Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Reading: 1 Kings 17: 8-24

As Elijah enters into a relationship with the widow, he realizes right away that she is struggling.  The famine has been long and surely this has worn on her.  She has been in survival mode for some time.  She is down to her last bit of food and is mentally resigned to death.  Life has totally beaten her down.

There are people like the widow in almost every community in which we reside.  Life has been uphill for so long that they can remember nothing but struggle.  They have come to feel like it is just them against the world and no one seems to care.  An added burden for some is the child or children in their care.  Where they will sleep that night or if they will find food that day are their greatest and often only real concern.  Their whole focus is consumed with things we do not even ponder.

The widow’s desperation and surrender are equally present in her words: “as surely as your God lives”.  She must have emphasized the word ‘your’.  In her mind no god would allow her to struggle as she has.  In her heart and soul any and all gods have been pushed far away, pushed out by the anger at life.

There are people today who think just like the widow.  You can see the exhaustion and fear in their eyes.  When life is nothing but a struggle to find the basics of food and shelter, there is no room for hope.

Elijah chooses to engage the widow.  He chooses to step into her life.  He asks her for the one thing she San provide: a little hospitality.  All people have something they can offer.  Often it is just a few minutes of help – sweeping the front patio or helping organize some clothes.  Sometimes it is just a few moments of conversation.  In doing and sharing, people can find worth in themselves.  In giving of themselves they can begin to find hope.

We can choose to engage the other or we can choose to not even look their way.  We can choose to enter into a relationship with them or we can maybe  choose to toss a little money their way.  Or we can choose to invest of ourselves, to show one in deep struggle that we care and that God cares.  May we follow Elijah’s example – engaging one whom others have ignored or shunned, loving and bringing God’s love to one so in need of hope.

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Don’t Be Afraid

Reading: 1 Kings 17: 8-24

Elijah tells the widow that her flour will not run out and that her oil will not run dry until God brings rain and ends the long famine that had struck the land.  His request for bread must have settled on her as a heavy weight when she first heard his request.  The culture was one that placed hospitality very high.  It was customary that even if your sworn enemy came knocking and asked for lodging for the night, then one would provide a place to stay.

All the widow had left was enough flour and oil to make one last meal for her son and herself.  When she encountered Elijah she was gathering some sticks so she bake the last meal they would ever eat.  The widow must have been at a very somber place in her heart and mind.  It is at this point that Elijah asks for some bread.  She has used up her every resource and is preparing to make one last meal and then to die with her son.  It is now that Elijah comes along and asks if he can have some bread too.

Have you ever been where the woman is at?  Totally spent and at the end of the rope?  She is there.  It is like going through a very hard loss of a dear loved one, finally heading home and feeling emotionally spent after the funeral, and a distant friend calls to tell you the news of their unexpected loss.  It is like spending a hot July day working outside all day long at the Habitat house when a friend of a friend calls asking if you can help them move out of their apartment.  Every fiber in your being wants to say ‘no’ but you feel compelled to talk a while or to go and help.

Elijah must sense the apprehension in the widow.  So her says to her, “Don’t be afraid”.  When the phone rings or the stranger appears at your door, asking when we feel totally depleted, hear His voice, saying “Do not be afraid.  Trust me”.  May we find the faith of the widow.  May we too experience His amazing blessings when we choose to trust and to answer His call.

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The Message

Reading: Galatians 1: 6-12

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with some strong language and some hard words.  His words carry some emotion and urgency.  The church he founded there has begun to drift away from its origins and he does not like the change.  Paul taught them the gospel he received directly in a revelation from Jesus and it is important to him that the Galatians continue to hold dearly to the original message.  Paul knows that the message does not have to change much to really affect their faith.

All that Jesus taught and did in the Gospels can be boiled down to a few essentials.  First, love God completely.  Recognize Him as supreme, as Lord, as king of kings.  Second, love neighbor as Jesus first loved us.  His sacrifice on the cross let us know how much He loves us.  Now Jesus tells us to go and do the same: put others and their needs first no matter the cost to us.  Third, grace wins.  God’s love and His mercies never fail, making all who call on Him as Lord and Savior new creations every morning.  Our grateful response to this amazing love and mercy is to offer our lives daily in service to God.

Paul knew how essential the pure message of the gospel was.  He knew that our faith would lead to action.  He knew if the gospel message was changed or distorted, we would begin to follow our own way more than Jesus’ way.  Our belief really does lead to action.  When our belief is correctly rooted in the message of Jesus Christ, then our lives bear fruit according to this message.  May we cling tightly to the truth found in Jesus Christ, living daily as authentic witnesses to His light and love.

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Reading: Galatians 1: 1-12

Paul is angry with the Galatians for living a gospel that is less than what he taught them.  They have come to accept a gospel that is less than they first believed.  Although the way of the cross is hard and the path is narrow, there is only one way, truth, and life.  There is only one good news.

