Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Paul’s message to the Galatians is first and foremost that they are “Christians” – heirs to the promises of God.  Paul in implying that they are heirs to all of God’s promises.  He does not delineate to just a few of them but he implicitly states that as those baptized into Christ they are blessed with all of His promises.  This too is our view as contemporary readers of the Bible.  We see all of the promises made to Abraham, Moses, … as promises that apply to us as well.  Christians are not just a New Testament people, but a people of the whole Bible.

The people of Paul’s day felt a little conflicted about the full application of the Law.  We too walk this middle ground today.  We read and apply some of the Old Testament and the Law, such as tithing and most of the Ten Commandments, but we certainly do not follow all of the Old Testament.  For example we do not follow most of the dietary restrictions or the Sabbath laws and we do not celebrate the festival’s such as Passover.  We hold onto many of the promises and some of the Law however.  Those things that Jesus emphasized or instituted are followed – baptism, communion, serving the needy, and the two great commands.

At times our churches and we as individuals can function much like the faithful Jews of Paul’s day.  We can exclude or be non-welcoming to people who do not fit into our boxes or who do not conform to all of our expectations.  For some that’s how they dress and for others it is what part of town you’re from.  For some it is your ethnicity and for others it is your style of worship.  Our bottom line, though, is still the same: we are all children of God and therefore heirs to His promises of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, … and all are called to love all as Jesus loves us: unconditionally.  May we come to see all as welcome in His kingdom and may we live and love accordingly.

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All the Praise and Glory

At Christmas it can be easy to get into the receiving mode.  Although Christmas is really about the birth of Christ, it can be easy to slip into this mode.  Today’s passage begins by listing all we receive in and through Christ.  Through Jesus Christ we are blessed and adopted as children of God.  In Jesus’ blood we find the forgiveness of our sins.  Through Jesus’ perfect life and example we have come to know God’s will.  In Christ, through a personal relationship with Him, we receive the gift of our eternal inheritance.  In this list we find much that we “get” from Christ.  But that us not the point of the passage.

Paul’s first point is to remind us why we receive so much.  His answer is rooted solely in one thing: love.  We are part of God’s family, washed clean in Jesus’ blood, and promised eternal life because God loves us deeply.  It is a love that sees all of our flaws and sins and tendency to be independent yet loves us unconditionally anyway.

Paul’s second point is to reveal our correct response to all that God has given: to praise His name.  In doing so we turn all the attention to God.  God is at the center of it all and our praise needs to recognize and acknowledge God as our all in all.  In doing so we become less and He becomes more.  It is as it should be.  To Him be all the glory and praise forever and ever!  Amen.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 1: 3-14

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Wrestling Towards Perfection

When we question things, sometimes the answers we find surprise us.  Sometimes the answer forces us to wrestle with something and perhaps this, in turn, causes us to grow.  The question that the scribe asks Jesus is a genuine and deep question.  Jesus’ answer is direct and forces the scribe to wrestle a bit.  In the end, he at least considers a new reality and that is good.

At times we too must wrestle with our faith.  It is essential at times to reflect on how our walk with God is, on how sin is affecting our life, and on our dedication and service to God.  Questions about how closely we are following and if we are giving enough of ourselves are great questions to wrestle with.

Jesus’ answer to the scribe made him question his definition of loving neighbors, and, in particular, about not exploiting them.  It would not have been very hard for the scribe to see all the ways exploitation was occurring.  The big question is did it bring about change in behavior.

The same is generally true for us.  If we really spend time wrestling with where we are in our faith and with being the hands and feet of Christ, then we often see how we could be or do more.  In living a faith that follows Jesus Christ, we are ever on a road towards perfection.  Like Paul, may we too press on toward the goal to win the prize of eternal life.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 28-34

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His Promise

Job wrestles with the question many people wrestle with: why did this happen to me?  In general, we view the world as good and God as loving and caring.  Most people believe these things to be true.  Yet for most, believers included, we almost always ask the ‘why  question when unexplained or unjust suffering and trials come our way.  It is a natural question to ask.  We wrestle with this question, because at least a little, in our minds, we think that if we are faithful that no bad should come our way.  We track right along with Job’s thinking.  This too is a natural thought process.

