You Can Be ‘All In’ (even if you’ve still got questions)

And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

As Luke introduces us to Mary, he tells us a story in which Mary has very little to say.

Most of the talking is done by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel has figured prominently in Luke’s gospel, having already appeared to Zechariah in much the same way as he appears to Mary. Gabriel – as we might expect of God’s messenger – carries the major speaking role in the drama. Mary only speaks twice.

She asks a question (“How can this be?”).  

And she speaks a prayer (“Let it be to me according to your word”).

Don’t miss that. Our questions and prayers belong together.

Somehow, we forget this. We assume that people who have questions about God’s will and God’s ways don’t pray, or that those who pray don’t have questions about God’s will and God’s ways. We are wrong to think this way. Good questions make the stuff of good honest prayers.

“How can it be” and “let it be done” make good neighbors.

“How Can This Be?”  

It’s worth pondering that both Zechariah and Mary responded to Gabriel’s message with a question. Mary’s “How can this be” is matched by Zechariah’s “How can I be sure of this?”

We see that Zechariah’s question was an unwillingness to believe (1:20). We get no trace of that in Mary. Understandably, Mary is “greatly troubled.” The NLT Bible describes her as “confused and disturbed” (1:29). Her question is not resistance, but true wonderment.

The story of Mary is the story of a literal conception. Cells divided. An embryo took shape in her womb and a heart began to beat. Fingers and toes, chin and nose, the body of a boy. This was Jesus. This was the body of the one whose mouth would speak God’s thoughts and whose touch would heal. This was the body that would one day be crucified.

We ask Mary’s question: “How can this be?” The answer we receive in scripture ignores cellular biology. This happens by the Spirit and Power of God. At the creation of the world, the Spirit hovered over chaos and brought forth life. In Mary’s womb the Spirit came with power and created life.

In Mary we see a perfectly legitimate question. And yet, her question never gets in the way of faith and trust.

“Let It Be As You Say”  

Gabriel may get all the good lines in the dialogue, but Mary gets the last word.

After her questions, after Gabriel’s very brief answer about the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High, Mary yields herself to what she cannot fully understand. She never insists on being able to make sense of what God is doing. She questions but she doesn’t interrogate.

She stands before God with open hands and a willing heart.

“Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38 ESV). The NLT again is helpful here: “May everything you have said about me come true.”

Mary is all in. Even with her questions. 

In Mary we see the model of a prayerful life. We may not know exactly what God’s will is. We do not always receive assurances as to what will happen and explanations as to how. We lay the matter that concerns us before Jesus and we leave it there, knowing that he will do what is good, even if we don’t understand it.  

Now it’s your turn. What matter do you bring before Jesus today?

What will you leave with him trusting that whatever he does will be good?

What are you facing that eludes figuring out, refusing a clear answer or resolution?

Listen carefully to Mary and borrow her prayer, confident that God will do what is good. Ask your questions and open your hands.

All in. 


Do what you will to do, Lord God. In the midst of what we cannot understand or figure out, teach us to trust you, knowing that “You are good and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68). We come before you today with our honest questions. And we come with yielded hearts, praying in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So Much for Our Plans

In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel . . . to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David (Luke 1:26-27).

December is barely one week old, and already it seems like I’m seeing the month disappear.  Like a mirage that takes shape before parched desert travelers, December looms large on the horizon until we move closer. Where does it go?

‘Tis the season for making plans: Family plans, travel plans, social plans, financial plans to undergird our gift-giving plans. Plans are a necessary part of Christmas, and one of the most enjoyable. Plans give shape to our anticipation. Plans keep words like joy and love from being mere abstractions or nice platitudes. Plans embody our highest hopes and best intentions.

But there are times when the plans we make and the Christmas we actually live through bear no resemblance to each other. Travel is thwarted, relational tensions intensify, financial constraints force restraint. Christmas – perhaps more than any season of the year – teaches us to hold our plans loosely.

