Answering A Call

Read Isaiah 6:1-8

There are specific events in a person’s life which will always be vivid in the individual’s memory. Those times when asked, “Where were you when…,” you are able to recall the minutiae surrounding the named event. For many of us, September 11, 2001 is one of those dates. When presented with the question, “Where were you when you were told that a plane had crashed into the side of the World Trade Center?,” the array of details come flooding back into a person’s mind. As we face the 20th anniversary of such a horrible day, the image presented on the television of first responders rushing into Tower One and then Tower Two come to mind. Women and men who rush into a place so many were trying to flee from is an act of sacrificial service. Many of those who responded would never be seen alive again as the world watched the two towers collapse.

The passage from Isaiah is the telling of the call of the prophet Isaiah. A spiritual vision is recounted in these verses. Isaiah sees the spiritual beings of the seraphim praising and serving the Lord. Being surrounded by such divine imagery and realizing being in the presence of the Lord, Isaiah confronts his unworthiness. But the Lord sends a seraphim to communicate that the Lord has made Isaiah worthy. Then the call is made for someone to go to be a worker in the world on the Lord’s behalf. Isaiah accepts the call by saying, “Here am I. Send me.”

This vision is one which can be easily applied to countless men and women who have accepted the call into a variety of forms of service. The list includes medical workers, educators, clergy, mission workers, social services providers, military personnel, and of course, first responders like the ones who rushed to the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. The list also includes the passengers on Flight 93 who attempted to regain control of the plane from hijackers heading to Washington, D.C. for another target.

On September 11, 2001 a call was given for someone to respond to the horrific attack on human lives. For some who responded that day, they had answered a previous call which led them to be firefighters, police officers, transit authority workers, and emergency medical technicians. On this particular day, the call was renewed and extended to ordinary citizens. The response was clear and unquestioned, “Here am I. Send me.”

Let us never forget those women and men who responded on that day. Let us seek to honor them by responding as willingly when the call is presented to us. May our admiration and gratitude for those who answered the call bind us once again in service to one another.

Majesty

Read Psalm 8

There seems to be very little which shocks or amazes people most days. Psychologists have created the term trauma and compassion fatigue to describe this. With so many reports of crime, war, and natural disasters, humans have become tired of expending energy on responding to all the events surrounding them. What would have led people to have reactions of shock and horror in previous generations, now seems to be so prevalent that many do not even take much notice. This can also be true on the positive side of life. Since we have gained an ability to explain nature’s beauty and magnificent aspects of creation, there is a tendency to not be amazed by our surroundings anymore. Even human inventions and structures have less of an impact upon us.

The psalmist calls us back to a sense of wonder in the words of Psalm 8. We are reminded to consider how majestic is our God. The power seen in creation and the praises of the least of us is truly amazing. Whether we are standing at the base of a great waterfall or listening to the voices of the very young, we are aware of the strength in all which God has created.

The psalmist then speaks what is probably the most amazing of all observations, the One who created the mountains, the large sequoias, and the very sun, has chosen to take notice of each human and what each human is doing. This same One has chosen to view us as the highest of all creation and placed us in charge.

These realizations must create a renewed feeling of shock and awe in us. They lead us to be mindful of the magnificence of our own God. Each calls us to praise our Lord.

Living Word

Read Hebrews 4:12

What makes a book come alive? A book by nature is pages of paper with words written upon them bound together with a cover surrounding them. If you are like me, there are a number of books scattered all around your house. Yes, these days many tend to purchase more copies of digital books to read on e-readers than physical books. None of these books are alive until someone picks them up and begins to read them. Once a person reads from a book, the words become alive in the person’s mind. Images form as the words are read. Scenes take shape, characters materialize and a person is transported to another place in the mind’s eye. The words come alive metaphorically.

The verse today speaks of a special type of “Word.” In Scripture this specific word has multiple meanings. One understanding can be the written or spoken form of communication, i.e., Scripture. Another understanding comes from the prologue to John’s Gospel. Here the reference is where it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) In this verse, the writer speaks of God’s word as living and active, Jesus Christ.  When considering the reference being associated with Jesus, we are reminded of the resurrected and living Christ. If applying the first sentence to Scripture, it points us to the importance of human interaction with the Bible. Our reading and/or hearing of the verses contained in the Bible is what causes them to come alive and move them into action in our own lives.

The second sentence in the verse stands as a warning to us. We are told that the Word will cut through all the human pretenses. The true aspects of our humanity will be made visible as the following verse states. Again, this is true of both Christ and Scripture. Jesus could penetrate the hearts and minds of people he encountered. Throughout the Gospel accounts we see scenes where Jesus cuts through the facades created by individuals and shows forth the true natures and intentions, especially among the Jewish leaders. When read or spoken, the Bible verses can call us to account and disturb our own self image.

The Word of God is not a dead entity that no longer impacts lives. The Word is active in and through each of us, not to be hidden away and only brought out on special occasions.

