RSS

Monthly Archives: October 2019

“Unreasonable People” by Fred Smith

This prayer was inspired by Fred Smith’s blog post, “Unreasonable People.”

Dear God, Tuesday night I spoke to a group of donors about our nonprofit, and I mentioned the vision you gave our founding director to get involved in her local community and the health of those who couldn’t afford traditional healthcare. You showed her what to do each step of the way, and you answered the faith that she and others that came around her put in you. Now, 27 years later, it is a full-service medical, dental, and counseling clinic with over a $1 million budget that helps thousands of people. It started with one seed and no apparent resources.

Then, yesterday, I introduced some local people to the first nonprofit where I worked back in Waco. Again, your inspiration led four women to change the life trajectories of those living in deep, urban, multigenerational poverty by starting a therapeutic nursery that helps children starting at birth. Once again, they started with nothing but a vision and an inkling of what their next step was.

Then, this morning, I read Fred’s piece about to different pairs of people who had a vision to impact a problem. One was to clean up trash in the ocean (especially plastic) and the other was to do something about the medical debt that crushes people. They didn’t start with money, but just a vision and an idea of what to do next. I don’t know what role faith played in either of their stories, but I’ve noticed some themes.

  • No one did it alone. Even the woman who started our clinic had key people share her vision and partner with her to make it happen. The four women in South Waco had each other. Each of Fred’s stories has pairs of people, not a Lone Ranger (who had Tanto).
  • They started with no resources or apparent way to pay for it. The just did what was next.
  • They were faithful over a long period of time. These weren’t short-term solutions where people just swooped in, fixed it, and left. They committed for the long term.
  • Through their work, you didn’t eliminate the lack of access to healthcare on a grand scale, multigenerational poverty, trash in the ocean, or medical debt. It’s still out there. But you did move the needle through these people.

Part of the talks I give sometimes are about Nehemiah moments. You inspired Nehemiah to do something about Jerusalem in a way that you didn’t inspire anyone else. Then he took that inspiration, got people to come around him, including the king, and support his work. The money came. The resources came. But Nehemiah didn’t start with money and say, “What should I fix?” He started with a vision and then inspired others to join him.

Father, obviously, there is a role for those who have resources to try to figure out how to solve problems. But maybe one of the problems with that paradigm is that it is too easy to go it alone–without partners. It is too easy to try to take control of the process instead of depending on others to help you make it better. In our weakness, you are strong. You make us better through each other. You make us better through the iron of others sharpening us and our iron sharpening them in return. So please help me to have the humility I need to accept the help of others and embrace the process of them making our organization (and, in the process, me) better. Thank you that you don’t just fix things, but that you enter the world through your people. As Chuck Colson said, “Our hope isn’t in who governs us, or what laws we pass, or what great things we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people. That’s where our hope is in this country. That’s where our hope is in life.”

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Dear God, I wonder how much time James (brother of Jesus) and Paul spent together. It seems they might have had interesting conversations around the fire on this topic. Where does your grace end and our responsibility to perform works begin? Is there an unholiness line I can cross with you? Are there still places of service to others that I am not willing to go? Is that a problem for you?

I was at an event last night, and I talked with a man who has spent a lot of time trying to help people at the Texas/Mexico border. I literally found myself wanting to get out of the conversation because it was so hard to hear. He told me about people from Venezuela who wanted to go to university but couldn’t because if you go to university in Venezuela you are committing to go into the military, and they didn’t want to fight to support the existing regime. He told me about a woman in this situation who had smuggled herself out of Venezuela and now she is on the Mexico side of the border awaiting her asylum hearing. If it fails, she will be shipped back to Venezuela. And hers isn’t that bad of a story. No rape. No threats of physical harm. I would imagine her asylum request will be denied. I know there are worse stories out there. They are hard for me to hear and I would rather just not think about it.

Will you hold that against me? I think James would say I’m failing you. What would Paul say? Will you still save me, but be disappointed in me? Does your grace even cover up that disappointment? What would I have to say if I were part of that fireside chat between Paul and James? What do I think?

