Know Thing Gnu

I dreamed I shared my thoughts, and all agreed
That thoughts I thought were thought to be divine.
Some ask, “What is your source? We really need
To know whose words these are.” And I said, “Mine!”

My thoughts were bought as thoughts that ought to be
On paper, lest the caper be revealed
That thinkers drink the ink that taught the sea
To linger dark and deep, her secrets sealed.

There’s simply nothing new beneath the sun.
Ecclesiastes gives us all away.
We think we think anew, new thing begun,
Because we don’t remember what we say

Was first heard of another long ago,
Elocution attribution goes no know.


Little Flock

Birdfeeders once drew cardinals and jays
And other sundry birds just passing through.
Sometimes a finch. No mockingbirds these days.
Do mockingbirds eat seeds? I have no clue.

Days grow shorter, colder, still, and quiet.
The clouds cast shadows as they mist my face.
Sunshine hides. I try, but I can’t spy it.
Nor can I hide; clouds always win the race.

Sparrows flock to feed upon my feeder.
Little shades of brown. They are all the same.
They fly without formation, have no leader.
Just feathered mice, no rose by any name.

God’s eye is on the sparrow, not the clock.
God knows your needs, so fear not, little flock.

The Devil’s Foothold

Eleven worshippers were killed on the Sabbath at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. A few days earlier, two shoppers were shot in Jeffersontown, KY, after the gunman failed to enter a black church, where 70 worshippers had been gathered a half hour earlier. The gunmen were obviously unstable and very, very angry.

It is always wrong to kill because of someone’s race, nationality, religion, or opinions. As with the first murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel, murder begins with anger. Anger is a natural human emotion, but one that our faith requires us to reign in and control. Like the LORD told Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7b)

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 when he says, “’In your anger do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26)

The problem with anger is that it gives the devil a foothold. That’s why Jesus equates anger with murder. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22a)

Anger is like smoking. Each little puff seems harmless enough, but each one weakens us and brings us closer to sickness and death. Each little angry word or thought seems like no big deal, but if they build up, they bring us closer and closer to making bad decisions, harming others, or destroying friendships.

But what about those people and groups who seem to deserve our wrath? The Bible is clear on taking revenge. Paul sums it up in Romans 12:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Some people do not live by these words, so it is even more important that we keep them in mind. One person’s anger inspires another, and before you know it, friends break up, marriages fail, churches split, or some unstable person goes on a rampage. But if we’re quick to listen and slow to speak, we won’t be making things worse.

In these days of heated rhetoric and divergent opinions, let’s remember what God’s Word says about anger, and pray that Jesus will help us be patient and forgiving.

Hard Hearts & Stiff Necks

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”

Mark 10:1-11

My message today is not about divorce. It takes two to get married but only one to get divorced. I would not be surprised to learn that there are divorced people in our church, just like in all other churches. Statistics show that at least one in three marriages will end in divorce. We presume nothing about these break-ups. If a spouse is abusive, divorce might be the only reasonable option. The legal and social implications of divorce are far different today.

I might use this scripture to counsel a married couple that wants to stay together. I would never use this scripture to condemn a divorced individual. Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was living with a man out of wedlock, and even then he did not condemn her.

Pharisees were legalists, and they often used scripture to condemn other people. Every time they did in Jesus’ presence, he turned the tables to correct their understanding of God’s Law.

So what does this scripture say about the Law? Jesus is unequivocal: To divorce one wife and marry another is an act of adultery. That means the Law of God handed down by Moses way back in the book of Exodus is a permit to commit adultery. In Malachi 2:16 God says, “I hate divorce.” – but God’s law makes legal divorce possible. What does this say about God and God’s law?

It says that God is loving and forgiving. It says that the human heart is hard and stubborn, but God won’t let that separate him from his creation. The law of Moses that permits divorce is an act of compassion on the part of God, because nobody is served by being trapped in an abusive partnership.

