Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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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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Power and Authority

Reading: John 20:21-23

Verses 22-23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven.”

Continuing in John 20 today, Jesus offers the disciples peace once again and then he sends them into the world – just as God had sent him. This means that they go with all of the power and authority of the one who sent Jesus. Just as he ministered, taught, and healed through the power of God, so too would the disciples. So too can we.

“And with that” – with the command to go into the world, Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit. There is a connection here. It is the Spirit within us that connects us to God and to God’s power and authority. Jesus says to the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven.” This gift comes with some responsibilities. The first and most obvious is the mission to go into the world to represent God and Jesus. Filled with the Spirit, we are to be Christ to the world.

The second responsibility is helping people in their sin. For most of us, at first at least, this is an uncomfortable thought. Sin feels private, personal. That’s the way Satan wants it. But Jesus knew how important community was. He lived and practiced community. Not just for worship or fellowship, but also for support and encouragement and accountability. In this second role we help one another to be freed from our sins. In a similar way we can walk with non-believers, helping them to find freedom from the trappings of this world. Both of these actions are fulfilling the command to represent Jesus as ones sent into the world.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, filled with God’s authority, may we go into all the world, bringing forth the good news of Jesus Christ!

Prayer: Lord God, fill me and send me out! Guided by the Spirit within, may the words I speak be your words. And may the actions of my hands and feet mirror those of Jesus. Amen.

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Complete and Steadfast

Reading: John 14:15-17

Verse 16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

Turning to our gospel lesson for this week, Jesus offers the disciples some needed reassurance and a promise. Coming out of a difficult to understand conversation about Jesus being the only way to the Father, he offers the words that we read today. He begins with this: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The most recent command is this: “Love one another. As I have loved you…” Living out their faith and into this relationship with God – both are first grounded in love. From a place of complete and steadfast love will come obedience. In human terms, we ground our wedding vows in this kind of love.

Jesus has been addressing the fact that soon he will die. The disciples will soon find themselves without the physical Christ. In today’s teaching Jesus offers these words: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.” Jesus himself will initiate this new relationship or connection with God. Through Jesus’ request God will send the spiritual Christ to be with the disciples. The Holy Spirit will be with them forever. There is both an assurance and a promise here. Yet, as in all relationships, we have a role to play. We must receive the Spirit into our lives. We must respond to the offer, to the invitation, to the “knock” on our hearts.

Jesus states that those who are of the world “neither sees him or knows him.” For those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and for those of us who do and yet choose to live in sin, the Holy Spirit is disconnected. When there is separation in our relationship with God, then we too are of the world. Even then God reaches out, calling us back into right relationship. Through God’s complete and steadfast love our brokenness is again transformed and we can walk and live once more as a child of God. Our God’s love redeems and restores us over and over, allowing the Holy Spirit to “live with you” and to “be in you.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and presence are offered without limit, without condition. You are the perfect giver of these good and gracious gifts. Lead us to receive them, to be filled with them, and to be people who pour them out into one another’s lives. Amen.

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Love and Seek to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-3 and John 13:21-32

Verse 1: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 12 calls us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” We are pointed to Jesus’ example not so that we can be perfect but so that we can draw strength and encouragement from him. The author of Hebrews has just walked through the stories of the ‘heroes of the faith’ – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham… This is the “great cloud of witness” that he or she refers to in our passage today. It culminates with Jesus in Hebrews 13. Since this writing there have been many others who stand in this line. We are encouraged to strive to stand in that line. To that end the author writes, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And then again, in verse 3, we are drawn back to Jesus Christ.

Jesus was the one who “endured” much from sinful men. One of these was Judas, the betrayer. Maybe you’re not like me, but I struggle with those who betray me. Anger and thoughts of revenge can creep in pretty quickly. That is not the example that Jesus sets for us in John 13. He lays it out there that one of the disciples will betray him, he identifies Judas, and he says to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Jesus understands the frailty of humanity. He knows how easily we can get entangled in sin. There is no anger or animosity or thoughts of revenge.

And there’s one more thing. It is not something that happens in the Bible but it is something that I am sure would’ve given the opportunity. I say this based on the whole example set by Jesus in the gospels. Had Judas come and sought forgiveness, Jesus would’ve gladly extended it. He might’ve even offered it before Judas said a word. That’s the Jesus I love and seek to follow. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you endured so much. Yet you willingly went to the cross, for these men and for me. You continue to endure much from sinners like me. And in love, I know you’d go to the cross again and again if that was what it took to save us. Lord, lead and guide me each day to model and share that love and grace for and with others. Amen.

