Dropping Nets

What is in your hand right now? An electronic device, for sure. Possibly a cup of coffee, praise God from whom all blessings flow!

What will you fill your hands with as your day moves along? A computer mouse, a remote control, a paring knife, a child’s hand, a book, a cell phone, a wine glass, a steering wheel…we fill our hands, our time, our minds, our hearts, and our lives with many things in an ordinary day.

Now comes the question. Will those things you will hold bring you closer to God’s holy presence, or did will they in fact keep you far from it?

Most electronic devices come with an ability to monitor your screen time. If you want a moment of clarity about “where does the time go,” check it out. You might be very surprised to see how much screen time you are consuming. This is another fallout of the pandemic. And yes, I realize that right now I am contributing to your screen time, so hopefully it’s not all bad! Indeed, screen time can be good and productive when it contributes to our work and our lives….and then there is Netflix-binging.

In the first chapter of Mark, some ordinary guys were having an ordinary day filling their hands with ordinary work. These guys were fishermen, so their hands were filled with nets.

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Jesus calls disciples

16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him.

The immediacy of their response is noteworthy. RIGHT AWAY they left their nets.

Where is God calling you to put something down so that your attention can be directed toward his kingdom? Where is God calling you to change your heart and your life? In what way is he asking you to trust that this call is good news for you?

And it’s not just things we need to leave behind. Attitudes, entitlements, anger, misunderstanding, self-righteousness…God also calls us to drop these as well.

19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Some even left family and co-workers to follow Jesus. Maybe it’s time to leave behind all the people you have disagreed with over worldly issues and just follow Jesus. Maybe it’s time to leave Twitter behind. Maybe it’s time to leave main stream media, Facebook, Words With Friends, Tik Tok, and all those other distractions behind.

What is in your hand often dictates what is in your heart. Following Jesus requires leaving things behind. But you can trust that your hands will be filled with blessings if you empty them of all the worldly things.

Follow Me by Michelle Robertson

Prayer-Conditioned Life

I am working on a sermon on the subject of waiting and how we should spend our time when we are made to wait. I think I am pretty safe in saying that nobody likes to wait. I know people who hate to wait in line so much that they study the check-out lines in the grocery store very carefully as they finish their shopping. As they approach, they choose a line but still watch the other lines. If one suddenly seems to be moving, they dart over.

But you know you are really bad when you keep watching the other lines even when your groceries are on the conveyer belt. Some of us get mad if the guy we would have been behind in another line ends up finishing fast. I may or may not be married to someone like that.

I discovered someone who I think could be labeled as a “Champion Waiter.” We meet her very briefly in the second chapter of Luke, at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It was a Jewish tradition that forty days after giving birth, mothers went to the Temple to be purified. Firstborn sons were presented at that time in recognition of their position as the spiritual leader of their siblings. Anna was in the temple that day because, well, Anna was in the temple everyday:

Luke 2 (New Revised Standard Version)

36”There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 

As a first-century widow, Anna certainly knew prejudice, neglect, sorrow, and loneliness. But Anna spent her days worshipping and praying in the house of the Lord. She is remembered by Luke as a prophet, for she saw the Messiah that day and praised God with her joy and her witness:

38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Anna had a ”prayer-conditioned” life. She prayed every day, all day. In her 84 years of living, she prayed and fasted night and day. That habit prepared her for encountering the miraculous. The minute she saw him, she KNEW.

Anna’s daily acts of service in the Temple put her in the right place at the right time…because she already was in the presence of God. She filled her time of waiting for the consolation of Israel with active service. God is active in our waiting when we open our hearts, our thoughts, and our prayers to his Holy Spirit.

What would happen to you if you prayer-conditioned your life? What difference would it make? Are you putting yourself in the presence of God day and night?

Anna’s story only took three verses of scripture to tell, but she will be remembered forever. As we wait for the second coming of Christ, may we wait with the same patient expectation of encountering the miraculous.

