|Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services|
For the safety of all in our ILC community and beyond, we have decided to forego all gatherings until further notice. In the meantime, we will provide Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services through this webpage. We encourage the congregation to use the posted devotionals to "virtually join together" in prayer, daily, at 9:00am.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
No video camera was present. No recordings were made. In the beginning, that is, when all that was not first came into being. Some will say these words were dictated directly by God to Moses on Sinai and later written down, verbatim – even as the Ten Commandments were etched in stone. Others will say this opening statement in the Holy Word is a confession of the people of faith. What are the claims of these words, and what are the truths that are contained in them that have been passed down in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions? In the beginning, there was God. While it is impossible for most of us to conceive of any true beginning (since, as creatures of time, we have the concept of before firmly fixed in our understanding), whenever that was, God was already there. Eternal. As much as we’re convinced that something cannot come out of nothing, that spontaneous generation is a crock, and that one cannot pull a rabbit out of a hat, so all that exists is attributed to God. God, then, must be eternal, without beginning. Of course, even to those who confess this as Truth, this is a great mystery, an admitted Miracle, beyond human understanding, and unproveable. The One who is uncreated created. God is the Source of all that exists. And as we discover the manifold and magnificent creation of God, we gain insight into the mind and makeup of the divine. We see God’s fingerprints in all that exists. Through the eyes of faith, as we come to know more about this world in which we abide, we’re allowed glimpses of God’s glory. To God the Creator are attributed the heavens (first) and (then) the earth. That which is vast, far off, mysterious and untouchable; and that which is up-close and personal: that which can be handled, examined and dissected into its component parts. Acknowledging a Creator, that which is created is deconstructed to better understand how creation is put together in the first place and to give us insight into our origins. Of the heavens and the earth, a later creed will confess belief in God who created all – both seen and the unseen. For while there are material beings discoverable by our senses, we must allow that there may be other entities beyond our perception. And if they exist, their origin, too, is attributable to the one Creator of all. Not surprisingly, much conjecture has been made over the reasons for creation – what it was that moved God to create in the first place. Perhaps that’s simply part of what it means to have being and to be active. When you start with a blank page, if you’re going to act upon it at all, there’s nothing you can do but create; you cannot destroy what has yet to be created. Perhaps the greatest insight we can gain into the cause of creation is within ourselves and in our interactions with others. Certainly, there will be accusations of anthropomorphism (creating God in our own image) in any attempt to do so. But even as we might claim to learn of the characteristics of God’s nature by examining God’s creation, even so, as we consider the better angels of our nature and our own propensity to create, we might indeed touch on the mysterious and motivating factors that moved God to create in the first place. And later, to proclaim all that was created very good. And about you? You did not bring yourself into being. You, too, have divine fingerprints upon you. You, too, have been touched by God. You, too, are in relationship to Your Creator.
Holy God, eternal Creator, loving Father of us all: Everything that exists has its origin in You. Along with all of Your creation, we have Your fingerprints all over us. Open our eyes this day to the wonder of Your creation and to the marvel of our existence. You are the Source of life and the Giver of life. Even as we relish our existence here on earth, grant us the assurance of hope – the certainty that eternal life is found in You alone, and that in Your compassionate mercy and because of Your amazing grace, You bestow this life upon us freely through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory, both now and forever.
And we have beheld and bear witness
that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
1 John 4:14
It didn’t take long before my piano teacher assigned them: scales and arpeggios. And they never went away, even after several years in our teacher-student relationship. There were ever-present, at the top of my weekly assignments. And in high school: I cannot tell you how many times I heard my tennis coach repeat the words, drilling the instruction into us: Eyes on the ball. Weight forward. Step into your stroke. And Martin Luther, the doctor of the Bible, the master of languages, the one of phenomenal memory and amazing recall: Each day he said he came to the Word of God as a little child – recounting the Ten Commandments, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, repeating the Apostles’ Creed. These are the fundamentals. And we never outgrow them, no matter how advanced we become. For they form the basis of all that comes after, the foundation upon which all else is built. Even so, like a good teacher convinced of the importance of these things, the apostle John drills the fundamentals of the faith into his readers, whom he often addresses as little children. As such, there is much repetition in his work. There’s hardly a verse you can take without finding its component parts scattered across the rest of the work. The language is simple. The teaching is basic. But the message is integral to any instruction that would be built upon it. Perhaps it’s helpful to work our way backwards in this verse… The Savior of whom John speaks is not simply a savior for any one person or people: This Savior comes to rescue all of humankind. None is left out. The extent of His redemption reaches to the farthest ends of the earth. And this Savior is none other than the Son of God who took upon Himself our human flesh, became incarnate, and lived among us. Jesus, whose name itself means salvation, is this Son of God. And this was the purpose of the mission upon which He was sent by the Father. Jesus does not lay down His life in sacrifice to appease the wrath of His Father. For both the Father and the Son are aligned in purpose and intent. This is the heart of the gospel, the good news. This is the crux of the message, and it moves John to such an extent that he is compelled to communicate it with others. And so he writes: We have beheld; we have seen for ourselves – firsthand, up close and personal. And what we’ve witnessed we now pass on to you, that you might join us in rejoicing over this wondrous grace which has come to us all and share in the life God has brought us. Of the things John has beheld he cannot help but testify. It is a marvel too glorious too look upon, an event too magnificent to observe without sharing it with others. The gospel message which has been proclaimed to us is not rocket science. It’s something even little children can grasp, and yet it’s an amazing truth even the most learned never outgrow. Certainly, something worthy of our rejoicing on this Thanksgiving Day.
Good, gracious and glorious God, thank You for the love You have shown to the world in Your Son, Jesus the Christ. Thank You for the salvation You have accomplished for us in Him and for the example of real living He displayed for all to see. We give You thanks this day for the gospel message You have imparted to us through the servants of Your Word. Help us to be disciplined in our rehearsals of the fundamentals of the faith, and inspire us to bear witness to all of what we have seen, heard and experienced. May Your good news extend to the farthest reaches of the world You so love, that Your loving intention to save the world might be fully accomplished, to the honor and glory of Your blessed and holy name.
"I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How hast Thou loved us?"
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And to be sure: It will be, for all of us, a very different day from past years’ celebrations. For this has been a year unlike any other we’ve lived through. Our lives have been disrupted to such an extent that the impact will surely never be forgotten. We’ve experienced all kinds of loss. Perhaps the very last thing some of us feel is gratitude, and the very last thing we want to do is to give thanks. One may stand up to confidently assert: God is good! And those who hear the statement may well scoff at it as nothing less than foolish and empty words. Indeed, they may receive it as an affront, meet it with skepticism and disdain, and respond to it with a snarky, “Oh, really?” For the reality before us is that this pandemic and all it has brought to us has been the worst. But to say that the pall it has cast over everything has ruined all that is good is simply attributing too much and giving it more power over us than we should. For there’s still a lot of good out there, and there is yet (and always) good cause to give thanks. We mustn’t allow the darkness to defeat us or to quench our spirits. We have good reason to rejoice. Remember Job, who lost all that was important, overnight, and consider his response: He bowed before the Lord in worship. Think of Habakkuk, who said that if he experienced nothing but crop failure and blight, drought and devastation, he would yet exult in the Lord. Even consider the Whos down in Whoville, who lost all their decorations and had their presents pinched by the Grinch: They still responded with rejoicing and in song. For in the end, that which had been removed, although significant, could not steal away that which was even more important. So what is there that remains, when everything else has been swept away? How, indeed, has God loved you? God has sustained your beating heart. And as long as you’re living, there’s hope in this life. Has God has blessed you with a supportive community? Do you have a roof over your head, food on your table, and someone to share it with – even if it’s over Zoom? Do you have people who pray for you? You cannot doubt that there are those who think of you more than you know and love you more than you can imagine. Have you been to a single funeral at which you were not amazed at the number of lives the deceased had touched (and in such positive ways) – and you wondered, then, if that loving appreciation had ever been fully made known? The truth is that you are loved more that you will ever come to know in this life and God continues to bless you beyond your most perceptive sensitivities. For not only has God loved you: God loves you now. And His love for you will never end. The demonstration of God’s love was never greater than in His outstretched arms on Calvary, when He offered Himself in sacrifice. For you. How has God loved you? Like that. Over and over again. Like that. Perhaps this is a year that, more than ever, your spirit will be awakened to that which matters most. And you will give thanks – truly give thanks – more than ever before. You can sure that this present storm will pass and this deep darkness will give way to God’s magnificent light. In the meantime, in the midst of these days, may you know the certainty of God’s faithful and abiding presence and the fullness of the joy He brings.
Holy and gracious heavenly Father, Your goodness never ends. When all is stripped away, You are still with us, ever faithful. Help us to discover that all we truly need is found in You. You continue to provide our daily bread – in abundance. Help us to be grateful for what You have given and generous in our sharing. Help us to be mindful of the good things You have done. Open our eyes to Your faithful lovingkindness. And never let us forget Your loving salvation, accomplished for us in the grace of Jesus the Christ.
Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things,
even though you already know them,
and have been established in the truth which is present with you.
