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Monthly Archives: May 2019

Romans 11:33

Romans 11:33
Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

Dear God, you must be really trying to teach me something because I’m getting this recurring theme in our times together–that I don’t know what the future holds. And during this time of year, what with all of the graduations and anniversaries, I am constantly reminded that life always, and I mean always, brings us surprises.

Yesterday, I saw a picture on Facebook that a friend posted. It was a montage of 9 pictures from their previous 31 years of marriage. If any couple I know has lived the life of Job, it is this couple. I like that they didn’t arrange the pictures in chronological order, but scattered them. Still, looking at those early pictures, helped me to really appreciate what life had thrown at them over the last 31 years. Here is the picture for reference.

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The pictures that run diagonally from the top left to the bottom right are the early pictures. Life was completely ahead of them. They were an active couple. Hiking and biking. He was my high school youth minister.

The pictures in the top and bottom middle look more like their early adult lives. They ended up with some surprise pregnancies and had four children ages four and under. She started to have a severe health issue that was pretty debilitating, but they managed. They were starting churches and serving you.

The top right and bottom left show the kids growing up. As with all of us who raise children, there were unexpected challenges too. Especially when his health issues crept up and then slammed the family, driving him to not even be able to be an associate pastor of a church, much less lead churches and hundreds of people into closer fellowship with you. I won’t go into all of the details here, but their story is absolutely remarkable. And through it all, through some VERY rough times, they remained faithful and committed to each other. I cannot tell you how much I admire them.

My daughter gave a brilliant, wise speech her senior year of high school. She talked about all of the plans we make and we ask our young people to make. We make a big deal about their college major. We make a big deal about their career plans. I wonder if they wouldn’t be better served if we focused more on asking them about their peace now, and what they are feeling called to do with today. Yes, we need to put some goals out there to keep us pushing forward (or else we will never move from where we are), but there are a lot more questions to ask a young person beyond what their chosen college or career path is.

Father, my daughter’s thesis on her talk was “prepare to be surprised.” Help me to do that with my own life. Help me to, first, be willing to accept the path you have for me regardless of what it means for me. I have been blessed with good health for my entire family and I know I take that for granted. But if that worm should turn and the health for any of us should go away, help me to embrace that. Help me to let go of my expectations of you and to seek to sink deeper and deeper into your presence. Even today, with what I have planned for this day, help me to not see it as obligation but as opportunity. Help me to be your presence. Radiate through me and love through me. Help me to give my utmost for your highest. And do it all for your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2019 in Romans

 

The Definition of Insanity

2019-01-13 07-49
The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. It is called “Isaac Blesses Jacob” and was created by Wayne Forte.

 

Dear God, I’ve heard this definition of insanity attributed to several people and I don’t know who exactly said it, but the idea is that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s what I think of when I think about the ritual in many cultures that the eldest child is assumed to be the head of the children for that generation. The problem with that logic is that all one has to do is look at the Old Testament and see that it hardly ever worked out that way.

  • Abel was younger than Cain and yet he was the one who pleased you more with his heart and his worship.
  • Isaac was the son you wanted to bless even though Ishmael was Abraham’s first-born.
  • Jacob was famously second to Esau and yet he received an unbelievable blessing from you that I still can’t believe.
  • Joseph was not the oldest by a long shot, but he ended up being the most useful.
  • Skipping forward, David was the youngest of his brothers and he was obviously the one you called for Israel.
  • Solomon wasn’t anywhere near the oldest of David’s sons.

The list goes on and on. There is a flaw in our logic. I think I saw that Prince Harry’s new son is 7th in line to the throne of England. What? Picking your line of succession that way is like playing roulette. How can you possibly know through birth order who will be the next best king?

But let’s slow down. How often does our logic and intuition fail us as well? How many times have I hired the wrong person? How many times have I trusted the wrong person? How many times have a voted for the wrong person? In terms of King David, he certainly wasn’t Samuel’s first choice, and Samuel was really wise and clued into you.

No, at the end of the day, I think I need to 1.) seek your wisdom more and not lean on my own, and 2.) be prepared to walk down the road you have for me regardless of what it might hold. I remember when I was about to be a freshman in college I had been assigned a three-person dorm room with two other random guys. My mother had a friend whose son was going to my university and they decided to set us up as roommates. I remember protesting at the time, even telling her that I didn’t want to force anything, but let things play out the way you had set them up. But she did it and I ended up with a great roommate. The she go a little Rebekah on me and upset the natural order of things? Probably. But much like Rebekah’s decision, it probably worked out for the best.

