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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… — Matthew 18

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[g]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:21-35

Dear God, I suppose it all starts with forgiveness. We are imperfect, and you put us in charge of raising other humans leaving them not only with their own imperfections but also scarred by ours as well. We interact with others every day. We sin against you, ourselves and others. It all becomes worse than a ball of tangled Christmas lights. There is no way to get the knots out. The only thing to do is take some scissors, cut it off and throw it away.

The interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t only tell us that we have to humble ourselves and be forgiven, but he says it starts with us humbling ourselves and extending forgiveness. So what keeps me from forgiving people?

  1. Severe hurt — Okay, that is true, but what’s behind that. For example, I’m thinking of the person who forgives someone for killing their loved one. Yes, there was severe hurt, but what is the thing that changes that enables that person to forgive? It’s not like the hurt goes away, although it might dull with time. But I suspect (I don’t know) part of the forgiveness involves letting go of an expectation. In this case, an expectation that you would be able to be with that person as long as humanly possible. For the parent betrayed by a child, letting go of the expectations, hopes and dreams the parent had for that child.
  2. Betrayal — I’m embarrassed to say how often I have held a grudge due to betrayal. There is one person I can think of who betrayed me (at least, I perceived she betrayed me) about 10 years ago, and I still cringe when I hear her name. Why? Because I thought I had a right to have her behave in a certain way and when she didn’t I was deeply offended.

I think a lot of forgiveness starts with me giving up my rights, and I suppose, when I think about it, that’s where it starts with you as well. You have a right to hold all of the stuff I’ve done again me. The ways I’ve hurt you, others, and myself are really unforgivable. And you have a right, as a perfect God, to not let me off of the hook, but not only did you let me off the hook, but you did it at such a great personal cost–your son’s life and suffering. Your love for me caused you great pain. How can I ever forget that?

Father, I will never begin to understand your forgiveness of me until I can forgive others. If you simply forgive me while I hold on to all of my grudges, then I am like the man in this parable who is harsh with others while expecting everything from you. My rights, my rights, my rights. Help me to turn loose of my rights, lay them at the foot of your cross, and them worship you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2020 in Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… — Matthew 13:47-52

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Do you understand all these things?” “Yes,” they said, “we do.” Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

Matthew 13:47-52

Dear God, I really thought I had done this passage already, but maybe I just read it and thought about it without journaling. So let me dive on in.

It feels like I am getting two definite themes among these “the kingdom of heaven is like…” verses. One category talks about how it is something that grows organically from a grassroots level. The second is like this, where it talks about the good and bad living together and then being separated at the end of times.

In the case of this type of passage, the world would be such a different place if you didn’t do it this way. What if you just killed all of the evil people instantly? What if you removed them from the equation at the beginning? Well, here are some problems with that:

  • Where would you draw the line? Does the adulterer get vanquished? The thief? The liar? On which side of the cut line would I fall?
  • Is there a grace period? If I do something evil, do I get a certain period to repent and turn to you, or is it instant judgment?
  • Is there an age I would have to reach before I am culled out of the crop?
  • What would it be like to live in a world that had no evil? Without anything against which we have to struggle, would we lose our need for you? The only way I can see for that to work is for us to be in your physical presence in heaven. That’s when evil will not be able to exist in your presence and we won’t be led away from your light.
  • If you removed the evil, would those that are yours miss their opportunity to introduce them to you?

Father, make me part of the solution and not the problem. Forgive me for not being a better fish. Forgive me for not being a better crop. I don’t do enough to be your salt and light. I don’t do enough to bring those other fish and weeds into your kingdom. I know I can’t do it all, but I can certainly do more than I’m currently doing. Help me to know what you would have me do next, and please bless that work, whatever it is.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2020 in Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… — Matthew 13:44-46

This is a brief series on every time Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”

Matthew 13:44-46

Dear God, do I treat my faith like this? Do I treat it as if it is the most important thing in the world? Do I treat you like you are the most important thing in the world to me?

