Psalm 13 Revisited

O Lord, do not continue
this silent treatment for one more moment
for my heart can’t take it any longer.
My soul is a dried up husk of what it
used to be.
I cannot sleep, and when I do
my rest is filled with troubled dreams.

I have been looking,
ever searching for you…
why are you hiding?

I can not take
this hurt of abandonment
any more,
O Lord hear my
gasping,
lung-rattling cries.
I cannot shed anymore
tears, for the well
has dried up.

And my thoughts,
they are running circles
around my broken heart…

I keep second-guessing you,
I keep pleading for this horror to end
How long, O Lord, will you let it fester
and consume me?
I don’t think I can
make it much longer.

But even after all of this…

even if You never answer my cry…

even if I am left alone
on this hill to die on…

I will trust.

I will put all that I have
of my wilting
strength into
your Eternal hands.

But Lord,
wake me up,
Help me see even the
remotest chance
of victory.

Help me see the Light
at the end
of all of this…
even if it comes
in the last moments
in the final dying gasp
of these feeble lungs.

My enemies are already starting to jeer
And they are celebrating my demise
…and yours as well.
They cannot wait for me to fall flat
on my face
in disgrace
and embarrassment.

But even if that happens…
even if I walk this
cold, dark alley alone,
I will trust
in your unfailing,
immeasurable
eternal love…

I know that You will come
You have always
kept your promises
to me.

You have always
been good to me…
even in this dark place…
O Lord, please come.

(As I read this Psalm of David, I could feel the anticipation and fear, perhaps even a little bit of frustration. We have all been to this place, perhaps the circumstances are different than that of David’s, but within these phrases there flows an emotion that we can all relate to. It is within this vein, that I have placed my needle and poked us all…perhaps in the bleeding we might see not only the very real presence of pain and fear, but more importantly – God’s holy and eternal presence…He will never leave us or forsake us.).

-Something more to ponder today.

A Pastoral Pondering on Life, Death and Hope…

End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

The telephone rang in my office. It was a darkening, rainy afternoon. The billowing clouds hung ominously outside, and in my heart there was also a tempest that was threatening to spill out into my life. It had been a hard couple of years in the ministry, and I had been contemplating my resignation as a pastor. I was frustrated, hurt, and very ready to pack it all in and call it quits. It was with a heavy heart that I picked up that ringing telephone and answered.

Little did I know that the prayer that I had been repeating in my mind and on my lips was about to be answered. – A local pastor was calling to donate some food to our corps because we had a large soup kitchen and we could always use the extra meals. I politely told the pastor that I would drive over to his church right away and collect the food. Isn’t it interesting how God knows just what we need even before we recognize it?

I made my way to his church and pulled into the driveway. The church was an older gray stone building with a traditional cross at the top, and the customary blue and red stained glass window that faced the busy street. I parked at the adjacent gymnasium structure and knocked on the front door. The pastor ambled to the door and upon seeing the uniform, welcomed me in. He led me to the kitchen where the food was all nicely wrapped and ready…but something truly remarkable happened. I had come for food to feed others, but the Lord had other ideas in mind. I needed nourishment of the heart – for I was worn, weary and at the end of my rope.

I am not sure if you have ever experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit, but I am certain that the Lord had given me a divine appointment that day in order to help heal my wounded heart. The pastor began to talk to me about his ministry, and gave me a brief tour of the building. He described the basketball program and the youth ministry. We chatted for a few more minutes and then it all spilled out…It felt like I was in a safe place, far away from judgment and ridicule…and so I shared with him my hurt. It was like unloading a burden I had been carrying around for far too long. I told him about my heartache I had experienced in the ministry, and the wounds that had been inflicted while on the pastoral battlefield. He understood. He didn’t say, “well you just need to try harder“, or “perhaps you just aren’t walking with the Lord enough“; or even “maybe you’re just not cut out for ministry.

No, rather, he just listened.

He let me expose the festering wound of my heart that refused to heal. I had not been able to articulate it, let alone face it before. But here in a gym kitchen, I felt led to bear the wound and let the infection be seen.

Finally after I had finished talking, the pastor told me about his own hurt. How years ago he had moved to this town. He had left another ministry that had been difficult and it too had wounded him. Leaning on a stainless steel island in a small kitchen, he then prayed for me, and the power of the Holy Spirit began working in my heart. I can’t tell you that I was miraculously healed in a single instant, but the pain, bitterness and hurt started to be addressed by the Lord. I was a broken vessel in need of repair, and the hands of God were more than willing to remold me again. Dare I say that the Pastor was only being faithful to the Lord, while the Lord applied the much needed salve to a wounded life. Isn’t it funny how God has a tendency to do that – use the faithful at the most unlikely of places, and just the right moment?!