Before we condemn the Galatians, let us look within first.  Have you ever bought an imitation product before?  Even though you knew it wasn’t the real thing?  Maybe it was a watch or pair of sunglasses or a handbag.  We buy such things because we want to appear to be something or someone we are not.  If we were really what those items represent, we would buy actual Rolex or Oakley or Gucci.

Our faith is not very different.  If we were to honestly assess the faith we are practicing daily and living out in the world, then we would have a good look at the gospel we have accepted.  I am guessing it is also less than what we first accepted.  At some point we have read “with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and thought, ‘not yet, but one day’.  To fully love God with our all is the goal.  When we fell in love and gave our lives to Christ, this was our goal: to make Him #1 in our life.

Maybe tomorrow you will worship the god of green pastures and little white balls.  Maybe tomorrow you will worship the god of still waters and drowning worms.  Maybe tomorrow you will worship the Lord of you life and sing and praise His Holy name with your church family.

Either we are living a sold out, 100% in faith or we are living something less.  Are we really who we say we represent?  May the true gospel of Jesus Christ be our all in all, our way, truth, and life.  All of it.

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Faith of a Centurion

Reading: Luke 7: 1-10

The centurion is a man of authority.  He has absolute command of the soldiers under him.  He tells one to go and they go; he tells one to come and they come.  He understands power.  The centurion has heard of Jesus and he recognizes that Jesus too has power.  The stories he has heard have been enough for the centurion to recognize the power Jesus wields.  The centurion also understands though that Jesus’ power is different than his own earthly power.  He sees that not only is it a different kind of power but it is a superior power.  The centurion who knows he has a lot of earthly power acknowledges that he is not worthy of being in Jesus’ presence.  The centurion is a powerful man with a lot of humility.

Jesus in turn credits the centurion with having great faith.  He goes so far as to comment that He has not yet seen such faith in Israel.  That is a pretty strong statement for Jesus’ followers and for the religious authorities to hear.  This Roman soldier has a faith superior to ours?  It would be a difficult question for them to wrestle with.

It is a difficult question for us to wrestle with too.  We say that God is all-powerful and can do anything, but do we really trust Him to do so?  We’ve heard the stories just like the centurion did, but do we have absolute confidence that Jesus can still act?  He brought healing to a sick servant who was miles and miles away without uttering a word.  Surely this kind of power can still heal and transform lives.  But do we have the faith of the centurion?  This day may we call upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus to enter into our lives to bring us spiritual, physical, and/or emotional transformation.  In Jesus’ name there are no limits.  May we live faithfully today, trusting in this truth.

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Consuming Fire

Reading: 1 Kings 18: 20-39

What a contrast we have in today’s story.  One team builds their altar and places the sacrifice on it.  They dance about the sacrifice, they pray and shout to their god.  Then they resort to cutting themselves and crying out more urgently to gain their god’s attention.  Their god does not answer.  Their god does not satisfy their pleas.  All is done in vain.

We scrape together our dollars to buy a bigger house or a fancier car.  We work late every day as the announcement date for who will be promoted or made partner draws near.  We show up early with our neatly dressed little family and sit in the front pew so everyone can see we are there again this Sunday.

Then the other team steps to center stage.  But instead of a team of 450 it is a one man show.  He builds the altar and places the sacrifice on it.  The audience has seen this show before.  But then he digs a big trench around that altar.  Interest rises.  Then he has people dump bucket after bucket of water on the sacrifice and altar.  The trench fills with water.  The audience slides up to the edges of their seats.  Then he simply asks for his god to make it known that He is the Lord God, the one and only true God.  He trusts that God will answer.  He knows this God.  And fire falls from heaven and consumes it all – the sacrifice, the wood, the altar stones, the water.  The fire of God consumes everything.

Maybe the house is a little small but we are comfortable.  Maybe the car isn’t shiny and new anymore but it runs well and is reliable.  Maybe that project can get done tomorrow.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe we could trust this God with all we have.  Maybe He really is able to do all things.  Maybe He loves us unconditionally.  When we pursue and place our trust in the one true Lord of life, then the gods of this world have no sway in our lives.  When we seek first the things of God, we do not have any desires left for the things of this world for His fire consumes us.  Consume us today, O Lord our God.

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Remove the Waver

Reading: 1 Kings 18: 20-21

A severe famine and drought has settled in on the land.  As time drags on, people’s desperation rises.  They question and doubt.  Elijah is about the only prophet of God left alive.  The prophets of the local folks apparently cannot persuade their gods to end the famine.  Yet the people of Israel are still turning to these foreign gods.

Elijah had been in hiding to avoid being killed, but God sends him to meet with the king.  Elijah first runs into Obadiah, the king’s right hand man, and arranges for a meeting.  King Ahab agrees to meet with Elijah on Mount Carmel.  Ahab agrees to Elijah’s demands to gather the Israelites and the prophets of Baal and Asherah.  Elijah begins be asking the people how long they will waver.  In essence Elijah is asking them to fully choose the Lord God.  Their response: silence.