The scripture is a little different in Matthew 19. There, the Pharisees ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Because Moses didn’t say you had to have a reason; he just said you had to put it in writing. (Matt. 19:3)

The ending in Matthew is different, too. In Matthew 19:10, “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” We know from scripture that Peter was married before he became a disciple, but this passage makes me wonder if some of the disciples had been previously divorced. It certainly implies that some were not yet married.

When Jesus taught scripture, it was usually to condemn the way others were abusing it. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” (Matt. 5:38) That was also in the Law: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. People were using that to extract their revenge, and even today we use it to justify our actions. But the law doesn’t say you have to extract revenge. It is really putting a limit on revenge – you can’t take two eyes for one, or two teeth for one.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Matt. 5:43) That’s in the law, too. But Jesus is saying that we should not only love neighbors and friends, but also strangers and enemies. He is asking us to hold ourselves to a standard even higher than the Law.

The question for us is not about divorce, or neighbors, or even revenge. The question is about a hard heart. In Mark 8, Jesus told the disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod (8:14). They thought he was talking about bread, and he said, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (17)

In the book of Acts, Stephen said, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

The book of Romans quotes Isaiah to say of those whose hearts were hardened, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”

With a hard heart and a stiff neck, we need miracles to believe and laws to keep us in line. The terms “hard heart” and “stiff neck” are used to describe people who refuse to listen, people think we know it all and we don’t need to learn more.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy goes beyond calling it a hard heart. Paul calls it, a conscience seared as with a hot iron: “The Spirit clearly says that in latter times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” That seared conscience is making its own laws, apparently to make up for a hard heart. People with soft hearts do the right thing out of love for God and for others. Paul says, and Jesus seems to agree, that the Law was written for hard hearted people who don’t believe. Believers are held in line not by the law, but by the Love of God.

Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 when it says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion. … So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:15,19)

Jesus holds us to a higher standard than the Law of Moses. But Jesus also gives us a better way to please God than just following the Law. Jesus gives us a reason to believe. Jesus shows us that God loves and forgives. Jesus tells us to love and forgive. Jesus gave his all to reunite us with God. We should give our all to be reunited with God.

Jesus replaced the Law with faith, hate with love, and discipline with passion. As Paul said in Romans 13:9-10, “The commandments … are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

It’s an odd truth, but it’s one we should remember, and one for which we thank God. You don’t have to know the law to fulfill the law. All you have to know is that Jesus commanded us to love one another. That is the fulfillment of the law.

Salted with Fire

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’

Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Mark 9:38-50 NIV

At first glance, there may seem to be multiple messages here. One says whoever is not against us is for us. Another says don’t cause these little ones to stumble. A third says it’s better to enter heaven maimed than to enter hell whole. Another says salt is worthless when it loses its flavor.

But all this is part of a bigger story, and one that starts before today’s scripture. The chapter starts with Peter, James and John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Then, Jesus has to cast out a demon because the disciples can’t do it. They argue about who’s going to be the greatest in heaven.

Then we come to today’s passage. John says they tried to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t with them. This is the same John who had seen the transfiguration, the same John who argued about who would be the greatest, the same John who couldn’t cast out a demon without Jesus’ help. So you can imagine how he felt when someone who wasn’t even traveling with them was able to cast out a demon when he could not.

These are not story fragments; they are one continuous story. So it matters that Jesus goes immediately into the admonition not to cause one of these little ones to sin. Is this just any cause and any sin? Maybe, but it certainly includes the sin of trying to stop someone who is trying to serve God through faith in Jesus just because that person is not in our church or in lock step with our doctrine. Jesus is not the one who drives people out of our churches. What drives young people out of our churches is the internal fighting that pits one Christian against another. People are turned off to the church by how we put down other churches and other believers.

Jesus often went over-the-top to make his point. Better to lose a hand, foot or eye than to be cast into the fire. The hand is what you do; better to stop doing it. The foot is where you go; better to stop going there. The eye is what you observe; better to stop watching.

The disciples had been asking about what would their reward be for following Jesus. Here, Jesus is not talking about reward, but sacrifice. What are we willing to give up to follow Jesus? How are we willing to change? Whoever does not take up his cross … those who lose their lives will save them … anyone who loves mother, father, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me … in so many ways, Jesus tells us that our pursuit of God in Jesus Christ must be our top priority.

