Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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New Heaven

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Today’s reading reminds us that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  In this new and restored creation God will dwell among His people, just as He did at the beginning of creation when He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  All things will be made new and there will be no more pain or tears or violence or anything else that is sinful.  All will dwell in God’s love and presence.

At times, when experiencing a very difficult trial or when our health becomes very poor, we long for this new heaven and earth to be here now.  The idea of such a place where all is right and new sounds so good in the midst of the valley.  For many whose faith is solid, death is simply the first step into God making them new and whole again.

But this passage is not only about a time and place somewhere in the future.  It is a present tense promise as well.  In verse five it reads, “I am making everything new!” and in verse six we are promised water from the spring of eternal life.  God will not only restore the whole earth one day, He wants to begin to make each of us into a new creation in Him.  God’s desire is for us to begin living into this new life now.  Once we enter into a personal relationship with God, He offers new mercies each day, a restoration of the brokenness in our lives each day.

The days of abundant and joyous life do not have to wait until we enter heaven or until when the new heaven and earth comes.  God wants us to begin to experience a taste of that life here and now.  Through trusting in God now, we begin to experience His promises and blessings now.  May we live each day with God’s love and restoring power as a daily, present reality.

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Reading: Acts 11: 1-10

This day, may we experience God in a new or unexpected way.  May God break into our ordinary and reveal Himself to us in a way that grows our faith.  May it be through an encounter with Him or through someone who crosses our path this day.

In today’s text, Peter encounters God in a new way that totally changed how He looked at a whole group of people.  It was a radical shift that was made in a relatively short time frame.  Today’s story has two lessons for us as we continue on our faith journey.

First, God is patient.  God did not reveal the vision of the sheet and animals once and then hope Peter understood.  He kept running the vision until Peter understood what God wanted him to know.  We too require God’s patience.  The person God wants us to minister to or to enter a caring relationship with may come to us repeatedly if necessary – maybe in person, maybe through the Spirit bringing them to our mind, maybe through a conversation with another person – until we realize God is at work.  Then we must respond.

Second, God seeks to increase our faith through our experiences.  Peter knew that God loved him and the Jewish people through his life experiences.  Culturally and religiously he had been taught exclusivity in God’s love for humanity.  Through the vision, Peter’s understanding of God’s love  grew greatly.  Peter came to know God’s love as universal and unconditional and unlimited.  He now knew how BIG God’s love is.  We too must come to know this.  Once we understand that God loves all people, then how we seek, look at, interact with, relate to, and love others is radically changed.  May we  see that person or those people today in a new way, through eyes and a heart that reflects the vast and unconditional, unlimited, universal love of God.

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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 148

Praise certainly is the main idea of Psalm 148!  At the beginning is a general call to praise the Lord.  The  praise quickly begins in the heavens with the angels, moon, stars, and sun.  Each is called to praise God for both their own creation and for their eternal place in God’s creation.  Then the Psalm shifts to the earth and calls all to praise the Lord.  The psalmist calls upon the elements and parts of nature that God stirs to life.  Also called are all of the living creatures and all of humanity – from Kings to children to the old.

All of this leads us to see that in our daily life we should offer our praise.  Our praise should be deeply rooted in our prayer life, letting God know how grateful we are for all He has blessed us with.  Our praise should also shine out through our lives in such a way to bring glory to God in all we do.  Just as all of creation reveals God and is called upon to bring Him praise, so should all of our lives.

The Psalm draws near its end recognizing that God alone is to be exalted.  We are to  worship none other than God.  We are not to worship any other being or any other thing.  But in a world that pushes pleasure, self-satisfaction, and individual preferences, this is tough to do.  To worship Him alone takes discipline, dedication, and effort.  Even with  heaping amounts of these, we cannot obey on our own.

At the very end of the Psalm, it is written that the Lord has raised up a horn which is the “praise of all His saints”.  This strong and mighty King is Jesus, the perfector and witness of our faith.  In Him we find the example of how to live a life of praise that brings glory and praise to God alone.  In Jesus we also find the strength to do what we cannot do on our own.  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we find guidance, direction, correction to help us follow Jesus’ ways and teachings.  May we join all of creation in praising the Lord!!

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Listen to My Voice

Reading: John 10: 22-30

Ever since mankind has known God, it has been all about the relationship.  Adam and Eve walked in the Garden and talked with God.  Although His presence changed, God has continued to communicate with mankind.  Initially it was through prophets and angels.  Then God entered the world in the flesh.  Jesus lived, walked among, taught, and even performed some miracles.  In His earthly life Jesus revealed who and what God is.

