Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Wrestling Towards Perfection

When we question things, sometimes the answers we find surprise us.  Sometimes the answer forces us to wrestle with something and perhaps this, in turn, causes us to grow.  The question that the scribe asks Jesus is a genuine and deep question.  Jesus’ answer is direct and forces the scribe to wrestle a bit.  In the end, he at least considers a new reality and that is good.

At times we too must wrestle with our faith.  It is essential at times to reflect on how our walk with God is, on how sin is affecting our life, and on our dedication and service to God.  Questions about how closely we are following and if we are giving enough of ourselves are great questions to wrestle with.

Jesus’ answer to the scribe made him question his definition of loving neighbors, and, in particular, about not exploiting them.  It would not have been very hard for the scribe to see all the ways exploitation was occurring.  The big question is did it bring about change in behavior.

The same is generally true for us.  If we really spend time wrestling with where we are in our faith and with being the hands and feet of Christ, then we often see how we could be or do more.  In living a faith that follows Jesus Christ, we are ever on a road towards perfection.  Like Paul, may we too press on toward the goal to win the prize of eternal life.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 28-34

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The teacher of the law was given a great opportunity.  He was able to ask Jesus a question directly.  And Jesus answered him directly!  This is uncommon as Jesus usually responded with another question, with a parable, or with a story or illustration that indirectly answers the question.

Think for a moment if you were this teacher.  What other question would you ask – this one goes right to the heart of his profession.  If you were a doctor, for example, you might ask about the cure to a disease.

I think the question we would ask would depend on where we are in our faith journey or on what has been occurring recently in our life.  If there has been a tragic event or if we or a loved one are drawing close to the end of our time on earth, then the question will center on this.  Many of our questions in these cases center on the “why” question.

If one is in a ‘normal’ stage of life and all is relatively good in life, the questions would be different.  Maybe our question would center on the how and what type of questions.  But in all cases, I think our questions would center on wanting to understand something better.

So if you could ask anything of Jesus, what would it be?  It is important to wrestle with our questions because they lead to conversations with Jesus.  Our questions reveal a lot about our inner being, the state of our faith, the things that are unsettled within us, and the things we long for deeply.

While we usually do not get as direct of an answer as the teacher of the law received, our questions are great to consider anyway.  Ask Him your question!  Allow the ongoing conversation between you two to roll around in your heart and mind and to build your faith in and understanding of Jesus and who He calls you to be.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 28-34

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Into a New Way

The Book of Hebrews seeks to connect the Jews living under the old covenant to the new covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ.  In today’s passage the author explains that the old way of animal sacrifices only cleans that outside of a person but that through the new sacrifice, through the blood of Jesus, we are cleansed on the inside.  We are reminded that we are cleansed so that we can serve the living God.

Throughout Hebrews is this idea of ‘living’.  We are exhorted to have a living faith that is guided by the Spirit and not bound by manmade rules and laws.  Living by the Spirit can feel dangerous and wide-open.  Living by religion can feel safe and known.  But too often ‘religion’ is typified by rigid practices, by entrenched traditions, and by requirements that feel a lot like laws.  Like sheep tightly confined to a pen, religion asks one to go through the motions, to check off the boxes.  Religion becomes little more that Sunday worship and an occassional prayer.

By contrast Hebrews call us out of our old ways of living by religion and into new way of living by faith.  Faith is guided by the Spirit.  The Spirit moves in unexpected and surprising and unknown ways.  For typically neat, in-the-box people, this is scary.  Religion with its known boundaries is safe.  Jesus did not call us to religion, but to faith.

When Jesus sais, “Come, follow me”, He did not say where or how or when.  He simply said, “Come.”  He knew that the Spirit would lead.  May we each step out, take ahold of the hand of the Holy Spirit, and see where Jesus takes us today.

Scripture reference: Hebrews 9: 11-14

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An Act of Praise

“I will praise the Lord all my life.” (Psalm 146, verse 2a)

We find this line at the beginning of Psalm 146, one of the “Hallelujah” psalms.  Each of the last five psalms in the book focus on the idea of praising the Lord.  It is a great way to end the book of Psalms.  In verse 2a the psalmist pledges to praise God all of the time.  This too should be our pledge.

