Hang on to the Rope

The story is told of a helicopter that was called to remove eleven stranded skiers from a mountain top during an avalanche. The pilot deployed a rope ladder and instructed them to hang on. As they clung to the rope and flew away, the wind shear became treacherous when they flew over a deep ravine. The helicopter began to dip, and the pilot called down to the ten men and one woman clinging to the rope that the helicopter could only support the weight of ten people. So in order for everyone to survive, someone would have to let go. 

The skiers began to grumble and fight among themselves, and finally the woman spoke up. 

“Gentlemen, I have lived a life of service to my family. I have sacrificed all of my life for my children and my husband. I denied myself at every turn, even taking care of both my parents before they died. In light of that, I have decided that since sacrifice was the way I lived, sacrifice will be the way I die. I will sacrifice myself so that you all may survive.” When the men heard this they were overcome with gratitude, and immediately every single one of them took their hands off the rope and burst into applause!

But on a more serious note….

For every one of you who lives a life of service to your family, who makes sacrifices for their welfare, and who works tirelessly to provide for your household: we see you. You live a life of frequent self-denial so that others might thrive and be happy. But make no mistake…DON’T LET GO OF THE ROPE.

Joshua 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

That, right there, is your rope. The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Grab ahold of him.

I remember once seeing our preschool’s two-year-old class walking to the playground. The teachers use a long rope with multiple loops with handles, and the kids hang on to it as they walk. Yep, we got kids-on-a-rope right here! And you know those kids hang on for life.

So too should we. We need to hang on to God for dear life.

Joshua 23 (The Message)

 8 Hold tight to God, your God, just as you’ve done up to now.

9-10 “God has driven out superpower nations before you. And up to now, no one has been able to stand up to you. Think of it—one of you, single-handedly, putting a thousand on the run! Because God is God, your God. Because he fights for you, just as he promised you.

So the next time you’re falling into bed well after midnight because you were up finishing the laundry, helping a child with a science project that they only remembered after dinner is due tomorrow, or fixing the garbage disposal, know that God was there. When the alarm goes off at O-Dark-Thirty tomorrow morning, realize that God will be along for the ride as you commute to work for another long day.

God honors your sacrifice. You are a blessing to your family. So hang on! God is God…YOUR God. You are never alone.

This is the legit Safety Information Card from an airline that I flew on. Once.

Befriending Your Brokenness

Last week I told my congregation a story that came out of India. There once was a water bearer who had two large water pots in which he carried water from the river to his master every day. One of the pots was perfect. The other one had a crack in it. The perfect pot always arrived at the master’s quarters perfectly full. The cracked pot was always half empty. Embarrassed and ashamed, the cracked pot said to his carrier one day, “Why don’t you get rid of me? I never arrive at the master’s quarters more than half full.”

”Ah,” replied the water bearer, ”you don’t know the full story. Look beside the road where I carry you each day. There are flowers growing that I pick for the master’s table. The flowers only bloom on your side of the road. It is your cracked pot that waters them.”

Isn’t that an inspiring story for all of the cracked pots reading this today???

Scripture: Psalm 147: 2-5 (NRSV)

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.

This beautiful Psalm speaks of brokenness. It reminds us that God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Brokenness is everywhere. All around us are people dealing with broken hearts, broken bodies, broken dreams, broken relationships, broken thoughts, broken jobs, broken social lives, broken promises, broken minds….brokenness has been part of who we are since Adam and Eve broke the covenant with God in the garden.

In his wonderful book The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen suggests that we befriend our brokenness by embracing it, acknowledging it, and owning up to it. This is far preferable to running away from it. The first step to healing is not a step away from the pain of brokenness, but a step toward it. Attempting to avoid, repress, or escape the pain is like cutting off a limb that could be re-attached if it only had proper attention.

Nouwen asserts that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we desire, but instead it can become the means to it. But he cautions that we can’t do it alone. We need someone to stand with us in the brokenness, to remind us that there is peace beyond the anguish, life beyond death, and love beyond fear.