With Abraham, God established a covenant with His chosen people.  Israel was to be God’s people and He was to be their God.  This covenant came with some guidelines.  Over time the Law  grew to be something cumbersome.  Yet the covenant relationship remains.  God’s chosen people, by and large, continue living in covenant relationship with Him.

In time though, it became necessary to establish a new covenant.  Jesus came to accomplish this.  He reminded God’s chosen people of parts of the old covenant: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love neighbor as self.  He added to the second: love as I have first loved you.  This was a different kind of love.  It was a radical kind of love.  In His love there are no outcasts, no outsiders, no strangers.  Jesus loved all.  He loves you and me.  Through His body and blood, He established a new covenant and offers the gift of eternal life.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.  The new covenant is about relationship too.  It is about hearing Jesus say, ” love as I have first loved you”.  It is about Jesus knowing each of us as a follower.  May we ever hear His voice.  May we ever follow.

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Reading: John 10: 22-30

The Jews in the temple ask Jesus a question I think we ask often.  We may not always ask it verbally but I think we certainly do with our decisions and actions.  They ask Jesus if he is the Messiah.  Is he the one coming to redeem Israel, to restore them to their rightful place amongst the great nations?  They are looking for Jesus to do something grand.

His response perplexes: “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep”.  Believe that you are the Messiah?  I’m sure they are thinking something along these lines: ‘Rid us of these Romans and make Israel great and then we will believe and then we will follow.  For now though, we’ll just do our own thing.  Yes it is nice that that guy can now walk and that that guy can see and that you fed all those people.  Really neat stuff (for them), but when will you really start leading, doing really important stuff (for us)?’

We are sometimes a lot like them.  Yes Jesus, I love you and believe in you and want to dedicate my life to you, but first I need to…  Yes Jesus, I will serve and follow you, but first would you…  We like Jesus, but too often on our terms and conditions.  Like the Jews in the temple that day, we expect or maybe even demand something grand from Jesus.  Then we will be all in.  Then…

And Jesus says to us: my sheep follow me.  It is not about what I can do for you.  It’s about what I do to you, about what I do in you.  The miracles, they just show that I am who I say I am: the Son of God, the Word made flesh.  Follow me, be my sheep, do what I did: love, serve, sacrifice, forgive.  The you will be my sheep.  Then you will know a peace that passes understanding.  Then you will begin to live eternal life.  Follow me.

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Living Witness

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

It’s pretty easy to look at someone else in the store or in line at the traffic light and to judge if we think they are a Christian or if they are lost.  It becomes even easier to judge one’s eternal destination if we work or go to school with them.  Of course we are all ‘in’ and will one day stand around the throne with other stalwart Christians praising God day and night.  Or will we?

Often in our churches or places of worship we do like to think we have the inside track.  We like to gather with others like us (at least spiritually) to worship and have coffee and cookies with on Sunday mornings.  We get a little uncomfortable when someone who is definitely not one of us comes into our space.  Sure, someone welcomes them – they are good working with those kind of people.  We don’t need to take the time to talk with that ‘guest’ because we will never see them again.  Or will we?

Our passage today gives us a snapshot of heaven.  Gathered around the throne are thousands upon thousands from every tribe, nation, and language.  The great commission calls us to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.  That’s far and wide.  While some are out there in far away places, for most of us our mission field is right where we are today.  It is that person in line with us at the store or the one at the next desk over or the seeker who wanders in on a Sunday morning.

We must remember that we are all called to share the good news.  God wants us all to know Him.  We must live and see as Jesus did: without judgement, with no reservations, with no preconceived ideas.  We must meet people where they are at and love them as God loves them.  We are called to be a living witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  May it be so this day.

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Work and Grow

Reading: Psalm 23

In general Psalm 23 is optimistic.  There is a trust in God that flows through David’s writing.  It comes from experiencing God’s saving presence and from having an intimate relationship with God.  David’s opening line reveals his trust: I shall not want.  The next few verses tell of how God cares for him.

Does such a trust and faith come easily?  Is a positive outlook always easy to maintain?  Unfortunately the answer to these questions is ‘no’ for most of us.  To have a faith and trust like David’s takes time and effort.  To be in any good relationship, we must invest of ourselves.  To walk closely with God, we first must spend time with Him.  We do so by being daily in His Word, by worship attendance on a regular basis, by carving out time in our day for prayer.  It is hard to do all these things consistently because it is so easy to sleep in, to make something else the priority, to wake up one day and to realize it’s been a while since we spent any time with God.  To really build a solid relationship with God takes daily discipline.