How are we willing to change? We should start with those things that offend these little ones. Am I willing to give up on my hard opinions, to lose the fight in order to keep the peace? Or does my pride make me insist on my doctrine no matter what it does to people? Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin would be better off with a millstone around his neck.

Jesus said everyone will be salted with fire. Is that the fire of suffering, or the fire of the Holy Spirit? Maybe it’s both. But everyone is not the same as all. It doesn’t say all of us, the church at large, will be salted with fire. It says that everyone, each person individually, will be salted. We will each be tested by God. We are so afraid to let others be wrong or to let them disagree with us. But like Jesus said, whoever is not against us is for us.

Jesus talked about salt as the gospel, that a little an season a lot of food, but it has to taste like salt. The Gospel has to act like the gospel, or it’s just so many words to fight about. A gospel that does not love is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not forgive is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not draw people to Christ, or a gospel that drives people away, is not the Gospel. Those are examples of salt that has lost its saltiness.

“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Church, we live in hard and controversial times. There are a lot of hard opinions out there, and if we just pick sides, we’ll get thrown in with people whose opinions are a lot harder than ours. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion and don’t take a stand. But I am saying what Jesus is saying: “Be at peace with one another.” Jesus was serious when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It might look like salt, and it might feel like salt, but if it isn’t salty, then it’s good for nothing. That’s true for salt, and it’s true for religion.

All this brings to mind Romans 12:9-14:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Each one of us will be salted with fire. Each one of us will stand before the judgment seat. Sound doctrine is important only insofar as it leads us to make disciples and love one another. Anything else only looks like salt.

Everyone will be salted by fire. If that’s the fire of suffering, then remember that Jesus is saying that the question is not what reward will we get for following him, but what are we willing to sacrifice? If it’s the fire of the Holy Spirit, then who am I to judge someone else’s work if they follow Jesus and love others?

I think it’s both, the fire of suffering and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has been talking about both. The disciples could not drive out the demon because, as Jesus said, “This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting.” Fasting – the sacrifice we are willing to make. Prayer – the time we spend with God. They couldn’t drive out the demon because they had not spent enough time with God; they were not committed enough to rely solely on God. Then, they tried to stop someone who had done the work and made the sacrifice.

I pray we will not be guilty of causing these little ones to sin. Let’s make sure our salt is salty, and let’s have peace among us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.



High and Lifted Up

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:13-17

How do you get people’s attention when you want it? In a classroom, you might raise your hand and wait for the teacher to respond. In a burning building, you would scream at the top of your lungs. If you were stranded on a desert island, you might light a fire. On the battlefield, they used to blow a trumpet or raise a flag. If one signal doesn’t work, you try something else.

So how would God get our attention? You would think that God would have our attention with every breath, every sunrise. It might take the miracle of a flower or a baby. Some people need the fury of lightning or an earthquake.

Today’s scripture refers back to an Old Testament story about the children of Israel in the wilderness. They had disobeyed God the first time they reached the Jordan, so God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years till that generation died off. Moses’ brother Aaron had already died. But God was still providing manna to keep the people alive. In spite of their rebellion, God was still taking care of them. So imagine how God must have felt when the people kept complaining.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

–Numbers 21:4-8

After all God had done, the children of Israel were still complaining. That is what we mean by “tempting the LORD thy God”. This “miserable food” they talked about was the manna that God sent down every day to feed the people – and they detested it!
God could have destroyed them all then and there, but instead, he sent snakes into the camp to bite them, and many of them died. Then they saw their sin. They said to Moses, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.”

What does it take to get people’s attention? Do you have to part the Red Sea? Squeeze water out of a rock? Drop manna from the sky? Like it says in Psalm 78:32-33, “In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.”

“He ended their days in futility.” We don’t get much done without God’s help. “…and their years in terror.” Without God’s protection, the world is a scary place.

God didn’t give up on the people, but he had to get their attention. “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that the Most High was their Redeemer (Psalm 78:34-35).”

