Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 104:35b – “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.”

Today’s reading is short and sweet. It centers on just one thing. So what does it mean or look like to praise the Lord?

The simplest and perhaps most obvious answer is worship. We gather together on a Sunday morning or a Saturday night or whenever to praise and worship the Lord. This formal setting often includes reading and proclaiming the scriptures, songs and/or hymns, prayer, and fellowship. There may be other elements too. These corporate gatherings are a way that we praise the Lord as the community of faith.

Some of these public worship practices are also a part of our personal faith life. In our daily quiet time we often read and meditate on scripture, we pray, and maybe we journal or write about our reflections on the word. In their quiet time some may thank God for their blessings, offer confessions… Each of these are also a means to praise the Lord.

Every time we listen to the Holy Spirit and follow the guidance or respond to the conviction with confession and repentance, we are praising the Lord. Being obedient and faithful to the voice or the nudge is another way that we bring praise to the Lord – by living a life of faith. The Holy Spirit often leads us to action: loving a neighbor, helping one in need, bringing consolation to the grieving… Not only is being the hands and feet of Jesus an act of praise – it invites the other to praise the Lord for what has been done on their behalf.

As we seek to live a life that praises the Lord, in what other ways do you praise the Lord?

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever present in my life. So I ask that you would use me today ever as a means of praise – whether it is me praising you in word or action or if it is these things drawing another to praise you. Amen.

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The Foundation: Love

Reading: John 14:18-21

Verse 20: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

Jesus continues to offer words of reassurance and promise as we press on into the second half of this week’s gospel lesson. Reassuring the disciples that their connection to him, that their relationship with him, will not end in his death. He states, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” While this will not be in the earthly physical sense it will be in a tangible, real, spiritual sense. The presence of the Holy Spirit is something that we can feel, sense, and connect to.

Jesus then says, “You will see me.” As the Spirit works in the hearts and minds of the disciples it will remind them of Jesus. It will bring back memories of his actions and words, bringing guidance, direction, encouragement, strength… In this way, they will see Jesus. Along these lines, because Jesus lives in them, they will in turn live as his hands, feet, words, and actions in the world. No, they will never be orphans. They will forever be connected to Jesus Christ and to the kingdom of God. We too experience this living presence when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In verse 20 we read, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Indeed so! On the day that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of our lives we realize this indwelling of Christ in us and of us in Christ. In the Biblical story, the disciples will soon experience this as the risen Christ breathes the Holy Spirit upon them. In the last verse, Jesus speaks again and again of love. This is the foundation of our relationship with the Lord and with one another. Each day may we live into this love and may we pour it out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, your Spirit is a wonderful gift. It connects us 24/7 to you. It is a constant guide and companion. Through the power and presence of your Spirit lead me in love – for you, for others, for the world. Amen.

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Come and Hear!

Reading: Psalm 66:8-20

Verse 16: “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what God has done for me.”

The Psalm begins with praise to God for the saving acts experienced during the exodus from Egypt. It was a corporate experience that called for a corporate response. As we turn once again to Psalm 66 today we focus on verses 13-20. Note how the pronouns change to the first person.

Verses 13-15 recount the psalmist’s response to God hearing and answering his prayers. The response here is a fulfillment of “vows my lips promised.” When in a time of deep trouble, the psalmist begged and pleaded with God to save him. And God did. So now the writer keeps his word and offers rams, bulls, and goats. While we do not live in the time when animals were sacrificed it is still good to consider what our response is or will be when God hears and answers our prayers and petitions.

The psalmist offers another response in verse 16: “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what God has done for me.” He wants to encourage others, to tell them the story of what God did for him. In the context of his day, the faith was kept within the Israelite community. With Jesus this circle was cast wide open. In Mark 16 the commission is to “go into all the world” to tell the story of what the Lord has done. With this added understanding, our call is to invite all people to “come and hear,” to tell others the story of “what God has done for me.” It is a story we both live out and tell with our witness. May we share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people, both in word and in deed.

Prayer: Lord God, you have filled me with stories of faith as you have touched my life again and again, as you have made a way when there seemed no way. Make me a story teller, Lord, sharing with others what you have done for me. Amen.

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Living Stones

Reading: 1st Peter 2:2-8

Verse 5: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

As we look at this week’s reading from 1st Peter 2, Peter begins by addressing their faith. From verse 2 we can glean that many are just beginning their walk of faith. Here he refers to these believers as newborns, encouraging them to “crave pure spiritual milk” so that their faith can grow. He also touches on their love of God. He reminds them that they have “tasted that the Lord is good.” It is a tangible and sure reminder for the hard times that they live in.