In Job’s day the common understanding was that if evil or bad befell someone, it was because of sin.  For example, if one were blind it was because of sin in their life or in their parent’s life.  This idea is backed up by the experience of the nation of Israel.  Sin causes separation from God, then they experience trial, exile, or some other calamity.  The view that God blessed Israel with peace, victory… when they were faithful was also a dominant belief.  We mostly hold these beliefs today as well.  Good brings good and evil brings evil is still a common thought process.  It also holds generally true in life: if you are nice to someone, usually they are nice in return.  The reverse is also true.

Job was seen as righteous and good in his pre-trial life.  Once the bad befell him, his wife and friends assumed he had sinned.  They thought, Why else would God do this?  But Job knew he was still faithful, upright, blameless.  So he asked God the ‘why?’ question.  God’s response was big questions that did not really answers Job’s question.  God asked Job is he could bring floods or lightning or even rain.  He asked if he could provide prey for the lion or food for the raven.  He asked if Job was there at the creation of the earth.  The questions do not provide an answer but turn Job back inward.

God created a world that is good and has order and logic.  There is both good and evil.  Both must exist if we are to have free will.  God does not force us to obey Him or to be faithful to Him.  We do so out of love.  We love because He first loved us.  Love is our grateful response to the love God poured out in Jesus Christ.  In life there is free will and logical consequences.  The world was created as good, not as perfect.  Perfect will be the new heaven when Christ returns.  So some rains waters the crops and some rains flood the fields.  Illness and death are part of life.  So is birth and good health.  Like Job, in the midst of our pain and suffering we ask ‘why?’  But the answer is elusive.  It does not come in many cases.  But the promise we receive in Christ is not elusive: Jesus saves all who call on His name and through His saving grace we will all one day enter that perfect world.  Hold onto the promise.  Live the promise.  Share the promise.

Scripture reference: Job 38: 34-41

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Jesus Our Hope

In a physical sense we are much like all other living creatures.  We share much of the same DNA.  In addition, some animals have a language, some use tools, and some even have social orders and live in families.  All of the living creatures on earth experience illness and death.  The feelings of loss and pain associated with death are exhibited by many others species as well.

Two of the things though that separates humanity from other creatures is our superior intellect and our reasoning ability.  As time has evolved we have come to understand the intricacies of the human body and have sought means to extend life.  To be alive is awesome and amazing so we fight to preserve life.  Over time in our society the act of death has developed a fear and has become something to be avoided at almost all cost.  For many there is a meaninglessness and an unknown to dying.  For those without faith, there is a finality that has no hope and peace in death.

Jesus became incarnate so that ultimately He could experience suffering and death.  This sounds so countercultural because it is.  Yes, Jesus also come to put a human face and example on God’s great love for us.  But in the end Jesus came to suffer and die in sacrificial love for us.  He willingly bore the cross and the weight of our sins.  Through His blood He paid the cost for us to have eternal life.

In Hebrews we are reminded that all of creation is subject to Jesus.  Yet out of love for us He allowed Himself to the subject to death.  For all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior, we find grace and forgiveness.  In Jesus we know that death does not have the final word.  In Him rests our eternal hope and a peace that passes understanding in the midst of death.  Jesus is our hope.  Thank you Jesus.

Scripture reference: Hebrews 2: 5-12

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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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Holy One of God

In communion we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection to the Father.  In the sharing of the meal we use the bread and the juice (or wine) to remind us of the physical sacrifice that gave us spiritual life.  In communion we celebrate the fact that Jesus is still present with us and still offers Himself daily.

The day after the miracle of feeding the 5,000 the crowd gathers again.  Jesus senses that they came not to believe in Him but simply to get another free meal.  So He calls them on it.  After this “hard teaching” many turn away and leave Jesus.  The masses do not understand what is really being offered.

Sometimes in the celebration of communion we miss the significance too.  It can be all ritual and no connection.  The outpouring of the confessions of our heart should be deep and passionate.  It should mirror what Jesus did for us.  It should not simply be bread and juice.  In communion, Jesus awaits us in Spirit; in the act of communion we should expect to meet Jesus there.

After many leave and fall away, Jesus asks the disciples if they are leaving too.  Sometimes I sense Jesus asking us the same question.  Peter answers for the group: “Lord, to whom would we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  His confession is still true today.  There is no one else to turn to.  Jesus alone offers eternal life.  When we waver, when it appears that we are beginning to turn away, may we recall Pater’s confession and return to the giver of life, Jesus Christ.

Scripture reference: John 6: 56-69