A Recognition

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

All of us enjoy when our work is acknowledged and we receive kudos because of that work. Receiving a pat on the back encourages us to continue in our efforts. If we are the supervisor or manager of people or volunteers, taking the time to stop and express our recognition of extra effort by one for whom we are responsible is vital. A person who feels unnoticed and underappreciated will only do the minimum amount of work which is required. There is no motivation to go beyond if the efforts are not acknowledged.

The Gospel of Mark opens with the introduction of John, the Baptist. John tells of one who is coming and this one will be greater than John. Jesus then arrives and seeks baptism just as so many others have. In the midst of this baptismal rite, Jesus sees the heavens appear to open, an image of a dove descend upon him, and then hears a voice. The voice affirms Jesus as the Son followed by an acknowledgment that Jesus has pleased God. This occurs before Jesus has even begun the work of his ministry. Jesus has received a pat on the back before entering the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for a large number of days. It appears that God knew how important it would be for Jesus to hear recognition prior to undertaking a very difficult challenge.

Imagine hearing the words recorded here from a heavenly voice, from God. Realizing how motivating recognition from a human is to us, receiving similar kudos from our Creator would have to build us up in tremendous ways. The truth is that we already have received such recognition. Scripture tells us that God knew us before we were even born. God has already affirmed us as God’s daughter or son. God’s demonstration of love and grace has already told us we please God solely by being who we are. So we respond and are motivated to daily make the effort to be who God already sees us to be.

Connected to the Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

John 15:1-16 (NIV)

Learning how to care for the landscaping around our new home over the past year has been enjoyable. We have some trees, bushes, and plants which we never had in our home state. Even the grass is a different type in our adopted state. There are a few plants with which we are familiar with but the growing season and climate difference required us to learn how to care for them in different ways. Overall, we have been successful and truly have enjoyed the new beauty which surrounds us daily. The basics of caring for the landscape remains the same to ensure healthy plants. Everything needs good soil, sufficient watering, and pruning at times. All of the plants, trees, shrubs, and grass on our property are connected in some way. Daily to weekly care depending on the season is necessary.

Jesus uses the imagery of a vine and branches when talking to his disciples in today’s passage. He points out the importance of remaining connected in order to be fruitful. He also mentions the value of being pruned to remain healthy and even more productive. Then Jesus explains about the fruit which we are to produce. The fruit is love. Jesus describes this love which starts with the Father, flows through Jesus to us, and then we are to share the love with the world around us. The imagery of the vine and branches fits well with the view of flowing love.

This passage is familiar to many and is filled with important lessons. The first lesson is regarding the importance of always being connected to the Lord, our source of love and sustenance for our lives. The next lesson involves pruning and cutting away. God does some of this but we should do some of it as well. Removing the aspects in our lives which cause us to be unhealthy and unable to produce love is vital to our well-being overall. The third lesson here is the reminder that we are intended to share the love which we have received from the Lord. In nature, if a fruit tree’s fruit is not harvested, the fruit will either fall to the ground or remain on the tree and rot either way. If we do not share the love fruit which we have, it will be wasted as well.

Remain connected to the Lord and produce fruits of love which you share with the world.

A New Year Prayer

This New Year’s Day, I have chosen to share a prayer as today’s devotion instead of using my normal format. My understanding of the Gospel is that it all is about love. The problems between people can be traced to an absence of love demonstrated in action and not solely in emotions and/or words. So I found this prayer which shares my hope for this new year.

A NEW YEAR PRAYER FOR LOVE

Dear God, thank you that you are a loving, gracious God. Thank you that you’ve offered us forgiveness and the gift of new life in you. Thank you that your love is perfect, it never fails, and that nothing can separate us from your love.

We pray that our lives would be filled and overflowing with the power of your love so we can make a difference in this world and bring honor to you. We ask for your help in reminding us that the most important things are not what we do outwardly, it’s not based on any talent or gift, but the most significant thing we can do in this life is simply to love you and choose to love others.

