Out of gas…

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Psalm 73:26 (NRSV): 26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

I think a better word than “may” above would be “will”. Mortality says we don’t live forever. The older I get the more I realize my days are numbered.

But God’s days are not numbered, nor does God’s strength wane.

There are many days when I’m tired, especially on the inside. I feel out of gas. Some of you know what I’m talking about. And so I find myself depending on the Lord to get me through the day.

God is my strength and my portion forever. Without you Lord I have no hope. Come Lord Jesus. Come Holy Spirit. Come.

A change of perspective makes all the difference…

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Psalm 73: 12 Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. 13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning… 17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. 

David is angry that the wicked appear to be prospering, yet the righteous are not, “All in vain I have kept my heart clean…”. But then there is verse 17, “until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.” In a place of worship the Lord helped David to see the situation differently. The prosperity of the wicked is temporary. While they appear to enjoy a glorious “now” they ultimately come to an inglorious end.

In the New Testament we might refer to this reframing of a situation from human perspective to God’s perspective as “repentance” which means to “turn around”. We “turn around” in the mind and in the spirit to see the world differently. Lord Jesus, help us to see the world as you see it. We pray in your holy name. Amen.

It’s not appearance that matters in things of the Spirit…

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2 Corinthians 10:1 I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

We tend to judge a book by its cover. Paul was not an impressive looking person, having endured great suffering over the years of his ministry. As he says in v.3 “we live as human beings”. His body degraded over time like everyone else’s despite his calling as an apostle of Jesus. However, there is the rest of the verse,

“we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have diving power…”

I’ve seen this over and over. The most powerful Christian leaders I’ve ever known have not tended to be impressive looking in person. Few would fit the profile of what a Hollywood casting director might look for to portray a person of great spiritual authority. That said, the power of the gospel shone in them – in their humility, their grace, and most importantly their boldness in prayer. It is true that the Lord does not look upon the flesh, but the heart and the spirit.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman asking her to assume a leadership position in the area of prayer and spiritual discernment in the church I lead as pastor. I’m grateful our church leadership has recognized the need to re-connect with our sense of mission and purpose in the midst of a significant cultural shift (pandemic). That said, as we’re making plans and clarifying strategies we can forget that our work is fundamentally of a spiritual nature. More than we need a great strategy or flawless execution, we need God’s hand to move among us. Only God can remake our church to bear witness in the midst of a world being remade in real-time.

This woman doesn’t see herself as a person of spiritual authority, but other people do. Which simply reinforces for me that we have asked the right person. The eyes can be deceiving, but the Spirit reveals the truth. Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear when we encounter those in whom you are moving with power. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

An apprehensive giver?

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2 Corinthians 9:The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

Here the apostle Paul encourages the believers in Corinth to have a collection ready when he arrives. They are giving to support persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. I appreciate his description of a “cheerful giver”. When we trust that the Lord will always provide for our needs, we can enjoy blessing others with a financial gift.

That said, for most of us learning to grow in our giving, we don’t start out being cheerful givers. This is particularly true before the practice of tithing (returning to God 10% of our income) is built into our personal budget. When we’re getting started, we’re often giving money we don’t think we have. It’s normal to be scary or anxious at first. There’s no shame in that. It’s part of the growth process.

Yet as we begin to see the Lord fulfilling the promise of providing for our needs, even as we give away 10%+ of our income, apprehension turns to joy. It’s fun giving stuff away, isn’t it?

Lord you are so good to us. Give us grace to trust you with our entire lives, including our financial lives. And give strength to those just getting started in the practice of tithing. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

O God, do not be far from me…

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Psalm 71: 12 O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! 

This psalm is attributed to King David in the latter part of his life. David has been through a lot over the years. He’s seen God’s deliverance many times. He doesn’t express doubt that God will save him again, but he does wish that God would do it – NOW.

This morning I’m particularly drawn to the first part of this verse, “O God, do not be far from me…”. We got a new puppy recently, a dachshund named “Penny”. She’s a cutie as all puppies are. And while Penny is getting more comfortable in our home, she still gets anxious when Jana leaves the room. She whimpers and barks like a child crying out for her mama. Then when Jana reappears she immediately calms down. Nothing about her surroundings have changed, but she’s in the presence of one who loves her, cares for her, protects her, trains her. She has nothing to fear while Jana is around. And Penny knows it.

This morning there are several things in my life which remain unresolved. Questions which remain unanswered. And while my usual plea is “Fix this God!”, this morning I’m taking a cue from David. “O God, do not be far from me. Let me dwell in your presence that my spirit might be at rest. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

We are a “new creation” in Jesus…

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2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

When I first became a committed Christian in my early 20s this promise really appealed to me. I’d had some disappointments and struggles in my life to that point and I was afraid my past would define me. And left to myself that may very well have been how things turned out. But because of Jesus, and being made new in relationship to Jesus, my life took a radical turn for the better.

Your past doesn’t have to define your future.

Does this mean that as Christians we no longer have struggles or trials? No. Does my life completely transform in a day? No. Well, not usually. But in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which we receive in our baptism, the seed of transformation is planted and – over time – we become a “new creation”. It’s true. If you want to give it a try, reach out to me (pastorernie@gmail.com).

Lord thank you that in Jesus we are made new. Amen.

Tomorrow I’ll enjoy life…

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Proverbs 21:17 Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want; whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich. 

This verse is a warning against the love of leisure, good meals, and the like – particularly at the expense of one’s productivity and responsibility. What I tend to see more often these days are people who work so much they don’t actually enjoy what they earn. It’s an imbalance opposite the one mentioned here.

As I’m getting older I becoming more aware how fleeting life can be. Everything can seem to be going just fine – until it’s not. Tragedy has a way of stealing from us time we assumed was ours in the future. Tomorrow I’ll enjoy life. Tomorrow I’ll visit those I love. Tomorrow I’ll see the sights I don’t have time for today.

And then… there are no more tomorrows.

Or I’m no longer able to do things I planned to do “one day”.

Perhaps the time to enjoy the life God has given to us as a gift… is now.


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.