Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.

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Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-9

Verse Nine: Surely His salvation is near for those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm opens by remembering when God showed favor to His people when He restored Jacob and established the twelve tribes of Israel.  The second verse recalls how God has forgiven the people over and over.  Even this early in their collective history, the people have plenty of experience with the cycle of sin and God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist looks back over the history of the people’s relationship with God to remind them of God’s loving and active presence with them.  Sometimes, in a tough moment, all we can do is remember when God has been there for us in the past and cling to the hope and promise that God will be present again in a mighty and powerful way.

A few years ago, I was part of a high school mission trip to Seattle.  On our last ferry ride back across Puget Sound, as we were beginning the long trek home, God became present.  One of the ship’s crew had suddenly passed away and his only ‘family’ in the area was the crew of the ship.  The outward and inward bound ferries stopped beside each other in the middle of the Sound and the captain of our ship led a brief memorial service and tossed a wreath into the water.  As we stood in silence, a few of our youth chose to “listen to what God the Lord will say” and they began to sing “Amazing Grace”.  Everyone joined in and it was a very sacred moment.  It was a powerful experience of God’s presence in our lives and of His love for us all.  We returned to the top deck where we had been worshiping and shortly the captain appeared.  He shared that he believed that God had placed us on that exact ship that very day to remind him of God’s love and care for us all, his dear friend included.  As we departed the ship a while later, a still teary-eyed captain again thanked us for the reminder of God’s love and care for us all.

Just as recalling God’s activity with Jacob and God’s abundant grace throughout their history strengthened the Israelites, so do our ferry moments remind us of times when God has shown up and they strengthen our faith and encourage us in our moments of trial.When have you experienced God in a powerful and meaningful way?  Remember these times today and be grateful.

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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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Reading: Psalm 30: 6-12

God rescued David and his grateful response is to praise God and give Him thanks forever.  Forever is a very long time.  It really far exceeds anything we can grasp.  When we say ‘forever’ we are making a pretty big commitment.  Although our concept of forever is limited, sometimes it is the word that best expresses what we feel at the time.  Perhaps the best example of this are the wedding vows that speak of forever.  For the couple standing there, so deeply in love, forever expresses it best.

Sometimes, though, we use forever in a promise to try and leverage God.  We pray, “If you will ___ God, I’ll ___ forever”.  We pray the ” If only…” prayers with a promise tied to forever.  But even in these instances, we use forever to try and sum up just how much we want the answer we want.  It is a word we use to try and demonstrate our great commitment to whatever we are praying for or about.

God also uses forever.  God promises to love us forever.  Underlying this promise and His other promises is an understanding on God’s part of how long this really is.  God promises to forgive our sins and mistakes forever.  In spite of His knowledge of who we are, His promise is still to forever, without any limits.  God promises to be with us forever.  He was and is and will always be.  Through the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, God  abides with us forever in this life.  Lastly, God promises us forever.  Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God promises us the gift of eternal life.  We begin this life here and now but it will continue on forever even when we leave these earthly tents.  For these promises, we offer our grateful praise forever.

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Blessings, Providence, and Giving

God brought the Hebrew people out of long years of slavery and oppression and into a land flowing with milk and honey.  It was a drastic change for the people.  They would clearly remember how God had directly intervened to free them, to protect them, and to deliver this new land into their hands.  So when they are asked to bring a portion of their first fruits to God each season, as a way to say thank you, they gratefully follow the instructions.

As we fast forward to today, we in modern cultures have lost the sense of gratitude for God’s direct provision.  All that most of us have is not based on the crops and animals that grow.  We do not see the dry seeds that spring to life or witness the miracle of birth out in the fields.  It can be harder to see God’s hand directly involved in many of the jobs and professions today.  Adding to this distancing are society’s messages about hard work and individuality, the paths to success.

In reality though, God is still an active part of everything.  If we really dig down deep, it was God who formed each of us in the womb and it has been His hand of guidance and providence that has led us, brought opportunities our way, opened doors for us, gifted us with the talents and skills to succeed, and so on.  If we daily acknowledge these things before God, we are much more willing to gratefully follow His instructions on giving.

