Confidence. We know it when we feel it. We know it when we see it in others. But where does confidence come from? For the writer of Isaiah 50, his confidence comes from knowing the Lord, from serving the Lord. It’s really an amazing recital, bordering on boastful. Who among us could say anything quite like it? The prophet is confident in his gifts and vocation, confident that he is listening to God, confident that he is following the Lord, steely in the face of persecution and abuse, dauntless in his belief that God will help and sustain him. But the passage goes far deeper than mere confidence. The prophet’s confidence is buttressed and buoyed by the following attributes:
Mission. Confidence without mission is aimless. The prophet’s determination grows out of knowing that God has something important for him to do. Who among us would endure persecution and danger for no particular reason?
Righteousness. The prophet is confident in his righteousness. His persecution is not deserved. On the contrary, he wears it as a badge of honor, evidence of his persistence in the face of opposition and suffering.
Determination. The prophet is a rock. He has ‘set his face like flint.’ You can feel his grit and determination oozing from every line of this passage. He’s going to get the job done or quite literally die trying.
Spiritual sensitivity. According to the prophet, every day God wakens his ear “to listen like one being instructed.” My first impulse when writing this devotion was to focus on the first four attributes. Imagine a world where all of God’s people were suffused with confidence, mission, righteousness and determination. We would be an unstoppable force and so much good would be accomplished! But much damage might also be inflicted by God’s people in the absence of the spiritual sensitivity that comes from listening to God daily, continuously.
God, this Lenten season, like the prophet, we pray that we might be equipped with the confidence, righteousness, determination and mission to do your work in the world. But we also pray for the spiritual sensitivity to do it with the grace, wisdom and compassion that comes from listening to you daily. Amen.
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
For many people, Lent is a time of fasting from something. From social media to meat, people choose to “give up” all sorts of things. However, it can also be life-giving to add a positive practice to your life. When I was in high school, my church youth group held a “Lenten Challenge,” with a new idea or practice added each week of Lent. Though I do not remember what each challenge was, there was one that really stuck out – being constantly thankful.
This may sound like a daunting task, but once I stopped to examine my life a little more carefully, I became more and more aware of how many blessings I am constantly surrounded by. Friends, family, the beautiful outdoors, the opportunity to study, a steaming hot cup of coffee in the morning – I’ve realized I can find something to be thankful for at all times. Along with having a greater awareness of the blessings I was surrounded by, I’ve also tried to be more intentional about taking a moment to pause and say a word of thanks. It’s astonishing how much stopping to find something to appreciate and thank God for in a situation can improve my mood!
This week’s theme focuses on how blessed we are. During this Lenten period, I challenge to you be more aware of the incredible amount of blessings you are surrounded by, to stop and reflect, and to give your thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
Sometimes I feel like Martha and say, “But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Or maybe I say, “But, Lord, I know what the data is and I don’t feel optimistic.” Or “But Lord, they are so overwhelmed, they don’t want to learn and steward your creation.” Or “But Lord, even though there is fear around us constantly, why don’t they take better care of each other?”
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Sometimes I struggle with what we’ve done so far with this earth – meaning consuming more than what we give back. I have to have faith in those circumstances to know that humans will gain knowledge, then they will believe in what they know, and then they will want to change their behavior – and not just talk about it.
I cannot just believe Jesus will take care of this earth without my help. But I can, hopefully, with God’s help, help resurrect – to bring back to life – urban and rural areas exploited, neighborhoods forgotten, waterways spoiled, and the respect of all creation.
Daily my Lazarus is restored to life when I see prairies being restored, superfund sites being cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency and people growing their own food.
I believe. Thanks be to God.
“When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is put down the shovel.”
A friend shared this saying a few years ago, and it has stayed with me as a reminder to stop, when I find myself in difficult circumstances, and take stock of the situation. How often we blame others for our troubles. How often we get in our own way when we take matters into our own hands, forgetting to ask for divine guidance.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a pit not of our own making—as Joseph found himself in a pit as a result of his brothers’ jealousy, or religious martyrs found themselves thrust into an oubliette—an underground prison cell shaped like a burial pit, its only opening at the very top, out of the prisoner’s reach. But in Psalm 130 it’s pretty clear that the writer has created his own troubles. The pit of our own making burns deep in the belly with shame. Asking for help makes us vulnerable.
Thus the cry from the depths in this Psalm is also a cry of hope, because the speaker has already reached the turning point, in his state of despair, when he realizes that he can call upon a God who forgives.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you . . .
