Living the Calling

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NIV)

At Christmas time, one of my favorite holiday classics is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart. The message of this movie is important for each of us to hear on a regular basis. Stewart’s character, George Bailey, learns that if he had not lived, the world would be in a much worse situation. His contributions to the world have made positive impacts on many lives within his community. George had a position to fill which benefited individuals, families, and the community as a whole. The additional message from the movie is that when a community joins together, amazing outcomes are possible.

Paul’s message in today’s passage is one which Clarence, the angel, demonstrated to George Bailey in the movie. Paul tells us to live a life which is worthy of our calling, our calling as children of the one God. We achieve this by striving for unity within the Spirit, requiring us to humble ourselves, be patient, and bear with each other. In addition to striving for unity, we are to mature in our faith. Jesus has given us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to aid in our maturing. Third, Paul states that as members of the body of Christ, each of us are to do our part (like George Bailey) to grow and build up the community of faith.

During a time of difficulty and an uncertain future, George Bailey thought the world would be much better if he were no longer alive. There may be times when we have similar thoughts. George learned that these thoughts were wrong. He found that he had a calling in life into which he must live in a worthy way. No one else was given this unique calling. Each of us is the same. We each have a part for which we are chosen in the community. We must use our position to create unity. We must mature in our faith so that we understand our call and community better.

Forgiven

Today, I have decided to introduce a different type of devotion.  I want to walk you through a process to hear a message that the Lord intends for you today.  Below is a copy of a painting drawn by artist Thomas Blackshear.  He entitled this piece of art, “Forgiven.”  You may have encountered this painting previously.  Today, I want you to spend some time with it and reflect upon it.

Start by looking at the image for five minutes.  Observe what details stand out to you.  You may wish to take time to write some of these details down.  

What do you notice about the man who Jesus is holding?

What does the hammer and spike communicate to you?

Is there anything about the man’s jeans which stands out?

What about the flowers in each of the bottom corners of the painting?

Notice anything about the ground on which they are standing?

Why is Jesus holding the man in this way?

What contrasts exist between Jesus and the man?

Is there anything missing from the painting which you would add?  What and why?

How does Blackshear use light and what does that communicate to you?

What is the overall message you receive from this painting today?

What do you wish to say to the Lord at this time?

Need It The Most

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

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

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

Mark 2:13-17 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

One Household

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

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

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

Ephesians 2:11-22

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

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

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

Necessary Retreat

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

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

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

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

Mark 1:29-39 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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.

The Announcement

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NIV)

Whenever someone of great importance arrives for an appearance or a speech, someone usually makes an announcement over the public address system as an introduction of the individual. When the Queen of England is arriving, there is either a trumpet fanfare or verbal announcement or both. Prior to the entrance of the President of the United States to a joint session of Congress, the Sergeant of Arms of the House says, “Ms. (Mr.) Speaker, the president of the United States.” Similar customs are followed in many nations throughout the world. If you have ever had the privilege of witnessing such an event, you know how everything seems to come to a halt when such an announcement is made.

The words we find in Isaiah this day has a similar, life-halting impact. We read here of God choosing to comfort the people and making an important announcement. God has chosen a heralder to prepare the people for the arrival of the Lord. While people and their works fade away, the promise of God endures forever. The announcement tells the people that the coming Lord will rule with power and gently lead the people. We understand this in light of the arrival of John, the baptizer, who introduces Jesus at the start of Jesus’s ministry.

For us who live on the other side of the fulfillment of what we see in Isaiah’s words, we know of the power and gentleness of the Lord. We see these things in the Gospel story of Jesus’s life and ministry. Yet this announcement still has purpose today. Upon hearing of the Lord’s arrival, we make the decision whether to welcome him into our lives or not. Do we allow the Lord to gently lead us? Are we welcoming the power of the Lord to enter our lives? If we have welcomed the Lord after hearing the announcement, then we become the heralders of the Lord for others.

The announcement has been made. God’s promise has been fulfilled. The Lord has arrived. Have you welcomed the Lord into your life? Are you now the one sharing the announcement of the Lord’s arrival with others?

The Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 2:1-11 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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.

Repurposing

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV)

Repurposing of items has become a true decorator’s unique talent. If you watch HGTV, many of the shows which involve an aspect of interior design feature at least some amount of repurposing. There even was a television show, Flea Market Flip, which features two teams who are given money, three projects and an hour to shop. The teams repurpose their purchases before bringing them to a flea market to sell. The team which achieves the largest profit is the winner. Taking something and changing it for a different use is creative. This may be done for economical reasons or to achieve a certain goal.

The Lord repurposes items regularly. Jesus takes bread and wine from the Passover meal and repurposes them to assist believers in remembering the giving of his body and blood. In the passage for today, God repurposes two items, a bush and the ground around the bush. God uses the bush to get Mose’s attention and for a communication tool. The ground is used to raise the significance of the words God would share with Moses. By transforming the ordinary, a holiness becomes attached to the items. The unique presence of the Lord at these times is what causes the ordinary to become holy.

This continues even today. A Bible is just a book with pages and words until we invoke the presence of the Spirit into our reading of it, then it becomes Holy. The elements of bread and drink are ordinary food items until we request the presence of the Lord at the table and then they become a Holy remembrance. The water is an element which comes from a sink tap until we seek the Lord’s blessing on it and then it becomes a symbol of sins washed away and a seal of acceptance into the family of the Lord. The place where we sit or stand is like any other until we acknowledge the Lord being present then it becomes a Holy place of retreat, learning and rest. The Lord can also repurpose our work and make it Holy work. 

Look for God’s repurposing in your life.  Then take off your shoes because you are standing on Holy ground.