Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Oh Nineveh

Reading: Jonah 3: 5-10

Verse 8: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.

Jonah has made his proclamation known. For three days he walked around Nineveh proclaiming the coming destruction. The words of his warning – or the power of God behind them – hit home, leading the people to repentance. “From the greatest to the least” they fasted and put on sack cloth, both signs of repentance. When word got to the king he too was moved to action. The king issued a decree. In addition to calling for these sign of repentance, he also declared, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”. He hoped that if they changed their evil ways, that maybe in his compassion God might relent. God did have compassion. God did not destroy the great city of Nineveh.

As we consider the application of this passage today, how often are we Nineveh? How many times have we had to repent of our evil ways and our violence? As I consider these questions, I realize that sin is a constant battle in my life. Like the prophet Jonah, the Holy Spirit is ever on duty, proclaiming the coming destruction, calling me away from my sin and into faithful prayer and holy living. The same mercy and grace and love that brings renewal and forgiveness to my life are the ones all people can experience when they “fast” from their sins and “put on sack cloth” as a sign of their humility. This mercy, grace, love, renewal, and forgiveness is something God offers to all people.

Taking another angle, who is your Nineveh? Who is that person or group that most needs God’s transforming power to be at work in their lives? You see, at times we are to be like Jonah too, going to “that” person or to “those” people. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, sometimes even with words. We are to bear God’s transforming power into all the world, even to our Ninevehs.

By the power and grace of God, may we be aware both of the times when we need to repent and to turn from our evil ways AND of the times when we are called to proclaim that to those who are walking without the God of mercy and grace. May we each faithfully live out both sides of God’s love.

Prayer: God of grace, humble me and convict me when I am living in sin. Walk me to your throne and lead me to kneel there, in that place of love. Use me today to help others to know that place of love so that they too can know your healing and renewing power. Amen.

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Ever at Work

Reading: Psalm 105: 6, 16-22, and 45b

Verse 17: “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”.

Psalm 105 tells the story of the Israelites time in Egypt and of how God saved them. It is the story of God’s faithfulness to his chosen people. In this sense, the Bible is a historical document. The Bible tells the whole story of God’s people, beginning in the garden of Eden and ending with the coming renewal of heaven and earth. One events links to another, person after person plays their role. All are part of God’s good plans, all working towards the final return to all of God’s children living and walking and talking daily with the Lord in a new paradise.

Today’s verses are part of that story. They are, in fact, just a part of Joseph’s story too. The psalmist reminds us that before the famine occurred, God was already at work. That is usually how God works. In verse seventeen we read, “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”. God was ahead of the game. In his wisdom he saw how to use this world event to bring the family of Israel back together again. Joseph’s rise to power in the king’s household was also foretold. Those dreams that a young Joseph had would come to pass. All parts of the bigger story.

Today’s passage also reminds us that Joseph’s journey was not always easy. He entered Egypt as a slave, sold and discarded by his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s path to become “master” of pharaoh’s household would include a couple of other trials along the way. Through it all, Joseph remains faithful, trusting in the working out of God’s plan. God continues to be at work. One trial after another reveals the power of God at work in the world. That is one of the major overall themes in the story of the Bible: God is faithful. God is ever at work in the story of God’s chosen ones, ever working the whole family together with one another and with God himself. This is the Israelites’ story, this is Joseph’s story, this is our story. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living God, your fingerprints are all over Joseph’s story. No matter what came – his brothers’ jealousy, Potiphar’s wife’s lust, the cupbearer’s poor memory – Joseph remained faithful and you remained at work. Grant me the same faith and trust and perseverance, O God. Amen.

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Our Shepherd(s)

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known Psalm. Simply reading verse one triggers our memories and, for some, we can recite the remaining words. It is like saying, “Our Father who art…”. Like the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 is a powerful reminder of God’s love and care for us. David uses a metaphor that was very familiar to his audience: God as shepherd and us as sheep. As this metaphor is used throughout the Bible, we too are familiar with it.

The opening three verses pour out God’s love and care. The shepherd provided all that was needed for the sheep. They had no sense of want. That too can be our experience when we trust fully in God. Living in trust we become content with our lives and with our daily portion. A good shepherd worked hard to find water and green pastures each day for his or her sheep. They also found a safe place for the sheep each night, enabling them to find rest and renewal for the day ahead. Our loving and caring God does all of this for us too when we trust in his love and care. When we wander off like a sheep, when we start seeing a greener pasture over yonder, when we think maybe we should be the shepherd – then we begin to experience feelings of unease and stress and anxiety. These feelings remind us to return to our proper place, to our right place, in our relationship with God.

That is what the second half of verse three is all about. When we allow God to lead, when we bow and let God be in control, then we are guided to walk the “path of righteousness for his name’s sake”. When we walk as God intends us to walk, we glorify God. Adding a New Testament lens to this classic Old Testament writing, we follow Jesus as his disciples, walking out our faith as we follow in the footsteps of our good shepherd. Doing so we bring glory to his name. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring him the glory.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for always leading and guiding me. Your ways are fulfilling and peaceful, restorative and righteous. Lead me each day to walk faithfully with you. Amen.

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Refuge and Strength

Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6

Verse 2: “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust”.

The psalmist compares God to a home for those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High”. A sense of home is important to us. It is where we can go for safety and security when life rages about us. It is where we can go when we feel alone or cast aside – home is where we feel loved and where we belong. When we become frazzled at work or school and near our tipping point, home is where we can go to slow down and find renewal.

