Teaching the faith

James 3:1-13

From the earliest of ages, even the most prolific pastors, theologians and Christian authors were first taught the faith by others. Parents, grandparents taught the faith in their homes. In churches, it is volunteer Sunday school teachers who engage in the faith formation of our youngest Christians. In my formative years, it was a teacher nurtured my faith and convinced me I should explore a career in ministry. Certainly, there is power and influence in the words of teachers.

James warns teachers concerning the power of words. Like the small rudder of a ship, the tongue has the power to steer the course of peoples’ lives. Especially in Church, the tongue can do insurmountable damage. A word misspoken from the pulpit can lead a congregation down the wrong path. Words spoken in confidence can wreak havoc if shared with others. Even words meant for encouragement can be misunderstood if spoken carelessly.

It goes without saying, even teachers of faith have their shortcomings; we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. All Christians, especially pastors and people in lay ministry are called to speak the truth concerning our lives as God’s children. Again, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Therefore, we must pray that our words remain true and that we speak this truth in love.

Prayer: God of mercy and grace; bless the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, that they may be fruitful in your sight. Amen.

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Come and rest

Mark 6_31

Mark 6:7-13, 30-33

The disciples returned from the mission from which Jesus sent them filled with excitement. They couldn’t wait to report to their teacher the many things they had done in his name. Pairing up and traveling from place to place, the disciples preached the message of repentance to all who would hear, cast out demons and healed the sick. Certainly there was plenty to discuss, but understanding their needs, Jesus invited them to come away to a place of rest.

Life as a disciple of Christ is much the same today. Those who are engaged in ministering to the sick, hungry, homeless and lost find that there is seemingly no end to such mission. Even the people of God who come weekly to worship often lean heavily upon those called to ministry. Even still, the passion and excitement displayed by the twelve is paralleled by today’s disciple. Similarly, just as with the twelve, seldom is there a day when such a disciple may take full advantage of finding a desolate place to rest. Even in that desolate place, the disciple loves those whom God has placed in his charge; he cares for the sick, tends to the needy and prays for the flock. The notion of rest seems unattainable, yet Jesus realizes and understands their needs.

Following the boat that carried Jesus and the twelve to that “desolate” place was a great crowd. When Jesus saw them, he had compassion and called his disciples to give them something to eat. What followed was perhaps one of Jesus’ most powerful miracles. Not only did Jesus feed the multitude, he fed the twelve. As we continue to trust and follow our Lord, Jesus continues to feed us with the truth of the gospel, the compassion of God’s love and with food from heaven provided in abundance. The blessing of being in ministry and service in the name of Christ is such that as the disciple grows tired, Jesus fills them with power, even when the desolate place is not so peaceful.

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, bless us in our work of the gospel, and grant us rest in you. Amen.

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Who is Jesus?

Mark 8_29Mark 8:27-38

Who do you say Jesus is? If you took a piece of paper and a pencil to write down an answer, what would you write? Most certainly, many would write down the word Messiah. Others would write the word Savior on their paper. A few might write Lord and some might write Lamb of God. There are many other attributes for Jesus that could be written, but what do all these things mean? When asked by a non-believer, can Christians fully define who Jesus is?

In our text for today, Jesus asks, “Who do the people say I am?” The disciples respond with several answers, but none are correct. Then Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” Peter declares he is the Christ, the Son of God. Following Peter’s confession, Jesus explains more concerning the Son of Man. He must be handed over and suffer. He must be put to death then rise again. And any who would follow him must deny themselves and follow his example of love and service toward neighbor. That’s the answer to yet one more question; “Who do you say you are?”

Saved by the innocent blood of Christ and claimed by God in baptism, you are a precious child of God. You are one whose sins are forgiven. You are one who has received the promise of eternal life. The way we proclaim Jesus as the risen Christ is through the love we are called to show our neighbor and by the deeds we perform addressing the needs of those whom God has placed within our midst.

Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, God incarnate. He is the one whom, as the Apostle Paul said, “God made to be sin, he who had no sin.” This Jesus bought and redeemed us, not with silver or gold, but with his own precious blood. Through him only are God’s people saved.

