Faith and Trust

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43 (NIV)

Sometimes in life, taking the first step can be the most difficult thing to do. Near the small town of Spring Green in southern Wisconsin is an attraction known as The House on the Rock. This attraction opened by Alex Jordan in 1960 is a house built on top of a rock chimney. Jordan began collecting an array of exotic and unusual items to fill the house once it was constructed. A feature which he included in the design of the house is known as the infinity room. The room extends without any support 218 feet over a scenic valley and is composed of glass planes on the sides for an amazing view of the valley. Taking the first steps into the room can cause anxiety and fear as the movement of the floor can be felt. A person who has faith in the design and construction of the room is rewarded with a spectacular glimpse of beauty below.

The healing stories in today’s passage are familiar to many. The Bible has a number of healing stories, especially in the accounts of Jesus’s ministry. Healing stories can be somewhat problematic because they lend themselves to easily being misinterpreted. Too often the focus of interpretations is on the actual act of healing when in reality the purpose of telling the story is often to communicate a different message.

Today’s story contains a message regarding taking the scary step of believing. In the first healing story, a woman who has experienced many years of bleeding uncontrollably takes a step of faith and reaches out to touch Jesus’s cloak. She is confident that in taking this action she will no longer suffer. The second healing story involves the daughter of a synagogue leader. The leader comes to Jesus believing he could prevent his daughter from dying. The message in both their stories is not found in Jesus healing but in the two people who believed that Jesus could heal. They exhibited a trust in Jesus. Each of them took the somewhat scary step of approaching Jesus. In their actions we see a demonstration of faith and confidence in the Lord.

For us today, the question is do we exhibit the same level of faith and confidence in the Lord? Would we take the step of approaching the Lord? Too often many of us try to take care of items on our own instead of approaching the Lord. Why is that? Do we not trust that the Lord is able to help? The woman and the leader clearly thought Jesus could help. Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

Our Shelter

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

Anyone who lives in the areas of our country which regularly experience tornadoes, knows the importance of having a strong shelter when a tornado approaches. The unusual results of a tornado passing through an area shows the power and unexplainable damage which a tornado has the potential to do. Shelter is important in other times of natural disaster as well.

The psalm for today declares the truth of God being a shelter, or refuge, for us when trouble enters our lives. Images of natural disasters are presented as representatives of life’s troubles. The psalmist points out that where God dwells there is protection, nothing can withstand the power of God. Even wars and the instruments of war are subdued by God. So we can silence our fears and relax in the knowledge that God is THE God.

There are many situations in life that can devastate us. Our fears come from experiences which we have had and others which we have witnessed. At times, our fears can overwhelm us. During these times, the psalmist reminds us to be still. Our first step should be to acknowledge God is God. Then we recall the many times when God has provided shelter and protection. This psalm can be assuring to us that when God resides in our lives, we have the guarantee of God’s protective power which can overcome anything in life.

Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:10-17 (NIV)

Football players experience powerful hits to their bodies during a game. These hits come from other players, from their attempts to prevent opponents from advancing, and from hitting the ground in the course of play. Because of all of this hitting, protective gear has been developed to reduce injury to the player’s body. Advancements in the development of this gear have reduced injury and lasting damage but there still is a need for more improvements in this area. Helmets, shoulder pads, leg pads and specialized pads all play an important role in protecting the player.

Paul talks about the importance of protection in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He speaks to them about putting on the armor of God. Often when we hear about armor, we think in terms of battle and offensive attack. Paul is not intending an offensive here but rather a defensive stance. He describes God’s armor as the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes/sandals of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. It is important to note that all of these items find their origins with God. None of the armor pieces are forged by human effort but are gifts from God. They are designed to protect the wearer from a spiritual attack, not an attack by humans. The enemy is a spiritual force, humans are not the enemy.

Like a football player, we cannot expect to wage a battle without proper protection. The belt of truth holds us together. When truth surrounds us, we have stability. Christ has given to us the righteousness which we use as our breastplate. This righteousness protects our heart from being attacked. The footwear which provides a firm foundation for us is found in the good news of Scripture. Our faith in the Lord allows us to fend off the attacks aimed at us. The knowledge that we are saved from a sinful nature defends our minds and thoughts from becoming negative. Through the Spirit, we are able to slice through our bindings and the confusion of the world.

Every day put on the armor given to you by the God who loves you beyond comparison. When you do, your defense against all which is evil will be strengthened in ways only possible with our Lord.

