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Tag Archives: The Gathering

“Bad Advice” by Fred Smith

Dear God, sometimes we all give and get bad advice. I’ve received bad advice before. I’ve certainly given my share as well. I’m saying this because I read a really good blog post by Fred Smith a couple of days ago called “Bad Advice.” In it, Smith uses the story to Moses’s last words of instruction to Joshua as an example of someone who let his own perceptions and experience paint an incorrect picture. His predictions for Joshua and what Joshua could expect from the Israelites didn’t end up panning out. His final instructions didn’t end up doing Joshua much good–at least not that we can tell.

There are several examples of people in the Bible making the wrong decision. Sometimes we are told it’s the wrong decision and sometimes we aren’t. Paul and Barnabas splitting up over John Mark. Was one of them right and one wrong? How Abraham handled Sarah and Hagar (and Ishmael). Peter and going to the gentiles. My favorite that I’ve mentioned to you before is what I perceive as the mistake of appointing Mathias as the apostle to replace Judas instead of waiting for you to groom Paul. Just people working with limited information and going in the wrong direction.

The good news is that, most of the time, these mistakes don’t get in the way of your plan. You used Abraham’s mistreatment of Hagar to free her from slavery. You accomplished greater spreading of your message by splitting up Paul and Barnabas, and maybe even helped to convict John Mark and encouraged him to grow up in the process. And Joshua still led the Israelites into the Promised Land, experiencing mostly victories and your blessing.

I came up with the phrase a long time ago that you keep me on a need-to-know basis and I very rarely need to know. There are certainly things happening in my life right now that I don’t like and I would change in a heartbeat if I could, but I don’t know what you are doing through this path that I cannot see. And perhaps I will never see it on this side of heaven. I put a local pastor in an awkward position this week by requesting some pastoral counseling about some of my current trials. I chose him carefully as someone whom I deeply trust and respect, and also someone who doesn’t come in with any preconceived biases towards the players in the story. To his credit, he did not try to pontificate and give me an great wisdom. He took notes. He pointed out one connection he wanted to make sure I made, and then we agreed to meet again. He said he would commit the situation to prayer. It was a good lesson for me on listening and waiting. People come to me for advice and I am often too quick to feel like I need to be smart and wise. I need to espouse my “wisdom” so that they will be grateful they sought me out. Instead, I need to be much more willing to just listen, hear them, and wait, if that is what you are calling me to do.

Father, I have friends who are having marital problems. I see suffering through my work on a daily basis. And I certainly have my own personal life situations that vex me and bring me tremendous sorrow. Please help me. Help me to be at peace. Help me to trust you. Help me to not get out ahead of you. Help me to not short-circuit your plan. Make your plans beyond my own corruption. I give you praise. I give you glory. I thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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“Do the Next Thing” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I read this blog post from Fred Smith yesterday, and I thought it was great. I even shared it with a couple of friends. Here are some of the highlights for me:

  • “Now and then I host what Quakers call a Clearness Committee for an individual working their way through an issue about direction or a decision. This committee is a group of friends who know a person well and the group’s only role is to ask questions. They cannot make statements or prescribe what a person should do. They cannot offer advice based on what they think they would do.”
  • “So many of the men and women we consider spiritual giants have suffered from [losing confidence]. Abraham loses confidence in God’s promise of a son. Moses loses confidence immediately and tries to get out of what God has called him to do. Gideon discounts his abilities to fight the Midianites. Elijah hides in a cave. The Samaritan woman slights her worth. Peter denies Christ and despairs. David is discouraged almost as much as he is sure. Solomon despairs of everything, and Job is a whole book about dealing with confidence in God and inexplicable loss.”
  • From Oswald Chambers: “In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once the realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, ‘Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore.’ If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenver we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, “Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing…'”
  • “So far, I have found nothing better for those times when I feel I have done something irreversible or lost my confidence. “Get up, and do the next thing.”

First, I love the idea of a “Clearness Committee.” No answers offered. Just questions. As I pondered this yesterday, I wondered how pointed those questions can me. I suppose the spirit of it is that they not be too pointed. Like saying, “Don’t you think you should [fill in the blank]?” That would not be in the spirit. But to ask a friend more general questions that will help her or him see through the “fog of war” could be very powerful. I’m going to try to remember this for future use.