In verse two we read, “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust”. When we are living within a relationship with God, we do find that God is our refuge and is a fortress about us. In God we find all the things that are good about a home: safety, security, love, belonging, relief, renewal. As the Psalm unfolds, we read images of how God protects us and cares for us. As I think back over my life, I can recall times when I was kept under God’s wing and times when the arrow flew close, but passed by. In these experiences, I rejoice in the Lord my God.

The experiences when God is near and when God does shield or protect or guide us build up our faith and our trust in God. In turn, this brings us hope when the storms rise or when the cold wind blows. With confidence we can call on the Lord our God, our refuge and strength. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are always there for me. I just have to turn to you and seek your presence. I thank you this day for the many times that you have rescued me, guided me, protected me, and on and on. You are an awesome and loving God! Amen.

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Finding Rest

“How lovely is Your dwelling place O Lord Almighty!”. Like the psalmist we too long and almost faint to be in God’s presence.  ” Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.”. Again, like the psalmist, we too are blessed when we rest in God.

Sabbath – the idea of resting for a day, in His presence, to be renewed and refreshed both physically and spiritually.  To almost all Christians, we look at the idea of Sabbath as an ideal place, far, far away.  It is far away because of the schedules we keep and because of the demands we place or allow upon our time and upon ourselves.  I am as guilty as anyone.

A man in our small group shared yesterday that he had been keeping the Sabbath for a while now.  After church he goes home and does no work.  The yard, the chores, the cleaning all get done on days other than Sunday.  He shared that his time of rest and time with God really does renew and refresh him.  Sounded like a day he guards pretty closely.  I am kinda jealous.

In order to give God a day requires trusting Him.  He is in control – do we trust Him like we believe He is in control?  It also requires some planning and effort on our part because the yard, the laundry… all need to get done.  We do have a hand in allowing ourselves the Sabbath.

If we can set aside a day for Sabbath, we will find joy and pleasure resting in God.  We will be renewed by our time in His presence.  We will be more connected to our Creator.  Reports are this one day makes the other six so much better.  This week, may we all find our Sabbath.

Scripture reference: Psalm 84: 1-3 and 6-12

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Times of Rest

After healing many and casting demons from many, Jesus got up early and headed out alone to find a quiet place to pray.  After spending a lot of energy He needed to connect with God to be renewed and refreshed.

We too are called to this practice of Sabbath and rest.  We too are called to find times of rest where we lay aside job and other responsibilities to center in on God – to reconnect, to renew, to refresh.

Pretty soon Simon and the rest of the team find Jesus and call Him back to work.  They tell Him all of those people need something and He is the only one that can provide what they need.  Can’t you almost hear Jesus’ heavy sigh and see the slumping of His shoulders as He rises to return to the people?

We too hear the cell phone ringing or we cannot silence the voices in our own heads calling us back into action.  Maybe we are pretty good at convincing ourselves or just maybe the world really needs us that bad – and our rest ends all too soon.  We have only claimed a bit of the rest, renewal, and reconnection that we needed.  We too sigh and shrug our shoulders as we head back to the world.

Just as the times of rest were essential for Jesus to be most effective in His ministry, so too are times of rest essential for us.  Today may we all find some space to slow down, to center in on God, and to enjoy a time of rest with Him.

Scripture reference: Mark 1: 35-39

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Remember and Be Glad

Inherent in our nature as human being is our pull toward sin.  As creatures who can sense pleasure, we are drawn to sin in a variety of ways.  Also inherent in us is the conscious that tells us right from wrong.  Some sin simply occurs – think about the word that slips out when you stub your toe really bad.  But most sin has been mulled over and the consequences weighed.

Present in our world is also God.  God was before the first word was spoken that began the process of creation.  God has been present in every death and in every birth and in every moment in between.  Each and every day of our lives, God has been present in our worlds.

For all of us, God was present in the delivery room in the miracle of our birth.  A short time later most of us were initiated into the family of God as we were baptized.  for most of us, this was a decision made for us, but a decision made nonetheless.  And just like all else with God, He does not force us to continue to choose faith and to walk daily with Him.  He allows us to zig and zag, to wander and to return back.  We are always welcome when we return back home to God.

When we reconnect back to God, we are renewing those vows made for us long ago, but each time as a choice we are making when we return.  We return and accept faith, believing that He will go with us each day forward.  On this “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday, may we too remember our baptism and be glad.

Scripture reference: Mark 1: 4-11

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Dry Faith

Scattered far and wide by the Babylonians, the Israelites had lost their connection to each other and , more importantly, their connection to God.  Their faith and hope had dried up.  Each person or little cluster of Jews must have felt like they were on their own deserted island.  They were scattered amongst a foreign people in a foreign land.  How lost they must have felt.

Ever been there?  Ever felt like you were all alone and struggled even to find God?  I have been there.  For a day here or there or even for a season here and there, I have lost sight of God and my faith.  It is indeed a dry and barren place.  Again I ask, ever been there?  Perhaps you are there right now as you read this.

But standing amidst a valley of dry bones, Ezekiel sees an amazing thing.  First the bones rejoin and become covered in tendons, flesh, and skin.  Then breath is brought forth and gives life.  God did not forget His people – even though their faith was lost.  He will never forget you and me either.  Whenever we enter a dry spell, we must remember this story of Ezekiel and the dry bones.  In this story we find our God too.  He is always looking to bring us life.  God is always calling us to be a part of Him.

Perhaps you are not in a dry place now but know someone who is.  Share the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones with them and encourage them to draw close to God.  Encourage them to rebuild their faith through study and prayer and time with the King.  Encourage them to allow the breath of God to breathe new life into their dry bones!