Help us to love as you love. Fill us with your Spirit so that we can choose what is best. We are weak Lord, but we know also, that even when we are weak, you are strong within us. Thank you that it is not all up to us. Thank you that you equip us to face each day with the power of your love, your forgiveness, and your grace. We love you Lord, and we need you today, and every day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Source: Christianity.com

This is my prayer for each of you and the world. May 2021 be filled with the love from the source of all love, God.

Finding the Lost

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11] 

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:10-14 (NIV)

Lately on an online neighborhood communication group to which I belong, there appears to be a large number of posts about lost dogs. Being a dog lover, every time I am alerted to a new post about a lost dog, I read the post carefully to see location and description in case I am able to assist. I know that if either of my dogs wandered away, I would do everything in my power to find them. Seeing a new post causes me to have empathy for the family who is missing their beloved dog. The frantic feeling which I would have in such a situation is surely what the family is experiencing. All of this is due to the great love which I have for each of my dogs, and dogs in general.

Jesus speaks of such a love, not for a dog but a sheep. In fact, Jesus is using a sheep as a symbol for a human being. Jesus states that just as a shepherd would leave a flock of ninety-nine to find a sheep who has wandered off, God would search for the one person who has wandered away from God. The shepherd searches for economic reasons and an attachment which may have formed. God’s search is purely a result of the great love which God has for every single individual. Trusting that the many will be safe within their fellowship, the Lord goes to endless length to find the wandering one.

I am so grateful that Jesus told this story. This brings me great comfort and assurance of the depths of God’s love for me. While I have spent much of my life in the fellowship of the many, I have also had times when I have wandered away. There have been times in which I have lost my way in life. There have also been times when I have left the path of my faith journey while wandering aimlessly. Only by the Lord finding me have I been able to return.

How about you? Can you recall when you have been part of the 99? When have you been the wandering sheep?

When I see an update on any of the posts concerning the lost dog, if the update confirms the reunion, I rejoice. I can only imagine the relief which the family must be feeling. The feeling of great joy must fill the home once again. Jesus says that when the lost one is found, there is much happiness. I am sure the Lord celebrates greatly each time one of us who wanders is safely returned.

The Wait

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Psalm 130 (NIV)

Many individuals who I know struggle with waiting, myself included at times. Whether it is waiting for a package to arrive, or getting on a ride at an amusement park, or getting a tax refund, waiting can be difficult. The anticipation is overwhelming. Living in a society where instant gratification is more of norm than an exception causes the struggle of having to wait even more intense for many of us. The Israelites had to wait hundreds or thousands of years to see God’s promises fulfilled and we struggle with waiting fifteen minutes in the Starbucks drive through for our peppermint mocha.

The psalmist writes about a time of waiting. A cry comes out for the mercy of the Lord. Having the knowledge that the Lord offers forgiveness leads the people to promise to respond in service to the One. Yet the people wait in eager anticipation for the unfailing love and full redemption from the Lord. The Israelites wait.

We live on the other side of the waiting. In Jesus, the Christ, God has fulfilled the hopes of the psalmist. The unfailing love of God has been personified in Jesus. Full redemption has not only come to Israel but to all of us, Forgiveness has been guaranteed and exemplified by Christ.

For us, there is still waiting. Our waiting is no longer on the promised forgiveness and redemption but instead on the fullness and completion of the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus’s birth brought the kingdom to earth. Since Jesus’s arrival, the Lord has been about the work of fully establishing the kingdom through those who believe, servants of the Lord.  By sharing with others our own experiences of God’s unfailing love and forgiveness, we assist in establishing the kingdom. We share not only in words but by how we exemplify that love and forgiveness in our living.

As we wait, may we serve by assisting the Lord in establishing the kingdom on earth. May we share our hope with all.

A Gift

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

Each person brings something special into our lives. Like snowflakes, there are no two people exactly alike. When I was younger, I loved playing in the snow and taking time to look at the snowflakes as they fell onto my mittens. There was a beauty in the snow. My love for the snow decreased as I grew older, especially when I became responsible for removing it from sidewalks and driveways. But I still can see beauty in freshly fallen snow and each individual snowflake’s uniqueness. This can be easily translated to the beauty found in the individuals in my life and the unique offering they present to me which enriches me.