Faith on the Water

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

One spring day when I was in college, a friend invited me  to join him on a sailboat which students could check out from our college’s recreation department. I had never been on a sailboat before but thought it would be fun to be on the lake. After getting the boat from the recreation shed, we carried it to the lake and proceeded to get out on the water. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. I followed my friend’s instructions as we tacked and jibed across the lake. We were in the middle portion of the lake when the breeze died. Since it was a beautiful afternoon, we decided to just float until the breeze returned. Then we noticed some dark clouds moving towards the lake from the west. Having no oars with us and being a few thousand feet from any shore, even farther from where we began, I started becoming worried. My friend assured me that the wind would return before the storm moved in and we would get back. Short bursts of wind allowed us to move some but still did not get us close to shore. My friend now became concerned and we began to paddle with our hands. The storm was approaching as we paddled. Right before the rain began, we made it close enough to shore to get out of the boat. We tugged it along by rope until we reached the college. I learned what it is like to be on the lake with an approaching storm.

We hear of a storm when the disciples and Jesus are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee in today’s passage. The disciples became fearful as the waves and wind increased. Jesus is not concerned as he sleeps in the boat. The disciples wake Jesus who promptly commands the storm to calm. Then he asks the disciples why their faith did not alleviate their fear. They were amazed by his power.

Having faith in my friend’s sailing ability led me to go out in the boat with him. My trust in his abilities waivered as the storm approached while we stranded one the lake. It is easy for us to have faith when everything is going well and as planned. Our faith can waiver though when an impending storm comes into our lives. We can question the Lord’s ability to keep us safe. During such times it is important for us to recall the many times we have been kept safe by the power of our Lord. Remembering these times will assist us in strengthening our faith. The Lord truly does have the ability to keep us safe in the storm.

Kingdom Seed

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:30-34 (NIV)

Have you seen one of those cartoons in which a character takes a small snowball and sends it down a snow-covered hill? As the snowball moves down the hill, it gathers snow and momentum, enlarging in size. Usually the enlarged snowball picks up other characters and items along the way. The scene often ends with the huge snowball smashing into something at the bottom of the hill which sends the accumulated characters and debris flying through the air. The increase in size, momentum, and accumulation is the image which I place before you today.

Our passage from the Gospel according to Mark presents a scene in which Jesus is teaching one of the crowds. Here Jesus is providing imagery in an attempt to help the people understand what the Kingdom of God is like. A mustard seed is the object Jesus brings to their minds. He points out that it is one of the smallest seeds in creation. Once the seed is planted and grows, it becomes a plant large enough for birds to rest in for shade from the heat.

When we consider this imagery in relation to God’s Kingdom, we can imagine the planting of a small seed in the lives of individuals. After planting, the seed grows and becomes stronger. Momentum builds in the growing process. The size increases as it gathers from around it. Eventually it becomes a haven and a place of rest for others. 

This imagery places each of us in three distinct roles within God’s Kingdom. First, we are the ones who receive the starting Kingdom seed. The seed is planted in our lives where we nurture it and encourage it to grow. Second, we become the planters of the seed. We bring it into the lives of others and introduce them to our Lord’s Kingdom. Third, as the Kingdom expands and enlarges, we become like the birds and find shelter from the heat of life within the Kingdom. The momentum of God’s Kingdom increases in our world.

Prayers for a Nation

On this day when our nation inaugurates a new President and Vice President. I have chosen to pause my regular Scripture-based devotional. Instead, I am moved by the Spirit to share two prayers from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Common Worship.

The first is for our newly elected and installed government leaders:

O Lord, our governor, your glory shines throughout the world.  We commend our nation to your merciful care, that we may live securely in peace and may be guided by your providence.  Give all in authority the wisdom and strength to know your will and to do it.  Help them remember that they are called to serve the people as lovers of truth and justice; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The second is a prayer for our nation:

Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage.  Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will.  Bless our land with honest industry, sound learning, and an honorable way of life.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.  Make us who come from many nations with many different languages a united people.  Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there might be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.  We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

May our prayers be heard as we begin on a new path.

(Photo courtesy of kiplinger.com)

Trust

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 146 (NIV)

Trust is something which is earned. Through consistent actions, an individual can acquire the trust of others. Children are quicker to trust others because they have less life experience involving people not demonstrating actions consistent with their promises. Many of us may struggle on both sides of the trust coin. We see unfulfilled promises and lose trust in individuals and human institutions. At times, we are incapable or choose not to fulfill promises which we make to others. In both situations, trust crumbles. We become wary of others. Once trust deteriorates, it takes time and effort to rebuild.