Are you broken? What is the source of your anguish? Where is God calling you to lay down your broken pieces and let him make something beautiful out of them?

As you make your way through it, find a friend. Ask for help. Go to a therapist, a church, a clergy person, a trusted family member, and get someone to come alongside of you. Nouwen is right. If we befriend our brokenness with someone who has befriended us, we will find hope at the end of the journey together.

God will use your brokenness to bring forth beautiful flowers, if you let him. Everyone and everything can be repaired, and you will find meaning and value in the hands of the Master. You are the Beloved!

Broken Shell Planter by Jan Wilson

Lifesavers in Church

When I was a child attending the Gibbsboro United Methodist church, my father always carried a roll of lifesavers in his coat pocket. These would be doled out to my sister and me. We had to wait until the sermon began, as we were all good singers and he didn’t want anyone to choke on one during a hymn.

That was OK with us, because we loved to sing the harmonies of the classics in that old red book. My father was an exquisite baritone, my mother sang alto, and my sister had perfect pitch and could handle any tenor part that came down the Jersey pike. That left the soprano to me, which was fine, since that is where my vocal register sits anyway. We were a perfect quartet.

When the sermon began, the lifesaver roll would come out of Dad’s pocket and be passed down the pew. There were only two flavors offered: Butter Rum or Wild Cherry. Butter Rum days were my favorite. I still prefer caramel flavorings over everything else…even chocolate. Plus, eating something labeled “rum” in church made my sister and me giggle.

My Dad was brilliant in having something ready for wiggly kids on Sunday mornings. However, the idea of lifesavers in church was not exactly a novel idea.

Matthew 14 (The Message)

24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

We have a Savior who can rescue us from any disaster, who walks on water just to get in a rocking boat with us, and saves us from drowning in our sorrows. Jesus calms every storm, and brings us back to life.

Are you are up to your neck in something bad? Jesus can get you out of it.

Are the winds of self-doubt and discouragement screaming in your ears? Ask Jesus, and he will tell them to SHUT UP.

Are you a Faint-heart? Just look up. Jesus is reaching down into your mess to pull you out.

When Peter began to panic and lost sight of his Savior, Jesus didn’t hesitate to grab him. He will do the same for you.

So have courage! Your lifesaver is at hand.

Time for the Sermon

Season Confusion

Unseasonable warmth came to the Outer Banks last week, despite it being the middle of February. Our normal wintery temperatures have ceded to beautiful, sunshiny, 70-degree days. Don’t get me wrong, we love it…but it is confusing the heck out of our daffodils. This picture was posted by a friend, who warned that the cold would return that night and she hopes these beautiful blossoms will survive. She captioned it, “season confusion.”

My mind instantly went to the beautiful passage in Ecclesiastes that speaks of seasons:

Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

I wonder if we don’t also occasionally experience season confusion ourselves. We stay in a time of mourning when God is releasing us to dance. We embrace inappropriately without consideration of the other person’s comfort level. We continue to tear at something when it’s time to mend that relationship. We hate, when God is asking us to love, and we go to war over an ideology or personality rather than be the peace-makers God is calling us to be.

Are you in the wrong season? Tearing down something that God is telling you to build up? Staying stuck in your ways, rather than uproot your attitude and consider other perspectives? Still searching for the perfection of that unobtainable thing when God is telling you to let it go?

If you are feeling out of sorts with your life and out of place in the world, consider that you may be experiencing season confusion. Think, meditate, and pray. God will lead you to the season he has prepared for you. EVERYTHING has a season under the sun. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Daffodils in February by Jan Wilson

Band Camp

Something recently triggered my memories of attending band camp when I was in high school. We would travel by bus to a large camp somewhere near Tobyhanna, PA, and spend about five days learning the fall show. It was everything you would hope the experience would be: fun, informative, social, and very challenging. Early morning “marching and maneuvering“ practice was the WORST. We would descend on the practice field still covered in heavy dew, and our feet stirred up all of the resting mosquitoes and no-see-ums (it’s a Pennsylvania thing.) Luckily this was done without instruments, so our hands were free to swat and slap.