Understanding this, the question remains, people of God, “Who do you say that YOU are?” The answer cannot simply be written on a slip of paper. The answer to this question can only be revealed as we give thanks to God for his grace through Christ Jesus, and serve the God we cannot see by loving and serving the neighbor we can see.

Prayer:  Gracious God, lead us by the example of your Son, that we may be reflections of his love. Amen.

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Together in faith

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5

Christians today certainly face doubts and fears. So, like many in the early church, Christians today benefit from the encouragement of other believers. When left on their own, even the faithful risk becoming distant and inactive in matters of worship and fellowship. The world offers too many alternatives to living a life patterned after the example of our Lord Jesus.

At every turn, the powers that defy God lay in wait to snatch the believer from the community of faith. Worldly temptations meant to lure believers away from heavenly things become stumbling blocks. Relying on the self only, even the most devout can set their minds on earthly things rather than seeking God’s kingdom first. This is the great challenge to the faithful while living in a world fallen in upon itself. In such a world, we often rely on the faith of others.

The church certainly faces issues of complacency; many are not as active as we ought to be. Others become lukewarm in their faith. Yet, living in a community of faith, the Holy Spirit strengthens God’s people through their hearing the gospel. The epistles of Paul, along with the other biblical authors continue to encourage Christians throughout the world. We are strengthened by their words, for theirs are the Word of God.

Prayer: Strengthen your church, O Lord; bless the community of those who call upon your name. Amen.

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Follow him

Matthew 16:21-28

I am sure most people have played “Follow the Leader.” It is a simple game, but it can become quite complicated if the leader heads in a direction the rest of the players do not want to go. Would you follow the leader if he walked along the edge of a steep cliff? Seeing such a path filled with extreme challenges is a stumbling block, especially if following the leader means giving up all you have and heading to Jerusalem to be killed for the sake of others. But that is exactly what Jesus did and he calls people to follow him along this same path.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Our Lord calls his people to be living sacrifices, unselfishly denying ourselves, placing the needs of others ahead of our own. Only when we do this can we truly say we are following our leader.

There are many false leaders in this world. They make empty promises not intended to be kept. They cannot forgive sins, heal our infirmities, or grant us everlasting life. Only through Christ can people enter the gates of heaven.

Prayer: Lead me Lord Jesus, and give me the will to follow you. Amen.

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Luke 8_50

Luke 8:40-56

Jairus is a man with authority, yet he recognizes his limitations. For the sake of his daughter, Jairus yields to the authority of Christ and begs him to come, but there is an interruption. Another person in need of a miracle also reaches out to Jesus.

How often do we encounter such interruptions? How many times might we feel Jesus is otherwise preoccupied, busy elsewhere and putting off our urgent need? Out of control, our life seems like riding a roller coaster and anything that delays Jesus’ response makes us even more frantic. As Jairus waited for Jesus, things grew worse. News came that his daughter had indeed died. Jairus lost hope; his faith faded into despair. But with Jesus, hope is never lost.

As we continue along our earthly journey, fear and faith seem to walk alongside. Circumstances do not always go our way. Fear takes hold; illness, loneliness, grief and loss come to the forefront. In all of these, we reach out in faith to Christ for help, yet sometimes it seems interruptions block the path to wholeness. Jesus says. “Do not fear, only believe.” Behold, God is with you.

Prayer: Comfort me, O God, that I may feel the power of your love. Amen.

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Show us your ways

Ephesians 2_5

Ephesians 2:1-7

Once while on vacation, my wife and I were enjoying the scenic back roads of North Carolina. We planned our day using the road atlas I had owned for several years. The plan was to get from point “A” to point “B” in time for dinner. Unwittingly, we ran into a problem. The paved road we are traveling, marked on the map as a state road, gradually became a gravel trail leading deep into the woods. I had confidence in my out dated map, but it wasn’t long before we were faced with a decision; follow the map, or listen to the voice inside our heads encouraging us to turn around.