Second, I never thought of some of those biblical characters’ live experiences as being crises of confidence. It makes sense. I’ve just never put that label on it. The Elijah example is the one that’s always struck me as I read it. After such amazing success (calling down fire on the altar and killing Baal’s prophets), he went to such depths of fear. How did this happen? Maybe the question isn’t how can I keep this from happening to me. The better question might be, “When this happens, how do I find my way out?”

Third, the idea of accepting the loss of a missed opportunity. Oh, how many missed opportunities are in my past? How many did I miss today alone (and it’s not even noon). Opportunities to share your presence with a friend. Opportunities to do the right thing with my wife or children. Even big things like job opportunities. Or opportunities to bless someone instead of cursing them. Satan can try to take all of these things and lock me up with them. Destroy me with them. Shame me with them. That’s what he did with Peter after Peter’s denial of Jesus. But Jesus later came along and told Peter to do what’s next (“Feed my sheep”).

Finally, do what’s next. That’s living in the moment. One of the most influential things in my life was when I read C.S. Lewis’s words in the 15th letter of The Screwtape Letters when the one demon tells the other demon to do what it takes to distract his human from the present time, because the present is the one point in time that interfaces with you. The past is full of distraction. The future is full of distraction. But the present is what’s next.

Father, even now, as I sit here at 11:17 on a Sunday morning, show me what’s next. Not what do I need to do this afternoon. What do I need to do at 11:18. That’s what I need from you in this moment and every moment. What’s next? Thank you for the forgiveness you give me to accept the things I cannot change (the past), the courage to change the things I can (the present), and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2021 in Miscellaneous

 

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1 King’s 12:26

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David.
1 Kings 12:26

Dear God, I should have gone just half of a chapter further when I did my study of Solomon a few months ago. I read Fred Smith’s weekly blog this morning and it was about Jeroboam’s reign as king and how it not only went south, but influenced Israelite Kong’s for generations. It lead me to go back and look at his life to see what I can learn. When I went back to 1 Kings, I found this verse. There’s a concept that seems like the original sin that set up all of the others. He decided that hanging onto the tribe for himself was the most important priority.

Contrast that with David. David, a flawed and sinful man whom power corrupted with the indulgences of lust and self gratification still had one thing right when it came to his life. He knew that everything was from you and for your will to be done it would have to remain your right to give and take the throne any time you wanted. He wouldn’t take it from Saul (1 Samuel 24:6-7) and he wouldn’t keep it from Absolom (2 Samuel 15:25-26). He allowed himself to indulge his vices (which caused him countless problems), but he had his overall philosophy and theology correct. He didn’t try to force his will upon you.

Father, I know I have a will that wants to dictate what I allow you to do. I have a will about being safe within my job and my income. I have a will when it comes to what I want my marriage to look like. I have a will about what I how I want my children’s lives to go. But that’s not the prayer Jesus taught us. Let your kingdom come and your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. That is my prayer today. Make me sensitive to your will, and help me to be willing to put it all on the table for your will and your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2019 in 1 Kings

 

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“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

 
 

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“Deep Dive” by Fred Smith

Please take a moment to read this blog post by Fred Smith before reading my prayer below.

Dear God, reading this blog yesterday morning gave me a lot to think about. It came out on a Thursday morning, and on Wednesdays I meet with a sixth-grade boy in a mentoring program at the local middle school. The boy has some particularly difficult circumstances and I’ll confess that I’ve wondered if I’m doing him any good at all. We get about half an hour a week together and I’ve been talking with him a little while he eats and then playing ping pong with him. I have no idea how he sees our time together, and I’ve been trying to think through if I need to do anything different. Then I read this blog post and it helped me a little. I even sent the link to the leadership of the mentoring program so they could see it too.

So what did I get out of it? I really liked how Fred Smith focused on the depth of character that anchors you in an upright position. It’s the first step to address before you start working about where you are going or how you’re going to get there. Do you have that character to anchor you in an upright position first?

