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 Refreshing Drink

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

John 7:37-52 (NIV)

As humans, water is a vital element in our lives. Scientists tell us that approximately sixty percent of a human adult body consists of water. They also state that a human is only capable of surviving an average of three days without water. After that point there will be a noticeable physical color change due to reduced blood flow. Within five days the organs begin to shut down, including the brain. Our bodies need regular intake of water. If you have ever experienced or known someone who has suffered dehydration, you can attest to the need for regular consumption of water.

Not only does our physical body have a need for water but our spirit also needs to drink. Jesus raises this need in the passage from the Gospel according to John. The Lord tells anyone whose spirit is thirsty to come to him. He promises those who do will drink from the living waters, the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is ever flowing and readily available to supply the soul. Jesus’s promise creates controversy among the people, even the Jewish leadership. They spend time arguing over whether Jesus is a prophet, the Messiah, or a fraud. Instead of coming to Jesus to drink from his Spirit, they argue about the source of the water which will satisfy their spiritual thirst.

Before we rush to condemn the people in the temple courts on that day, let us realize how often we behave the same way. Jesus continues to daily extend the invitation for a drink from the Spirit. Instead of rushing to receive, we in the church argue over the source and nature of the source. As individuals, we can even have the argument with ourselves. How many times do we miss out on the refreshment of the Spirit because of our own disagreements and doubt?

Just as our bodies require regular and consistent drinking of water in order to survive, our spirits require drinking from the living waters of Jesus Christ. Failure to regularly come to and receive from the Spirit will result in a change of our own. The most drastic outcome could be the death of our spirit.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” – Jesus

Finding the Lost

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

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

Matthew 18:10-14 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

A Gift

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

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

The Need for Preparation

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

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

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

Mark 1:1-8 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

A Light

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NIV)

I am not one who has ever had an issue with the dark. Sure there have been a few occasions when I have been spooked while in the dark but generally it has not been one of my fears. The issue which I have experienced in regard to darkness is the practical aspect of how it makes it easier to run into unseen objects or trip due to changes in the  landscape. These days most of us carry a flashlight in our pockets because our smartphones have built-in flashlights. So if I am in the dark in an unfamiliar location, I turn on my phone’s light to avoid injuring myself.

The people of Israel had been living in a spiritual darkness because of their sins. When Isaiah speaks the passage which we read for today, this darkness has led the Israelites to stumble and wander aimlessly. Isaiah makes the announcement that God has brought a light into their darkness. This light comes in the form of a person who will resume the leadership of the people, leadership like that of King David. Isaiah lists titles for the new leader which reveal the characteristics of his leadership. God will increase Israel and bring joy to the people. The new leader will restore justice and righteousness. God has brought an everlasting light into the lives of the people.

This passage is often read in many of the worship services this time of year. I especially enjoy reading this passage when we are in the days of the year which have fewer hours of sunlight. I am reminded that in the times of my own spiritual darkness, the Lord shines a light into my life which ends my stumbling and leads me safely to a new period of life. The darkness cannot last forever because the Lord’s light lasts forever. As you consider Isaiah’s words today, remember the light which shines in your life. Remember this light has come from the Lord and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Leadership Transitions

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

John 3:22-30 (NIV)

One of the hallmarks of the way in which our nation is governed is the peaceful transition of power following an election. This is a closely followed tradition at every level of government from the President of the United States to the members of our local school boards. This type of transition sets our nation apart from many other countries. Nations which have adopted a variety of forms of democracy have emulated this quality of the United States. Even in very contentious elections, this hallmark has always been honored. The transition of power is a well-orchestrated process. How smoothly this occurs is based on the character of the individual in leadership prior to the election.

The passage from John’s gospel is about a transition of power. Prior to John baptizing Jesus, John had been the heralder of the Messiah and the one chosen to prepare the people for the coming of God’s kingdom. John was a leader who drew many people to himself. Once Jesus had been baptized by John and had begun his ministry, the process of transition was placed in motion.

Today’s passage brings Jesus in close physical proximity to John. Both men were continuing to teach and baptize the people who came to them. Because they were in the same area, a person came to John to point out that more people were going to Jesus than John. This is when we get to see the nature of the leadership of John. He reminds them that he had already said he was not the Messiah but instead he was to point others to the Messiah. Then John indicated that it is proper for the transition to take place. Jesus is to be the one who gathers more people to him while John’s influence is to diminish.

Transitions can be easy or very difficult. When the transition involves power and influence, the nature of the transition is amplified among humans. John, the Baptist, provides an excellent role model for leaders. Instead of fighting to retain power, control, and influence, a strong leader acknowledges the need for transition. The leader gracefully lessens the role which they now play and welcomes the new leader. This is the model which has been followed in our country since George Washington. This is the model of a servant leader. May we always see this model followed by all our leaders this day and forever more in our nation.