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Begin with God

Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9

Verse 4: “God wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.”

The section that today’s verses come from is titled “Israel’s Sin and the Servant’s Obedience.” This title contrasts the 2 choices all of us have to make: the world or God? When we choose to live by the ways of the world, this often leads to sin. When we choose to live by the ways of God, we experience life very differently, even though it is still lived in the world. I believe that the key to this choice lies in verses 4 and 5. In verses 6-9 we see the outcome or results of the commitment encouraged in the first two verses.

In verse 4 Isaiah acknowledges that he has been instructed by God and that he is sustained by the word of God. These two are available to us all. The “how” comes as we continue in verse 4: “God wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.” If our cell phone or the remote control is the first thing we begin our day with, then we are connecting ourselves to the world. At that point we are already stepping on the treadmill of life before filling ourselves with what really matters. There is no better way to begin one’s day than to turn our ear and heart to God’s voice and to God’s word.

When we begin our day with God, then we are empowered to live out our faith. We, like the prophet, will not back down or hide our face. We will choose to live and speak faithfully, knowing that “the sovereign Lord helps me.” To the world and those that live by the ways of the world, we will say in confidence: “Let us face each other!” With God beside, before, behind, and within us, we can live as children of the light. May it be so for us all this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day, as I awaken, draw me first and foremost to you. Fill me with all that you have for me so that I can live fully for you. Strengthen and encourage me when temptation comes. By the power of the Holy Spirit, remind me of the power and truth that I find in you. Amen.

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A Community Effort

Reading: John 11:38-45

Verse 44: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

In the second half of our John 11 passage, Jesus moves into action. He says to no one in particular and therefore to everyone, “Take away the stone.” Practical Martha protests. Jesus draws her back to the spiritual: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” And after a prayer to God, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave. The man dead four days walks out, still wrapped in his grave cloths.

This is one way that Jesus calls us back to life. But for almost everyone, he calls us back from spiritual or emotional death. We have fallen short and have sinned. We have separated ourselves from God and from one another. We come to a place of repentance and we are restored to a right relationship with God. But we still have our grave cloths wrapped around us. These take different forms: guilt, shame, remorse, regret. Often there are also real consequences that we must face. It is a very hard road to walk alone.

Jesus says, again, to no one in particular and therefore to everyone, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” This last step of restoration is up to the community. It is something Lazarus cannot do on his own. It is something we cannot do on our own. To fully walk in the new life that Jesus offers, we need community. To restore our relationships, we need forgiveness and reconciliation. To begin to live again, we need welcome and engagement. Faith is a community effort. We are not always on the receiving end either. At times we will need to be the ones offering forgiveness… to others. May we be as willing to give as we are to receive.

Lord God, the community is such a beautiful thing. Walking together in faith is your plan and purpose for us all. Help me to be humble when I need forgiveness and restoration. Guide me to be generous when others need to receive. Bless your beloved community. Amen.

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Alive to the Spirit

Reading: Romans 8:6-11

Verse 9: “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.”

Carrot sticks or potato chips? A doughnut or some oatmeal? A glass of water or a beer? The list could go on. In these choices and probably any others I could list, we know what the ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ choice would be. Is it not the same in the spiritual realm of our lives?

In Romans 8 Paul contrasts the mind controlled by the flesh with the mind controlled by the Spirit. The mind controlled by the flesh is selfish and indulgent. It chases after and fills our hearts and minds with things that bring us temporary, earthly pleasure. These are sometimes sinful. Sometimes they are just bad for us in the long run. Living in and for the flesh is a choice. So too is living in and for God.

The mind controlled by the Spirit focuses on God’s ways and on living in ways that are pleasing to God. This focus is fueled by our relationship with God. This too is a choice. If one chooses to saturate one’s life with worship, prayer, study, and other spiritual disciplines, then the choice is being made to be led by the Spirit. Being filled by the word and ways of God, we will be “alive because of righteousness” – alive to God, alive to our faith, alive to one another, alive to the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to choose wisely – physically, relationally, and spiritually. All of me matters, not just one part. Fill me more and more with your Spirit so that all aspects of my life may flourish. Thank you, God. Amen.

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Hear Our Cry, O God!

Reading: Psalm 130

Verses 1-2: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

The psalmist cries out to God. From “the depths” the psalmist goes to God full of emotion and from a place of discontent. If you’ve walked with God for a while then you, like me, have found yourself in a place very similar to the place the psalmist finds himself or herself. Sometimes we place ourselves there. Our sins or other poor choices have led us to a place in our relationship with God and/or with others that is discomforting and charged with emotions. At other times we find ourselves needing to cry out to God because of something someone else has done or because life simply happens. From these depths we too cry out to God.

