Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Reading: Matthew 28:16-20

Verse 19b: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Returning to the Great Commission passage found in Matthew 28 today, we lean into the relationship and community found in and through the triune Godhead. Ultimately, entering into the faith and into a personal relationship with the Lord leads one into a new life. This new life engages all three persons of the Trinity. To enter this new life and new relationships, we die to our old self and become a new creation (see 2nd Corinthians 5).

In the early church, when one made a profession of faith, the next step was usually baptism. This sacrament was one’s public testimony of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But it wasn’t just about being in a relationship with Jesus. The man himself instructed the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Although unique in many ways, together the three parts of the three-in-one form a single, unified Godhead.

We get a smaller but equally important example of unity in the presence of diversity or uniqueness in today’s text. As the risen Christ comes to the disciples, we read that some worshipped and that some doubted. Jesus doesn’t send the doubters into the corner until they believe. He does just the opposite. Jesus commissions all of the disciples to “therefore go and make disciples.” Doubt and all!

Jesus understands that each of the 12 are unique individuals. Faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness – all of these emotions and many more are a part of each of us. This is one of the things that unites us, that makes the many into one body. With Jesus’ love and with this same understanding, may we see and love and understand that all of humanity – no matter where we are emotionally, physically, or spiritually – are one in Christ and one with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, just as you are the three-in-one God, help all believers to live into the many-in-one community. Help each of us to see and treat and live with one another from this place of love and understanding. Amen.

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The Two “Greats”

Reading: Matthew 28:18-20

Verse 19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Today’s text contains what is known as the “Great Commission.” It is Jesus’ charge to the disciples to continue the work that he started. As we read or hear these words, the same charge applies to us today. Jesus says to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

These powerful words call us to action, to movement, to going out into the world to witness to and to share the good news of Jesus Christ. At times, as Christians, as we have sought to live out these words, we have forgotten the intent and we have set aside the model that Jesus gave us for living out these words. At times we have sidestepped the Great Commandment – to live God with all that we are and to love neighbor as self – as we have sought to “make disciples.” In many cases we have sought to transform them into our expected image or standard instead of into Jesus’.

When Jesus says, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” he is calling the disciples and us to live first and foremost. Love does not coerce or manipulate; it does not force or overpower. Love changes hearts and lives through relationship and connection. It changes people into disciples by teaching them kindness, grace, forgiveness, mercy, compassion… As we seek to live out both the great commandment and the great commission, may we hold tightly to both.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to cling to both “greats” each day and with each person I meet. Use me to reflect Christ’s love into the world and into people’s lives. Use me to make disciples even if I do not speak a word. Amen.

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The Peace and Love of God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13:11-13

Verse 12: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

As he draws to a close to the end of this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives some quick reminders. The four found in verse 11 are things Paul has talked or written about regularly. “Aim for perfection” is another way of saying, ‘Keep your focus on Jesus.’ He was the perfector of the faith. Jesus is the ultimate example. “Listen to my appeal” – take these words of encouragement and love and support and correction and accountability and apply them to your lives. Live them out. “Be of one mind.” Paul is calling the church to be one in Christ and one with each other. This is a call to unity and to holy community. And, “live in peace.” This call is to live peacefully both with one another and with those of the world. He is once again reminding the church to practice the forgiveness, grace, and mercy modeled by Jesus. Do these things, Paul says, and “the God of peace and love will be with you.”

In verse 12 we read, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” This holy kiss is not a peck on grandma’s cheek or high-fives all around when you meet your buddies. In the early church this holy kiss came towards the end of holy communion. It was a tangible, physical sign of unity and an acknowledgement that sins against one another were forgotten. This holy kiss put into actual practice the four ideals found in verse 11. The passing of the peace done each Sunday in many churches is the evolution of this holy kiss. The passing of the peace also reflects the goals of unity, love, and grace that are part of all communities of faith.

May we all seek to apply and practice these marks of a Christian each day, seeking not only to experience the peace and love of God ourselves, but also to share it with others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me focused first on Jesus and his example. Guide me to apply your word to my life and to live it out in the world. Use me to build unity in the family of God and to invite others into this community. Amen.

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Love Creation

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 4: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Photo credit: Falaq Lazuardi

Psalm 8 is a song of praise that calls us to praise God. It begins and ends with the refrain, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” In between these bookends David recognizes both the amazing creation all around us and the connection that we have to that creation.

