Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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For I am with You

Reading: Haggai 1:15b to 2:9

Remember when America was great?  A TV in every living room and a car in every driveway…  This was the ‘land of opportunity’, the place where hundreds of thousands came to make a better life for themselves.  Every parent’s dream was for their children to be better off than they themselves were.  It was a significant event when that first child from a family went off to college.  Remember the good old days?!

Haggai speaks to the people in a time just after the Babylonian exile has ended.  The people returning to Jerusalem and other communities remembered their homes and the temple in an idealized way.  All was beautiful and perfect in their mind’s eye.  But they return to a temple in ruins, to homes that show decades of neglect.  There is such a disconnect between what they envisioned and their reality that it is depressing and causes them to question all that matters, especially their faith.

We too can experience this remembering of a glorified past.  It can be physical – like when one returns to the old family home and thinks, “My this bedroom is small, I remember it being bigger”.  This can also happen in our faith.  Like those returning to Jerusalem, we too can return to our faith after a time of exile.  After we have been away from God for a while, we come to return and expect God’s magnificent presence to be there all the time.  We recall our ‘mountaintop’ faith moment and want to reclaim that feeling.  But our reality is that often times our faith must be rebuilt, just like the homes and temple that the people of Haggis’s had to rebuild.

The Lord speaks to Haggai as this large task has deflated the people.  “Be strong all you people of the land and work.  For I am with you…  I will fill this house with glory”.  These are our promises too.  Be strong, stay true to our faith, work at it.  God is with us.  God loves us.  God will fill each of us, all of us, with God’s glory.  God is faithful.  May we be too.

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One Step

Reading: Luke 19: 6-10

Once again Jesus reaches to an outcast.  Once again Jesus looks past what is a barrier to others and lives one in need.  Zacchaeus certainly was not in need financially because he was a rich man.  Zacchaeus was in need of love and acceptance.  Because of his job, Zacchaeus probably spent life largely alone, without any real friends.  When Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus, many in the crowd grumbled with disapproval.  Zacchaeus’ ill-gotten wealth has drawn much dislike for the crowd.

At times we too act in certain ways and do certain things that cause others to dislike us or to remain at a distance from us.  Sometimes we can be like Zacchaeus, mistreating others for our own gain or purposes.  Sometimes we can fall into sins of other types, causing others to look down on us or to treat us like an outcast.  Sometimes we act in ways that cause people to think, ‘Jesus, don’t go near that one today’ or to think that Jesus could never call out to us.

Yet He does.  No matter what, Jesus always calls out to us.  He continues to call us out of our trees and into relationship with Him.  No matter our sin, Jesus continues to seek us when we are lost.  Like Zacchaeus, we are always just a simple confession away from a righteous relationship with Jesus Christ.  Like Zacchaeus, we are always just one step away from forgiveness and new life in Christ.  For this we say, thanks be to God.

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To Save the Lost

Reading: Luke 19: 1-5

Zacchaeus was a man  who probably had few friends.  We are told he was wealthy.  So he was probably ‘good’ at his job as the chief tax collector.  He became wealthy by extorting extra taxes from the people to line his own pockets.  He also likely collected a slice of what those working under him collected as well.  So Zacchaeus was not very well liked.  There is a reason he went alone to get a peek at this Jesus.

Just prior to today’s reading, in Luke 18 we find the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich ruler.  He comes to Jesus seeking  to know how to inherit eternal life.  In their initial conversation he tells Jesus he has kept all the commandments since he was a boy.  In both of these things, he is an opposite to Zacchaeus.  But he is unable to do what Jesus asks of him: sell all he has and then come follow Jesus.  This man went away very sad; he was unable to part with his great wealth.

Zacchaeus finds a place in a tree because he is short and really just wants to be able to see Jesus as He passes by.  He is curious.  Zacchaeus does not go out that day to have his life changed.  He is content with his wealth.  Yet Jesus picks him out of all those in the crowd that day.  He calls Zacchaeus down and invites Himself into his home.  While there Zacchaeus is changed.  He admits his sins and joyfully pledges to make restitution to all he has wronged.  Jesus responds by saying that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house this day.  In what almost seems like an afterthought, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”.  It is an answer to the crowd’s judgment of Jesus going to a sinner’s home and also a declaration for us.

In choosing Zacchaeus, Jesus is saying He will come to anyone.  After all, He came to you and to me.  Jesus wants to come into people’s lives today with the same intentbthat He came into Zacchaeus’: to save the lost.  Who will you introduce to Jesus today?

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Prayer Encourager

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1: 11-12

Paul played many roles for his churches and those he shared the faith with.  He was most often a teacher.  The main goal of Paul’s life was to bring people to Jesus Christ.  He traveled all over the place preaching and teaching.  Paul would often offer remedial lessons, found in the form of his letters we find in the New Testament, that would refine his teaching, would fix errors in both thinking and practice, and would seek to resolve disputes within the churches and between individuals.