2 Peter 1:12
I’ll let you in on a secret. Preaching is all about reminders. Certainly, there’s some teaching and learning that happens. But, for the most part, you’re not going to hear anything new from the preacher when you tune in online or show up on a Sunday morning. For the truth does not change. Sometimes we preachers, especially after having served in one place for a healthy amount of time, begin to worry that there’s nothing left for us to say, that we’ve already shared all that is in us to share. But the apostle insists that this should be of little concern. Why? Because: We all need reminders. And why is that? Because we humans forget, and because we’re constantly changing. The words that simply passed over us without effect a few years ago may well find a home in our hearts today. And that which has become so familiar that you could tell the story before the preacher does can take on unexpected and richer meaning and be understood with more refined nuance than ever before. There are books that are entertaining. And then there are books that are worthy of rereading. God’s Word is something that can be heard time and time again, for indeed it is part of what Jesus said was our daily bread. Another reason for the reminders is that we humans tend to slip. When I was in high school, we referred to this as backsliding. There are times when something happens in church – when the preacher says something stupid or, for whatever reason, there’s a breakdown in communication – and it causes someone to leave the fellowship. But the vast majority of times those who leave simply drift away. They miss a few weeks, find other things to fill their time, and before they know it (and we know it), they’re gone. Faith must be fed. It’s important for all of us to watch ourselves and to continue to keep faith alive and burning strong. Finally, because of human hubris and the sin that plagues us, we can tend to fall into one of two ditches. The first is the one we can slide into when we claim too much for ourselves. We forget the extent of our sin and the depth of our fallenness. This is the ditch of self-righteousness. We think we’re doing better than we are (certainly better than others) and that we are much better than we are – that we’re in need of no heavenly help. Our felt need for God diminishes to the point that we think God, church and fellowship are all superfluous. And we can race down this road under the guise of spirituality, even telling ourselves this way provides a more advanced and enlightened understanding of the immaterial world than any old-time religion. The other ditch is the polar opposite. For it is on this side that we know all too well our own brokenness. We who are inclined toward belittling ourselves can do such a good job of it that we’ve convinced ourselves there’s nothing left worth loving or saving. We forget the good news. We forget the grace of God. We should never downplay the words of the preacher (ordained or otherwise) as just reminders. They’re vital for our faith, as we move forward on this pilgrim road and as we endeavor to be firmly established in God’s truth.
Good and gracious God, thank You for opening my eyes to Your glorious gospel: that You love me just as I am – not because of what I’ve done, but simply because of who You are. Thank You for rescuing me when I could do nothing to save myself. Thank You for those who remind me that I’m treasured and cherished by You because I am Your beloved creation. Continue to open my eyes to properly appreciate who You are and what You’ve done, that I might live my life in consistent response, extending the same grace I’ve received from You into the lives of others. Having received the richness of Your light, help me to shine it brightly, reflecting Your goodness and grace and bringing glory to Your holy and precious name.
Then he answered and said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel, saying,
"Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit," says the LORD of hosts."
Zerubbabel is not exactly a household name. He had no book of the Bible named after him. He gave no memorable speeches. But he did have a most important work to do. He was in charge of rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Not an easy job. His knowledge of construction was just the beginning. Also needed were building materials and the work force to get it done. And when all his plans were put in place, there arose no little opposition to his work. The roadblocks in front of him may not have been due to building permits and proper licensure. But it was no less frustrating. We can imagine that the resistance he faced in the work in which he was employed was causing him no little consternation. He was only human, after all. We can envision this dedicated servant of God throwing up his hands in exasperation, ready to throw in the towel on the whole project. All this time and effort invested – and this is the thanks I get? He had done all he knew to do. He gathered behind him all his supporters. He marshalled his forces. He put together the best working team. He pushed them all harder. Still, the important work that lay before him was, literally, hardly off the ground. Merely the foundations had been set. All of his life’s work – that which filled his CV and landed him this job in the first place – it had all led up to this project that was, of course, the biggest of his career. This was to be his supreme work, his crowning achievement. And now, he feared it was all going to fail: All his efforts would come to naught. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in his position. Maybe you’re there now. Nothing you’ve done has brought you the success you’ve aimed at or hoped for. And you’re at a complete loss at what to do next. You’ve exhausted all your options. You’re dog-tired, drained and depressed. Now, more than ever, you need something – that je ne sais quoi factor – to lift your spirits and to turn things around. You can be sure that after receiving his vision, Zechariah’s first action was to find his good man Zerubbabel and encourage him with the word of the LORD. The prophet assures the project manager that God has his back, and that the work would be completed by God’s power. No matter what you’re facing today, know this: You are not alone. God is your strength. And God will be with you, to empower you to get it done. The One who brought you to it will bring you through it. And one day you will look back on these challenging times with the satisfaction that you did not give up. Not only that, but God’s work will not end with you. God will work through you to bring about a legacy you cannot imagine from your vantage point today. How could Zerubbabel know that he would be one of the ancestors of the One who would be called the Son of David? How could he know that centuries later his name would be included in the genealogy of the Son of God? Perhaps you’ve come to the end of your own power and might. Now’s the time to open your heart and to let the mighty winds of God’s Spirit rush in. Roadblocks give way to raving success when God gets to work.
Almighty God, in these wearisome days many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue. Life was already tough enough, and now we find ourselves stretched seemingly beyond our limits. Grant us the confident assurance that when we come to the end of ourselves, it is then that we can recognize the fullness of Your strength and power. Fix our eyes upon You. Draw our hearts closer to You with deeper devotion. And may we come to personally experience Your loving, gracious and sure salvation. Have mercy upon Your people. For it is Your glory always to rescue and to redeem. We pray that Your good purposes might be accomplished in us and through us, on earth as it is in heaven, for the honor of Your holy name.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another,
as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Peter 4:10
Thanksgiving week is upon us. And for many - if not most of us - it will be different this year. Traveling will not be what it usually is, and gatherings, if held at all, will be kept to a minimum. Perhaps this year will serendipitously move us to be more grateful than ever before. To be more appreciative of what we've been given, and to be reminded not to take things for granted. We look back, remembering with fondness previous years' celebrations, and we look forward to the hope that next year will be different. But what about this year? How will we uniquely express our thanks? The apostle addresses the faith community during a time of great suffering. The word suffering appears many times throughout this epistle. And in the midst of their trials Peter urges them to rejoice in the shared salvation they have received in Christ, to fix their eyes on Jesus and their hope on the certain things to come. He reminds them of the unique gifts they've each received from the hand of God. Like a thoughtful mother who carefully selects the perfect gift for each of her children, so God bestows gifts that not only bring us joy, but are uniquely fitting to our personalities and our abilities. These gifts are given not just for our own personal benefit; they're to be used for the benefit of others and to build up the community as a whole. God's grace is manifold - which is to say that God does not run out of ideas when it comes to finding the perfect give for each member of His family. And because the giftedness of each person is unique, all are needed - no one is replaceable. This is true in all of life. You may hold a position that is common in the company that employs you. But no one does the work you do the way you do it or interacts with the people you do in just the same way. You are not a robot. You are a one-of-a-kind creation of God. And while your position may be filled by another once you vacate it, no one will be able to take your place. So, too, in the blessed community of God. Jesus said He would build His Church - and without doubt, it will be done. God's kingdom will come - there's no question about it. But it is your presence in it makes it richer for everyone. What is the special gift God has given you? Can you identify it, or has it been difficult for you to determine? Sometimes it's easier to see another's giftedness than it is to see your own. (And when you do, don't hesitate to point it out, for they, too, may find it challenging to recognize it in themselves.) There's great joy in coming to know the unique qualities and contributions you bring to the table. And while God would certainly not have you boast about the gifts you have received, He is indeed pleased to have you employ them for the good of His people, and He rejoices to look upon your positive contributions. Take heart: Hope is on the horizon. A new day is coming - and we're closer to it today than we were yesterday. But do not wait to rejoice. Do not hesitate to give thanks. God is present, and God is ever faithful. As you invest yourself in the lives of others and share your unique giftedness, you will make manifest God's marvelous and manifold grace.
Almighty God, Giver of every good gift, thank You for Your faithfulness to abundantly provide for all of our needs. As we journey though these unprecedented days, open our eyes to see how truly blessed we are as a community and to recognize the unique gifts You have given to each one of us. Lift our spirits and inspire us to employ what You have entrusted for the good of the whole, that we might serve as faithful stewards of the manifold grace You have poured out, to the honor of Your holy and blessed name.
Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?
It was a very good day - a day filled with promise and hope. The Persians ruled the land, and their kings proved to be kinder and gentler than those who preceded them. They allowed the people of Judah to return to their land - the land of their ancestors - and to have some measure of freedom. The days of exile were over, and a new day was dawning for the people of God. How would they go about rebuilding their nation? How would they choose to engage in this fresh start? How might they rally the people to work together as a community? The initial plan seemed to be focused on allowing those who returned to reestablish their residences and to make themselves at home. It was an unpacking of sorts, something understandable and even necessary. However, once they started off in this direction, they gained momentum. And they continued to make their home improvements, to better their own situations, to devote their time and attention to their own personal projects. And who could blame them? Meanwhile, the house of the Lord lay in ruins, unattended. Most of the prophets had been called by God to proclaim the Word of the LORD to the nation as a whole. Their audience was the masses. Their message was often a general call to repentance, directed to the people as a body - to turn from their wicked ways, to heed the commands of the LORD, and to be obedient to His instruction. They were called to keep their part of the covenant God had made with them: God had rescued them; they were to respond by living lives consistent with being the rescued people of God. Haggai's calling was different. His task was more specific: it was an advisory role. He served as a counselor of sorts to the leaders in the land. His primary audience consisted of two people: the governor and the high priest. These were the dudes in charge. And at the direction of the LORD, Haggai implored them to reconsider their leadership and the priorities by which they had chosen to lead. They had forgotten the importance of the house of the LORD and its power to unite the people, bring them together as a community, and direct their joint attention on God. If the people came together to work on this community project to rebuild and restore God's temple, an esprit de corps would develop. As they combined their efforts, together they would accomplish more than they ever dreamed possible. And when they witnessed their completed work, they would be energized and encouraged to carry on with their own personal matters. Rebuilding their place of worship would draw their attention back on God and increase their devotion. They'd be reminded that the LORD in their midst was the Giver behind every good gift. They'd rehearse the evidences of God's faithfulness demonstrated to their ancestors, and in so doing they would grow deeper in their own trust that God was with them in their everyday lives. This reordering of priorities would ensure that life's two most important relationships would be attended to: their relationship with God and their relationship with each other. Haggai called them away from the danger of individualism and reminded them of the importance of living in community as the people of God. The result was that this not-quite-palindromic prophet was fully blessed in his godly mission: the leaders listened and the people followed suit. And it was a very good day indeed.
