Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Credited with Righteousness

Reading: Romans 4:18-25

Verses 20-21: “He did not waver… but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

Our passage begins with these words: “Against all hope.” I bet Abraham could have felt that way later in life. At 75 he was called by God. He was faithful and departed Haran, making his way to Canaan. Upon arriving he again heard God’s blessing to be a “father of many nations.” It is 25 years later and Sarah is still barren. Abraham himself was 100. He was certainly in a position where he could have felt it was “against all hope.”

And yet… “He did not waver… but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” He continued to keep the faith. He continued to choose to believe that God was good and faithful and true. Paul reminds us that his faith grew. When most of us would waver, when most of us would doubt, Abraham doubled down. Because he believed, he gave glory to God. He trusted that God would do what God said would be done. Because of this, Abraham is credited with being righteous.

In verse 23 Paul includes us in this scenario. If we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord of our life, we too will be credited with righteousness. If we believe that Jesus died for our sins and that he was raised from the dead, we will be made right before God. We will be credited with righteousness. This is our promise too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the great example set by Abraham. His sure and steady faith is a model for us to follow. And thank you for Jesus Christ, the one who died for our sins , the one who opens the way to life eternal. Amen.

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From the Heart

Reading: Romans 4:13-17

Verse 16: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.”

Paul was born and raised a Jew. He grew up under the Law. As he matured he became a student of the Law, rising to the office of Pharisee. In that part of his life, as Saul, he was very zealous for the Law. Saul was a very devout and strict follower of every letter of every law. He understands being a rule follower. Maybe you are a ruler-follower. Most of the time, I am too.

But then Saul met one of the authors of the Law. In a life-transforming encounter, Saul met the resurrected Christ. In Christ Paul learned that, yes, the law is good – unless it trumps love or mercy or grace or forgiveness or… This was hard for Jews to understand. It was hard for most non-Jews to understand. For devout Jews, it was law, law, law. Healing on the Sabbath? No! Eating with sinners so that they could know grace? Absolutely not!

To show that the Law is not necessary for righteousness or salvation, Paul points back to one of the greats of the Jewish faith: to Abraham. As one of the most revered patriarchs, Abraham lived before the Law was given. His faith was based upon a trust in God. His righteousness was from his obedience to God’s voice. Paul is saying to the Jews and to us that following the Law is not the only way to God. The Law, in and of itself, is a good thing, yes. But simply following a set of rules is not a guarantee of salvation. Love and grace and mercy and forgiveness must first flow from the heart – from the heart of God and from our heart. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, even as we seek to understand and follow and apply the Law, help us more so to understand the life and example of Jesus. He demonstrated when love, mercy… needed to trump the Law. Help us to understand and practice this “law” of Christ. Amen.

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Go in Faith and Trust

Reading: Genesis 12:1-9

Verse 4: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”

Photo credit: Markus Spiske

As we pick up the story of Abram it seems like we’ve found another person who hears from God and responds immediately. This is often the perceived narrative of the call stories in the Bible. It is the narrative for Matthew when we turn to his call story on Thursday. In reality, though, responding to a call of God is not so simple.

Abram was a descendant of Shem, one of Noah’s sons. For generations his family has worshipped God. As Shem’s clan grew in size, they spread to the south and east of Canaan. Abram’s father Terah decided to return to their ancestral homeland but only got as far as Haran. After Terah dies, God comes to Abram and says, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God is asking Abram to leave all he knows. God offers Abram a wonderful blessing and Abram leaves, stepping into the unknown, fully trusting God as he goes.

Now, hypothetically, if God said to an atheist, ‘Pack up all your stuff. Load up the U-Haul and go to the place I will show you,’ how many would go? Let’s increase the odds. If God said the same thing to a nominal Christian, how many would go? Maybe 1 or 2 in a million? You see, that’s the thing about Abram. He was a devout follower of God. He knew exactly who was speaking to him. It is in faith that he receives the call and the blessing. It is in faith that he sets out. May it be so for you and for me when God calls.

Prayer: Lord God, the steady, daily, intimate walk of faith builds our relationship with you. It increases our willingness to follow your voice. Day by day, strengthen and encourage our walk, preparing us to respond in faith and trust when you call. Amen.

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All Always

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2 and Matthew 28:18-20

Verses 1 and 20: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” and “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we are reminded of the eternal nature of the three-in-one God. And we are reminded of the eternal relationship that we receive when we commit our lives to serving and worshipping this triune God.

