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.

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 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.

Making Requests

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us—[b]
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67 (NIV)

We are quickly approaching our Christmas celebration and the end of another year. Many people have been sending greetings to one another. Usually these greetings communicate a desire for the receiver to have a merry Christmas and a blessed new year. When people think about what would make a merry Christmas, they may consider time spent with family and friends. The stronger thought which enters many minds is the hope to receive just the right gifts. Similarly, a blessed new year conjures thoughts of no problems, being prosperous, and maintaining positive physical and financial health. What truly is a merry Christmas and a blessed new year?

The writer of this psalm speaks of blessings from the Lord. The psalm begins with a familiar benediction, a hope that God will be gracious, will provide blessings, and be present. The reason for this request is so that the Lord’s ways will become known. Then the requests continue with a focus on the praise of God. Concluding the psalm is an acknowledgement of what the Lord has already provided with an additional request that God continues to bless the people.

Reading this psalm, it almost appears like a Christmas request list from a group of believers. A list given to God instead of Santa Claus. There is nothing here which would be misaligned with the hopes of all of God’s children. Yet I am stopped in my thoughts by a set of nagging questions…

  • What am I doing to make this wish list a reality?
  • How am I seeking God’s face?
  • In what ways do I encourage others to praise the Lord?
  • Am I showing God gratitude for the blessings already given?

Maybe these questions might be yours as well. Take a moment to ponder these questions. How do you respond? Are there changes you may need to make? What do your Christmas requests to God look like? How are you working to fulfill those requests?

Our Deliverance

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

20 The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

Everyone of us has a variety of battles and difficult situations throughout our lives. Some of these bottles are physical in nature such as illnesses, disease, and injuries, Other battles can be mental ones like depression, low self-esteem, or feelings of inadequacy. While other battles might be spiritual ones for example, doubt, disbelief, and conflict of beliefs. Hopefully when we are engaged in these battles and difficult times, we cry out for assistance. Seeking qualified individuals to support us is the healthiest approach. Of course, our greatest support is found in the Lord. If we are open to the Lord’s assistance, others will be placed along our path to support and guide us.

The reading of a portion of today’s psalm speaks of the Lord’s assistance during a difficult time. A song of praise is being sung to the Lord. Deliverance from enemies, death and the grave is spoken of here. With great power the Lord enters the psalmist’s life. Rescued from difficult times by the hand of the Lord, the psalmist acknowledges the wonders of God.

Take a moment to reflect upon your own life. When have there been times in which the Lord has come powerfully into your situation? What about those moments when the Lord has interceded unnoticed and only upon looking back are you able to realize God was present? These times and situations can be during the battles in our lives. At times the battle we wage may be against ourselves because we can be our own enemy. Whatever the source and nature of our situation, we have a Lord who delights in each one of us. Our God stands ready to rescue and deliver us if we will allow it. Then we can join in this song of praise and declare the Lord’s mighty power.

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.

Sing Praises

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

Psalm 145 (NIV)

There are people throughout history whose stories are passed from one generation to the next. Julius Caesar’s actions and details of his life have been passed on through over twenty-one hundred years. Other historical figures who have had their achievements and thoughts told in stories from one generation to the next include: King Henry VIII, Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Nero, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Stalin, Hitler, Harriet Tubman, and the list goes on. This list does not begin to include individuals recorded in the Bible or other religious figures such as Buddha or Muhammad. Some of these people have songs written about them and their lives. These songs can shed a positive or negative light upon them.

The song which is our reading today is a song of praise. There is  commitment to praise the Lord daily. The greatness of the Lord is declared unfathomable. Generation after generation will tell the accounts of the Lord’s mighty acts. Each generation celebrates the goodness and righteousness of the Lord. The Lord shows grace and compassion instead of anger. All receive goodness from the Lord. The kingdom of the Lord endures forever in splendor. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. For anyone in need, the Lord is there. Anyone who cries out will be saved. All of this creates a beautiful image of the Lord.

Each day we are given  the opportunity to sing the praises of the Lord. We can create our own list of reasons to sing praises, just as the psalmist did here. We also have a responsibility to tell the next generation of the Lord’s work in our lives and in the lives of others. Our stories and songs should communicate to the next generation the character and nature of the Lord. May we speak the praises of the Lord for ever and ever.

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.