A servant’s heart?

A close friend of mine shared with me a conversation she had with one of her work superiors. She wanted to do better. He wanted to help her do better. It wasn’t an easy conversation but it went better than expected. At one point he said, “You’ve got a servant’s heart.”

A “servant’s heart” is something usually referred to in a spiritual context. But this moment was strictly secular. In the sacred realm we “serve” by spending our time or resources to help someone. In the secular world, it’s more about caring and helping someone.

I once had someone describe me as having a “servant’s heart.” A member of the church credited me with that attribute because I was willing to move tables or clean up a mess or carry out some trash. They meant I was willing to do a menial task usually assigned to someone else, like clean a bathroom. I never thought of such tasks as heroic, but it sure sounds good to have a “servant’s heart.”

I’ve been pondering this compliment. If I were a servant, I wouldn’t have a choice. Whether my heart were in it or not, I would have to do what I was told. My tasks would not be optional, but expected. My heart or feelings or spirit would have nothing to do with it. I would have no option.

So, a “servant’s heart’ has little to do with willingness and much to do with understanding who you are. You are not the boss of your life. Someone else is. Your tasks are not negotiable. You are a servant. You aren’t commended for doing your job. It’s your job.

If I’m a servant, it’s my job to care, to clean up, to be unappreciated, to be unnoticed and to be invisible.

That doesn’t sound like me. I like to be noticed, appreciated, compensated, commended, thanked and complimented.

If you are one of those who attribute a “servant’s heart” to me, I thank you. But I would also suggest that you don’t know me very well. My heart tends to think mostly about me rather than others. I doubt I deserve that title.

But I know many people who do. And I know someone who is the servant.

Could you throw more stuff in there?

It was a beautiful, cool evening when Lisa, Samson and I headed out for a long walk. As we rounded the first turn at the end of our block, my wife exclaimed, “Check out that garage!”

At first I didn’t see it. Then I caught what she was talking about. A person who was into “maximalism.” I doubt they could fit anything else into that garage. It’s not like they just moved in and had to empty out the moving van. They’ve been renting this house for at least two years. That’s a lot of stuff!

I’m in and out of my garage all the time. We use that entrance into our house much more than the front door. I go in and out with lawn care equipment, tools, holiday decorations from the attic, to check the hot water timer and have the AC tuned up. I can’t imagine not having access for any of that.

The guy who lives there was standing in the driveway. I tried not to be too obvious when I took the picture, but I think he saw me. I’m sure he didn’t care. Maybe he was hoping that I was casing the place and would break in and clean out his garage!

Water flowing

I love this picture. It is one of my favorites from our trip to Israel. I took this picture at the Church of the Beatitudes, possibly the site where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5.

The streams flowing from the altar reminded me of two bible passages:

“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar” (Ezekiel 47:1).

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).

In that moment, I felt like I was there. In between the ancient prophecy of Ezekiel and the not-yet visions of Revelation, I was captivated by the streams of life-giving water flowing from the altar. Jesus died and rose so that I might have life in the waters of my baptism. For me, this was a breath-taking moment to remember.

Yes, I felt blessed The mosaic words capture the moment well: “Praise to you, O Christ!”

En Gedi: these caves look like the real thing

On our way home from a day at the Dead Sea, we had the chance to stop at En Gedi, a place of springs and caves where David hid while running away from King Saul. Saul was so jealous of David’s popularity that he tried several time to kill him. David found refuge in this place where only ibex usually leapt up and down the cliffs.

After visiting so many places of Jesus’ ministry that had been built over with churches, shrines, traditions and souvenir shops, my wife and I found this place to be quite different. Looking up at the caves on the nearly vertical cliffs, she said, “This seems like the real thing.” There was nothing artificial or modern about this oasis. We could imagine just hard it would have been to look for and find David and his army in a place like this. Standing beneath the waterfall, I could imagine just how refreshing it must have been to find a place like this out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but the starkest wilderness.

Where would you go if you had to run for your life? Where would you hide if you didn’t want to be found? Would it even be possible in our time to be off the grid like David?

“I know Clara Reuben!”

At last summer’s synodical convention in Tampa, the exhibitor hall was a great place to escape some of the long business sessions and presentations when my brain and bottom just couldn’t endure any more. Every Concordia was represented along with every shape and size of ministry at home and abroad.

One morning I stopped by a booth promoting a ministry to Jewish people. I don’t remember the name of the ministry or the person I spoke with, but I do remember speaking about the time Steve Cohen came to my congregation to do the presentation Christ in the Passover. I then shared how years later I had met Clara Reuben, who did some amazing Jewish outreach on Long Island and in South Florida.

At the mention of her name, his face lit up and he exclaimed, “I know Clara Reuben!”

What a small world! Clara was the great-grandmother of one of my confirmation students. I visited Clara a number of times during the last year of her life when she lived in my town. I was privileged to be one of the few Clara never expelled from her home. Clara began every visit by asking, “Do you love Jesus?” She would always tell me, “I kicked the last minister out. He didn’t love Jesus!” And then she would double-check, “Do you love Jesus?”

Of course I do. But more importantly, she did. No nonsense here. No political correctness or cultural sensitivity. You either love the Lord or not. No pussy-footing around. Just cut to the chase. Either he’s Lord, or he’s not. Got a problem with that? Get out!

We could all learn a lot from Clara Reuben about outreach, evangelism and faith. I know I did.