Paul reminds the people of God that once dead in our sinfulness, all have traveled the road of disobedience and selfishness. It is a familiar road, and if left to ourselves, we would choose this road most often. Along this road the “prince of power in the air” strives to lead humanity away from God. All too often those who follow such a road are confident in their decisions and become convinced it is the right path.

Paul is clear; God rescued us from earthly powers through Christ. Through the teaching of the apostles, Christians are afforded the example of Christ like living. Jesus himself provided the example for all to follow. Turning to Scripture, which is our unfailing guide and never outdated, we can recognize the path of righteousness. Even as we find it difficult to follow such a path, God promises to strengthen us and lead us by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Show us your ways, O God, and lead us on the path to righteousness. Amen.

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Matthew 26_71

Matthew 26:69-75

Discipleship is an aspect of Christian living that is gaining momentum within the Church today. As greater emphasis is placed upon the willingness and ability for believers to share their faith with others, the relationship between God and his people grows deeper and stronger. A life of discipleship takes time, it takes effort and it is never lived alone. Most of all, one who lives as a disciple of Jesus Christ must understand that, even as challenges arise and failures occur, God’s redemptive mercy and grace is stronger than any stumbling block we might encounter.

Peter walked with Jesus for three years. He heard his teaching. He witnessed his miracles. Yet when the greatest challenge to his faith presented itself, Peter shrunk away from his opportunity to proclaim his devotion and love for Christ. Instead of providing a bold witness, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. But God’s saving work was stronger than Peter’s denial. Through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter found redemption and became a powerful witness for the gospel.

Because we are sinners, not every opportunity to share faith will be met with a disciple’s bold witness. Certainly, there will be times when we fall short. But God’s grace is stronger than our shortcomings, his mercy will always overcome our sin, and the redemptive work of Christ will restore the sinner to faithfulness. And so we tell others of God’s saving grace made available through the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Prayer: Gracious God, forgive me when I fall short of your glory, and make me a bold witness to your grace. Amen.

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What is fear?

Psalm 46:1-11

What is fear? That is perhaps a question that most of us have not pondered. Certainly, we have asked ourselves why are we afraid and what is it that we fear? But when is the last time you asked yourself, “What is fear?”

Everyone is afraid of something. When Abram went to Egypt he was afraid Pharaoh would kill him and take his wife Sarai to be his own. When Moses was called to lead the Hebrews from bondage, he was afraid he would be ineffective and rejected. He begged God not to send him. And when Jesus’s twelve disciples were threatened by a storm on the sea, they feared for their lives, even while Jesus was sleeping in the boat. Given these examples, I believe we have an answer to our question.

Fear is the absence of trust in God that he will act according to his promises. When we have complete trust in God to provide for us and protect us, we have no need to be afraid. With so much going wrong in our world, so many instances of violence and disease, our trust belongs in the Lord. Only God has the power to overcome the evils that surround us. He is our refuge. God is our ever-present help. Therefore, do not be afraid. Be still. Trust God.

Prayer: Give me faith to place my trust in you, O Lord, that I may not be afraid. Amen.

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Community in Christ

Acts 2:42-47

Each year, the National Geographic Channel airs a series in which ten competitors are deposited in a wild and desolate location somewhere around the globe. The purpose of the journey is to find out which of them is able to survive the longest in the wild while being totally, as the title would describe, Alone. The competitors have no contact with anyone. Only if they radio for assistance would they hear another human voice, but such a call means their odyssey comes to an end.

Being alone is contrary to the life God would have for his people. In the beginning God created Adam but soon afterward made for him a helper and companion. Throughout the ages, God has blessed the human family that people may live in community with one another. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains that, for believers, community is a gift of God’s grace.

Not all live in such community. Many believers are dispersed throughout the world and live among those who have not believed Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Yet, our God calls some Christians to love and even live among their enemies. Speaking the Gospel of Christ to those who do not believe provides the building blocks of faith, which in turn serve as the seeds that sprout and grow into the fellowship of faith.

God does not intend for his people to live alone. Filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, believers have what is needed to introduce others to Christ. Hearing the Gospel bring others to faith, and through faith, Christ establishes the community of believers.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank you for the community of your people and the faithful relationships we share with others. Amen.

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