Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Thanks and Gifts

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 19: He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people.

This morning is the last day of a middle school youth mission trip.  We have spent the past week in a large city.  We have learned about poverty and homelessness.  We served food to men and women in need.  We sorted and stocked food in a free pantry.  We worked in a gigantic warehouse sorting and packing food that goes to many agencies who feed people.  We spent two afternoons at a large thrift store sorting about anything you can imagine and preparing it for resale.  The profits all go to people with disabilities in the state.

Through all of these acts of service, we learned about the great need that exists in our world.  It exists in many of our communities and maybe even in our own neighborhoods.  Prior to this trip our youth were unaware of the poverty many face each day.  Yes, they new some lived with very little.  But learning that some parents must choose between paying for their child’s field trip at school and putting gas in the car so they can go to work was a new reality for our youth.

Jesus lived a life of compassion.  He spent time in and among the poor and needy of His day.  They needed Him most.  In our passage today, He begins by healing many.  Then He feeds many.  We read, “He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people”.  There are two important lessons in today’s passage.

First, Jesus gave thanks for the gifts that God has given Him.  Second, the disciples used the gifts Jesus gave them to also be a part of this miracle.  In faith and trust, they were part of the feeding of the thousands.  Our group learned the first lesson well this week.  We are going home to nice houses with an excess of food, clothing…  We do not know true want.  We are truly thankful for the many, many gifts that God has given us.  We began to learn the second lesson this week as we saw how God can use each of us to make the world a better place by sharing His love as we serve others.  It is a great gift that we have to offer.  This day, what will we offer to meet another’s physical or emotional or spiritual need?  May we remember that gifts that God has given us, may we be truly thankful, and may we seek to share them each day for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.

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Trials and Temptations

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus prepares for His ministry with a period of testing.  He fasts for forty days and is physically weak.  Satan comes then and tempts Jesus with food, trust, and power.  Food represents both our basic needs and our desires.  Is our life about pursuing these things and then giving what’s left to God?  Or do we first give to God, knowing that He loves us and will provide for all we need?  The second temptation partly involves trust.  We we step out or step forward, trusting that God will have our back?  And perhaps before this first step, did we seek God’s discernment and direction or did we just make our own plan?  When seek God’s will and when we obey His lead, there is no fear or lack of trust.  Power is the third temptation.  Worship Satan and all the world is yours.  We like to be in charge.  What a temptation!

In our own journey of faith, we are often tempted and often out to the test.  In our giving, do we obediently give our tithe or volunteer for that cause that pulls at our heart strings?  Or do we focus on what “has” to be done first or pay all the bills and then see if we have time or money left for God?  In those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us to get involved or to offer our talents or to engage the stranger, do we trust that God will give us the words to say or will show us what to do?  Or do we apply excuses or rationalize away the opportunity?  And when we look at our priorities, do they reveal that God is #1 in our lives?  Or does ‘God’ fall somewhere down the list?  If one looked at our lives, they should see how we are investing our lives in God’s work in the world and in growing our own personal faith.  Is that what they would see?

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to rely on something other than God, he will also tempt us.  How we respond to or react to the above questions and scenarios indicated how successful Satan may be at drawing us away from God.  In this season of Lent, where we too are preparing ourselves for ministry, may the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us each day as we strive to walk as disciples of Jesus each and every day.

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Worship the Lord

Reading: Psalm 145: 1-5 and 17-21

Psalm 145 is a song of praise to God.  In our worship we call out to God, singing to an “audience of one”, as the saying goes.  Verse 18 reads, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth”.  As we call out in worship, we offer God our thanksgiving and praise in song.  We also call out to draw near to God, to be in God’s presence.  When we call out to God, God draws near to us.

Some years in Youth group we are blessed to have a young man or woman who can play the guitar or piano and can sing.  These gifted young people bless us by leading our times of worship.  Other years we do not have such an individual and by default I lead.  Although I do not always maintain the same tempo and play an occasional wrong chord, I can provide the guitar to lead worship.  The vocals are another story.  I cannot count how many times on of the youth singers has looked at me with the “what are you singing?” look.  I smile and we keep on going.  I wish I could sing.  But I am simply not a good singer.  So I make a joyful noise to the Lord.

God does not require our perfection.  God desires our presence in worship.  God desires that our hearts be fully present in worship.  God would much rather have our off key singing with love and passion than our reverent silence.  God does bless many with the gift of a good voice.  Accordingly, they should lead the worship of the Lord whenever possible.  And even the best is not perfect.  This matters not either.  God desires our joyful worship.  God wants us to offer all of ourselves in worship.  Each time, as we seek to draw near the Lord, may we offer our audience of one all that we are and all that we have, for it is pleasing in God’s sight when we worship the Lord.

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Simple Servant

Reading: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8

As Paul looks back over a lifetime, he is pleased with how he finished.  He knows he had his moments.  We all do.  Paul grew up like all other Jewish boys – learning the Torah and practicing the family trade.  He worked hard at learning the Law and rose to become a Pharisee.  Then this Jesus fellow came along and started to cause a stir.  Paul stuck to his traditional faith and soon Jesus was crucified and buried.  But the newfound “Way”, as it was known, continued to grow and spread.  Paul, known then as Saul, took up the mantel and led the charge to stamp out this fledgling religion.  But then one day, on his way to Damascus to round up some followers of the Way, Paul himself met Jesus.  Paul encountered the risen Christ and Paul became a new creation.  From then on he worked tirelessly to teach the good news of Jesus Christ to any and all who would listen.