After the Pastor prayed with me, he asked me if it would be alright if he contacted a couple of other pastors that he knew, and if we could all meet over breakfast sometime soon. I accepted the invitation and promptly left with the food in my hands. Again, I had come to receive food for people in need, when I was also in need myself – in need of spiritual nourishment and hope. I walked away from that encounter a little lighter.
I told my wife about my time with Pastor Steve, and explained that I felt the Lord had placed him in my path.

A little while later I received a phone call from Pastor Steve, and true to his word, he was inviting me to a breakfast with his group of pastors. I had been in other pastor groups before, and sometimes it felt like it was a forced fellowship. I went to the first breakfast with that thought in mind, but I was extremely surprised to find a group of guys who loved being with each other. The laughed together over coffee and toast. I felt as if I was being welcomed into a fellowship I didn’t deserve…and yet here they were warming my heart.

Over the course of the next few months I met with this pastor group. We met every couple of weeks, and there wasn’t any agenda except to encourage one another, to pray for one another and share the in the journey. I came to pick up food only to be fed…

Pastor Steve helped to pick me up, a wounded pastor, on the way while traveling on the same journey…and I am forever grateful for that divine appointment. It was just before Thanksgiving last year that Pastor Steve went in for a routine gall bladder surgery only to discover that it wasn’t gall bladder at all, but rather terminal cancer.
I recall the sheer shock of that horrific news. Yet, through it all Pastor Steve remained a faithful servant of God.

Just today, mere weeks before Thanksgiving – almost one year to the day – Pastor Steve went to be with the Lord. I mourn the loss of such a man of God. This world is better because he walked it. My life is better because he journeyed for a time along with me. He shared in my hurt, and helped to heal the deep wounds of my heart. I know that I will always be thankful for his ministry in my life…even though it was for but the briefest of times. Just like markers in life – where we remember the turning points and milestones – Pastor Steve stands there on one of those points in mine.

I came to pick up food for others only to be fed…and that was a divine appointment designed by the Lord and enacted upon by a faithful servant…thank you Steve! And now while I continue to travel this path, may I too faithful recognize those divine appointments that must enter and help those who walk behind me.

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis.

Hello Again, It’s Me…(A Pondering on Silence In The Prayer Journey)

We all go through times while on the journey where the road is silent.
Other times our prayer life is full of answers and confirmations from God.  Dare I even say that within those silent miles upon the road, I would much rather hear a “No” from God.  By that I mean, my prayers of petition don’t always get answered the way I think that they should be answered.  Thus, in those times of deep silence, when all I want to hear is a word from God, I would even take the answer “no” than nothing at all.

Have you been to that place?
Please tell me that I’m not the only one who has experienced these times.
And within those moments, thoughts run through my head.
Thoughts like, “Is it me?”  “Is my faith too small?”  or, “What did I do to deserve this silence God?”  And then even sillier thoughts fill my mind.  Thoughts like, “God are you off doing something else, or solving somebody else’s problems?”  When all along I know God is present with me, He’s just not saying anything to me at that specific moment.

marriageI equate it to my marriage. 
My wife and I will have been married this year for 20 years (in the world around us, that’s like paleolithic ages for marriages).  I love my wife very deeply, and I know that she loves me the same way…and yes, we finish each other’s sandwiches. (We’ve watched Frozen WAY too many times)

Long story short, we talk a lot.  We share each others hopes, dream, aspirations and the hopes and dreams for our children.  We journey alongside each other through the good days and the not so good days.  That’s what marriage is, that’s what deep relational friendship demands.  We are there for each other.

Jesus and the Marriage: 
Jesus used this illustration of the Bride and Bridegroom in the bible.  He told of the virgins who waited for the bridegroom to arrive…some were wise and some were foolish.  Later on in the Bible, Paul uses this same topic of the bide and bridegroom to illustrated how husbands are to care for their wives to the point of laying down their lives for them, just as Christ did for us.  The bible is full of wedding illustrations and the necessity to not only love each other deeply, but to anticipate and long for Christ’s return.

Back to my Marriage: 
There are times when we talk a lot…but there are also times when we enjoy each other’s company in silence.  Nothing more needs to be said…because we know each other deeply, and we, at times, know what we are thinking.