When I stop and consider what I have “sold” to attain you and this relationship with you–what I have given up–I can’t think of one thing that would have made my life better. If I were more selfish then I would have a bad marriage. If I pursued wealth then I would be selfish and shallow. If I pursued my own self gratifications and focused on satisfying every one of my own desires then I would be chasing something I would never catch.

So there is a reason that attaining the kingdom of heaven is worth everything I own. There is a payoff. It’s not foolishness. It is the greatest bargain I can make.

Father, help me to consciously make those same trade offs today. Help me to work as unto you. Help me to pray to you for those I love. Help me to take your presence into the world. And help me to rest in the knowledge that I don’t have to accomplish the things the world values, but I can rest in the knowledge that you are source of all good things.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2020 in Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… — Matthew 13:33

This is a brief series looking at every time Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Matthew 13:33

Dear God, yes, it seems like Jesus saw your kingdom coming into the world through infestation from the bottom up and not through force from the top down. It’s almost like a computer virus, but in a good way.

So what do we need to be about doing to do our part to become viral? And what do I need to do personally?

  • Community: I think that one thing is that we absolutely cannot become viral without Christian community. As I sit here on a Sunday morning typing this to you, I have not been to an in-person church service since March (over four months). Yes, I miss that community. I am also in Rotary and although we have been meeting via Zoom each week, I have missed that as well. I have missed the community of it. It is hard for us to do service projects when we cannot be with each other.
  • Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer starts with worship of you, but the first thing it requests of you is that your kingdom will come and your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does your kingdom coming look like? Well, it looks like a mustard seed. It looks like yeast. It doesn’t take a lot to start, but it will grow in ways we could never imagine. You can use one action to set off an unstoppable chain of events. We just need to stop looking for greatness (as we define it), but instead worship you, pray that your kingdom will come and your will will be done, and then ask that you would give us what we need (our daily bread) to accomplish your will.
  • Repent, Forgive, and Stay Pure: It takes more than praying a prayer. It takes walking out a life in submission to you. That starts with asking your forgiveness, understanding that our own ability to forgive others is part of the equation. And then we are to ask you to help us stay pure, while maintaining the knowledge that I’ll be back later to ask you for forgiveness again.

I don’t see anything in here about convincing other people I am right about politics, anti-racism, or even how to treat/not treat COVID-19. I just need to faithfully be a piece of yeast each day, being in Christian community, worshipping you, praying that you will bring your kingdom and will into the earth, seeking you to meet my needs, repenting, forgiving, and staying pure as best I can.

Father, help me to figure out this community thing during COVID-19 social distancing. Help me to be very yeasty in my life. Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give me this day the things you need me to have. And please forgive me of my sins and reveal to me anyone to whom I need to extend forgiveness and release. And please keep me from sinning against you and against those around me. For this kingdom, both in heaven and on earth, are yours and not mine–forever and ever.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2020 in Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… — Matthew 13:31-32

This is a brief series looking at every time Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32

Dear God, so not only is the kingdom of heaven something that starts at the grassroots, but it is also something that is giving and provides something for all. In this case, not only does a large tree come from a small seed, but when the “largest of garden plants” grows into a tree it offers itself for birds to use for nesting.

What kind of a God are you? Why do you love us so much? Why do you care? Why are you so interested in my daily life? Why do you care about our problems, our society, and our future? It’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing that the God of everything cares so much about everything.

Again, this is not an example of the kingdom of heaven spreading from the top down. Jesus did not say that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who legislates morality. I think there is one where he says it is like a king inviting people to a banquet, but we will get to that later. But in this case, we are simply to be used as a mustard seed. As individuals, we are the smallest of seeds, but if we allow ourselves to grow in you then we can become the biggest of the garden plants and offer ourselves for others. There’s really not much in this analogy for us. We are growing to be of service and productive.

