Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Suffering, Loving, Sacrifice

Reading: 2 Timothy 1: 8-14

“Join with me in suffering for the gospel”, Paul says to Timothy.  “Take up your cross and follow me”, says Jesus.  This idea that we too will suffer for our faith is a common refrain in the New Testament.  While most of us will certainly not face the cross like Jesus or be beaten and imprisoned like Paul, each of us will be called upon to willingly suffer for our faith.  To sacrifice is at the root of our faith.

Death and imprisonment do not threaten the typical Christian in the 21st century.  While we must acknowledge that this reality exists for some Christians in our world today, for most of us the suffering we are called to is of a different nature.  Some of the suffering we face will be caused by our faith.  For example, at times the choices to abstain from things or activities may bring a little persecution our way.  At other times choosing to speak up for one dealing with injustice or to stand up for one being bullied or abused may draw some negative attention our way.  Faith and following the way of Christ can lead to public suffering.

Our faith can also lead to more private suffering.  When we choose to give away or provide food or clothing or shelter to one in need it is at a cost to ourselves.  We live with less so another can have some.  When we choose time with God or church or family over work or some other secular pursuit we are sacrificing wealth or popularity or promotion.  This too can bring suffering.  When we choose to befriend or engage the outcast or ostracized or to walk with someone who is struggling in life, we sacrifice time and energy and may also open ourselves up to ridicule or persecution or some other form of suffering.  Faith calls us to live God with all we are and to love neighbor as Christ first loved us.  Faith asks us to place self after God and others.

As we live out our faith may we be willing to suffer and sacrifice so that all may come to know and experience Christ’s love, hope, and mercy through our extravagant love and servant’s sacrifice.

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Reading: 2 Timothy 1: 1-8

Paul and Timothy have a special bond.  Paul calls him “my dear son” and Timothy sees Paul as a father figure.  Paul has mentored Timothy and watched him grow in his faith.  Timothy has been poured into by Paul, both in terms of the knowledge of the faith and in how to live out that faith.  Again we read of tears.  Paul recalls Timothy’s tears at their last parting and declares that he longs to see Timothy again.  These tears are partly tears of sorrow but they also testify to the deep, deep connection that Paul and Timothy feel through Christ.

Paul encourages Timothy in these opening verses.  He first reminds him of the “sincere faith” that he sees in Timothy, a faith not only taught but passed down to Timothy.  He exhorts Timothy to “fan into flames the gift of God” which is present in and through the Holy Spirit.  In this section Paul finishes by encouraging Timothy to live out a bold faith, empowered by love and self-discipline.  The mentor is building up the pupil while he is physically distant.

But this is not a one-way street.  Paul also receives from Timothy.  Paul us writing Timothy at a time when he is in custody.  It is a time of suffering for Paul.  As he looks around Paul sees that he is all alone, that all have deserted him.  Paul is a prisoner for Christ and he is reaching out to Timothy, his dear friend.  In his suffering, Paul draws strength from the relationship he has with Timothy.  He also knows that Timothy will pray often for him and will be with him in spirit.

In our walk of faith we will have mentors who help us grow in our faith and at times we too will pour into others.  Our faith is a communal faith, one that is to be lived out together.  It is both a joy to walk alongside a brother or sister growing in Christ as well as to walk alongside them in their times of pain and suffering.  May the Lord bless each of us as we laugh and cry and grow together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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To God

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-9

In our lives we all have experienced loss and suffering to some degree.  Sometimes our loss leaves us questioning God and sometimes a tough loss can leave us angry.  This is especially true when our loss seems unjust or when we struggle to find any explanation at all.

The Israelites understood the root cause of their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.  They knew their sin and disobedience had brought this upon themselves.  Being defeated and carried off into exile was suffering enough.  But to have Jerusalem, their beautiful city and the home of God, destroyed was too much.  Add to this their local adversaries cheering on the destruction and it was simply too much to bear.  Their tears of sorrow turn into tears of rage and vengeance.  We too can relate to times of suffering in our lives when that ‘one more thing’ pushes us beyond what we can bear.

In the midst of our own suffering, our grief and sorrow can also turn to anger and rage.  It is a natural part of the grieving process to be mad at God.  Our lesson from the Israelites is to bring these emotions to God.  Into God’s presence is the right place to bring our anger and rage.  God expects our honesty and can “handle” anything we bring before the throne.  It is only in God that we find the compassion and comfort that can begin to heal what is heavy upon our heart.  May we lay all of our burdens and sufferings at the feet of God and enter into God’s loving embrace.

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Tears of Joy

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-6

Psalm 137 is also a song of lament.  The Israelites held captive in Babylon are strangers in a foreign land.  They miss Jerusalem, their homes, the temple.  The culture and the ways of the Babylonians are strange and often run counter to the faith in God that the Israelites practice.  On top of all this, the Israelites must endure taunts and torment from the Babylonians.  The Israelites are asked to sing the songs of God – the God who loves and saves them.  How ironic the twist as they live in exile.