The psalmist speaks to us today about trust. In the words of the psalm, we are warned not to place our full trust in humans and human leaders. Even the most trustworthy have a finite ability to follow through on plans and promises. The psalmist tells us to place our trust in the Lord. This is followed by a litany of how the Lord has consistently cared for the most vulnerable of our society. By listing these consistent care patterns, the psalmist is making a case to support trusting in God. In addition, we are reminded that the Lordis faithful, the faithfulness endures forever because the Lord is forever.

All of us experience challenges in our lives. The Lord places individuals in our lives to assist us during these times. Institutions have been created out of necessity to address larger issues. The important thing to remember is humans, and the institutions which we create, have limits and will fail at times. Trust in these will be broken, rebuilt, and then broken again. Only the Lord can be trusted every time. First, and foremost, trust in the Lord who is forever and consistently provides for all in need. As the Lord works through humans and our institutions, good is provided. A healthy perspective is important. Remember, humans and institutions will have times when they do not carry out the Lord’s work and will break our trust. Only God can be trusted completely so place your trust in the Lord.

Living the Calling

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NIV)

At Christmas time, one of my favorite holiday classics is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart. The message of this movie is important for each of us to hear on a regular basis. Stewart’s character, George Bailey, learns that if he had not lived, the world would be in a much worse situation. His contributions to the world have made positive impacts on many lives within his community. George had a position to fill which benefited individuals, families, and the community as a whole. The additional message from the movie is that when a community joins together, amazing outcomes are possible.

Paul’s message in today’s passage is one which Clarence, the angel, demonstrated to George Bailey in the movie. Paul tells us to live a life which is worthy of our calling, our calling as children of the one God. We achieve this by striving for unity within the Spirit, requiring us to humble ourselves, be patient, and bear with each other. In addition to striving for unity, we are to mature in our faith. Jesus has given us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to aid in our maturing. Third, Paul states that as members of the body of Christ, each of us are to do our part (like George Bailey) to grow and build up the community of faith.

During a time of difficulty and an uncertain future, George Bailey thought the world would be much better if he were no longer alive. There may be times when we have similar thoughts. George learned that these thoughts were wrong. He found that he had a calling in life into which he must live in a worthy way. No one else was given this unique calling. Each of us is the same. We each have a part for which we are chosen in the community. We must use our position to create unity. We must mature in our faith so that we understand our call and community better.

A New Thing

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

Isaiah 43:16-21 (NIV)

During the winter months, I long for spring as most people do. Winter is when the earth takes a rest. The trees are without leaves. The ground is dry and lifeless. Most of the flowering plants sit idle and without their beautiful blooms. Some animals either hide away in warm shelters or leave for the opposite hemisphere which has warmth. A longing for new life grows each month through the winter season.

New life is the theme of Isaiah’s words today. God announces that there is now a new thing coming into being. Just as in spring when we see sprouts coming out of the ground and buds form on the trees, something new is bursting out. God asks if we perceive it. In anticipation of spring, one must keep watch to see glimpses of new life in creation. The things which happened before are no longer like leaves which fell to the ground in the fall. But on the same branches which held last year’s leaves, buds are forming, a sign of life. God will provide the necessities for life to be sustained in this new thing. Creation responds with praise and gratitude.

What is the new thing the Lord is doing in your life? How is the Lord preparing the way for you? Is the Lord providing you the essentials to make this new thing happen? How are you responding?

“See I am doing a new thing!” says the Lord.

“Do you not perceive it?”

Forgiven

Today, I have decided to introduce a different type of devotion.  I want to walk you through a process to hear a message that the Lord intends for you today.  Below is a copy of a painting drawn by artist Thomas Blackshear.  He entitled this piece of art, “Forgiven.”  You may have encountered this painting previously.  Today, I want you to spend some time with it and reflect upon it.

Start by looking at the image for five minutes.  Observe what details stand out to you.  You may wish to take time to write some of these details down.  

What do you notice about the man who Jesus is holding?

What does the hammer and spike communicate to you?

Is there anything about the man’s jeans which stands out?

What about the flowers in each of the bottom corners of the painting?

Notice anything about the ground on which they are standing?

Why is Jesus holding the man in this way?

What contrasts exist between Jesus and the man?

Is there anything missing from the painting which you would add?  What and why?

How does Blackshear use light and what does that communicate to you?

What is the overall message you receive from this painting today?

What do you wish to say to the Lord at this time?