We see another of Paul’s roles today: prayer.  He is one who prays.  Paul prayed all the time for the churches he established, for churches already in existence, and for those he knew and was mentoring in the faith.  Through prayer, Paul often sought to encourage those who would read his letters.  Through prayer, Paul encouraged the good things about a church or person and sought to remind them if God’s hand at work among them.  In these ways Paul’s prayers were like compliments.  Not only were they positive and uplifting, but they also would spur the readers on to continue in the faith and to build up their faith.  Reminding them of what they did well led them to do it all the more.

We can also read Paul’s prayer today as an encouragement to our faith.  We can also pray this prayer for those in our lives who need encouragement.  To pray that we are “worthy of his calling” implies that we are indeed called.  Born a child of God, we have been called since birth.  To pray that we act “by his power” reminds us that we need to rely fully on God, not on ourselves.  To pray that God is present in fulfilling “every good purpose and every act prompted by our faith” implies an active and responsive faith, a faith lived out.  All of this leads to Paul’s conclusion: all of this done so that Jesus Christ may be glorified.  May it be so in our lives this day.

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In Peace

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1: 1-4

“Grace and peace to you” is how Paul begins his second letter to the Thessalonians.  In our churches, during our worship services, many of our congregations practice something similar in our times of greeting or the passing of the peace.  We are reminded, through these practices, of our love and fellowship with each other and with Christ.

At the time Paul wrote this letter, the church was growing.  But is was also facing persecution and abuse from the much larger, non-Christian, segment of Thessaloniki.  Hence, Paul’s words of encouragement to persevere.  Persecution and abuse may not be the words we would use today, but there is definite conflict with the larger society outside the church.  The messages of the world and the messages of the church often run head-on into each other.  At times this means saying “No!” to or disagreeing with the messages of the world.  Inadvertently, at times this will draw negative attention and sometimes it will draw conflict.

We usually end our services by sending forth the congregation with a blessing of peace and some words of encouragement as we go back out into the world.  Often these words include reminders to share it bring Christ’s love out there with us.  As we bring our faith out into the world, God’s peace is a good thing to bring along.  As we ourselves face trial or persecution, it is a good thing to have along.  As we enter alongside another struggling in life, it is a good thing to share.

Paul notes that the church is growing.  A church in the midst of a culture that was largely non-Christian is growing.  It was growing because the believers were living out their faith in the world outside the walls of their church.  The same principle works today.  Christ’s love is attractional.  It draws us in.  It will draw others in as well.  So go forth in peace, being the light and love of Jesus Christ in a broken world.  Go forth to love and serve the Lord.

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Living Right

Reading: Psalm 119: 137-144

The psalmist declares that God’s righteousness lasts forever.  Because of this, all of God’s laws and ways are also righteous.  Since God’s laws and ways are always righteous, we should ever seek to understand and live out God’s statutes and precepts.  If we do so, then we draw near to loving them as the psalmist does.  Even in times of trouble and distress, the writer declares that God’s commands bring delight.

To this understanding from the Old Testament, we can apply our understanding of Jesus.  Jesus was the fuller revelation of God as He lived in the flesh.  Jesus allows us to see what it looks like to live out God’s laws and ways.  Even though Jesus was in the flesh, He was still divine and lived a life without sin.  In the life of Jesus, in the things He taught, and in how He lived, we have the example of what it means to live fully in God’s righteousness.  Jesus defined and lived out the essence of all of God’s laws and precepts that we find in the Old Testament.  He did so by loving God with all He was and by loving others as God loves them.  Jesus saw all as beloved children of God and treated each accordingly.

Jesus exemplified verse 142: “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true”.  God does not change.  God’s love never ends.  God’s ways are true.  Within these truths we seek to live as Jesus lived.  Living out our faith us living right.  Living out the love that Jesus pours into us is living right.  Living out the truth of God so that God’s word spreads to those around us and so God’s love and light grows is living right.  Whether filled with joy because of God’s blessings or struggling through a trial, these truths do not change.  No matter what life may bring, God’s love and God’s ways remain true.  May we always follow Jesus’ example, seeking to be God’s love and truth lived out.

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Faith and Trust

Reading: Habakkuk 2: 1-4

Habakkuk has cried out to God.  Now he takes his place on the wall and awaits God’s response.  He has said his piece and waits.  Habakkuk demonstrates great faith.  He will wait upon God.  He is also showing us how to be hopeful in the face of injustice or persecution.  This can be very hard on our own but very possible with God.  Lastly, Habakkuk expects a response from God.  It is as if he is saying, “I’m going to stand over here God.  Come answer me when you are ready”.

God’s answer is not really an answer to Habakkuk’s question.  In essence, God’s answer to “How long?” is: “until I am ready”.  In God’s answer we sense a definite awareness of what Habakkuk was praying about – the injustice and the violence.  But God also says to be patient.  God speaks of an appointed time that will not prove false.  God indicates that Habakkuk is to wait as the answer lingers.  Our passage ends by God stating, “the righteous will live by his faith”.  It echoes what was revealed to Paul, “my grace is sufficient for you”.  God is saying, “be patient, be obedient, be steadfast – I have this”.

