Something from Nothing

Two of my favorite shows are Project Runway and Top Chef. Everyone who knows me is probably surprised by this, as I can’t sew, I can’t cook, and I am certainly no fashion maven. My style sense runs to, “does this solid look OK with this solid?” I am pretty much a jeans and top girl except on Sunday, when I show up in the same old thing every week. Thank God for clergy robes.

But my fascination with these shows is that fact that every week, they all make something from nothing. On Top Chef, they are given a challenge and a pantry of ingredients and VIOLA, gourmet food is produced. “Here is a can of SPAM and a bunch of fresh fennel. Your challenge is to create an amuse bouche for a team of Alaskan dog sledders. Don’t forget to make it packable, and GO!” Project Runway is even more amazing. “Create a red carpet look with unconventional materials found in a candy store. You have one day for this challenge.”

These programs are an homage to the creative spirit in all of us. Well, at least in all of them. I would have just sent the can of SPAM with a can opener to the dog sledders and called it a day. And eaten the candy. But I am FASCINATED by people who can make something from nothing. This ability is a true reflection of God’s creative power.

Genesis 1 (The Message)

 1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
        And light appeared.
    God saw that light was good
        and separated light from dark.
    God named the light Day,
        he named the dark Night.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day One.

From nothingness, God brought forth the universe. From the bottomless emptiness, light was born. In the inky blackness, animals and humans were created. It was a labor of love.

The reformer Martin Luther, once said, “God made the world out of nothing. It is only when we become nothing that God can make something out of us.” Something to ponder as we bask in the glory of God’s creation today.

What would God make of you, if you emptied yourself of ego, need, agendas, preoccupations, doubt….? How can you become nothing, so that you can become his everything? What do you need to lose so that you can be made into something useful for the Kingdom?

You are also a labor of his love. Let him make something from your nothingness.

Beauty from Nothingness by Wende Pritchard

A Pig’s Tale

A pastor’s job is never done. All day long we are about our Father’s work, laboring with him to save souls. Then we get in our cars to take our weary bodies home, still thinking about saving souls.

Then there was that one day when I got in my car and had the chance to save something else. A 300-pound pig.

I was driving home from my office on Kitty Hawk Road when the little lass in the picture darted across somebody’s front lawn and ran in the road directly in front of me. I made a U-turn, parked in someone’s driveway, and set about chasing her. She had a good head start, but I am a less-than-300-pound runner, so I caught up. She turned to look at me as though to assess what kind of game we were playing, and suddenly I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I would do if I actually caught her. All I wanted was to keep her from getting hit on our busy road.

At that point I was only a block away from the Kitty Hawk Police Department. Having been raised to trust and respect the men and women in blue, I immediately set out to get my new friend over to the police station. Listen, it was a good plan…even their cars say they “protect and serve.” I was sure that in Kitty Hawk, that is not limited to people.

So I began to walk toward the station, calling, “Here, Piggy Piggy!” For those of you laughing, what exactly would YOU have said?? After all, Piggy and I had not been formally introduced.

At first she just stared at me. I think she liked the chase better. But after rooting around a little more in somebody’s yard, she began walking my way. (Do you think she maybe recognized the call of a savior?) I had to stop traffic when I needed to get her to cross the road (next morning‘s Sentinel headline: Why Did Piggy Cross the Road? To Get to the Police Station) and she trotted right over to my side.

I piggy-piggied her right up to the front door of the station, and walked in the front lobby and told the very startled receptionist, “I’m here to report a rogue pig.”

“Excuse me, M’am, a rogue WHAT? Oh….well, that’s just Caroline. She gets out all the time.”

She called an officer up from the back and he took one look at the pig and said, “Caroline, did you take yourself out for a walk again? Come on, let’s get you home.” And the Caroline and the officer trotted off to a property behind the police station where Caroline was safely delivered back home. Thus ends my pig tale.

Caroline is apparently a notorious Kitty Hawk wanderer, and I was not the first to save her. In fact, it was obvious to me that Caroline wanted to be saved.

How about you?

2 Peter 2 (The Message)

21-25 This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.

They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

Jesus used his servant body to carry our sins to the cross so that we might be saved. His actions enabled us to be free to live the right way. By his wounds we are healed! No longer lost sheep, (or pigs) we know the way home. Jesus did that for you.

