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Community

two white pillar candles
 
I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. [Jeremiah 29:14]

Simply understood as the people with whom we interact and relate, community has undergone severe stress. From local businesses struggling to remain open to grandparents who are isolated from grandchildren, from funerals cancelled to wedding celebrations postponed, COVID has strained our relationships with those closest to us. “Should I go over? Is it safe?” Our sense of community has been strained, and we are feeling isolated and lonely at alarming rates.

Humans are social creatures- and it is no surprise to Christians. We are made in the image of a triune God; that means community is woven into the fabric of who we are! When Judah was sent into exile, almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus, they were ripped from their homeland, and from the relationships that kept them grounded. Their businesses were shut down. Their homes were taken away. They might even have been ripped from their families. How heartbreaking this experience must have been. And maybe some of us can relate a little too well, after these past nine months of lockdowns, isolation, and distancing.

God promised his people that he would bring them back into their community. God promised to restore homes, businesses, and families. God filled them with hope, even as they felt more alone than ever. God’s plan of restoring his community goes much deeper than just those people who went into exile over 2,500 years ago. God’s plan is for us today, too. 

In Greek, the word for community is koinonia, and it comes from a word that means “common, dirty, defiled.” Community is a shared experience, and we have learned all too well that you do get “dirty” (or sick, or impacted) by those people with whom you spend time. It was worth it to Jesus, who became a common man, associated with “sinners and tax collectors”, willing to get dirty as he touched sick people. Like a good shepherd, Jesus smelled like his sheep. He stated his mission this way, “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:15-16). Jesus laid down his life, so that the community of God could be together forever, throughout space and time. 

Let’s pray that this lockdown doesn’t last 70 years like the Babylonian exile. But even if it does, we can be confident that we are part of an eternal community in Christ. He has laid down his life for you, and he has already brought you into a forever family. Let’s pray for wisdom at this time, as we wait on God, looking to him to restore those relationships which we crave, and make a way for us to live in community.

Prayer: Dear God, we pray for an end to what feels like exile. We pray that through this process, we would come to value our daily interactions with renewed vigor and excitement. We pray for wisdom as we seek to love, care, and be present for others. Strengthen our hearts as we wait on you to restore all things. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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Light of the World

close-up of lighted candle
 
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”   Matthew 5:13-16
 
Our world is a dark place.  Sin and its effects cast a gloomy pale over everything.  Families, workplaces, neighborhoods.  In the midst of that darkness, one little candle is amazing.
 
We are those candles.  Nothing all that special about us.  We’re not fancy chandeliers or high-kilowatt lights.  Candles.  Simple, but so amazing in the darkness.
 
Never underestimate what a good work done by faith in the name of Jesus can do.  Good works don’t save us, we know that.  But we were created to do good works.  Jesus has made us lights, and loving our neighbor is what we’ve been created and called to do.  
 
The world seems to be getting darker.  And that means our shining will be that much more amazing.  So shine, people of God.  It’s what your Lord has created you and called you to do. 
 
Heavenly Father, we are the lights of the world.  Your Son has made us so.  Help us by Your Spirit to live as lights, shining with good works, so that others may see and give all glory to You.  In Jesus, Amen. 

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But Why?

bokeh photography of book page near yellow ceramic mug
 
“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. [Jeremiah 29:10-13]

But why? Humans are unique in our ability to ask this question. Especially if you find yourself in the presence of a toddler. No matter our age, we are plagued with this “why”. This year has brought about some difficult ones, too. Why are we wearing masks? Why can’t we see grandma? Why did God allow this germ to exist? Why? Why? Why?

The fundamental question behind the why is this: What is the purpose? We are creatures driven by purpose. The most important why that people ask is, “Why am I here?” What is my purpose in living? Especially in the face of suffering and hardship, this question can be deeply unsettling and troubling. Combine all the uncertainty, fear, anger, and rage of our world with the loss of many of those things that give us purpose, and we can be certain that many people are struggling with their purpose. 

Again, Jeremiah 29 directs the people that God sent into exile. These exiles had everything stripped away from them: property, family, careers. They had to resettle in a completely different area, their entire identity and purpose taken away overnight. You can imagine how many toddlers were asking their parents, “Mom, why are we leaving our home? Dad, why can’t we go back? Why do we have to go so far? Why would God allow this?” 

Little did they know God was using the exile to clarify their purpose as God’s people. Remember what God said to them in Exodus, almost a millennium prior? “I will make you a holy nation, a kingdom of priests!” God had intended his people to be his witnesses to the whole world. Through the exile, more people came to know God’s love- and after 70 years the exiles went back knowing God’s love in a whole new way.