Paul has “fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith”.  Paul is pleased with how he has spent the last years of his life.  There is no regret, no second thoughts.  Paul has been a great champion of sharing Jesus with others.  He has done all he could do for a Savior that changed his life forever.  Paul now sees his life as being poured out like a thank offering, a gift made to God for the change that Jesus Christ has wrought in his life.  Having given fully of himself, Paul is content with his life of service offered to the Christ he loves.

Paul exemplifies the simple servant that Jesus calls us all to be.  It is the life that Jesus first modeled as well.  When we offer ourselves out of a love for God and a love for neighbor, we too are fighting the good fight.  When we step into the opportunities that God gives us, we too are keeping the faith.  Each day, as we strive to fall more in love with God and to grow deeper in our faith, we too are finishing the race as faithful disciples.  May we bring glory and honor to God in all we do.

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Reading: Luke 17: 5-10

In the opening verses of Luke 17, Jesus has just instructed the disciples to keep from sinning, to not lead others into sinning, and to always offer forgiveness to those who sin against them.  Then Jesus adds a point of emphasis: forgive up to seven times in one day.  Seven represents eternity for His audience.  Jesus is saying to forgive over and over and over and over and…  The disciples response to this idea is the opening line of today’s passage: “Increase our faith!”. In other words, if you are asking this of us Jesus, you better bump up our faith.

To this request Jesus offers a parable.  The main character is a servant.  Jesus often parallels being a disciple with being a servant.  The servant-master relationship is obe that would have been very familiar and well-understood by His audience.  A servant’s job is to serve the master.  Of course the servant would come in from a long day’s work and still waiting upon the master until all their needs are met before retiring for the day.  It is what servants do.  They put their master’s needs ahead of their own.  The servant doesn’t hang around on the periphery waiting for a nice ‘thank you’ either.  It’s just their job.

Then Jesus extends the understanding and application of the parable to the disciples and to us.  He says this too is how a disciple conducts themselves.  As disciples we are called to be servants not only to our Master but to all people as well.  We are called to serve others, to sacrifice for others, to set aside our own interests and wants for the needs of others.  We are called to place others before self.  In living out the Gospel, we are to simply love and serve all as Jesus loved and served all.  Today and each day, may we pray for and strive to live out of a servant’s heart.

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The Circle

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Hebrews 12 offers a new perspective on God.  The God embodied in Jesus is the same God whose voice can thunder and who can be terrifying.  God is unchanging.  What changes or evolves is our understanding of God.  Stand at the window and watch and listen to the power in a magnificent thunderstorm.  Witness God’s voice booming!  Sit with a family that has just lost a loved one who they think was not saved, witness the unspoken questions and fear.  Consider the conviction we feel when we sin.  We quickly repent and seek forgiveness so that we are back in God’s love and away from the terrifying feeling of being outside of God’s love.

Through Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit we experience God differently.  God is now more personal, more easily accessed.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit function as more open conduits to heaven and God’s love.  In Jesus the man we saw the living God, first on earth and now in heaven.  Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant” where grace and forgiveness comes through His blood sacrificed on the cross.  It is a free gift to us all.  It costs us nothing.  What a change in the previous relationship!  Jesus is also the mediator that stands between us and God and with the Holy Spirit intercedes for each of us.  This is what has changed, not God.

Faith and our response to it has also changed significantly.  Before Christ’s time on earth, faith in God was seen as an exclusive thing.  Either you were part of God’s chosen people, or you were not.  Jews were in, everyone else was out.  Faith led the Jews to care for one another, to live a life of obedience to God’s ways, and to worship God alone.  Jesus changed who was in the circle.  Through Jesus, all people are chosen people.  There are no limits or exclusions to the new covenant.  There is now no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, …  We are to be Jesus’ hands and feet, loving all people with a servant’s heart.  We are to be Jesus’ voice, offering the good news to all peoples of all nations, ever working to expand the circle, ever seeking to build the kingdom here on earth.

What role shall we play today?  How will we each be a part of widening the circle, of helping another to step inside so they too can know God’s love?


All in for You

Reading: Amos 8: 7-12

The time of action and judgment has come for the people of Israel.  These people who wanted to focus on money and crops instead of worship will get what they want.  They had endured worship and the Sabbath like it was a chore.  So God has chosen to grant their desire – He will step away from His people.  He will allow His petulant children to live without Him for a while.  A time is drawing near when a foreign king will conquer and destroy.  God will be a silent, non-involved observer.  Public worship will not occur in captivity and there is no Bible yet.  It will be a difficult time for Israel.

It is hard for us to imagine what it would be like to have all of our churches shut down.  It is even harder to imagine that our access to the Word of God could be removed.  We have easy access to physical Bibles and constant access to a myriad of virtual Bibles.  So imagine for a moment if all access to the Word were removed and we could not gather for worship.  It would be very hard to remain connected to God and our faith.

Although this idea of no access to God or His Word seems so foreign to us who have easy access to these things, our attitudes at times are not so far removed from those of the people of Amos’s time.  We have all been reluctant worshippers.  We have all looked at our watches or cell phones as we creep past the time church was supposed to end.  We have all drug our feet or scowled all the way to church and part way through it.  This is not the worship God desires.

Lord, make our hearts like Your heart.  Help us to love you with all we are.  Lead our spirit to seek Your Spirit.  Draw us into You.  Move us to offer all of ourselves in grateful response to Your love and mercy that never fail.  May we be all in for You, O Lord.