David identifies God’s handiwork in the heavens – “the work of your fingers.” Staring up on a clear night, taking in the cast array of stars each known by name, one is awestruck, moved, amazed. This is just one way that we can and do connect to God through creation. It can also come in the intricacy of a spider web or in the beauty of a flower or waterfall or in the power of a thunderstorm or… God is present in so many ways in the creation.

Then, in verse 4, David asks an awesome question: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” This question makes me pause. It brings to mind both times when I have been 1 in a crowd of a million and times when I’ve been the only 1 in a million acres – both remind me of God’s power and might, both call forth the humility of this question. It is good to ponder this question, to be humbled.

David answers this question in the next few verses. God does “crown with glory and honor” humankind. God did make us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Here we must be careful. If we carry the humility generated by the question with us, then we see a great responsibility and a great privilege in these roles. If not, it easily becomes all about me. May we choose to love creation as God loves creation.

Prayer: Lord God, what a world you have made and continue to make! There are so many ways that I see your fingerprints in all of creation. As I interact with your creation, may my fingerprints look like yours. Amen.


Look to the Heart of God

Readings: Genesis 1:26-31, 2:1-4

Verse 26: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

Returning to the creation story today we turn to the last two ‘days.’ On what has been identified as the sixth day the three-in-one God creates humanity “in the image of God… male and female God created them.” These are such interesting terms. If we had 5 eyes and 2 mouths and wings but no hands and were half covered in scales, isn’t that how Jesus would have come to earth? And if Jesus came that way just a couple hundred years ago, would we portray him as he actually was or would we still warp him to look more like the dominant socioeconomic religious group?

So what if “in our image/likeness” wasn’t and isn’t about skin or eye or hair color or about where you were born or about your gender? What if being made in the image and likeness of God was about love, compassion, generosity, mercy, grace, hope, peace, justice, forgiveness, goodness, salvation…? We know nothing at all about the physical nature of God or even if there is one. So like God modeled with David, perhaps we too should look to the heart of God to understand who and what we were and are created to be.

Day 7 brings us another important part of God’s character, heart, soul. On this day God practices the sabbath. It was a holy day, a day of rest, a day without work. It is a day to look at the beauty and diversity and complexity of the world and of the creator and to celebrate, to worship, to be grateful for all of this. It is a day to see the holy in all of creation. It is a day to thank God for creating the world and us just as it and we are: beloved, unique, worthy, special. Thank you, creator God.

Prayer: Lord God, help us to see and love as you see and love. May we not see male or female but child of God. May we not see white or yellow or red or black or tan or… but child of God. May we not see rich or poor, professional or laborer, saint or sinner, but child of God. May it be so, Lord, may it be so. Amen.

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Chaos to Beautiful Diversity

Reading: Genesis 1:1-25

Verse 2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Genesis 1 is a great place to begin the week that culminates in Trinity Sunday. As Disciplines writer Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli puts it, “In the beginning, a diverse God – Creator, Word, and Spirit – created a diverse world, all interdependent, all profoundly good” (page 184). What a beautiful thought!

Now, the world did not begin this way. Verse 2 establishes the starting point of our world: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In the beginning there was a nothingness. It was formless and empty, dark. The deep waters represent the unknown. Because the deep was unknown, it was feared, it was avoided. Chaos and angst lived there.

Chaos and angst are still the parts of life that we avoid or wish we could avoid. Yet “life” happens – death enters unwanted, relationships become strained and break, illness and disease impact us, nature reeks havoc, employment and other decisions that people make affect our lives and families… In these moments we can feel like our world is formless, empty, dark.

As Genesis 1 begins God takes action. The chaos and nothingness are replaced with order and purpose – 2 things we love! As creation unfolds all that God does is good, everything is valued, there is an interconnectedness to all of creation. There is a beautiful yet connected diversity to this world that God created. May we see, appreciate, and love this world, especially one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome and amazing and beautiful world you created! Thank you for this gift. May we receive it, live in it, love it, and honor all parts of it as all of our world is your creation. Amen.

