Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Come into Grace

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Five: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

In our passage today Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He sees God seated in the throne, high and exalted. Around the throne are beautiful and powerful seraphs – six-winged angels. These angelic creatures are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”. In the Bible things are repeated three times to show importance and for emphasis. Much as it would probably be for you or I, Isaiah is taken aback by the scene and where he finds himself.

In this passage Isaiah reminds me of the tax collector we find in Luke 18. This man stands off in the corner of the temple and will not even look towards heaven. He beats his chest and confesses to God, begging, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. He senses his unworthiness in God’s presence. Isaiah comes to a similar realization, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, Isaiah feels his sin.

We all feel this way at points in our lives. Sin wins the day and we feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. We think our sin too great to be forgiven, never mind even bringing it into God’s presence. We may even feel like we need to sit in this place of guilt and shame for a period of time. Even though a part of us knows that God loves us, we feel like we must remain a bit distant. Like the tax collector standing in the corner and like Isaiah declaring “Woe to me!”, we hover on the edge of our relationship with God – not quite good enough to stand before God.

Some find this barrier at the foot of the cross or at the communion table, the places of grace. They see the sacrifice of Hesus or the cup and bread on the table and they may even hear the words of grace and love, but cannot quite approach. Maybe this is in a place of worship, maybe this is in their minds. God says the same to one and all: “Come, come to me. Find grace and love”. If you feel stuck in your sin or in the guilt and shame of sins past, know that you are invited to come into God’s grace and love. Know that you are loved and welcome.

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A Delightful Inheritance

Reading: Psalm 16: 1-6

Verse 2: I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing”.

Today’s portion of Psalm 16 describes the intimate relationship King David had with God and also defines the relationship with God that followers of Christ also enjoy.  David opens the Psalm with “keep me safe”.  Another translation reads, “Protect me”.  Our relationship with the Lord begins here as well.  There is much in the world that we need God to keep us safe from and to protect us from: temptation, sin, death – just to name a few.  Like David, we too take refuge or find shelter in God.

In verse two David writes, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing'”.  He is acknowledging what we must acknowledge each day as well.  All of the good things in life, all of our blessings, come from the God who loves us as His dear children.  It is so important to acknowledge this and to give our thanks to God every day.  It keeps us connected.  It keeps us humble.  It keeps us in proper relationship to God.

In the next verse, David gives thanks for the ‘saints’ – those who have gone before and have given us an example of how to love God and how to live out our faith.  These include the greats of the faith: Moses, Elijah, and Daniel for David; Jesus, Paul, Peter, pastors, parents, that Sunday school teacher for us.  Part of giving thanks for these ‘saints’ is also in recognizing our own call to be this for those to come.

Verse four touches on worldly things, ‘other gods’, as David puts it.  We too can get caught up in chasing after these things: money, fame, power, beauty, possessions, and so on.  As David notes, chasing such things only brings sorrow.

In contrast to “chasing the wind”, as Solomon wrote, David is secure and content in his lot.  David gladly accepts the “portion” and the “cup” assigned to him by God.  We too can find great contentment when we rest in God and all that He provides for us.  It is true that, like Paul, at times we may know want just as we know plenty.  And like Paul, we too know that God is present in all situations.  In this there is also contentment and peace.

David concludes this portion of the Psalm by stating that his “boundary lines” have fallen in “pleasant places”.  He is joyful about where God has placed him.  He loves living within God’s ways.  He concludes this portion with these words: “surely I have a delightful inheritance”.  Surely he does.  So do all who call on the name of the Lord as their refuge and strength.  Thanks be to God!

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Amazing Love

Reading: Matthew 26: 14-16 and 31-56

Verse 35b – And all the other disciples said the same.

Sandwiched in between Judas’ betrayal and the Garden scene in today’s reading is the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  In that upper room Jesus tells the disciples that one will betray Him.  It has already been arranged but all twelve still say, “Surely not I, Lord”.  Jesus goes on to take the bread and the cup, knowing that all twelve will betray Him.  Yes, knowing that all twelve, who have been with Him for three intimate and powerful years, would soon betray Him over and over, He still is willing to offer up His body and blood as a sacrifice for those twelve and for all of us.  What love Jesus had for these disciples and what love He had for you and I.  It is an amazing love.

In verse 31, Jesus again tells them that they all will fall away that very night.  Jesus quotes from the book of Zechariah, telling them that the sheep will scatter as the shepherd is struck down.  Peter responds that he will never fall away.  After Jesus lets him know that he will deny Jesus three times that very night, Peter declares that he will die with Jesus before he disowns Him.  All the others make the same vow.  In verse 35 we read, “And all the other disciples said the same”.

Jesus then takes the disciples with Him to the Garden of Gethsamane​ and asks them to pray with Him.  He takes the inner three a little farther in and asks them to keep watch because He is overwhelmed with sorrow.  As Jesus prays we see His humanity as He prays, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”.  We also see His obedience to God as He prays, “Yet not as I will, but as You will”.  As Jesus wrestles with the emotions roiling inside of Him, He finds the disciples asleep again and again.  In their weakness, they are already betraying Him.

