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?

Need It The Most

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17 (NIV)

When there has been a major accident or natural disaster, emergency responders have to check every person to evaluate and triage them. This allows the first responder to determine who needs care first due to the nature of their injuries. They also then are able to determine what type of care is going to be the most beneficial. Medics on a battlefield were the originators of triage. This tool is vital due to the limited time and resources which is available to save lives. Clearly the patients who are in the greatest need of care which can lead to survival receive priority in care decisions. If a person is not in danger of dying or will not benefit from care, they are made as comfortable as possible. These are not easy decisions to make even with the excellent training our first responders receive.

When we read the passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks of triage. Jesus first calls Levi, the tax collector and an undesirable to Jews, to follow him. When he eats with Levi, other tax collectors, and other sinners, the Pharisees question his choice of dinner companions. Jesus tells them that the sinners are the ones who need his help, not the righteous (triage). Jesus has done the necessary triage and knows where the greatest need is at this time. He has a limited amount of time so he must use it to fill the greatest need. The Pharisees are more concerned about image and entitlement.  This is a bit ironic since they do not even believe Jesus is who he claims to be but they wish to be Jesus’s honored guests at table instead of the undesirables. 

This passage makes a strong point to us. Gathering with and spending time with fellow believers provides us opportunities for growth and support. We may even expect our faith leaders to prioritize their time to be with us in order to meet our needs, Jesus would take some issue solely using these approaches. 

First, Jesus wants us to go to those who have the greatest need like he did in his ministry. We gather with fellow believers to recharge and strengthen ourselves but then are sent to those who need to experience the grace and love of God. Second, we invite those who the world labels to be undesirable to join in our fellowship and sit at table with us. Third, we support and encourage our faith leaders to spend their time and energy looking after the needs of those outside our fellowship. This is the example which Jesus has given us to follow.

One Household

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

One of the recurring themes of human history is division. Looking through the annals of history it is like watching the waves of the sea. One group of humans separate from another group for a number of reasons. There are times of deliberate breaking away, while at other times it is not by choice but out of necessity. These divisions can occur for philosophical or religious reasons. Practical reasons like a need for space or access to resources being depleted due to the group’s size may cause separation. Then we see groups reunite because the original impetus to divide is altered or no longer exists. The pattern continues indefinitely, apart then together then apart once again. Currently in our country there has been a growing division of our citizens. Calls to reunite are growing stronger. Only history will be able to determine which trend will prevail.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, we hear about the reuniting of two groups. A majority of the Ephesian believers were Gentiles, or non-Jewish. Paul writes to them declaring that in Jesus Christ the barriers between Jews and Gentiles are removed. While they had lived separately over thousands of years, Jesus has reunited them into one house. All are fully children of God’s covenant with the people. Every person has full access to the Father, Son and Spirit. The binding together of all people, accomplished by Christ, created one household.

Paul’s words make it sound so simple. Clearly God views us as one people. Yet we continue to see divisions of nationalities, races, philosophical ideals, faith and religious concepts, and political views. Is it possible to achieve a sustained sense of being one people? Yes, in some areas of our lives but not completely at this point. Is there notvalue in diversity? Absolutely! But like a jigsaw puzzle which has diverse pieces when connected together creates one picture, diverse people connected can create one people. God is our connection.  Jesus did not intend to make everyone the same. Jesus provided the avenue for us to understand that while we have differences, we are one people, one household, one redeemed collection of God’s covenant people.

Necessary Retreat

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Mark 1:29-39 (NIV)

There is nothing better than traveling to a secluded place where you can spend some time recharging. Most individuals spend a large amount of time occupied with work or some type of tasks. There is less and less downtime. The United States Bureau of Labor reports that most workers do not even use all of their vacation time each year. Even when we attempt some vacation, or downtime, our electronic devices keep us connected through emails and messaging applications. It is not uncommon for individuals to respond to work emails or have online meetings while on vacation. We need to start disciplining ourselves to take true times of retreat.

Jesus was not immune from having many demands upon his time. We read today that after spending a full day teaching in Capernum’s synagogue, he goes with four of his disciples to the home of Simon’s in-law. The woman was suffering from a fever. Jesus heals her and that evening is spent physically and spiritually healing many others. Truly an exhausting day of ministry.  Before anyone could seek him out the next morning, he awakes and went to a secluded place. He knew that he needed a retreat to recharge and be in conversation with the Father. When the disciples tracked him down, he was re-energized and ready to continue his ministry in nearby communities.

Jesus once again sets an example for us to follow. Early in the history of God’s people, God established a day of retreat each week when the people were told to take a sabbath. Jesus models for us this as an important part of his ministry. Research has shown us that our productivity and quality of work suffers when we do not have regular times of retreat. Our relationship with the Lord also suffers when we do not have regular times of communicating with and focusing on the Lord.

All of this serves as a reminder to deliberately take time to go to a secluded place. We should use this time to recharge physically, mentally, and spiritually. We can commune with our Lord while communicating in prayer.

Strength and Power

25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:25-31 (NIV)

The ability of long-distance and marathon runners to complete such long runs truly amazes me. I have never been an athlete or a runner of any type. How these athletes are able to go such distances without quitting or falling to the ground after a mile is beyond my understanding. To be able to complete a race takes strength, training and endurance. Similar qualities which can be necessary for times in one’s life.

