Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

Light and Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)

Catching a sunrise can be a beautiful experience. As the darkness of the night gives way to the light of the day, there are types of colors and hues. Clouds which are on the eastern horizon can add to the color and the dazzling of the light. It is a fact that darkness and light cannot co-exist. The imagery of darkness and light have represented unrelenting opposition in our world. This is often referred to as black and white; black representing darkness and white representing light. You may have heard sayings such as, “They are as different as black and white.” or “They oppose each other like day and night.” Old Western movies would put the bad guys in black or dark clothing while the good guys would be dressed in white or light outfits. All of this exemplifies our view that light and darkness cannot dwell together.

At the beginning of the letter we know as I John, a discussion in regard to light and darkness occurs. The author states that God is light and no darkness can abide with the light. The dynamic of light representing holiness and righteousness while darkness represents sin and unrighteousness is put forth. We are told that if we come into the light, Jesus’s blood will purify us from our sin (darkness). This is important because we cannot be in fellowship with God if we have sin. The writer also tells us that if we claim to be in the light and without sin, or have no need of Jesus’s purifying blood, then we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us or our claims. The hope is found in the reality that if we confess our sin, acknowledging our need to be purified, then God promises to forgive them and cleanse us of them.

Walking in darkness can lead to a host of problems. Darkness does not allow us to see the dangers and pitfalls which are in our path. We can easily stumble, fall and even do serious damage to ourselves or others. Walking in sin does not allow us to experience the fullness of our Lord. We can cause fatal damage to our spirit. By entering the light of God’s fellowship by confessing our sins, we take our first step into the light of God which is filled with forgiveness, grace and love. This first step is like when the first rays of sunlight break into night’s darkness before the first sighting of the full sun occurs. Before one knows it, the light completely dispels the darkness and the sun radiates light from above the horizon. Come into the light and leave the darkness behind you.

An Invitation

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)

Imagine receiving an invitation to attend a banquet. This banquet is being hosted by a very important and powerful person. The individual is known to have access to the finest food, wines and drinks known to humanity. You are also aware that the location of the banquet has been described as having unparalleled views, amazing furnishings and ideal weather. You are not required to bring anything or pay any sort of fee to attend. What you wear to the banquet does not matter because a special robe, exactly your size, has been prepared for you to wear once you arrive. Would you even consider turning down the invitation?

The passage which we have read today from Isaiah is part of a song of praise. The song speaks of God’s faithfulness to Israel. God’s protection of Israel from foreign enemies and the destruction of those foreign cities is lifted up. Then the words of the song switch to the telling of the Lord preparing a great banquet for all people. This is where our reading begins. The song moves from speaking about a great feast to God’s work in destroying death and its power over humanity. The Lord will remove the tears and disgrace of all people. The celebration then begins.

You have received an invitation to a banquet. The Lord has invited you to come to a celebration where death, tears and shame no longer exist. You know the host and the host’s abilities. The location has been described throughout Scripture.  There will even be people who you have previously known there. The price of admission has been provided. A special robe to cover all the dirty parts of your life has been made especially for you. Only one thing remains to be done, accepting the invitation. Will you?

Drought Relief

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV)

Droughts can be a devastating natural phenomenon. They devastate the plants and vegetation in the area which is experiencing the drought. A ripple effect then occurs. If plants, trees, and other fauna are no longer present, the food supply for animals including humans is gone. This can lead to starvation. The absence of plant life and lack of water can also cause major dust storms because there is nothing to keep the soil in place when the winds blow. An economic impact also occurs since crops and livestock are wiped out. This impact affects those outside of the agricultural industry as food supply dwindles and prices rise to record levels. Life suffers when the land is too dry.

The well-known story we find in Ezekiel today speaks of a dryness and lack of life. The prophet has a vision which entails him going to a valley filled with dry bones. While in this valley, God gives Ezekiel three messages to deliver. The first message is to the bones in the valley. This message is that God will bring life back to the bones. While the prophet delivers the message, the bones come together and are given flesh to connect them and create a body. The second message is to the breath of life. While this message is shared, the breath enters the reconstructed bodies and gives them life. The third message is to the Israelites. It is a message of promise; the promise that God would bring Israel back to life and return the people to the land of their ancestors.

