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.

Arriving At Success

Read Deuteronomy 8:10-18

Have you noticed what happens to some celebrities after they have achieved at least a moderate level of success in their skill area? Some of them abandon their past and focus solely on what they can now obtain. Unfortunately, some do not discipline themselves to act only in moderation. It becomes all about them and what they have been able to achieve with their gifts and talents. They forget those who have aided and supported them on their journey toward success. Some become users of people. They lack gratitude and any sense of humbleness.

The reading from Deuteronomy contains a warning to the Israelites. Moses is talking to them about the time when they will arrive in their new land and have become settled. He tells them to be cautious that when they are reaping the benefits of this new land that they do not forget God. Moses says they may be tempted to take all the credit for what they have achieved and obtained. He reminds them of all that God has done for them which made it possible to arrive at this point. Moses tells the people that all which they have is because of God. In response, the people are to praise the Lord and follow the Lord’s teachings.

The words Moses shares with the Israelites are valuable to us as we live today. Each of us have different times in our lives when we obtain some level of success and satisfaction. It can be easy for us to focus solely on what we have done to bring us to this point. We have probably worked hard, suffered, or sacrificed to arrive at our success. These times can cause us to forget the Lord’s involvement in our journey. We may also forget those who God has placed in our lives to assist us on the journey.

Moses tells the Israelites, and us, to remember God. We are to show gratitude. Our gratitude must lead to a response. The response towards God should be to strive to live what the Lord has taught us.

Remember where you came from and who helped you get here.

Owing Much

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)

The New York Federal Reserve’s Center for Microeconomic Data reported that at the end of the fourth quarter in 2020 household debt rose to $14.56 trillion. The United States National Debt is currently over $128 trillion. We have become a people who live on credit and accumulate debt easily. Most of our debt is due to mortgages, car loans, medical expenses, student loans and credit cards.  There is not one of us who would refuse any debt relief given to us. If a creditor were to fully forgive our debt, our gratitude would be overwhelming.

In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of debt relief. A woman who had lived a sinful life comes to Jesus while he is at the home of a Pharisee. Without words, she stood behind him and cried. Then she used those tears to wet his feet. Taking her hair she dried them. Finally, she took a jar of expensive perfume and anointed them. The guests in attendance were critical of Jesus for allowing her actions. Jesus replied to them by asking Simon a question regarding debt relief. The point of his interaction with Simon was to show that one whose larger debt is forgiven will show more gratitude than the one with the smaller debt. The woman with more sin than the pious guests believed Jesus could forgive her sins. She showed greater gratitude than the ones who felt they had less sin and who did not believe Jesus could forgive even those.

This story causes us to pause. Do you identify with the woman or with the other guests? What do you do to express gratitude to the Lord for being forgiven? Do you believe the Lord can forgive sins or do you hold on to them? Here we are taught that the greater we understand our sin and the need for forgiveness, the more we are willing to offer in response to the sin being forgiven.

Life Purpose

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when we try to understand what is our purpose. For some, there may be more than one point in life when this question surfaces. Seeking an answer to this question requires introspection, sometimes counseling, and research. Each of us have a drive for discovering our purpose. This drive is due to our desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. We desire to feel we have value in our work and actions.

The passage from Paul’s letter to Titus speaks of life purpose. Paul directs Titus to remind the people how they should interact with leaders and members of their community. Paul points toward a time when everyone’s behavior was unkind and destructive. Then God chose to introduce the Savior into the world. Through Jesus, a new way of living was made possible. This new way has provided the people with an opportunity to do what is good for everyone.

A purpose has been given to bring meaning into our lives. We have been saved from our destructive and self-centered ways of living. Christ has not only saved us from these behaviors but has presented us a pattern in which the purpose is doing good for the sake of others. We do good in response to being saved. Our life’s purpose is to do good. How we go about fulfilling that purpose is our true quest.

Thankful Response

16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

Deuteronomy 6:16-25 (NIV)

It is customary that when a person receives a gift from another individual there is a response of gratitude expressed to the giver. Depending on the occasion and the type of gift, the response may be a verbal thank you. In other situations, the gratitude is expressed in written form. Other gifts can lead to acts done for the giver out of gratitude. Whichever form of response is chosen, the goal is to communicate that the original gift is appreciated and remembered.

The passage read for today finds its origin in events of the preparation by the Israelites to enter Canaan. Moses is giving the Israelites instructions in regard to their entrance into the land which God has promised them. He tells them not to test God but instead to follow the stipulations and decrees given to them. In doing so, Moses indicates they will prosper in the new land. He then says that when their children ask why they follow these items, they explain that it is in response to all the Lord has done and told them which allowed them to be in this new land.