Our passage from John’s gospel begins with one of the most quoted verses of the Bible. Yet, it is important to look at this passage in its entirety. John tells of God’s love for all creation. This love is demonstrated by the sending of the Son into the world. The Son comes not to condemn but to save. If a person chooses to reject this salvation by not believing in it, then the person has condemned themselves. Then John presents an image of this action using light. He indicates that failing to believe is wishing to remain in the darkness instead of coming into the light. The reason for this is to hide their evil deeds.

Jesus brings a unique gift to us. He offers to us something which no one else can offer, the chance to be saved from the effects of our sin. However, just because he presents this gift it is our choice to accept it or not. We must step into his saving light but will not be forced to do so. If we choose not to believe in what Jesus gives from the love of God, we will remain in darkness. John presents we may make this choice if we feel exposing our deeds is too high of a cost. If this is the case, remember that grace abounds greater than any sin and forgiveness is promised.

Let each of us accept the gift given from the love of God when the Son was sent into our lives. May we all step out of the darkness and into the light, letting the Lord remove the sin which is hidden in the darkness.

The Need for Preparation

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (NIV)

Road construction is something which most of us attempt to avoid as much as possible. It is part of a modern dilemma. Drivers wish to have smooth roads upon which to drive. We also desire enough roads appropriately placed to allow us to avoid congestion and easily access whatever destination is our target. Because of these wishes and desires, road construction is necessary. Part of this work requires preparation. If it is a new portion of road, the ground must be cleared and prepared before the chosen material can be laid. Repairs and resurfacing of roads for smooth and safe travel requires preparation as well. At times broken portions must be removed and/or holes filled as to be ready for other work. Road construction is preparing the way for safe, efficient, and smooth travel.

The opening verses of the Gospel of Mark speaks of preparing the way. Here Mark tells of John, the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus’s ministry.  John had an unconventional way of living.  John shares with the people the importance of repentance so they can receive the forgiveness which the Lord comes to offer. He also indicated that the one who will be coming has a power and authority greater than his which sets up a transition. The people who come to John are being prepared for the ministry of Jesus which will bring new perspectives and a new way of living.

Like the roads and the people coming to John, the Baptist, we at times need to have our hearts, minds, and lives prepared. Jesus offers to us a way of viewing life and living which is unlike the views of the world around us. Just as John lived in unconventional ways, Jesus asks us to adopt unconventional perspectives and actions. Love is to replace hate, judgment, and revenge. Our neighbors are not our enemies but our sisters and brothers in the Lord. Instead of doing whatever necessary to be greatest we are to be servants to one another.

What have you done to prepare yourself for Jesus’s way of life? What other preparations may be necessary?

Being Judge

5Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 7:53-8:11 (NIV)

How easy it can be for a person to judge another person. Whether we know the individual or not really does not matter in many situations. We seem to learn this type of behavior from a very early age. One of the most judgmental and cruel locations in a child’s life is the school playground or lunch room. This behavior is acquired by watching adults in a child’s life. Judging others usually is an attempt to make ourselves feel better about our own lives, a mental game of “I may be bad in (fill in the blank) but at least I do not (fill in the blank) like that one.

Our passage for today is a controversial one. Many ancient copies of John’s Gospel do not include these verses, The debate about the authenticity of the words I will leave for a different discussion. The message is an important one for us no matter how the debate is settled.

Jesus is teaching in the temple courts when Jewish leaders bring an adulterous woman before him. They quote the law concerning adultery and the prescribed punishment of stoning to death anyone who is caught in this sin. The leaders want Jesus’s opinion on what to do with this woman accused of adultery. They are hoping to trap Jesus in his response so they can eliminate him. Jesus attempts to ignore them but since they are unrelenting, he gives them a response. He tells them that the one(s) who have not sinned should cast the first stone(s). Slowly everyone leaves with no stone being thrown. Jesus tells the woman that since no one else has condemned her, he would not condemn her. Then he dismisses her and instructs her to leave sinful behavior.