Peter names Jesus “the living stone.” He settles on this title because it connects into the words and images used in the Hebrew scriptures to describe the Messiah. Peter quotes from Isaiah 28 and 8 and from Psalm 118, identifying Jesus as the cornerstone, the capstone, the rock. He identifies Jesus as the one who was “chosen” by and is “precious” to God. He then connects these exiled followers of Jesus into all of this by saying, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.” They too are chosen and precious. They too are to be living rocks of faith. All of this applies to us too. We are chosen and precious. We are to be living stones.

Peter calls these followers living as exiles and sojourners in foreign lands to be built into a community of faith and to live as “a holy priesthood.” The community is the necessary source of strength and support, of help and provision, of love and encouragement, of praise and prayer. This community, this family, is essential to them and us being “a royal priesthood.” Without our brothers and sisters in Christ it is really hard to be living stones in this hostile world. So we begin here, with hope and encouragement. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for calling me, for seeing me as precious and as worthy of a place in the family of Christ. Use me as one who ministers to others, helping them too to know that they are chosen and precious, beloved and worthy. Amen.

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In Spirit, Faith, and Truth

Reading: Acts 7:59-60

Verses 59-60: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Photo credit: Simon Schmitt

After Jesus, Stephen is the first person to die for their faith. Just as the early church is finding itself and its voice, this tragedy occurs. Stephen was bold and lived his faith out loud. He was led by the Holy Spirit. He was drawing people to Jesus Christ. The stoning of Stephen must’ve felt like a massive gut punch to the early church. Until you heard the words he said even as death came. Stephen’s last words were a powerful witness to the faith that he had in the Lord.

As the stoning began Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He was committing his soul to the one in whom he put all his hope and trust. He was declaring his faith in the one who rose from death. Even now he remained bold for his faith. With his last breath Stephen offers these words that echo Jesus’ words from the cross: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Like his master, even in death Stephen offers forgiveness. He models grace. This too is a great testimony to the power of the Spirit of Christ within Stephen, leading and guiding him right to the very end.

This martyrdom and the intense persecution that will follow forces the church out into the world. Led by Saul, the Jewish religious leaders will try to eradicate this new faith in Jesus Christ. This too will lead to bold witnessing for their faith. In Spirit, truth, and faith the church will grow and thrive. It is God’s plan. May it continue to be so with you and with me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the witness of Stephen. Lead and guide me by the same power of the Holy Spirit. Empower in me a bold and courageous faith that stands tall for you. Amen.

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Ever by Our Side

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

We return to Psalm 23 today. This is something we do again and again. These words are powerful. We recite these words at many funerals – a reminder that God is always with us. We recite these words in our minds when we are not sure of the next step to take in life – a reminder to ourselves that the Good Shepherd will guide and protect. We pray these words in our hearts – reminding ourselves that the Lord will be our still waters in moments of anxiousness or doubt. We offer these words as a plea – an assurance that the guardian of our soul will meet our every need. And we offer these words as a prayer of thanksgiving, remembering again and again how God is with us in all of life. With these words we rejoice in the Lord.

Today I invite you to an exercise. It won’t take too long. Take a little time to pray your way through the Psalm. Reopen your Bible or click on the link above. Pray through one phrase at a time. Not one verse – that is too much. Begin with “The Lord is my shepherd.” Offer words to God around this phrase. It may be words of praise. It may be a request. It may be gratitude or realization. Allow the Spirit to lead you. Then go on to “I lack nothing.” Take your time. Be with the Lord a while…

What a powerful reminder this exercise was for me. God is with me in so many ways. God brings so much to my daily walk and to my life. The Lord is ever by our side. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this time today with this amazing Psalm. Draw me back to these words again and again – not only in moments of need but also in times of joy and thanksgiving. You are present in all of life, in every moment. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

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An Ear Turned Towards Us

Reading: Psalm 116:1-4

Verse 1: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.”

In Psalm 116 there is a remembrance of a time of anguish, trouble, and sorrow. Death was near to the author. We all experience times of anguish, trouble, and sorrow. Many of us have had death come near. We can relate to what the psalmist felt. Even people who do not believe in God feel these emotions. Anguish, trouble, and sorrow are common to all of humankind.

In verse 1 the psalmist expresses his or her love for the Lord. Why? Because the Lord heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” In the moment of need, the Lord heard. As the psalmist cries out for mercy, the Lord hears the anguished cry. Being heard in the moment of need leads to the declaration that we find in verse 2: “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” Because the Lord was there in the great time of need, the psalmist declares faithfulness for all of his or her life.

When you have been in a moment of great need, did the Lord hear your voice? Did others hear your cries? If the answer is ‘yes’ to either question, you know how much that matters. For family or friends who respond to our cries, we are forever grateful. If not aloud, at least we think in our minds that we will value that connection forever. How much more so for the Lord! The Lord ever has an ear turned towards us. Our God hears the smallest whispers and the loudest cries. The Lord is always near. So like the psalmist, may we too declare our love for the Lord, ever turning to the one who awaits our voice.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being ever present. You know us inside out – our thoughts, our feelings, our needs, our wants and desires. Yet you are eager to hear our voice. Thank you Lord. Amen.

