best efforts to determine and do what is good and right yield only an apparent choice between the lessor of two evils, and we make the wrong choice. There are even times when we make the right choice and still feel the need for forgiveness from others. 

Love is a precious gift in those cases, for it not only covers over offenses, it also seeks the good, rejoices in truth, and does all that in a humble manner. Love is a breath of fresh air amidst the stale odor of arrogance, boasting, envy, and unkindness that fills the world around us. 

Whether we’ve experienced the offense of another, caused another pain or harm, or simply see the unkindness of the world around us, love is a gift worth embracing, sharing, and cultivating in our souls. For reasons no one really needs to know, this is particularly important to me today. I thank God for Jesus’ love and hope to find its redeeming presence in my goings and comings today. Maybe I’ll cross your path and we can share Christ’s love with each other.

Nehemiah 6:14-7:4

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.

Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.

  
As the cleanup and cleanout processes continue to unfold in Cypress, this passage came up on our St. John staff devotions. We kidded our facilities & maintenance supervisor that he had 52 days to finish the job of putting the campus back together. I’m thinking we’ll need every single one of them. 

The parallels between Nehemiah’s work of rebuilding the Jerusalem walls and our efforts to clean up following the flooding here are remarkable: distractions, opposition (not from people, but from uncooperative weather), the fact that not only the church but people and families all around us were impacted, along with the dual efforts of workers, church staff doing their jobs, volunteers helping clean up at the church and in the community, together with the “you can’t be two places (much less three or four!) at one time” realities of life, all conspire to make the tasks ever more challenging. 

There has been plenty of praise for those in the trenches of the cleanup process. The folks from Cypress Chapel – headed up by Pastor Stephen DeMik, together with Steve Saunders, St. John’s Disaster Reponse Coordinator are helping put “boots on the ground” in these efforts. Ken McCully, our Director of Operations, and Richard Hurliman, our Facilities and Maintenance Director are putting in long hours and much effort in this task. 

All we need now is time and patience as we reclaim what was lost, damaged and destroyed. We look forward to worship tomorrow, remembering God’s faithfulness, goodness, grace, and salvation, calling on him in prayer, and hearing his word. We look forward to seeing how God will shape us through this whole ordeal.

I look forward to a return to some sense of normalcy, and seeing how God will use faithful and God-fearing folks to establish and sustain good order and peaceful life among us – however many days it takes.

Isaiah 45:12 (NKJV)

[The Lord says,] “I—my hands—stretched out the heavens, and all their host I have commanded.”

Revelation 15:3

Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty!

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Clean up process at St. John Administration Offices includes removal of sheetrock and flooring, and thorough drying of all areas.

The majestic glory of God is revealed in creation. Whether in the vastness of the starry night sky, the rugged beauty of the Texas Hill Country, the grandeur of the mountains, or the peaceful beauty of a seaside sunset, the Creator’s magnificent splendor shines forth. Better to recognize that in the good times rather than under the duress of suffering or trying to remember it in the dark night of the soul.

Job had to acknowledge this, together with his lack of understanding and his limited power, as God spoke to him in no uncertain terms: God to man. We might be reminded of this in times of disaster when the beauty of creation is marred and hidden. But God is never at a loss in his rule over creation – even a creation that waits in eager longing for the fullness of redemption to be revealed (cf. Romans 8:18-22).

The Holy Spirit moves us to express our praise to God. We see his glory, recognize his rule and reign over all things, and are amazed by his works. Greatest of all these works is that of Jesus Christ who embraced our brokenness and points us to a life of eternal abundance, hope in the face of tribulation, and an eternal acknowledgement of God’s glory.

As we continue to recover from the flooding in our campus buildings we thank God for his glory, acknowledge his works, and rejoice in his faithful love through Jesus Christ.

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