The discipline of gratitude…



Numbers 11:4 The rabble among (the Israelites in the wilderness) had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 

This did not go over well with God. If you read the rest of the chapter you’ll see that God sent to the people an abundance of quail to consume as meat. But then God sent a plague among the people to punish them for their ingratitude and complaining.

Gratitude is not listed in Galatians chapter 5 as one of the “fruits of the spirit”, but I believe it should be. This is particularly true for Americans as we live in a culture that tends to emphasize lack rather than abundance. In a consumer culture it’s important for people to desire what we don’t have, even when we have a lot. The quest for “more/better/new” drives the economy.

But I’m afraid it also breeds a sense of entitlement and want. So this morning I’m taking some time to thank the Lord for what IS, even in the midst of a pandemic. Things may not be as I would prefer, but I have much to be thankful for. As do you.

Lord give us grateful hearts. Amen.

Embracing dependence on God…



Mark 12:38 As (Jesus) taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark offers two back-to-back stories as a vehicle of comparison. First there are the scribes who seek public recognition. Then we have a poor widow who would have been practically invisible to others. She gives to the Lord all she has, prompting Jesus to comment, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”

It’s obvious Jesus isn’t talking about a financial reality because others gave much more than the poor widow. Jesus is talking about the currency of the Kingdom of God – which is faith, not money. In the Kingdom of God it is faith that moves mountains, not money. It is faith that heals the sick, not money. It is faith that casts out demons, not money. It is faith in Jesus that yields eternal life, not money. When the widow put in all she had she made herself completely dependent on God’s provision, trusting that God would give her “daily bread”. God would not let her down.

I don’t like being dependent, do you? I’ll bet not. Dependency is scary. We’re taught from an early age to prepare for contingencies so we can avoid dependence. But Jesus regularly invites people to choose dependence and follow after him. And when we trust in the Lord, having no other options but the Lord, his faithfulness shines through.

I’m wondering where the Lord may be inviting me to choose dependence. What about you? Lord you are worthy to be trusted. Give us grace to embrace you with all our hearts. Amen.



The wisdom of saying… nothing.



Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

Here we see another attempt by the religious authorities to trap Jesus into saying something controversial. Seeing the trap for what it is, Jesus refuses to answer the question, but rather reframes the question in such a way that the questioner looks foolish. As we will see later in this gospel, the authorities eventually give up this “testing” tactic and begin plotting for Jesus’ death.

Seems to me this tactic of asking loaded questions in hopes of eliciting a controversial answer is alive and well today. Reporters do this all the time. Experienced public figures (politicians, athletes, entertainers, etc) quickly learn to respond to a question by not actually answering the question asked, but rather the question they wish had been asked. I don’t always like this practice, but I understand it.

As for me, I’ve learned to better recognize when I am asked an intentionally provocative question. People want me to take one side or the other. Are you for us or against us?! In my younger years I would usually take the bait – and then spend way too much time going back and forth with someone. Not helpful. These days I will usually choose to not respond at all. Saying nothing is usually better than saying the wrong thing. That’s not easy for an extrovert like me.

Lord Jesus give us wisdom to know when to answer and when not to answer. Amen.


Dedication of the tabernacle…



Numbers 7:78 On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the Naphtalites: 79 his offering was one silver plate weighing one hundred thirty shekels, one silver basin weighing seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of choice flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 80 one golden dish weighing ten shekels, full of incense; 81 one young bull, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 82 one male goat for a sin offering; 83 and for the sacrifice of well-being, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Ahira son of Enan. 

The 12 tribes of Israel took turns making offerings to God at the newly constructed tabernacle (the “tabernacle” was like a mobile temple). This passage describes the offering for the tribe of Naphtali. If you read this entire chapter (89 verses!) you will notice each tribe offered the exact same thing. The question that arises in my mind relates to the tedious repetition. Why not just describe the offering once and then mention it was the same for all 12 tribes?

My suggestion may have been more efficient from a literary standpoint, but I have to remember that scripture was created and passed down in what was mostly an oral culture. Most people didn’t have access to written copies so they memorized scripture. And I can understand that repeating the same thing 12 times would help if you were trying to commit scripture to memory. Still. 89 verses of this?

Lord thank you for the faithful people who memorized the scriptures in a time when written copies were few and far between. It’s their diligence that makes our access to your word possible today. Give us grace to be diligent in our own time for the sake of future generations. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

My imperfect prayers…



Mark 11:12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it… 20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had no fruit. The next morning he and his disciples walked by the tree and it was dead. Peter was astounded. How did Jesus do this? Jesus said, in essence, a fig tree withering was no big deal. In fact, “if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe” (v.23) whatever you ask for will be yours. Even a mountain to be thrown into the sea.