Living with Our Hands Open   

Mary was a young woman with plans. These plans weren’t private property, something she had cooked up in her own mind. The plans that Mary had were made for her at some point; by the agreement of the parents involved she was pledged to be married to Joseph. We have no reason to believe that Mary was forced into this plan. This is how marriages took place in her world. The plans made for her were her plans too.

We know enough about that time and place to know that being pledged to Joseph brought with it other plans: plans for making a home and having a family, plans that sound very much like the kinds of things we plan for ourselves today.

And then God sent the angel Gabriel to announce a new plan. “You will be with child and give birth to a son” (Lk. 2:31). So much for Mary’s plan.   

For a few days this week we’ll be keeping company with Mary. We’ll watch and listen as she gives herself to a plan not of her own making, a plan she never imagined. She is a remarkable woman: direct and honest, bold and humble. Mary models for us a life of trust and risk. She stands before God with her hands open, not clutching at the life she had in mind for herself.

Mary reminds us that God is not an idea to be debated or a concept to be discussed. God is a living personal presence who shows up and makes a claim on our life. This week we’ll listen to that claim. And more importantly we’ll listen to Mary’s answer.

Plans and Purposes

Proverbs 19:21 says “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” This wisdom invites us to ponder the relationship between our plans and God’s purposes. Plans are what we make, creating lists, keeping a calendar, managing various commitments. Purposes are greater than plans. Purposes are what our plans aim at, giving them meaning.

When we plan well, there’s a congruence between our plans and God’s purposes. What we see in Mary’s story, however, is that God’s purposes may at times change our plans. We really can’t live well without making plans. And we can’t live well by resisting or ignoring God’s purposes.     

What kind of plans are you making for the coming weeks?

What is the purpose beneath your plans?

What purposes do you think God might have for you in this Advent season? 


We invite you even now, O God, to show up in our plans according to your will and purposes. Keep us alert in this season of the year, ready to be surprised and perhaps even troubled at your claim on us. Make us ready and willing to answer you with trusting hearts, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Prayer You’ve Given Up On

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,[a] of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years

How many times had Zechariah come home from his priestly work to be greeted yet again with a familiar question from his young son?

“Daddy, did you see Gabriel today?”

John wasn’t really seeking information when he asked this. He wasn’t interested in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer from his father. The question really wasn’t a question at all. It was an invitation to tell a story. A story that John had heard before but never grew weary of hearing again. A story that defined the man he would become. A story that Zechariah never grew tired of telling.  

The Hiding Place of the Holy

With every telling the moment was as real and stunning as the day it happened. Zechariah would tell about the once in a lifetime chance to offer incense on behalf of the people; he would vividly describe the startling appearance of an angel next to the altar; he recount the angel’s announcement that Elizabeth would bear a child; he would confess again his reluctance to believe that such a thing was possible; he would remember the sudden absence of sound from his throat and lips, and the nine months of quiet watching that followed.

John relished every detail. Zechariah was the storyteller, but John always glanced toward his mother when it came to the part about how she had never been able to have a child. There was something about the way his mother smiled at that part. Her face was very old, but her delight in that piece of the drama made her seem so much younger than her age, almost girlish again.

With every telling of the story, John learned something about his parents. But most importantly, John learned something about God.  The story of his birth taught John that God shows up in unexpected ways in the most unexpected places. He learned that barren places are often the hiding place of the Holy, that wilderness places are the stage for divine drama.

And John learned something about prayer. He heard how there had been a time when his mom and dad prayed fervently for a baby. But with the passing of years the fervency of that prayer had waned until it eventually gave way to a quiet resignation to a child-less life.

No Wasted Prayers

Until that day in the temple. “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (Lk. 1:13).  

With God there is no statute of limitations on a prayer.

God is perfectly willing to answer the prayer you’ve given up on.

Perhaps today there’s a prayer you’ve stopped praying.