Good and gracious God, You do not rule as an callous tyrant. Nor do You issue Your commands for Your own profit or pride. You speak Your word for the good of Your people and for the proper ordering of Your blessed community. We thank You for our leaders, and we pray that You would grant them wisdom. Bless them with insightful advisors. Open their ears to reasoned counsel. And open their hearts to correction. Thank You for Your life-giving Word which directs us in Your way. Help us to be ever- attentive to Your direction and to live lives that are consistent with Your goodness and grace. For Your glory alone.
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials.
What are you, crazy? I can imagine James, having finished the first draft of the opening chapter that will bear his name, passing it to his friends and asking them for their feedback. I can see their eyes bugging out as their mouths drop open, and, when they're finished reading, looking up to their friend with no little concern and speaking these words of polite accusation that take little effort to disguise themselves as a question. After all, it's not the opening line many of us would choose when addressing people who are going through tough times. It seems rather like rubbing salt in their wounds. And this assessment which James advises is not exactly a natural one. I can't ever recall responding enthusiastically, nor can I remember any of my fellow students doing so, when, after the opening bell finished ringing, our teacher's first words were: Put all your materials away and clear your desk; I'm giving you a pop quiz. Times of testing, trials encountered - they don't exactly move us to get up and dance. So what in the world is James up to? Besides crafting words that would be a sure submission in a contest for Scripture's best opening lines, what is he getting at - and does he have a point? The Christian Church has seemed to think so, for it included this writing in the collection of what we now call Holy Scripture. Perhaps James had heard enough of the people's whining. And in response, he urges them to buck up and brace themselves, to see in their trials the opportunity to grow, to put their faith into action, and to shine their light. James would encourage those who go through difficult times to remember that God is with them in the midst of them. God was not bringing difficulties into their lives to trip them up, like some sadistic teacher who is loath to grade anything higher than a C. God indeed sustains us when we go through hard times, so that we'll come out of them stronger for having had the experience. As muscles cannot develop without resistance, so faith cannot develop without being challenged. And as we press on through these present difficulties, we'll not be afraid when they rise up again. We'll be able to encourage the uninitiated how to weather the storms. The opening words of James stop us short and immediately get our attention. If we pause for more than a moment, we can well appreciate that he doesn't allow us to wallow in negativity; instead, he directs us to face matters head-on. He's not a man who avoids conflict - or at least he's come to learn a more productive way. He faces trials directly, and he's confident the outcome will be a good one, come what may. For no matter how things turn out, the way the community handles the trial is what will make the difference. And so, we're determined to persevere through our own crisis. We don't know that the upcoming bend of the tunnel will be the last. Or that the hill in front of us will take us to the top. There may well be more twists and turns and climbs ahead. But we'll get there. And even now, we can look back, see how far we've come, and take some pride in the fact that we're still in this race and that we're closer to the finish line than we were yesterday. It's not too late to make good out of any difficult situation you're in today. God is faithfully present with you, granting you grace sufficient for the day. God will bring you through it and bless you with the community to accompany you and encourage you on the journey. Let these truths help you to adjust your attitude and to persevere with new perspective. Dare I repeat his words? Consider it all joy... as you face the present and coming trials. God will surely bring you to victory!
Good and gracious God, You are faithfully present for Your people, and You will never abandon or forsake them. Grant us the confidence to trust that our trials will not last forever, and bless with the strength and fortitude to press on. Assure us that no matter our earthly outcome, as we faithfully soldier on and progress down the path before us, You will safely bring us to Your heavenly kingdom, where we'll receive the commendation that is above all others: Well done, thou good and faithful servant. May that certain hope inspire us to persevere, to the encouragement of Your people and to the glory of Your Name.
Behold, I am going to deal at that time with all your oppressors,
I will save the lame and gather the outcast,
And I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
At the time of the prophet Zephaniah the daily news was filled with reports of the down and the depressing. Abuse of power abounded. Blatant disregard for the poor prevailed. Unfair distribution of wealth defined them as a people, bringing benefit to the rich and pressing into the ground those who had nothing. Those who couldn't keep up were left behind. Those unable to give, who had nothing more to contribute to the profits of the powerful, were cast aside as worthless. Outside counsel was disregarded; the word of the Lord was dismissed. Things were a mess, and a clean sweep was needed. A brand-new start. A tearing down of the decrepit old house, a scraping of the land, a complete removal that would allow for an entirely new rebuild that would begin at the very foundations. They were days of upheaval... Perhaps having lived through this year and reading this description might lead you to think that 2020 is the year of Zephaniah, lived all over again. Others might simply quip: There's nothing new under the sun. As the prophet's work unfolds, one must keep reading to find any word of hope whatsoever. Evil has been woven so deeply into the fabric of the society that it takes the prophet some time to address it. Those who rule have become prideful, scoffing at the very mention of God, judging God as gutless, incompetent, impotent. They've become deluded into thinking that if God did indeed visit them, He would reward them for their goodness. But they had another thing coming. The prophet declared that The LORD would indeed have His Day, and it would be a day of great judgment. Against them. On and on the prophet rails with seemingly no end in sight. For the judgment must be commensurate with the evil that provoked it. And finally - finally - the prophet's declaration of doom gives way to good news. God would not sweep away the righteous with the unrighteous. God would come to the defense of the powerless. God would carry those who could not keep up. God would gather those who had been cast out and cast away. God would have compassion on His people and turn their shame into praise and renown. In the end, God would usher in a new day and bring about a marvelous restoration. How we yearn for that which has gone wrong to be righted. We've been waiting. And hearts grieve, for we've been waiting for what feels like far too long. God will surely come to save. This is the word of assurance proclaimed by the prophet. In the meantime, we invest our time, our energy, and our resources to be about the saving work of God, extending God's compassionate mercy to the marginalized and the outcast and working for justice for all of God's people.
Almighty God, it is in You that justice and mercy meet. You do not gloss over the sin of our world, but address it straightaway. You do not condone unrighteous behavior, and neither should we. Give us the courage to speak the truth to power. Grant us the integrity to embody Your truth in action. And work in us Your compassion, to interact with all people in an understanding way. Continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, that we might love one another with the love with which He first loved us. And strengthen us to serve You by caring for Your people and taking part in Your saving and redemptive work. For Your glory alone.
And there is no creature hidden from His sight,
But all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
How do these words land on you? Do you hear them as words of comfort and assurance, that you are not forgotten? Or do they strike within you a deep fear that your every move is being watched and thus you cannot escape from the One who sees all? Or perhaps you find in these words the hope that one day, finally, justice will be done - that all wrongs will be righted and all accounts will be settled. This verse has been instrumental in opening my eyes to faith in the reality, presence, and knowledge of God. The resurrected Jesus once told two spiritually-minded travelers that they were slow of heart to believe. I could describe the early years of my religious journey the very same way. From my childhood I was taken to church, brought to Sunday school, and enrolled in confirmation classes. I memorized the prescribed material, listened to my teachers, and took notes. But the words were external, outside of me. The messages were meaningless; they were foreign and lifeless. Ink on a page. How then can I describe what took place in me when those words came alive? When they jumped right off the page, to speak not of events that had happened long ago in places far away, but to address matters that were still happening now - even to me? How distinctly I remember the change: One day I walked my high school halls alone, unknown and friendless. And then, suddenly, as if the clouds had parted and the sun's light had broken through, a dawning awareness came over me that God was alive, abiding with me, accompanying me in those crowded hallways, assuring me that I was not alone - and that I would never be alone again. Somehow, the word that bore witness to the reality of the Lord who could see everything - who could see me - opened my own eyes to the awareness of His abiding presence. And, for me, it was a word of utmost comfort. As if my experience of life, once lived in black and white and grey, was now infused with vibrant color. Words cannot describe the joy that was mine, to realize that the One whose eye was on the sparrow was also watching over me. During these months of pandemic, despite the blessing of technology, that has allowed us to connect virtually with others and not be totally cut off from the outside world, many have experienced the loneliness of isolation. The temptation arises to believe the lies: I've been forgotten. No one cares. I don't matter. And you may begin to doubt the presence of God. Don't go down that road. Or if you're already on it, stop right where you are. Take action. Be the first to reach out to the friend who has not phoned you. Your call will not only bring blessing, but you'll likely come to realize anew that you are indeed loved and appreciated. Are you blessed to have others accompany you, as you shelter in place? Make just one phone call to someone who's alone; bless them with the assurance that they've not been forgotten. Wherever you are, whatever your status: God is right there with you and for you. God knows your fears and your doubts; God knows your concerns and your anxious heart. And when you take action and reach out with compassionate care to another, the presence of God is realized; the blessing of the awareness of God is made manifest. God surely accompanies you through these wearisome days. Take heart in the assurance of His faithful presence. For even as the sun continues to shine above the fiercest of storms, so the Lord has promised that He will always be faithfully with you. For all of your earthly days.
Good and gracious God, thank You for Your faithful and abiding presence in my life. Thank You for those faithful friends who have helped me to more easily trust in Your loving care. Assist me in ordering my time in ways that leave room to serve as Your minister of care and compassion. Increase my awareness of the needs of those around me, and move me to take the initiative in reaching out to those for whom these days present times of challenge and moments of crisis. Quicken my hearts to faith, bless me with the abundance of Your Spirit, and work in me and through me to accomplish Your intended purposes.
How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and Thou wilt not hear?
I cry out to Thee, "Violence!" yet Thou dost not save.