Jesus does not scold or rebuke or cast them aside.  He invites them to come along, for the hour is at hand.  He is arrested and indeed the disciples scatter like lost sheep.  Yet Jesus will continue to walk this path, beginning the journey to the cross.  He walks it for the twelve.  Yes, He walks it even for Judas, the one who betrayed Him to the authorities.  He walks it for each of us too.  What amazing love.

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Through the and In the

Reading: Psalm 23: 4-6

Verse 4: I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” is a very familiar line in a very familiar Psalm.  This line contains several truths for all of us.  First, we will all, at points in our lives, walk through a time of loss.  The death may be of a friend or loved one, it may be of a marriage or a friendship, it may be of a job.  In the times of loss, we all feel a shadow hanging over us.  The grief, the pain, the unwanted change all feels like a shadow or dark cloud hanging over us.

Second, we do not walk alone as we pass through the valley.  Our God walks with us.  Because of His great love for us, God does not let us walk alone.  His presence and the people He leads into our lives during these valley experiences are what makes it possible to “walk through”.  Yes, we do spend time in the valley and, yes, we will return there from time to time, but we do not remain in the valley.  God fosters new life to spring up or to form in us as we walk through the valley and continue on our journey of faith.  This is the third truth.  God leads us up and out of the valley, back into new life.  When we look back, we can see how God was with us in our deepest need and how God led us through the valley.  Because of these reminders of God’s love and because of the experience with His closeness, we can join the psalmist in declaring, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

The Psalm ends where it began – with God’s blessings and joy in our lives.  God prepares a table for us, God anoints us with the oil of His blessing, and through this our cup overflows.  Outside of the valleys we also live daily with the sense of God’s goodness and love surrounding us each moment of each day.  It is the same sense of comfort and presence, but it is experienced in the joy of life as well.  The Psalm ends with the hope we all profess: “… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.  May it be so.  May it be so!

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True Leadership

How often do we long for power and authority?  Not to be under it, but to have it.  How often do we think, “If only I were in charge…”?  How often do we think, “Man, I am glad I am not in charge of that …”?  At one time or another we all have these kinds of thoughts.  And the truth is that we sometimes crave power and at other times we are as happy as we can be when we have no responsibilities al all.

James and John ask Jesus if they could sit at His left and right in glory.  But alas, Jesus tells them that these spots are already spoken for.  The other ten, when they hear about this request, are naturally angry that James and John could even ask such a thing.  But in reality most of them probably fluctuated between thinking ‘how could they ask for such a thing’ and ‘why didn’t I think of that’.  Jesus gently redirects all of their focus (and ours): whoever wants to be great must become a servant, like a slave to all.  What a 180 degree swing!

True leadership in the Jesus model is exhibited by being in humble service to those in our lives.  It is making the choice to think of others before considering yourself.  It is at times denying self in order to be able to help another.  It is being willing to make a sacrifice in the name of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Jesu asked James and John if they could drink the cup He was going to drink.  They said yes and they did, both giving their all and dying for Jesus, their King.  He asks us the same question.

Scripture reference: Mark 10: 35-45

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The Table

In the Lord’s supper we are offered communion with Christ.  As the bread is broken and the cup is poured out we remember Jesus’ body broken and His blood spilled at the cross.  His sacrifice opens the door for us to experience eternal life.  In communion we welcome in the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ as we are made new and are restored to a whole and right relationship with our God.

The table we come to is the Lord’s.   No one person or group has the corner on the market.  It belongs to Jesus alone and is extended to all.  Each and every person is invited to come into the presence of Jesus as we come to the table.  All are welcomed because all are loved by God.  He wants all people to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We certainly come to the table in a variety of states.  Some come with a relatively clean slate and a conscience without much burden.  Others come so weighed down by their sins that they feel barely able to approach the table of communion.  But the good news is that Jesus came for the masses of sinners, not just for the few saints.  In reality we are all sinner who all fall short if the glory of God.  We are all in need to a Savior.  The table is for all.

In communion we not only remember what Jesus Christ did for us but we also look forward to the future.  One day all can join Him at the great feast in His new kingdom.  In our communion liturgy we say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  We know He will come again one day to make all things new.  In this we trust and in this rests our hope.

Scripture reference: John 6: 51-58

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All Are Welcome

The feeding of the 5000 in the wilderness is much like the giving of the manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness.  In both cases the people of God were in need and He responded by providing their sustenance.

The giving and sharing of the bread has become such an integral part of the church’s life.  As the people of God gather to celebrate communion, we are connecting back to the manna and the loaves.  Through the bread of communion, God is both providing for our need and also reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Through His broken body and spilled blood we find forgiveness for our sins.  Through the bread and cup we are celebrating Jesus’ mighty act that cleanses us of our sins and leads us out of our own personal wilderness and back into relationship with God.

Like the loaves, when we come to the table, all are fed.  When we come to the common table to celebrate holy communion, there is no cost. The price has been paid for each of our sins.  All are welcome to come and lay it all before the cross.  It does not matter what we come with or how many sins we are bearing.  All is left at the foot of the cross.  And after we take the bread and the cup and confess our sins to God, we walk away fully cleansed, wholly restored.

Scripture reference: Matthew 14: 13-21