Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Poverty of Spirit

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-3

Verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”.

Today we focus in on the first verses of the Beatitudes. Yesterday we read through verse twelve, hearing all of the Beatitudes. Verses one and two set up the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic idea here is that Jesus goes up a mountain and begins to teach. There is an implication in this that Jesus did not just go up a few feet, but went up a ways. If one wanted to hear Jesus teach, one had to exert a little effort and head up the mountain. Figuratively, this remains the case with our faith today. It does not come easily but requires some commitment on our part. This is especially true if we want to have a faith that grows and matures and deepens.

The one Beatitude that we have today is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. Here Jesus follows a typical teaching style, beginning with the most important or critical and then unpacking from there. For example, in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments begin this way. God begins by establishing the singular relationship – one God, one people. This is the hinge upon which all the others rest. To be poor in spirit does not mean having weak faith. It means recognizing our weakness. It means recognizing our need for God. To be poor in spirit requires humility and honesty. The process begins with recognizing our brokenness and our need for redemption. This leads to confession and repentance of our sins, an act that requires humility. No one in the world likes to admit they are wrong or have done wrong. A right relationship with God begins by admitting this and then yielding to God’s power to make us new again. To continue to live in this cycle requires honesty. To keep looking within, to keep acknowledging our sin, to keep asking for God’s help requires honesty. The battle with sin never ends so our need for forgiveness and renewal is neverending as well.

From a place of recognizing our utter reliance on God, the other Beatitudes unfold. Being meek, hungering for righteousness, being a peacemaker… – they come out of our poverty of spirit. May our daily walk ever be grounded in humility and honesty, in our deep need for God. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a will to keep trooping up the mountain to be in your presence. You’re always so willing to come down the mountain and into my valleys. Make me as willing to seek you humbly and honestly. Day by day, may my hunger and thirst for you grow. Fuel the fire, Lord, fuel the fire. Amen.

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Even Then

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice”.

Ten are healed of their disease and are able to return to their families and to society. Ten are cured of the physical separation that they have endured. Only one finds a wholeness that extends beyond the physical. Only one connects back to the Lord Jesus, the One who healed his physical disease. He is the only one who really knows that his healing can lead to being made truly whole. Only one stops to acknowledge and worship the one who restored him to full life.

When we experience God’s hand at work in similar big ways, we likely take the time to pause and praise the Lord for what he has done. But what about the smaller things? Are we grateful and praising each day for the small blessings of yesterday? Do we truly thank God for all of the ways that our lives are blessed?

And how is our faith when the answer that we want does not come? Some of us live with an illness or infirmity for all of our lives or for the last portion of our life. Some of us live with a relationship that is broken. Some of us struggle with a grief that never goes away. Some of the time our loved ones do not get better. Each of these trials persist in spite of our prayers. What do we do when the leprosy remains?

Can we still live in our illness or brokenness within God’s love and care? Yes! We are promised the loving and caring presence of the Lord in the midst of our exile. He walks with us through the valley of the shadows. Like with Paul, that thorn in our side reminds us of our need for a strength that we do not have on our own. Even then – even in our illness and brokenness, we still find hope and life in the Lord Jesus Christ. May we fully trust in the Lord, finding new life and wholeness in him even on the toughest of days.

Prayer: Lord, you have walked with me through the valleys. You have even carried me at times. Help me to trust in your purposes and plans each time I experience a trial or am suffering. I know you are a good, good God. Thank you for always loving even me. Amen.


Salvation Call

Reading: Isaiah 52: 7-10

Verse Ten: “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.

Isaiah writes to a people who are broken, bringing them words of hope and good news.  Our passage opens with, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news”.  In our brokenness, we too need to hear good news from God.  It is in those moments that perhaps we hear best what God has to reveal to us.  We are receptive and we are searching for something to bring us hope and joy.  So, in a way, at times we would rewrite this verse to say, “How beautiful in the valleys…”

Isaiah speaks to his people of hope through God and salvation through the Lord.  Isaiah speaks of a time when they are no longer in exile, of a time when Zion will once again be home.  When we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with one living in ‘exile’ we also invite them to live into the hope that Jesus gives and to see a time when God redeems and restores them.  In sharing the gospel and our love, we too will help others begin to sing “songs of joy” as God begins to work in their lives, bringing hope, redemption, and liberation from their brokenness.

As faithful followers of Jesus Christ we have many experiences where God has become present to us in our lives.  We have these tangible moments that we treasure; we cling to these experiences in times of trial and testing.  These are the nuggets we must mine and share with others who are where we have been.  It is those stories of when God rescued us from the pit or when God healed our brokenness or when God redeemed us from our sinful ways that help others to see that God could make a difference in their lives too.  It is one way that God calls us to be actively engaged in our broken and hurting world.  It is our call.  Our passage today concludes with, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.  May we each be a part of helping those we engage to see this too.

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Tax Collector Witness

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

The tax collector is honest and direct with God: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.  As this man who stands at a distance and won’t even look up towards heaven utters these words, it is easy to imagine tears running down his cheeks and a little crackle in his voice.  He comes to the temple with his sins heavy upon him.  He comes to simply do what he needs to do: to lay his sins before God.  This tax collector knows that God’s mercy alone can remove these sins from his life.  He is humble and honest before God.  He recognizes God’s sovereignty and God’s love.

