The power of laughter…

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Scripture: Proverbs 17: 22 A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.

Observation: Here’s what one of my bible resources says about this verse, “The sage knew that the internal psyche has the power to heal as well as to destroy the body. One’s internal demeanor affects physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health.”

Application: I mentioned yesterday I’ve been away for a continuing education event last few days. Some excellent content and processing I’m grateful for. However, this verse reminds me of anther reason I found the time so helpful and life-giving.

We laughed a lot.

We all had significant burdens we brought with us to the learning event, which is to be expected. And while we spoke mostly of professional challenges during the formal sessions, personal issues tended to come out in the informal times – during meals, breaks, fellowship after dinner. It was a blessing on many levels. It’s time I really needed. As the writer of Proverbs points out, laughter is an incredible salve for the human soul. Here’s hoping we all laugh some today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this morning we remember all those who carry heavy burdens this morning – which is most of us. Give us grace to experience some joy – and laughter – that our hearts might be warmed in the midst of life’s struggles. Amen.

God’s plans or mine?

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Proverbs 16:1 Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word. (The Message)

First, apologies for not posting for a few days. I’ve enjoyed a very fruitful – and very intense – time of training in Estes Park, Colorado (see pic). I should be able to get back to daily rhythms now.

Leaders are called to make plans, as I and a group of colleagues did this week. We worked on our plans individually then shared them with one another – giving others permission to comment and question. Great stuff. I’m excited to see if my own plans bear fruit.

“Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.”

There’s the truth. If my plans are not lined up with God’s plans, very little will happen. When we follow where God is leading our efforts look like 2+2= 5 or 6. When I’m doing things in my own strength it’s more like 2+2=2 or 3. Some questions:

  • Have I prayerfully and earnestly invited the Lord into my planning process?
  • Do my plans reflect what God is already doing or am I following my own initiative?
  • How will I know if my plans work or not?

Heavenly Father, thank you for an amazing time of learning, thinking, reflecting, and dreaming with valued colleagues. Give us wisdom and patience to follow where we believe your grace is going ahead of us. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

No shortcuts…

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Scripture: Proverbs 13:11 Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it.

Observation: The writer shares an important truth in this verse. When we acquire something valuable – quickly – we don’t have time to develop the character and competency needed to keep it. Turns out, for the most important things in life there are generally no shortcuts. Progress tends to be slow. Painfully slow.

Application: Patience is not my strong suit – and it shows. Yesterday was Friday, my day for Sabbath, but it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’m so easily distracted by things going on around me. My compulsion to be productive is such that I have a hard time setting it aside – even for one day a week. Even for half a day. I have an undisciplined mind and a restless spirit molded over the course of 50 years. Ugh!

It’s going to take time to unlearn some things so I can enjoy the blessing of Sabbath. 

But even now the Lord gives me a glimpse of what’s possible. It may only be for an hour or two in an entire day, but when I’m able to really focus on the Lord – it’s awesome. Makes me want to keep going. But progress is painfully slow. Did I mention patience is not my strong suit?

Prayer: Lord, I trust the time and effort required to learn the spiritual discipline of Sabbath will be worth it. But… could you hurry it up please? Amen.

P.S., I have a feeling the answer to my question is “no”.

All of me…

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This is from one of our leaders at Rejoice, the church I lead. It really resonated with me today, so thought I’d share it. Such meaning in so few words. With permission:

Doctrinal Text
The disciples replied to Jesus, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Matthew 14:17–18

I tend to bring to Jesus just what I think is worthy, what I think he can use. But Jesus tells me to bring whatever I have, he’ll use it, it can feed others. I want to believe it, but I know my limitations, what I can and cannot do. I know where I’ve failed in the past. How my mind tends to shutdown and I can’t find the words. I know all my weaknesses so well. But Jesus says he’ll use those things too. He wants all of me.

Jesus, help me to trust you with all of me. Amen.

The trap of scarcity…

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Scripture: Proverbs 11:24 Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. 25 A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.

