The outcome belongs to God…

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Proverbs 19: 21 The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. 

The church I lead is making lots of plans these days, as well we should. The post-pandemic church is shaping up very differently than the pre-pandemic church. And there’s no question that the post-pandemic world will be VERY different than the pre-pandemic world. And so it makes sense that a church wanting to reach our world with the love of Jesus has to adapt to remain fruitful. And so… the planning continues.

But not all plans are of God. The problem is we usually don’t know this in advance. We do our best to discern where God is leading. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. But as this verse reminds us, the success or failure of our plans is really not the objective is it?

The objective is for the purposes of God to be established upon the earth. It is God who bears the burden for outcomes, not us. And thank God for that! Amen.

A downcast spirit dries up the bones…

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

Sometimes I am the one with the downcast spirit, which indeed “dries up the bones”. It sucks the life out of me and makes it hard to see the good things happening all around me. It’s also difficult when I am engaged by a person or persons who possess a downcast spirit. They tend to focus on what’s wrong.

Yesterday was a momentous day in the life of the church I lead as pastor. It was our first day of worship inside the church building in over 14 months. And it was glorious! Many people, myself included, were deeply moved to be back – not just in the a familiar space but with other people who are very important to us. Plus, we continue to see hundreds joining our two livestream services. They represent a digital congregation we didn’t even have before Covid! Blessings all around!

And yet… there were persons who came at me yesterday only noting what was wrong, what they didn’t like. Rather than being joyful on such a special day – they were angry. At first that made me angry. Then my anger turned to sadness. I can only imagine what’s going on inside of persons who cannot enjoy one of the greatest days in the life of our church in many years. What voice must be speaking in their ears to steal their joy? It’s heartbreaking really.

So this morning I am lifting these persons in prayer.

Lord, lift the heaviness that weighs down our souls. Mine and others. Amen.

When life throws a curveball…

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Proverbs 16: 9 The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. 

I suppose there are a number of ways one can interpret this verse from Proverbs. This morning I hear it akin to the old saying, “Life’s what happens while you’re making other plans”. My life has turned out much differently than I imagined as a young adult. This is not a bad thing, just a bit of a surprise.

Our two daughters both graduated from college this month which is a cause for celebration. As each of them explores their particular career paths, with paths aligned with their undergraduate degrees, I wonder where the Lord will take them. I personally graduated 30 years ago with a degree in business marketing. Three years later I was in seminary studying theology and preparing to become an ordained pastor.

I never saw that coming.

I suspect something similar may happen with one of our daughters, or perhaps our son who has his degree in accounting and is currently working in finance. You never know where the Lord may direct your steps, despite whatever plans you may have made. I believe the encouragement of the writer of proverbs is to trust in the Lord’s direction rather than our own plans.

Lord there is no doubt that life is full of surprises, often taking us in directions very different than what we have in mind. Give us grace to discern where you are leading, and give us courage to trust your direction – even when it means our dreams may never be fulfilled. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rich in spirit…

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Proverbs 15:15 All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.

There is a kind of contentment of spirit that is not dependent on external circumstances. If you’ve ever been to a part of the world where deep poverty is everywhere, and yet seen people with continual smiles on their faces and hearts of hospitality with the little they have, you’ve seen a glimpse of what the writer is describing. In a culture of general affluence like the United States it is assumed that “much” is needed for happiness. I fall into this trap myself all the time. It is not true. In fact, it’s very possible to have “everything” and be miserable.

Lord this morning we lift up to you those in need, of which there are many in our world. We also lift up to you those who are rich in “stuff” but poor in spirit. Give us grace to possess cheerful hearts no matter our external situation. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wisdom in the midst of mistakes…

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Proverbs 14:6 A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for one who understands.

This verse got my attention today. The Hebrew word translated here as “scoffer” means, “one who treats something in contempt”. This person is not really open to learning or receiving guidance, so guidance/wisdom is given to them “in vain”. They won’t listen. This is not an information problem but a heart condition problem.

There’s a lot going on at the church I lead in suburban Dallas and yesterday it got to me. I got anxious and raised my voice to one of our staff people unnecessarily. I apologized and thankfully was forgiven the transgression, but more importantly the incident revealed something about my heart condition.

I’ve been telling myself that successful outcomes depend on me rather than the Lord.

Of course the enemy of God loves it when we think this way because we end up placing heavy burdens upon ourselves. We grow weary from the weight of responsibility we aren’t designed to carry. So when we encounter challenges on multiple fronts at the same time, as is the case for most of us right now, we are brought to our knees. It’s like we end up doing the enemy’s work for him.