In our lives, we too may often ask “How long”?  God’s response is the same to us: trust me, be patient, have faith, be obedient, live righteously, be steadfast.  We know that God is sovereign.  We know that God is omnipotent and omnipresent.  God has it all in the ‘palm of his hand’.  May we, like Habakkuk, faithfully live into God’s plan, even when it requires patience and, above all, faith and trust.

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God is There

Reading: Habakkuk 1: 1-4

Habakkuk begins by voicing what many of us have voiced as well: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen”?  Sometimes our prayers have been for a loved one, sometimes for a friend, and sometimes they are for a far away someone or a group of people that we do not know personally but are somehow connected to our heart strings.  We see hurt and injustice near and far and we bring it to the Lord.  But is seems to persist anyway.  Like Habakkuk, we cry out, “How long?”

Sometimes we come to a place where we feel we cannot bear the pain or hurt any longer.  Our cries turn to anger and we express our frustration with God’s apparent inactivity.  We hear this cry in Habakkuk’s words.  In our mind it makes no sense why our living God would ‘allow’ it to continue.  In our anger we may even want to turn away, to just forget the situation.  But we cannot.  Deep down we know that God does not ‘allow’ pain…  It is part of the world, just as joy is part of our world.  The Spirit reminds us of Jeremiah’s words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11).  We may not be able to understand God’s plans, but we still hold onto the promise.  There is comfort in this as we walk through the midst of a time of suffering or pain or injustice.

Even as we cry out, “How long?” we know that God is right there.  Our God of love seeks to bring us peace and strength and comfort and reassurance and whatever else we need right in the midst of our trial.  “I am with you” says the Lord.  In our trials, may we always trust into God and hold tightly to the hope we profess.  God is faithful.  God is love.  May we cling to the Lord our God in the storms.

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Living Worthy, Speaking Truth

Reading: 2 Timothy 4: 16-18

On this day, many will gather for worship.  Some will be like the tax collector, coming humbly before God, knowing they too are a sinner, seeking God’s grace.  Others will come like it’s an obligation, thinking they are already ‘there’, no real need for God, full of judgment for the worship and those all around them.  Paul connects to both of these – once a Pharisee but now a sinner saved by God’s grace.

As Paul closes his second letter to Timothy, he is near the end of his journey.  He can look back over his ministry for Jesus and can see how the Lord has been by his side, giving him the strength and protection he needed.  Paul has always sought the next lost soul, always working to connect a fellow sinner to the only one who can save – Jesus Christ.  Along the way Paul has faced many mockers, doubters, judges, critics, skeptics, …  Paul has remained steadfast to his mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

We have much in common with Paul.  Each if us has had our share of sin in our life and we continue to wrestle with temptation and sin.  We too have experienced God’s redeeming grace over and over.  We too live in a secular society that often questions, derides, doubts, and challenges our faith.  Our loyalty to God and God’s Word will be put to the test.  And just as Paul experienced time and time again, God will stand beside us and God will give us all we need to remain steadfast.  God will protect us and guide us through the storms of life.  God is faithful and true.

Living a life worthy of our calling and speaking the truths of God is something we cannot do on our own.  But when we are steadfast and faithful, God will be present and will lead the way.  God will go before us each day, guiding us and filling us with just what we need.  Today, may we live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, bringing all the glory and honor to the Lord our God.

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Let It Rain

Reading: Psalm 65: 9-13

In our Psalm, we are reminded of the many ways that God blesses the earth with the rains.  The rains nourish the plants, crops, and animals.  The waters flow over the earth and level out the ridges and furrows.  The rain produces a bounty.  The joy of fields full of cattle and valleys brimming with grain bring praise.  Water is the source of life.  When the rains pour down, it is God’s gift of life.

God also blesses us similarly.  God’s presence rains down upon us too.  God’s Word and Spirit are life-giving.  If we delve into the Bible, we find words of life, hope, love.  If we are receptive to the Holy Spirit’s whispers, we find the way to live a life worthy of God’s calling.  God’s presence is what fills us up so that we can go forth to share these blessings with others.

God’s rains flow down and the waters work to shape and mold us into who God wants us to be.  As God’s life-giving waters wash over us, they smooth out our rough spots as well.  The love and mercy of God’s waters softens our ridges, our prickly and rough areas, softened by God’s grace.  The waters are also present in our valleys.  God’s rain of love washes away our doubts, our fears, our sins.  God makes us clean and new every morning as mercy washes over us.  The rains can also lift us up.  As the waters rise in our lives, God remains present, bringing us peace, comfort, and strength.  Many times God simply carries us along like a mighty river, carrying us when we are unable to walk on our own.

Today, may God’s rain wash over us.  May God’s rain bring us all we need this day so that we too may shout for joy and sing of God’s love and power.  O Lord, let it rain.