Wait Upon the Lord By Kelley Lynch

God ALONE

I hold my breath this morning as Inauguration Day is finally upon us. The horrific images of January 6th are seared in my mind and I am fearful of violence in my nation’s capital. The uncertainty of all of this overwhelms me, and I almost long for those days in 2020 when the most pressing concern was the pandemic. Who would have thought that something more frightening than the pandemic would come along? But here we are.

In God’s incredible prevenient grace, the assigned scripture for today is a timely reminder that God is our refuge. While we wait in silence to see how this day unfolds, the psalmist reminds us that we should be waiting for God ALONE. Our hope comes from him. Alone.

Psalm 62 (New Revised Standard Version)

5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

Are you feeling shaken by the events of January 6th? Remember this:

6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

It is normal for our trust in all things to be shaken right now. Politicians, the government, law enforcement, our future together…nothing seems certain. But we are reminded to trust in God AT ALL TIMES, not just on the easy days. Were there actually any easy days? I can’t remember.

9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Verse 9 levels the playing field. Those of low estate and those of high estate don’t amount to much. There is no point in putting our trust in any one human, institution, or nation. God ALONE is our hope.

10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

No matter what happens today, tomorrow, or until Jesus returns, know this: God ALONE has the power. God ALONE offers his steadfast love. God is in control.

PRAY.

God Alone by Susie Fitch-Slater

No Time to Waste

What would you do if you found out you were going to die next week? Would you change anything, make amends, have a party, or sit in grief? A few years ago, my husband received a false diagnosis. He was experiencing chest pains on a flight home, so he drove himself (NOT RECOMMENDED, BY THE WAY) to the nearest Emergency Room when he landed. It was determined that he was not having a heart attack, but an x-ray revealed a mass in his lung. A mournful radiologist informed him that further tests were needed, but it looked like cancer.

The next day he returned for the further tests and met with a specialist who informed him that he had pneumonia and would need several rounds of strong antibiotics. We praised God and that was that. But in the 24 hours between hearing “cancer” and “pneumonia,” he did a lot of reassessing of priorities. One of the funnier decisions he made was that he would take the entire family to Disney’s Boardwalk Inn for a couple of weeks. We would stay in the posh Steeplechase Suite, which is a penthouse suite of rooms that includes bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a kitchen. It even has a full-length balcony overlooking the water. We like to tease him about that, and I have to say that those 24 hours helped all of us refocus on the priority of family. Since then we have made a much more concerted effort to be together. There is no time to waste.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he tells them that the second coming of Christ was imminent. He encourages them to simplify their lives in preparation. He invites them to reassess their daily routines:

1 Corinthians 7 (The Message)

29-31 I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on.

There are several things that jump out here. Simplifying marriage might mean not reacting to every little picky thing and starting endless arguments. Simplifying grief might mean setting aside a set time to grieve each day and then getting on with things. Simplifying joy might entail celebrating a moment and then moving on to other priorities. But look closely at this next part.

Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is fading away.

Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. Truly the news of the world, with all of its despair, violence, injustice, inequality, evil, and pure hatred will consume your daily routine if you let it. TURN OFF THE NEWS, PEOPLE. There is no time to waste in wallowing in things you can’t control.

We are still waiting for Christ to return, and Paul reminds us to make it good time. So evaluate your priorities. Spend time in prayer, scripture reading, witnessing, sharing your joy with your family and friends, and above all, keep it simple. There is no time to waste.

Simplifying Joy by Connie Outten

Speaking Truth to Weakness

My Dad had a saying that I learned to reject at a young age. To set the context, my father grew up as the son of a Pennsylvania State prison guard. His family struggled mightily during the depression and its aftermath. Dad was the oldest of four and had to take responsibility for two very squirrley brothers and a much younger sister. There was trouble in the house most nights, and his father was a stern man.

