Delete the Yet.

Words are my life. If I’m not speaking/teaching with them, I’m either writing them or playing games with them. Consequently, I find myself doing a lot of self-editing to make sure my message is clear.

Editing sometimes involves correcting punctuation. Putting a comma in the right place can make all the difference in the meaning of a statement. For example, which is better: I like cooking my family and my pets; or I like cooking, my family, and my pets. Or: Let’s eat grandma; or Let’s eat, grandma.

Using words or deleting them can change the meaning being conveyed. I would like to suggest an editing correction to an old hymn that has been recently updated, and is currently playing on Christian radio.

In one of the previous churches I attended we often had hymn sings, times when the people would call out the hymnal number or title of their favorite hymn. I would cringe when I heard someone request number 443, “He Never Has Failed Me Yet.”

Yet.

And now a whole new generation of believers is hearing this disappointing musical theology.

I can almost imagine your confused looks as you read my concern. Am I majoring in minor things and making mountains out of molehills? I don’t think so. This simple three-letter word injects an enormous dose of doubt into our faith in God. Simply put: while affirming God’s got a pretty good track record so far, we’re not sure about the future. Including the “yet: implies there’s still potential for God to not come through—and that’s not possible!

Sure, we can all point to times when we didn’t get what we wanted: a job, health, money, or the miracle to save the day. But that doesn’t mean God failed. 

Tucked in Jeremiah is a verse often quoted, worn on t-shirts, or slapped on mugs. The people were in an unbelievably difficult situation—one they’d never chosen…but God did. His message: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).” 

God has plans for you, good plans. He will not fail.

Paul, understood this, too. While in prison (talk about a situation that could seem like a God-fail), he wrote: “We know God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28, NLT).” Not everything will seem good, but God can make them work together for good. Like Jeremiah said, for His plans and purpose.

I’m not suggesting we take a marker and start crossing out all the “yets” in the hymnal, but I do believe we need to edit that kind of thinking our of our faith and our living. Drop the yet, and put a period there.

He never has failed me. And He never will.

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Hopefully Devoted: While You Wait

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Waiting is inevitable.

What we do with it is a choice.

Already this morning, I found myself waiting before I could go have “before-surgery-prayer” with someone at the hospital. Then on the way home, I had to stop for a school bus loading a dozen children.

Waiting is not only inevitable, it is inconvenient—we always seem to be waiting when we’d rather be doing something else.

So what can we do while we wait?

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We can read. We can pray. We can sing. We can pace (getting steps is always a good thing). We can talk to the others who are waiting around us.

These are the productive things we can do.

But we can also stew, grouse, complain, belly-ache, whine, and generally make everyone around us as miserable with the inconvenience as we are.

I know these things are options, because I’ve gone there way too many times myself.

Tucked away in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he makes reference to “redeeming the time” (5:16). This echos the Old Testament prayer of the Psalmist: “Teach us to use wisely all the time we have (Psalm 90:12).”

So how will you use your time, especially your waiting time, today?

May we all come to productive and wise usage…we’ll be happier for it…and God will be pleased.

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Sermon Seeds: Persistence in Prayer

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When I was in high school and experiencing all the typical teenage angst of relationship break-ups, peer pressure, and raging hormones, I had one encounter that forever shaped the way I move toward the future.

I felt a closeness to the the mother of one my friends…her whole family actually. This woman of faith died from breast cancer the fall of my senior year in high school—but not before imparting to me the words that became my mantra for life.

One evening, when my angst and stress was overwhelming, I went to her home. I poured out my heart, and at some point spewed my need to just give up.

She got right in my face, and quietly, but firmly told me to never, ever give up.

Here was this woman, my spiritual mentor at the time, dying from the ravages of cancer, on oxygen, barely able to move off the couch, telling me to never give up. Nothing in life comes easy, but it’s always, always, worth fighting for.

I can’t tell you how many times those words have come back to me, sustained me, pushed me, enabled me.

I apply them to work, to child-rearing, to writing, to facing the seemingly impossible.

And I apply them to prayer and my relationship with God.

The words of Jesus about prayer, “ask…seek…knock” are actually: keep on asking, keep on seeking…keep on knocking.”

Are you in a situation that seems overwhelming? Do you need a miracle? Never give up in prayer. God’s answer, his way, his truth, are worth fighting for.

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Message Meme: Praying Together

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Last week we considered Jesus’ instruction to pray privately. He was concerned with the potential people possess to try to impress others with with their praying prowess, or maybe even their fear to pray in front of others for fear of judgement.

While many take that instruction and use it to denounce corporate prayer, a cursory read of the Bible would prove something quite different.

Jesus, when asked by his disciples to teach them to pray, gives them what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. And the prayer is an instruction to them in the plural: when all y’all pray, pray this way…Our Father.

The prayer is not a self-centered crowd cry of, “Mine, mine, mine, mine.”

After Jesus’ resurrection, when the ragtag group of believers was stuck together in the Upper Room, they filled their time with prayer. Acts 1:14 tells us they “joined together constantly in prayer.”

Praying alone solidifies our relationship with God. Praying together strengthens and grows us for our mission and ministry to the world.

We’re in this…together.

Hopefully Devoted: Rewards

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Rewards.

We all want them. But do we want the right ones, from the right people?

Jesus has been asked by his disciples for lessons on prayer. There is a bit of irony in their request. The Jewish people prayed…a lot!

But what were they missing? What was Jesus directing them to see?

Jesus calls them to remember what they already know: the commandments. The first commandment addresses their need to put God first…and only.

If the prayers of the people are intended to impress others with the level or depth of their spirituality, then they are not directing their prayers to the Great I Am. Are the ones they are trying to impress going to be able to answer their prayers, meet their needs?

What reward is there in that kind of praying? If we wow others with the wordiness and theological prowess of our prayers, then we have received the reward we sought: we made an impression.

But our needs remain unmet.

Jesus tells them about making sure their relationship with God is first, and when they do the rewards: what they need will come.

Now that’s a reward system I can support!

 

 

Hopefully Devoted: Not What I Want…

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When the disciples of Jesus saw the followers of John had a “prayer,” they went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray.

I wonder if Jesus shook his head, looked at the ground and thought, “You already have one…in fact you have many. What do you think the Psalms are? You already know this.”

But what he said and did was give them the format for prayer that we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” And many parts sound like they come from Psalm 143. Consider verse 10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground (NIV).”

Thinking then on Jesus praying in Gethsemene sent me to examine the rest of the Psalm:

1 Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]
7 Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

In the Garden, Jesus’ prayer boiled down to: not my will but yours be done.

He taught us in word and action to pray for God’s will—not our will, or our wants.

Selah: Mercy for Sorrow

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After recounting a gruesomely long list of horrible things that has happened to him, the writer of Lamentations pens these words:  “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: (Lamentations 3:19-21, NLT).”

Remembering the negative things which occurred in our lives is one thing, ruminating on them is completely different. Each has it’s own power. Ruminating, going over and over and over, leaves us feeling powerless and throws us into a state of hopelessness. We give up because we begin to believe things will never get better.

But we can use remembering in a different way resulting in a much better outcome. Notice in the verse above: the quote doesn’t end with a period—there’s more to this!

Here’s what the author adds after the colon: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’ The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord (Lamentations 3:22-26, NLT).”

God’s love goes deep and has no end. His mercies are new every morning.

What i my part in this? What do I need to do to receive this daily portion of mercy? Hope in him. Search for him. Wait on him.

Selah.