Waiting on God’s timing…



Exodus 15:13 “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode. 14 The peoples heard, they trembled; pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; trembling seized the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away. 16 Terror and dread fell upon them; by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone until your people, O Lord, passed by, until the people whom you acquired passed by.”

This passage is part of the “song of Moses” the people sang after God parted the Red Sea and killed the pursuing Egyptian army.

“The peoples heard, they trembled…”

At this point God’s people were former slaves. They had been trained from birth to be submissive, docile, non-confrontational. There was not a warrior among them. Had they been required to do battle so soon after their liberation, they would surely have been destroyed. So God performed incredible acts of power on their behalf. Surrounding nations heard the stories and generally left the Israelites alone – at least for a while.

As you may know, the people wandered in the desert wilderness for 40 years before beginning their occupation of the land of Canaan, the land promised them by God. The trip should have taken them a small fraction of that time. Why so long? Well, there are multiple reasons for this, but perhaps one reason was the need for the entire generation of adults (former slaves) to die so that a new generation, not raised in the context of slavery, could occupy the land – and keep it.

Sometimes… we’re just not ready. We’re not ready to do what God wants us to do. We need more time. We need more maturity. God will send us when we’re ready, but until then… we wait. Some of us are in that place now. Waiting. Watching. Wondering when God will open the door to our future. Wondering if it will happen at all! How long, O Lord?

Heavenly Father, some of us feel like we’re in a holding pattern. We think we’re ready. We want to move NOW into the future we believe you have for us, but instead we wait. Give us grace to trust your timing, dear Lord. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

With God all things are possible…



Psalm 33:16 A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.

There are certain themes we encounter over and over in scripture. Today’s verses are a good example. The writer acknowledges that his security, victory in battle, has little to do with his armies or the weapons of war at his disposal. They are a small nation surrounded by much larger nations and empires. The numbers are not in their favor. However, they have God on their side – and that is enough.

I was reading an email from a pastor friend of mine who is currently on a trip to South Africa preaching the gospel in communities relatively hostile to Christianity. She and her team members have been struck with illness. Repeatedly. They have been denied access to certain places they had hoped to go. And yet – there is a harvest. There are people receptive to the gospel, finding hope in Jesus Christ. People may attempt to keep her and her team members contained – but the word of God cannot be contained. It does not return empty, but accomplishes that for which it was sent (Isaiah 55:11).

Some of you are facing seemingly impossible challenges – health challenges, financial challenges, relationship challenges, addiction challenges, and more. It’s easy to see long odds of success and give up. Trust me, I’ve done it more often than I’d care to admit. But today I’m reminded that our God is able. In fact, our God specializes in doing the impossible.

Lord give us grace to trust you for the impossible, and give you all the glory when you reveal your power through us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


P.S., good news is I’m not worse than yesterday, but bad news is I’m not better either. Please continue to pray for me as it truly makes a difference. Thank you.

The Prince of Egypt…



Exodus 11:3 Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people. 4 Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 

What an awful “plague” to befall the Egyptians. Can you imagine what it would have been like for the firstborn of millions of Egyptian households to die in one night? I cannot. Then I think about Moses’ relationship with the Egyptian people.

You’ll recall that Moses was raised in the household of Pharaoh – essentially as a son of Pharaoh. He was a sort of prince of Egypt – hence the name of the animated movie that came out some years ago. He knew these people well, and they knew him. Look at verse 3 again:

Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

I can imagine how torn he must have been to see people he knew, and perhaps some of whom he loved, suffer in this way. Heartbreaking. Yes he was a great leader, but he had to endure incredible hardships and challenges. But that’s part of being a leader isn’t it?

Most of us lead in some capacity or other and many times we have to make sacrifices in order to lead well. It’s not easy. This morning I ask you to pray for me as I got sick over the weekend. What started as a head cold is now into my chest. I’m hopeful it doesn’t become full-blown bronchitis. Blessings to all.

The challenge of economic diversity



Exodus 10:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them—so that you may know that I am the LORD.” 

God not only demonstrated his favor toward the Hebrew people (to the dismay of the Egyptians), he later gave laws forbidding Hebrew inter-marriage with people of other nations. Why? Because other peoples had their own “pagan” religions requiring worship of other gods. Marrying someone of another religion would tempt the Hebrews to break the first commandment – you shall have no other gods before me.

As the Hebrew generations continued in this exclusive relationship with God (“I will be your God and you will be my people” Exodus 6:7) they came to view people of other nations as not only off limits but inferior. A form of systemic racism took hold. They viewed other peoples with distrust if not disdain. So imagine what it would have been like for early Jewish Christians to see Gentiles in their churches. I’m sure that was not an easy thing to get used to – embracing people you were once taught to avoid or look down upon.

In some ways the church struggles with this same challenge today. As a Hispanic person in a largely white church, I know what it feels like to be different. That said, the cultural barriers of our day are not only racial/ethnic but socio-economic. This is particularly true as the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” grows greater.

I live in a north suburb of Dallas. When I moved here almost five years ago I was surprised by the level of ethnic diversity present. There are people from all over the world, particularly from parts of Asia – with more arriving every day. Yes, the Anglo population remains a majority, but not by much. And I expect that will change in the years to come. And let me say I believe that’s a good thing.