When we give the first fruits of our labor, we are saying we trust God.  To give that part right at the beginning says we trust His blessings and providence to see us through to the end of the month.  It is a grateful and trusting act of obedience and faith.  It is admitting that all we have is truly His anyway.  May our offerings to God reflect our heartfelt appreciation for all of His blessings and providence in our lives.

Scripture reference: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

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Patience That Never Ends

Moses come down the mountain with God’s Holy Law as found in the Ten Commandments.  His face is literally radiant from His time with the Almighty.  Trip number one was interrupted by the people encamped at the foot of the mountain when they decided to make and worship a golden idol.  They did so while they could see God’s glory just outside of camp.  It is amazing that His presence could be so close yet they turn to a false god.

In reality we are the same.  Right in the middle of worship, have you ever had an unkind thought about the family coming in late or the song that was selected or the pastor’s message?  In the Holy presence of God one can go directly from saying the Lord’s Prayer to questioning or judging the words used in the morning prayer.  Even while in worship, our lips can bring praise but out hearts are far from God.

The same is often true for other times in our lives.  After a moving morning devotional time, we can get in the car and curse a fellow driver.  After spending a few minutes in awe praising God for the beautiful sunrise, we can turn and yell at our child for getting up a few minutes late.  How quickly we can praise God one moment and absolutely drive Him nuts the next.

And what is God’s response to all this and what does it reveal about God?  He sends Moses down the mountain one more time with the stone tablets.  He forgives us for the zillionth time.  Over and over and over He says, “Close, but… let’s try this again”.  I am so thankful that God’s patience never runs out.  How great is the Father’s love for us!  Imperfect as we are, He loves us anyway.  Thanks be to God!

Scripture reference: Exodus 34: 29-32

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Filled with Love

We can express our love for God in many ways.  It can be expressed in worship, in our daily disciplines, in our service to others, and in how we treat our neighbors.  The love we share with others wells up and out of the love of God within and for us.  When we share this love of God with others, they too can come to know that love themselves.

But at times we can “do” things without really loving.  Have you ever gone to church on a Sunday morning when you really did not want to?  You smile and chat, bow you head and sing along, maybe even nod approvingly during the sermon – but inside you are not present or engaged.  Ever been of service because it was expected?  You go and help cook and serve the meal at the mission but inside of you there is apathy or maybe the resentment and anger are just below the surface.  In these and similar situations, the love of God seems far away.  In times like these we are the clanging symbols Paul writes of in today’s passage.

We get to this place a number of ways, but there are two primary ways.  First, we forget to be thankful to God.  If we are not intentional about making time daily to be thankful to God for our many blessings, it can be easy to forget how much He loves us.  Without His love filling us up, we have little true love to offer others.  The second way is we forget to love ourselves.  Being a constant well of love to others leaves us empty inside.  We can be so busy being in ministry to others that we do not allow ourselves the Sabbath we need.  In this too we must be intentional.  We are at our best loving God and loving others when we have a thankful and rested heart, filled with God’s love for us.  Then we can truly offer His love to the world.

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 & 13

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Thank You God

Thank you God!  Today is a day when we give thanks to God for His many blessings.  We are grateful to be with friends and family and to gather together in fellowship over the meal.  We are thankful for all of our material and physical blessings as well – for job and home and other possessions.  We are richly blessed and it is good to give thanks to our provider.

We are most deeply blessed, though, by our relationship with the living God.  In God we find our Savior and our hope.  Like Job, all we have can fall away, yet we can still count ourselves blessed because we know God and God knows us.  Although hard times will come, we can trust in God in the midst of and through these difficulties.  God is faithful and true.

I am most thankful for His love and mercy.  In my humanity I stumble and I sin.  In these times my love for God fails.  But His love never fails.  In these times, when I repent and seek God again, His mercies flow down upon me like a powerful rain, washing me clean, making me new, drawing me back into that relationship again.  Thank you God.

Scripture reference: Psalm 25: 1-10