Observation: This is a great illustration of the abundance of God.

Application: The church I lead in suburban Dallas has a problem right now. For the last three years our church has finished each fiscal year with a solid financial surplus, despite growing significantly in our giving every year. Our experience has been very much like the passage in Proverbs. The more we give away the more that seems to return to us. Well, this year has begun differently.

We ended April in a YTD budget deficit, not surplus. We discussed this at our Tuesday evening council meeting. No one is panicking of course as it’s still early in the year and things may turn around yet, but we are watching to see if this trend continues. We understand that if our revenues continue to fall short of expenses, we will have to cut back spending sooner than later.

A common reaction to a perceived financial shortfall, in a church or in our personal finances, is to cut back on giving to others. It makes sense when you think about it. You help your bottom line while making no direct personal sacrifices. However, scripture reminds us it is a mistake. Look again at verse 24:

24 Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. 

When we withhold our giving, even in times of economic hardship, we step out of God’s economy of abundance and back into the world’s economy of scarcity. What makes perfect sense from the perspective of financial logic leads us to “only suffer want”. It’s a trap.

Prayer: God of Provision, our passage from Proverbs highlights an important spiritual principle: abundance vs. scarcity. Scarcity thinking is rampant in our world, in our church, in our own lives. When it looks like there’s not enough to go around, we can hold too tightly to what you have first given us. Give us grace to embrace abundance even when it’s hard. You who provide all things will not fail us. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Being different…

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Observation: The apostle Paul referred to himself as an apostle to the Gentiles, which he was. But he was not among the original 12 disciples who knew Jesus personally and spent 3 years with him before he ascended to heaven. One can imagine there were some people who questioned Paul’s legitimacy. Paul conceded he was “least of the apostles”, though not because he didn’t know Jesus personally, but because he was once a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians. The verse I particularly appreciate is v.10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”

Application: I’ve been a pastor now for almost 20 years and it still surprises me sometimes. I didn’t grow up in the church. I wasn’t part of a church youth group or college campus ministry. Nor did I experience church camps in the way so many of my colleagues did. In short, I didn’t have a traditional path to a vocation in ministry. Paul’s words resonate with me this morning.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am…”

That’s me. I don’t fit the normal profile of a church leader, but God has found a way to use me anyway. Some of you readers know that feeling. You lead. You serve. You give. You have responsibility in the life of your local church or synod or seminary. Maybe others look at you funny as if to question if you’re really qualified to do what you do. Maybe you ask yourself if you’re really qualified to do what you do. I get it. I’ve been there many times and still find myself wrestling with doubt from time to time. Let these words sink into your spirit this morning. Imagine these words coming from your own mouth:

By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, let these words of the apostle Paul be true of us this morning. Give us grace to claim them as our own. Amen.

More precious than gold…

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Scripture: Proverbs 8:1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it…10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; 11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”

Observation: In this passage wisdom is personified and given voice (v.4-11). The writer asserts that wisdom and understanding are far more precious than material wealth. When we use wisdom and understanding to guide our way, everything else takes care of itself.

Application: I watched my son Nick graduate from college last week, alongside several hundred others. There’s something to be said for a young person who can start in a degree program – and finish it. Getting one’s degree requires perseverance and commitment. No doubt there were times when these students would have preferred to ditch the books and have some fun instead of study or work on an assignment. There were mornings when they’d have rather slept in than get out of bed for an early morning class. And of course being broke all the time gets old. Would be nice to work extra hours instead of study, to enjoy some folding money in the pocket.

But wisdom requires we say “no” to short term things so we can say “yes” to long term rewards. 

Here’s another truth: one never outgrows the need to exercise wisdom. And it’s not easy to do at any age. A question I’m asking myself this morning: Where do I need to say “no” when I want to say “yes”?

Prayer: Lord wisdom is indeed more valuable than any material possession, but acting from wisdom is hard. It requires discipline and a focus on the long run. Give us grace to set aside our childish wants and say yes to things that are truly important. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.