It reminds me of the CPR class I took. When someone is in trauma they told you to remember A-B-C: Airway, Breathing, and Cardiovascular. Is the airway clear? Are they able to breathe? Is their heart pumping? In that order. The leg that is broken and pointed in the wrong direction is unimportant in that moment. First, A-B-C. I think that concept can be applied to this. As his mentor, my first concern should be how I can influence his keel. I don’t need to focus on how he’s doing in his classes or what he wants to be when he grows up. I mean, sure, those are things for us to discuss, but if I don’t spend some time purposefully talking about character things with him then I will be missing the point.

Father, help me to be what you need me to be for him. Now that you’ve given me this insight, help me to seek out people who can teach me how to do it. Show me exactly what you need for me to do for this boy. Do it all for your glory, sweet Jesus, so that he might be a reflection of you and experience your love, joy, and peace.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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The Value in Suffering

The son of one of the nouveau riche, Francis of Assisi, was raised as a spoiled and privileged young man. Imprisoned for a year for being on the losing side of a war with a rival city, his friends noticed a change. He found a little abandoned church and spent whole days there praying. He renounced his inheritance and all claims on his family. 

From “The Inconvenient Elder” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s blog this morning and, while this wasn’t the point of his peace at all, something struck me. It was a follow-up thought to a conversation I had with a friend yesterday. Suffering is an important tool that you use to teach us and help us grow.

In Francis’s case, I knew that he had renounced his family’s wealth out of devotion to you, but I didn’t know that his transformation included a year in prison. Apparently, he got arrested being part of a military expedition (prisoner of war?) and this changed his life. In his older life, I’m sure he regretted his participation in the military expedition, but I also wonder if he was ultimately grateful for the fruit of that suffering. It changed his life.

Isn’t it funny? We all know that the only way we grow is through struggle and yet we do everything we can to avoid it personally, and our temptation is to interfere with our children’s lives so that they will avoid it too. I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe not as much in my personal life, but certainly at work. I like to build a very comfortable, low-stress environment, sometimes at the expense of expanding our services. I talk a good game, but does my reality reflect what I say I believe?

Father, make me sensitive to any action you’re calling me to. Maybe it will mean struggle for me. Maybe you’re calling our nonprofit to grow and serve more, but my fear keeps it small. Maybe I let my ego and desire to get the approval of others keep me from pushing the envelope. I’m sorry. Give me your vision and the courage to follow it. And please bless my path, not for my comfort, but so that others will be served from you working in my life.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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“Labor of Love” by Fred Smith

“Labor of Love” by Fred Smith

Dear God, every once in a while Fred Smith will write a blog that sparks something in me that I feel like I need to pray through. His post today is one of those times.

I was part of a committee a couple of years ago that always seemed like a waste of time. My criticism of it was that the woman leading it seemed to go out of her way to make it not be an imposition on the members, but in doing so she made it feel more like a waste of time. It felt like I was just killing an hour at the meeting.

The same can be true of a lot of things, and I can be guilty of it as well. One of the problems with our board meetings for the nonprofit where I work is that the board members can feel like they have too little to do. They come and hear book reports about what the staff is doing, either bless it or give some constructive criticism on how it can be better, and then they move on. We’ve worked over the last couple of years to make the meetings more engaging so that everyone feels the joy of their involvement here.

On the other side of the equation, I got a thank you card from a volunteer yesterday. I had sent her a note thanking her for coming to help on a special project and she replied:

Thank you for your kind letter. It is I who should thank you though. Putting tabs on the newsletter was good “therapy” for me–doing something useful, getting me away from Mom’s move to Fredericksburg, and delightful conversation with you and Carol…I am happy to help when I can.

And I know all of this. I know that I get more joy in giving and working than I get from taking and receiving. In fact, I think that it is actually awkward for most of us to receive from others and ask them to do things. That’s probably why we try to make it as easy and convenient as possible.

Father, help me to remember this lesson today. Help me to remember to, first, demand the best of myself. Then help me to lovingly expect the best of the staff and volunteers here at our nonprofit. Help me to continue to lovingly hold my children to a high standard. Keep me from getting in the way of how you are developing them as adults. And help me to spread your joy to all around me so that others might be drawn to you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2019 in Miscellaneous

 

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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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Making a Pearl

“Over and Over Again” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I was reading Fred Smith’s blog today, which I normally do on Thursday mornings, and it got me to thinking (as it normally does). I didn’t necessarily go with it where Fred did, but his description of the new information we have about how oysters make pearls got me to thinking about age and experience.

