Source of Help

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

There are times in life when one feels surrounded by troubles. These troubles can be personal in nature or may be in the world which surrounds us. When we are experiencing a time of trouble, we search for help in dealing with and overcoming the trouble. We may turn to family and friends. The trouble may be such that we need to seek out professional assistance like a doctor, a lawyer, a financial advisor, or a member of the clergy. If it is a societal issue, turning to an elected official or a nonprofit organization might be our best course of action. In troubled times, searching for help is the right thing to do.

The psalmist today reminds us where the best source of help can be found. The Lord is a proven source of help, strength and refuge. Even though God is always present, we can overlook this reality. As we recall the works of the Lord, we see reliability, dependability, peace, protection, and strength. It is important during troubling times in our lives to take the time to be still and remember God is God.

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.

Anticipated City

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NIV)

Traveling is an enjoyable pastime of mine. I enjoy going to new cities and locations. Exploring a city where I have not previously been is exciting. There have been many times.in which I have discovered amazing aspects unknown to me. Also, since I enjoy history, I am happy when I encounter historical sites and/or learn the history of the location. Anticipating a trip, and what I may discover, fills me with great joy.

Today in our passage, we are given a glimpse of the anticipated Holy City. In John’s vision, he tells us about the city. This city has the Lord as its temple and light. The gates are never shut because there is nothing to fear. People of the nations will bring the honor and glory of the earth into the city. No one, on nothing, deemed impure by the Lord will be allowed into the city. This is John’s vision, not because he has been there but through the power of the Spirit he has been able to see this anticipated city.

Like John did so many years ago, we anticipate our arrival to the Holy City. We desire a place where fear does not exist any longer. Fear is banished because the Lord is the light which dispels the dark aspects of life that cause fear. We expect such glory and honor to be present that we anticipate being prompted to worship and praise the Lord. Nothing will hinder our entrance into this great city where the welcome sign is always on. This is a trip which I eagerly await, why not accompany me.

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.

Moving Faith

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 12:1-7 (NIV)

Relocating one’s life is never easy. A few years ago, my husband and I relocated to a different city and state from a state where both of us had lived most of our lives. We were leaving friends, family and familiar places due to a new employment opportunity. Packing and preparing for the move was stressful. Grief accompanied our stress because we knew we would greatly miss what we were leaving behind. However, we felt the Lord was blessing us and providing for us some amazing opportunities. We would have each other and our wonderful dogs. There was nothing easy about making the decision or going through the process of moving. We trusted that the Lord would be with us and guide us through it all. We were not disappointed and never felt abandoned by our Lord. God has definitely blessed us in all of the relocation.

As challenging as own move may have been at times, Abram’s move had to have been even more challenging. God told Abram to pack up all which was important to him and leave the country of his family and origin. He was told to go to a land which he knew nothing about. God promised Abram that he would be blessed in doing so, not just him but his descendants who would create a great nation. In addition, Abram would be a blessing to all people. Without a moving truck or any of our modern conveniences of travel, Abram packs everything and journeys over 7300 miles. An  amazing show of faith and trust in God.

Having the level of faith and trust which Abram demonstrated is almost impossible. I ask myself often if I could ever put into action that amount of faith and trust. Do I have that level to even claim? I also think the writers of Scripture tend to smooth out the rough edges of stories like this one. I am confident there was hand wringing, intense conversations with Sarai and Lot, and some periods of doubts before the group even began the journey. In addition, there most likely were feelings of regret and a desire to return to Harran along the way. The key is the faith which Abram, Sarai and Lot demonstrated even when the relocation may have made no sense or been extremely difficult. Following through was a true statement of faith.

The only possible way to have faith and trust at the level demonstrated in this story is receiving it from the Lord through the Spirit. Left to our own ability, we would be unable to demonstrate such faith. The Spirit is the one who gives us strength to build a level of faith. The Spirit places the seed of faith in our lives then nurtures it and guides it into maturity and growth. God provides all which we need, we need to commit to work with the Spirit in achieving the faith of Abram, Sarai, Lot and all their household.

A New Year Prayer

This New Year’s Day, I have chosen to share a prayer as today’s devotion instead of using my normal format. My understanding of the Gospel is that it all is about love. The problems between people can be traced to an absence of love demonstrated in action and not solely in emotions and/or words. So I found this prayer which shares my hope for this new year.

A NEW YEAR PRAYER FOR LOVE

Dear God, thank you that you are a loving, gracious God. Thank you that you’ve offered us forgiveness and the gift of new life in you. Thank you that your love is perfect, it never fails, and that nothing can separate us from your love.

We pray that our lives would be filled and overflowing with the power of your love so we can make a difference in this world and bring honor to you. We ask for your help in reminding us that the most important things are not what we do outwardly, it’s not based on any talent or gift, but the most significant thing we can do in this life is simply to love you and choose to love others.

Help us to love as you love. Fill us with your Spirit so that we can choose what is best. We are weak Lord, but we know also, that even when we are weak, you are strong within us. Thank you that it is not all up to us. Thank you that you equip us to face each day with the power of your love, your forgiveness, and your grace. We love you Lord, and we need you today, and every day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Source: Christianity.com

This is my prayer for each of you and the world. May 2021 be filled with the love from the source of all love, God.

The Old Becomes New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Celebration

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

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:1-9 (NIV)

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

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

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

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