We do that. We learn to move on and focus on more positive and promising aspects of our lives. Our prayers from time to time will wander back to that hardscrabble place, but the fervency and expectancy has leaked out of those prayers. They’ve become occasional reminders to God, nothing more. We learn to live with a certain amount of desolation: desolate career, desolate relationships, desolate dreams, desolate health. We are afraid to believe that the slightest sprig of life will ever emerge from those places.

But Zechariah’s story teaches us exactly what it taught John. No prayer is wasted, and God is at work in the barren places of our lives. What we need is courage to go to the desert. What desolate place in your life have you learned to ignore or tolerate?

God has a way of showing up in the places we’ve given up on. Grace Church folk, If you have your Luke journal (a Bible works too!) underline Luke 1:13. Make a note about a prayer that you’ve stopped praying or name the place where you’re asking to show up in a surprising way.

Where is that place for you today?


Once again, O Lord, I bring the barren places of my life before you.  Give me courage to wait on you there knowing that you delight to show up in surprising ways in the places I’ve given up on. Meet me in those places during this Advent season, I pray. Amen.

The Jesus Story for Skeptics and Outsiders

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us . . . . With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).

I can’t remember a time when the church wasn’t like home to me. The sanctuary furniture, the aroma of Wednesday night dinner, the songs and hymns, the stories from the Bible – throughout my entire life these have formed a kind of refuge. Something familiar and comforting.

I don’t say all of that because I’m a pastor. Perhaps I’m a pastor because I can honestly say all of that.

Having been so thoroughly immersed in “church-world” for so long, the challenge for me is in recognizing that for so many people none of those things is true.

For some people, church was never part of their life.

For others, church failed them. It somehow became a source of pain or hurt or rejection.

For still others, what was once good and life giving simply got elbowed to the edges of life by busyness or any assortment of other things that looked better and more life giving.

For whatever reason, for many people church and faith are alien to their way of life. Interestingly, those are the very people that the church is called to reach.

So how do we tell the Jesus story to skeptics who aren’t sure they believe it, or to outsiders who feel excluded by it?

Some Help from Doctor Luke

The New Testament opens with four documents that tell us about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Each of them speaks with a distinctive voice, reflecting a distinctive perspective on the story, composed with a distinctive audience in mind.

Among the four, the gospel according to Luke gives us the Jesus story for skeptics and outsiders.

Luke speaks to the skeptics in the very first sentences of his gospel. Here he puts his cards on the table (as it were) and sets forth his methodology for the twenty-four chapters to follow. A skeptic will appreciate something that has been thoroughly examined, researched, thought out. Luke claims to have “carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” examining the eyewitness reports of the earliest followers of Jesus. With this research he compiled “an accurate account” of the Jesus story. His purpose in all of this diligent study was so that we “might have certainty” about what we’ve been taught (Luke 1:1-4 NLT).

Luke speaks to outsides because he knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As Eugene Peterson concisely explains, “Luke is the only Gentile in an all-Jewish cast of New Testament writers.” As Luke tells the Jesus story he does so with an eye to women, common laborers, socially marginalized and racially snubbed. Luke has no patience for “religion as a club.”         

Nowhere is this more evident than in the much-loved Christmas stories. In Luke’s familiar telling of the birth of Jesus we note the prominence of Mary and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the aged Anna speaking a prophetic word alongside the devout Simeon.

Luke’s stories draw us in close, skeptics and outsiders especially welcomed.

Nativity, Mission, Passion

This past Sunday at Grace Church Pastor Marnie introduced a new series that will take us all the way to Easter – that’s about 131 days. We’ll gather weekly as a congregation and hear the Jesus story as told by Doctor Luke. In broad strokes, we’ll work through Luke’s story of good news in three sections:

“Luke: The Nativity.” This will be our focus for the coming month, the weeks of Advent. We’ll make our way toward Christmas Day with some of the best-known Bible stories of the season.

This will be followed in the new year by “Luke: The Mission.” For these weeks we’ll walk with Jesus, observing his powerful deeds, listening to his challenging teaching.

Finally, we’ll come to “Luke: The Passion.” As we approach Easter, we’ll follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem, the site of his rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection.  