Father, help me to first and foremost be sensitive to you and what you have to say to me. Love through me. Help me to give good counsel when asked and to know when to remain silent and admit that I don’t know. Give me your peace. Give me your discernment. But most importantly, give me your love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, etc. in all situations.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

You Just Never Know

Dear God, I was talking with my wife this morning over breakfast about a young couple in their 20s. They were married just three years ago, and have already experienced some surprising setbacks.

The wife was in college in another state when they married and she was almost done with her degree. It was a specialty college that offered something no one else does. She had invested years in their program. Then, shortly after they got married, the college shut down. She was left with no degree and no one to honor the work she had already done. She was a square one.

They moved back to Texas and then the husband contracted a serious disease that will limit his ability to work for the rest of his life. Now she is working retail and the primary earner in their family while he tries to find work he can do. She is trying to climb the career ladder at the retailer where she works. They are about to move to another town where there will be more advancement opportunities within that company.

Just three short years ago, on their wedding day, I’m sure they never would have guessed where they would be in the summer of 2019. That made me think of this picture that I saw on Facebook this morning.

The man in the picture runs a large nonprofit in a low-income area of a city in Texas. I don’t know the woman, but he describes her in the picture. I know of just one or two of the tragedies that he and his wife have been through over the years. I know the woman only through this post, but this line struck me: “…we lamented the pain of and struggles of our lives.” Not that there hasn’t been good in each life. Great things have obviously happened. But there has been unplanned pain and struggle. After all, how can we possibly plan for the pain our lives will experience?

My wife and I are coming up on the 30-year anniversary of when we met. I was 19 and she was 18. We had no idea what the future held for us, but I can tell you that neither of us thought we would be where we are now in 30 years. And where we are is remarkably good, but it has also, despite our best efforts to follow you and live the way we feel called to live, brought tremendous pain. That’s life.

I’ve told you before that I was very disappointed in you a few years ago. I felt like you had let me down and hadn’t lived up to your end of the bargain for the faith I had put in you. But I’ve learned. I’ve slowly decreased in my own eyes and allowed you to increase. I’ve learned to give of myself and not take. I sang songs in church that “it’s all about you” and “it’s not about me,” but I didn’t really know how to live that.

Father, I’m still learning. I still feel sorry for myself sometimes. I still don’t appreciate just how good I’ve had it. And I still think way too hard about planning out and controlling my future instead of just staying in the moment with you. That will be my ultimate arrival in my growth, I think. When I learn to not look to the future, but am consistently completely in the present with you. Help me to continue to get there. And thank you for everything–even the pain.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

Psalm 139:13-14

Psalm 139:13-14

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

Dear God, I recently asked people on Facebook what things they do to pursue relationship with you. As I consider my own list of activities, I think the one that is the most deficient is worship. I don’t spent enough time in worship of you. I don’t adore you enough. I don’t really stop to try and wrap my head around what and who you are. This passage reminds me of that. David is just spending some time acknowledging who you are, and who he is by comparison.

Father, you are the source of all of my joy. You bring me peace. You exude from everything around me, and yet I often walk right by you and don’t notice. You see the entire board while I only know how to move my pawn. You have entire world to love while I can’t even love my neighbor. You are everything. I am but a small, minuscule piece of the puzzle. I am foolish and cannot are. You are all-knowing and omnipotent. Please forgive me for my doubt. For the things I do and the things I leave undone. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for guiding my heart on a path that draws closer to you little by little.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2019 in Psalms

 

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Proverbs 31:30-31

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.

Dear God, what is the best way to reward her? Yes, I’ve been fooled by charming women. I’ve been fooled by beautiful women. But I’m very grateful to have a wife that fears you. So how do I praise her? How do I reward her? How do I appropriately show others her deeds so that the deeds themselves might declare her praise?

I read a great marriage book about 20 years ago called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I know I’ve mentioned it here before. I picked it up again this weekend to just refresh myself on what it said and I found some great things. It starts with this premise: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? Here’s a good quote:

So we’re not anti-happiness; that would be silly. The problem I’m trying to address is that “happy marriage” (defined romantically and in terms of pleasant feelings is too often the endgame of Mose marriage books (even Christian marriage books). This is a false promise. You won’t find happiness at the end of a road named selfishness (emphasis mine)

Oh, but how I want to be selfish in my marriage. Oh, how I want to be treated the way I want to be treated. I want to the recipient of constant love and kindness from my wife. Yes, I am a needy boy. The good news is that I am not as needy as I used to be and I have actually adopted a lot of Thomas’s attitudes and philosophies over the last 20 years. But I still catch myself feeling sorry for myself when I feel like I’m not getting what I deserve.

