Confidence has a profound impact on the decisions which we make and the actions which we take. The converse of this is that a lack of confidence has a profound impact in both in an opposite manner. A person with confidence is more decisive; a person lacking confidence is often hesitant. There is a boldness which is visible with a confident person. The unconfident individual frequently is meeker. The source of confidence varies and often is dependent upon the dynamics of any given situation.
Today we read a portion of a usually familiar Biblical story, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. This story takes place during the time of Israel’s exile. The Israelites were defeated and were scattered as slaves throughout the Babylonian kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. The king creates golden idols and issues an edict that when signaled, all people in the kingdom must kneel before and worship the idol gods. The king had given authority to three Israelites which caused jealousy to arise among the Babylonian leaders. When they saw the three Jewish men not following the king’s edict, the leaders saw on opportunity to rid themselves of the three men so they reported the disobedience to the king. When questioned by Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego showed confidence in God and their faith. They were confident that God would save them from the fiery furnace since they remained true to God’s command. God was the source of their confidence.
Having confidence in a dangerous situation can be difficult. The three men in the story had to choose if they would be faithful to God or follow the king’s order so that their safety would be guaranteed. Faced with a similar situation in which you must choose to be committed to God or save one’s self from a dangerous situation, what would the choice be? You may not often be in a predicament which threatens you physically but what about the times where your reputation, status, or power may be threatened? If you have confidence in God and in your faith, your decisions will reflect that confidence.
Throughout human history, humans have been on a quest for the idyllic way of life. This quest has led us on a search for Nirvana, Shangri la, Eden and many other “paradises” with different names throughout history. There is a vision of a place where all creatures, including humans, live in harmony. The search for a place where there is an ample supply of everything which a person could possibly need. This place is void of strife and grueling labor. As much effort and time has been dedicated to this quest, the claiming of such a place remains elusive from a physical and spiritual standpoint in this temporal world.
In the vision which Isaiah relates, we receive a glimpse of the place which has driven humans on the quest. Isaiah describes a mountain where creatures interact in a harmonious way. The vulnerable do not suffer at the hands of the stronger and/or more lethal. This vision harkens us back to the time before humanity attempted to be in full control. We see how God intended all of creation to exist. This passage also provides assurance that this state of existence will occur again at some point.
Humans, often unknowingly, always strive for what is part of God’s plan. We search for purpose because God intends all to have purpose in the world. We search for a place to belong because God created us to be interwoven into the fabric of creation. Seeking love is our need to experience the love in which we were created by the love we know as God. Living in harmony without strife and labor is how God intended us to experience life so we search for the place where this may be our reality. God promises us that this reality exists where God is and so we strive to be in the full presence of God.
When I was a young boy growing up in the church, there was a song which we often sang during Sunday School opening gatherings, “Peace Like a River.” One of the verses in the song says, “I’ve got love like an ocean.” I would sometimes ponder what that amount of love might be like. I always came to the conclusion that it was love which was boundless. Even though at that age I had never actually been to an ocean, I had seen images on television so the idea that you could not see the other side of the ocean from the beach upon which you stood gave me the boundless image. The image of wave after wave hitting the beach and rocks also created for me the endless waves of love coming upon me.
At the conclusion of the part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we read from today, Paul speaks about praying for them. In his prayer, Paul says that since the people are rooted and established in love, he asks that they be able to understand how wide, long, and deep Jesus’s love is for them. This love goes beyond their knowledge. He also indicates that this love is the full essence of God.
Reading what Paul tells the Ephesians brings to mind the images from my childhood Sunday School song. Taking hold of such a boundless love seems impossible. Realizing the vastness of this love brings an overwhelming sense of acceptance, security and great joy. Imaging Christ’s love lapping over one’s self over and over provides comfort and warmth. May you come to the understanding of Christ’s love for you being like an ocean!
Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? When given a challenge, do you see it as a problem or an opportunity to learn? For many of us, it often depends on the specifics of the situation as to where we fall along the line between these options. During times of challenge and struggle, the temptation to look back and view our previous circumstances in a grandiose way is real.
This passage regarding the Israelites occurs in the midst of their journey from Egypt to the Promise Land. God had appointed Moses to be their liberator and guide. The people had suffered under the current Pharaoh which led them to cry out to God for help. God sends Moses to negotiate the release of the Israelites and when that fails God allows Pharaoh and all of Egypt to suffer until Pharoah relents. Then God protects and saves the Israelites when Pharoah pursues them. Now they are in a location where food is scarce, the weather is uncomfortable and they are becoming weary of the journey. As people are prone to do, the Israelites begin complaining. They blame Moses for all of their woes. They view their time in Egypt to have been much better than their current circumstances. They forget the suffering which they had experienced while in Egypt.
We can often fall into the same trap which the Israelites did in the story of their exodus. Our memories can be altered by our current circumstances. The “good old days” in our memories often remove the negatives of our situation in those times. Instead of being grateful for what God has done to bring us where we are, we complain about the challenges which we now face. Our memories fail us about how we begged God for help and now we ridicule the help which we have received.
Each step of our journey contains positives and negatives. We have an opportunity to grow with each challenge facing us. Our God is with us on the journey, ready to assist whenever needed. Let us be grateful for each step of our journey. Let us remember how the Lord has taken us from where we were to where we are now. Trust that the Lord is already preparing us for the next step. May complaining be transformed into rejoicing.
People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.
Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.
Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said,
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.