Some say that the expression of gratitude has waned in the context of our current culture. There appears to be a prevailing attitude of entitlement. This passage is a reminder of the importance of expressing gratitude, especially to the Lord. Our expression should not solely be one of words but one of action. For the Israelites these active responses were found in following the decrees, stipulations and law. For us, Christ fulfilled all of these items on our behalf. Our grateful response is to what God has done for us through Jesus. Our expressions of thanks should be found in the ways in which we share God’s love with others. We remember how God’s love has been expressed to us and we do the same for others. Our acts of gratitude are not found in obedience to rules but instead found in the manner in which we live our lives and care for the needs of others.

A New Thing

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

Isaiah 43:16-21 (NIV)

During the winter months, I long for spring as most people do. Winter is when the earth takes a rest. The trees are without leaves. The ground is dry and lifeless. Most of the flowering plants sit idle and without their beautiful blooms. Some animals either hide away in warm shelters or leave for the opposite hemisphere which has warmth. A longing for new life grows each month through the winter season.

New life is the theme of Isaiah’s words today. God announces that there is now a new thing coming into being. Just as in spring when we see sprouts coming out of the ground and buds form on the trees, something new is bursting out. God asks if we perceive it. In anticipation of spring, one must keep watch to see glimpses of new life in creation. The things which happened before are no longer like leaves which fell to the ground in the fall. But on the same branches which held last year’s leaves, buds are forming, a sign of life. God will provide the necessities for life to be sustained in this new thing. Creation responds with praise and gratitude.

What is the new thing the Lord is doing in your life? How is the Lord preparing the way for you? Is the Lord providing you the essentials to make this new thing happen? How are you responding?

“See I am doing a new thing!” says the Lord.

“Do you not perceive it?”

Shocking News

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

With the introduction of streaming news sources, experts tell us that we are becoming numb in regard to news which would have shocked us in the past. There is no longer a barrier to obtaining all types of news. We hear of violence and disaster from every corner of the world in very visual and graphic detail. This has even entered mainstream television shows such as all the CSI series, the FBI drama shows, and case file shows like Dateline or 20/20. The bizarre and brutal seems commonplace to many of us. Being shocked by news of the world around us is now a rare occurrence. The only time when we are shocked and tempted to call something impossible is when it seems to not fit our scientific and world understanding.

At the time in which Mary and Joseph from the Bible would have existed there was more of a shock factor. Their shock factor was different than ours because it was not based on scientific knowledge but on observation. They understood their world based on what they had observed. Spiritual understanding and acceptance was more common then than in our time period. Aspects which they observed but could not explain often were credited to God’s work, or in other cultures the work of many gods. Even with this acceptance though, Gabriel’s words to Mary were initially shocking. The angel announced to her that she would conceive a baby, not just any baby but the Son of God. The English word used in Mary’s initial response may be misleading. Mary asks Gabriel how this can be since she is still a “virgin.” When we hear the word today, we associate it with not having sexual intercourse yet in a person’s life. However, the Greek word translated here can mean “young woman”. Either understanding still lends itself to seeing that Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s news. If the second translation is preferred, the shock may be caused by Mary’s view that she was too young and immature to be the mother of the Son of God. This was going to be a huge responsibility which she may have felt was more than she was prepared to assume. Though initially shocked, she accepts this duty as a servant of God.

When the Lord calls on us to do something, the news may be shocking. We easily can come up with many reasons why we are the wrong candidate, just like Moses did (see Exodus 3). The responsibility can seem to us to be too great for our abilities. We may not see how whatever God’s request could ever work out. Fear and a sense of inadequacy may lead us to attempt to decline. But we need to remember Mary’s story. Remember the promise that “the Holy Spirit will come upon (us) and the power of the Most High will overshadow (us).” We must recall Gabriel’s words, “no word from God will fail.” Then, like Mary, we should respond as the Lord’s servant, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Time to Rebuild

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah 1:1-11 (NIV)

Having grown up in and spending a majority of my adult life thus far in the Midwest, I have seen many tornadoes and the destruction which they leave behind. Standing in front of a home which has suffered the impact of a tornado creates a sense of awe, amazement, and grief at the same time. The apparent randomness of what remains standing and what is reduced to rubble seems to defy logic. A wall with a china cabinet against it and all its contents unmoved right next to a wall which is now laying on the ground in pieces causes one to scratch the head in disbelief. There are countless stories which emerge following a storm containing a tornado which seem too bizarre to be real. A person stands there, cries, and then moves into action to clean up and begin again.