Habakkuk is the prophet who immediately stops us short, leaving us to question how we're to pronounce his name. And he has some questions of his own. Lots of them. Seven, in fact, in the first chapter alone. His primary question is one that's plagued humankind since the inception of our self- consciousness: Why? The question can merely be one of wonder, an expression of wanting to discover more about the world in which we inhabit. Or it can also be asked from a deeper place, a more soulful place, a please of concern, when confronted with something that is inherently and viscerally out of place or blatantly wrong. Something's happening that shouldn't be happening. And we want to know why. More importantly, we want to know why a loving God would allow it. And perhaps an even deeper question: How long? For while I may make allowance for an isolated incident that seems unfit and chalk it up to mystery, I'm not as easily able to do so if it persists. The prophet, like the people around him, has looked upon violence and injustice for far too long. They've been waiting for a change, working for a change, but alas! No change has come! They feel powerless to make any real difference, to do anything that will better their situation, and in their powerlessness, they cry out to the One who, they have been told, can do anything. And there's the rub. For if nothing will be impossible with God, and if God indeed cares for His creation, how then can the present experiences be explained? It just doesn't make sense. And in their frustration, they begin to look for different answers. We know well the angst that moves us to ask the how long question. We've been sheltering in place for more than eight months now - thinking, hoping, trusting that what we're doing matters and that progress is being made. We never thought we could hold on for as long as we have. But here we are. And the solution is still somewhere out there in the future. We're hearing about COVID burnout and pandemic fatigue; many of us experience an overall weariness that has settled in upon us. And just today our county has moved from orange to purple. We've been holding our collective breath until we ourselves are all but turning purple - and now we find ourselves faced with even greater challenges. We know well the how long lament. The prophet's not the only one who feels his cries are not being heard. His people are experiencing the same thing. And in this way, the bare honesty of the prophet draws them all in - for they want to know where his lament will lead, what the verdict will be, and how he will answer his own question. Both the prophet and the people continue in their real struggle, trying to make sense out of the seemingly senseless. Habakkuk's questions will diminish as he speaks his piece. He will settle more deeply into his conviction that God is fully aware of all that transpires, cares deeply for His children and is indeed working all things out for His good purposes. How long must we endure this? The answer is known only to God. But how we move forward today will bear witness to our beliefs and will clarify our confession. We may not be able to rest easy in these days. But we can rest secure, knowing our loving and faithful God has us firmly in His grasp and is working out His salvation in us and through us.
Good, gracious and sovereign Lord, as we encounter uncertain times that fill us with wonder and anxiety, help our souls to rest securely in You. You are fully aware of our situation. You are faithful and true. Open our minds and grant us wisdom to make good decisions in these days. Open our hearts to our neighbors in need. Show us the selfish, short-sightedness of our ways, and inspire us to act in ways that bring blessing and benefit to all of Your people. Work Your will in us and through us, for our good and for Your glory. May we be Your instruments of healing, as You continue Your holy and redemptive work in us all.
For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love,
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.
If the apostle's life could be conceived of as a tree, there would be but one leaf revealed to us of his relationship with Philemon. A mere twenty-five verses are included in the New Testament. But in them we find evidence of a deep and abiding bond between these two brothers in Christ. Trust between them had developed over the years of their faithful fellowship, a trust that enabled the apostle to write to him with the confidence that Philemon would respond positively to the request he, Paul, was about to make. Although Paul's appeal was the impetus for his writing, his plea proved to be but a backdrop for him to mention more important things. Paul assures Philemon of the comfort and joy that filled his heart because of Philemon's service to the church of God. It seems clear that whatever means Philemon had at his disposal, he put it to good use, proving to be a faithful steward of what God had entrusted to his care. He used his power for good purposes, something the world needs more of, now and always. Paul uses a wonderful word of commendation when he describes the outcome of Philemon's actions on behalf of the faith community: He has refreshed them. He's enriched their lives, left them with more energy and hope than they had before their shared encounters. He has shined his light and, as a result, he has made the world a better place. These companions are indeed fellow workers for the same Lord, and they're united in their partnership of service. What a gift they had been given in each other, to be blessed with this kind of relationship. Such connection is not something to be lightly esteemed, but rather deeply cherished. In this brief glimpse into the lives of these two brothers in Christ, we can find our own inspiration and encouragement to be faithful in our relationships and prove worthy of others' trust. We can be more mindful of the rich blessings we've received in those friendships that have bridged the gap and have become more than friendships, but true fellowship and treasured family. Consider the rich blessings you've received in the close connections you share with others. Give thanks to God for those precious gifts bestowed. Let these words expressed by the apostle to his cherished coworker motivate you to express your own appreciation for those you hold dear. And know that as you offer yourself in those loving friendships and cultivate those close connections, you're bringing joy, comfort and refreshment to many.
Good and gracious God, thank You for the blessing of the precious friendships I enjoy in my life. Help me to see Your own love and care for me, as I enjoy the company of others with whom I share rich relationship. Help me to be a faithful friend. And may You work in me and through me to bring comfort, joy and refreshment to others. Shine Your light into my life today, that I might reflect Your light into the lives of others to make this world a better place, to the honor and glory of Your holy name alone.
Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace!
Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; pay your vows.
For never again will the wicked one pass through you; he is cut off completely.
A rather obscure prophet, Nahum the Elkoshite has a powerful message of a most powerful God. When God has decided, no one and no thing can stand against Him. The LORD of hosts is like an overwhelming tidal wave that cannot be reined in. And after hearing the prophet's message, no listener wants to be one on the wrong side of God, the Mighty Defender of those who take refuge in Him. Four times in this three-paged prophet we're invited to behold the prophet's vision. Twice it is God Himself who calls the people to attention, as He speaks: Behold, I am against you... The people of Judah can take heart, this time, that the words are not spoken against them, but against the Assyrians, their enemies, those who had been making life miserable for them for more than a century. Some thought God's judgment was long overdue. Jonah had been called by God to address this same nation more than a hundred years prior, and he wanted God to unleash his anger against them at that time. Instead, God saw their repentance, turned away from His judgment, and extended to them His compassionate mercy, showering His grace upon what Jonah knew was an undeserving people. But not this time. Their day of reckoning had come, with the result that the people of Judah would once again and finally enjoy days of peace. Look to the mountains! There you will see the messenger of God! He comes to bear good news! It's a message of victory, freedom and peace! You need cower in fear no longer. You can come out from your hiding places. You will again be able to celebrate your feasts openly with your loved ones within the community. You will be free to express your thanks to God in offerings and sacrifice and make good on the vows you have taken... The good news we long for in our present age is of a different sort. We long to see the ever-climbing number of COVID-19 cases slow to a trickle. We long to hear the announcement that masks are no longer necessary and that the distance between us can be diminished. To receive permission to gather with our families, to dine out without fear, and to greet one another with healing hugs and holy kisses. We ache for the end of election scandals, baseless accusations and the pervasive unrest that has plagued our nation for far too long. What joy it would bring us, to hear this announcement of peace and to know that it was the word of God that need not and could not be doubted. We await that day with deepest longing. Perhaps we know in our heart of hearts that those words never again will only be realized when we arrive at our heavenly Home. In that place where all sin is removed, all imperfection redeemed, and we shall enjoy forever the presence of the One who is holy and gracious and true. With that fixed and certain hope in mind, we can fully invest ourselves in the meantime, even as we've been taught by our Lord to pray, that God's heavenly kingdom will come and that God's holy will might be done, right here on earth, right now in our present day. That would be something we could certainly take pride in. And that would be a most beautiful day to behold.
Almighty God - holy, loving and true: We thank You that You always work for the good of Your people and that Your intentions on our behalf are always for our benefit. We know that true peace can be found only in You. And so we pray that You would bless us with that peace, and that as we receive it from You we will put it into practice right here and now, even as we await the Day when we shall enjoy together perfect and everlasting peace in Your presence. Turn us away from dissention and divisiveness. Help us to discover and appreciate our rich diversity. And by Your Holy Spirit, draw us together as one people, united before You with humble adoration and praise. To You alone be all honor and glory, both now and forever.
One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."
Words matter. Leadership matters. The good and the bad. The apostle writes to a man named Titus, to whom he had entrusted no small stewardship in the organization of the faith community on the island of Crete. One of Paul's chief concerns is that good order be established in every city where the church had a presence, that it might function well from within and be not excoriated from without. More importantly, Paul was concerned that no member of the community - especially leaders - would, by their deeds, present Jesus in an impure light - and cause either believers or outsiders to stumble in their faith or to turn away from the gospel. Because there are only imperfect people that compose any community, there will also be those who cause trouble, concerned only about themselves and their own advancement and success, rather than about bringing benefit to the organization as a whole or to those who are outside it. The apostle had been made aware of rebels in their midst, those who not only claimed to be followers of Christ but were also self-appointed teachers of the faith, whom he calls empty talkers and deceivers. Their goal was their own selfish gain, and they were causing disruption in the community. They had been sowing seeds of dis-ease, fostering an atmosphere of mistrust, creating anxiety, with the result that entire families were being upset, and the community as a whole was left in a state of confused disorder. One such prophet among them, with a reputation known well enough that he needn't be named, was unfairly generalizing, labeling the entire nation as liars, evil and lazy. Unfortunately, his insensitive and false accusations did, in some measure, stick. For even today, to call someone a Cretan carries with it a negative and hurtful connotation. These leaders were dangerous. They were teaching others their errant ways in their words and by their actions, and one does not doubt that some of their listeners followed suit. Paul urged Titus to reprove them soundly. To silence them. To do all that that was within his power to put an immediate stop to it. In addition, Paul urged Titus himself to take great care in his own teaching, to hold fast to the truth he had been taught, that he might not wander off into unimportant and peripheral matters that would lead him to slide down the same slippery slope. It has been said: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When someone is in the nascent stages of learning any new subject, one sees only a few smattering samples and is not able to take in the whole picture. As such, one cannot speak with any specificity, with any perspective, or with any real authority on the matter. Generalizations will be made; labels will be attached. These actions tell us more about the teacher than what's being taught. Armchair quarterbacks, backseat drivers, the sick who search online for medical diagnoses, couch dwellers who scan headlines and news bytes: All too often, they're overly confident in their own convictions while insufficiently able to keep their opinions to themselves. Like adolescents with enough learning to think they've seen enough, they claim to know it all. One once came to a follower of our Lord and asked, Sir we wish to see Jesus. Let us never lose sight of our end goal. For as Paul once wrote to the Church of God at Corinth, We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord. It's not about you and me; it's about Jesus.