I spy…all kinds of things

A rooftop just below the house of Caiaphas

We had just been in Caiaphas’ house. We had just descended into the sub-basement, the “pit” as it were, where Jesus may have been held while awaiting his first trial before the high priest. I had just read Psalm 69 to our group, remembering who to look to when we feel like we are in “the pit.” We climbed back out of the pit, passed by a place which could have been where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.

I casually looked down from the courtyard where we were standing and saw a rooftop piled with all kinds of trash. In the picture you can see

  • A shopping cart
  • Milk crates
  • Scooters
  • A door
  • Five gallon buckets
  • Wicker shelves
  • Wood pallets
  • Barbed wire
  • Bicycles
  • A wheelbarrow
  • Tires and wheels
  • Refrigerator
  • Rake
  • Washing machine
  • Cememt mixer (?)
  • Dish antenna
  • Rebar and cinderblocks
  • Skateboard

You might be able to pick out even more discarded items. I’ll bet there are stories for each of the things that someone either tossed onto or carried up to the roof.

The reality of present day trash interrupted my meditations on the arrest and trial of Jesus, which led to his suffering and death on the cross. Then again, I’m sure they had a lot of refuse at Jesus’ time, too.

Our street looks like this on trash days. But we also put out furniture, mowers and trimmers and mattresses. I guess the age old question has always been, “What are we going to do with all this trash?”

Just take a walk

I don’t get to see many fall colors on trees in Florida, so this one just kind of jumped out at me when I was walking Sam. The palm trees and the pine trees keep their green year round. But this tree’s a trifecta. I’ve never seen a tree like this one with three vivid colors simultaneously on display. I wish I knew what this was. I’d get one for my yard!

It is so easy to miss the creative work of God that frames my walks around the neighborhood. I stroll through a museum of his handiwork many times each week. Green lawns, flowering shrubs, towering trees, familiar neighbors walking their dogs, storm clouds off in the distance, the vivid clouds of the sunset, the first few stars in the evening sky – all testimonies of the God who created heaven and earth – and me.

So grace can look like a tree covered in color, making me stop and look and take a picture. You want to catch a glimpse of grace? Just go for a walk.

They just show up

I’ve been visiting a lot of families who have just recently begun worshiping with us. It’s one of those seasons in our community when a lot of houses are being built, a lot of people are moving to the area, and some of them set out to find or just happen across our congregation. I do not fully understand why this is happening at this moment. I will not be able to write a book about how to grow your church this way. I can only stand back in amazement and realize, “This is what grace looks like.”

  • One family just happened to see us on Google maps. There were getting directions to someplace and saw our church on the map. He said, “Hey, do you now there’s a Lutheran church just up the road from us.” She said, “Let’s try it out.” They experienced the tradition they had grown up with in our worship. They’ll be joining our congregation.
  • Another had been listening to podcasts about Lutheranism and had become adept at finding churches in the area. They showed up, worshiped with us, and sent me an email thanking me for preaching the gospel. They may or may not join, but they’ve been back a number of times.
  • The week before last a man told me, “I live just around the corner. God told me I should check you out.” I don’t know what that means. I do not know how God did that. But I enjoyed meeting this worshiper.
  • I recently spoke with another really nice couple who were looking for some compromise between their previous Roman Catholic-Baptist-Brethren-Methodist-Presbyterian experiences. They found us to be a good fit.

You know the old adage, “God works in mysterious ways”? He does. Without a clear vision, strategy, formula, program or method, we seem to be growing. Our secret: we gather weekly around Word and Sacrament. That’s the only thing we do on a regular basis. What can I tell you? God does the rest!

What’s behind that door?

This door in Jerusalem fascinated me. I believe the door was cut into this mix of older and newer stones after these walls were built. The original handle must have been replaced by a key lock and later by a fourteen- button keypad. There were some signs on that door at one time, too. I have no way of knowing, but I can’t help wondering, “What was behind that door?” In hindsight, I could have knocked. Who would have answered? Or I could have tugged on the handle. Maybe someone left it open. I didn’t. I wasn’t feeling that brave that day.

Judging by it’s location on mu photo roll, it was on the way to or from the upper room of the last supper, a well-traveled route through the city. It’s got a lot of wear and tear, used by many over the years.

  • It could be as simple as the entrance to a residence. Just as in St. Augustine, FL, many live right where thousands of tourists explore historic streets and alleys. There’s no peephole, though. If you were leaving you might just open that door right into the face of someone like me who stopped to take a picture. Ouch.
  • Maybe it’s a plain, almost unnoticeable private entrance for after-hours entertainment. One that required a secret knock and/or code for admission. No one would know it was there unless you were told.
  • Some kind of storage closet? A place to keep brooms and cleaning supplies, signs and banners for special celebrations, trash cans and traffic cones? I really hope it’s something more exciting than that.
  • It could open to a flight of steps down below the street level. The streets of Jerusalem are built layer upon layer of history. The steps might lead to underground tunnels and passageways that can take you to different parts of the city. Or the steps might lead up, onto the rooftops. From there you could look down upon the streets, or move from one building to the next.
  • Or an elevator. I doubt it, but you never know. Someone might have had to install one after the fact.
  • What a surprise it would be to open that door and discover…a brick wall! A passageway that had been sealed up. But what – or who – was behind that wall? And how long had they been there?

Maybe someone will see this picture and tell me what it really leads to.