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Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Personal Encounter

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20

Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin”.

As it was in Jesus’ day and in the days of the early church, so it is today: many people think that Jesus was just a good moral teacher. In the church in Corinth some were questioning the whole gospel that was first preached to them and that led many of them to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul wonders how some that first believed can question resurrection – this part of what they first believed.

In verse 17 Paul focuses in on the consequences of questioning this fact that has been witnessed to by so many people, writing, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin”. Belief in the resurrection is an essential component of our faith. If we do not believe that Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave, we do not believe that we can also be raised to life eternal. If we do not believe that the cross was the place that Jesus took upon Himself the sins if the world and there defeated the power of sin, then we are ever living in our sins.

All of this, if course, can also be traced back to the words of the prophets in the Old Testament. From His virgin birth to His ministry beginnings to the message He proclaimed to His death and resurrection – all of Jesus’ life – is laid out in prophecy as well. Yet for Paul what really sealed his belief in Jesus as Messiah was his own personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He himself was changed from Saul the chief persecutor of the church to Paul the lead apostle of the church. His personal encounter shifted Paul onto a totally new path. Paul was born again and went out to share the good news of the living Christ with all he met, everywhere he went.

We too can read the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writings as well. We too can see the connections between prophecy and what came to be. But our faith became “real” for us the same way it did for Paul – when we had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. People can read all the books in the world about Christianity – including the Bible – and still only have head knowledge. Jesus becomes real when we know Him in our heart.

On this Sabbath day, may we take some time and consider our own story of faith. May we think on how we can fashion that into a story that we can share with others. In doing so, we will be able to share the story of what Jesus has done in our lives so that others can see examples of what He can do in their lives. In doing so, we invite others to have a personal encounter with our resurrected and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this day may I again consider anew my personal encounter with you. Help me to articulate it to others this week. Amen.

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The Catch

Reading: Luke 5: 1-7

Verse 4: “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”.

Our passage begins with the words, “One day…”. The words sound so casual, so happenstance. Jesus is there by that lake that day because that is the day and place that He is going to call His first disciples. Jesus could have been many places that day. As Jesus is teaching the crowds build. He steps into a boat. There were two boats. Jesus steps into Simon Peter’s boat and asks Simon Peter to put out a bit. The boat was empty, just like the second boat. In putting out, Peter had to join Jesus in the boat.

Jesus finishes teaching and asks Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”. He asks His captive audience to do something that is probably the last thing on his mind. Peter does call Jesus “Master”, showing some recognition of who Jesus is said to be. But Peter is tired and just wants to go home. Yet Peter chooses to honor the request that Jesus has made of him.

In the request, Jesus has told Peter what is going to happen. Jesus says, “for a catch”. He knows how many fish will swim into Peter’s nets. Jesus is not in that boat with that man by happenstance. He is about to do a miracle that will change a man’s life forever. It is something that we see Jesus do often in His ministry. But often the role is reversed. The blind man calls out to Jesus for sight. The lepers cry out to Jesus to be healed and made clean. The friends bring the lame man to Jesus. Today Jesus is the seeker. Today Jesus is the one calling out.

Some of us have perhaps sought Jesus – in the midst of a devastating loss we turned to Him. Or in the depth of a life-threatening illness, we cried out to Jesus. But most of us were like Peter, aware of who Jesus was, heard a few of the stories. But just going through life. And then suddenly Jesus is there and He climbs in our boat. Almost unexpectedly we meet Jesus up close and personal. We did not see it coming, but we cannot deny the relationship that has suddenly burst to life.

The miracle that Jesus offers is amazing. It is not just a catch – a few fish for lunch. It is not just a good catch – enough to sell and earn some wages. The catch is enormous. It was so big that Peter needed help containing it. It is like when Jesus catches us – we are filled with Him to overflowing and we just want others to know of this Jesus that called us to new life. We want to share this amazing thing that has happened in our lives. Can you remember that day, that season?

Connect to the day that you were the catch. Recall the emotion. Recapture the energy and the passion. Then go out and tell the story of how Jesus caught you over and over.

Prayer: Lord, rekindle that fire within me today. May I again be so filled with you that you overflow. May I tell the story of your love and power in my life today and every day. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.


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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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Natural Tendency

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse One: “But David remained in Jerusalem”.

Today’s passage is the beginning of a very familiar story. Simply saying the name “Bathsheba” recalls the whole story. It is a story about power and satisfying the desires of the flesh. Power and lust – two things that many of us struggle with. On that level this story is uncomfortable. But we do not willingly go there, to the uncomfortable place.

In verse one Joab and the whole army head off into battle. This was the norm for the springtime. It was the time for heading off to war. “But David remained in Jerusalem”. Here is where our story really begins. Here is where it goes astray. Kings always lead the troops out in battle. That is just one of their roles as king. They lead. “But David remained in Jerusalem”.

When we consider this decision, we do not ordinarily look at it as a sin. Choosing to stay home instead of going off to war is a decision we could easily rationalize or “what if…” and move on to the rest of the story. Yet let us not go there. Let us stay with this decision. The choice to stay home indicates something askew in David. It is a way to say that he is larger than the average guy. He does not have to do what kings traditionally do. He can break the mold. He can do his own thing. He is in charge.

Here is where I connect to the story. Here is where most of us enter the story. Yes, most of us struggle with the desire for power and with lusting after the things of this world. But the decision to do his own thing is what got David in trouble. If we are honest – and this is where it gets uncomfortable – it is what causes us to sin most often too. Our natural tendency is to want to be in control, to make our own decisions, to be in charge. Here is the danger though: there is only room for one on the throne of my heart. And if it is me, it is not God. This is the danger. It is what caught David. It is what catches me.

Lord God, strengthen my faith so that I can become weak, fully yielding control of my life to you. Come, be Lord of my life. Amen.


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Rescue

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse Five: “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”.

Our passage today opens with this “man” being given a vision and being brought up to the “third heaven”. The man experiences paradise and other inxpressible things. It is an experience that very few have. For those who walked with Jesus and long for His return, a visit to heaven would be the next best thing. For the Corinthians, to whom Paul writes, this would be an amazing person to talk to, to quiz, to gain insights into heaven from. Most experts believe that Paul was this man, so he probably could have gone on and on about his heavenly experience.

Paul is avoiding a temptation common to man. We have all been around people who enjoy telling of their great successes and their grand adventures. They love to go on and on about themselves. We have also been around people who always seem to have a better story. Someone shares about a lovely trip they just had and this person says something along the lines of, “Well, that was nice but let me tell you about MY trip to…”. At times maybe we are these people or certainly we are tempted to be these people. We do like to share our accomplishments or at least to have them recognized.

Paul instead says to his audience, “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”. Weakness is an odd thing to boast about. This is counter to our first thought about how to introduce ourself to someone. We tend to want to share the good stuff. None of us starts off a conversation with something like, “Nice to meet you. I am up to my eyes in debt and I struggle with alcohol”. While it may be true, we do not begin here.

During his life, Paul has experienced some amazing things. He could go on and on with his experiences and his success stories. Instead, he wants his audience to be present to what he does and says now, when he is with them. To begin to do this, he turns the focus to his weaknesses. Maybe there is a lesson here for us the next time we want to have a faith conversation with someone. Being vulnerable and honest and transparent in sharing how Jesus rescued this sinner is perhaps the best way to help another see how Jesus could rescue them too. We’ve all done wonderful things in life. But our story of faith is not about us or what we’ve done, it is about Jesus and what He has done in us. This is the real story that we have to share – our rescue story. May we share it well today.