At Grace Church you’ll be provided with a journal that has the text of Luke with space for your notes, allowing you to do your own Luke-like investigation of Jesus. I hope you’ll fully engage this study of Luke’s gospel. But even more importantly . . .

Maybe you know a skeptic. Or maybe you know someone who feels like an outsider to the whole church / faith experience.

Maybe that person is you. Sometimes skeptical. Sometimes on the outs with that messy flawed gathering of God’s people called “church.”

Don’t let these days get by without joining those Bethlehem shepherds and seeing for yourself what God has revealed. Pray for someone you know who needs to do that.

This is “good news of great joy for all people” (Lk. 2:10). Skeptics and outsiders included.

Prayer: Gracious God, we’re thankful for the way you pursue us – and especially the way you pursue the skeptics who struggle to believe and the outsiders who struggle to belong. In the infant Jesus you entered our world, intent on showing us who you are and what you are like. Pursue us in these days of Advent, and give us grace to know you better, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

With Us

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34).

At a very early age I learned exactly where God lived.

I came to understand that God lived in the same place where I went to church every week. God’s address was the address of the Baptist church where my Dad preached and where I went to Sunday school and sang in choir. I knew this to be true because I was told over and over again that the place where we did all these things was ‘God’s House.’ In my young mind that meant God resided there the same way I resided at my house.

To go to church meant to pay a visit to the house of God. And when you went to God’s house a certain decorum was expected. For one thing, you dressed your best. And above all (I had to be told constantly) you were never to run in church.

It would be a few years before I came to understand God’s house in a more nuanced way. I was never bothered by whether the Methodist church or the Catholic Church in town were also God’s house. I just assumed that God inhabited my church, and that the furniture and the carpet and the smell of those painted cinderblock classrooms were part of God’s dwelling place.

The place of worship and the practice of worship were very closely connected. Truthfully, for me I guess they still are in some ways.     

The Tabernacle

As the Israelites made their long wilderness journey they came to a point where they were told to construct a place of worship. Our word for that place is “Tabernacle.” The Hebrew word is mishkan, a word that simply means “dwelling.” Sometimes slightly different words are used. In Exodus 34:26 it is spoken of as the “house of Yahweh.” The Tabernacle is also referred to as the “tent of meeting (Ex. 28:43).

Whatever it’s called, its purpose and meaning is clear: this is the place where God would meet with his people; this is the place where the people would come to meet with God. Biblical scholar Tremper Longman writes that “the symbolism of the entire structure revolved around one central idea: the Holy God was present in the midst of the camp.”[1]

To be honest, if you set out to read the book of Exodus, you’ll feel like you’ve hit quicksand at about chapter 35. The detailed inventory of material used for Tabernacle and the instructions regarding its construction are excruciating to read. But they are not insignificant. Longman points out the ordinary materials are used for the outer areas of the Tabernacle. But as you move to the center, the Holy of holies, the materials become more valuable and precious – silver and gold. That’s because God was at the center of the Tabernacle.

Does Place Matter?

This week as follow Israel’s wilderness journey we will give our attention to this place of worship, the house of God. We’ll be pondering two simple truths that the Tabernacle represents for us today.

First, God is intent on dwelling with and meeting with his people. This truth runs straight to the New Testament in the birth story of Jesus. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

Second, the space and place where this meeting happens really matters. To read the instructions given in Exodus is to see that it matters a great deal to God.   

Some might object that we can meet with God anywhere (the golf course is often mentioned as a perfectly viable alternative). There is truth to this. God is not restrained to a structure or a street address. God was certainly present with his wandering people long before the Tabernacle was built.

Nevertheless, the Tabernacle was built. And it was God’s idea, built in accordance with God’s design. This week we’re thinking about why, and what it means for us.

Sure, you can meet with a deal with God anytime and anyplace.

But when you “go” to meet with God, where do you go? Do you go? And does it matter?   