No matter how low we sink, once we turn to God for help, we are no longer alone. Instead, the dark places and moments in our lives offer us an opportunity to enter into a conversation with a living God of forgiveness.
The attitude of the Psalmist is one of vigilance. He waits for God more eagerly “than those who watch for the morning,” and he repeats the line for emphasis. Perhaps he waits so earnestly because he needs to feel God’s forgiveness in order to forgive himself.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Lent takes place during late winter, a time of transition and waiting. We have all experienced the depths of winter. Just when we think it’s over, the snow returns. We venture out into spring-like weather one day, only to be thrust back indoors by the chill of the next. But through it all we know, deeply, that spring will eventually arrive, just as we trust in God’s forgiveness to patiently transform our lives.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
The speed and business of everyday life can lead any Christian to forget who they are to be in the world and in relationship with God. As part of the body of Christ, we are to remind ourselves daily of what is our ultimate goal, and what should be the main task of our everyday life—which is to commit our lives in following Christ. In Romans 8:6-11, Apostle Paul reminds us that the supernatural presence of the living God enters our lives once we accept Jesus Christ in our hearts as our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit within us is the same supernatural presence that resurrected Christ from the dead—the same rushing mighty wind that filled the place where the apostles were gathered, placed burning tongues above their heads, and allowed them to speak in tongues. It is the same presence that lives within us.
The supernatural power brings us nourishment, healing and power to overcome sin and evil in the world. We will encounter hardships in our lives, but we know that the Holy Spirit within us will strengthen us, so that we will stand firm and face what is to come in the future with courage. If we are standing upon the rock and remember that the Holy Spirit of God is inside of us, nothing can shake our ground, because our hearts will be focused on God. Therefore, if you feel weak, discouraged and spiritually emptied, remember that the Spirit of the Living God is inside of you! The supernatural power of the Almighty is in you! Declare it, believe it, and you will see the Holy Spirit working in miraculous ways within your life.
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord.” It is one of the most powerful and enduring of all biblical images. The prophet Ezekiel is plucked from his station among the exiles in Babylon and taken up by the power of God on a visionary journey. Through his poetic description we see the piles of bones covering the valley floor. We hear the rattling as they reconnect and become reconstituted bodies. Then Ezekiel prophesies to the breath in the wind and the bones come alive.
Our imaginations are held captive to this image and we dwell upon it. But the interpretation of the vision follows, and should not be neglected. These bones are the house of Israel, those living in exile, mumbling to themselves that their bones are dried up, their hope is burned out, life as they knew it – over. Once a people, now No People. Survivors whose fate seems death-like. They might as well be lying in their graves.
But, like the reconnected and revivified bones, they too may come to breathe again, to believe again, to live again. Plucked from their tombs of despair, these exilic zombies receive God’s breathy resuscitation. They are no longer grist for the boneyard but living signs that God is with them, has never abandoned them.
All of us will die someday. But while we live, we should live as living, breathing beings, with all the rights, privileges and obligations pertaining thereto.
The spirit is life! The spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days, the spirit that raised Lazarus to life, the spirit that called the lame man to take up his mat and walk, the very same spirit that leads me in my humble approach to resemble anything pertaining to the word of God. The spirit that bears fruit and bursts with light. That heals, restores and flourishes. The spirit that is sewn in my being, the source of joy, pouring life in my veins. That instills in me movement, purpose, peace and wholeness. That moves through the rivers, stretches down through the roots and soars through the winds. This spirit is overflowing with life and it is with you.
This spirit I speak of, the spirit that moved through Jesus, has not come to take life, but to give it. This spirit resides in the joys of life’s goodness, in the depths of our pain, and at the core of our fulfillment.
My time on earth has allowed me to become more aware of how life-giving God’s spirit truly is. I too, learn everyday of how God’s spirit can be seen and encountered through all things. As we open our beings we see that God is in all. Brothers and sisters, this Lenten season, let us all become more aware of the vastness and wonder of God’s spirit, reveling in God’s life-emitting presence. May God fill us with wonder and meaning as we venture on this journey of living in the moment and choosing to live in the spirit that breathes life! Let us be transformed.
Last night, an hour or so before the sun went down, I went for a walk in the woods across the red bridge on the Mill Race canal.
I hadn’t planned to venture outdoors due to the few inches of March snow that had recently covered the ground. Resentful of the cold temperatures and absence of fresh spring air and new buds, I had been avoiding nature like a sworn enemy.