Going back to praising the woman who fears the Lord, I have so many blessings in my life because I am married to a woman who fears you. First, she has great amounts of mercy and grace for me. She also exhibits unreasonable amounts of love to others within and outside of our family. She faithfully intercedes for others in devoted prayer. She is at peace with what she has and does not look for everlasting joy and happiness through spending money and acquiring things. She doesn’t seem to have anything to prove to anyone.

Father, help me to truly praise my wife and build her up for what and who she is. Thank you for her compassion, faithfulness, self-discipline, and humility. Thank you for her wisdom and discernment. Thank you that you make all of us better through her and women such as her.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2019 in Proverbs

 

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Elijah Stands Before the Lord – 1 Kings 19:11-18


The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image is called “A Gentle Whisper” and was created by Justin Sorensen.

1 Kings 19:11-18

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”

Dear God, Bustard didn’t include verse 10 in this lesson, but I think it’s important because it starts with you asking Elijah a question and then Elijah answers. It is after this exchange that you decide to “pass by.”

There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

Elijah passively accuses you of the same thing I have accused you of. He feels like you have let him down. You have disappointed him. I have felt disappointed by you too. For Elijah, I think he felt like he “zealously served” you and you still didn’t come through with the people falling into line. After he did such a great job, why should his life be on the line?

Then you told him to get ready because you were going to come by. And you did some things that would physically scare him. A huge wind that crumbled rocks. An earthquake. Fire. Were you showing him that you could take his life in a minute? Were you making that point to him?

What I’ve always liked about this story is that when you showed up you were gentle. A gentle whisper is what you used to once again ask your question of Elijah: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” His answer didn’t change, but I wonder if his tone of voice did. Was there anger in his first answer? Were there tears in the second?

My wife and I were talking this morning about the fine line we often cross between feeling close to you and living in the Spirit and being completely fallen. Thank you that you give us people like Elijah who experienced the same thing.

Now, regarding this image, here we have Elijah with the cloak he put over his own eyes, and I assume that is your presence approaching his face. Is that a knife? A claw? A feather? I don’t know. Here is what the artist, Justin Sorensen, says about this story:

I’ve always been interested in how the specs tackle of the fire or earthquake didn’t touch Elijah at his core the way the gentleness of a whisper did. The ordinariness of the whisper really strikes me. My tendency is always to look for God in the places I expect to find him. The whisper seems always to suggest that God can’t be controlled, and that he can manifest himself however he likes. I think the whisper is God’s way of saying to Elijah that he is everywhere, and that he is moving in ways we can’t see. It’s not that God wasn’t whispering up until that point, it’s that Elijah then became aware of it.

Father, help me to consider my life worth nothing to me. Help me to simply finish the race and complete the task you have given me–the task of testifying to your grace.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

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Proverbs 8:1-4

Proverbs 8:1-4 [NLT]
1 Listen as Wisdom calls out!
Hear as understanding raises her voice!
2 On the hilltop along the road,
she takes her stand at the crossroads.
3 By the gates at the entrance to the town,
on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
4 “I call to you, to all of you!
I raise my voice to all people.

Dear God, I don’t think I seek out “wisdom” enough. I seek out answers. I seek out intelligence. I seek out reason. I seek out all kinds of things that I mistake for wisdom, but I don’t seek out wisdom itself.

So what is wisdom? Let me see if I can put words to it. I think wisdom is a combination of several things. It starts with hearing your still small voice telling me to think differently. It involves taking my own gain out of the picture. It looks beyond the surface of a situation and back into the underlying roots. It plays the tape all of the way to the end and considers all of the dominoes that a course of action will knock over. And then after all of the prayers have been prayed, I have died to myself and my own self-interests, and I have considered everything, I come back to that still small voice. And at the end of the day it might tell me to do the thing that is foolish in my eyes. But I do it anyway because that is where you are guiding my heart.

The problem in tapping into wisdom regularly is multi-fold. On a basic level, I cannot have it unless I am continuously plugged into you. I can’t just show up and ask for it when I think I need it. Then there is the rapid-fire nature at which things come at me throughout the day. A situation can require wisdom at the drop of a hat, and 98% of the time I solve the problem with my own intellect instead of stopping to consider you.