Socrates was considered to be one of the wisest philosophers and teachers of Ancient Greece. He created a method of teaching and discovering which was based on a series of dialogues between himself and his pupils. A subject is chosen and the dialogue commences. As wise as Socrates has been purported to be, he is quoted as saying, “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” This humility seems to indicate that Socrates understood his limits.
Humans have limits. This truth is evident in Paul’s words found in the letter to the believers in Rome. Paul indicates the human weakness and inability to even pray correctly. But Paul states this is not a point of despair for us because the Spirit intercedes for us. The One who intimately knows the will and thoughts of God also knows us intimately. Where we are unable to utter, the Spirit communicates in ways beyond us. This is done because God desires all aspects of life to work toward the good of us who love God and are called by God.
Much like Socrates, when we take an honest inventory of our knowledge and abilities, we are deeply aware that as gifted as we are in these areas, we have so much farther to go. Paul’s words to the Romans bring comfort to us in the midst of such a revelation. Having the assurance that we have God constantly working on behalf of us even to the point of interceding in our weaknesses and prayers, provides us a boost in life. Our God, who is powerful enough to create all we see and cannot see, is tirelessly working to bring good to us. What amazing love is this?
Today as I was looking at some Christian artwork, I came across a picture created by Yongsung Kim (click here to learn about the artist.) As I viewed the picture, the story of Peter attempting to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33) came into my mind. Then I began to consider the many times I have needed Jesus to reach into the water and pull me up in life. View this picture and share your thoughts.
1. What do you notice about Jesus?
2. When you see Jesus’s hand, what thoughts come to mind?
3. When have you needed Jesus to reach into the water for you?
Dogs are terrific animals to have as pets. Their loyalty and bonding with their human families create a sense of security. Each dog has its own personality which becomes visible in a relatively short amount of time after they enter a home. A dog is keenly attuned to his/her human’s voice, routines, and emotions. The dog is able to identify their human even before seeing them with their eyes. Where a cat shows a high level of independence, a dog appears to be very dependent upon the owner.
In today’s passage, we encounter Jesus in the temple courts during the Festival of Dedication. A group of Jews are asking Jesus to plainly state whether he is the Messiah or not. Jesus indicates that he has demonstrated the answer but they failed to believe since they were not his sheep. If they were his sheep, they would recognize him. He continues by telling them that his sheep will receive eternal life and never be taken from him.
Jesus uses the image of sheep because most of his listeners had sheep which they tended or were familiar with owners of sheep. Today, I imagine Jesus would reference dogs instead of sheep because few of us own or are around sheep. The concept of recognizing the owner applies with whichever animal is used.
We are to be Jesus’s sheep/dogs. Jesus has claimed us through the acts of love on the cross. As his own, we strive to recognize Jesus. This recognition develops as we see the Lord in the lives and actions of others. Hearing his voice in the words of other people and seeing his love in the midst of actions taken are how we see and hear him. As we witness and join in these things, we follow the Lord. Being one of the Lord’s own offers us eternal life. We have security in this life and what follows because nothing or no one can snatch us from the Lord.
My mother was one who taught her children that once you begin something you stick with it until it is completed. There might be times when I wanted to quit because it became too difficult or I did not like it for some reason but neither were reasons enough for mom. This lesson of carrying something through to completion has served me well in my personal and professional lives. The satisfaction when you finish something is very rewarding.
At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we read of his gratitude for the support and sense of satisfaction which he has experienced through the people. He also tells them that he has been praying for them and the joy they bring him. His prayers include the desire for their continued growth in the Lord. In the midst of all of this, Paul declares, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:6)
The declaration which Paul makes to the Philippians applies to us. God is definitely not one to quit or give up. This is evidenced in the continual times God made a covenant with the Hebrew people only to have them break it and a new one have to be started. The Lord began in each of us a work which the Lord declared to be good. From the beginning of our lives, God has continued to shape and guide us toward the person we were intended to be. Each day, the Lord works with us as we learn, grow and struggle. Never will God give up on a single one of us or walk away, leaving us unfinished and incomplete.
What a true comfort to have the knowledge of God’s continued work in us. We never have to fear abandonment. We also do not have to be seen as perfect because we are the Lord’s work in progress. Our failures and mistakes are to be viewed as part of the process not as the point of ruin. God is faithful to the work begun in each of us. God is not a quitter.
Think about a time when you have been chosen to deliver good news to someone else. The occasion may be the birth of a baby, the engagement of a couple, or the return of someone who has been away for an extended period of time. In my own life I have had the pleasure of delivering such good news many times. Having this opportunity creates excitement and high levels of joyful feelings. These experiences are definitely more enjoyable than being the bearer of bad news.
Isaiah, and all the other prophets of God, were most frequently delivering messages filled with bad news. The passage for today is one of the exceptions to the trend. Isaiah declares that he has been chosen to share some good news with the people, especially the poor, broken hearted, captive, imprisoned and mourners. The news he has to deliver is that their fortunes are changing. No longer are they to suffer and be made low but now they are going to be as mighty as great oaks on full display for the Lord.
As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to be ones to proclaim good news as well. Each of us have experienced times when God has lifted us from troublesome situations. We have had times when we have been low and have suffered at the hands of others. The Lord provided healing and restoration from these experiences, sometimes through the work and words of others. Sharing these experiences with individuals makes us like those great oaks of which Isaiah speaks. Our anointment to bear good news is found in the words of Jesus, “Therefore go…” (Matthew 28:19). We are to share the news that the Lord has changed our situation in life and will do the same for them at the right point.