Those days in the heat promoted bonding that I still feel with my fellow band members when I see their posts on FaceBook. I had the opportunity a few years ago to officiate the wedding of a former drummer’s daughter. We don’t even live in the same state, but the friendship that began on a sweltering practice field in the August of our youth made it seem like a natural fit, and it was a joy to re-connect with old friends.

Many of us probably don’t remember how to play the instruments we carried during those years. None of us could recall the intricate routines. We probably can’t remember all the names of the songs we had to memorize. But the bonds we made in those formative years last forever.

Philippians 2 (The Message)

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.

Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Band-life was Philippians 2-life. Except for the chair challenges, when each player tried to capture first chair in their section, we did not push ourselves to the front or try to get our own advantage. When we hit the field, we were a community that felt a deep-spirited friendship, and we worked together to defeat the other bands. We were a team.

If you have ever been part of something bigger than yourself, you understand. God calls us into community so that we might bond with other workers toward the same goal. In the community of believers, that means humbling ourselves in the way that Christ did:

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 

Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Where is God calling you to take second chair? Where might you make a bigger impact by putting others first? Is God inviting you to forget about yourself, and offer a helping hand to someone else?

Being part of God’s bigger vision for your life means being a part of a deep-spirited community. Let us choose to love one another, agree with one another, and be deep-spirited friends. This is the way we will win the world.

East Coast Champions by the Record Breeze via Greta Mattingly

WhatEVER

If you have ever had a teenager, if you have one now, or if you simply know a teenager, you have heard the word whatEVER waaay, waaay too much. It becomes the common response to EVERYTHING for a (thankfully) brief period of time…say, from age 11 to about 21. (31?) Often delivered with an eye roll, a foot stomp, and a perfectly dismissive tone of voice, whatEVER signals to the hearer that the speaker is finished with the conversation and has totally moved on. End of. Door closed. Don’t bother to knock.

Oh, the joys of raising kids!

In defense of the teens that we all raise and love, whatEVER also signals that your teen is overwhelmed, frustrated, distracted, and emotionally underwater. The dismissiveness is not always a lack of respect, as much as it feels like it. It is your kid’s way of saying, ”TOO MUCH. School is too much, social media is too much, my boy/girl friend issues are too much, the bullying at lunch is too much, my so-called-friends are too much, the pressures of hormonal life with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex are just TOO MUCH.” It’s perhaps in this moment that they need Mom and Dad the most, even with the strong-arm/push-away behavior that they are exhibiting.

And don’t be fooled…whatEVERness is not just restricted to teenagers. Look around your friend group, your workplace, and your community, and you’ll find someone choosing dismissive and off-putting behavior as a way to deal with their own TOO-MUCHNESS.

WhatIF we could turn their WhatEVERs into something lovely?

Philippians 4

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

When someone comes at you full bore and you get blindsided by their hostility, it is a good thing to pause and consider what else is happening. It’s also important to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, and pleasing about them. In other words, in the face of resistance, rebellion, and rudeness (whether from your kid or another adult) think to yourself: what is really going on? Is there ANY redeeming quality in this person (albeit not in this moment?)

If the answer is yes, take a deep breath and think about THOSE things. Then pray.

Someday, you will be glad that you did not overreact to your teenager’s hormones. Someday, you will be glad that you didn’t meet rudeness with rudeness. Someday that awful co-worker who was trying to undermine you may actually come back to apologize, and thank you for your graciousness.

And someday, that overwhelmed kid will be an overwhelmed parent of a teenager themself. And when that happens, and they come complaining to you about what their child just had the NERVE to say to them, you know what your response can be?

“WhatEVER!!!”

Whatever is Pleasing, Think on This by Michelle Robertson

Peaches’ Bone

We have a staff dog named Peaches at my church. She is a little mixed breed who is always happy to see us as we come through the door. (Except for one staff member, who keeps threatening to send her to the pound. We think he’s joking, but Peaches isn’t taking any chances.) She barks until she ascertains that you belong there; then she offers her small, warm tummy for free rubs.

