Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Song of Faith

Reading: Psalm 68:1-10

Verse 4: “Sing to God, sing in praise of his name.”

Psalm 68 begins by asking God for protection: scatter the enemies, make the foes flee, blow them away. God’s enemies and foes are Israel’s enemies and foes. And then the psalmist turns to remembering what God has done for Israel and to praising God for this. In verse 3 David writes, “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God.” It is a call to sing and to lift praises to God.

The people are called to remember and to sing praises for God’s love and care for the orphans and widows and for the lonely and poor, for freeing the prisoners, and for pouring down abundance on “your weary inheritance.” The Israelites are called to praise God and so are we. To do so we must remember what God has done. In today’s Disciplines devotional, author Maureen Knudsen Langdoc writes, “Praise springs from remembering, and remembering is crucial for bearing witness to Christ” (page 173.) We have experienced God’s love and care, God’s gifts of mercy and forgiveness, the hope and promise of salvation. Together we too have a song to sing.

So what is the chorus and what are the verses to your song of God’s love and care? Luke David and the Israelites, we have a corporate experience of God’s activity in the community of faith. Perhaps that is the chorus. What, then, are the personal experiences with God that compromise the verses of your song? As you consider and compose the song of your faith, may you sing it to God and to others.

Prayer: Lord God, fill my mouth with a song of praise. Put words in my heart and on my lips that bring praise and glory to you! Amen.

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Three Lessons

Reading: Acts 1:12-14

Verse 14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In yesterday’s portion of Acts 1 Jesus gives the disciples some instructions. They were to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was given. And they are to be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Now, I do not know about you, but I might have tried to tackle these in reverse order. I am a doer. It is hard for me to wait when a clear task is right there in front of me.

The disciples return to the city and gather in the place they’ve been staying. The 11 gather together with other devoted followers of Jesus: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” This faithful group was “constantly in prayer.” There are several lessons for us to take away from these three verses.

First lesson: follow Jesus’ instructions. Trust that God has a plan and a purpose and that you are equipped for it. Be obedient to that. Second lesson: include others. Note that the 11 didn’t huddle up and shoo everyone else out. Like them, we need to realize that being witnesses is all of our jobs. It’s not a task just for the pastor or other church staff or even the leadership team. Together we accomplish this task better and more effectively. Third lesson: pray. Pray a lot – “constantly.” Pray about what was spoken to you by the Holy Spirit, by the Bible, by someone… Wrestle with it before God. Seek discernment and direction. Spending time in prayer further connects us to God and to God’s plan and purpose. This deepens our faith. And this better equips us for the task that God has laid before us.

As we all seek to witness to our faith may we be obedient to God’s instructions, may we seek out others to walk faithfully with, and may we pray, pray, pray.

Prayer: Lord God, speak to me today. Lay out your plan and purpose for me. Grant me the will, the courage, and the faith to be obedient. Lead me to those you want me to partner with in ministry. Reveal all we need to know and understand as we spend time in holy and prayerful conversation with you. Amen.

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God at Work

Reading: Acts 1:6-11

Verse 6: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

As we begin in Acts 1 this week, let us first step back to the gospel of Luke. At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus’ last words are: “But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” The gospel closes with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In Acts, Luke backtracks slightly, sharing a story that happened “on one occasion.” Perhaps it is a retelling of the story at the end of Luke. During this encounter, Jesus instructs them to stay in Jerusalem until they are “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” It is from these statements that the disciples ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

In their three years with Jesus they had witnessed his power – the teachings, the miracles, the everyday steadfast obedience to God alone. And then they witnessed his power over even death. They heard him saying something about receiving power from on high. It is not illogical to think that maybe now Jesus will establish the kingdom here on earth, restoring Israel along with all of creation. Jesus answers their question in typical Jesus fashion: not yet, just wait.