In Genesis 1 God created the earth and all that was in it and on it and in its waters and sky. In verse 2 we read that the Spirit hovered over the chaos – assessing, taking in, becoming a part of the creative process. In John’s gospel we hear echoes of Genesis as he tells us that Jesus too was there at the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word… And through him all things were made.” Since before the beginning of time and creation: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus commissions all disciples – those present then and all who will follow in their footsteps – to make new disciples, baptizing them also in his name and teaching them too to walk in Jesus’ ways. Then he gives the promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The one who was and is always will be. In Spirit, Christ remains alive and present to each of us, both now and forevermore.

Just imagine for a moment what “us” means. Imagine the diversity of folks who will read these words today. And just imagine all the other folks who today are sharing about our three-in-one God. God continues to call and to touch and to use a diverse and yet cohesive body of believers to build God’s kingdom here on earth. Each day, may we all play a role in this building process, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, in whatever ways – big or small or somewhere in between – use each of your children to bring glory to your name. Amen.

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Reading: Matthew 28:16-20

Verse 19b: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Returning to the Great Commission passage found in Matthew 28 today, we lean into the relationship and community found in and through the triune Godhead. Ultimately, entering into the faith and into a personal relationship with the Lord leads one into a new life. This new life engages all three persons of the Trinity. To enter this new life and new relationships, we die to our old self and become a new creation (see 2nd Corinthians 5).

In the early church, when one made a profession of faith, the next step was usually baptism. This sacrament was one’s public testimony of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But it wasn’t just about being in a relationship with Jesus. The man himself instructed the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Although unique in many ways, together the three parts of the three-in-one form a single, unified Godhead.

We get a smaller but equally important example of unity in the presence of diversity or uniqueness in today’s text. As the risen Christ comes to the disciples, we read that some worshipped and that some doubted. Jesus doesn’t send the doubters into the corner until they believe. He does just the opposite. Jesus commissions all of the disciples to “therefore go and make disciples.” Doubt and all!

Jesus understands that each of the 12 are unique individuals. Faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness – all of these emotions and many more are a part of each of us. This is one of the things that unites us, that makes the many into one body. With Jesus’ love and with this same understanding, may we see and love and understand that all of humanity – no matter where we are emotionally, physically, or spiritually – are one in Christ and one with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, just as you are the three-in-one God, help all believers to live into the many-in-one community. Help each of us to see and treat and live with one another from this place of love and understanding. Amen.

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The Two “Greats”

Reading: Matthew 28:18-20

Verse 19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Today’s text contains what is known as the “Great Commission.” It is Jesus’ charge to the disciples to continue the work that he started. As we read or hear these words, the same charge applies to us today. Jesus says to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

These powerful words call us to action, to movement, to going out into the world to witness to and to share the good news of Jesus Christ. At times, as Christians, as we have sought to live out these words, we have forgotten the intent and we have set aside the model that Jesus gave us for living out these words. At times we have sidestepped the Great Commandment – to live God with all that we are and to love neighbor as self – as we have sought to “make disciples.” In many cases we have sought to transform them into our expected image or standard instead of into Jesus’.

When Jesus says, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” he is calling the disciples and us to live first and foremost. Love does not coerce or manipulate; it does not force or overpower. Love changes hearts and lives through relationship and connection. It changes people into disciples by teaching them kindness, grace, forgiveness, mercy, compassion… As we seek to live out both the great commandment and the great commission, may we hold tightly to both.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to cling to both “greats” each day and with each person I meet. Use me to reflect Christ’s love into the world and into people’s lives. Use me to make disciples even if I do not speak a word. Amen.

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The Peace and Love of God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13:11-13

Verse 12: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

As he draws to a close to the end of this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives some quick reminders. The four found in verse 11 are things Paul has talked or written about regularly. “Aim for perfection” is another way of saying, ‘Keep your focus on Jesus.’ He was the perfector of the faith. Jesus is the ultimate example. “Listen to my appeal” – take these words of encouragement and love and support and correction and accountability and apply them to your lives. Live them out. “Be of one mind.” Paul is calling the church to be one in Christ and one with each other. This is a call to unity and to holy community. And, “live in peace.” This call is to live peacefully both with one another and with those of the world. He is once again reminding the church to practice the forgiveness, grace, and mercy modeled by Jesus. Do these things, Paul says, and “the God of peace and love will be with you.”

In verse 12 we read, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” This holy kiss is not a peck on grandma’s cheek or high-fives all around when you meet your buddies. In the early church this holy kiss came towards the end of holy communion. It was a tangible, physical sign of unity and an acknowledgement that sins against one another were forgotten. This holy kiss put into actual practice the four ideals found in verse 11. The passing of the peace done each Sunday in many churches is the evolution of this holy kiss. The passing of the peace also reflects the goals of unity, love, and grace that are part of all communities of faith.