Nehemiah stands in shock as someone might stand before a tornado-damaged home. Grief overwhelms him when he receives the report of Jerusalem’s destroyed city walls and burned out city gates. He sits and begins to weep. Then in the midst of his grief, he begins to fast and pray. His prayer was one requesting that God restore the people and the place which they had called home prior to the exile, one which their sin had brought upon them.

Reading about Nehemiah and his reaction to the news, I see a pattern to follow when we are faced with devastation in our lives. The physical destruction of a tornado, or in the case of the Israelites, an invading army, is not the only possible devastation which one may encounter. The loss of a job, a divorce, or the death of someone very close to us may have an equal impact on us. Nehemiah gives us an example of how to respond. Take some time to allow yourself to grieve. Life necessity may dictate how much time of inactivity is possible but there is no time limit on the grief. Whatever the case, make sure you allow at least some time to be inactive and cry. Then after this pause, engage in a period of spiritual discipline and prayer. Seek restoration from the Lord. Request the necessary resources to rebuild. Now, you are ready to determine next steps and take action.

The Struggle

I saw a person wearing a t-shirt which read, “The struggle is real.” After reading the words on the shirt, I began to ponder some questions. What is the struggle? Is it life? Is it a specific situation? Is it a project or task upon which effort is being made? Is it something spiritual? Is this in reference to an addiction? What exactly are we talking about here? Then I came to realize that the specifics are not what matters, what matters is the acknowledgment that for this person the struggle is real.

The truth is that all of us have struggles whether we declare it by wearing a t-shirt or if we keep them to ourselves. For some of us the struggles change over time. Others have a constant struggle like those dealing with addictions. There are times the struggle seems overwhelming. At different times we may even be able to manage the struggle and even overcome it. While facing whatever struggle is in our life, that struggle is completely real to us.

During his ministry, Jesus encountered many individuals who faced struggles. In the Bible, these struggles at times are verbalized in a spiritual sense using words which conjure up images of demons. An example of this is the man who is found naked in the graveyards outside of Gerasenes. Different stories of struggle are shared using words which create the idea of physical abnormalities. The man who was blind is an example of this imagery. In every one of the stories about Jesus encountering people with struggles, Jesus demonstrates a loving response. Jesus does not minimize their struggles but instead shows compassion, a willingness to listen, and provides for their needs. This example is one which can be very important as we strive to understand how to respond to the struggles of those around us.

Jesus also encountered struggles of his own. Stories of Jesus struggling to continuously minister to those around him are numerous throughout the Gospels. Jesus also struggles with the frustration of his message not being heard and understood by those with whom he speaks. The most poignant display of Jesus’ struggle is when he is in the olive trees on the Mount of Olives, the night of his arrest. The struggle is so intense that the author of Luke shares, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Again, Jesus gives us an example of what to do when our struggle seems so real, every time he would go to the Father in prayer.

Yes, the struggle is real, but Jesus provides examples of how to handle the struggle. Whether the struggle is someone else’s or our own, Jesus shows us the way.

Need Patience

I struggle with being patient most of the time. If I decide to buy an item, I do my research, I spend some time going back and forth, I work through the financial aspects, and then I head to the store to make the purchase. Once I have gone through these steps, I expect to walk out of the store with the item I have chosen. If for some reason I do not have the opportunity to get the product or I have to wait for some reason, then I become extremely frustrated. My patience does not hold out well for me at this point.

Recently, I was reading a passage from Habakkuk. In this passage, the prophet complains against God because he feels that God is not listening. He has made request after request for life changes but the changes are not coming. He is losing his patience with God. The prophet is speaking for the nation of Israel but I could relate to the complaints on a personal level. Like my shopping routine, if I take a request to God, I have the expectation that the request will be fulfilled in the time frame of my choosing.

Following Habbukuk’s complaints, God responds. In God’s response, God reminds the people that relief will come but it will be according the correct timing. The people are told that they are to await this right time. God tells them that the source of their agony has not escaped notice. If the people will wait and remain faithful, the relief will arrive.

The words recorded in Habakkuk often convict me. I am reminded that I need to have patience. The message of God’s faithfulness and listening to my requests comes through these words clearly. I need to remember to wait on the Lord and I will not be disappointed.

This is not a new message to me. While I can understand the message and I believe the words to be true, putting them into practice in my life is not easy in any way. As I stated at the start of this post, I struggle with patience most of the time. I am convinced that this will be a lifetime struggle for me. Reading this passage often will be a valuable reminder to me. Being reminded that God’s time is much better than my time will assist me in my efforts to be patient.

How do you do with waiting on the Lord? What do you use as reminders of God’s faithfulness?