Jesus first tells them that it is not for them to know the ‘when.’ That’s up to God. He’s clear though that it’s not yet. Jesus then tells them to focus on the task that he is giving them. Jesus clarifies the “power from on high” concept. The power is so that they can “witness in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Just wait, there is much work to do. Jesus calls them to continued faithful discipleship, leaning into and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit that is coming soon. Then just wait to see how God is at work in your lives and in the world.

We have received the Holy Spirit. We too have the same task. May we be good and faithful witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, blessed as we experience the working of God daily in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, in those days it was so much for the disciples to take in, to process, to begin to understand. The same can be true for us. So, Lord, help us to lean into and to trust in the power and in the working of the Holy Spirit. Thank you. Amen.

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Be Ready

Reading: 1st Peter 3:13-22

Verse 15: “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Peter continues in this week’s reading with the theme of being blessed when we suffer for doing good. He offers a word of encouragement from Isaiah 8: “Do not fear what they fear.” This can be taken as a blanket statement. In this context Peter is encouraging them not to fear suffering. But it is broader than this. As followers of Christ we need not fear death because Jesus Christ has won that victory too. As Peter later writes, we are saved “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The world has other fears too – loss of wealth, loss of status, loss of power… These worldly things were also on the line for these elect exiles. The same goes for you and me.

In verse 15 Peter offers this guidance: In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The first part encourages followers to hold Jesus in the #1 position – ahead of self, ahead of family, ahead of work, ahead of the lures and cares of this world. Doing so will lead us to live lives that stand out from this world’s ways of living. As it did for Peter’s readers, it will bring attention and focus upon us. So we are advised to always be ready to offer testimony to the hope we exhibit during suffering – or the joy in mourning or the contentment in times of need or… In short, we are to ever be ready to tell the good news: the story of what Jesus Christ has done and is doing in our lives.

As we share our faith with others we shine the light and love of Jesus Christ into the darkness and pain of their lives. This is not always easy. Sometimes we suffer for doing good. Yet this is our call: to bring Christ to the world. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to bravely and boldly live out my faith. Keep me always prepared to talk of how you have been and are at work in my life. In and through me may others see and be drawn to your love. Amen.

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Paul’s Witness – Part 1

Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Verses 22-23: “I see that in every way you are very religious… I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.”

Our focus this week is on being prepared to offer our witness to our faith. As we spend today and tomorrow in Acts 17, we will gain some insight from Paul’s example. While there is not any one right way to share our faith with others, some general do’s and do not’s are helpful.

As Paul prepares to minister in Athens he first spends some time in observation. He gets to know his audience. This provides Paul a place to engage them, to meet them where they are at. When we are nearing an opportunity to share our faith, these are steps we take naturally if the person is someone we know personally. If not, these are wise steps to take. Paul begins the conversation with this acknowledgement: “I see that in every way you are very religious.” He commends them for being spiritual. Continuing, he shares this observation: “I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.” This is the place from which he can engage in a conversation. Paul will connect their unknown god to the God that he knows. More on that tomorrow!

But for today, let’s consider what Paul does not do at this point. He did not say ‘You think you are religious’ and then launch into belittling or ridiculing or tearing apart their religion because they worship a god they don’t know and can’t even name. He does not comment on how they worship a plethora of gods, as if the breadth might cover all their bases. And he does not tell them how wrong they are as a means to provide space to prove how right he is or to share just how much he knows. There is nothing negative or insulting or confrontational about Paul’s witness to his one true God.

As we consider our natural approach to sharing our faith, ponder which of these do not’s might be your tendency.

Prayer: Lord God, part of the power of our faith comes from really believing what we believe. That’s great, right God? And yet… God, please guard my heart and mind against using my belief as a battering ram or as a stick to pound on another. Instead, Lord, use my faith as a loving and gentle tool to share you with others. Amen.

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Reading: 1st Peter 2:9-10

Verse 9b: “Declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

As we continue in 1st Peter 2, he explored what it means to be living stones. Peter’s main audience, as were most Christians at that time, came from the lower classes. The early church was made up mostly of women, servants or slaves, and other basic laborers. These groups were looked down upon and had almost no rights. Hear verse 9a from this perspective: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” For people of low status in society, their standing in God’s eyes couldn’t be any higher.