So Moses prayed to God, and God told him to make a serpent and lift it on a pole. When the people were bitten, they could look at the serpent and not die. And here’s where Jesus fits in. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

How is Jesus on the cross like Moses’ bronze serpent on the pole? What does it take to get our attention? When the children of Israel were bitten, they remembered why – because they had sinned against God. When they looked at the bronze snake, they remembered that God is merciful. Psalm 78:38 says, “Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.” God got their attention, and they did not die.

What does it take to get our attention? We’re surrounded by snakes, and our sins bite us. Does that get our attention? We look at how Jesus suffered, in a manner so visible it gets our attention 2,000 years later. Does that get our attention?

Paul referred to the snake story as well. In 1 Corinthians 10:9-11, he wrote, “We should not test Christ, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

What does it take to get our attention? I would love to say that this story is about the sin of grumbling and complaining. Personally, I think that internal complaining is a sickness in any organization. We forget where the manna comes from and complain because God doesn’t send us quail and T-bones every day. When we grumble, we show that we are not grateful – which means we aren’t paying attention to the blessings God pours out on us.

But there were other sins that the people of Israel committed, and God lifted his hand of protection to get their attention.

1 Corinthians 11:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.”

In Luke 10:19, Jesus says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”
When you’re bitten by snakes, God lifts up the bronze serpent, to get your attention. When you’re bitten by sins and trouble, God lifts up his Son on a cross, to get your attention. When we’re tempted, God provides a way out. Jesus is that Way.

What does it take to get our attention?

When times are tough, we turn to Scripture. And even if we don’t have a Bible with us, we all remember at least one verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s in today’s scripture. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

What does it take to get our attention?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

2018 Sonnet 81

This perfect face, this master race, I’m best.
I run this place; I won the culture war.
Good decision? Best religion? Pass the test!
My movie, my projector – I’m the star!

I’m just so proud to serve a humble Lord!
I fight for those who turn the other cheek.
Trust in those who are living by the sword.
No reason to follow the poor and weak.

I’m in control, and power keeps it so.
Forget the staff, but do not spare the rod.
While I’m in charge, I don’t just think; I know.
I get to pick the color of our God.

We fight for peace, for freedom is not free.
We hate to love, spend to save, die to be.

2018 Sonnet 80

I built a bridge, but I could not cross it.
Like Moses on the mountaintop, I saw
My goal. Another to whom I toss it
Crossed the Jordan, now swings the donkey’s jaw

Against my strawmen, shadow phantom foes
Who haunted and taunted against my goals
Till Samuels and Daniels are random Joes.
I paved the road but could not pay the tolls.

Like Haman hoisted on his own petard,
Araunah’s oxen cooking on their yokes,
Plow my garden and plant a level yard.
My bouquet makes a decent mulch. The joke’s

On me! But sometimes Prophets take a stand
Against the watchmen o’er the Promised Land.

2018 Sonnet 79

Mirror, mirror looking good in that frame
Of cast iron, aluminum, wood, plastic –
Doesn’t matter how you’re wrapped, all the same,
Every mirror I see looks fantastic!

Mirror, mirror on a wall, in a stand,
On a door, where you are doesn’t matter.
Mirror, sweet mirror, I’m your biggest fan!
Be secure, for sure. Don’t fall and shatter.

Mirror, mirror, strangely, some don’t like you.
They see you but they don’t like what they see.
I don’t get it! No one waits in my que.
Envy dampens their curiosity!

Like Narcissus falls for his reflection,
I just have a thing for my perfection.

Trust in the LORD

Praise the Lord!
My soul, praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord all my life.
I will sing praises to him as long as I live.
Don’t depend on your leaders for help.
Don’t depend on people, because they cannot save you.
People die and are buried.
Then all their plans to help are gone.
It is a great blessing for people to have the God of Jacob to help them.
They depend on the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth.
He made the sea and everything in it.
He can be trusted to do what he says.
He does what is right for those who have been hurt.
He gives food to the hungry.
The Lord frees people locked up in prison.
The Lord makes the blind see again.
The Lord helps those who are in trouble.
The Lord loves those who do right.
The Lord protects strangers in our country.
He cares for widows and orphans,
but he destroys the wicked.
The Lord will rule forever!
Zion, your God will rule forever and ever!
Praise the Lord!