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Sunday Afternoon

Reading: John 20:19-20

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Our passage takes place on the first Easter Sunday. Friday and Saturday had been exceedingly hard days – the betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion of their Lord, Jesus Christ. Then the long period of waiting – part grief and pain, part fear and confusion. Then, on the third day, news of resurrection. Peter and John saw the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene saw the risen Lord and she brings the disciples this good news. That was at sunrise. It is now evening. Imagine the emotions – hope and yet fear, joy and yet doubt. It is on this evening, with the disciples still hiding behind closed doors, that Jesus comes to them and says, “Peace be with you!” He offers proof, showing them the scars of crucifixion. It is all true: what Jesus said about rising in 3 days, what Mary Magdalene has said. All true! The disciples are overjoyed.

What is it that has you behind closed doors? What is it that is creating strong emotions in you? Life has a way of bringing us to places and situations where we feel a lot like those disciples felt on Sunday afternoon. Because of his perfect love, Jesus continues to come to us, transcending the doors we hide behind and the walls we build, reaching out those nail-scarred hands. When we need him most, if we will receive him and take that hand, Jesus will say to us, “Peace be with you!” In faith, may we take hold of that hand, allowing his peace and love to surround us.

Prayer: Lord God, in moments when I can cling to self or to other things of this world, help me to reach out and take hold of that hand. Pull me up out of the mire, the water, the chaos, and set my feet up on the rock. Guide me to trust first in you. Amen.

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Totally Worthy

Reading: Acts 2:14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”

In our second half of this week’s Acts 2 reading Peter addresses the crowd. Some are “amazing and perplexed” and some are doubtful and skeptical. Peter says to the crowd, “Let me explain this to you.” That is what we all want to hear when we’ve seen something like the crowd has seen – something that is almost too much to believe.

Peter quotes from Joel 2, using a familiar passage for his Jewish audience. These words would be words that God’s people longed to see fulfilled. Peter says, in essence, today is the day! It is the day when sons and daughters, when old men and young men, and when even servants will prophesy, will dream dreams, and will have visions. When God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” God really means it. Through the giving of the Holy Spirit to all believers, the church is now empowered and equipped to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all of the world.

God did not look at the 100 or so gathered that day with the disciples and decide to pour out the Spirit on a select group. There was no age limit – one way or the other. There was no occupation parameters or gender requirements or any other limiting factors. All people received the Holy Spirit. All were totally worthy to receive the gift. The same could be said of the crowd. The Spirit didn’t enable the followers of Jesus to speak just some languages. All in the crowd heard the deeds of God in their own language. Again, there were no limiting factors. All were totally worthy to receive the word and all were absolutely welcomed into the community of faith. May it be so for our ministries and for our communities of faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you clearly love us all – believers and non-believers alike. You clearly want all people to come into a saving relationship in Jesus Christ – young and old, female and male, rich and poor, and everyone in between. There are no limiting factors. All are totally worthy of a place in your family. Lord, may it be so in all of our hearts and minds. Amen.

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Steps and the Promise

Readings: 1st Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

As we come to the close to our time in 1st Peter, the common themes continue: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering” and “you are blessed for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Yes, you/we will suffer for our faith. Have hope! Glory awaits one day and God is with you/us each day in the trials.

Turning to chapter 5 we find some practical steps to walk faithfully through our suffering as well as a promise that gives us this living hope that we have in Jesus Christ. First, Peter calls for humility. Only from this place do we acknowledge our own weaknesses and fragility. Only then do we believe that we truly need God’s power and strength in the trials. Next Peter writes, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” He is NOT saying God will take away all the trials and suffering. He IS saying that if we trust God to lead and guide and to be with us as we walk through the trials and suffering, then we can turn over our anxieties, fears, doubts, worries… to God. This is a big step.

Third, Peter tells us to be “self-controlled and alert.” This advice is given because Satan is always on the prowl, always looking for ways to drag us into sin and away from God. By being disciplined in our faith practices we are arming ourselves with power against these attacks. By being alert we are aware of our own areas of weakness and of those people and/or places that hold negative sway over us. This leads us to the 4th step: “Resist him.” Luke trials and suffering, temptation will come. Satan will attack. To this too we could say, “Do not be surprised…” Peter calls them/us to resist, to stand firm on our rock.

And the promise: “And the God of all grace… will restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” We do not walk alone. God in Spirit is with us always. In and through the trials and the suffering, God builds our faith. God sees us through and brings us out better able and more equipped for the next round. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, we close this walk through 1st Peter with such hope! In this life we will suffer, we will have trials, we will face temptations. Yet you are there with us, giving and being all that we need to walk faithfully through each one, emerging more faithful, more trusting, more assured of the living hope we have in you. Thank you for your great love and care for each of us. 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.