And so when things would happen in the news that spoke of trouble somewhere, my father would sigh, lean back in his recliner, and say, “Well, that figures. People are basically rotten,” in his best Archie Bunker voice. I don’t know that he truly believed that, but as the son of a prison guard, I imagine he heard a lot of that growing up.

I don’t believe people are basically rotten, but I do think we are all basically weak in the face of temptation. Sometimes God raises up people to speak truth to that weakness, and it is never an easy task. Think of a time when you had to confront someone about a negative behavior or action. Most of us would rather run away than have a confrontation with someone, especially someone we love.

In our passage today, we see Jonah at the end of his trial. He has run away from God, been thrown overboard from a ship, and has suffered being regurgitated by a whale at this point. God gives him a second chance to speak truth to weakness, and this time, he is obedient to that uncomfortable task.

Jonah 3 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,

2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.

4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

What Jonah learned is that when God speaks, people listen. If the message is the true word of God, truth prevails. Where we go wrong is when we insert ourselves, our opinions, our preferences, and our interpretations into his message. There is very little “pure word of God” to be found these days. This is why it is critical for us to read directly from Scripture every day.

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Where is God calling you to speak truth to weakness? Is someone in jeopardy of losing their soul or their life by practicing a destructive behavior? Is someone cheating, lying, or stealing right in front of you? What is God telling you to say?

Jonah reminds us that when God gives us a directive, he also gives us the proper way to deliver it. If you are in this situation, pray hard, walk softly, and keep discerning God’s will as you speak truth to weakness. If you are confronting an addict, you know how hard this is. At some point, God may tell you its OK for you to walk away for awhile. Be sure to walk straight to your prayer closet.

In any case, always make sure you pepper your message with love as you walk toward your Nineveh. In the fullness of time, God’s word will be heard.

Shipwreck Remains

Follow Me

Unpopular opinion: I think requiring adults to attend church membership classes before they are allowed to join is antithetical to the Gospel. Fortunately, I have always worked in churches that supported my position and I have been able to invite and receive people into the life of the church without requiring the typical four-to-six week indoctrination class.

My position is this: Jesus recruited his “membership” with two words: Follow Me. He didn’t require a six-week class, so why should we? Mind you, we have always had an “orientation” meeting, so that new members could be introduced to the aspects of the church. But that is more about me getting to know them than them getting to know the church. We provide new members with literature about the denomination and encourage them to take Bible studies. But in regard to “joining” the church, I believe that if the Holy Spirit has called you to join, the church shouldn’t put a process in the way of the promise.

Today’s lectionary is one of many examples of Jesus inviting someone to simply follow him.

John 1 (Common English Bible)

43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

Watch what happens next. Philip was invited to follow Jesus. He immediately turned around and brought someone else in. See how that works?

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Remember that Jesus was rejected in his own hometown. There was a pervasive attitude that Nazareth, a little podunk place, was an unlikely location for God’s son, the King of Israel, to grow up. Kind of like being from New Jersey. (I can say that…I’m from Jersey.)

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! 51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

You see, when the church encourages people to simply follow Jesus, the people see heaven open up in their lives. They encounter the Son of God for themselves. They invite him to be the king of their hearts, with no membership class required of him before they welcome him in.

Where is Jesus calling you to follow him today? Is he calling you to a new path? Is he asking you to put your feet on a road of righteousness that you are not currently walking? Is he inviting you to follow him into a sincere way of repentance and cleansing, leaving the old things behind so that you can follow him in a new direction?

Jesus invites us to follow him. No pre-registration required.

Just say yes.

Follow Me by Michelle Robertson

Being Slaves to our Whims

Raise your hand if you ate and/or drank too much over the holidays.

Mid-January always seems to be the time to confess our sins of overindulgence. One friend shared that she couldn’t stop eating the Christmas candy and her scale is confirming it. Another claims to have grown an evil eating-machine-twin that she is now trying to shed. Most of us can truthfully say that we experienced a departure from healthy eating over the holidays. Diets have been abandoned, our exercise bikes are being used as clothes racks, and all of our good intentions fled along with the Thanksgiving turkey.