There are times in our own experiences when we can feel lifeless and dried up physically, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually. The story of Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones can be an encouraging story for us during those times. It reminds us that when we are experiencing a drought in our life, God Is able to breathe new life into us. As God sends rain to a drought-stricken land, God will send us what we need to be restored. This is possible on an individual or a group level. The nation of Israel needed God to end their drought just as individuals within that nation needed it. Call on the Lord for new life whenever you are dry.

Family

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:12-36 (NIV)

Families are an interesting aspect of a person’s life. Families come in all sizes. The definition and structure of a family can be as unique as the individual members. Different cultures and periods of time generate varied understandings of family. Recently society has seen shifts in how family is perceived. The next generation is likely to witness other shifts in today’s perceptions. Some families are based upon dependability, reliability, intimacy, and love. In some experiences there is a much looser understanding of family where each member is independent and does not rely upon other members. Competition, envy, jealousy, and discord can exist within a family as easily as trust, support, and encouragement. Most people hope that their family will be the ones to stick by them no matter what but that is not always the experience.

The story of Joseph, Jacob’s son, is a story of family. The passage which we read today is the portion of the story where family is seen as jealous, envious and cruel. All but one of Joseph’s brothers had experienced enough of Joseph’s arrogance and the dreams which he would relay to them. These dreams placed Joseph above his brothers and since it appeared he was already their father’s favorite, this added fuel to the fire. A plot is made to kill Joseph as they see him approach them and the flock. Reuben attempts to rescue Joseph by convincing the brothers to throw Joseph into a cistern instead of killing him. Reuben’s plan prevails until an opportunity to earn some money comes along in the form of an Ishmaelite caravan. The brothers sell Joseph into slavery and they convince Jacob he was mauled to death by an animal by presenting a goat’s blood soaked robe. Instead of experiencing love, support and protection from his brothers, Joseph experienced hatred, jealousy and greed.

Family relationships can be complicated. Just because you share the same blood and possibly the same dwelling does not mean there is harmony, love and support. Sometimes you have to look elsewhere for these things. Even when life can look very bleak, there is a way the Lord can change the picture. With God being the perfect Father and Jesus the perfect brother, you have a source for support and love. God also brings other of God’s children into your life to walk with you during whatever dark times you may be experiencing. Each of us has a second family which surrounds us to either augment our natural family or fill in the gaps.  We also have a Father who is able to take bad situations and create good from them.

Reconciliation

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Colossians 1:19-23a (NIV)

Reconciliation is defined as “the restoration of friendly relations.” After the Civil War in the United States, the northern and southern states had to reconcile. Friendly relations were required if the nation was going to heal and move forward as a productive country on the world’s stage. Reconciliation can also be necessary among family members. When individuals become estranged from one another, there is a need to reconcile with one another for the family to become whole once again. Unreconciled relationships create a gap among people. It is as if there is a hole in the spirit of the person who has not been reconciled.

In his comments to the Colossian believers, Paul speaks of reconciliation with God. The reason for the need to reconcile is because our thoughts and behaviors stand often in opposition to the love of God. God is love so anything which cannot abide within that love is unable to exist in God’s realm. God chose to create a way for us to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is the means for reconciliation to occur. God decided to fully live among humanity in Jesus. At the right time Jesus became the reconciler by physically dying on the cross. He stood in for us, bearing our sinful thoughts and behaviors on his body. By doing this, he made us holy, free and innocent in the sight of God. Our thoughts and behaviors are now compatible with the pure love of God.

Now having been made compatible with God and fully reconciled in relationship, Paul says we are to continue in believing Jesus has made this so. He tells us to be unmoved from the hope found in this good news. Where we once were alienated from God, we now live in full relationship. This is the truth of the gospel and this truth gives us hope.

The Path and Father

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:1-7 (NIV)

Remember a time before GPS and navigation systems when you had to be able to read a paper map on your journeys? This past week a person posted on social media that this is how we came to call the passenger to the right of the driver the navigator. Whoever sat in that seat had the responsibility to follow the route on the map so the driver knew which turns to make and which roads to be on in order to arrive at the destination. Today we use GPS and applications such as Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps on our phones. Some newer vehicles come with navigation systems built into them. All of this allows us to know the path which we must take to get to the place we are going.

Prior to Jesus’s arrest, he is having a conversation with his closest disciples. He has been trying to prepare them for his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. They are becoming very unsettled and confused as the tension is building in Jerusalem. Jesus starts by trying to bring them comfort. He assures them that they can believe in him just as they believe in God. He tells them that he will return for them to take them to the place which the Father has prepared. Jesus even says they know the way to get to the place. Thomas assures Jesus that they cannot navigate to the place because they do not even know the destination. Then Jesus shows them the road map. Jesus is the road map. Since they know Jesus, they not only know the way but they also know the Father.