In the rest of verse 9 we hear their task: “Declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” These new believers are to declare their testimony. They are called to praise God for what has been done in their lives. They are to tell of how God brought them from dark to light. They are to declare to the world how they received mercy. In short, these folks thought lowly by society, these folks who faced much persecution, Peter is calling them to live their faith out loud, boldly declaring Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

As readers and recipients of these words nearly 2,000 years later, we are spoken to as well. You and I are chosen as priests belonging to God. You and I have received mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace. You and I have walked out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light. In response may we boldly declare our praises of the God who saves.

Prayer: Lord God, walking in your marvelous light is so wonderful. Even though I step off the path now and then, you continue to guide, to bless, to love, to pour out your mercies. Use me today to declare my witness to those still walking in darkness. 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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Expressing Our Gratitude

Reading: Psalm 116:12-19

Verse 12: “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?”

The first half of Psalm 116 reminded us yesterday of how God hears our cries… God is ever present, ever faithful, ever listening. Today we delve into the psalmist’s response to God’s goodness. It begins with a question: “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” It is a great question to consider and to unpack.

The psalmist declares that he or she will worship, serve, and offer a sacrifice to the Lord. These are all responses that we too can make to express our gratitude to the Lord’s involvement in our lives. Some of the response is personal and some is also public – “in the presence of all his people” is how the psalmist states this. The private part is essential because it develops and deepens our personal relationship with God. The public is also important. This aspect of our faith encourages others as it reflects God and God’s goodness to others.

This public witness is what we receive from the psalmist. Yesterday we read of how God rescued him or her. It leads us to ask: what are our rescue stories? When has God heard our cries or whispers and responded? In the answer to these questions we have a powerful witness to share with others. Our witness is just the story that some need to hear. Like yesterday, when we read of the psalmist’s anguish, it resonated deeply with some. So too will your story resonate with others – especially those in the midst of what God led you through.

So this day and each day may we seek, call out, cry out… to God. And may we express our gratitude through praise, service, sacrifice, and witness, all to the glory of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful for your presence and guidance, for your comfort and strength, for your patience and steadfastness, for your goodness and for your mercy. You are ever with me, always attuned to my life. Use me each day to share the story of rescue and redemption, restoration and transformation. 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.

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Reading: Acts 2:14 and 22-32

Verse 32: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

As we jump into Acts 2, Pentecost had just occurred. The Holy Spirit has fallen on a group of Jesus followers. This event has drawn a large crowd of Jews “from every nation under heaven” (verse 5). It is to this crowd that Peter speaks in today’s passage. He recounts the crucifixion of Jesus. He begins by recalling who Jesus was: “a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs.” And then, “by God’s set purpose,” Jesus was put to death by the Jews with the help of the Romans. We can choose to focus on the role played by the Jews (or Romans) or we can choose to focus on the fact that the crucifixion was always part of God’s plan for Jesus. I choose that latter.

Filled with the same Holy Spirit that fell at Pentecost, Peter continues, quoting from Psalm 16. Here David looks to the Lord, envisioning “the Lord always before me,” the one that assures him “that my body will live in hope.” David has this living hope because it has been revealed to him by God that God will not “let your Holy One see decay.” This prophecy speaks of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Peter connects this dot for his audience and for us in verse 31, where he says, “Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ.” It was all part of God’s plan, spoken by David about 1,000 years before the life of Christ.

Our passage closed with a statement that is true in 2 ways. In verse 32 we read, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.” Peter, the other disciples, and about 500 followers have seen, encountered, spoken with the risen Christ. This is one truth. The other truth is the witness that we can offer. We know this to be true because the risen Christ lives in our hearts, filling us too with this same living hope. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, today I am once again amazed by the arch of your story. Centuries before Jesus, David spoke of Christ, his eternity, his death and resurrection. Your plan has clearly been at work for generations and generations. Lord, empower followers today to bear witness to Jesus Christ, our living hope. Amen.