What is our response when the Holy Spirit whispers into our hearts and asks us how long we will waver between the ways of God and the ways of the world?   “How long?” the Spirit asks.  When we feel the conviction, we often choose God.  But not always.  Like the Israelites who were led astray by the world around them, we too can be drawn in by the things of the world.  Like the Israelites who saw the people of the world and the gods they worshipped, we too see the gods our world worships.  And at times we too chase after that bright, shiny object.

How long will you waver, O people of God?  I can hear Elijah shouting this at the Israelites.  But I can hear it being quietly whispered by the Holy Spirit as well.  This day, O Lord, give the strength to fully choose Your ways.  This day, Lord God, keep the path straight, remove the waver, and allow each to live fully for You and for Your glory.

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God Reigns

Reading: Psalm 96: 10-13

The psalmist proclaims that God alone reigns.  The psalm calls for all of creation – plants, animals, sea creatures, fields, mankind – to rejoice for God will come to judge the earth.  When God comes He will judge in righteousness and truth, restoring equality and fairness.  At the initial reading this sounds like a problem for those living outside of God’s ways.  While this is true, it is also a call to enter into a life that recognizes God’s sovereignty.

I can recall many instances as a child when my parents either insisted I do something or were very adamant that I not do something.  Every child has a list like this by the time they enter adulthood.  This list was added to by teachers and coaches then by a spouse and by bosses.  In the moment I sometimes chafed at not having a choice or being placed in a spot I did not like at the time.  But it was often the case, always after the fact, that I realized my parents always had my best interests at heart.  My coach or teacher or spouse or boss was trying to pull out of me or develop in me something that I could not see myself.  They were coming from a place of righteousness and truth.  They were guided by love and concern for me.

In much the same way God desires for us to live in righteousness and truth.  His plans for us are to prosper us and to bring us good.  At times we too chafe at what our faith calls us to do or because of what it denies us.  We are human so at times we are drawn to earthly desires and temptations.  When we choose to declare God the Lord of our life, we are making the choice to follow His ways over the ways of the world.  Once we make this choice and proclaim God our Lord, then the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts and begins to guide and lead us to live in God’s righteousness and truth.  This path is narrow and the way is hard, but peace and contentment are found along this path.  Joy and everlasting life are found along this path.  May we choose to daily make God the Lord of our life so that we may live freely as a beloved child of God in this world.

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Offering a Witness

Reading: Psalm 96: 1-9

Psalm 96 calls us to sing praises to God and to declare His gift of salvation day after day.  It reminds us that God is great and majestic and strong.  It urges us to bring an offering to Him and to worship God in the splendor of His holiness.  In these opening verses of the Psalm we get a clear picture of who God is and what our response should be.  The overarching theme of this Psalm is the call to declare our unfaltering allegiance to the one true God.  This is both a corporate and a personal call.

As the church, no matter what the denomination, we are called to proclaim the good news, to worship God alone, and to bring relief to the oppressed and the needy.  As the church this is what God clearly expects of us.  The two greatest commandments – to love God and to live neighbor – are lived out by doing these three things.  Ask a non-believer what a church should do and odds are they will name at least two of these three.  In an ideal world, all churches would be growing in their love of God and changing the world for the better each day.  All churches should be known for their compassion, love, witness, forgiveness, and service.  And all of God’s people said, “Amen”!

But in order for the church to be known for these characteristics, as members of these churches we must first be known individually for these traits.  No one comes to the faith because of a church.  They come to faith by first experiencing what faith lived out looks like.  They experience this vicariously when one loves or serves them in a radical or unexpected way.  It draws them in and opens their hearts so that the Holy Spirit can begin to work in them.  This day and each day, may our lives be the offering we bring to God and may our lives be a living witness to the splendor of His holiness.

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Rejoice in All

Reading: Romans 5: 2b-5

Paul calls for us to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  For the believer, it is easy, almost natural, to hope in God’s glory.  His glory was revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who rose to eternal life and calls on His followers to walk in His ways so that one day we too can do the same.  This glory is something we can find hope in!

Paul also goes on, in the very next verse, to call us to rejoice in our sufferings.  Why, oh why, would we be happy in our sufferings?  It is in the place of suffering that we can truly experience God’s power and presence.  In those times of high stress, emotional overload, heavy grief, and other sufferings that we best realize our need for the hope that He brings.  In these times we come to see that when we cannot, He can.  In our own sufferings and in the sufferings of the world, the hope of His glory can be all we have at times.  When we cling to this, we can rejoice in this hope.

It is through our experiences and the living out of our faith that we experience hope in our sufferings.  It is not, however, a direct line between the two.  Paul traces the path for us.  First, suffering produces perseverance.  Through remaining faithful to His promises, we learn to persevere in the face of trials.  We know the end game.  Second, perseverance builds character.  In the trial, we are refined.  Who and what we are is developed and cones to shine out.  It is the peace that passes understanding.  And lastly, character leads to hope.  Who we are as a Christian is shaped on our journey.  As we come through the trials and we realize that not only is God still there, but that He carried us through, we come to know His love in a deeper way.  Our hope and faith in Him grows.  As He pours out His love into us, may we rejoice in all that life brings!