You can put your hand down now.

In addition, the pandemic’s stay-at-home guidance was coupled with the attack on the nation’s Capitol last week, leaving us welded to our couches. Our days find us mindlessly engaging in anxiety-eating as we consume endless hours of news, sweets, and tweets. No wonder we feel out of sorts and bloated of mind, body, and soul.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we need to take care of our bodies because they are a gift from God. The Master honors us with our bodies, and Paul calls us to honor God with how we use our bodies. He warns us against becoming a slave to our whims.

1 Corinthians 6 (The Message)

12 Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

Paul goes on to caution us about stuffing our body with food. I think if he were alive today, he might also warn against stuffing our minds with too much news and social media. None of this is good for us in large quantities.

13 You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!

Your body is God’s temple. What you fill it with matters to God. You see, he has a plan to treat your body with the same resurrection power that Jesus received.

14-15 God honored the Master’s body by raising it from the grave. He’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power. Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master’s body.

You were created with dignity. God gave you a body to honor, as he honors you. What are you indulging in right now that needs to change? What are you putting in your mind, your heart, or your mouth that does not honor God? Is it time to put down the beer and turn off the TV?

Where is God calling you to make changes?

As Paul says, we can’t become slaves to our whims. Yes, things are incredibly difficult right now. But Paul reminds us that’s no excuse. Taking a 30 minute walk will clear things up significantly, or at least get you away from the candy bowl and the television for half an hour. Get up and get moving, and you will feel so much better.

Your body is created with dignity. Treat it as such.

Get Moving by Kathy Schumacher

Fearfully and Wonderfully

A few years ago I was driving past the Kitty Hawk Police Department as the community was gearing up for our annual OBX Marathon Weekend. I passed their information sign, which usually carries messages about changing your smoke detector batteries or remembering to buckle your seatbelt. I chucked when I saw the Marathon Weekend message: “You can run, but you can’t hide! Good luck from the Kitty Hawk Police Dept.” Haha!

We continue our journey into Psalm 139 today, delving farther into how much we are known by God. In the first half of this incredibly beautiful writing, the Psalmist assures us that God knows our going out, our coming in, our rising up, our sitting down, and that his hand is upon us in every moment of every day. We join with the Psalmist in his wonder and awe of God’s love for us. To be known by the creator of the universe is mind-blowing, indeed.

But how well does he know us? When did his knowing begin?

The second half of the psalm dives deeper. Here we learn that God himself was the one who formed us and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. Ponder that for a second. This tells us that God has been a present in our lives from our very inception. He not only created the universe, he created us and all living things that move in the wombs of their mothers:

Psalm 139 (New Revised Standard Version)

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

God’s work is wonderful. I think that is something important to remember when we encounter people (also formed in the wombs of their mothers) who do not look, vote, or think like us. God is with each one of us in our unborn state, and he loves and cherishes us all equally.

15  My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

It is a profound thing to realize that God beheld you with his own eyes when you were unformed and made in secret. There are no secrets from God. Nothing can be hidden from his light or his love.

In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.

God has planned to love you and be with you all the days of your life, even before you took your first breath. And hallelujah, when you come to the end, he is still with you, and you are still with him.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

What does this say to you today about your importance to God? What is God teaching you about the sanctity of life and his activity in bringing you about? Can you find comfort in knowing that not only was he with you before your very beginning, but he will be with you when you come to the end?

This Psalm is sometimes labeled “The Inescapable God.” It is a reminder to us that we may run, but we can never hide. God is in every moment of our every moment. Thanks be to God!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Nathan Dixon, Age 7

You Know Me

Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with my 14-month-old grandson. He is in the active/touching everything/put stuff in his mouth/try-to-climb-the-unclimbable stage of toddlerhood, so I purchased a large, sturdy play fence. We established one area as a kid-friendly zone, and put the 100 lb. Labrador Retriever on the other. It proved to be a good purchase, as we could sit in the kid zone and enjoy him playing without worrying for his safety. The dog wasn’t thrilled, but she got over it.