Father, I suppose that my mantra in serving you is that I should be adequately grateful for the grace you give that Paul describes in this passage. Forget how you respond to my actions. Forget if you reward or punish me based on my works or my level of gratitude. My conscience tells me that I need to be grateful to you, worship you, and then do whatever I feel like you are asking me to do. In fact, I’m glad that I’m thinking about last night’s conversation this morning because it has encouraged me to meet with this man and learn more. I want to hear if there is some way, maybe even a small way, in which I might be able to help. Almost 17 years ago I told you that I want to be willing to touch other people’s pain. I confess to you that I have still put limitations on that willingness. Lead me where you want me to go.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 30, 2019 in Ephesians

 

Romans 11:30-32, 12:1

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all…Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 11:30-32,12:1

Dear God, putting chapters and verses to scripture was obviously a very helpful thing, but it can sometimes artificially separates things that the author intended to be together. This mornings “verse of the day” from Bible Gateway was Romans 12:1, but it starts with the word “therefore.” Well, that told me if I am going to understand everything Paul means in that verse then I better go back into chapter 11 to see what point he’s making.

In this case, Paul was talking about our need for reconciliation with you. The need we have for you to apply mercy to our disobedience. And the need our friends and neighbors have for you to do the same. Because we need this mercy, our part is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices as our true and proper worship.

But why? Why should I try to tap into this mercy? Why do I need you? For me, I’ve learned that the more I pursue myself the more unsettled I am. If I indulge my whims, lethargy, self gratification, selfishness, and agenda for my own glorification then my spirit is destroyed. I pray about this all of the time. I guess it’s the foundation of my belief in you, but when Paul talked about the fruit of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 he described what the fruit of my own flesh looks like:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21

That’s who I am on my own. Why? Because Satan takes me there to destroy me. But when I offer my body as a living sacrifice to you in worship and offer the Holy Spirit good soil in my soul with which he can work I end up with different fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

Father, help me to remember throughout my day to offer myself as a living sacrifice to you. Help me to really know what that looks like. Speak to me in different moments in your still small voice and guide me through everything I do. Do it for your glory and my peace.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 29, 2019 in Galatians, Romans

 

1 Peter 1:24-25

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.
1 Peter 1:24-25

Dear God, it’s all very temporary, isn’t it? My glory. My problems. My suffering. My life. It seems so big in the moment. It seems so challenging and overwhelming. But then, when we look back years later it seems so small. That’s one of the reasons I am such a believer in study abroad programs and being a foreign exchange student in high school. When you get out and see a different part of the world, it makes your high school world seem so small.

Even as an adult, I’ve certainly walked through valleys that have overwhelmed me. But now I can look back on them with som perspective. And those are just periods of my life. One day, when I am in glory with you, I will see just how much I should have considered my life worth nothing to me (Acts 20:24). It will all seems so small. 100 years from now, my name and the things I actually did, while they might reverberate through history like dominoes knocking over other dominoes, will only exist on someone’s family tree. The problems I’m facing today will be gone.

Father, teach me to see the world the way you see it while simultaneously not missing the importance of these moments and my need for your direction and provision in them. These moments do, indeed, impact history more than we know. It’s just that has less to do with my identity than I will probably ever realize. So help me to decrease while you increase and guide me on this path.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 28, 2019 in 1 Peter

 

The Fiery Furnace – Daniel 3:14-23

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

Daniel 3:13-23
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ” Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

Dear God, before I get into the artwork that accompanies this story, I want to spend a little time with a revelation that I had. Christians/Jews in the Bible who were living in exile or under the rule of a non-Jewish/Christian king didn’t seem to complain about persecution. Whether it was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in this story or Paul, Peter, or any of the other martyrs in the New Testament, they seem to take it in stride. Now, I’m sure they were scared and frustrated, but they seemingly dealt with that internally and with you. Externally, however, they just worshipped you through it.

Contrast that with how a lot of Christians respond to what they call “persecution of Christians” in our country today. First, I hardly think it can be called persecution in light of what real persecution looks like. But I hear a lot of whining about Christians being persecuted. Outside of the enforcement of the separation between church and state rules that have been set up, I’m not even totally sure what they’ve been referring to. And maybe I have only a limited picture because I live in the South where there are still large parts of the community that honor faith, but even so, whining is not how to be a witness for you. In this case, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego influenced the king by their faith in action, not by complaining to him that he was being unfair. Paul and Peter were the same way. Letting our faith shine in the midst of trials is what changes hearts. Complaining only makes others tune us out.

Okay, with that being said, let me take a look at this image created by Bustard and see what I see before I read his description.

