Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. Psalm 1:1-3 NLT
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27 (NKJV) It doesn't take much to notice that the world around us is in a constant state of crisis. Newsreels spit images of war, political dissension, familial trauma, natural disasters, and other atrocities with every release. Turning off the TV or closing the tab isn't enough to block out the turmoil. We experience personal relationships fraught with tension and unexpected hurt, and our hearts can falter under the weight of it all. The world is incapable of offering lasting peace, and we have no sustainable way to navigate the pain.
One of the most beautiful aspects of a sunny summer morning is the birdsong. Dozens of avian species have beautiful and unique sounds that greet the early riser. Jesus told his followers that God cares for the needs of sparrows, and you can hear their delight in his provision when they raise their voices. Long before Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, David worshiped God in the wilderness and used the same bird imagery to describe God's tender care.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (ESV)
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! Psalm 90:14-17 (ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear...Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29, 32 (ESV) This is a time of what feels like unprecedented division in our nation. Especially on social media, there is the illusion of anonymity, which makes many feel as though they can go on the attack against others.
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:26-28 (ESV) After Jesus' resurrection, even among the apostles, there were those who struggled or refused to believe He was alive. Thomas, in particular, earned himself the dubious honor of representing all doubters throughout history because of his unwillingness to believe.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split...When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:50-51, 54 (ESV) Have you ever had what you thought would be an ordinary experience turn out to be a life-altering one?
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him...But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 (ESV) There is very little room for ambivalence when we encounter Jesus. The cross in particular divides, demanding either rejection or acceptance of the Messiah.
hen Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man." ...Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death..." Luke 23:4, 20-22 (ESV) The cast of characters who were part of Jesus' final earthly days ranged in devotion from disciple to mortal enemy. Pilate is intriguing because, by all accounts, his role was that of an unwilling participant in the infamous event.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Galatians 6:14-15 (ESV) At times, it is tempting to place our trust and hope in the things we do for Jesus.
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Matthew 9:27-30 (ESV) As Christians, we all struggle with living out the belief that God's grace truly is enough to save us.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) One of the dominant messages sent by our culture is that success is measured largely by financial standing. Despite the fact that most of us know there is a limit to the satisfaction and security money provides, we must constantly fight the temptation to place our trust in our possessions.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. Psalm 5:11 (ESV) When we reflect on our relationships, it's clear that the people with whom we feel the most closeness are those who have earned our trust. Where protection and loyalty are a given, joy follows.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:20-21 (ESV) Much of scripture is worded bluntly, and it can sometimes be hard to swallow.
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:27-29 (ESV) Somehow, even after Jesus had performed miracle after miracle and fulfilled every single Old Testament prophecy concerning himself, his disciples still struggled with disbelief.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:5-6 (ESV) The Psalms are full of laments, many of which begin with the phrase, "How long, O Lord?" These verses from Psalm 13 immediately follow one such passage, but there is a noticeable shift in tone, beginning with the word "but."
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (ESV) Throughout history, humans have struggled to have a rightly ordered relationship with God. If we are prone to an extreme, it is usually to over-complicate worship and the Christian life.
...we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5 (NKJV) The new year brings an opportunity to reframe, set goals and resolutions, and write on a clean slate of sorts...in theory. The reality is, despite the symbolism of a new year, challenges are no respecter of calendars.
"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind..." Isaiah 65:17 (ESV) This past week, we celebrated the birth of Emmanuel, God with us. We observed traditions and spent time remembering Christmases past. Now, as the New Year approaches, we look forward to the year ahead. It isn't always easy to view the days, weeks, and months ahead with eyes of anticipation and hope, especially if the days that came before were heavy and hard.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn... Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:7, 34-35 (ESV) Nothing about Jesus' birth was ordinary, nor did His arrival occur in the way many expected it to.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord...." Luke 2:8-11 (ESV) When the angel appeared to the shepherds that night 2,000 years ago, those men were, understandably, alarmed. At best, it must have been startling for angelic light to split the darkness of the sky, and at worst, any number of preconceived notions about the supernatural could have fueled their fears.
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." Luke 1:41-45 (ESV) When the angel visited Mary to announce she would be the mother of the Messiah, he also shared the news that her cousin Elizabeth - thought to be barren - was six months pregnant, punctuating it with the pronouncement, "For nothing will be impossible with God."
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2 (ESV) From the very moment Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden, God began writing a story of restoration for His people. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites succumbed more than once to doubt and sin as they waited for the promised Redeemer. One can only imagine what it was like during the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the start of Jesus' ministry. God's people must have fought disillusionment even as they clung tightly to the words of the prophets.
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Genesis 50:20 (ESV) Here in the United States, we are told from a young age about the Pilgrims who voyaged to America in 1620 and survived largely because of a Native American man named Squanto. It's told as a quaint history of the first Thanksgiving, but the seemingly tidy story doesn't begin to explore the complex circumstances and the lives of the people who were there. Squanto's story alone is one of bravery and mercy in the face of tragedy and injustice.
"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!" Psalm 50:23 (ESV) The holidays give us a chance to slow down, count our blessings, and choose gratitude, but what about the rest of the year? We all know that when times are hard, when money is tight, or when illness invades, cultivating a heart of thanksgiving is easier said than done.
"The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8 (ESV) It's a given that each of us will find ourselves, at one time or another, in search of a sense of purpose. Self-help authors make a fortune on this one topic and no matter how many volumes are published, there will always be a demand for more. There is nothing inherently wrong with our desire for meaning, but as Christians, we must always look for it in light of our Creator.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." Romans 15:13 (ESV) Christians are often admonished that we ought to live joyful, peaceful, and hopeful lives regardless of our circumstances. We know these qualities should characterize our lives, but if we are honest, each of us has experienced seasons in which joy seems impossible; when what we see says there is no reason to hope or to have peace.