The passage from Isaiah speaks of the qualities which I just ascribed to successful long-distance runners. First, Isaiah points out that God never is tired or weary. Then he speaks of the Lord providing the needed strength and power to the weary and weak. God understands the needs we have and is able to meet these needs. The tired are not only renewed but given so much that they are able to soar like eagles.

What truly comforting and encouraging words are shared in our passage today. Each of us has times in our lives when we are unsure that we can go forward one more hour, or even one more day. Life can beat us down and lead us to lose hope. Here we are reminded to place our hope in the Lord, the one who never grows tired or weary. God will not only carry us through difficult times but restore to overflowing the strength and energy for the next step in life. Imagine having so much that you are unstoppable in your soaring. It is possible if you turn to the Lord.

Source of Help

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)

There are times in life when one feels surrounded by troubles. These troubles can be personal in nature or may be in the world which surrounds us. When we are experiencing a time of trouble, we search for help in dealing with and overcoming the trouble. We may turn to family and friends. The trouble may be such that we need to seek out professional assistance like a doctor, a lawyer, a financial advisor, or a member of the clergy. If it is a societal issue, turning to an elected official or a nonprofit organization might be our best course of action. In troubled times, searching for help is the right thing to do.

The psalmist today reminds us where the best source of help can be found. The Lord is a proven source of help, strength and refuge. Even though God is always present, we can overlook this reality. As we recall the works of the Lord, we see reliability, dependability, peace, protection, and strength. It is important during troubling times in our lives to take the time to be still and remember God is God.

The Best

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NIV)

Actors, athletes, and musicians all know that to be successful they need to bring their best to every performance or game. This does not mean perfection each time but their best which they have available. It is fairly easy to tell when someone does not meet this standard. They may appear sluggish or out of sync. Bringing one’s best does not always mean winning or getting accolades. If a person brings their best though, the individual can walk off a stage or a competition venue feeling better than if this does not occur.

The passage for today is a familiar one. Usually the focus is on the act of water becoming wine by Jesus. Today let us focus instead on the words which the banquet master speaks to the bridegroom. He praises the bridegroom for not following the normal practice of serving the expensive wine first and the cheaper wine after the guests are drunk. The master views the wine served after the planned wine runs out as the best. The bridegroom, with Jesus’s help, has brought his best to the party.

Are you bringing your best? When you are at work or go about your duties for the day do you bring your best? How about in your relationships? Does your spouse or partner receive your best regularly? Are your children and family receiving the best from you? What about your neighbors, friends, and co-workers? No one is perfect or is able to do everything without mistakes all the time but are you working on consistency in bringing your best? Do you only bring your best when it will be noticed?

Then there is the relationship which you have with the Lord. Is the Lord getting your best everyday or are you saving that for just when you are in a church building? The Lord definitely deserves our best every day. Instead of getting what we have at the end of the day or week, the Lord should receive the choicest of what we have available. This was the concept of the first fruits which the Hebrew people followed. The Lord is not requiring perfection from us, just our best.

Moving Faith

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 12:1-7 (NIV)

Relocating one’s life is never easy. A few years ago, my husband and I relocated to a different city and state from a state where both of us had lived most of our lives. We were leaving friends, family and familiar places due to a new employment opportunity. Packing and preparing for the move was stressful. Grief accompanied our stress because we knew we would greatly miss what we were leaving behind. However, we felt the Lord was blessing us and providing for us some amazing opportunities. We would have each other and our wonderful dogs. There was nothing easy about making the decision or going through the process of moving. We trusted that the Lord would be with us and guide us through it all. We were not disappointed and never felt abandoned by our Lord. God has definitely blessed us in all of the relocation.

As challenging as own move may have been at times, Abram’s move had to have been even more challenging. God told Abram to pack up all which was important to him and leave the country of his family and origin. He was told to go to a land which he knew nothing about. God promised Abram that he would be blessed in doing so, not just him but his descendants who would create a great nation. In addition, Abram would be a blessing to all people. Without a moving truck or any of our modern conveniences of travel, Abram packs everything and journeys over 7300 miles. An  amazing show of faith and trust in God.

Having the level of faith and trust which Abram demonstrated is almost impossible. I ask myself often if I could ever put into action that amount of faith and trust. Do I have that level to even claim? I also think the writers of Scripture tend to smooth out the rough edges of stories like this one. I am confident there was hand wringing, intense conversations with Sarai and Lot, and some periods of doubts before the group even began the journey. In addition, there most likely were feelings of regret and a desire to return to Harran along the way. The key is the faith which Abram, Sarai and Lot demonstrated even when the relocation may have made no sense or been extremely difficult. Following through was a true statement of faith.

The only possible way to have faith and trust at the level demonstrated in this story is receiving it from the Lord through the Spirit. Left to our own ability, we would be unable to demonstrate such faith. The Spirit is the one who gives us strength to build a level of faith. The Spirit places the seed of faith in our lives then nurtures it and guides it into maturity and growth. God provides all which we need, we need to commit to work with the Spirit in achieving the faith of Abram, Sarai, Lot and all their household.