What a message regarding judgment. We stand ready to cast stones at others, maybe not in a physical sense but instead verbally or by our behaviors toward others. Often we do so without any knowledge or understanding of the individual’s life. Their ability to control whatever we are judging does not matter to us. All that we care about is our dislike or disapproval of whatever we are judging. Yet Jesus’s words echo in our ears, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” We, like the Jewish leaders, must walk away without comment or action. None of us can live up to the requirement which Jesus places before us.

The good news for every one of us is contained in the words Jesus tells the woman, “Then neither do I condemn you.” Jesus could/can fulfill the requirement he placed before the leaders and us. However, he chooses not to exercise his right. The Lord does not condemn us but offers forgiveness because of love instead. The challenge to respond to such grace is for us to leave our sinful behaviors.

Any Time

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV)

Many of us share one frustration in common, few of us are happy when the weather forecasters get the forecast wrong. The ability to accurately predict the weather into the future is a relatively new phenomenon. Humans developed the ability to notice trends in nature as signs of general weather and season changes but the accuracy was limited. With the enlightenment which opened a deeper understanding of natural science, the accuracy began to be more consistent and the amount of time into the future for the predictions grew longer. Continued advancement of scientific knowledge and the introduction of technology improved weather forecasting to the point we now know up to seven days in advance what to expect. While the forecast has a day here or there when it is not 100% accurate, if we are honest, the predictions are more often right than wrong. Yet, we crave more accurate and precise predictions.

There is another type of prediction which all believers in Christ crave. Since the time of Jesus, people wanted to know when God will fully establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians addresses this desired prediction. He echoes the words of Jesus when he tells the people that no one knows the date or time. Paul reminds them that part of the establishment of the kingdom on earth will be the return of Jesus. He indicates that many will be caught unaware. These people will be participating in all types of activities which make them unprepared. Paul tells the believers to live in the light and be alert for Jesus’s return. He says that when Jesus comes on a cloud with power and glory, the believers should stand proud for their redemption is at hand.

Our desire to know exactly when to expect the events of the establishment of the kingdom comes from a combination of fear, control, and need for preparation. We fear that we have not been acting and behaving in ways which would please the Lord. We desire to control the events in our lives. Our wish to be prepared is because of our wish to place our best before God. However, there is nothing we can or not do which will make God love us any less. Our fear is unwarranted. Yes, in response to God’s love and grace, we should strive to be our best in following Jesus’s teaching but this will not include or exclude us from the kingdom. We anticipate the kingdom fully on earth but the exact day and time is irrelevant because we are the redeemed children of God already.

Imagine

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Isaiah 2:1-4 (NIV)

In 1971, former Beatles member John Lennon released the song, Imagine, which he had co-written with Yoko Ono. The song seems to respond to the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a soft ballad which speaks of a much different world. As you listen, you are invited into what feels like a daydream, a hope that all which divides the human race and leads to violence would be gone. Throughout history there has always been a longing for the end of division and violence. Lennon and Ono’s words have been uttered in some form by every generation. Even today, we have the same longing which seems out of our reach. However, this longing will be fulfilled just not by human hands.

The passage from Isaiah addresses this longing and the path toward its fulfilment. In these words, Israel and we are told that the Lord will establish a temple at the highest visible point on earth. All people will be drawn to this temple because it is there where God will teach all God’s way, a very different approach than what humanity has followed. Here God will settle the disputes which humans have with one another. The end of conflict which the Lord establishes will bring about a time when instruments and skills of war will become unnecessary. Instead the tools necessary to care for the needs of humanity will become the priority. All of this sounds a lot like the song of Lennon and Oko.

Isaiah, Lennon and Ono invite us to join them in a vision, a daydream. This vision is one of harmony which can only be fully established by the Lord. While we daily strive for the elements of this vision, it is only possible if we learn and adopt the Lord’s way. The Lord’s way focuses on love which is demonstrated in our actionis and words. A love which overcomes the conflicts in our lives.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I am not the only one. I hope someday you will join us and the world will live as one.”

Lyric from Imagine by Lennon/Ono