Are you longing to be saved? Today is the day. Kneel down and confess your sins. Ask Jesus to cleanse you and make you whole. Ask him to live in you from now until he calls you home. Dedicate yourself to a life of following him, serving him, learning about him, and never straying from his path again.

Jesus saves. Is he calling you? Get yourself home.

They call me the Wanderer.

Is He Real?

My four-and-a-half year old grandson had the opportunity to see Star Wars Storm Troopers marching down the street at Disney World last month. He is still processing the experience. He has a Storm Trooper play figure at home, and a book that has pictures of them. We watched a Star Wars LEGO movie which of course has Storm Troopers. What is real? What is plastic? What is true? What is story?

As we discussed the marching Storm Troopers, he knew that they were real people wearing white plastic costumes. But knowing that only added to his confusion…if they were real people, were they REAL STORM TROOPERS? Like, after work, did they get into their troop transport to be delivered one by one back home to their Storm Trooper spouse and kids?

As we negotiated this conversation, I thought back to a time when the same was asked about Jesus. He was just as confusing to the people around him. It was obvious that he was a real person, but was he just wearing a God-costume?

Matthew 16

13 When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17-18 Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.

One of the amazing things about scripture is that no matter how familiar you are with a passage, each reading brings new insight. Did you notice this:

My father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are.

The more we know Jesus, the more we know ourselves. The better we understand who he is, the better we understand who we are. This is such a lovely thing. God-awareness becomes self-awareness.

When I pray in church I often use the phrase “who we are, and whose we are.” I like to remind us all of that dynamic. We are children of God, made in his image, striving every day to be more like Jesus. That is who we are.

But WHOSE we are? We belong to God, who is the great high king. God, the one who formed the earth, has claimed us as his own. He is our steadfast provider, our hope, and our redeemer. And he chose to be in relationship with us. Imagine that!

Who are you today? A striving follower of the way, or a defeated and tired foot-dragger? Are you a loyal son or daughter, or are you wondering if this whole God-thing is just a bunch of plastic story-telling?

The ones who were closest to Jesus struggled with that question. But when the resurrection happened, the truth was made clear. So let us strive to be people of the resurrection story. God is real, and he came in the form of a storm-trooping Messiah to save the world from evil and sin. THAT is how this story plays out.

Today we thank God for who his is, and for whose we are.

Real or Not?

Matriarchal Advice

Back when I was a very young mother, a church matriarch gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. We were attending a program on prayer and she leaned over to me and said, “Betsy, do you pray for your children?” I had a two-year old at the time and was eight months pregnant with the second one. “Yes, I do. Every day,” I responded. “What do you pray FOR?” she asked. “Well I pray mostly for their health and their safety,” I responded.

She looked at me sideways and said, “You should be praying for their college roommates and their husbands.” My mind went “Whaaaaat?”

“Think about it. Who in their lives will have influence over them when they leave home? College roommates and spouses will have a direct effect on their happiness long after your influence is over.” Well, heck. That was just so sad, somewhat devastating….and true.

So from that day forward, I added those two things to my daily prayer list. And lo and behold, each girl had wonderful college roommates who are still close friends to this day, and boy, oh BOY did we hit the husband lottery! Twice! I thank God every day for these wonderful young men who indeed have a much greater influence on their happiness than I do. They truly are God-sends.

God answered my prayer, and the wonderful matriarch who suggested this taught me a valuable lesson…PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN and for future things.

In fact, I believe we should pray for all the children. Yours, your friends, the kids on the block, the ones in the church, the vulnerable ones all over our country, the broken ones crying at our border…all of them.

I still pray for my “children,” even though they are grown up ladies with children of their own. They will always need Mama’s prayers. And I pray for their children, the children in my village, and beyond. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to pray for all of God’s children.

Colossians 4

Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving.

So to the young mamas and papas out there, get down on your knees tonight and start praying for all the future boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, co-workers, bosses, teachers…all the people who shape and form your children as they grow into adulthood.

Be persistent. Be devoted to praying for them and their little friends. Be alert to what God reveals to you as you pray. And focus your petitions with gratitude that you have a God who listens and answers.

And for the rest of us, let us join in by praying for the children around us and the children far away. May God hear our hearts as we bow in love and hope for their future. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them.” May the Kingdom of God be truly theirs.