May we all seek to apply and practice these marks of a Christian each day, seeking not only to experience the peace and love of God ourselves, but also to share it with others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me focused first on Jesus and his example. Guide me to apply your word to my life and to live it out in the world. Use me to build unity in the family of God and to invite others into this community. Amen.

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Love Creation

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 4: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Photo credit: Falaq Lazuardi

Psalm 8 is a song of praise that calls us to praise God. It begins and ends with the refrain, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” In between these bookends David recognizes both the amazing creation all around us and the connection that we have to that creation.

David identifies God’s handiwork in the heavens – “the work of your fingers.” Staring up on a clear night, taking in the cast array of stars each known by name, one is awestruck, moved, amazed. This is just one way that we can and do connect to God through creation. It can also come in the intricacy of a spider web or in the beauty of a flower or waterfall or in the power of a thunderstorm or… God is present in so many ways in the creation.

Then, in verse 4, David asks an awesome question: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” This question makes me pause. It brings to mind both times when I have been 1 in a crowd of a million and times when I’ve been the only 1 in a million acres – both remind me of God’s power and might, both call forth the humility of this question. It is good to ponder this question, to be humbled.

David answers this question in the next few verses. God does “crown with glory and honor” humankind. God did make us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Here we must be careful. If we carry the humility generated by the question with us, then we see a great responsibility and a great privilege in these roles. If not, it easily becomes all about me. May we choose to love creation as God loves creation.

Prayer: Lord God, what a world you have made and continue to make! There are so many ways that I see your fingerprints in all of creation. As I interact with your creation, may my fingerprints look like yours. Amen.


Look to the Heart of God

Readings: Genesis 1:26-31, 2:1-4

Verse 26: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

Returning to the creation story today we turn to the last two ‘days.’ On what has been identified as the sixth day the three-in-one God creates humanity “in the image of God… male and female God created them.” These are such interesting terms. If we had 5 eyes and 2 mouths and wings but no hands and were half covered in scales, isn’t that how Jesus would have come to earth? And if Jesus came that way just a couple hundred years ago, would we portray him as he actually was or would we still warp him to look more like the dominant socioeconomic religious group?

So what if “in our image/likeness” wasn’t and isn’t about skin or eye or hair color or about where you were born or about your gender? What if being made in the image and likeness of God was about love, compassion, generosity, mercy, grace, hope, peace, justice, forgiveness, goodness, salvation…? We know nothing at all about the physical nature of God or even if there is one. So like God modeled with David, perhaps we too should look to the heart of God to understand who and what we were and are created to be.

Day 7 brings us another important part of God’s character, heart, soul. On this day God practices the sabbath. It was a holy day, a day of rest, a day without work. It is a day to look at the beauty and diversity and complexity of the world and of the creator and to celebrate, to worship, to be grateful for all of this. It is a day to see the holy in all of creation. It is a day to thank God for creating the world and us just as it and we are: beloved, unique, worthy, special. Thank you, creator God.

Prayer: Lord God, help us to see and love as you see and love. May we not see male or female but child of God. May we not see white or yellow or red or black or tan or… but child of God. May we not see rich or poor, professional or laborer, saint or sinner, but child of God. May it be so, Lord, may it be so. Amen.

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Chaos to Beautiful Diversity

Reading: Genesis 1:1-25

Verse 2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Genesis 1 is a great place to begin the week that culminates in Trinity Sunday. As Disciplines writer Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli puts it, “In the beginning, a diverse God – Creator, Word, and Spirit – created a diverse world, all interdependent, all profoundly good” (page 184). What a beautiful thought!

Now, the world did not begin this way. Verse 2 establishes the starting point of our world: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In the beginning there was a nothingness. It was formless and empty, dark. The deep waters represent the unknown. Because the deep was unknown, it was feared, it was avoided. Chaos and angst lived there.

Chaos and angst are still the parts of life that we avoid or wish we could avoid. Yet “life” happens – death enters unwanted, relationships become strained and break, illness and disease impact us, nature reeks havoc, employment and other decisions that people make affect our lives and families… In these moments we can feel like our world is formless, empty, dark.

As Genesis 1 begins God takes action. The chaos and nothingness are replaced with order and purpose – 2 things we love! As creation unfolds all that God does is good, everything is valued, there is an interconnectedness to all of creation. There is a beautiful yet connected diversity to this world that God created. May we see, appreciate, and love this world, especially one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome and amazing and beautiful world you created! Thank you for this gift. May we receive it, live in it, love it, and honor all parts of it as all of our world is your creation. Amen.