Yet my prayer is that I am not like the scoffer who ignores wisdom, but rather allow myself to learn from mistakes and return to trusting in the Lord rather than myself. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Come and see what God has done…

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Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; 2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise… 5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post, our daughter Victoria graduated Saturday from Southern Methodist University (S.M.U.) with her B.S. in biology. The last semester was particularly difficult for her. And because faculty remained off campus it was hard to communicate with them or get help/support from them (which made me angry since we were paying full tuition for sub-par instruction but that’s a story for another time). And so, of course, we prayed. A lot.

Fortunately, the Lord responded by sending to Victoria a PhD student who helped her at a crucial time before exams. Victoria readily admits she may not have successfully completed her courses had she not gotten support from someone who was not even an instructor or professor for the course. I was delighted we got to meet her at graduation. I feel bad that I don’t remember her name right now, but surely the Lord knows her name.

“Come and see what God has done…”

Lord in our time of need we cry out to you. I thank you for responding to our prayers by sending this wonderful young woman to accompany Victoria across the finish line. Lord give to this young woman an outpouring of your favor and blessing. And give to Victoria a heart to pay it forward. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Thank you Lord…

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Psalm 65:9 You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. 10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. 11 You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. 12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, 13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy. 

I love this image of God’s abundant provision. There is a heart of gratitude reflected here, one who enjoys what God the Father provides to God’s children. I am grateful today as well, for many things, especially our older daughter’s graduation from college. She will receive her bachelor of science in biology a bit later today and I couldn’t be prouder.

Victoria has had to overcome many obstacles along the way. There were times when she was tempted to quit. She would come to me in tears, doubting her abilities, contemplating leaving school or at least choosing an easier major than biology. But she loves science, particularly the laboratory, and in the end she finished strong. My heart is full. Full of love for my daughter and full of gratitude to God for carrying her to the finish line.

Thank you Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


Holding perspectives in tension…

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1 Corinthians 14:26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) 37 Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. 38 Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. 39 So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; 40 but all things should be done decently and in order.

The apostle Paul is addressing another source of conflict in the Corinthian church – disorderly worship practices. He mentions the use of tongues, prophetic words, and the role of women in the assembly. The question which arises for me is whether these verses represent a word from God which should be applied universally, in every time and place? Or is this a word from Paul speaking to a contextual issue limited to a particular time and place?

Some Christians insist that every word of scripture is to be followed exactly as it is written. They are often referred to as “fundamentalist” Christians. In their view a passage like this should be applied here and now – no matter how contrary to contemporary culture (particularly in regards to the appropriate role of women). Other Christians suggest that much of scripture does not apply to current practice and so we choose which parts of the bible we follow and which we do not.

In my view there is value in both perspectives. Much of scripture is timeless and is intended to be received and applied as it is written. On the other hand some parts of scripture appear to be written for the purpose of addressing specific circumstances in particular places – as is the case in our passage from today. We hold these two perspectives in tension, doing our best to know when to hold to the letter of scripture and when to allow for modern interpretations which make sense in our day. We don’t always get it right, but we do our best – trusting the Lord to lead and guide us in the way we should go.

Lord let it be so. Amen.

Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you…

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Psalm 64:1-4

1      Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; 
preserve my life from the dread enemy. 
2      Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, 
from the scheming of evildoers, 
3      who whet their tongues like swords, 
who aim bitter words like arrows, 
4      shooting from ambush at the blameless; 
they shoot suddenly and without fear. 

David is a king and I suppose kings were often paranoid. Why? Because they were often the target of plots to overthrow them or usurp their power. Not targets from outside, but from the inside – from among those who were supposed to be friends and allies.

One response to perceived threats was to simply execute anyone suspected of treason. Josef Stalin, the famously paranoid dictator of the communist Soviet Union during WW2, is a relatively recent example. In the 1930s he “purged” most of the senior commanders in the Soviet army by having them sent to the gulag or simply hanged or shot. This led to weak leadership in the first years of the war against Nazi Germany.

But David could not simply do away with those he suspected of plotting against him because he risked shedding innocent blood – which would have brought judgment on all Israel. And so in these verses David hands the burden of rooting out treachery to God.

Lord teach us to cast our burdens upon you. Amen.

Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you…

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Psalm 64:1-4 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless; they shoot suddenly and without fear. 

David is a king and I suppose kings were often paranoid. Why? Because they were often the target of plots to overthrow them or usurp their power. Not targets from outside, but from the inside – from among those who were supposed to be friends and allies.

One response to perceived threats was to simply execute anyone suspected of treason. Josef Stalin, the famously paranoid dictator of the communist Soviet Union during WW2, is a relatively recent example. In the 1930s he “purged” most of the senior commanders in the Soviet army by having them sent to the gulag or simply hanged or shot. This led to weak leadership in the first years of the war against Nazi Germany.

But David could not simply do away with those he suspected of plotting against him because he risked shedding innocent blood – which would have brought judgment on all Israel. And so in these verses David hands the burden of rooting out treachery to God.

Lord teach us to cast our burdens upon you. Amen.