How would our daily life and perspective on life change if we really did live in a state of constant praise to our God?  How would our life look if all we did was bring praise and glory to God?  I imagine our witness would be quite different!  If we lived and breathed a constant praise to God, imagine how our light would shine!

We are created to live this way, implanted with the spark of the divine since our conception.  God’s desire is for us to reflect His light and love all of the time, not just in church for an hour or just when we are with our church friends.

To live as a constant praise to God requires some choices.  First, we must fully trust in Him as our all in all – our provider, comforter, healer, creator, …  Second, we must actively thank God for all of the blessings in our daily lives.  In doing so we reinforce that God is really our all.  From this deep well of trust and thanksgiving, may we pour out our lives today and every day as an act of praise to our God and King!

Scripture reference: Psalm 146

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Where You Go

The famine passes in Judah and Naomi decides to return to her homeland.  She urges Orpah and Ruth to stay in Moab, to remarry, to start life over again.  It is certainly within the realm of possibilities – both are young enough to do so.  To go against Naomi’s wished and to instead move to a foreign land would be a risky and challenging move.  Naomi knows this as she herself made the same type of move just ten years ago.

Often we too are faced with a similar choice – to stay in the comfortable, know place or to step out into uneasiness and the unknown.  It is easy to stay comfortable.  Orpah chooses to stay with her people.  But Ruth decides that she will go.  Her love for Naomi makes her willing to be that stranger in a foreign land.

Where is your ‘foreign land’?  Is it taking the time to sit and have lunch with the homeless person who asked you for $5 for lunch?  Is it going to that part of town to replace the kitchen faucet for a single mother with lots of young children?  Is it going to the jail to visit and share the love of Christ with an inmate?

Ruth said to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go.”  Christ calls us to go to many places where His light is dim and His love is unknown.  But He always goes with us.  May we, like Ruth, say to Christ and live out those same words: Lord, where you go, I will go.

Scripture reference: Ruth 1: 6-18

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Hold Onto God

A famine at home forced the family of four to move to a foreign land.  They left behind their kin, the culture they knew, their faith base, and all else that mattered to find food.  The family made the move to survive, to be in a better situation.

In smaller ways we do this all the time.  We make a little change here or there seeking to be happier, healthier, or somehow better off.  Sometimes we too make larger changes.  Maybe you have moved to a new city or state or even country to have a better ‘opportunity’.  If you have done this, you can relate to this family – strangers in a foreign land.

Just as they were getting settled, the father dies. The mother at least has her two sons.  They each eventually marry a foreign woman.  The sons are happy and the possibility of grandchildren may some day bless her life.  Slowly the foreign land becomes les foreign as they learn the ways and begin to put down roots.  Ten years later, no grandkids.  Both boys die.  She is left with just two daughters-in-law.  And more pain and loss.

Perhaps a change you have made did not work out either.  Maybe the job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Maybe something outside of your control changed your situation too.  Maybe like you, this woman found herself in a tight spot.  Virtually alone in a foreign land, she turned to her foundation, to God.  In Him she laid her trust.  In Him she laid her future.  Although tragic to this point, it is just the beginning of her story.  In the end it is a story of God’s blessings.  Hold onto God.  He wants to bless you too.

Scripture reference: Ruth 1: 1-5

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Faith and Mystery

The book of Job has a happy ending.  Job’s suffering ends and God restored him beyond all he had before.  Job is blessed with large herds, many sons, and beautiful daughters.  He lives for 140 years as a very blessed and dies full of life.  One could say all ends well but our questions are left unanswered.  We do not know why Job had to endure this trial.  We do not know Job’s take on what happened either.  In the end we see that God remains mysterious.  For our faith, this mystery is essential.

Try as we might, mankind cannot explain all that is in the world.  There is much that has been figured out but we only seem to be able to go so far.  Great minds have studied and observed and analyzed and calculated to learn much.  We can split atoms and see far into space.  We can trace the evolution and extinction of many species.  We can replace hearts and we can restart hearts.  Yet there is much that cannot be explained by scientists, doctors, mathematicians…  Events and things that happened and happen remain a mystery.  In our world miracles still occur and a shrug of the shoulders is the best explanation that can be offered in intelligent response.