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The Path of Life

Reading: Psalm 16:7-11

Verse 8: “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Our passage today begins as yesterday’s began, with praise to the Lord. David celebrates God’s presence in his life just as Peter did. In verse 8 David writes, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Here he expresses that faith is a choice. David chooses to receive counsel and instruction from God day after day. He chooses to keep God front and center – “always before me.” Because David chooses God again and again, his faith is assured and strong. He trusts that God will always be there for him.

David rejoices again in the next verses. His “heart is glad” and he knows God’s protection is his: “my body also will rest secure.” For David, his faith is holistic – mind, body, and soul. David’s faith involves all of his life, both in the present and in the future. Mirroring the inheritance that we read about yesterday, David rejoices that the Lord has “made known the path of life” and filled him “with joy in your presence” now and “with eternal pleasures” that are sure to come one day. His faith is not just holistic, it is total and complete. David practices a faith that rests on the Lord’s presence here and now and it trusts into God’s eternal promises for his future.

The God that David connected to, walked daily with, and trusted with all of his being is the same God that seeks to be in the same relationship with you and with me and with all people. Setting the Lord ever before us, we will not be shaken. May we choose the path of life, rejoicing daily in the living hope that comes through faith in the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me to you morning by morning, keeping me ever before you. Fill me daily with your presence, growing my faith and trust day by day. Turn me to you in all circumstances, for there I can stand secure and strong. Amen.

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Reading: John 20:30-31 – “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

When you first read these 2 verses maybe you, like me, feel that there really is more to the story of Jesus. And being raised in this culture, if more is available, we certainly want it. More knowledge, more wisdom, more followers, more time, more possessions, more wealth – you name it – we want more.

If one reads through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one realizes that there aren’t a lot of stories that are in all four gospels. A few are, yes, but each gospel writer had a particular focus or purpose and gathered material accordingly. The writers even arranged the material in a different order here and there because that better fit their focus. From this perspective it makes perfect sense that John would write “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book” at the end of his gospel. Oh wait! He then sneaks in one more miracle even after this statement.

Even though it is fascinating to think about or even to imagine all of the other potential stories about Jesus that aren’t in the gospels, the reality is that each gospel, on its own, is enough. Each, in their own way, presents a picture of Jesus that is enough to lead someone to believe in him as Lord and Savior. Now one may appeal to you more than another. That is natural as each was written with a focus or for a specific purpose.

Our reading concludes with John writing, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, the gospels are indeed more than enough – not only in content but in function. The complete picture is painted and yet your stories remain alive, offering new insights or a new application when I come to them from a different perspective or with a new need. Thank you for the living word – our living hope, our eternal promise. Amen.

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Blessed Are…

Reading: John 20:24-29

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Act 2 unfolds today. We learn that Thomas was absent from the risen one’s first visit. It seems odd that Jesus would first visit when one disciple was missing but the reason why becomes clear as we read on. Thomas refuses to believe. He insists on his own physical proof. How many times have you said or thought “I’ll believe that when I see it with my own eyes”?

Usually when I’ve said that, the person’s response has been something along the “Well then, I’ll show you!” lines. It is not said with grace or humility or compassion. Contrast this human norm with how Jesus speaks to Thomas. In act 2 Jesus once again appears and greets them. Then, turning to Thomas alone, Jesus offers what he needs: “Put your finger here…” I picture a kindness in Jesus’ eyes and I sense a mercy and compassion in his voice. I think this is because it’s what I’ve felt when Jesus has met me where I was at and has given me what I needed. Thomas immediately professes faith in “my Lord and my God.”

And then to Thomas, but certainly loud enough for all to hear, Jesus says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” All there have now seen him. By seeing the risen Lord they have come to believe. Yet when Mary Magdalene came from the tomb with her good news… They all had doubt. They all needed more. So not only with Thomas but with all the disciples, he gave them what they needed to really believe. Jesus met them where they were at and helped them to step forward in faith. In Spirit, Christ continues to do this.

You and I fall into this “Blessed are…” statement. We have come to believe without physically seeing Jesus. How? Through the words of scripture, through the witness of others, and through our own experiences with Christ, we have come to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This day may our lives lay the groundwork for the Spirit to move the heart of another, drawing them towards faith in Jesus Christ. In whatever way we can, may we be part of other’s “how.”

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as you will. In and through me may others come to see and know Jesus in their hearts. Lead and guide me to help others toward the Lord and Savior of us all. Amen.