That’s how I like to view those silent times with our Father in Heaven.
We are still very much in His presence, but no words are needed.  He knows our thoughts, and our hearts…and so He simply journeys alongside us.

It is in these sacred moments of silence that I feel we begin to know and feel the very heart of God.  No words can describe it.  No ceremony can contain it.  We simply join together in His presence.  There is no greater joy than this.  Nothing more holy.
walk2
So the next time you freak out when God doesn’t speak…just be silent.
The next time you fear He isn’t listening…pray for discernment to know He is journeying right next to you.  We don’t always need words, or to hear Him speak.  We walk in faith, knowing the Creator of the Universe journeys right beside you.  Revel in His presence.  Embrace His holiness.  Recognize that sometimes even in the silence, God is saying “Hello, It’s me, I’m still here…and I will never leave you or forsake you!”
-Amen and amen.

Learning To Trust Again…

Perhaps you’ve been betrayed by those you trusted or called ‘friend’ or ‘family’.
Maybe you entrusted someone with personal information only a few would know, thinking that they would always keep it private…and they turned around and spoke ill of you while spilling your secrets to the world.  trust

They say that trust is earned, and that having true allies is often harder to maintain.
Friends, do you struggle with trust issues?
Do you have close confidants who not only listen to you, but tell it like it is?

blueprintMany times we take this imperfect blueprint of friendship, with all of its flaws, lies, broken trusts, and betrayals and we transpose it onto what we think we know about God.  We think that either God doesn’t listen to us, or perhaps He just doesn’t care that much for us.   We make assumptions that aren’t based upon God at all, but rather on the experiences of our world and those in it.  The truth is that God isn’t from this world, He is out of it, and as a matter of fact, He created this world.  Going even further, God ACTUALLY walked with Adam and Eve at the beginning of all things just to fellowship with them.  He truly cared about them.

Along the way, as you might already know the story, Adam and Eve disobeyed God…and broke His heart.   They were kicked out the garden, and you’d think that He would start to have trust issues with His creation, but instead He made covenant after covenant with the Adam and Eve’s ancestors.  He never stopped trusting and loving them.  As a matter of fact, His trust and love for us went so far as to send His One and Only Son – Jesus into the world to make things right for us…to set the story straight.  He never gave up on us…so much so that Jesus died in our place on the cross.
hold
I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but I do know that God wants to tear down the imperfect blueprint that you might have about Him.  He won’t let go of you, and He has never stopped loving you.  The very, very big God of the Universe, comes down to your level and says “Here I am…and I’m not going anywhere because I love you!”  Perhaps you are very burdened today by the weight of so many hurts and problems.  Maybe it’s time to trust again…no, I don’t mean trusting others just yet, I mean start by trusting God to be there for you.  From this place of trust, healing can begin and He will restore your life and heal your broken heart.  (Psalm 147:3)

Prayer: 
Lord, I don’t know how to trust anymore.
I have been hurt by so many things in life and I feel helpless in this mess.
Thank you for loving me, even when I don’t love myself.  Help me to trust You.  I give you my hurts and my burdens…Lord, just be there for me…I want to trust again.  In Your name -Amen.

Something more for you to ponder today.
God Bless you!

Modern Day Psalm.

It’s been too long.
I have exchanged my prayerful conversations
for worry.
I have traded assurances
for fear…
when I should have stood firm,
instead I found
that my feet were slipping
into the depths of the murky mud.

I have become a husk of a man.
the shell
of what I used to be.
When I stopped looking up…
I began to sink.
When I stopped
trusting in You, O God
I began to lose it all.

Where can I go
Apart from you?
What I think in my mind
You already know it.
What I say with my lips
You understand it
and yet I wandered away
I wandered from You…
Why?
Why did I do that?

Could it be that my heart
was never truly in it?
Could it be that my faith
was an inch deep
but a mile wide?
In my distress…
In my darkest hours…
In my hopeless wanderings…
You heard me.
You not only heard,
but you answered me.
ME.

You answered me
in my circumstances
You answered me
through the voices
of brothers and sisters
You answered me
in the ways that cannot
be perceived by ear or sight…
You have been with me
through all of the storms.
I
was
never,
ever
alone.

You are truly my fortress.
You really are my Solid Rock.
I was not
washed away
because you would
not permit it
You would
not allow
it to encompass
and consume me.
I am alive
today only because
of You.

Look deep into
my heart dear Lord,
Find my love again for you.
Search me,
know me again.
Wash me clean.
Remove the blemishes,
Saturate my entire
existence with you
until there is
no differentiation
no beginning
and no end
to Your image
in me.