Almighty God, we thank You for the leaders who've come before us, those who have led us to You and instructed us in Your ways. We thank You for Your Spirit which led and guided them. Continue to bless our leaders with wisdom and grace, and direct them in their teaching, that they might faithfully guide us to You. Help us not claim too much in areas we know but little, and guard our tongues from speaking words that hurt those You love or hinder them from coming to know Your compassionate care and amazing grace. To You alone be all honor and praise, in our words and by our actions, this day and every day.
And many nations will come and say,
"Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD and to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths."
For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
had been God's plan from the very beginning of their call and commission as His children. Indeed, their status as God's chosen people was tied inextricably the purpose God had set before them. It had all started with their ancestor Abraham, whom God had called out of a family that worshiped other gods (that were, of course, no real gods at all, but merely the creation of men's hands). God had promised Abraham (then called Abram) that He would richly bless him, grant him many descendants, and provide them with a land in which they could dwell. Indeed, they could call this Promised Land their own - as long as they remembered God was its real Owner, and as long as they carried out God's justice within it. But God has also promised something more - and in this promise was embedded the mission of Abraham and all those who would claim him as their father and the LORD as their God. Through your descendants, the LORD had said, all nations will be blessed. Which is to say that Abraham and his descendants were chosen by God not just to assume some special, privileged status before God. They were chosen to be God's instruments of blessing through which all the nations of the world would be blessed. They were blessed to be a blessing. Isaiah has spoken of this in terms of being a light to the nations. Jesus would later echo these words and bring them to glorious fulfillment when He told those He had gathered around Him that they were the light of the world. When Micah picks up his prophetic work, God's people were a mess. Far from serving as a light to the nations, any light within them could hardly be called light at all, but darkness. Instead of shining as a beacon of hope for all the nations to see, they themselves had failed to benefit from the instruction of the LORD, which He had given to them through Moses at Sinai. They had disregarded God's law, carved out the kingdom in their own image, and governed with injustice. The rich became richer, the poor were neglected, and the widow, orphan and impoverished were trodden under foot. Indeed, the enemy was on its way to devastate the sacred city and lead the people into exile. But before they stepped in to conquer the blessed children of God from the outside, the nation had collapsed from within. Micah tells them the truth of the judgment that was rightly coming upon them: they would reap what they had sown. But Micah also bears witness to the longing of the nations and to the failed mission of the people. Micah looks forward to the days when God's good and perfect will would be made known from Jerusalem to every nation under heaven. God's plan would come to fruition; it would arrive at its blessed conclusion. For indeed, the LORD would accomplish it directly, in and through the One who would be born in Bethlehem and arise from that small town to carry out God's holy mission as Savior of the world. To seek be a great nation, to reach for the stars, while an ambitious goal, stops short of success. For God's blessing is never to end with us. God has not called us to be a reservoir of His blessings, but to serve as conduits through which God's blessing will reach all of His beloved. That is our holy mandate, and our work is not finished until we've attained to that purpose and no nation and no people is left wanting.
Lord of the nations, God of history: Your first command was Let there be light, and we rejoice that Your light has come into the darkness of our world. You revealed Your light to Moses at the Burning Bush, and You blessed Your children with light in the law spoken from Sinai. You finally became incarnate in our midst in Jesus, the Light of the World. Shine on us and burn brightly within us, that, shining our light for all to see, we might fulfill Your gracious will, that all Your people might be blessed, now and forever.
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed
and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
2 Timothy 1:12
Jesus had warned His disciples to take care in counting the cost of following Him. He had told them He could promise them no earthy riches, no temporal rewards, no positions of power. He had made it clear about where He was headed and what would happen to Him once He got there. And when we finally find Him at Golgotha, hanging on the wooden cross that would be His throne, the evangelists tell us that the disciples left Him and fled. Even on Resurrection Day, they cowered behind locked doors, for fear of what might happen to them, as followers of the Crucified One. And indeed, like their Savior, they would go on to suffer many things. Paul, too. Although he was not one of the original Twelve, he had joined their ranks as one of those who would suffer for the sake of Christ. The once feared persecutor of the church would himself experience suffering for the gospel he now proclaimed. He called himself both a prisoner for Christ and a prisoner of Christ. Having submitted his own will to the will of his Lord, he suffered the indignity of earthly confinement. But he declared that he was not ashamed of his suffering or of his imprisonment. If his freedom had been taken away, he proclaimed a yet greater victory - that the Son of God had set him free and had made him free indeed. And he was confident that all he had entrusted to God - his work, his sacrifice, his life - God was able to guard and preserve inviolable. He was convinced that he was in the safekeeping of his Savior. Not too long ago, I was present at the graveside of a dear saint of God. It was there that I heard the testimony of her children and family of the life that she had lived in their midst. Among the many words of gratitude and admiration that were shared was this: She did not just believe in God; she knew God. Certainly in our world, there is always mystery that remains. Paul himself had said, Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. But as much as we can say that we've come to know anything in this life, as much as we can express any confident certitude - a persuasion that is convincing - the apostle could say this about God. He was well aware of what it was for people to be deluded into believing things - but this was not one of them. Perhaps there's always some doubt that remains, but Paul looked forward with great assurance to what awaited him when he breathed his last on this earth. Although some might say that it was his faith that saved him, it would be more proper to say that it was the One in whom his faith resided that was the cause of His future hope. For it is not faith itself, but the object of our faith, that matters. And when our eyes are properly fixed on our precious Redeemer, it is then that God's Holy Spirit works within us to keep our faith strong. When that Day comes for you - whether in the form of taking your last breath here on earth or when Jesus reappears to bring all earthly things to glorious conclusion - you will then be in the safekeeping of the One who has laid down His life for you. For He is both the Savior of the world and the Savior of you. In Him you can confidently place your trust, for He will guard you and your faith holy and inviolable, until your believing gives way to knowing.
Good and gracious God, holy and eternal: Thank You for the precious gift of life You have given to us all and for Your faithful and enduring presence. Thank You for Your constant care and for the daily bread You so generously supply. Help us to be mindful of our blessings and never to forget their source. And soften our hearts, that we might share with those in need that which is ours in abundance, both physical and spiritual. May our souls find their perfect rest in you, and may our spirits within us be at peace, knowing that I we are Your safekeeping, both now and forever.
Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.
The prophet receives his marching orders from God, the great Commander-in-Chief. If there's Anyone you shouldn't say No to, it's your Creator, the One who has power to give life and to take it. But Jonah is one stubborn dude; he's determined and dead-set-against the mission on which God desired to send him. Not a chance! thought the prophet, I'm not doing that! And he tore up his draft papers and made plans of his own - to leave the country and get as far away as possible from the One who had commissioned him. Not the smartest move. For, of course, it wasn't difficult for God, who sees everything, to track him down, return him to his own country and remind him of his assignment. Jonah would end up doing his duty and serving his time; but he wouldn't be at all pleased with the way things turned out. Repentance is easier for some than it is for others, and Jonah was as headstrong as they come. While it didn't take long for the Assyrians to humble themselves and to turn from their wicked ways, the prophet is still seething in anger when the account ends... Today is Veterans Day, when we remember those who've served honorably in our Armed Forces. They, too received their assignments; and, like Jonah, they might not have been all too pleased with their them. Dissatisfaction might have come for several reasons: Their appointment was too far from home, their accommodations were not up to standard, or, like Jonah, they took issue with the underlying purpose of their deployment altogether. But they went anyway. They served. And they trusted that those who called the shots could see more of the picture than they could and that the assessment of their superiors was better than their own. They sacrificed their own will and ways, to answer to those in command over them. And we do well to respect, admire and express our gratitude to those who've served us by serving our nation. Despite any fear, uncertainty or discomfort they faced, they nevertheless answered the call to serve, and they faithfully executed their duties... We shouldn't be too quick to judge Jonah for his initial renunciation of his charge. Doing so can, in fact, minimize the service he was called to render - which was no small thing. Jonah's first refusal actually highlights the gravity of his commission, for God was calling him to a high and holy duty - to be God's messenger and to deliver God's Word. As good soldiers of Christ, we're to serve wholeheartedly with no questions asked. Not in the sense of unthinking cultish response. But with the utmost devotion and trust. Knowing that the One who's called us to serve and to sacrifice - for God's glory and for the good of God's people - knows better than we do. The one who seeks to save his life will lose it, Jesus said. But the one who loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will find it. True life is found in hearing God's Word and taking it to heart by putting it into practice. As we honor those who've chosen to offer themselves fully for the service of our nation, let us learn from their example. May we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to God's service and faithfully carry out the commission we've received, that God's good purposes of redemption and rescue might be fully realized in us and through us. Perhaps rightfully so, the Book of Jonah ends with a question. Will the angry prophet come around to fully align himself with God's ways of mercy and compassion? Will we?
Good and gracious God, thank You for those who've answered the call to serve. On this Veterans Day we thank You for the strength and fortitude You've given to those who've submitted their own freedom of choice to serve us by serving our country. Help us to show proper respect and to honor them for their service. Thank You also for those who've answered Your call to serve as Your ministers of peace and reconciliation, those who've counted the cost of unpreferred locale, poor accommodations and inhospitable environment, and yet paid the price, sacrificing their own will to serve Your own. May Your people serve You wholeheartedly today, wisely and dutifully carrying out Your great commission.