The tax collector is a great witness to the faith for us.  First, he realizes who he is, honesty admits it before God, and acknowledges that God alone can restore him.  Too often we instead live with ‘secret’ sins in our lives.  Access is easy to many addictions.  We rationalize our greed and jealousy as simply wanting the best in life.  The line of excess and gluttony is easily crossed.  The pull of gossip and being judgemental is great.  Like the tax collector, our guilt often weighs down upon us.

Second, the tax collector knows his great need for God.  In our independent, free choice, I’ll do what’s best for me culture, it’s easy to think that we are the center, that we are in control.  Yet, like the tax collector demonstrates, only in God do we find true power and love.  It is only when we enter humbly into God’s presence that we find true healing for our brokenness.  It is only when we admit that we have no power to remove the guilt and shame of our sin that God can restore us, can make us new again.

O merciful God, allow us to see the sins in our lives.  Make us humble as we enter into your presence, pour out your power and grace upon our lives.  Like the tax collector, restore us to a right relationship with you.

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Reading: Luke 7:36 to 8:3

Labels are a dangerous thing.  Labels are barriers that can inhibit ministry.  Simon the Pharisee labels people.  The woman is a ‘sinner’.  This means to keep away from her lest she make him unclean as well.  Jesus is a ‘teacher’.  He has some good things to share and maybe a few are even applicable to Simon’s life.  But teachers are human, just like him, so they require no allegiance, no commitment, no special status.  And this ‘teacher’ allows a ‘sinner’ to touch Him, so Jesus is almost a sinner too; certainly He is at least ‘unclean’.

We too like to label.  We like to label people because it allows us to put them in boxes and because it allows us to keep them at a distance.  And like the Pharisee, these labels sometimes allow us to dismiss people from our thoughts like he did with the woman.  She was invisible to him even though she stood crying in his own home, right there in front of him.  How often have we driven or walked past a homeless person with a sign asking for help?  How often have we ignored the unkempt woman sleeping in the back pew during church?  We notice them briefly, apply our label – lazy, drunk, outcast… – and move on.

Jesus said to Simon, “He who is forgiven little lives little”.  For the woman she is forgiven much as Jesus restores her to righteousness.  As a new creation she can now go on to love others as Jesus first loved her.  For Simon, he is unwilling to see past a label so he cannot even begin to offer forgiveness for the judgment of others that he had in his heart.  Therefore he will also live others little.

What allowed Jesus to look past ‘sinner’ and to see the brokenness inside the woman?  What can we do to look past lazy, drunk, outcast… to begin to know what is broken inside of others?  The key is in the reverse of Jesus’ statement to Simon.  May we, as followers of Christ and as witnesses to His love, also offer much love to those in need of healing so that they too can begin to experience His forgiveness and can then begin to find healing for the brokenness in their lives.  May we not stop at the label but step beyond the barriers that keep us from sharing Christ with the world in need.

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Still Seeking Us

God does not expect perfection.  I just don’t think He ever expects us to get there in this lifetime.  Our God is a God of mystery – absolute and unconditional love for creatures who seem bent on sin and who must constantly be reminded of who we are in Him.  God will always love each of us with this amazing love.

Because of this love, God comes to meet us in all the ugliness of life.  He comes to us in our brokenness, in our failures, in our rebellion.  God does not seek out just the holiest of saints, but He seeks out each and every one of us.  That a God who is perfect in every way would seek to be in relationship with you and me is hard to comprehend.

Yet God meets us just right where we are.  His Spirit enters into our hearts and dwells within us.  In the constant battle with our inclination to temptation and sin, the Spirit never gives up, never tires of reminding us of God’s ways.  God sticks with us and continues to offer this divine presence, almost in spite of us.

It does require almost constant effort to keep us on track and on the path that God desires for our lives.  At times we take a great detour.  But it matters not – God is always there, waiting for an audience with us.  His patience must be almost as big as His love.  Each of us is capable of mirroring a glimpse of this great love and, like all good parents, God eagerly awaits those moments when His heart swells with pride and the angels cheer.  Soon enough though, we return to being just ourselves – human in all ways, imperfect in many.  Yet God still loves us.  God is still right there.  It is not about us in any way.  It is simply because of His great love.  For this, thanks be to God.

Scripture reference: 1 Kings 2:10-12 and 3: 3-14

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Are You Willing?

History can teach us much.  As a nation we can look back and study our past as a way of improving our future.  We can also use our history and its lessons to bring healing to people today.  When we see and understand our mistakes, then we can begin to seek forgiveness and to mend relationships.

Within the history of our faith we can find the same things – lessons to learn and guidance for how to heal our world.  There is much brokenness in our world.  But God’s love is vastly greater than the brokenness.  God’s love is an endless reservoir.

As the church we are called to tap into God’s love and to being it to the world.  It can be done through acts of compassion like feeding the hungry.  It can be done through acts of mercy like praying with one in need.  It can be done through acts of presence, simply being there with one in grief and pain.  It can be done through acts of giving, allowing God’s blessings to flow through you to someone around the world to meet another’s basic needs.

We can address some needs and issues as a body of Christ, working together to improve life and to share Christ.  But is still takes individuals with willing hands and feet to actually bring healing, hope, and the message of Christ to those nearest to us, to those in our immediate community.  Are you willing?

Scripture reference: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 37-45