There is still mystery to God as well.  There are may questions that cannot be answered.  The ‘why’ questions of life and death and illness remain as do the ‘how’ of miracles that occur.  There is much we do not know of God.  But there is also much we do know.  God is love, compassion, peace, comfort, understanding, forgiveness, mercy, grace.  He has plans for each of us and those plans are good.  Yet there is still much mystery and this is also good.  Faith and hope are still required of us in our relationship with God.  Faith draws upon trust and experience.  As we live out this life in relationship with God, our faith grows.  In faith and hope, we live with the mystery of God because above all else, we know that God is love.

Scripture reference: Job 42: 10-17

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On Our Side

Job’s journey of faith parallels ours in some ways.  In his interactions with his friends and even with God, he is stubborn, defiant, and even borders on obnoxious early on in the book.  Although overall Job is steadfast in his faith, maybe at this point it is a little immature.  At times our faith is too.  At times we are questioning or angry or defiant about something that is occurring in our life; we too question and ask why.  We openly ask where God is even though a part of us senses He is always there.

At the end of the book we see a different faith in Job.  He is humble, truthful, grateful.  Although he would never want to experience a trial like that again, he knows he is a better follower because of his experience.  He sees the foolishness of questioning God and doubting His constant presence.  Job has felt an intimacy with God that both yields and comes with a mature faith.  As life weathers and shapes us, we too become more mature in our faith and in our relationship with God.  Like Job, our experiences, both good and bad, shape who we are as a follower of God.

From Job we learn a valuable lesson: God is on our side.  At times, and particularly in hard times, we may want to question, to doubt, or may even want to curse.  In these times we must trust that God is good and above all else, He loves us.  In these times may we trust in and live into the words of Christ: not my will, but Your will.  God of love, be with us this day.

Scripture reference: Job 42: 1-6

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Steadfast Witness

God is a constant presence in our lives.  This is the main message of Psalm 34.  All of God’s intentions for us are good.  He works to bring good in our lives.  Towards the end of the psalm we again read  that God will deliver the righteous from every kind of trouble.

The psalm is written from the perspective of having been through a trial and come out on the other side.  It is written from the perspective that looking back the author can see where God was present throughout.  Sometimes for me it is hard to see this in the midst of a long trial.  Because of this, Job always amazes me.  Time after time after time Job’s situation gets worse and worse.  His wife and his friends are of no help.  They blame Job and encourage him to die or at least admit his sins.  In spite of all of this Job remains steadfast in his faith and is fully assured of God’s presence in his life.

I have been privy to friends and those I care for going through a long trial, sometimes with health, sometimes other situations.  Although difficult at times, it is an honor to witness their faith and to walk alongside them, even though sometimes the earthly battle is lost.  Yet hope is also found in the ultimate victory being won for those dearly loved souls.  Others do find healing and restoration.  In either case, for many of these faithful saints, the witness they share is powerful.  It draws all around them closer to God as He is revealed through them.  Like Job and the psalmist, they come out stronger in their walk with God.  Their witness continues to be felt.

In the midst of our trials, may we too continue to witness to God’s presence and power in our lives.

Scripture reference: Psalm 34: 19-22

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Take Refuge, Be Blessed

The psalmist cries out to God and God hears his prayers.  God always hears our prayers.  The response of the psalmist is to extol, praise, and glorify the Lord.  We certainly do this when we receive the answer we want.  A little child whose parent buys them that piece of candy in the check-out aisle does this as well.

The psalmist reminds us that God hears, delivers, and saves.  God always hears our prayers.  Our prayers never fall on deaf ears.  God also always delivers.  This is not to say God fixes all things.  Maybe He does ‘fix’ it.  Or maybe He delivers whatever it is we need in that moment or situation: patience, strength, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, love…  He does not leave us alone.  Sometimes God saves us from hurt and pain; sometimes He is saves is in the midst of it just when we need Him most.  The angels camp around those who fear the Lord.

The psalmist reminds us to taste and see that the Lord is good.  We easily taste and see this when He rescues us from the pain or suffering or fear.  It is a sweet and pleasing experience.  We also do this when we look back on something we endured and we see how the Lord was there in the midst of it with us.  We thank Him as we realize we would not have made it through on our own.

The psalmist reminds us that we are blessed when we take refuge in the Lord.  Whether it is to find help or whether it is to find rest, the result is the same: we are blessed.  Be blessed today!

Scripture reference: Psalm 34: 1-8