We build trust much the same way.  When we allow God to be in control or when we turn our burdens over to Him, we experience His presence, guidance, direction, comfort.  Through these experiences we come to trust Him a bit more.  Then we are more willing to trust and do so more easily.  And trust grows.  We come to believe that His plans for us are good.  And trust grows.

David’s faith and trust grows to the point where he can confidently say that he fears no evil.  He knows God has him.  May we work and grow in our faith to experience the trust and faith that David lived out daily.

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Never Lets Go

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse four reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”  In my mind this triggers a song that uses this line.  The song refers to God’s perfect love casting out fear.  The pre-chorus begins with “And I will fear no evil” and goes on with, ‘because my God is with me’ then poses the question” ‘whom then shall I fear?’

In life we certainly have times when we do walk in the shadow of death.  The ‘death’ may be a physical loss of a dear friend or loved one, but it can also include the loss of a friendship or the end of a job, the end of a marriage or moving to a new town.  Some of these losses are new beginnings in life so there is joy as well, but we must also acknowledge the sadness of what is no more.

In Psalm 23 we get a palpable sense of loss for David.  We also get a real sense of his confidence that God will always be there.  David has experienced his share of dark times and has learned that God continues to remain present through these times as well.

This is something we tend to learn the hard way.  We tend to be individualistic and to try and do things on our own.  Too often we turn to God only when all of our own efforts have failed.  But as we do this over and over, we come to realize our need for God sooner and sooner and we turn to Him quicker and quicker.  We come to learn what David learned: God is always there.

The chorus to the song rings out, ‘Oh no, you never let go; in every high and every low; oh no, you never let go; Lord, you never let go of me.’  In every high and especially in every low, may we always remember that God never lets go of us.  May we cling to Him, for He is always present, always seeking to hold us close.

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Community and Service

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

A true community has many benefits.  First of all, it fills our basic need to belong.  But it also goes far beyond this.  When we are part of a faith community, it allows us to serve together to build the kingdom of God.  Together we find much encouragement and strength.  Together we can more easily express our faith.  Communities of faith can both serve each other and can go out into the world to serve.

A true community of faith also shares we each other.  This does require a level of trust and vulnerability, so it is something that develops and deepens over time.  Joys are lifted up and celebrated; burdens are shared and carried by many.  A true community also shares in the small things and in the daily struggles.  There is an increasing level of accountability that grows and facilitates our day to day living.  When we can be honest and vulnerable with each other we lift one another up in prayer, we check in on how the battle is going, we sharpen and encourage one another.

Tabitha and her community shared many of these traits of true community.  Tabitha shared her talents and resources with those near her by making clothes and other items.  She not only helped with their basic needs but poured love into what she gave.  This is just one example of how Tabitha cared for her friends and fellow widows.  At her passing, it brought great grief to her faith community as she was central to the group and the bonds of community that had developed.  She was the one all sought out in times of need or in a crisis.

Peter must have sensed all of this as he entered into the house that day.  Sensing the community’s deep need for her at this particular time, God, through Peter, restored her to them.  It was an extraordinary act of love.  It reveals His love for us and how much He values community because of how it helps us grow in our faith and service to others.  May we each seek to find and experience and live within a true community of faith.

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His Love

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

As human beings one of our greatest non-physical needs is to belong. As social creatures, we need to feel like we are a part of the group and that we matter to others.  In turn we feel a need to have others feel that they  matter to us, that they are important parts of our life.

In today’s reading this is shown as a dear friend, Tabitha, passes away.  She seems to be the glue that held this small community together, so the grief is especially deep.  She not only shared her presence and love with her friends, she also showed it in her actions and in how she gave physical gifts to them as well.  Her friends and the two disciples who are present decide to send for Peter, who is in a nearby town.  The depth of love in this small community is amazing.

The depth of this love has power.  The level of caring is evident.  Peter comes and cares for Tabitha’s friends by restoring their dear friend to life.  By the power of this miracle many outside the group of friends come to believe in the Lord.

We too use the love of Jesus to form bonds of friendship among fellow believers.  Through study and fellowship we can find deep, caring relationships that meet our need to belong and to matter to others.  In turn we care for and love one another in acts of presence and in acts of service and in sharing together the love we find in Jesus.

This same love and actions that emulate His love and example can be brought out into the world.  Just as Tabitha’s resuscitation brought new believers to faith in Christ, our words and acts of service to others can help them to come to know Christ.  Our words and deeds may not be miracles in and of themselves like the miracle in today’s story, but they are the seeds that one day can lead to another coming to know Christ.  It is all about planting seeds and sharing His love.  May we plant well today!