Making Decisions

Read Luke 6:12-16

Life is filled with opportunities to make decisions. Some of the decisions which we make are not as life altering as others. Deciding what to eat for dinner, or what to wear for the day, or which television show to watch are generally not decisions which will impact the future direction of our lives. There are decisions which do shape and direct the future course of our lives. Choosing what institution of higher learning to attend, or who we might marry, or where we may live can impact the trajectory of our existence in profound ways. The process and steps which we use to make our decisions can influence the outcome.

The passage from Luke’s gospel account presents to us a time when Jesus is faced with an important decision. He is choosing which ones of all his disciples he will closely mentor and teach. The individuals chosen would represent Jesus and minister on his behalf when he is not physically present. They would later be entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the good news with people throughout the known areas of civilization. Some of their words and actions would be shared with generations to come, even to our present one.

The passage starts by giving us insight into an important part of Jesus’s decision making process. We hear that Jesus went away to be alone. While he was absent from the cities, crowds and disciples, he prayed for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he shared his decision in regard to which of the disciples would personally be mentored by the Lord and be given special authority on his behalf.

How do you go about making major decisions in your life? Are you a lone ranger who relies solely on yourself to make these types of decisions? Does praying to God enter into your process at all? Clearly the writer of Luke’s gospel included this brief passage to emphasize to us the great importance of prayer in the decision process. As followers of Christ, our daily pursuit is to follow the example which Jesus placed before us. One such example is this one. Jesus came to the Father to consult prior to making a vital ministry decision. Should we not do the same with all of our vital decisions?

Creation’s Beauty

Read Genesis 1:1-31

Sometimes it takes a person to get out of his/her daily surroundings to appreciate the wonder of creation. Each part of the country has similarities and unique aspects with other parts. The wonder of how creation intermingles and stands out marvels a person with open eyes. When traveling, an individual is given the opportunity to experience creation and the magnificent work of the Lord afresh. This week I have been drawn to the lyrics of this hymn:

Make some deliberate time today to notice and experience the wonder of God’s creation wherever you are located.

Gathered Together

Read Hebrews 10:19-25

Early in the 1970s Neil Diamond released the song, “Solitary Man.” The lyrics of the song speak of a person’s many failed romantic relationships. The decision is made that until the person can find a partner who will not leave the relationship for someone else, the individual will remain solitary. For a variety of reasons, there are people who choose to go through life without a partner. Some individuals even attempt life isolated from others altogether.

In the letter to the Hebrews who are, or are considering, becoming followers of Jesus Christ, we find words intended to encourage the people. The passage encourages the recipients to be drawn to God and strive to remain strong in their faith. Then the importance of regularly gathering as a group of believers is placed before the reader. The purpose of these regular gatherings is to encourage each other and prompt one another to love and participate in beneficial actions for others.

Living out faith has never been intended to be a solitary enterprise. The Christian faith has always been fully experienced as communal in nature. In establishing the Church, the Lord intended to create a community where love, support, encouragement and positive accountability is a vital aspect of following Christ. This is evident in the family-oriented language of Scripture, not just a bloodline family but a community which bands as family. For the full development of our faith, we need one another.

No Favortism

Read James 2:1-9

Throughout a person’s life, each of us experience some level of favoritism. Favoritism manifests itself in large and small ways. The first encounter which a person may have is in elementary school at recess time. A friendly game of kickball may be forming and two captains are choosing who will be on each of their teams. Eligible candidates line up while one by one, names are called out alternating from one team to the other. Those viewed as best players are chosen early while lesser players are left standing until the last. Favoritism is part of the winnowing process.

Today we see a warning against favoritism among believers. The writer of the letter of James warns that believers in Christ must never show favoritism in welcoming others into their fellowship. The writer lifts up a commandment from the early law which Jesus states is the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor.” The author says that if favoritism is found among believers, it is a violation of this commandment. Also pointed out here is the often experienced reality that the preferred often bring hardship to the fellowship while the unfavorite bless the fellowship.

Favoritism frequently raises its ugly head in our world. Those who are not considered or treated as favorites feel the sting of rejection. A sense of worthlessness often shrouds the individual. These experiences can impact self value in negative ways. There is, and never has been, any place for favoritism in the fellowship of the Lord. Jesus made this abundantly clear in his ministry. In this epistle, it is made clear once again. Yet from the start of the church until this very day, favoritism continues to be witnessed in every aspect of the church way too often.

Let us take a stand against this type of behavior. We each must work every day to eliminate any favoritism within the fellowships in which we actively participate. The church should be a place of welcome and safety for every and all individuals. Living out the commandment to love your neighbor should have no preferential treatment associated with it. We may all be surprised how we may be blessed by the least favorite.