Peaches attends staff meetings, and it’s good to have her there if the conversation gets tense, WHICH OF COURSE IT NEVER DOES BECAUSE WE ARE A CHURCH STAFF. (OK, well hardly ever.) She goes around the room as we talk, and helps herself to a piece of the couch that seems the friendliest. Soon enough, the staff member seated there will find themselves with lap full of Peaches. There is nothing better in a meeting than the warmth of a happy little dog.

Peaches has taken to hiding her bone in the chair in my office. My office is located in the back of the building, farthest from the busy front area. I discovered her hiding place one Sunday when I was meeting with a prospective church member. I was focused on greeting him, and when I sat down, I did not expect a sharp poke in my lower back. It was a Princess and the Pea moment. As I dug through the back of the cushion, I discovered Peaches’ bone. Now I look before I sit. I’m not sure who Peaches is hiding her bones from, as nobody on the staff really wants one. But Peaches understands the value of a good hiding place.

Psalm 27

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

It is good to know that on the day of trouble, God is our hiding place. He will keep us safe from harm in his dwelling. He will set us upon a high rock where we can spot trouble coming from a long way off.

Worship happens in the house of the Lord in places commonly referred to as sanctuaries. For one hour a week, God offers a place of refuge and respite from the trouble that the world gives. We have a brief sabbath from the normal routine when we get to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and hopefully think of nothing else.

As important as that one hour is, God’s dwelling is everywhere, and the shelter of his sacred tent is available at any moment of any troubled day. HE is our hiding place. When we open scripture or go to him in prayer, we enter into his temple, where peace and safety abide.

What is troubling you today? What do you wish to hide from so that you might catch your breath and regenerate? When hard times come, it is good to know where to turn. God is your rock, your salvation, and your 24/7 sanctuary. Flee to him in your time of trouble. His door is always open.

Peaches and Her Hiding Place by Amy Berge

Wind Shifts

Last week brought gale-force winds to the Outer Banks, and these winds often bring sound-side flooding. Our schools had to quickly scramble to declare an early dismissal so that the buses could get kids home safely before the roads flooded with salt water and became impassable.

I live on an island off the main drag, and so we have to be particularly aware of the three-mile road that links Big Colington Island to Little Colington Island to Kill Devil Hills. The low road is bordered by water on both sides and connected by two bridges. When the wind shifts, the lowest parts flood pretty quickly, and suddenly you can’t get on or off the island. But locals know to just wait, because the wind always shifts back and takes the water with it.

Island life is a constant reminder of who is in charge of the winds, the tides, the rising sea, and the setting sun. Whenever a change in the weather traps us inside for awhile, it is good to recall the words of hope and promise in Isaiah. And whether your entrapment is weather-related, or life-situation-related, the truth remains the same:

Isaiah 43

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.


When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.


For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior
.

Whenever you pass through the waters, I will be with you. I have two beloved women in my life who are going through very difficult custody battles. I think of them everyday, and pray this over them. When things like this happen, remember that you are only PASSING THROUGH this time of your life.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. Another friend just lost her husband. Waves of grief will now come on a regular basis for a while. I pray this over her. When someone you love dies, remember that you will NOT be swept away by the sorrow forever; it will not always feel this way.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. For all of you undergoing cancer treatments, spending another day of your life in prison, struggling to find work, advocating for your family’s rights, walking in protest, fighting your way out of abuse, overcoming addiction…I pray this for you. Remember that you will NOT be burned by your journey…just keep walking.

Eventually, the winds do shift. The flood water recedes, the dry land re-appears, and travel becomes easier.

Hang on. God had redeemed you. He has summoned you by name. You are HIS.