Father, I’m winding down a week of vacation. Next week, it will be time for me to ramp up again. I’ll need to reengage in loving others outside of my home. Help me to remember to evaluate all of my activities through this humble lens. Help me to have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2020 in Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… — Matthew 13:24-30

This is a brief series looking at every time Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” 

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Dear God, I think the first thing to notice about this is that the kingdom of heaven is here and now. This is part of the process. Yes, there is heaven, but we are its kingdom.

I wonder if this passage isn’t the answer to the age-old question, “Why does God allow evil in the world?” Well, first, it wasn’t place here by you, and, second, there’s no way to remove it without removing all of us (see Noah).

So what do I do with this? I think the first thing is to accept the idea that this is our world and I have a place in it. Evil is around me. Unfortunately, evil is in me. I am tainted by this world too. The evil takes water and nourishment that was meant for me. It exists at my expense. And I can feel its influence: greed, lust, hate, racism, insecurity, etc. It’s all there.

But my job is to grow. To be here, resist being choked out by the evil, lean into you for my nourishment and grow. In Texas we have weeds commonly referred to as sticker burs. They are the worst and you can’t kill them with chemicals. The chemicals only kill the grass around them and then they grow back stronger because they no longer have to compete with the grass. And by the time you realize what they are it’s too late. They have seeded and started to spread. No, apparently the only way to get rid of them is to choke them out with good grass. Give St. Augustine so much water that it will win its battle with the sticker burs.

Father, help me to be so attached to you as my nourishment that I will overcome the evil around me. Help me to reject the things that distract me and simply feed on you. I don’t want to be removed from the world. You can’t use me then. But I do want to remove any of my nourishment that comes from the world…Wow! Am I really ready to say that? Do I mean those words? Well, we’ll see I suppose. But help me to be so in touch with you that all of the evil that tries to consume my own life will be choked out. And please help your church in the same way. Help us all to thrive among the weeds and completely attach our roots to you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2020 in Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew

 

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Matthew 5:13-16

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Dear God, my wife said something interesting a couple of days ago that was really profound. In the gospels, whenever Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…,” it is always something very humble. It is never something that seeks power. It is always portrayed as something that is growing from grass roots. Literally roots since most of the stories are about seeds growing. It makes one wonder why the church today seems more focused on seeking political power and influence than it is on planting seeds and gathering people to you.

It feels like the power struggle began in the 80s with evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson encouraging Christians to make a difference at the ballot box by voting for conservative values. And while there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to vote their conscience, over time this tended to morph into an “us vs. them” mentality among Christians. We started to lose our saltiness and we started to see those who didn’t vote with us as our enemy instead of part of the harvest to be gathered.

So let’s bring this down to me. What am I supposed to do to be part of planting seeds? What kind of light am I supposed to be. I suppose the first step is to practice what I preach and live the life you’ve called me to live. Love you. Love others. Deny myself and take up my cross. Let go of the cares of the world.

Now, assuming I’ve done those things, what’s next? I think the next step is just to speak peace to people. Right now, the divisive debate on Facebook/Twitter is about which medications to use to treat COVID-19. And I’ve kind of fallen into the trap of throwing out my two cents, although I’ve kept it more general. But when I see these posts–especially the ones supporting some controversial medications–the emotions I’m attaching to the motivations behind them are fear and frustration. They are afraid and frustrated that there is a conspiracy against us as Americans. There is a fear that the decisions are politically motivated and will ultimately result in a loss of political power in the election in November. There is a fear that they or a loved one will get sick and the doctor will not be allowed to prescribe the best medication for treatment.

On the other side are people who are tired of conspiracy theories (just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me). They are afraid of fringe beliefs that might influence national policy. They are afraid of losing influential power to people whom they don’t believe are thinking correctly/clearly.