But I sat in my room with books and notepads and digital devices spread over my lap and strewn around my feet on the floor. Even though books are usually life-giving for me, I felt drained and fearful and empty because all these materials were supposed to be helping me get a job, find a life and develop a plan for post-graduation. Desperately, I was striving to see my own way through life by planning every detail in advance.
It’s so tempting to try to control, to try to grasp the life-binoculars and stand on our tip-toes to see over everyone else, straining our eyes and ourselves to see our own way through life.
After a few hours of searching, I looked up from my Google searches. It was 7:08 p.m. and there was cascading gold light reflecting through my curtains and onto my pillows, books and skin. Seven o’clock, and the sun is still out? Even with snow on the ground, I decided to venture outside to experience the spring sunset.
As I walked in the hush of sun-spotted woods, the silence told me to put my life-binoculars down; to be still and stop trying to see and control and know all the colors and shapes and experiences of my future. Real life, I suddenly realized, was going on all around me. The honking ducks paddling along, the crunch of my stumbling feet on the crystalized snow, the bright orange sun reflecting on a rushing, dark spring creek. I put down those life-binoculars and, behold, I wasn’t only seeing life, I was experiencing it.
Those who claim to see are blind.
Those who are born blind will see most clearly.
Jesus smeared mud on a blind man’s eyes and gave him sight so that the works of God would finally be noticed. All of us who claim to see, let’s close our eyes for a second. And when we open them up again, let’s breathe in, quiet ourselves and refuse to see through eyes of worry and fear. Let’s look at the beauty that’s near us and allow God’s quiet and whispering light to guide us into what true sight is.
I stretch out my arm just far enough to pull down the blind with one finger. As I peek through the slit out the window, I see a familiar sight.
It’s morning again and we’ve been dumped on once more. We are cold. We are tired. We are ready for this long and dreary winter to have its final word.
Ephesians chapter 5 is no leisurely walk in the park. Paul opens by urging the church in Ephesus to imitate God, taking special note of our nature as beloved children. He goes on, however, to outline behavior deemed unacceptable for children of God. Fornication, impurity, greed, vulgarity, idolatry, and on and on Paul goes. In the closing half of the chapter, the church in Ephesus is instructed on how to function as members within a Christian household. Readers today grapple fiercely with these words, constantly asking difficult questions about one’s appropriate place in the world, the Church and the home as a beloved child of Christ.
Yet in the midst of these often unsettling words and these long winter days, I sense that we, as followers and light bearers of Jesus Christ, are called to be fascinating. Verses 8-14 lay out our journey in front of us – a journey from darkness into light. And when I ask myself why it is that I am drawn to the light, why it is that I crave it so, I think: I am drawn to the light because it fascinates me far more than the darkness does. I am drawn to the light not because it badgers me into recognizing my transgressions, but because it shows me something much more beautiful and far more whole than these transgressions.
As we trudge through the final days of winter toward the light and hope of springtime, may we continue to be fascinated by the light of Christ and fascinate others with our encounters.
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Feeling ambitious one summer, my high school friends and I decided to make sandwiches to feed homeless people in downtown Cleveland. Back then, a lot of the downtown homeless population bided their time at Public Square or were paid minimum wage for overseeing private parking lots during home Indians games.
Our first trip up was fairly uneventful – we quickly handed out our food and left – but it was enough to make us want to do it again. Soon, every Thursday, we were stuffing our backpacks with sandwiches and bottled water to give away.
After several weeks downtown, we started coming across a regular crowd. Over ham and cheese sandwiches we’d talk about life, Cleveland sports’ terrible luck and the weather. July’s intense sun warmed the concrete buildings and city streets, radiating a heat that often lingered past sunset. To keep cool, many found shade on building corners or in cardboard boxes.
One evening I found myself talking to Ray, one of our regular guests. As what often happened, faith came up during our conversation. At the moment, Ray felt like challenging me. Ray asked me if I knew Psalm 23.
“Sure,” I said.
“Well then recite it.”
In the King James Version I had memorized from Sunday school I said, “The Lord is my Shepard; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…” I stopped. What came next? My mind had gone blank.
Ray sat there dumbfounded, looking at me. “Come on,” he said rolling his hands like waterwheels. “Come on!” Impatiently he picked up where I left off. “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death: I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me…”
Ray continued reciting the Psalm until the end, where he finished with a confident “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” With that, the words of Scripture came alive! Ray’s internalized Psalm was more palpable, more trusting and more hopeful than what I had yet witnessed. And then I realized that angels had hosted me.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.