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray,
lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
1 Timothy 2:8
In his letters to Timothy, the experienced evangelist Paul instructs the young pastor Timothy about proper order in the church community of his day. In this short verse, we're transported back to the worship practices of first century Christianity and to the culture at that time, when it was deemed proper for men and women to pray separately. This was appropriate not only for those who participated; it was also exemplary for those who looked in from the outside. Several times in Paul's short letters, he's sensitive to what we might call the witness of action - just as important as the witness of words - and he takes pains to point out the importance of being above reproach. If at all possible, the actions of Christians should not serve to create a poor reputation for their movement or give reason for others to think less of Jesus. In our day, the opposite might well be true. If we were to segregate our gatherings, believers might well feel they were missing out on the fullness of worship, not being able to share the important experience with those most precious to them. Outsiders, too, would be quick to get the wrong idea, concluding that Christianity is discriminatory, backward, or that Jesus looks down on women as lesser children of God. Therefore, while the apostle addressed these words specifically to men, we might well apply his instruction to all in the worshiping community. In my own less-expressive faith tradition, few lift up their hands as they sing or pray; in other traditions, it's a normal and expected practice. While some may do so as a sign of reaching out to God, as an expression of desiring the fullness of God's grace, or to experience the abundance of God's Spirit, the apostle's words give us insight into something else that is just as important. Most of us can remember creating art projects in our early years of schooling. I think of the wonderfully tactile experience of fingerpainting. Do you remember that November activity of dipping your hands in paint, imprinting your hand on white butcher paper, and then morphing your handprint into a turkey? And how excited you were, after it had dried, to take it (or another priceless creation) home to your mom and dad, to show them what you had made - literally with your own hands? Now back to the sanctuary of prayer, the worship arena, and the holy hands we lift to God: Our hands are representative of our lives, our actions, our handiwork. As if to say: See my hands, O Lord. They represent the work I have done, the life I have lived - for You. The apostle wants to make it clear that when we come before God to worship, our lives are consistent with God's desire. We're not to harbor wrath against outsiders; for our Lord has called us to love our enemies. We're not to cause dissension in the midst of the body of Christ; for Jesus has called us to love and serve each other. Unless we're serious about living the way Jesus called us to live - in humble service before others and in loving sacrifice before God, we're not lifting up holy hands; instead, we're making a pretentious display before God and showing the ugliness of hypocrisy to outsiders. Once the resurrected Jesus showed His beloved disciple Thomas His nail scarred hands. In so doing, Jesus not only demonstrated the truth of His resurrection; He also reminded Thomas of what He had done for him - and for us all - on the cross of Calvary. Jesus is the model, then and now, of what it means to lift up holy hands - in loving sacrifice before God and in loving service before all of God's people.
Almighty God, holy and eternal: By Your hands You carefully crafted us and every living being. Let us use our voices to speak Your words of grace to all. Let us use our hands to carry out Your desired intentions for the people you so dearly love. Transform our hearts to pray for the good of others; may we never harbor animosity against them. Work in us proper humility, to lift up and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ and treat them with dignity. kindness and respect. Let us abstain from insults and hurtful rhetoric; and may contempt and strife be unknown in our midst. Make us holy, as You are holy.
Do not gloat over your brother's day, the day of his misfortune.
And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction;
Yes, do not boast in the day of their distress.
There are poor losers, and then there are winners who gloat. Our Lord would have us recognize the temptations of either and avoid the pitfalls of both. I will make no application to national or world politics. Doing so at this time of polarization would do more than ruffle a few feathers. Far too widespread is the tendency to hear what we want to hear, to see what we want to see, and to turn away from anything that challenges our assumptions, beliefs or deeply held loyalties. Far too prevalent is the view that our side has the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - while the other side is replete with liars. Few of us are innocent in these matters; and none of us emerges from these wars of words unscathed or without battle scars. The vision of the prophet Obadiah, the words he speaks, and the message he inscribes make up the shortest inclusion in the Hebrew Scriptures. He makes a cameo appearance on the stage of God's prophetical theater, and he speaks his piece in one page of eighteen verses. His offering is a pithy gem; it's memorable, and it's worthy of our consideration. The prophet addresses his words primarily to the audience of Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, while the people of Judah were the offspring of Jacob. Who were Esau and Jacob? They were (unidentical) twins; Isaac was their father. There had been much animosity between the peoples descended from these two brothers, who themselves were often at odds. And so, when Judah experienced the worst time in their history - when their kingdom was being conquered and their people carted away into exile - the Edomites stood up to applaud. They rejoiced over the demise and downfall of their distant relatives. And the prophet rebukes them and holds them accountable. The apostle Paul would later write of love: It does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. In other words, love doesn't gloat over another's misfortune but instead shares in the celebration of their victories. And perhaps what is most important in the words of the prophet is not what he says outright, but what he implies. For there's one word in this verse that perhaps cuts deeper than all the rest: brother. The Edomites wanted to forget about this fact; so did the Children of Israel. If they could, they'd lobby and litigate for emancipation. To be free from any and all associations to this shameful and embarrassing part of their family history. To deny any connections or responsibility to these people who had truly become their enemies. But Obadiah would have them look deeper. To their shared brotherhood. The prophet would have them recognize their common humanity and, indeed, their common Creator. Neither side wanted to remember the attempts at reconciliation that had taken place between their ancestor brothers near the end of their lives. They wanted to continue to blame, to judge and to gloat over each other's misfortunes. If only they could take a step back and consider how their patriarch Isaac and their matriarch Rebecca would have felt about their behavior. For certainly one of the greatest desires in the hearts of parents is that their children get along. Or, if they didn't consider their parents, perhaps they might have thought of their own children - and what kind of world they would be leaving for them. Or, finally, they might wonder where God stood on this matter. This One bent on compassion and mercy and love for all of His children. Those in blue states and those in red. Those on this side of the aisle and those on the other. God would certainly have us consider our common heritage, apply ourselves to listen and learn from each other, and do our level best to get along - for good of all, and for the love of God.
Good and gracious God, thank You for the still, small voice with which You speak to us. You well know that when You use this means of communication, we're more apt to listen. Thank You for Your prophet, Obadiah. Although You didn't give him much time on stage, his message is well worth our consideration. Before we act too quickly toward those over whom we would gladly gloat with pleasure at victories we claim over them, open our minds to consider our common humanity, and open our hearts to feel what You do for each and every one of Your children. Teach us to take our cue from You, not repaying each other with evil for evil, but seeking what is good for one another and acting nobly in the sight of all.
And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:5
The apostle shares these words of benediction in a short follow-up letter to a beloved community situated on the shores of the northwest bend of the Aegean Sea. The fellowship of believers had received the gospel Paul had preached and held it fast. They had progressed in their faith, hope and love. But they were not without their challenges; they were not without their conflicts. There were afflictions from without and fractures from within. In its beginning, Christianity was suspect in the culture, seen as a challenge to the state and to the Emperor. The Way, as it was sometimes called early on, did not have the backing and support of the community at large and would have to prove itself as a positive influence in the world before being welcomed and embraced. Within the faith community itself, problems arose in those who were leading unruly and undisciplined lives, inconsistent with the gospel of Christ. All this to say that this congregation was not dissimilar to most other Christian bodies at that time or in the Church today. In this epistle, Paul addresses specific concerns within their community and finally entrusts them into God's care. Paul is, after all, merely a servant of the Word. He had been called by God to proclaim the gospel and to minister to communities of believers, helping them to put their faith into practice. God Himself is the Lord of the Church - there in Thessalonica and anywhere the Spirit quickens hearts to faith in Jesus. The prayerful blessing the apostle speaks on the people is that the Lord would direct their hearts into the love of God. Which is to say that their eyes would be opened to the unfathomable love of God on their behalf, and, as they would come to grasp that truth more fully, that their hearts would be transformed to interact with others with God's own heart. The prayer is that their hearts would grieve with the things that grieve the heart of God; that their hearts would be filled with the same love and joy and grace God demonstrated for the world in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul entrusts them into the care of God, praying that God would cleanse them from all sin and self-centeredness and transform their hearts to beat for God alone and to sacrificially serve all in their needs, thereby acting as God's own agents in the world. Furthermore, Paul prays that God would bless them with the steadfastness of Christ, whose will was steeled in unwavering devotion to His Father and who did not shy away from the path that would eventually lead Him to His passion at Calvary. In this benediction of God's servant, we find good direction for our own prayers. For what more perfect plea could we present to God than to ask that He would give us His own heart for His people and the determination to keep to the righteous path of our Savior - even and especially when it is difficult or unpopular to do so. Our calling from God and the stewardship entrusted to us is a great one. Truly: By ourselves, we're unable to fulfill it. But in His grace, God will strengthen us by His Spirit to love with His love and to carry to completion the cross He's called us to bear in faithful discipleship. On this Lord's day, submit your will and your ways to God's perfect intentions, and dedicate yourself to worship God in full devotion, to love all people with bold resolve.
God of power and might, in Your unfathomable love You created humanity in Your image. And when, in our freedom, we turned our backs upon You and sought to have our own way, You looked upon us with mercy, and You were determined to woo us back to Yourself. Your will is to save and redeem all of Your people, that none might perish. Empower us to fulfill Your call to be Your agents of reconciliation, to make known Your amazing grace by communicating Your message clearly and affirming it in our actions of sacrificial service. To the honor of Your holy Name and for Your glory alone, both now and forever.
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD God, "When I will send a famine on the land.
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD."