Being Christian

Read Acts 11:25-26

In our verses for today, we hear of a gathering of disciples in a place called Antioch. This is where Barnabas brings Saul to help teach people about Jesus Christ. We read here that the followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians in Antioch. This recording of the name given to disciples of Jesus led me to think about what it means to be called Christian.

Growing up in the church and attending Sunday School almost every week, I learned a lot of songs about Jesus, God, and aspects of following Jesus. One such song which was learned was “Lord, I Want To Be A Christian.” The author of the song is unknown and it is listed as an African-American melody. Here are the lyrics:

Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart.

Refrain 1:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart.

Refrain 2:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart.

Refrain 3:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart.

Refrain 4:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart.

As I recalled these lyrics, a few items stood out to me. First is the repetition of the phrase, ” in my heart.” The general understanding of the use of heart in relation to a person is that we are speaking about the core of a person’s life.Since the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, and blood is necessary to sust ain life, humans have viewed the heart at the center of our life. The desire to be a Christian in this song is a desire that our very core of life be identified as Christian.

Second, the progression of the verses is purposeful. The first verse communicates the overall desire to live as a follower of Jesus. The remaining verses detail how this will be demonstrated and acted upon. The song says that a Christian will be more loving, more holy, and more like Jesus. The song is actually a prayer that with the help of the Lord, the person may truly live from the core as a disciple of Jesus, given the name of Christian at Antioch.

May this be a daily prayer and good for each of us.

Sharing Good News

Read Matthew 28:1-10

Think about a time in your life when you had exciting news to share. Maybe you had something to tell your spouse, your parents, or your best friends. Remember how it felt to try and keep this news contained until you had the opportunity to share it? The time it took to get ahold of or come to the person who you wished to receive the news may have seemed way too long. Your excitement drives you to hurry without delay. In your thoughts you hope that the recipient will be as overjoyed upon hearing the good news as you were upon learning it.

The passage lifted up today is a familiar one from Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning. In Matthew’s telling of events, two women who each were named Mary come to Jesus’s tomb. When they arrived there was a violent movement of the earth and the stone at the door of the tomb was moved away. The image of someone is visible. The women are told the good news that Jesus is not in the tomb because he is resurrected as he said he would be. They are invited to verify this news with their own eyes. Then the Marys are told to go tell this news to the disciples and to direct the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Jesus appears and verifies the news. Matthew tells us that “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…”

The enthusiasm, joy and urgency of the women as Matthew tells the story is much like how we have felt when we have had great news to share. Do we feel these same feelings when we think of Jesus’s resurrection today? For many believers, the good news that Jesus is risen has become just an everyday element of their faith. Since this happened centuries before us and our learning of it may have been many years ago when we first became involved in the church, we have lost the enthusiasm, joy and urgency. A sense of it may return if we attend a worship service on Easter morning but it is likely to fade again a few hours later after the songs end and we return home.

The word “gospel” means good news. This good news of the Christian faith is in part the reality that Jesus is not dead in a tomb but risen and alive today. Each one of us has had someone who has declared the gospel with us. We are given opportunities to share this good news with others. May we recapture the enthusiasm, joy and urgency we had when it first became real to us if we have lost it. May we be like the two Marys who “hurried away from the tomb, afraid and filled with joy” as they ran to tell others that Jesus is no longer dead. Share the gospel with energy and urgency because you are so excited that you cannot contain it!

Role Model

Read 1 Kings 3:1-15

Role models play a valuable role in life. By observing positive behaviors and attitudes in others, individuals can improve choices made in life. These role models may be teachers, mentors, neighbors, family members and/or community members. We might know them personally or only be able to observe them from a distance. Learning from their lives, we are able to be shaped and guided as we journey through our own lives. Choosing our role models is a very important decision because it can influence the direction our life takes into the future.

In the Bible, we observe a large variety of role models. One of the purposes of the Scriptures is to share stories of the people of God so that there is an availability of role models for us in our life and faith journeys. The passage from 1 Kings presents Solomon as a role model. Solomon has recently become the king of Israel, succeeding his father David. This story is a vision in which Solomon is asked by God what God may be able to give Solomon. The vision may create in our minds the image of a genie in a lamp giving the lamp’s new owner three wishes. Faced with the opportunity to request anything, Solomon begins by humbling himself before God and expressing gratitude to God. The one request which Solomon makes is for wisdom to rightly govern God’s people. Because of the attitude of and the request made by Solomon, God indicates that wisdom will be given and promises a long, wealthy and honored life for Solomon if Solomon follows God.

Whether you have been placed in a leadership role or are facing everyday decisions of life, what Solomon models in this story can serve you well. There is benefit to humbling one’s self in the face of opportunity. Realizing the great fortunes of life which has allowed the opportunity to be presented is a great starting point. Acknowledging the limitations of knowledge and skills reminds the person that no one achieves alone. Then seeking the wisdom to choose and act in a way which not only benefits self but others aligns a person to live in an beneficial manner. This follows the example of Christ as well as Solomon.