Lord, Bless all the Little Children

With All Your Heart

Last week I had the opportunity to take a walk with my four-and-a-half year old grandson. That “half” thing is important. He understands that four-and-a-half is more than four, so you’d better get it right or you will likely be corrected.

We were holding hands and just walking along when he said to me, “I like being with you, Nana.” Be still my heart!! Somehow I managed to respond, “I like being with you, too, Connor” before my throat closed off with the raw emotion of that sweet moment. Connor won’t remember it, but I know I will carry it to my grave.

Oh, to be four (and a half) again, and be able to live in every moment with such singular focus! The pleasure of taking a walk with a grandparent, the lack of worry about whether or not lunch would be provided, the easy and carefree days…one blessing of childhood is that it is probably the only time in our lives when we get to focus on one thing at a time.

Imagine if we could corral that feeling when it comes to our relationship with God. Imagine if we could spend five minutes a day just thinking about his love for us, the many blessings we receive, and his constant presence, without distraction or concern for anything else.

When the Israelites were taken into exile to Babylon, they longed to return to Jerusalem. They missed their home, hated being strangers in a strange land, and thought of nothing else. But God instructed them to settle down, plant gardens, celebrate weddings, and make a life for themselves while they waited. Ever wonder why?

I think a clue is found in verse 13 of Jeremiah 29:

Jeremiah 29 (New International Version)

12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

You will find me when you seek me WITH ALL YOUR HEART.

You see, while their hearts were divided between living in exile and longing for home, they couldn’t focus on God. They weren’t seeking him because they were looking for their past, for a way home, and for a way out of their current situation. But when God instructed them to settle down by settling down, they settled their minds, their lives, and their hearts. Suddenly they were able to seek him with ALL their hearts. Whenever we do that, we find God.

What is dividing you today? What are you seeking instead of God? Is a longing for the past preventing you from being in the Lord’s presence in the present?

Guess what…God is seeking you with HIS whole heart. When we do likewise, he will be found and made known to us.

So call on God today. Pray to him. Seek him, not just with a fraction of your attention, but with all your heart. Seek, and you will find. Guaranteed.

Seek God in the Way that He Seeks You by Michelle Robertson

Pencil Sharpening for God

The church I am currently serving has an incredible Care Ministry. It is organized, led, and maintained entirely by volunteers. They track people who are in need of a visit, a meal, a card, or a call, and deliver these things with grace, joy, and beauty.

When people first sign up to be a part of this wonderful thing, they are just happy to deliver an occasional meal to someone who needs it. What happens next is the incredible blessing that this ministry provides. The meal drop-off requires a phone contact, which turns into a visit, which ends up with someone getting to be heard, fed, and loved on. That is so much more than a hot meal. And then the volunteer returns home and realizes that THEY received the blessing of serving, and they know that for that one person, they were the image of Christ that day.

God takes our humble service and turns it into so much more when we do it with an open and generous heart.

We see this in the Old Testament, when a father named Jesse sent his youngest son David out to the battlefield to deliver lunch to his brothers.

1 Samuel 17

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

That lunch turned into something so much bigger. David heard the challenge of the great giant Goliath, and realized that God sent him on lunch delivery that day for a much bigger purpose. David listened, God supplied a sling and a stone, and Goliath was defeated.

So if you’re the guy who shows up once a week to see that the little yellow pencils are all sharpened and placed in the pew pencil holders, know that one day, because somebody had access to that pencil, they wrote down a prayer request. The Prayer Ministry received it and faithfully prayed over it, and that person was healed…because you put the pencil there. If you’re the gal who runs to the store every month to buy the King’s Hawaiian Bread and grape juice, lays out the plates, locates the clean white napkins, and fills the chalices, know that we all received the Body of Christ because of your behind-the-scenes act of service.

What little thing is God calling you to do? He can do great things from your little service. When you are obedient, God can use all things great and small to bring hope and healing to his people through your effort. So go and sharpen that pencil! God is writing his story with it.