It’s interesting because this saying does not reflect my experience. Fact is, I believe I’ve prayed for many things in faith and have not seen them come to pass. I’ve prayed for wonderful servants of the Lord to be healed. And they died. I’ve prayed with wonderful, loving couples that they conceive a child But they never did. I’ve prayed with people whose relationship was broken that they might be reconciled for the sake of the entire family. They didn’t. I’ve prayed for other things that seemed to be in alignment with the heart of God, prayed with faith because scripture teaches that God is able to do all things. And, as far as I can tell, the requests were not answered. So what gives?

Some people say that prayers are often answered after a good bit of time from the original prayer. Maybe it doesn’t look like a prayer has been answered because the time has not yet come. That’s certainly possible. That said, Jesus’ example of the fig tree was a command answered in a matter of hours, not months or years.

Scholars explain that perhaps Jesus meant we will receive that for which we pray – so long as it is in alignment with the will of God. I understand the line of thinking, but that’s not what Jesus actually says. Jesus doesn’t provide any qualifiers. There are no exclusions or exceptions in the passage. The statement is straight-forward.

Whatever you ask for will be yours.

The passage also troubles me because it seems to put the burden for outcomes on the one praying rather than on God to deliver what is promised here. I’ve seen this idea heap guilt on wonderful Christian intercessors who are faithful in praying for the saints and then feel convicted when their prayers are not answered. If they only had more faith a dear friend would not have died. Surely this is not Jesus’ intent.

Whatever you ask for will be yours.

What I’ve learned through experience is that the power of God is not like a genie in a bottle – if you rub it just the right way and say just the right words your wish will be granted. Sometimes a prayer is granted, sometimes not. Despite what Jesus says here. Yes there are times when sustained prayer doesn’t appear to produce the desired results. But sometimes it does. I have seen incredible, even miraculous, results from simple prayers offered by simple Christians.

Just because our prayers are not ALWAYS granted doesn’t mean our prayers are NEVER granted. And so it is in faith that we pray, believing that God is able to do what we ask. And more. Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know. But if we don’t pray we will never find out.

Heavenly Father give us grace to suspend disbelief long enough to pray, knowing that our prayers are not perfect, that our faith is not perfect, but that you are able to accomplish even more than what we ask. Despite our shortcomings. Amen.

Hope! And let-down…



Mark 11:Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Here we have Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem a few days before he is betrayed by Judas. V.9 gets my attention this morning, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” It’s obvious the people of Jerusalem have high expectations of Jesus. Finally – a new Jewish king! The days of Roman rule are numbered! And then Jesus is arrested.

Talk about a let-down. 

So the people turn on Jesus and within a few days are crying out “Crucify him!”. It’s a brutal turn of sentiment, but I understand it. Disappointment of that magnitude can bring out the worst in people. In me. In you.

There’s a lot of disappointment happening right now, of course. Wedding plans, graduation plans, vacation plans… altered or dashed altogether. Jobs lost. Businesses closing for good. Estrangement from friends and loved ones. The list is long. And so it’s in times like this we need to ask the Lord to give us patience with one another, for trust that the Lord will see us through, for a bit of hope when so much of the news is bad news.

Lord let it be so. 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Desperation and the Kingdom of God…


Mark 10:46 (Jesus) came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 

I can’t help but contrast this story with one earlier in the chapter about a rich man asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. In this story a “blind beggar” calls out to Jesus in desperation. He knows this is a singular opportunity to be healed by Jesus and he would not be deterred as “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet…”. The story suggests that the man’s persistence is what got Jesus’ attention.

The blind man is clear on what he wants “let me see again”. He doesn’t say, as others did, “If you are able, let me see again.” There is no doubt in this man. He is clear on his desperate need and clear in Jesus’ ability to heal him. And so his wish is granted “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Where this blind beggar had nothing to lose in approaching Jesus, the man of wealth had much to lose. Jesus told him to sell his possessions (and the privilege that comes with wealth), give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. But the man leaves disappointed, unable to do what Jesus asked. Again we see desperation as a key dynamic in drawing the power of the Kingdom of God.

Years ago I was pastor of a church in urban San Antonio which had a Saturday morning ministry among homeless people living near downtown. When you go to such places on a regular basis you get to know some of the people living there. I heard many stories of how people became homeless. Each story is heartbreaking in its own way. No one decides one day to become homeless. There is usually a series of unfortunate events that compound in a person’s life resulting in one living on the street. These are desperate people with few options.

And yet there were many times when the Kingdom of God would manifest as we prayed for people there. Like the blind man in our passage, these people were out of options. We would cry out to the Lord together and see people be healed or demons come out of them. Or both. Not all the time. Not on every visit. But regularly the Kingdom would come in ways that were discernible – and unmistakable.

I don’t wish desperation on anyone, myself included. But desperation happens. Maybe you are desperate as you read this blog post today. If so, cry out to God. He has a particularly sympathetic ear for the voice of those in need. Lord let it be so. Let your Kingdom come today for many who call out in the name of Jesus. Amen.