Psalm 73: The Most Influential Passage of Scripture (To Me)

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But for me it is good to be near God. Psalm 73:28

Recently I was asked what passage of Scripture had most influenced my life. It’s a great question. My answer: Psalm 73.

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward You. Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from You shall perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.  Psalm 73: 21-28

Twenty-five years ago, I first encountered this Psalm. It impacted me so much that I wrote a Scripture song using its words. (Unfortunately, not a very good one.) It has resonated with me ever since.

Verse 1 declares the goodness of God, and verses 2-20 are an extended meditation on the sometimes prosperous lives of godless people, and the devastation awaiting them. It then pivots to the rich goodness of a Godward life, characterized by nearness to, desire for, and expectant hope in God. The passage quoted above closes it out in one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible. Reflecting on the goodness of God and the life He has made available to me in Psalm 73 slingshots my heart past the ephemeral things that so often have my attention, to the glorious hope of the world to come when all things are made new in and through Jesus Christ. Every time I read it, it recalibrates my heart to sing and live God’s praise.

It is timeless and universal, and helps me reconnect to the desire for God the Psalm expresses, and that I want to pursue.

God is good, and He does good (Psalm 119:68). Cultivating a life of desiring and pursuing Him matters, and is the only way of life that makes sense given His goodness to His people, in Christ. In Christ, God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever. He can be my refuge, today. I can tell of all His works, today. Like the Psalmist, my soul has at times been embittered, but in Christ, my soul is found flawless before the Father. Although I have been pricked in heart, desired lesser things, and failed in many ways in my own resources, in Christ, I have been brought into the presence of the Father, unblemished. In Christ and the resources of the Holy Spirit, my fluctuating Godward desire embraces God’s constant amazing grace.

I love to remember the truths Psalm 73 proclaims! They move me to worship and orient my heart to life as it truly is from an eternal perspective. They renew me, inviting me to lift my eyes to that which matters most. They help me both trust and obey the Lord.

My/Our Story: Decade 2

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“Decade 2” of my post-collegiate, adult life runs from 2009-2018. So not quite a decade. Opening and closing a church in short order, as I did in North Port, was life-changing for me. Convinced I had failed in my calling, I left pastoral ministry in 2009 and moved our family to North Carolina. I worked for five years in “the family business” at my dad’s insurance agency, expecting to build a new career. Instead, God used those years to heal, restore, and renew me for future kingdom work. My identity in Christ and God’s love for me, regardless of my performance and success, became more precious to me. I grew in empathy for broken and hurting people and in my understanding of His grace amidst adversity. He also deepened my sense of calling and gave me a strong desire to return to pastoral ministry. The years I spent as a church planter and in North Carolina blessed and changed me in unexpected ways.

When I was called to serve at Kaleo in 2014, I was excited to be pastoring again. However, the difficulties I was to encounter here lay just ahead of me. Looking back, the adversities I have faced in and out of ministry have both played a part in preparing me for how God has used me here. As a result, I have come to thank God for the adversity and trials He has brought me through. They have been God’s instrument to refine me, making me more fully His own and more useful in His service.

Second to following Jesus, loving my family well is the most important thing in my life. Jenny and I love and enjoy life together and with our kids. As a family, we stay busy with scouting, youth group, ballet, piano, and school. While moving around has brought some challenges, God has given us great stability and joy in the journey. We know that the Lord is good and gives good gifts to His children, even through adversity. Jenny and I are looking forward with anticipation to what God has in store for our family, confident that all things are working together for our good.

My/Our Story: Decade 1

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Jenny and I grew up near Venice, Florida, a small beach town just south of Tampa. We were both raised in church; Jenny professed faith in Christ at age five and I at age nine. At sixteen, God drew me to pursue Him more deeply, launching me on a trajectory toward vocational ministry. I was discipled in a great youth ministry and then went to Moody Bible Institute, anticipating becoming a pastor. After finishing college and getting married in 1998, we moved home in hopes that I might be raised up in ministry through our home church. And that’s where my story picks up; 1999-2009 is “Decade 1” of my post-collegiate, adult life.

In 2001 the Lord fulfilled that hope when, after several years of preparation, Venice Bible Church called me as their youth pastor.

Over the next eight years, I served in three churches that were all connected. My ministry at Venice Bible Church ended when the church split in 2004. I went on to become the associate pastor of Grace Community Bible Church, which started as a result of that split. Ministry was both fruitful and challenging at GCBC, as can often be the case following a church split. From inception, the plan was for the church to send us out as church planters after a few years. In 2007 we were sent out to plant a daughter church in North Port, a smaller but quickly growing, town nearby.

We began North Port Bible Church as the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and resulting housing collapse began to be felt. North Port was substantially impacted, having been a boom town with artificially high home prices. The financial losses that hit families as home values plummeted devastated the area. Construction and service industry jobs were the primary employment base and both dried up almost overnight. By early 2008, 75% of our church family was facing some form of unemployment, potential home foreclosure, or both. As a result, the church was unable to become financially self-sustaining, and we decided to close in 2009.

My/Our Story: The Basics

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Called to invest my life in the advance of Christ’s kingdom as a pastor, ministry strengths include shepherding, preaching, and leadership. I am passionate about equipping the church for community and mission and giving hope to the broken. I want to serve a healthy, gospel-centered church that is relationally focused. Jenny and I have been happily married for nineteen years and have three kids: Caleb (13), Carson (12), and Gracie (10). We look forward to settling in and growing deep roots in the church, neighborhood, and community God calls us to.

I have served as a lead pastor for five years, during which I planted one church and led another through a time of crisis. Before that, I was a youth or associate pastor for six years, and have more than twenty years of experience in local church ministry. I also have eight years of experience working in the insurance industry, during which I served and led in all aspects of church life as a volunteer. My “out of ministry” years deepened my perspective on vocational ministry and the value of a healthy church in the life of a family.

My Firm Foundation

How Firm A Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord…

I am drawn to the external practices of the Christian life more naturally than the internal ones. Engaging with the body of Christ, serving others, and building relationships come more naturally to me than solitude, extended study, and pursuing the inner life of a disciple. We are all drawn to one side or the other: the internal or the external. Building strength in the area we are weak is a challenge.

Journaling is an internal practice that has worked well for me. It helps me slow my mind down, clarify what is in my heart, and draw near to Jesus. The past few months, I have been writing out and meditating on the lyrics of “How Firm A Foundation” about once a week. It’s a hymn I have long known but had not previously connected with deeply. It has become a source of encouragement, regularly reminding me of the solid ground under my feet in Christ.

I have needed the reminder! Today is the three year anniversary of our move to Houston, and it has also been three months since Kaleo’s final worship service. For Jenny and I, it has been a season for enduring, persevering, and looking to bloom where we’re planted in the face of adversity. We have had to wait on the Lord in new ways, and that waiting continues. In “How Firm A Foundation,” the Lord points me to the certainty of belonging to the One who never deserts nor forsakes His own. I have been thankful for it in our uncertain time.

How Firm A Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

In every condition – in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days shall demand shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!