Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Round and Round

Reading: Romans 4: 13-16

Verse Sixteen: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”.

In our culture we generally like to feel we are at least ‘even’ with each other. If someone brings us a plate of cookies, for example, we feel we need to return the favor by bringing them a cake or plate of cookies or treats. If we ask someone to help us move, then we feel obliged to show up when they are moving. If wr have someone over for dinner they drive home contemplating when they can have us over for dinner. We go round and round.

Sometimes I think we feel faith is like this too. We try to do good things to gain or earn God’s favor. We pile on more when we have sinned and feel the guilt or shame. We try and check off all the boxes to meet what we think God and others expect of us to be considered ‘good’ Christians. So we go to church and to that pot luck and to the small group and to the rescue mission to help serve the meal and… We go round and round.

Lent is a good example of this idea. The concept behind a season of preparation for Easter is to be ready spiritually to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. What do we do to get ready? We give something up for Lent, wr join another Bible study, we go to that special Lenten small group, we read an extra devotional, we… Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round instead of connecting more deeply to God. But we can’t quite avoid it either. If I were to just say “Stop!” all this and just get closer to God, I would feel inclined to follow it up with advice to just pray more or to just read your Bible more. And we go round and round.

God knows. He knows. In verse sixteen we read,”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, do that it may be by grace”. We are saved by grace alone. No matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or don’t say, God’s grace is always sufficient. This removes our need to check boxes or to give up this or to add in that. This need is within us, in our minds, maybe even in our hearts. God says enough, my grace is enough. If abstaining from chocolate or whatever helps you feel closer to God, then do it. If reading an extra devotional or being in a small group helps you grow closer to God, then by all means enjoy your time. In the end, though, may we all rest upon the promise of salvation by faith alone. In this promise, grace is sufficient. It is all about God. This we know. May it be so.



Narrow and Hard

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s passage is all about commitment, dedication, obedience, discipline, and, ultimately, transformation. This call to discipleship is hard. That is why Jesus said the way is narrow in Matthew 7. Faith is just like all other things of great value – it requires a great deal of effort to attain our goal.

Jesus begins today’s key verse with, “if anyone would come after me”. He is implying the first thing about faith is a choice. All people everywhere have a sense of God one way or another. Some sense a higher power, some sense God in the created world, some sense God in the “there must be more to life than this” feelings. Faith begins with the inner urge to live for and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Beginning a relationship is the first step.

Next Jesus turns to those big words I opened with, saying, “he must deny himself”. Denying self and our own wants and desires is the beginning of living out our faith. When asked, Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. When we truly do this, there is little room for self. In denying self, the transformation process also gets under way. The study and practice of our faith through prayer, worship, Bible study, … is what begins to transform our hearts and minds so that we begin to see and feel and think as Christ did.

Then Jesus turns to our calling. He next instructs us to “take up his cross”. As we are transformed more and more into His image, we come to discover that special blessing or talent or gift that God has given us to serve His will. Some teach, some preach, some feed, some clothe, some visit, some sing, some clean, some sew, some lead, some transport, some… The cross represents Jesus and our gift or talent is how we share Jesus with others. Our “cross” is what helps others to connect to Jesus.

Once we have been drawn into relationship, once we have been transformed to love God and others more than self, once we have found our niche in serving God, then and only then can we say we follow Jesus. May we all choose the hard and narrow way of Jesus today. It is through the Lord that we find the life truly worth living. Blessings on your journey.

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Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verses Three and Four: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a period of preparation for Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we look inward and seek to examine our lives and to repent of all that hinders our relationships with God and our fellow man. For this purpose, many give up something (or somethings) for Lent. They abstain or fast from things that get in the way of their relationship with God and, therefore, with their fellow man. In many churches we place ashes on the forehead. With ashes we are reminded of our mortality, of our absolute need for God, and of our desire to die to self so we can fully live for God.

In our passage today, Isaiah addresses fasting. It is a very appropriate reading to consider as we begin Lent. The passage opens with God directing Isaiah to “declare to my people their rebellion” and goes on to say that they “seem” eager to know God and they “seem” eager to draw near to God. In verses three and four it is revealed why: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Their fasting is for appearance; it is not to refine oneself and to draw closer to God. Today, for example, one may fast from chocolate – not for God but to loose weight. God does go on to indicate the kind of fast that is pleasing to Him. God desires us to fast from hard hearts and blind eyes, from self-centeredness and arrogance, from prejudiced and judging.

God desires for His people to loosen the chains of injustice and oppression, to offer acts of love and compassion such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked. In doing so our “light will break forth like the dawn”. To do these things, our heart needs to be in the right place. That is why we must look within to see what inhibits our relationship with God and all of His children. When our fast leads us to love and care for others, then our light does shine into the darkness. This kind of fast produces fruit as others see true faith in our hearts and they come to know the love of Christ in their hearts as well.

What is it that prevents us from seeing the needs all around us? What is it that prevents us from responding to the opportunities to love and serve others? This Lenten season may we begin to look within as we seek a walk of faith that is pleasing to God, one that shines light into darkness. May we have the courage to identify all that holds us back and prevents us from being the light in the darkness. May we have the desire to cast these things out of our hearts as we strive to walk closer to God. As we do so, God will create a clean and pure heart within each of us. May it be so for each of us. Amen.

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Reading: Luke 2: 1-20

Verse Seven: “… because there was no room for them in the inn”.