Things were spiraling downward. They had been doing so for years. The drift had taken place slowly over time: the gap between rich and poor became deeper and wider; justice was unequitable, favoring those who had power and money to bribe over those who had none. And when it came to religious practice: at their worst, they cast behind them the ways of the LORD and adopted the practices of the pagans who had come before them - those who had been cast out of the land because of their evil practices; at their best, they had refined their ceremonial rites in rich display. But it was only an empty showing. They had the form of religion without any of its substance. They merely went through the motions, in an attempt to make themselves feel better and to show others how righteous they were. But all the while they rejected the good intentions and righteous ways of the One they pretended to worship. God had tried repeatedly to get their attention. The shepherd-prophet Amos saw those attempts in droughts that had come upon the land and wind that had scorched it; mildew that had devastated their landscape and despoiled them of their food source; invading bands that had ransacked their food stores and pilfered their possessions. Nothing seemed to get their attention. The underlying purpose of these catastrophic events was to draw the attention of the people back to God. Surely then, when their blessings were removed, they'd come to their senses and, recognizing their inability to rescue themselves, cry out to the One who had rescued their ancestors in their own times of need. And yet they continued to stop up their ears and stubbornly refuse to return to the LORD. Perhaps if God removed His Word from their midst, the famine for the Word would woo them home? Indeed, the day would come when the work of the prophets would be completed. Pulpits would stand empty. And the words of the prophets would be written down, so that the remnant in their midst who continued to feel pangs of conscience and stirrings of God's Spirit could be reminded of them. The season of God's speaking would soon run its course and, until God decided otherwise, any who were still interested would have to content themselves with reruns. And yet the heart of God is such that His Word must be spoken. We might say that God felt compelled to make His intentions known; He could not keep silent. As a lover cannot restrain words to convey his heart to his beloved, so God could withhold His Word no longer. And God would do better than sending just another prophet. His Word would become incarnate among the people. Then they would not only hear the LORD: they would see Him. Witness His actions. See the Word of God performed in ways they could emulate. God would give expression to His Word in the fullest sense. And then - surely then - the people would see and never again turn away. The Word of God must be spoken - not only for the people's sake, but for God's sake. For God will do whatever it takes - He will sacrifice it all - to show the extent of His love and to woo all of His people, that none may perish, but that all might come to repentance and be saved.
Good, gracious and glorious God, nothing could keep You from expressing the fullness of Your love to Your people. You are insistent on making Yourself known and blessing Your people with abundance. Open our eyes to Your presence in our midst. Transform our hearts, that we might love one another with the sacrificial love which You have demonstrated for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. You came into our midst not to be served but to serve and to offer Yourself in fullness for our salvation. May Your redemptive purposes be complete in our lives and may we offer ourselves to Your service, that Your will might be done in us and through us, for the honor and glory of Your Name. May You alone be praised, now and forever.
But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary of doing good.
2 Thessalonians 3:13
Even those who've been blessed with a strong constitution, even those who've inherited by nature or who've developed by practice a dogged determination, can be pressed too long, too hard, and too far. And the days in which we're living have tried and tested the strongest and most steadfast in our midst. The restrictions the virus has placed upon us. The extra care and attention we've been called upon to take to be prudent and vigilant, for the purpose of preserving our own health and being mindful of the well-being of others. The rage that rises up within us when we look upon injustice, and we're moved to take to the streets in protest. Or the anxiety that wells up within us, when we choose to stay home for the sake of self-preservation, while watching those who decide otherwise and risk their own safety to let their voices be heard and their actions be seen. Temptation beckons us to take matters too far, to overcompensate, and to slip from speaking out against injustice to using incendiary language that serves only to create the very violence it endeavors to protest, with the result that it adds to the chaos it intends to curb. The controversy many feared would emerge surrounding the election is already showing signs of becoming uglier that we thought possible, and we find ourselves in danger of becoming like the nations we had heretofore deemed backward, lawless and corrupt. The tidal wave of 2020 has seemingly arisen out of nowhere, and we find ourselves living out our worst nightmare. Some would say we're merely reaping what we've sown. Whatever the cause, it's become increasingly difficult not to grow weary of it all. It's time to take a breath. (Right now - even in the midst of reading this - is a good time to do so.) And to remember that above the stormy days we find ourselves ensconced in now, the sun is still shining above the clouds. When it all becomes too much, it's time to step outside to compose ourselves, to recenter, to readjust, and to regain our perspective. God remains on the throne. God is still sovereign. The hysterics will pass, and peace will be restored. It may seem surprising to hear when we're in the midst of these days, but there were other generations who endured just as much as we're going through today. The congregation to which Paul writes experienced affliction, hardship and persecution; deception and lawlessness; leaders who abused power and deluded themselves into believing what was false, while promoting it to others as gospel truth. We're not alone in the challenges we face. The apostle's encouragement to those who experienced these things then is encouragement for us who are dealing with them now: Don't grow weary. Press on. One day at a time. Pursue that which is right and good and true. It will eventually take root and bear fruit - and you'll come out of these days stronger and more determined than ever. Good will win out over evil. For in the end, victory is assured when you throw in your lot with God. The new day may not come today or tomorrow. And things might get even worse before they get better. But take heart and rest assured that if you persist in doing good, you're on the side of victory, and you will indeed overcome. After all, Paul wouldn't have had to write these words if the people weren't in danger of throwing in the towel. The temptation to do so is real. But hold on and hang in there. The One who's with you empowers you to do your part to contribute to His good work in the world today.
Almighty God, we've endured much in our day, and many of us find ourselves near the end of our proverbial ropes. It's an anxious time to live and a scary place to be, and yet it humbles us and causes us to look to You for assistance. In Your mercy, grant us the assurance of Your faithful presence and bless us with all that we need to carry out Your good and gracious will. Bread of Life, Manna from heaven come down to earth: Give us this day our daily bread. And may it nourish and empower us to fulfill our purpose, for the good of Your people and the honor of Your holy name. To You alone be all glory and praise.
And the threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.
Devastation had filled the land of Judah. A plague of locusts had consumed both fields and fruit trees. The harvest of vines was laid waste and along with it the joy and mirth of the people. And this was merely the beginning. For the loss of the land's resources due to the animal kingdom gone haywire was a sign of things to come, as enemy armies lined up to invade the land and take its people hostage and into captivity. It was not a good time to be alive, and the stories of their tribulations would be passed on to many generations to come. But as much hardship as they experienced, and as much as the prophet saw in it the deserved judgment of God, the message was not all doom and gloom. For the prophet was also convinced that God's judgment was not final. Which is to say that, in the end, God's desire for His people was good. The prophet Jeremiah had said that God's plan for His people was for their welfare, not to bring calamity upon them. Centuries later an evangelist named Paul would affirm that God had not destined His people for wrath, but for obtaining salvation. And as some are wont to say in our day: God is good, all the time. In truth, God is finally on the side of His people, not against them. For as the apostle would also later say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And so, in the midst of a land that had been depleted, the prophet holds out the promise that there will again be fullness of grain and overflow of oil and wine. For in God we find not only satisfaction for daily needs, but abundance for living. While the disciples of Jesus would later ask of five loaves and two fish, “What is this among so many?” from them Jesus would feed the multitudes with leftovers beside. For there is no lack in God. These words of promise inspired hope in the people - more than a frivolous wishing that their fortunes would change, but a certain hope found in the very character of the LORD their God. In the same way, it's good for us who are enduring our own times of tribulation to hearken unto the promises of God and to hear them in light of God's character. The prophet Joel will remind the people that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. These qualities are at the very heart of God's identity, and this is where our faith is to be fixed. We'll get through these days, and we'll come through them victoriously because: God abides with us, God is good, and those things will never change. We need not worry about the outcome. Our part is to live responsible lives before God, to carry out His good and gracious will and to work for the redemption of His world. Our part is to work for justice and peace and to interact with others in the same way God has first dealt with us. We're to resist the temptation to be reactionary or to repay evil with evil. Instead, we're to be responsive to God's initiative on our behalf, to love as He first loved us. This is part of what it means to have been created in His image. So press on in doing right with all the power that is in you, and leave the results in God's good hands. A new day is surely coming, and it will be filled with the abundance of God's mercy and grace. For this is the identity and character of our good and gracious God.
Almighty God, throughout the ages Your people have sought to discern meaning in the face of natural disaster and human destruction. Continue to remind us of Your immutable character, that You are loving, kind, compassionate and merciful; that You are righteous and just - and that You expect us to be fair and equitable with others. Open our eyes to Your grace, abundantly poured out on our behalf. And transform our hearts, that they might be filled with Your passion, so that we might interact with Your people according to Your will and Your ways, to the honor and glory of Your holy name, now and forever.
But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while - in person, not in spirit -
were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.
1 Thessalonians 2:17
In this crazy, mixed-up year, should we be at all surprised to find that last night's election was not definitive? Those of us who stayed up to the wee hours of the night to see things through to the end have groggily awakened to find that matters are still undecided and that we may have to wait awhile longer - something that's become all too familiar to us during this year - for the conclusion of the presidential contest. One thing that has been proved is that we continue to be a very divided country, and there's great work in front of us - if we're to live up to our name as the United States of America. The apostle writes the words above to a congregation of believers near and dear to his heart. He writes with passion, longing and tenderness. I suspect many of us can relate to Paul's words, especially about being bereft of one another's company, as we live out these days of physical distancing, due to the dangers of COVID-19. We don't know the amount of time of which the apostle speaks when he deems it a short while, but those are not the words most of us would choose when referring to the separation from our loved ones that has been forced upon us by this virus. Even after decades have passed, I'll be surprised if we look back upon this time and use those words to describe what we're now experiencing. Other translations simplify the words of the evangelist and render them: we made every effort to see you. The more literal rendering to see your face quickly gets our attention in these days of masked, in- person, properly-distanced gatherings, in which we're not fully present, but remain partially hidden from one another. We miss human touch and facial expression, those endearing qualities that have so much to do with human connection and bonding. But most of us can resonate deeply with the eagerness to which the apostle refers in his desire to be reunited with his fellow believers. And others are immediately moved to think of someone who's no longer present because he or she has completed the course of this earthly life and is now, we trust, in the safe-keeping of our gracious God. And it is with eagerness and great desire that you long to see them again, face to face, and to enjoy the blessed communion of saints. That day will also come. But for now, let us cherish the spiritual connection we have with others and nurture that connection through our thoughts and prayers, of and for each other. When we properly apply ourselves to these matters, it can be very true that absence can make the heart grow fonder. I pray that such will be the case when I can again embrace my parents, face to face, and when, in His mercy, God calls me home to be in His presence and in the company of those who have gone before me. What joy shall be ours when that day finally comes and our deepest longings will be met and fully satisfied by the grace and lovingkindness of God.