Day 39 “Have You Unfollowed God?”

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me...” Matthew 15:8

Have you unfollowed God?
godI would imagine most of us would say “no”.
We wouldn’t even think about doing something like that…and yet our actions sometimes speak louder than words.  We praise Jesus one minute and the next we curse someone who has irritated us.  We acknowledge God on Sunday, but forget to include him in our work or school week.  In some ways, we conveniently unfollow God and we don’t even realize it.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be labeled by Jesus as one whose heart is far from him…and yet, if I’m honest it sometimes is.  There are many distractions in life.  There are many time consuming efforts that I engage in that do not edify me and preoccupies my time.  Perhaps it’s more like my mind has unfollowed God, because I have failed to include him and invite him even into my thought patterns.

Paul writes in Romans 12:2b “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  When we allow god2this transformation to take place within our minds – change happens.  We check the box to follow God again.  We are then able to filter what we allow into our minds which bleeds over into our actions.  Without this transformation of the mind and the inclusion and fellowship of God into our lives, we will live but live unfulfilled, empty lives.  This sounds stark and cold, but the reality is that we were created with this very relationship in mind.  If we either consciously or subconsciously unfollow God, we break this relationship and in our hearts we acknowledge that there is something missing, but we can’t quite put our finger on it.  If you’re there right now, perhaps its time to reconnect with God.  Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the many distractions that have taken His place.  We can try and try to fill that void with other things, but nothing will fill that God-shaped hole.  god3

Make it your desire to follow after God today!
Train your thoughts, and renew your mind…need help?  Ask Him, he’s always available and ready to give you strength.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I confess that sometimes I have unfollowed you.  I have failed to include you in my day.  I desire today to converse with you and to include you in it all – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  Lead me Lord.  I long for your fellowship, and a constant conversation with you.  Help me in this discipline of presentness.  I want to show up, I want to be present with you through my day today.  Grant me your strength through the difficult moments of this day, and allow me your discernment in the decisions that must be made, both great and small.  Lord, be in them all today.  I choose to follow you Lord.  -Amen.

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Day 37 “Thy Kingdom, Not My Kingdom”

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  -Matthew  6:33

Yesterday, we explored the topic of persistent prayer, and how this world needs more persistent prayer warriors.  This thing called prayer can be the most effective tool that we have in our spiritual arsenal.  Disciplined prayer warriors can change the world, and I believe we at a place in history that requires more prayer for our world than ever before!

As we ponder this idea of prayer, we inevitably search our thoughts and our hearts for the Seek First the Kingdommost important things to pray for.  Our families are brought to mind.  Our personal concerns and our stressors are also brought to the forefront.  When we pray these things are important and good to pray for.  We also should remember that we are Kingdom people, and as Kingdom people, our priority to Christ and His Kingdom should also be high on that list.  When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray the spirit of humility and servanthood were spoke:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

How can we make God’s Kingdom a priority today?
How can we emphasize God’s will not our will be done today?
Is there a rebellious spirit within us that struggles with these components of submission to God today?  It is not easy to humble ourselves in this way.  We might fight against submitting our will to God’s will, but knowing He cares and loves us and desire to light our path ought to bring comfort and peace even if we struggle with trusting Him.

Seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness is never easy, but does bring us peace when we shift the focus from “me first” to God first.  There is a lightening of the burden when we allow God to carry it for us.  We don’t have to go it alone.  We have One who stands ready to help and to love us.  He comes to our level and desires fellowship and provides assurance and hope.  Thus, when we pray today…seek His kingdom before we seek ours.  As we talked about yesterday, be persistent in these conversations…and start off with accepting His kingdom first and seek after it with your life, heart, soul, mind.

Prayer:  Lord I long to live for your kingdom alone.  Help me in this discipline of pray and submission to you.  You know that this is not easy for me.  I struggle with taking control and selfishness.  I want to seek after you and your righteousness today.  I will not worry about tomorrow, but I will seek your kingdom in my life today.  Grant me your strength for what ever comes my way today.  Walk with me and help me when I become distracted and frustrated.  I pray for those that I will come into contact with today, allow me to show compassion, grace and love to all those I meet.  Lord, your will be done in my life today.  -Amen.

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Day 36 – “Persisting In Prayer”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:6-8

The power of prayer is vital and necessary for all believers!
This discipline of solitude and conversation to God is also crucial.  This is our lifeline.  This is our source of reconnecting to not only all of creation, but the creator!  Prayer is also the realignment of our wants and needs and God’s desire for us.  We can often get ahead of God.  We plot, we plan, we make requests of God and at times these are more like wishes for a genie and not conversation to the Almighty.