Gracious God, it’s hard for us to grasp that you desire to meet with us and dwell among us. Because we know you in habit all places, we easily take your presence for granted. And we can easily neglect the practice of gathering with your people in your house. Meet us now in these moments of prayer, and give us a yearning to meet with you, we ask in the name of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Amen.

Mark H. Crumpler

Teaching Pastor

[1] Cited in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 1105.

Desert Dwellers

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water (Exodus 15:22).

I live in a comfortable home in the 18017 zip code of the Lehigh Valley.

About two miles to the north is Wegman’s. Roughly the same distance in a different direction is Weiss. In each the shelves are generously stocked. In 18017 indoor plumbing and running water are commonplace, as are central heat and air. During a recent cold snap we decided it was time to pull out the electric blanket. We might have been a little early with the blanket, but we never thought twice about the electricity needed to make it toasty warm.

In 18017 every creature comfort is readily available. And yet this zip code, like every zip code in the country, is a wilderness. The Lehigh Valley is populated with desert dwellers.

This week we’ll follow the Israelites’ journey beyond the soggy banks of the Red Sea to the desert place where God would meet them, provide for them, and go to work forming them into “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9).

God does some of his most significant work in the wilderness, but it’s the last place in the world we want to be, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get out.

Those “In Between” Places

A little clarification may be in order.         

The desert that surrounds me is neither geographical, nor topological. I’m not surrounded by vast stretches of emptiness, bereft of shelter from the elements, disoriented by the lack of any discernible landmark telling me where I am.

The desert I see all around me, and at times within me, is what Pastor-author Jeff Manion calls “the land between.” In his book by that title Manion explains that “while the land between is prime real estate for faith transformation, it is also the space where we can grow resentful, bitter, and caustic . . . The wilderness where faith can thrive is the very desert where it can dry up and die if we are not watchful.”     

In her message Sunday at Grace Church, Marnie observed that the wilderness does indeed lie between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the life we had and the life we’ve yet to obtain, the comforts we once knew and the gifts we’ve not yet received.

We’ve all spent time in the wilderness. No matter your zip code, we’re all desert dwellers. Maybe your wilderness trek is something you look back on. You made it through. Or maybe you’re there right now, walking through that barren place between what was and what has yet to be.

Complaints and Questions

In the wilderness there are two behaviors that are common to us: We complain, and we question.

We complain or grumble because we’re sure the whole thing is a mistake. Something has gone wrong. We complain because we’re deprived of something that gave us security. We’re not in control of our lives. “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex. 16:2). We do the same thing.

And then, we turn to grumbling’s first cousin: Questions. In her message Sunday Marnie said that in the wilderness we tend to ask (1) Why am I here? (2) What did I do that put me here? (3) How long will I be here?

Tomorrow we’ll think about the grumbling we’re so easily inclined to do.

Later this week we’ll take up the questions.

For today, what has “the land between” looked like in your life? What kind of desert are you navigating right now?

Prayer: Gracious God, the desert is a hard place to live. You seem to choose the wilderness as the setting for our growth in the likeness of your son Jesus, and yet we resist being there. We are slow to recognize what you might be doing in those in between places. Give us the grace we need today in the desert journey we might be walking. Meet us with the true bread from heaven we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Angel Behind You

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them . . . coming between the armies of Israel and Egypt (Exodus 14:19-20).

Long walks through the desert are hard and risky.  The wilderness route is void of exit ramps and clean rest areas and Chick-Fil-A drive thru windows. There’s not much to see; the desert is numbingly dull and redundant.  But there’s one thing that can make the most arduous desert journey a glorious venture: the presence of the living God.

The joy of the trip often depends on who you’re with. 

When the Hebrews left Egypt, they didn’t simply scurry away in an exuberant escape from oppression and slavery. The Exodus from Egypt was guided; the people were led.  “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light . . . neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:21-22).   

This pillar was the presence of God, and it was visibly placed at the head of the line.  God was showing the way, guiding their steps, giving direction.

When you know without a doubt that God is in front of you, you’ll go just about anywhere.   