The birth of Jesus is full of humility.  It began in the incarnation – Jesus taking on flesh, leaving behind whatever form He had in heaven to become human.  Humility continued in the choice for parents – not someone rich or powerful of famous, but a virgin mother and a carpenter father from a tiny little village.  The humility continued in the journey – forced to take a 3-day trek at nine months pregnant because a man far away wanted to know how many subject she had.  They arrive in Bethlehem and face another humility – no family with space to take them in, no rooms left at any of the inns, so they find shelter in a stable – surrounded by stinky and probably pretty curious animals.  Welcome to your birth, Son of God.

Jesus will continue to demonstrate humility.  He will be baptized by a human man because that is how is is supposed to happen.  He will wash the disciples’ feet to show that the greatest must be willing to serve too.  Jesus’ ultimate humility comes in the trial, the beating, and the scorn of the  cross.  But this was also just another great act of love – just one more example of how to empty self in order to be able to give to others.  It is what Jesus was all about – showing others how much God loved them through how much He loves them.  There was no sin too great, no leper too unclean.  There was no soul too lost, no heart too hard that Jesus could not love and save.  In His heart, there was always room.  Yes, Jesus was born into humility, not “… because there was no room for them in the inn” but because this is what His whole life and witness was all about – being a humble servant.

This day, of all days, may we go and do likewise – showing all we meet the type of Savior we love.

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The Only Question

Reading: Matthew 25: 45-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we come to the end of Matthew 25, to the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats.  For me, it is one of the most difficult passages of scripture to read and ponder.  It often leads me to the question of whether or not I am doing enough for the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God and His justice are not about keeping score, but I often feel conviction when I read this passage.  I fail on both ends of the spectrum.  There are times when I see hunger or loneliness or some other need and I fail to act.  There are times when I do act but not for the right reasons.  I do meet a need but it was not for the building of the kingdom of God but it is for a selfish reason that I served.  So when I read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”, the word ‘whatever’ looms large.  It seems that I often fail Jesus and the ones He loves and the ones sent my way.

I also often try and rationalize things in my mind to assuage my guilt.  I make excuses or I rationalize why I should not give this person money or I try to convince myself that I do not have the time…  I judge and try and make the one n need unworthy of love in my mind, helping my inaction to feel a bit better.  And when I do all of these things, they eventually bring on their own conviction and sense of guilt.  This sometimes leads me to try and do something for someone, but soon enough I am made aware that my motivation is in the wrong place and I am a goat in the parable.

It is a tough parable to wrestle with.  I do not like where it often leaves me.  Yet in the end, I realize that it is not a giant scoreboard that Jesus keeps, ever balancing my times when I did meet Jesus in the service of another against those times when I did not serve or when I served for the wrong reasons.  Instead Jesus keeps an overflowing well of mercy, grace, and love, offering me chance after chance to love as He loved, to serve as He served.  In the end, I believe the only question that will matter is this: do you love me?

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Reading: Matthew 25: 31-44

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me”.

At first, today’s passage is challenging because we can all think of times when we we both the sheep and the goats.  There are times in our lives when we have taken the time for one who was hungry or thirsty or have visited with a stranger or one who was sick.  There have also been times when we have passed by or ignored or chosen not to help, not to stop, not to care fore one in need when we could have.  But I do not think today’s passage is about making us feel guilty that we did not serve one in need or proud that we did.  It is about helping us to understand that Jesus is present in all of us.  It is about being open to the times when the Holy spirit nudges us to be of help and also about how we grow in our faith when we step outside of our comfort zones.

What is it about our times with the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned and strangers that allow us to experience Jesus more?  In those times when we step outside the normal, outside our comfort zones, we are more willing to see or experience Jesus in a new way.  Sometimes it is in the experience of serving another, sometimes it is in seeing Jesus in them, and sometimes it is about feeling personally connected to Jesus ourselves.  It is much like going on a mission trip or going to camp or a revival meeting – we are then mentally predisposed to experience Jesus in a new and powerful way, so we are more likely to do so.

More often than  not, when we feel nudged or even led to engage or serve another, we should if at all possible.  Simply because we might meet or experience Jesus more is reason enough.  May we heed the warmth we feel in out hearts, allowing ourselves and others to know Jesus and His love today.

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Intimate, Personal

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse One: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The Psalm today begins by acknowledging that we look up to God whom we envision in heaven, seated on the throne.  It is a position we are comfortable with – God up there, us down here.  This vision fits into our schemata of an all-powerful, almighty God who reigns over all.  This is the type of God we imagine we have.  This God is the God that can do anything.  It is the expectation conveyed in the opening line: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”

The next verse sees the relationship differently.  Now our eyes look to our master or to our mistress.  We now have the eyes of a slave or maid.  This is perhaps a less comfortable way to look up to God.  To properly understand this image we must understand the context of the times in which this was written.  Slaves and maids lived in the house of the master or mistress, right alongside the rest of the family.  The slave or maid was given food, a bed, and usually spent time in community with the family.  They were an extension of the family in most cases.  Yes, there was a subservient nature to the relationship, but it was also a relationship of love and care.  The slave or maid desired to please the master or mistress, much as a child desires to please their parent.

When we see God as our master or mistress it changes out perspective.  As almighty God in charge of it all, there is a separation or distance between us.  In some ways this view is perhaps safer, less threatening.  As a slave or maid, we are right in there with God.  We are walking and living our day to day life right there with God.  It is a very intimate and personal way to look at our relationship with God.  It is a “hold your hand” relationship instead of a “look up to heaven” relationship.  It is a relationship of mutual dependency.  It is a relationship built upon God’s love and care for us and our personally serving God.  In what ways will we live out this intimate, personal relationship with God today?