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.

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.

The Old Becomes New

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 (NIV)

As we sit on the eve of the new year, many of us hope for a better year. We once again are ready to celebrate a new beginning. The imagery used to symbolize a change in years is the image of an elderly man and a baby. Historians believe using a baby’s image to symbolize a new year can be traced back to the Greeks around 600 B.C.E. The elderly man is thought to be Father Time. Legend says that Father Time (the Old Year) hands over duties of time to the Baby New Year at midnight. In some ways, this can be seen as the passing of the old creation to a new creation.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth regarding the change of an old creation into a new creation. Due to God’s grace, the old, sinful nature of humanity is replaced by the righteous image before God. Christ is the one who assumes our sin so that we can become a new creation and reconciled to God. The old is gone and only the new remains.

Just as the old year fades away, our sinful selves can fade. God no longer takes notice of the sin which existed prior to our reconciliation through Christ. Paul tells us at the start of this passage that we should view each other in the same way. Having been reconciled, we now see only the new, righteous self who God has brought into being. The old no longer exists, only the new remains.

A Celebration

Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
    you have done wonderful things,
    things planned long ago.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
    the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
    it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
    cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
    is like a storm driving against a wall
    and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
    as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
    so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

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 25:1-9 (NIV)

This is the time of year when we are engaged in a lot of celebrating with a lot of food. The year in which we are in  has seen a lot more modification to our celebrations due to the pandemic. Still, many reports indicate that people are making a lot of food at home this year. Celebrations have moved from public venues to more intimate and private gatherings in homes. Either way, the celebrations continue.

Isaiah speaks of the greatest celebration yet to come. He shares how the Lord has broken down the ruthless powers of the world. The manner in which God has looked out for the disadvantaged is recalled. All of this leads up to the time when the Lord will prepare a massive celebration. Isaiah tells us that at this banquet, the best food and drink possible will be set before us. The party favors include the destruction of death and the end of sorrow. All will be honored and lifted up. He tells us that at this celebration the Lord’s saving actions will lead to great rejoicing.

Many of us long for an end of the pandemic. I am sure that when the virus finally is under control, there will be celebrations to the magnitude which have not been seen since the day World War II ended. Yet, even as large and impressive as our celebrating might be on that day, there is no comparison to the celebration of which Isaiah foretells. Try to envision singing and dancing of all people together without any conflict or animosity.  Let your mind taste the richness of the food and drinks of which you will partake. Imagine never having to fear illness, grief or death ever again. These are the promises of the Lord. Your invitation to the party is waiting.

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.

One of Us

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them,  fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:10-18 (NIV)

Over twenty years ago, Joan Osborne released a song entitled, “One of Us.” The lyrics as a whole can be a bit disturbing but Osborne asks some challenging questions which require responses from believers, especially me. The line of lyrics which always caused me to yell at the radio when I heard it is, “What if God was one of us?” I shouted each time, “God has become one of us!” My belief in the incarnation of God demanded me to respond to Osborne’s question in the song.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews stated the same answer. In the portion of the letter which we read for today, the writer explains that God has taken on our human flesh and blood. This reality allows many benefits, two of which are listed here. The first is that now we have kinship with God through Jesus. Our experience and Jesus’s experiences are now identical. Human suffering and temptation are no longer foreign to our God. Second, the human aspect of Jesus allows him to be high priest and make atonement for our sins. The power of death held by the devil no longer is over us.

We have an answer for at least one of Joan Osborne’s questions in her song… God is one of us! The incarnation is real. Our God has fully related to us. The Lord knows our human experience completely. The division between divine and human has been eliminated. We are the beneficiaries of this unique union.

Shelter

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27 (NIV)

The winter months remind us how fortunate we are to have houses in which we live. The winds and elements can be brutal this time of year. Our houses provide protection from whatever the weather may be like, not only in winter but throughout the entire year. The house in which we dwell also offers a sense of safety for us. We have less to fear from those who wish to do us physical harm or attempt to steal our belongings when we are secure inside our house. For those who do not have a house, they are susceptible to the ravishing weather extremes or those who would bring harm upon them. Fear is a constant part of their lives.

The psalm for today speaks of the protection which is found in the Lord. In reading this psalm, one can understand the desire and request made in verse 4, a request to live in the shelter (house) of the Lord throughout life. The reason for such a request is the knowledge that with the Lord is protection. Being with the Land also presents the opportunity to learn the correct way to live and remain safe.

The house, apartment, condominium in which we dwell provides protection for our physical selves. Living in the shelter of the Lord provides protection for our spiritual being. Like the psalmist we are led to give thanks and have confidence in what the Lord  has provided for us both physically and spiritually. We must also be mindful of those who, for whatever reasons, do not have access to these two forms of shelter. Wherever, and however, we maybbe able to increase access, our mission should be to make it so.

Be grateful for the shelter of the Lord and work to increase access for all people.

The Challenge

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

Tonight is Christmas Eve. This is the night which we set aside to remember the incarnation of God. There are many stories told about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Some of these stories come from the words found in two of the Gospels. Most of what we hear about events surrounding Jesus’s birth are a combination of Gospel accounts, the Prophets and some folklore. All of this together creates a beautiful and cherished story. The accuracy of the story has no bearing on the truth of the story — God chose to become human in the person of Jesus.

In the letter to the church in Philippi, we are reminded of this truth. Jesus, the Christ, is God choosing to humble God’s self and assume a human identity. The profoundness of this is not duplicated in any other faith tradition. As a complete act of love, God chose to allow Jesus to die on a cross to remove the burden of sin and the power of death forever. This human was then exalted to the place of highest honor in God’s kingdom and given a name above all names to whom every person will bow and declare as Lord. This is the purpose of the story told on this night. Declaring the truth described in the portion of the letter to the Philippians, is why we set aside tonight as holy and combine the words of Gospel writers, prophets and human experience into a story of love.

The challenge we receive this night is to become imitators of Jesus, the Christ. We are to humble ourselves and become servants to humanity. Our words and actions are to communicate the love of God as Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Our lives are to point to the One whose name is above all names. The world should see us bow before and declare Jesus Christ as our Lord.

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.

Being Restored

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126 (NIV)

Have you noticed that we seem to live in a disposable world these days? Everything made appears to be made in a manner which assumes a limited period of usage and it is often cheaper to purchase a replacement rather than have a product repaired. We expect to throw everything away then acquire the latest model. Unfortunately, this way of thinking has been extended to even humans. When a person seems to have outlived their usefulness, we usher them out of our lives just as we throw away an object when it no longer is useful. There is no longer a view of permanency or a desire to restore.

God takes a much different view. The Lord is all about restoration, especially of people. Look at the story of Job. In the end, God restored and increased all of Job’s life (See Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8, 42:10-17). The psalmist writes of God’s restoring powers in the psalm for today. We hear of the Lord restoring the people and turning their sorrow to songs of joy. The Lord does not discard the people but instead restores them.

These words can prove to be important at times in our lives. We can feel worn out and useless. Others in our lives can seem to have discarded us. Sorrow can surround us and hope can seem to fade. The psalmist’s words remind us that we can be restored. We have a God who is in the human restoration business. A God who finds tremendous value in us. The Lord will turn our sorrowful tunes and tears into songs of great joy.