We look at the news and see the things going on around us and we too lament.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are often “strangers in a foreign land”.  We miss the good old days when everyone knew God, when the churches were full, and when the name of God drew only respect.  The culture and ways of the world are strange and often run counter to our faith and to God’s ways.  And on top of all this, the calls of hypocrites, elitists, and judgmental ring out from those who stand against God and the church.  We often feel and act small for a people who worship the God of all creation.

Our sadness and tears for our world are much like the years shed by the Israelites.  We shed tears of alienation and rejection.  We too are reminded of our reality that we are in this world but not of it.  Our home is in heaven.  We, however, also shed tears of sadness and empathy.  We see so many who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and we are sad.  This great gift of salvation that we received from God is a gift for all people.  The sadness and empathy that wells up in us and knowing the gift of life that we have leads us out into the world to share Christ’s light and love.  As we bring Christ into the world, as we see others coming to know Christ, our tears will become tears of joy over another won for Christ.  We go forth knowing we serve and love a mighty God.  Thanks be to God.

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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

The title of the book from which we read says a lot about the content.  There is much to be sad about.  The words chosen convey this: deserted, desolate, distress, weep, grieve, slave, exile, sins.  It is indeed a dark time in Israel’s history.  It is made even darker because of the reason they are lamenting.  It is not because of a cruel twist of fate or because of a random act of history.  It is because of a long period of sinning against God.

There are times in our lives when we find the need to lament.  These are times when many tears are shed.  The sadness seems deeper when we have had a hand in bringing on the season of lament.  Because of our own poor choices or bad decisions, we find ourselves in the wilderness.  We can look back and see how our own actions have led us to where we are.

The years the Israelites shed were at first tears of sadness.  They looked at their new situation and cried and mourned.  They longed for what was.  This is often our first reaction as well.  But we cannot stop here.  Just as the Israelites realized the error of their ways and repented and came back to God, so too must we learn from our poor choices and bad decisions.  Our tears of regret must lead us to change, to become more than we have become, to repent, and to begin walking as God calls us to walk as disciples of Jesus Christ.

As the Israelites cried tears of repentance, God began to work in their hearts and began to restore them to a righteous relationship once again.  God desires to do the same with each of us each time we go astray, each time we fail, each time we hurt.  We too must repent and turn back to God.  Then God will dry our tears and lead our hearts to turn back to our faith.  There we will find healing and wholeness and love.  There we will be made righteous and holy once again.  May we humbly and earnestly seek the Lord our God.

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The Rich man, Lazarus, or…

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

If asked which character we would like to be in today’s reading, there would be a long pause before we answered.  If we look at the end of the story, we all want to be Lazarus.  We would all choose heaven as our eternal destination.  But within the story, do we want to be poor beggars in this life?  When we are really honest, we’d prefer to be both the rich man and Lazarus – the rich man now and Lazarus later.

So we finally settle on being Lazarus?  Or do we settle on being the rich man?  Truth be told, when we look at the model of our faith, at Jesus, we see the middle ground.  Jesus certainly did not pursue wealth yet was definitely content with life.  He did not dress in expensive clothes or eat gourmet food.  But He was not starving and always had a place to live His head at night.  Jesus trusted fully in God alone.  He knew God’s love intimately and fully trusted that God would provide for His every need.

The rich man only truly saw Lazarus when he died.  He finally saw what Jesus sees all the time.  He saw them as they were.  In everyone Jesus saw and encountered, He sought to meet their need.  Sometimes even they did not know their own real need, so Jesus sometimes delved below the surface.  He got to know people that others avoided or shunned.  He entered into their lives and walked alongside them.  He did what the rich man never would have done.

The rich man, Lazarus, or Jesus?  Who do we strive to be more like?  It is an obvious answer but a hard path to walk.  May the power and presence of the Holy Spirit lead us on the path of Jesus, fully trusting in God, loving all of God’s children.

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The Good Fight

Reading: 1 Timothy 6: 11-19

A good life can be defined at least two ways.  For one, a good life is security, routine or order, a sense of success or accomplishment.  To have a safe home, ample food and clothing, a steady job that brings satisfaction, and good relationships with family and friends – to many this is the good life.  For others, for those who know God, a good life entails all of this and more.  For the believer, a good life is also a life lived for God, sharing God’s love and compassion with others.

In our passage, Paul is encouraging Timothy to be content in life and not to chase after the ever elusive”more”.  Paul encourages Timothy to pursue the things of God: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, gentleness, and endurance.  Paul knows Timothy will need all of these things.  Some will help Timothy to continue to grow in his faith while these same characteristics and the others will help him to share his faith with others.  A good life not only includes a relationship with God but also with the community of believers and with the stranger one meets.  Paul reminds Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith”.  He goes on to tell Timothy to take hold of the confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior and to fully live this out in his own life.  Paul calls on Timothy to live faithfully, to shine the light of Jesus with all he meets as he proclaims the good news and as he personally pursues God.