Good and gracious God, we give You thanks for the precious gift You've given us in the relationships we share with one another. In this time of separation, as we long for physical touch and to be in the company of those we cherish, we pray that You would keep us safe, increase our affection, and strengthen our bonds of love. We thank You that there will surely come a day when we shall see one another face to face and experience the fullness of joy You've instilled in our hearts. Continue to bless us with confident hope and with certain assurance that, in Your grace, You hold us all in Your loving and capable hands.
They do not turn to the Most High; they are like a faulty bow.
Their leaders will fall by the sword because of their insolent words.
For this they will be ridiculed in the land of Egypt.
When the kingdom of Israel divided under David's grandson, Rehoboam, the most ardent attention was devoted to the southern section of the land called Judah. It was there that Solomon's temple resided, and it was from there that David and Solomon had ruled. The northern kingdom, although they kept the name Israel, would not be where the main events would play out. The future would not fix its attention in that part of the land, but rather in the south, centered in the mighty city of Jerusalem. Most of the prophets, therefore, dealt with the kings of Judah, and they spent the majority of their time prophesying in the south. Hosea, however, was a northerner, and his primary audience was his own people. He was called by God to a complete commitment to the cause. This total devotion extended to the woman he would marry and to the names they were to give to their children. These actions would serve as living illustrations of the words the prophet would proclaim - all in the name of the LORD. In the above verse Hosea describes the waywardness of the people and the results that would happen because of it. They do not turn to the Most High. The people had been drawn away from the commandments of the Lord to the native religions of the people of the land; they worshiped the Baals of the Canaanites. Theirs was a fertility religion, tied inextricably to the growing of crops. By performing certain religious rites, they believed they could appease the gods of earth and sky and move them to action. Their divine fertility would result in rain that would fertilize their land and produce crops for their consumption. In the end, it was a self-serving religion - and if they played their cards right, they could both influence and control the gods. Nonsense! railed the prophet. All their energies directed in those endeavors would not produce what they desired. They would find it to be a most frustrating undertaking. It would be like using a faulty bow: they would never hit their mark. Those who lead with arrogance and rude disrespect would come to a surprising and devastating end, with the result that surrounding nations would make them an object of derision. Hosea might well have said: The LORD rescued your ancestors from their slavery in Egypt and brought them into this good and plentiful land of promise. He set you free from your bondage and provided you with guided counsel to live as a holy community before Him. And what have you done with it? How have you used your freedom? In your arrogance and pride, you've turned your back upon the LORD and have gone your own ways. You thought you knew better than God. It is a pathetic path you have taken, and your destination will finally reveal to you how foolish you have been. The Egyptians, your former overlords, will laugh in your face. For you've squandered your opportunities... Today is election day. Some will be raised up; others will be removed. Those welcomed in and those cast out would both do well to remember that God's ways of kindness and grace, justice and mercy, and faithful steadfast love, will never be thwarted. Those who lead are those who've been called to serve. Power is to be used for the sake of the powerless, that all of God's people may live in peace. May those who take upon themselves the mantle of leadership seek to do so with complete commitment in word and action. May they serve as examples that we can emulate and models to whom we can encourage our children to look and from who we can encourage them to learn. May they lead us in the path of righteousness, for the good of all - in our nation and world.
Almighty and sovereign Lord, all things are in Your good and faithful hands, and You rule over the nations. Work repentance in our hearts in those areas where we've turned away from You and followed our own foolish plans. Remove from us our arrogance, and humble our selfish pride. Raise up for us good and faithful leaders. And help us to do what we can, to work together as a people united for Your good purposes, that we might interact respectfully with each other, care for those in need, and live in peace and harmony with all, to accomplish Your will on earth as it is in heaven, for Your glory alone.
For I have sent him to you for this very purpose,
that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.
Who is Tychicus? It would be a good Final Jeopardy answer, for precious few would remember this man's name or his work, for he is not well-known as one of the saints of God. But it is apparent that he was a dear friend, fellow-worker and travel companion of Paul. And were we to give him a job title as a constituent of the apostle's inner circle or as a member of his cabinet, it might be Chief Emissary / Ambassador to Asia. His responsibilities seem to have been twofold: to bring news of Paul's circumstances (his personal well-being and progress in the gospel) and to encourage the listening audience: to set their hearts at ease, to strengthen their faith in God, to stir up their participation in the gospel, and to spur them on in their prayers. It is telling that the Greek word for messenger and angel are one and the same. The role of the emissary was an important one, and you can imagine the community that had gathered to read Paul's letter eagerly awaiting the arrival of this man who would fill them in on the details, tell them stories of their adventures and testify to what God was doing through Paul and his partners to build His Church. This pastoral update would help them pray more specifically for what was going on and serve to draw the community together in united purpose. The in-person presence of Tychicus made Paul's writings come alive, and he could also help to clarify concerns that might have arisen from the written word, which sometimes loses its expression and tone. We might well wonder if was worth the time and effort it took to travel long distances simply to share news of this sort. It must have taken weeks, if not months, to journey back and forth, not to mention the expense. But this work was indispensable to the community and vital to the health of the Church. Many have inquired about the state and health of our congregation. How are things? How are we doing? I find that I can give only a partial answer to this question and cannot respond as definitively as I would like. Our in-person, face-to-face communal gatherings have been seriously curbed. As much as we try, as intentional as we are in seeking to make connection with all in the community, I cannot say with certainly how it will be when we're able to come together again in the ways we've been accustomed to do. I know that I'm not alone in saying that I yearn for the fellowship of face-to-face, unmasked gathering. I miss shaking hands at the door and the occasional hug. I miss seeing the expressions on the faces of God's people, the shared communal joy and laughter. I miss kneeling side by side, gathering together around the altar of our Lord to receive His sacrament. And I know that when these rites are reinstated in our congregation, my joy will increase and my heart will be at ease. It will be a sign of resurrection in our midst. More than a return to life, it will be new life altogether. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the connections we do have and for those who facilitate our communication strengthening the bonds of our dispersed faith community. They're doing important work behind the scenes. And while their names might not be scrolling at the top of the list of God's cast of characters, their service is nonetheless integral and irreplaceable; they're cherished, treasured and beloved saints of God.
Good and gracious God, thank You for each and every member of our faith community. For the unique gifts You've given for the upbuilding of Your Church. Thank You for those who facilitate communication in our fellowship and for those who encourage our hearts and strengthen our connections. Teach us the difference between the gossip that undermines our unity and the essential information that's helpful, constructive, and serves to draw us together in closer communion. May Your Spirit continue to strengthen and upbuild Your Church, that Your good news of salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.
He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.
There's great danger in the Book of Daniel. The danger comes not just for Daniel, as he's tossed into a den of hungry lions for disobeying a king's foolish edict. Or for his famous friends - Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego - who, refusing to worship the king, are thrown into a fiery furnace. The danger also lies in the way the words of the prophet are interpreted. Like the Revelation in the New Testament, the genre of the work of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures is apocalyptic, written during a time of severe persecution. It was not prudent in those days to write openly, so meaning was imparted in the message through symbols, codes and visions. It was sometimes referred to as underground literature. If the writers were discovered, it would be next to impossible to prove that they were traitorous or treasonous, since their writings were not in plain prose. But meaning was conveyed well enough to the intended audience. As in the Revelation, so in Daniel: the central message was to stand strong, to hold firm to the faith, and to be courageous. Not to buckle under any earthly, sinister power. To persevere in the ways of God. For God would surely come to their rescue. Not even death would hinder the salvation that was theirs in God. And so the words in the verse above were words of conviction, promise and hope. God is sovereign. God rules over all. There may be kings that rule for a time, but it is God who rules for all eternity. Humans may craftily carve out their niches here on this earth; but, in the end, it is God who changes the times and the seasons. We cannot make time stand still, rush it, or turn back the clock. We may pretend to do so (having just gained an extra hour of sleep), but to think that we have control over time is a simply foolish assertion. There have been movers and shakers throughout the ages, but what can be said about the movements of history - how humanity has evolved and where it is headed? Daniel's conviction is that it is God who orchestrates these matters and that God does so for the good of His people. The community is encouraged to put their trust in God alone and to be fervent in their prayers. In the mystery of the mercies and compassions of God, our prayers are heard, and they make a difference - both for us who pray and to God who cares for His people and considers their concerns... Election day is now just a few days away. Whoever is elected, you can be sure that there will be those who claim it was, without question, God's doing, and that God has been vindicated. They may even cite the verse above as their back-up support and proof-text. And therein lies the danger. For who would dare to claim that every elected leader has been chosen by God to rule? What is certainly more important than arrogantly claiming God is behind the party you've chosen, is to commit yourself to doing all you can to make the best of however it turns out. If you're pleased with the outcome, don't gloat over those whose hopes have been dashed. Instead, do what you can to better understand them and to listen beyond and beneath the words they speak, to discern the deeper concerns of their hearts and the convictions they hold dear. And if you find that you are the one who's disappointed: Decide right here and now that you will not withdraw or isolate yourself for the next four years. Put your trust in God alone, and pray that God will sustain you with a right spirit, to serve in your community with a heart full of love, joy and dedicated service. God is the ultimate Ruler, and in that you can rightly rejoice.
Almighty God, faithful and sovereign: We rejoice that You hold all things in Your loving hands and that You rule over all. Thank You for caring for Your people. Thank You for the order You've created in our world - for the changing of the seasons and for the renewal it brings. Thank You for raising up leaders. Grant them wisdom to properly weigh the options set before them, and help them to make decisions that serve the greater good. Inspire all who serve to do so for all the people, not just those who voted them into office. And rally Your people to work together in supportive community. Have mercy upon us, we pray.
Continue to October