In the rest of verse 2 we read, “Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” The psalmist is asking God to not just hear the words of his or her lips. He or she is asking God to really listen, to receive these words, to pay attention to this cry of the heart. This is an invitation to God to receive us into a deeper relationship, into a more personal connection. To cry out in such a way is an expression of trust and faith. One would not pour out one’s heart unless there was a foundational trust and faith in a response. We are invited to go to God in such a way.

What are the cries of your heart? Are you angry or hurt? Are you lost or filled with questions? Are you lonely or experiencing unwanted change? Are you drowning in grief or wrestling with a big decision? Are you in a tight place financially or are you bone tired? There is no place that we cannot cry out from. There is no cry that God will not hear. So in faith and in trust and with hope, may we cry out to God.

Prayer: Lord God, hear my cry from the depths of my heart to the depths of yours. Through your son, feel what I am feeling, know what pulls at my heart and soul. Attune your ear to my cry, O God. Amen.

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Reflect the Light of the World

Reading: John 9:1-23

Verse 5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Photo credit: Savvas Kalimeris

In this week’s gospel passage we continue with the themes of light and dark, of good and evil. The disciples notice a blind man and they ask Jesus, ‘Who sinned?’ Going against the Jewish understanding Jesus says that no one sinned. The man is here to display the power of God. Jesus proclaims that “the night is coming.” He is alluding to the evil that will rise up to orchestrate his crucifixion. It will be a time when his disciples and followers will go into hiding. It will feel as if darkness has won. Continuing on, Jesus says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Right now, Jesus is alive. It is time for the light to shine.

Without any prompting, Jesus makes mud and applies it to the man’s eyes. He is sent to wash in the Pool of Siloam and he emerges with clear vision. The man shares his good news with all who ask – “the man they call Jesus… mud… wash… then I could see.” He tells neighbors and acquaintances and he tells the Pharisees. All are divided but the evidence speaks for itself. The man who was healed now reflects the light of the world to one and all.

Today I ask: How has Jesus healed you? Did he heal some blindness that hindered you? Did he root out some sin that held you captive? Did he heal a hurt in your heart? Did he restore a relationship or situation? What did Jesus do for you?

The blind man encountered Jesus Christ, the light of the world. He was forever changed. His good news was, ‘I was blind but now I see.’ Mine is, ‘I was lost but now I am found.’ Others may be, ‘I was broken but now I am whole.’ We who have encountered Jesus all have good news to share. May we too reflect the light of the world with all that we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, oh how you have changed my life. You’ve shifted my focus from me to you and to others. You’ve turned my greed to generosity, my pride to humility. Now, I’m far from who you want me to be. So I ask that you would continue to love me anyway, that you would continue to shape and form me into who you want me to be. All for your glory, O Lord. Amen.

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Eyes on Christ

Reading: Romans 5:1-11

Verse 1: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

Today in Romans 5 Paul writes of the peace and joy that we come to know as we walk with Jesus Christ. This journey begins as God goes to work in our hearts. As we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are justified or made right with God. This, however, is not a once-and-done process. We need to be made right again and again because by nature we are sinful. But we are justified by grace – the unending, undeserved free gift of God that loves us back into right relationship again and again. As God pours out love through the Holy Spirit, filling our hearts, we receive joy upon joy. Being loved so deeply and unconditionally, we experience reconciliation with God every time we repent and turn back to God. What a merciful and loving and graceful God we serve!

Now, if only we lived with this joy and hope and confidence all of the time. If we could only set our eyes on Christ and walk steadily and without falter each moment of each day. We can and do at times. But I find myself glancing sideways now and then as a bright shiny object or a scary dangerous threat nears me. If it draws enough of my attention, my gaze can linger. Maybe you too take a glance now and then. Maybe once in a while your gaze lingers. And sometimes I look back over my shoulder, looking to see who is catching up or sneaking up. I do this when I fall into the doing or achieving mode. Maybe you fall to these temptations once in a while too. If only we could fix our eyes…

When we falter, when our gaze is drawn off the path that leads to life abundant, may we always remember that while we were in that sinful state, Christ died for us. He died so that we can always be reconciled. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, my life is so much better when my eyes and heart are focused on you. Even in the trials, there is hope and joy and peace in you. Train me more and more to focus on your love and grace and mercy – day by day helping me to walk more and more with Christ. Amen.