  • You are overlooking Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with your arms out wide and your hands open. Everything about you is outstretched and present.
  • Your eyes are focused on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  • The flames are very present. They have not been removed. The three of them had to go into the fire.
  • The three men are certainly given distinct looks and hair styles.
  • The one on the right with the curly hair seems to have a rye smile.
  • All three of the men are looking at us while you are focused on them.
  • The guard is dead and the fire had already skeletonized him.
  • The guard is holding a bellows, indicating that he was part of making the fire as hot as possible and he paid a priced for it.
    • He sacrificed his life out of obedience to a king/god that couldn’t save him from the fire that you saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from.
  • I just noticed a triangle behind your head. Is that a reference to the Trinity? If so, that’s a nice touch.

With that said, here is what Bustard said about his piece “Even If.”

The title for this piece comes from a different translation of the “But if not” protest against Nebuchadnezzar made by these three young men in this passage. And at the end of the passage above it looks like God will not save them. The poor Persian soldier on furnace duty that day lies on the ground, burned hallway to the bones by the incredible heat, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are doomed to be burned to death. But then the king was astonished to see four men unbound, walking  unhurt in the fire. God had chosen to save them. He protected them from the king, from the heat, and from death. The appearance of the fourth man in the fire represents a theophany–God revealing himself in human form before the incarnation. Other such appearances include Genesis 32:24-30 and Joshua 5:13-15.

Father, I will follow you “even if” you choose not to save me from earthly situations. I will follow you “even if” I am disappointed with how things that I for which I’m praying turn out. I will follow you “even if” I am angry with you. I will follow you “even if” the road is hard. Let “even if” be my mantra today. I have nothing to prove to anyone else. I am following you “even if” they can’t understand why. But with that said, let my life be an example to others of why, and draw others to yourself through what they see of you in me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ephesians 5:17-20

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:17-20

Dear God, I wouldn’t have thought of linking the concept of doing your will (verse 17) with being in joyful, worshipful community with others (verses 19 and 20), but it’s all part of the same paragraph.

One of the things I miss about going to a more contemporary church is that feeling (for me) like I’m joining my heart with others in worship of you. My wife is Catholic so I go to church with her. And there are people who get a lot out of that style because it is what fits their personality. When they read the liturgy with everyone there as well as with Catholics around the world, it creates a type of community for them. Because I grew up in a different type of church, I think my perspective on it is different. I miss singing songs that stir me alongside others. I miss being in small groups with challenging theological discussions. I miss vulnerably sharing with others.

Yes, I can see where good community is an important part of my ability to hear the Spirit and live in your wisdom and guidance. Father, help me to create that kind of community around me. Help me to do it at work. Help me to do it with friends. And help me to figure it out at church. I want it so that I can create good soil in my heart for your Holy Spirit to grow fruit that will glorify you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 25, 2019 in Ephesians

 

Galatians 6:2-3

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Galatians 6:2-3

Dear God, the actual verse of the day was the first half about sharing burdens. And that was nice. It’s a nice thought that I want to sit with. But when I read on, I just loved the end of verse 3: “You are not that important.”

After I read that, I wanted to see how the King James Version and a couple of others handled that translation. Here’s what I found:

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
Galatians 6:3 KJV

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Galatians 6:3 NASB

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.
Galatians 6:3 NIV

It’s interesting that the other three use the word “deceive” and that the NLT add the declarative, “You are not that important,” at the end. I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve chased a pointless rabbit here, but it’s also a reminder that the translation I read can certainly make subtle differences in how I myself interpret your Word.

That being said, it’s time to think about helping others. I’ll confess to you that I’m pretty helpful, but I’ve definitely drawn lines. I was talking to a friend yesterday morning about something she is willing to do to serve others through Rotary that I’m not willing to do. It would be too much of an inconvenience for me. Not that you call me to do everything. I can’t. That’s why you made us part of the body. We all have our own gifts and our own calls. It’s just that I probably need to be sure that I’m willing to hear and respond to your still small voice instead of drawing lines in the sand that predetermine what I’m willing to do and not willing to do.

In that spirit, I also need to not judge others when they aren’t called to do what I do. I need to give the grace to follow the path that you have for them and then to figure out their own resistance to you without putting my own values or even “call” onto them.

Father, when it comes down to it, I just need to live you with all my heart, soul, and strength and then love my neighbor as myself. Those are, after all, the greatest commandments. Show me how to do that today.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 23, 2019 in Galatians