That said, there is very little socio-economic diversity. The overwhelming majority of people living in this part of the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex are relatively affluent, professional people. The high cost of living in this area keeps it that way. Even if people from other socio-economic backgrounds want to move here – they can’t afford it. And the economic segregation continues.

When we’re walled off from people who are different than we are, mistrust tends to take root as we fear what we do not know. Christians are called to be different. In contrast to the Hebrew peoples of ancient times trained to avoid those who were different, the church today is called to embrace them. We are called to be inclusive community in the midst of an increasingly segregated world. This will not happen on its own.

Gracious God, teach your people to embrace diversity, especially economic diversity. Amen.



Dealing with disappointment…



Matthew 21:1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

There is an interesting distinction made between the crowds that followed Jesus into Jerusalem (v.8) and the people who lived in Jerusalem (v.10). The crowds (residents of small towns and rural areas) had likely followed Jesus for some time and had witnessed the things he had said and done. This was not the case with those living in Jerusalem.

Surely the residents of Jerusalem had heard rumors about Jesus, but were likely a bit skeptical. In a city like Jerusalem – metropolis, center of civil government, seat of religious authority, hub for commerce – its residents had seen and heard it all before. They also would have had a greater appreciation for the potential trouble someone like Jesus could stir up in Jerusalem. Read verse 10 again. Their response was not one of curiosity as much as concern. This would not end well.

In any event, we will read later how the adoring crowds quickly turned on Jesus in his hour of need. At the first sign Jesus was NOT the promised Messiah (Jesus appeared before them in chains) they were done with him. Crucify him!

It’s easy to be jaded and cynical. I know what it is to disappoint others, to fail to live up to their expectations. As the senior pastor of a local church, I can assure you I disappoint people all the time. I’m not who they want me to be. I don’t have the same gifts and capacities people remember from pastors past. I make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. When others put you on a pedestal there’s only one direction to go – and that’s down. This used to bother me, but not so much anymore. It comes with the territory.

On the other hand, I also know what it is to have hope in someone (at work, at home, in love and friendship) only to be disappointed when I realize they are not who I thought they were. In my younger years I would tend to break off the relationship and move on. Maybe the next person would be the perfect one I was looking for. Later in life I realized this was a mistake. If we’re constantly looking for just the right one we will be looking for a very long time.

If we follow Jesus long enough he too will fall short of our expectations. He will fail to deliver what we pray for. He will seem distant in our hour of need. And it’s in those moments of heartbreak and disappointment that faith is most needed. Maybe that’s you right now. Maybe you are filled with heartbreak and disappointment with God, with your loved ones, with yourself, with life. If so, hang on dear brothers/sisters. It’s often darkest just before the dawn.

Lord Jesus come to the aid of your people who struggle today. Give us grace that we might not give up, but instead hold fast to you until we see the breakthrough for which we yearn. We pray this in your most holy name. Amen.

Are you able to drink the cup?



Matthew 20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 

In the Mark version of this story the brothers make this request of Jesus themselves. Here in Matthew it’s their mother who makes the request. Mama’s boys! In the verses immediately preceding this passage, Jesus was telling the disciples about this imminent death and resurrection. It’s obvious from this request that the disciples don’t understand.

The question in v.22 intrigues me this morning. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” One of my bible resources explains that in ancient Judaism “drinking the cup” was an image meaning “suffering, testing, rejection, judgment, and violent death” (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary). Of course, another interpretation of drinking the cup might be drinking fine wine out of a fancy cup. I’m pretty sure it was the latter option the disciples imagined, not the former.

“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”

This morning Jesus asks this question of you and me. Where are we being challenged to sacrifice, to endure, to persevere? Lord Jesus, give us grace that we might carry our cross and follow you. Amen.

The challenge of being a newbie…



Matthew 20: Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

As you know, Christianity started as a sect of Judaism. Early Christians continued to meet in the Jewish temple and observe Jewish religious customs, though they were now followers of Jesus. As Christianity spread, more non-Jews came into the church, which caused some dissension. The parable makes it clear that early followers of Jesus (mostly Jews) would not have favored status over those who came later (Gentiles). God the Father confers upon all believers status as children of God and inheritors of eternal life.

At some level, the church faces some of the same dynamics today. It’s not easy being part of the church when you don’t have much of a church background – if any. 25 years ago I was new to the church too. I was drawn to the sense of God’s presence among the people. I was hungry on the inside and, through the church, the Lord was feeding me. But I definitely felt like a fish out of water.

I didn’t know the customs or songs or prayers. It was sometimes painfully awkward. I remember being on retreat where we didn’t have hymn books available – so people sang a few songs a cappella from memory. I wanted to sing along, but I couldn’t because I didn’t know the words. I felt embarrassed, like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. I got over that, but it wasn’t easy.

Then the process repeated itself when I went to seminary. OMG talk about feeling like an outsider! I was so behind the curve I thought about dropping out, but God gave me grace to stay with it. Eventually I came to realize that being an outsider was a gift of sorts. As a pastor I’ve always had empathy for people who are new to church, who don’t know our customs or language or music. Because I was once one of them.

Thank you dear Lord that you continue to draw people to yourself through Jesus Christ. Help those of us who are part of your church to be welcoming to those new to our communities. Remind us that we have no favored status because of our longevity in the church. If fact, as your word says, the first will be last and the last will be first. Amen.