Thomas speaks so often on our behalf. We may feel like we have no idea how to get to the place which God has prepared for us. We do not know which road map to grab or what to put in our navigation system. How can we know the place when we do not even know the one who has prepared it and invited us? Yet Jesus tells Thomas and us that we do know how to get there and we do know the one who has prepared us a place. By knowing Jesus, we know this information and we know the Father. How we know Jesus is by hearing and reading the stories found in the Gospels. We expand our understanding of who Jesus is through conversations with other believers and with the Lord in prayer. When we know Jesus, we know the way, the truth, the life, and the Father.

Making Requests

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 25:4-11

We make requests of people all the time. As parents, we ask our children to put away their toys, clean their room, hang up their coats, take the dogs out, and the list goes on ad nauseam. In the work environment there are requests going both ways between employer and employee; i.e., employers request tasks to be completed, employees request time off. Everyday life is filled with examples of requests being made and being fulfilled or granted.

In the midst of Psalm 25, we see a series of requests being made. First is a request for the Lord to show us the Lord’s way. A request is then made for the Lord to teach the Lord’s truth. The requests continue with a desire for grace and mercy to be shown instead of our rebellious behaviors. The Lord is acknowledged for the way in which the Lord instructs sinners and guides the humble. Requests, confession and praise fill these verses.

These verses serve as a guide in regard to how we need to humble ourselves and seek the Lord. Each of us are aware of the times we rebel against the Lord. Those times when we choose to exert our independence so we can go the direction which we think is best in our lives. Often we discover that such rebellion leads to problematic results. This is when we must humble ourselves and make the above requests of the Lord. The first request should be for mercy, forgiveness and grace. Then a request to be taught, or retaught, about the Lord’s ways, paths and truth. Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we can be assured that these requests will be granted.

Make your requests of the Lord. Then humbly learn and strive to rebel no more.

God’s Plans

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)

When a young person prepares to graduate from high school, the standard question he/she is asked relates to their future plans. At “senior night” of whatever extra curricular activities the individual participates in, when they are being introduced with their parents, their future plans are usually included in the introduction. For some determining future plans is relatively easy but others struggle in determining their plans. This will be the first time when they are making life altering plans. It will not be the last time of making such impactful plans though.

Jeremiah sends a letter to the Israelites who have been taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The purpose of the letter is to deliver a message from God. At the start of the message God instructs the people to live normally in whatever city into which they are exiled. Then God’s message shifts to their promised return to Judah and Jerusalem. God then tells them that they will be brought back to Judah when the appointed time arrives. God says that there are plans for them to prosper, have hope and a future. When the people seek God, God promises to be found.

This is a valuable message for anyone who is in the midst of working on plans to hear. Even before we start planning, God has already made plans for us. These plans are intended to assist us in being prosperous. God intends to bring hope and a meaningful future into our lives. If while we are doing our planning we seek the Lord, we are promised a successful search. Then God will actively be engaged in our planning. The plans which the Lord has for us can be integrated into our planning process.

God has plans for you. Are you including those plans into your own?

Shining Light

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Lighthouses are truly amazing structures. They stand as sentinels along almost all sea coasts and on many islands around the world. Archaeologists believe that some of the first lighthouses were built in Egypt over 2000 years ago. They became a very important navigational tool for sailors. The lighthouse shines its light to warn of dangerous areas which can lead ships to sink. They also can provide a way of determining location. The lighthouse gives direction and safety to those on the open water who are coming toward shore.

In the midst of what has become known as Jesus’s Simon on the Mount, we find Jesus talking about salt and light. Today we focus on the light portion of the discussion. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. We cannot be hidden. Instead, we are to shine before others. Our ways of living are to lead others to glorify the Father. Our light is to provide safety and guidance for others. We are to live in a manner which guides others to the Father where they will find ultimate safety.

What Jesus says to the listeners and us can be intimidating. There are times and situations in our lives which we do not want others to see. During these moments, instead of brightly shining on a hill, we want to be hiding under the bowl. The concept that our words, actions and attitudes are to point others to God causes one to take inventory of those items. Often, in doing so, a person realizes that changes in the way one lives may be necessary.

Hear again the words of Jesus: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”