I told someone yesterday at work that my 49th birthday is coming up, and that when the board of directors hired me in 2005 I was 35 years old. Everyone called me a child back then and I took umbrage to that because I felt very mature. I was a father with two children. I had business and nonprofit experience. I had experienced some loss. No, I was mature.

Of course, as I look back on the last 13 years, I realize that there was so much I still had to learn. But the great thing that that experience brings me is also the acceptance that there is so much I still have to learn. Over 13 years later, I have experienced heartache with children, the aging of parents and in-laws (with the loss of an in-law), failures at work, a dark time in my relationship with you when the costs on my part didn’t seem to pay enough dividends, struggles in my marriage,..

To Fred’s point, different foreign bodies/experiences penetrated my world and it has been my job to walk with you and allow those intrusions to turn into something good for not only me, but for the world around me. But now I am old enough to know that I have not arrived. I have a lifetime ahead of me still. And when I am in my 70s, I will still not have arrived. I will still be sifting and taking the intrusions that come and trying to surround them with your Spirit. Hopefully, by the end, the life that others will see will be a pearl that, while people might not remember me, will be remembered through time by the lives that I touched.

Father, two generations of my lineage from now might never know my name or anything about me, but that’s not why I’m living. I am here much like the lineages we read in the Bible, or the centuries of Israelites that were born, lived, and died in slavery in Egypt. My life is about how you use it for your purposes and the opportunity to worship you now and forever. Please walk with me to make it a pearl with which you are pleased.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in Musings and Stories

 

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What makes something precious?

“It was a different kind of impoverishment for men who had found fellowship in commiseration. Their ‘living thing’ with all its quirks, foibles and peculiarities had become a predictable commodity.”
Fred Smith — “A Living Thing

 

Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s weekly blog this week, and, as is not unusual, I found something in it that I want to chew on with you for a while. It revolves around this quote I pulled from it and pasted above.

It’s interesting to try and ascribe a rationale for what makes something precious to me. Why do I like what I like, love what I love, and do what I do?

I’ve often wondered what it is about the knowledge that there are two individuals out there who are my children, and that knowledge makes them mean something different to me than anyone else in the world. When they were little and performing on stage, my eye almost never left them. Not because they were that different than the other children (although, of course I thought they were the most talented) but because they were mine. I loved them and I wanted them to see what they had to show the world. I think when it comes down to it, there is something in my brain that triggers and says this person is special to me. They are my child. They are my responsibility. I’m sure you buried that down somewhere deep in me–in all of us. And like the Jaguar owners in Fred’s piece, we get to sit around the Sunday school classes, or workplaces, or dinners with friends and commiserate on how hard parenting is.

There are other things that are precious to me. My wife tops the list. In fact, she is in a special place that even my children don’t quite sit in. I chose her (as she chose me). While my children will always be my children, even if we are out of relationship, my wife and I continue to be married by choice. I’ve had the opportunity to watch her perform on stage as well, and I can say that my eye followed her the whole time too, even though she was pretty much used as a prop on the stage. But what makes her precious? I met her when she was 18 and I was 19. We fell in love (only you know why we had a special chemistry that caused that to happen), but we’ve both changed a lot since then. Staying in love and staying together means rooting for the other, even at our own expense. It means giving the other space to struggle and grow. It means dedication.

I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m really coming up with an answer to my question, “What makes something precious?” When I list the things that are precious to me, my first thoughts go to my wife and children, but then they go to my job and the work you’ve given me to do. They go really to my own life and trying to make sure that, as small and insignificant as it might be in the grand scheme of things, it is used to maximize your will being done and your kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven. And in the spirit of Fred’s piece about his dad and the Jaguar, I have to admit that the little car I bought a year and a half ago is my most precious material possession. I love that little thing. Not because I get to enjoy it with others. In fact, I enjoy it the most when I am by myself, top down, music loud, and the RPMs between 4,000 and 6,000. But I love that car.

Father, I have a lot of work to do today. Help me to identify what is important to do next. Sometimes it will be the thing that is precious. Sometimes it will be the thing that it hard and not enjoyable. And help me to not put any of those precious things before my love and devotion to you.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

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