“I know the plans I have for you, plans for a future and a hope.” Typically we hear this verse at graduations or confirmations- a hopeful verse for a person seeking a new path or journey. Understanding the original context, we see it is even more applicable to those who feel stuck, at a dead end, like life has no purpose anymore. Maybe this is the verse we need to cling to in 2020. God has a purpose for this. God has a plan through this. God has more in store. 

Let’s face it: Christians believe that God brought Jesus back from the dead, delivered him from the power of the grave. Death shall be no more! When we know that our God has power to bring life out of death, we know that God can bring purpose out of anything, even this year. 

Use this time to allow God to shape your perceptions, to prepare you for a new or enhanced purpose, to provide meaning into this period. Whatever you are struggling with, whatever your why is, know that God has plans through this. God has an eternal future for you, and hope for tomorrow.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please help us to cling to your power and purpose. Put before us opportunities to serve others. Use this time to draw us closer to you and to your will. May your will be done on earth, and in my life, as it is in heaven. In your name we pray to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

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Jesus, I Love You

i love you illustration
 
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”   John 21:15-17
 
A story is told of an elderly couple who had been married for many years. One night while watching TV together, the woman said to her husband with sadness in her voice, “Why don’t you tell me that you love me anymore?” Perplexed by the question, because the man loved his wife deeply, he responded by saying, “I told you when we got married that I loved you. If that changes, I’ll let you know.”
 
While the man loved his wife, he failed to understand her need to have that love affirmed. It is unlikely that she truly doubted his love, but there is something very meaningful about love expressed.
 
In John 21, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Coming from the Son of God who is all knowing this may seem especially odd. Surely Jesus knows the answer. So why ask? Might it be more for Peter’s sake than for Jesus’?
 
Just before Jesus was sent to the cross, Peter had betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew Him, denying Him so adamantly that he even cursed. It was not so much that Jesus needed to be reminded of His love for Peter or even Peter’s love for Him, but rather Peter needed to express his love and be healed. And that is exactly what Jesus does. Through Peter’s expression of love, Jesus restores him and commissions him to be one of the great proclaimers of the Gospel.
 
When was the last time that you told Jesus how much you love Him? Not just in a casual, “I love you” way, but in a deep and sincere expression that flows from experiencing His love for you. Jesus knows that you love Him, but love expressed brings joy to Him and can truly transform you.
 
Jesus, I love You. Your love for me has changed my life and I can’t thank you enough. Help me to express my love for You today and every day of my life. May my love for You become contagious to those around me that they too have share in this joy. I love You, Jesus. Amen.

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Stability

The Nativity figurine closeup photography
 
The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” [Jeremiah 29:3-7]

One thing people are craving right now is stability. We used to feel so safe, right? Everything worked just like it had for a long time. But this year has thrown so much off-kilter. People feel unsafe, unstable, and unprepared for tomorrow. We crave words and actions which will re-establish a sense of normalcy, and it seems like we are willing to sacrifice almost anything to make it happen. 

I imagine this must be like the Exiles in the Old Testament experienced. They were taken away from everything they knew: family, homeland, property, customs, the religious structure of the temple. They must have craved stability of some sort. And there were “prophets” ready to give it to them. “God will bring us back very soon!” “Be ready to leave!” “Don’t worry, listen to us!” All these voices arose, trying to speak stability into the lives of these people who were forced out of Israel. 

But exile was a test. Exile was a test from God, trying to get his people to find their stability not in land or possessions or religious practices or idolatry or kings, but rather to find it in God. No matter earthly circumstances, God’s people will have in him. “Build houses… plant gardens… get married… seek the welfare of the city…” In other words, do the normal things that people do when they have stability. God commanded his people through Jeremiah to find their stability in the promise of God. The promise of restoration and hope. 

Really, it is the same promise to which we cling. God has made us stable, through a baby born in a stable. Two newlyweds, traveling to Bethlehem, forced to have their first child in a stable, forced to flee because Herod wants to murder their son. What stability was there for them? Only the promise- this Child will be King forever. 

Indeed, our stability is rooted in the promise of Jesus, that he will bring us to himself, that his Kingdom will come, that God’s will will be done. No matter what the world throws at us, no matter our situation or circumstance, no matter chaos that swirls around us, we have permanent stability in Jesus. 

Like the exiles so long ago, let God’s stability guide you in your earthly life, too. 

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, we thank you that have given us solid ground at the foot of the cross, promising us eternal life in Jesus. Let us live in your stability, even when our world is so chaotic and unpredictable. Empower us to make decisions based on your truth and not the feelings of hopelessness coming from our instability in the present moment. Thank you for the Holy Spirit, who guides us now and forever! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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