New Things Spring

Spring has finally sprung on the Outer Banks. March came in like a lion and went out like a lion. We were still being treated to overnight freeze watches just a few weeks ago. But the presence of daffodils, osprey, and Canadian Geese traveling in pairs is a sure sign that a new season has begun and the cold grey skies are behind us at last.

The grey skies of Lent end this week as well. Today marks the first day of Holy Week as we accelerate toward Easter Sunday. I hope this Lent has brought about new things in your life, especially a practice of daily scripture study and meditation. Lenten disciplines are designed to bring about new things: new habits, new understandings, new growth, and a new relationship with God. It is my prayer that we would observe Lent all year long, always seeking to know God more fully as we continue in our devotions together.

Today we look at the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who wrote beautiful words of hope during a time when Israel needed a deliverer. When we read his words through the lens of the Gospel, it is easy to find Jesus here:

Isaiah 42 (New International Version)

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This certainly fits our Lord to a t. He carries God’s spirit and brings justice to the earth. When he comes again, he will reign in that justice. He was bruised for our transgressions and remained silent at his trial before Pilate. They attempted to snuff out his fire but he smoldered for three days until he flamed again. He was chosen by God to bring salvation to the world.

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

God sent his only son to offer a covenant to all people, including the Gentiles. Indeed, Jesus came to save EVERYONE . He came to give sight to the blind and to release us all from our chains. When he arose from the dead on Easter morning, the final chain of death was snapped. We are invited to participate in his resurrection by simply believing in his name.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

A lot of our journey toward the cross this year has focused on leaving the past in the past and striving toward the new thing God is creating. Is God calling you to let go of something in your past? Do you need to be released? Can you see the bright future he has created for you once you do?

God is declaring a NEW thing for you today. The former things have passed away! It is time to move ahead.

New Day Sunshine by Michelle Robertson

Rainbow Covenant

I love everything about living in the Outer Banks except January and February. Don’t get me wrong, if you love the color GREY, this is the place to be. But the days upon days upon days of rain do me in after a while. Walking the dog becomes a challenge of finding how far up our neighbor’s front lawns we have to go to avoid puddles that take days to clear. Winds make umbrellas impossible, if not somewhat dangerous!

I know, first world problems. But I really miss the sun and the blue skies.

One of the rewards of the rain, however, is an abundance of rainbows. Probably because we enjoy “big sky” in every direction, rainbow spotting is a common occurrence. As the rain begins to taper off and the sun (finally) emerges, the perfect conditions are created for these beautiful reminders of God’s promises.

Today’s lectionary takes us to that very moment when God established the bow as a sign of his protection:

Genesis 9 (Common English Bible)

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, 10 and with every living being with you—with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you. 11 I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

We understand the word covenant to be more than just a promise. It is an ironclad agreement brought about through the relationship of God and his people. It has the force of law, and is unbreakable. It is a contract that is signed by the very word of God.

12 God said, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. 13 I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. 16 The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.”

Later would come a contract that was signed by the very Word of God. Jesus is our final Covenant, and when we receive him into our lives, we have an ironclad guarantee that we will find refuge, shelter, forgiveness, and protection under his wings.

Where have you broken your side of the covenant with God? Have you willfully walked away and set aside all of his promises for the fake promises of the world? Are you guilty of turning away from what God has called you to do, say, think, or repair? Perhaps this is the moment to return. The best thing about God’s promises is that they are always available to the repentant seeker.

God is our great Covenant-Maker. He sent Jesus as the final signature on the contract. You can bet your life on it.

Colington Rainbow

Covenant

I love the word covenant. For me, it may be one of the most significant words in the Bible, just after salvation, peace, and forgiveness. Covenant describes the reason all those other words exist. In a Biblical sense, a covenant is a solemn agreement or contract between God and his people that is flesh-and-blood binding.

In the Old Testament, covenants were made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants were promises God made to never destroy the earth again, to provide land and descendants, to bless those who followed the law, (and punish those who didn’t) and that the house of David would produce the kings of Israel. Not to mention THE King.

In the New Testament, we have the end-all-be-all covenant of Jesus, known as the New Covenant. The New Covenant came as a completion of all the old laws, ways, covenants and promises. In the New Covenant, God promises to offer forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of his son on the cross. All who believe will receive eternal life.

In every case, God is the agent of the covenant-making. He initiates, he declares, he invites, and he promises. Every type of covenant relies on both parties doing their part and agreeing to the terms as presented.

One of my favorite modern uses of the word covenant is in the wedding ceremony. It appears in several places, and is in the prayers when we refer to “this solemn act of covenant” and ask God to bless the union. At the end, we invite the bride and groom to “seal your covenant with a kiss.”

(As an aside: we stopped inviting the groom to kiss the bride when we finally realized that the old liturgy assumed the bride to be an object to be given away by her father at the beginning of the ceremony and kissed by the groom at the end. We now ask the family to “present this woman to be married,” and both bride and groom are invited to “seal the covenant with a kiss.”)

In a marriage, we have an equal partnership of covenant-makers. Each benefits from the mutually agreed upon terms from a position of parity. But not so with our covenant with God. We are not his equal. We cannot hope to match what he can give as part of his covenant agreement. It could not be more lopsided, and yet, there it is:

Hebrews 8 The Message (MSG)

A New Plan with Israel

6-13 But Jesus’ priestly work far surpasses what these other priests do, since he’s working from a far better plan. If the first plan—the old covenant—had worked out, a second wouldn’t have been needed. But we know the first was found wanting, because God said,

Heads up! The days are coming

    when I’ll set up a new plan

    for dealing with Israel and Judah.

I’ll throw out the old plan

    I set up with their ancestors

    when I led them by the hand out of Egypt.

They didn’t keep their part of the bargain,

    so I looked away and let it go.

This new plan I’m making with Israel

    isn’t going to be written on paper,

    isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;

This time I’m writing out the plan in them,

    carving it on the lining of their hearts.

I’ll be their God,

    they’ll be my people.

They won’t go to school to learn about me,

    or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons.

They’ll all get to know me firsthand,

    the little and the big, the small and the great.

They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven,

    with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.

By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and his people, God put the old plan on the shelf. And there it stays, gathering dust.

The New Covenant offers us the opportunity to be a part of the kingdom of God. God will write this new plan in our hearts. It is a plan that offers us his kind forgiveness, where repentance results in our sinful slates being wiped clean. God desires to be known firsthand. He will be our God and we will be his people. Did you catch that? The God who created the entire universe wants to be our God! He wants to be known in the little and the big, the small and the great. Can you even imagine?

The only thing we can do….the ONLY thing that God asks…is accept this gift of covenant. We can’t earn it, we can’t reciprocate in kind, and we certainly can’t mechanically adhere to meticulous laws to prove ourselves worthy. We just have to open up our hearts and receive the promises of God.

And that’s the best news of all. God has made a promise to us, and God always keeps his promises. How will you respond? What will you do with this gift? Can you keep up your side of this covenant?

God invites all to come to the table he has prepared before us. Will you accept?

God’s Creation, Offered Without Price. Photo by Patti Kohl Koehler