Jesus told His disciples that their prayer life should be persistent and ongoing.
He used this parable of a persistent widow to illustrate for them.  This widow did not relent or quit until this godless judge gave her the justice she deserved.  True disciples of Christ ought to do the same thing when it comes to prayer.

Prayer Attention Deficit Disorder…
distractionsOkay, I confess, I made the above disorder up, but it does accurately describe our prayers sometimes doesn’t it?  We pray like a kitten plays with yarn…its great until something more interesting comes along.  We have so many distractions in our world today.  The sounds outside.  Our cell phones.  Checking our social media feed on various platforms.  We live in a very distracting world.  How can we even focus on concentrated prayers when we have all of this distraction around us?  We need quiet.  We must find spaces of solitude so that we can converse with God.  It doesn’t have to be long winded prayers full of “Thees” and “Thous”.  We don’t have to have all of the right things to say either.  Just take five minutes of concentrated time (with no distractions) today and pray.  Start off by praying for your needs (not wants).  Give God thanks for answered prayers.  Then focus on your immediate family…you friends…your coworkers…your boss…your neighbor…and so on.  If it helps put a timer on so that you know when to stop praying.  But commit to just five minutes of prayer each day this week.  At first it may seem very hard to focus in on five minutes.  For some of us, it might seem like an eternity.  But pray and inquire of God what you should pray for too…His Holy Presence with inform and guide you in your conversations.  It will take practice, so do not become frustrated when you don’t accomplish this discipline at first.  Keep trying.  We need more persistent prayer warriors now more than ever in our churches and in our world.   He is calling you and me to be such people of prayer!

Prayer: 
Dear Lord I pray for the issues going on in my life right now.  You know my stresses and my concerns.  You know my frustrations and my passions.  I pray that you light my path and direct my steps this day.  Help me in these conversations with you.  I live in a very distracted world and I confess I am not always readily available to talk to you because of these distractions.  I long to be more disciplined and persistent in my prayers to you.  Lead me Lord in these conversations.  Direct my thoughts and give me the passion to live for You today.   In Your name I pray all of these things.  -Amen.

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Day 19 – Misunderstanding God’s Goodness…

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

This has been a Christian mantra or something placed on a motivational poster, t-shirt or coffee mug.  But I think we misunderstand this verse.  The goodness of God was never about giving someone cancer, or someone losing their job or someone losing a loved one to death.  These are not good things at all.  It was never God’s intention to hurt His creation.  So let’s agree to stop thinking about those things as good – because they are not good things.  (wow, this devotional seems very dark…just wait, it gets better I promise)

Let’s get into the right mindset that God is NOT about causing harm to the world.  He doesn’t work that way.  Yes, He despises sin and hatred, but He doesn’t say “here’s a sickness – consider it a good thing!”  Instead, God is about bringing restoration and transformation in and through us.  That issue you might be going through right now, guess what?  God is right there beside you.  He will never leave you, and despite the troubles you might be experiencing, He loves you and even weeps with you.  He hurts when you hurt.  He wants to lead you through it, and in some instances deliver you from that trial.  Don’t look at those trials as good, or as something to “look forward to”…obviously God doesn’t wish to inflict pain on you…but despite the world’s circumstances, and the fallen-ness of it, He will make something good come from it.

What are you struggling with today?
Do you see light at the end of this tunnel?
Are you tired?  Worn out?  Angry?  tough
I know that it is easy to blame God, but just know that He wants to help and give you hope!
Are you prepared to lean on His strength?  Perhaps you are already – keep leaning on Him, He will lead you through this dark time.  For the rest of us who are not presently in a tough situation, will you pray for those that are?  There is real strength and power in the prayer of the Christ-follower.  Even if you do not know about specific details and situations, prayer for your fellow Christian brother or sister is mighty and God knows the specifics.
Do not misunderstand God’s love for you, however.  Recognize His constant care and provisions in your life right now, and give thanks for those good things!

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see your hand on me in these difficult days.  Although I cannot see the future and the outcome – you can.  Lead me.  I know that these things are not good and I hate feeling this way, but show me your goodness and glory.  Reveal to me your hope and joy despite the present circumstances.  Lord, I also pray for others who are in very dark places right now.  Help me to be your hope, encouragement and love to them!  Make me an instrument of your peace in the world around me today.  In your name I pray these things.   -Amen.

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