Today’s reading is the 139th Psalm. I have to tell you how excited I was that this is in this week’s lectionary, as it is one of my favorite psalms. It introduces the incredible notion that God knows us. Not just “knows” us as a people, or a nation, but really KNOWS us. Intimately. Personally. Closely. Familiarly.

Psalm 139 (New Revised Standard Version)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.

How can the creator of the universe know us in such detail? How can the One who told the moon when to set and the stars where to spin know our very thoughts from far away? Why would he bother?

You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.

It almost amuses me to think that God knows the word that is about to be on our tongues even before we say it. How it must dismay him when we actually say it! He knows us this well AND HE LOVES US ANYWAY.

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.

Like a child inside a play fence, we are safely hemmed in by the One who made us. He desires to protect us, to surround us with grace, and to heal us with his mercy. Again I ask, why?

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

The psalmist speaks of the awe we feel in knowing how perfectly God knows us. He loves us so much that he is present in our every waking and sleeping moment.

What does it mean to you to know that God searches you and knows you to the very depth of your soul? Does it bring you comfort to know that you can never be alone? Is it a balm in your loneliness? Does it help you to realize that there is no sin you could ever commit that is beyond the reach of his understanding and forgiveness? Does it strengthen you to realize that with such a God, who is so close within you, nothing from the outside can harm you or separate you from his love?

Such knowledge is too wonderful. Such knowledge is so high, we cannot attain it. But we’ll take it anyway.

Rejoice, and be glad.

You Search Out My Path by Wende Pritchard

Speaking Truth to Power

The chaos of what happened last week in America’s Capitol is foremost on our minds today. How could this hallowed institution be breached by violent insurrectionists? How could a mob of thugs get inside the very tangible and visible symbol of our country’s democracy? Where did it all go wrong?

I don’t think it started to go wrong last Wednesday. I don’t think it started in November. I don’t even think it started to fall apart four years ago. Our deep and polarizing issues have been dividing us since the inception of our country, and our continued failure to address the issues that divide us brought us straight up the capitol steps last week in the form of blood and insurrection. Until we confront our national racism, the abuse of power, the advantage of privilege, the entitlement of the wealthy, widespread inequity, oppression, and injustice, we will continue to experience hurtful and damaging division.

Where we go wrong is when we fail to speak truth to power.

In this passage from 1 Samuel 3, we see a similar conundrum. Samuel is a young man serving in the household of Eli, who was the judge and high priest. God’s word was not heard much in those days, but the presence of God was still in the temple, where Samuel served. Eli’s sons had committed many sins against God, using their privilege and entitlement as “sons of the high priest” as their cover. Eli had been warned that his household was about to fall apart due to their rebellion. Finally God spoke directly to young Samuel:

1 Samuel 3 (Common English Bible)

11 The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle! 12 On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household—every last bit of it! 13 I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about—how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. 14 Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.”

15 Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the Lord’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!”

“I’m here,” Samuel said.

17 “What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.”18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.

“He is the Lord, ” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.”

19 So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet.

When we find ourselves in a situation where God is calling us to speak truth to power, we must remember Samuel. His obedience to say the harsh word to someone who had authority over him was blessed by God. For the rest of his days, the Lord was with him and did not allow any of his words to fail.

Where is God calling you to speak out? Is there a situation in your family that needs resolution? Are you suffering in your workplace because of unfair policies or discrimination? Is your marriage or relationship off-kilter because your partner is too controlling and causing you harm? Is it time to email your Congressional leadership and demand change?

Samuel teaches us that being trustworthy to the Lord’s message is more important than anything else. When you speak for God, he will be with you, always.

It’s time to speak up.

Purple Mountains Majesty by Kathy Schumacher