Having Confidence

Read Daniel 3:1-18

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.

Eden Quest

Read Isaiah 11:6-9

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.

May your quest lead you to find God.

Like An Ocean

Read Ephesians 3:14-19

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!

Complaining

Read Exodus 16:1-3

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.

For Our Good

Read Romans 8:26-28

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?

Unfinished Work

Read Philippians 1:3-11

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.

Good News

Read Isaiah 61:1-3

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. 

Arriving At Success

Read Deuteronomy 8:10-18

Have you noticed what happens to some celebrities after they have achieved at least a moderate level of success in their skill area? Some of them abandon their past and focus solely on what they can now obtain. Unfortunately, some do not discipline themselves to act only in moderation. It becomes all about them and what they have been able to achieve with their gifts and talents. They forget those who have aided and supported them on their journey toward success. Some become users of people. They lack gratitude and any sense of humbleness.

The reading from Deuteronomy contains a warning to the Israelites. Moses is talking to them about the time when they will arrive in their new land and have become settled. He tells them to be cautious that when they are reaping the benefits of this new land that they do not forget God. Moses says they may be tempted to take all the credit for what they have achieved and obtained. He reminds them of all that God has done for them which made it possible to arrive at this point. Moses tells the people that all which they have is because of God. In response, the people are to praise the Lord and follow the Lord’s teachings.

The words Moses shares with the Israelites are valuable to us as we live today. Each of us have different times in our lives when we obtain some level of success and satisfaction. It can be easy for us to focus solely on what we have done to bring us to this point. We have probably worked hard, suffered, or sacrificed to arrive at our success. These times can cause us to forget the Lord’s involvement in our journey. We may also forget those who God has placed in our lives to assist us on the journey.

Moses tells the Israelites, and us, to remember God. We are to show gratitude. Our gratitude must lead to a response. The response towards God should be to strive to live what the Lord has taught us.

Remember where you came from and who helped you get here.

Positive Outcomes

Read Isaiah 48:17-19

As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice  which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.

This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.

From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.

Lord’s Prayer – Final Part

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today we conclude our examination of the Lord’s Prayer. If you have read the passage from Matthew, you have noted that in Scripture the prayer concludes with “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Roman Catholic version of the prayer uses this ending when the prayer is used in its liturgy. The Protestant church adds the line, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.”

There are a smattering of examples of including this line at various times in history. Some ancient translations of the Luke version include this ending referred to as a doxology. These ancient texts are not perceived as being reliable so modern translations of both Matthew and Luke omit this line.

The origin of this doxology is found associated with a prayer which David said in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13. It was a frequent custom of the Jewish people to use similar doxologies to conclude their prayers. Christians in the Eastern half of the\Roman Empire added the doxology when using the prayer at Mass. The Didache, a manual on how to live as a Christian, included the doxology. Even some Greek translations of the Bible included it. Queen Elizabeth I of England required it be used with the prayer to separate the Church of England from the Roman Catholics. As part of the Communion Rite in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church today, the doxology is included but not directly at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead, the prayer is followed by the priest continuing in prayer. When the priest finishes the additional petitions, the people say the doxology.

What does all of this mean for us today? By including this line, we are acknowledging that God is the one capable of answering our petitions. We are saying that God has established God’s reign in the world and our lives. We declare our belief that God has the power to accomplish all which we request. We add our praise to the glory of our God which has no end.