It’s the Little Things by Kathy Weeks

Ordinary Life

Within a very brief period of time, things around the world have gone upside down. Australia is on fire, 180 people were shot down from the sky during a missile strike by Iran on Iraq, my own denomination is moving forward toward an historic and inevitable split, Puerto Rico suffered damaging earthquakes, and our government is in turmoil. We can hardly wake up in the morning without yet another unthinkable world situation coming out that seems to blow up the last one that we haven’t had time to assimilate. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up. I am beginning to think that Chicken Little was right; the sky indeed, is falling.

I hope that you all know that when such widespread disaster strikes, we can read scripture, pray, find opportunities to actively respond in tangible ways, and be obedient to the place God is calling us into in the midst of the storm. Without a doubt, one place we are NOT called to be is on the negative side of all these issues as explored through social media. Nothing EVER gets worked out there. No good comes from pot-stirring, endless speculation, name-calling, and spreading misinformation. There are so many better ways to respond. Here is just one:

Romans 12 The Message (MSG)

Place Your Life Before God

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

What would happen if we all took our ordinary lives and placed them before God as an offering? What would it look like if we eschewed the social media culture that we fit into without thinking, and instead fixed our attention on God? Are we too well-adjusted to this culture of hate-spewing and fact-mangling that we don’t even seek the truth?

If we took our everyday life and laid it before God each morning, do you think God would say, “Thanks for that! Now feel free to spend two and a half hours today (the current average daily social media use) of this precious time bashing one another on social media.” I don’t think so. I think he would encourage us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, comfort the lonely, bring water to the thirsty, and walk the shelter dogs. OK, I added that last part, but you get the gist.

In the midst of all of this recent, tremendously disconcerting strife, choose a better path. Lay your life before God and do something CONSTRUCTIVE and positive, and embrace what God is doing for you.

He is ready to change you from the inside out, and he wants something from you. Can you respond to him?

When we bring all that we are and all that we have and give it to God, we embrace all that he has given us and live our lives in the manner he desires from us. It is then that we are walking in the will and the way of the Lord.

So here’s a thought. Stay off social media for 24 hours. Take that two and a half hours and do something positive with it. Then see how you feel about the world around you.

Time spent in the silence of God’s presence is always time well spent. May you find peace, hope, and contentment there.

Finding God in the Quiet by Becca Ziegler

Worry Warriors

Did you know that over 40 million people a year struggle with some type of anxiety disorder? From Generalized Anxiety Disorder to PTSD, there are many types of anxiety disorders, and it is the most common mental illness. And for the most part, it is highly treatable.

While most of us probably don’t fit in to an Anxiety Disorder category, it can be said of all of us that we worry. And some of us worry too much. Worrying is both a symptom and a catalyst for anxiety, and can absolutely overwhelm you to the point of paralysis. When we worry, our joy is stolen, our peace is non-existent, and our well-being suffers, along with those around us.

The root cause of much of our anxious worrying is fear. When we are afraid of something, we turn that fear into negative thoughts and run through multiple scenarios of what could go wrong. And there are so many things that we fear!

Rejection

Failure

Abandonment

Exposure

Being manipulated

Losing someone or something precious

Losing control

Accidents

Not getting things finished

Being hurt in a realationship

And on, and on, and on.


Did you know that God does not give us fear? Nope. Fear is not from God. We manage that all on our own.

2 Timothy 17 (Modern English Version)

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control.

I think a clue for how to battle worry is found in what God DOES give us. Instead of fear, he gives us power. His power is available to us to help us in our problem-solving. Instead of fear, he gives us love, the strongest emotion a human can give or receive. There is strength for the battle in love. And perhaps most importantly, he gives us self-control, so that when worrying begins to overtake us, we can clang shut that nonsense and focus on things that are going right and the many places we have been blessed.

Power, love, and self-control. Next time you find yourself starting to worry, remember that you have these weapons in your battle bag. You are a worry warrior.

Fear Not, for God is With You. Photo by Michelle Robertson

Oy VEY

Sometimes I wonder how in the world God puts up with us. I mean, really! The nonsense of humanity is mind-blowing. Our stubborn rejection of his power, our steadfast belief in our own self-reliance, and our ability to see a MIRACLE and then walk away complaining is legendary. It’s a good thing God is God and I am not, ‘cause I would have smote us long ago.

Legendary among the many examples of this comes from a time when God had delivered his people from slavery and death and was leading them through the Red Sea toward the Promised Land. After God brought the plagues, resulting in Pharaoh’s decision to release them, and then delivered the incredible miracle of an entire sea parting so that they could walk along the bottom, what did the people do? Complained. Whined. Questioned what was right before their eyes. In other words, they were human.