In the Day of Trouble

And then the day of trouble came; chariots and horses and battalions kicking up sand and narrowing the barren gap that separated the Hebrews from their would-be captors. The day of trouble came, and the presence of God that had been visibly up front withdrew and moved behind them. There is much the story leaves out at this point. Did the people see and understand what was happening? Maybe they did.  As for us . . . well, that’s a question to ponder for a moment.

We hit the day of trouble and often become painfully aware of God’s absence.  God no longer seems to be leading us, we don’t know where to go, we’re not sure what’s next.    

Typically, we look for God in front of us.  Faith is best exercised as we look forward.  So much mystery lies ahead of us, our lives cloaked in a future we don’t yet know.  We search for God’s presence in the not-yet-revealed. 

But as we strain to see what’s ahead of us and agonize over the presence of God that we used to see but can no longer detect, that very presence remains with us.  The presence withdraws from our point of focus and moves behind us.

God is working powerfully in the places we’re not looking.   

There All Along

I spend so much mental and emotional energy trying to discern where my journey is headed, the place I’m supposed to be going, the destination at which I have not yet arrived. I’ve found that God can be hard to see when I’m straining forward.

It’s when I look back, looking at the places I’ve been, that God’s presence seems clearer. There God was all along, guiding in ways I didn’t know or notice at the time.  

I don’t want to stretch the meaning of the Exodus story beyond what is proper to the context. As the angel moved behind the Israelites it’s clear that God formed a buffer between the Egyptians and the people. It’s a protective and defensive move. God was buying time, giving them a huge head start through the walls of water.  But perhaps something else was happening at the same time.

Maybe God moved behind them to protect them from their urge to turn back.  

Maybe God moved behind them to teach them that what looks like his absence, his withdrawal, is simply his presence surprising us. 

Sometimes, before the waters part in front of us, God goes to work behind us.

Take a moment today and look back. Are there ways you can detect the presence of an angel behind you?


Ever present God, we are quick to complain of your absence.  As we take a few more steps today in our own journey of faith, surprise us with your presence.  We thank you for your faithfulness that surrounds us on all sides.  Work in the places we tend to overlook.  Move in behind us; guard us from the threats or mistakes of the past. Keep us from turning back.  And remind us how you’ve been there all along, faithfully guiding. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Standing Still, Moving On

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on (Exodus 14:14-15). 

At the Red Sea, panic started to set in. For the people, that is. Not for Moses. Certainly not for God.

We can hardly fault the Israelites for freaking out at that particular place, in that particular moment. Looking back, they could see dust clouds announcing the approach of Pharoah’s army – chariots, horsemen, troops (14:9-10). Looking ahead, they saw a body of water that stopped them in their tracks.

They were terrified and cried out to the Lord (14:10). In response they received two words of instruction.

They were not told to fight the Egyptians.

They were not told to part the waters of the Red Sea.

They were not told to take a different route.

They were told to stand still. And they were told to move on. Those seem contradictory, confusing, inconsistent. But both are rooted in the one thing that God wants his people to learn.

Standing Still

At the sight of the approaching Egyptian army a contagion of fear spread among the Hebrews. There was nowhere to go. They vented their anger at Moses: “What have you done?”  And then they slipped into despair: “Slavery would have been better than a death in the desert” (14:12).   

In the midst of their anger and despair, Moses gave a word of instruction and promise.  “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (14:14).

You need only to be still.  Nothing could be harder.  Stillness is counter-intuitive when we’re eaten up with anxiety. It’s hard to find stillness when you’re trapped, out of options.

When financial options are exhausted. When a relationship seems damaged beyond repair. When a career is going nowhere. And yet these are the places where God’s work of salvation unfolds.  The stillness Moses commanded is how we get out of the way.  Stillness allows us to enter into that salvation work.

Moving On

But at some point, the stillness must meet with action and risk. At the Red Sea God eventually commanded his people to stop crying and start moving.  “Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on” (Ex. 14:15).

At this moment in Israel’s journey stillness and movement stand shoulder to shoulder. I’m struck by how they connect, how stillness shapes the movement, what the movement reveals about the stillness.