Colington Road Underwater by Amy Berge

Flight Delays

FLIGHT DELAYS. Everybody has them. If you fly in or out of Atlanta, you get more than your fair share of them. Mechanical issues, weather issues, personnel issues…it doesn’t take much for your flight to be delayed. But if you think about it, you may want your flight to be delayed. Flying with an engine part that needs to be replaced, or into a tornado-spawning storm, or with one of your pilots missing is never a good thing. Bring on the delay!

Said nobody ever.

Delays are annoying, inconvenient, and sometimes expensive. I heard a story about an extremely irate man whose plane had been delayed for weather. The man was very loud in his displeasure and demanded to see the pilot. (Because, of course, the pilot can fix the weather.) He was yelling about how much the delay was going to cost him, and said that the 2-hour delay caused him to miss a meeting to finalize a multi-million dollar deal. The pilot apologized and explained the situation for the tenth time, but that didn’t appease the man. He went back into rant-mode about the lost millions, the pilot finally responded, “Well sir, next time you have a multi-million dollar deal on the line, perhaps you should fly in the day before to ensure your on-time arrival.”

He’s got a point. That business man was leaving a lot to chance by only allowing two hours to land, make his way out of the large airport, find a taxi, and get to his downtown meeting on time.

Flight delays in life happen every day. A couple tries to conceive a child, and month after month they are disappointed. A college graduate waits endless weeks to hear about grad school. A tired Mom tries to get to bed at a reasonable hour, but the baby keeps waking up. An elderly man waits patiently for his son’s visit, but it seems to keep getting put off every month. A hospice patient takes months rather than days to finish their life’s journey. Flight delays happen.

The only thing you can control when a flight delay happens in your life is your response to it.

Isaiah 30

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore he will rise up to show you compassion..
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for him!

God longs to be gracious to us in our delays. God will rise up to show us compassion if we use our waiting time LOOKING for him. Rather than rant and rail, can your response be one of hopeful anticipation? Of increased prayer? Of calm reassurance to your fellow passengers that all is well, because God is in charge?

God is with you in your waiting. God may actually be using the delay to prepare you for what is coming. Where is he active when you feel that your life has stalled? If you look for him, you will find him.

Blessed are all who wait for him.

ATL Sunrise

Binocularvision

Binoculars are fascinating. Heavy and clunky, they contain a series of lenses and prisms that capture light and image, flip them around, and bring them to the eyes with clarity and a close-up view that is impossible to the naked eye.

In case you are curious about the science of binoculars, read this from https://www.explainthatstuff.com/binoculars.html:

Binoculars are simply two telescopes side by side, one for each eye. But there’s a catch. When light rays from a distant object pass through a convex lens, they cross over. That’s why distant things sometimes look upside down if you look at them through a magnifying glass. The second lens doesn’t sort out that problem. So binoculars have a pair of prisms (large wedges of glass) inside them to rotate the image through 180 degrees. One prism rotates the image through 90 degrees (flips it onto its side), then the next prism rotates it through another 90 degrees (flips it onto its side again), so the two prisms effectively turn it upside down. The prisms can either be arranged in a back-to-back arrangement (known as roof prisms) or at 90 degrees (known as Porro prisms).

Are we clear now?

All I know is that owning a pair of binoculars on the Outer Banks is almost essential. There are many times when I see something in the water, or across the harbor at the club house that needs a closer look, and my handy binoculars do the trick. Our clubhouse parking area is the local heliport for emergencies, and I have observed several take-offs and landings there. It takes a moment to focus the binoculars, but then everything is clear.

Ephesians 1 (The Message)

15-19 That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks.

But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

This prayer that Paul lifted up for his friends in Ephesus is one we should continue today. We should ask God to make us intelligent and discerning. We should ask him to help us know him personally. Especially today, we ask that our eyes are focused and clear enough to see EXACTLY what it is he is calling us to do.

This is my prayer for you. You have a calling. You have a divine appointment! May God grant you binocularvision so that you might see and know your calling in the world. May he grant you clarity of sight so that you know without a doubt what actions you should take, what words you should utter, and what step to take next. Focus in! He will show you the way.

I can’t stop thanking God for you.

Up close and personal.