When Pharaoh saw the ease with which they crossed through the parted waters, he realized that he had just lost a lot of free labor, so he led his army after them in one last ditch effort to return them to Egypt. When the Israelites turned and saw them in pursuit, they freaked out. Immediately they assaulted Moses with accusations and anger.

Exodus 14 (The Common English Bible)

10 As Pharaoh drew closer, the Israelites looked back and saw the Egyptians marching toward them. The Israelites were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt like this? 12 Didn’t we tell you the same thing in Egypt? ‘Leave us alone! Let us work for the Egyptians!’ It would have been better for us to work for the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”

I confess that I have done my share of ungrateful whining in my life, but few of us can top their response. So you saved us for THIS? Now we are about be overcome in the middle of your miracle? What kind of miracle is that? What, there weren’t enough graves in Egypt, so we get to drown here?? Somebody take me back to Egypt where I can be an abused slave again!!!

(As a side note, sometimes pastors identify a particular group or committee in a church as the “Back to Egypt Gang.” Don’t be one of those.)

But look how Moses responds:

Exodus 14

13 But Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand your ground, and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never ever see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you. You just keep still.”

In other translations, the final sentence is “You just keep quiet.” And of course The Message nails it:

God will fight the battle for you.
    And you? You keep your mouths shut!”

The lesson we want to glean here is that in the face of our failings, God continues to be faithful and fight the battles for us. He stands between us and incoming armies, rising sea waters, sure and certain disaster, and is there every time we need a rescue.

What is our job? To stand our ground. To watch him work. To trust in his fight and his might. To stay still. And to keep our mouths shut when the urge to whine and complain overcomes us.

Where is God calling you to trust him in your battle today? Do you need a rescue? If you (silently) observe your situation, can you see him quietly at work, fighting for you?

Don’t be afraid. The Lord who parts the sea and provides dry land to walk upon will part the way for you to walk out of your problem. Be still, and know that he is God.

Sunlight Parting the Sea by Michelle Robertson

Stop, Sun

Ever wish you could stop time? As in, literally snap your fingers or push a button and have time stand still? Watching your baby daughter grow up right before your eyes, attending a family reunion knowing you won’t see each other for another year and wondering who will be gone then, starting your last semester of college, waking up to the first day of vacation…there are a lot of examples of situations when we might wish we could stop time and just linger for awhile.

Our hurried lives often leave us wishing we had such power. If only I could stop time, I just might get all these things on my “to do” list accomplished. If only I could just slow down the day, I could cram in all the things that I have over-committed to. If only the sun would stay up a little longer, I could meet everyone’s demands for my time and attention.

Did you know that there was a time in the Old Testament when someone actually asked God to stop time…and he did?

Joshua 10 (The Message)

12-13 The day God gave the Amorites up to Israel, Joshua spoke to God, with all Israel listening:

“Stop, Sun, over Gibeon;
Halt, Moon, over Aijalon Valley.”

And Sun stopped,
Moon stood stock still
Until he defeated his enemies.

13-14 (You can find this written in the Book of Jashar.) The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day. There’s never been a day like that before or since—God took orders from a human voice! Truly, God fought for Israel

The battle for Gibeon was set to end at sundown. Joshua’s military forces did not have night vision goggles, high beams, or even flashlights. In order to defeat the five kings of the Amorites, he needed more time, so he prayed that God would give him that. God heard his prayer and prevented the sun from setting until Joshua had finished his battle.

What battle are you in today that is suffering from your hectic, over-rushed life? Where has your hurry turned into debilitating worry, preventing you from relaxing into a moment and being present in the present? Hurry-worry is soul crushing. Are there things in your over-committed life that can be shed so that you can live in real time without so much stress?

Sun, stand still. Moon, stay put. We call on God to give us the tools that enable us to slow our frantic pace and attend to the meaningful priorities that will bring us closer to him, closer to one another, and closer to peace. This means allowing God to set priorities according to his will, and being willing to LET GO of anything that doesn’t fall into his prioritizing. Are you ready for that?

What do you need to do today to make that happen? Don’t let the sun go down before you do it.

Still Moon by Becca Ziegler