To stand still and never come to a point of moving on is to be paralyzed by fear.

And moving on without first finding that place of stillness easily becomes an impulse reaction that is likewise driven by fear.

Something different is happening at the Red Sea. Moses’ command to “stand still” and God’s command to “move on” are both expressions of trust. The paralysis of fear is absent here. And the out-of-control knee-jerk reaction is also absent.

At the Red Sea to stand still is to believe that “the Lord will fight for you” (14:14). God is present and active; God is on your side; God has the matter firmly in hand.

And to move on is to believe that there’s a way forward that you cannot see in this present moment. There will be firm ground beneath your feet. 

The question for your journey: Which of these is God trying to teach you today?

Is there a way in which God is inviting you to stand still, to be at rest in his care, to get out of the way and see the salvation of the Lord?

Or is this a moment in your life when God is asking you to take a step, to risk moving even though you’re not entirely sure what’s ahead for you?

Standing still and moving on. Both teach us trust. And trust, perhaps even more than destination, is the point of the journey.


With every step of our journey, O God, you are working to teach us to trust you. Sometimes that means being still, getting out of the way. At other times that means risking the next step. We ask you now to give us wisdom to know what you’re asking of us today. Accompany us on the journey, we pray, and lead us to know you better. Give us grace to become who you’ve called us to be, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

How Did I End Up Here?

So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18 NLT).

After one full year of seminary in Texas I was sure I had made a mistake. About Texas, not seminary.

True to the song, Georgia was always on my mind. I was single and far from home. I didn’t really know anyone out there. Having left the rolling green hills of north Georgia, the terrain around Dallas-Fort Worth was just plain ugly. How in the world did I end up in Texas? Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ well-known story, I made a plan to return to my father’s house, at least until I could transfer. I had a speech worked out and everything.

But it never happened. I stayed in Texas. Indeed, the ways of God are beyond searching out.

A Roundabout Way

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, we are told, they left the land of their captivity with a “high hand.” The phrase suggests to me a euphoric fist-pumping parade. Some translations simply say they were “marching out boldly.” They were on their way to the promised land.

Egypt and Canaan (the promised land) were connected by a well-traveled highway. It was the shortest and most direct route between the land of their departure and their intended destination. But Exodus 13:18 tells us that God didn’t lead his people that way. Instead, he took them south on a roundabout course through barren terrain that eventually took them to the Red Sea.

And the Red Sea suddenly looked like a death sentence. Pursued by Egyptian chariots, the people were convinced that Moses had led them to their graves. They blamed Moses and regretted having ever left the life they knew in Egypt. But let’s not be too hard on the Israelites. The Bible tells us a couple of things that they could have never known.

For one thing, that easy road went straight through Philistine territory. The Israelites were not ready to face that enemy. In later years they would engage the Philistines, plenty of times in fact. But upon leaving Egypt they were not ready for that challenge. God was at work to guard them from defeat and discouragement.

But why the Red Sea? Wasn’t that just as discouraging? Why that out-of-the-way route? At the Red Sea God revealed his power and he showed his people yet again that he could be trusted. God would have to do things like this over and over again. As has been observed, it didn’t take Moses very long to get the people out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the people.

Meanwhile Back in Texas

Today you may be wondering: If God is faithful to guide me, and if God is good, then how did I end up here (and why?).

I don’t want to sound as if the answer to this is easy. I simply point to the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites to remind you that God doesn’t always take the path we’d take if left to ourselves.

For the next few weeks we’ll be walking with the Israelites on their trek from Egyptian slavery to the rich land God had promised to give them as a home. With every step of this journey we’ll be giving attention, in one way or another, to this basic truth: God is doing more than you know in the roundabout journey that seems to be nowhere near where you want to be.

If you were to look back and map your life to this point, you might see a route that was at times unplanned and unwelcomed. But never unfruitful. Long after Moses, the apostle Paul would frame the idea in a slightly different way when he wrote, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

God won’t lead you out of Egypt and bail on you at the Red Sea.