— Psalm 146 (ERV)

Psalm 146 was not written this year, or two years ago, or even two hundred years ago, although it could apply to every leaders elected official in U.S. history. It was not even written 2,000 years ago, although it could apply to King Herod, Pilate or Caesar. It well describes the relationship between Moses and the Children of Israel when he failed to live up to their expectations. It talks about the king of Egypt, King David, King Cirus, and every other leader in history.

Don’t depend on your leaders for help. Don’t depend on people, because they cannot save you. People die and are buried. Then all their plans to help are gone. That describes the plight of every leader, even the most qualified, most powerful, most intelligent, most benevolent, etc. It explains why every leader has both admirers and critics. It explains why all leaders fall short of expectations.

People want a savior. The children of Israel wanted Moses to give them a safe and easy life, and when things looked bad, they were willing to go back to the brickyards in Egypt for safety.

But people die. The incidence of death in humans is 100 percent. And while they live, all humans sin, and make mistakes, and fall short of perfection. In a democracy, we choose our leaders with high expectations, then hold them responsible when they fall short of those expectations. So we start looking for the next big thing, the next leader who can get us out of this mess.

It goes for all leaders. Popes, bishops, ministers, elders, deacons – there is not one who can do all the things we want them to do. We have such high expectations, don’t we? Since I entered ministry, I have been put on a pedestal by people who think I can solve every problem.

People ask me to save marriages, solve homelessness, rescue churches and turn sinners into saints. That’s great as long as the problems are small, and when God solves the problem, sometimes the preacher gets the credit. But preachers are just people, and somewhere down the line, there will be problems too big for the preacher to solve. Somewhere down the line, most preachers retire, and all preachers die.

Here in the Word of God, from the pen of a poet, writing three thousand years ago, we are given a heads up that humans can’t save us. But that same book, that same psalm, gives us hope for the savior we need.

It is a great blessing for people to have the God of Jacob to help them.
They depend on the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth.
He made the sea and everything in it.
He can be trusted to do what he says.

How many times do we think that a problem can be solved by committees, meetings, contracts and bylaws? It helps to work together; two heads are better than one, as they say. But we should never start any project, or tackle any problem, without first going to the LORD in prayer and depending on God for guidance.

“If it is not the LORD who builds a house, the builders are wasting their time. If it is not the LORD who watches over the city, the guards are wasting their time.” That’s what Psalm 127 says.

We all know about success stories where a dynamic new preacher causes tremendous growth in a church. You might notice that it usually is a new church, and not just a new pastor. But unless the LORD builds the house, the builders are wasting their time!

If a church grows because of that one great leader, then it will also fall when that leader fails, or leaves, or dies. Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders are wasting their time!

One of the first songs of David is recorded in 2 Samuel 22. “There is no Rock except our God,” David sang. “God is my strong fortress. He clears the path I need to take. He makes my feet as steady as those of a deer. Even on steep mountains he keeps me from falling.” (2 Samuel 22:32-34)

David was a great leader as long as he relied on God, and when he stopped relying on God, things didn’t go so well. The same was true of his son Solomon, and of every king of Israel. God makes clear in the history of Israel that it is God’s influence, and not the skill of any one person, that makes the difference between success and failure.

Psalm 62:9-11 is a good summary of my point:

People cannot really help.
You cannot depend on them.
Compared to God, they are nothing –
No more than a gentle puff of air!
Don’t trust in your power to take things by force.
Don’t think you will gain anything by stealing.
And if you become wealthy, don’t put your trust in riches.
God says there is one thing you can really depend on, and I believe it:
“Strength comes from God!”

I don’t mistrust people for dishonesty. Some are dishonest, but most people try to tell the truth. I don’t mistrust people for incompetence. We are a successful society because most people are pretty good at what they do. If I mistrust people, it is because they are people. I don’t expect people to do what only God can do.