Father, I could go on and on, but at the end of the day I will say that I am sorry for living so foolishly so much of the time. I am sorry I miss the opportunities you put in front of me, and I make the wrong decisions when given the opportunity to serve you. Continue to soften my heart and grow me into being someone who will at least only miss you 97% of the time. Then maybe in a month I’ll be down to 96%. Who knows? By the time I get to the end of my life, I might be down into the 80’s. I love you, Father, and I am sorry for the things I have done and the things I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Proverbs

 

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Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44
Jesus also taught: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.” Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

Dear God, I think one of the biggest obstacles for people as we try to read the Bible is the same obstacle we have when we read a text from a friend–tone of voice can be everything. This story about the widow is a great example. I’ve read it countless times. Most Christians are familiar with it. If I say the words “The Widow’s Mite” to a group of Christians, they immediately know what I mean. But how much do we miss in this story?

Several years ago, I had a revelation from you that this widow likely never knew that Jesus saw her faithfulness that day, and she likely went home that day as poor as she was when the day started. She likely died however many years later as poor as she was when she dropped in those coins. There was no monetary reward for her faithfulness. There was provision from you. There was peace. And there was the immortality of me even knowing about her 2,000 years later. But here were no earthly riches for her.

So that’s a pretty good revelation. But then I read Fred Smith’s blog post this morning, and he pointed out another aspect of this story. Because of story headings, chapter breaks, and verses that translators of the Bible have given us so that we can more easily find things, we often make the mistake of separating stories in the middle. This one is an example.

Fred pointed out that Mark tells us two stories back to back. Jesus has just finished a rant about the Pharisees taking from widows (among others) and then he goes over to the offerings and seems to wait for a widow to come by to make his point. Fred mentioned that this widow was giving to the very group that Jesus said had held her down and even taken from her. This add even another layer to this story. How do I keep myself from being a Pharisee that 1.) takes advantage of widows and 2.) doesn’t squander the offerings the give to you?

I’m in a unique position as the director of a nonprofit that takes donations from hundreds of people each year, including some widows. This story is not just a reminder for me to be a giver of my personal resources, but also reminds me to make sure I am being fair to and loving each donor and then using their donations to reach out and help everyone we can.

Father, help me to hear your voice when I read my Bible. Help me to hear your tone of voice in the words. Reveal to me the things I’ve missed over the years. Help me to break away from the erroneous teaching that has been accidentally (or perhaps intentionally) passed down from each preceding generation. Love through me, and help me to decrease so that you will increase. Of course, the ultimate goal for my life is that you will use it however you need to so that you kingdom will come and your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Mark

 

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Dear God, I need more faith today. I need more peace. I have something big happening at work today. I feel pressure for it to go well, and I am just going over and over it again in my head. But as I’ve prayed about this, you’ve told me that I need to change my perspective a little.

I’m being vague. Let me be direct. We have our most important fundraising event of the year for our nonprofit tonight. My temptation is to make this a time of trying to get as much money from the attendees as I can. But you reminded me of something recently. Our organization has a vision statement that says that ministering to our donors and volunteers is as important as ministering to our clients. Well, tonight, we will have about 260 people in a room and they need to feel a sense of your presence and love as much as the 59-year-old man who was in my office yesterday needed a sense of your presence. The outcomes for the attendees are as important as the outcomes for our clients. Really, the financial outcome for the Center is secondary. This is a chance to bless people.

Father, keep my head in this space all day. Help me to live these verses of being joyful, thankful, and continuously prayerful.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2019 in 1 Thessalonians

 

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James 5:16
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Dear God, it can be very difficult to confess my sins to someone else. What if they think less of me? How can I face that shame?

I have a guy that I talk to nearly every week. He has struggles, and I have them too. I think he is better about telling me about his failures than I am mine. In fact, I know he is. Why is that? What am I afraid of? I know this friend will still love me. I know he won’t think less of me. I think it just comes down to shame.

I heard someone say at a retreat a few months ago that guilt seeks forgiveness, but shame hides. I can feel myself hiding part of my life even though I know that Satan’s power is in the secret. I know that it gives him a foothold in my life. I am a fool.

Father, help me to embrace repentance and vulnerability. Help me to be your child. Help me to love you and turn loose of myself just a little more.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2019 in James

 

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