So back to Texas. I ended up being there longer than planned. But I was called to pastor my first congregation – a wonderful and very patient group of people in southern Oklahoma. And after that I went to Houston and reconnected with a hometown girl who eventually became my wife. God was so good to me out west – in ways I never dreamed of while plotting my return to the east.    

Whatever path you’re on right now, God is with you. He makes a way, and his way is good.

Trust him and keep moving.


Gracious God, guide us as you will. As we journey with you, calm our fears and forgive our complaining. Make us bold to trust you, especially when the path takes us to hard and threatening places. Make our steps firm and keep us close to you, bringing your work in us to completion, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

How to End a Prayer

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen. (footnote to Matthew 6:13)                                                                                                                                        

Knowing how and when to finish is a good thing. I guess I’m especially aware of that this morning since this is the concluding post on the Lord’s Prayer. At Grace Church we’ll begin a new series of messages this Sunday, so this is a final reflection (for now) on the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

How to end? That can be tricky when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer.

Good stories are marked by good endings. Good presentations have good and memorable endings. Good sermons likewise should have a good ending.

But what about prayers? How do you end a prayer?

Found In A Footnote?

The question isn’t merely about language. Most of us know the words that signify a prayer’s conclusion: “In Jesus’ name” and “Amen” top the list. Indeed, those are the things we say to end a prayer, but is that it? What happens to our praying when the prayer itself has ended?

The prayer Jesus taught us to pray doesn’t have a nice ending. Neither Luke nor Matthew gives us as much as an “Amen.” Jesus seems to leave us hanging. If his first disciples had been listening to Jesus speak this prayer, heads bowed and eyes closed, they would have peeked at the end, wondering what happened. They might have awkwardly glanced at each other as if to say, “is that it?”

Over the years, as the New Testament manuscripts were copied and shared, a benediction appeared at the end of the Lord’s prayer. Scholars debate the authenticity of the words we know so well. These words lower the landing gear and bring us to the stopping point; “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.” Many are surprised to see these words only in a footnote to Matthew 6:13. They don’t show up at all in Luke’s gospel. 

I like Ray Pritchard’s conclusion on this matter. In his book And When You Pray, he writes: “After all is said and done, no one can say with certainty that Jesus did or did not say these words. The matter is not totally closed either way. I think he said them at least once when he taught the Lord’s Prayer. I also think he sometimes omitted these words. And I think the manuscript evidence reflects these two traditions.”   

Everything Placed in God’s Hands

The scholars may be right in placing these words in a footnote, but it is good and right that we say these words when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. This is a good way to end a prayer, and here’s why:

Once we’ve said what we need to say, everything from that point on belongs to God.

Once we’ve sought the glory of God’s name and the doing of God’s will; once we’ve asked for God to rule all things; once we’ve asked for our daily bread and for forgiveness; once we’ve asked to be kept from anything that would pull us from God and destroy our faith; once we’ve said all we know to say the rest is up to God.

All authority, all power, all glory belongs to God.

We leave our prayer in God’s hands.

More than that, we leave our very lives in God’s hands.

That’s a good way to end a prayer.

And so today we’re ending our reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. We’re meditating on those last words that we speak so often. But the praying itself does not end.

As Paul urged us, we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). We bring our lives before God, and we give expression to what we need and what we yearn for. As Jesus instructed, we speak these things without babbling or rambling on and on (Matt. 6:7). The prayer ends but the praying goes on as we look to God to accomplish all things concerning us.

All authority and power and glory belong to God. We confidently leave our prayer in God’s hands knowing that he will bring all things to completion.

And there’s no better ending than that.


When we’ve said all we know to say, O God, our prayers are placed in your hands. We do this gladly knowing that all authority and power and glory belong to you. You have the power and authority to do what is right and good for us. In all that you do we give you glory. When our prayers have ended, our praying goes on as we place ourselves in your care. We do so even now, through Christ our Lord, Amen.