We too can take these words of encouragement to heart.  We too can choose to claim our relationship with our Lord and Savior, with Jesus Christ.  And we too can fight the good fight of the faith, loving God and loving others with all that we are.  It is in doing these things that we take hold of eternal life – the life really worth living.  This day and every day may we fight the good fight of the faith, bringing honor and glory to God in all we do.

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Reading: 1 Timothy 6: 6-11

Paul calls us to what really matters in this life and in the life to come.  He states in verse six, “godliness with contentment is great gain”.  When we live a godly life and are content with God’s blessings, then we do find much joy, peace, and happiness.  But it can be a struggle to live this way all the time.

Even though Paul reminds us in verse seven that we brought nothing into this world and can take nothing out of it, sometimes we sure act differently.  We eye the latest cell phone, tablet, or other gadget.  We see the newest model of our favorite car and think our 2015 version is getting a bit old.  We hear the Jones’s got a new boat and we think it sure would be nice to take the kids out tubing or fishing anytime.  Pretty soon it can be easy to not be so content.

Paul spells it out very clearly when he says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”.  He does not say money is bad but that the LOVE of money in bad.  This love causes us to pursue much instead of God.  When we love something more than God, soon enough we “wander from the faith” and we find ourselves”pierced with many griefs”.  Money, possessions, status, … do not last.  When we chase after such things all we want is more, more, more.  Enough never comes.

“Flee from all of this!” is Paul’s advice.  Instead, Paul encourages us to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  When we fill our lives with these things, contentment is not far away.  When we pursue these things we soon realize the depth of God’s care and love for us, each a child of God.  When we realize this, we trust in God that all of our needs will be met and that our lives will be richly blessed no matter how much or how little we have.  When we live pursuing God, we find true contentment.  May God be our all in all.

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Because He Loves

Reading: Psalm 91: 14-16

“Because he loves me…” opens our reading today.  It goes on to say that because we love God, God will rescue, protect, answer, be with, deliver, honor, give long life, and show us salvation.  Because we love God.  Thankfully, these things God blesses us with because we love God is based not just on our love for God.  More importantly, it is based on God’s love for us.  Even though our love is at times fickle and wavering, God still desires a loving relationship with each of us.  There is investment and commitment on both sides.

From God’s side, the love is as steady as the day is long.  God’s love for us never changes.  As the character who portrays God in one of my favorite books says, “I’m especially fond of that one”.  It was said about everyone.  This is one of the most amazing things about God’s love – it is unlimited in that it is for all people, not just for those who love God.  And God’s love is constant.  There is nothing we can do or say to earn more of God’s love.  There is nothing we can do or say to drive away or lessen God’s love either.

But our love ebbs and flows.  Our commitment to the relationship is sometimes strong, sometimes weak.  As people prone to sin, we have moments, days, and even seasons when we slip, drift away, act like we do not love God.  At times we probably make God question our love and commitment.  We are human.

Yet God remains faithful, true, loving.  God remains the same always.  God patiently waited for us to realize our poor choices, to repent and return to our loving relationship.  There are no “Where ya been?” questions.  There is simply, “Welcome back”.  Welcome back to where we belong.  Welcome back.  Thanks be to God for this incredible love.

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Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6

The psalmist finds great refuge in God and wants us to do the same as well.  The pestilence, disease, evils that creep in the night, the snares – so much that the psalmist faced!  Our reality is that we too face much.  Children too often grow up on their own, young adults enter the ‘reap world’ often with a huge debt load or without the education necessary to earn a living wage, and our elderly are too often housed in a facility, largely forgotten by family.  It is no wonder people are longing for love, hope, mercy, justice, and a sense of security and belonging.  Life can be hard.  But into this challenging scene the Lord our God tries to make a way.  God desires to bring us thelove, hope, mercy, justice, and a sense of security and belonging that we all seek.

The psalmist reminds us that God seeks to be our refuge and our shelter.  But God will not force us into choosing to receive these things.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High” is how the Psalm begins.  He who dwells.  We have a role to play in experiencing rest, cover, a shield about us, and an absence of fear.  We must choose to dwell each day in God’s presence.  To dwell in another’s presence implies a long-term relationship, one with some commitment.  To dwell in God’s presence does not involve flitting in and out as it suits our needs.

When we dwell in God’s presence we are constantly in contact with God.  We turn to God in prayer throughout the day.  We spend time each day reading and meditating upon the Word.  Through these disciplines we come to know and trust in God.  It is then that we begin to find thelove, hope, mercy, justice, and a sense of security and belonging that we so desire.  May we each dwell in God’s presence this day and every day.