Father, help me to be a light to all of these people that happen to be in my sphere of influence. Help me to not worry about changing their mind, but to draw them to peace in your presence. Help us all to let go and embrace you. Help it to start with me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2020 in Matthew

 

John 17:20-21

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

John 17:20-21

Dear God, maybe this is just the bargaining stage of mourning.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance

We have denied the reality of COVID-19. We have been angry about having to quarantine and wear masks. I’m sure some have been depressed. And now there is a group out there that is once again pushing a seemingly false solution to the problem so that we can take a shortcut and get out of this pandemic more quickly. And I mention all of this this morning not to take shots at those that believe this. They are good people. The part that is on my heart is that it is one more thing that Satan (and the earthly powers and principalities) is using to tear us apart. To tear apart our unity. Our country is called the United States of America. Well, there is not much about us right now that is united. This turmoil is awful and it is making me sick to my stomach. One answer would be to just ignore it and focus on me, but I don’t think that’s what you’ve called me to do. I think you’ve called me to go back to Jesus’s simple prayer for us before he died. He prayed that we would be one, as you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one.

Father, first, it starts with me. Help me to love beyond my exasperation. Help me to let things go and just rest in you. Help me let go of my need to be right or what I perceive as reasonable. Help me to just love. Yes, let it start with me. And then I pray for your church. The pastors and the lay leaders: let them be a source of your unity. Make them one. Then let that filter down to your people. Unite us together. I am afraid of what kind of persecution it will take to answer this prayer, Father. I can’t imagine another way for us to unite except through persecution. But whatever you have for me, I submit to it and I accept.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2020 in John

 

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Hebrews 10:19-11:2

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 10:19-11:2

Dear God, it’s interesting to go back and take these last two verses about faith and put them into the context of the words that came before. This is all about suffering for you and having faith that the “possessions” I have in you are worth losing my earthly possessions.

You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

See, the problem is, however, that I really don’t know what it is to suffer at the hands of others. Outside of some occasional bullying in my life, I’ve never been persecuted. I’ve had loss. I’ve had trials, but I haven’t suffered the kinds of persecution the author is referring to here. That kind of “faith” is something with which I cannot empathize.

I think that lack of empathy is what those who are angry about things like those who protest by kneeling during the national anthem are experiencing. I understand those who are angry about it thinking that those who are doing it are being ungrateful, but it’s likely they have never experienced the persecution that minorities experience. They haven’t experienced the same America the minority has experienced.

So Father, help me to have the faith I need to accomplish what you need me to accomplish. Help me to have empathy for others and to stand beside them as they need faith to go through the trials before them. And help me to be who you need me to be to be a bridge builder between so many who are currently divided.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2020 in Hebrews

 

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Psalm 119:57-64

You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words.

I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.

I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.

Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law.

At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.

I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.

The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees.

Psalm 119:57-64

Dear God, well, I made a mistake this morning. I spent time reading social media and news before I spent time reading scripture and centering my mind on you. You are my hope. It doesn’t matter what my “friends” think. It doesn’t matter what the liberal or conservative press think. In the long run, I will be left with the life you have given me to live. I will be left with the stewardship of the people you have put in my sphere. The resources you have put in my sphere. The work you have put in my sphere. I cannot solve our country’s response to COVID-19 or racial injustice, but I can look around and ask you what you would have me do. Yes, I need to read news and know what is going on, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start with you. I need to be in tune with you. So I’m sorry for going out there on my own this morning. I’m sorry for looking at the world and my friends with my eyes and not yours. I’m really sorry. I paid for it with a sickness in my soul and spirit. But here I am now.

You are my portion. I promise to obey your words. I will seek your face with all of my heart. Please be gracious to me and forgive me. I know enough of you that I am compelled to turn from my own foolishness and follow you. The world’s wisdom will entangle me in my sin, but your laws will free me. I will worship you. I worship you now. I will be good counsel to those who love you and I will also be good counsel to those who to not regard you. I will live my lie to comfort others and point them to you. As I sit in this town square and look around at the birds, trees, grass, and sky, I am in awe of your beautiful world. It is yours. I give you the glory for all of it, and each person I see right now as well.

In Jesus’s amen I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2020 in Psalms