Here Am I

What do you think God wants from you? Loyalty? Obedience? Worship? Adoration? Action?

The early Israelites struggled with this question. That struggle continued into New Testament times as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and others tried to form sects structured around their notion of what God wanted from them. They were hung up on things like fasting, class distinctions, sabbath regulations, piety, and a plethora of laws. Jesus brought absolute clarity to the question, but well before his arrival on the scene the prophet Isaiah beautifully articulated what God wants from his people.

The people had chosen to fast from inconsequential things. (You know, like when you give up donuts for Lent but you don’t really like donuts.) God had something entirely different in mind:

Isaiah 58 (New International Version)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?

For example, the modern church puts a lot of effort, resources, energy, and activity toward worship. But notice that worship doesn’t make the top of the list. Worship is always a life-giving necessity, but breaking the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free seem to rank higher, according to Isaiah.

Maybe worship comes next on the list…

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Nope, not yet. Sharing food with the hungry and providing shelter are listed. Clothing the naked is important, too. It seems that God is more interested in social justice issues than whether the altar candles should have wax, wicks, or oil…which is actually a dilemma that altar guilds have lost sleep over.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

We would do well to listen to Isaiah. Serving the needs around us is akin to light breaking through upon the people of God when they engage in acts of righteousness. People who serve God in this manner find wholeness and healing, and God himself comes alongside to assist.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

When we are following God’s call, there is never a time that he is not with us. Not. Ever. So if your only interaction with God is once a week for an hour on Sundays, think that through again. God is more interested in your treatment of his people throughout the week than your attention for an hour.

In other words, you are not called to just hear the word. You are called to go out and BE the word.

So go be the word today.

Be the Word by Karen Warlitner

Vindication

Have you ever longed to be vindicated after an unprovoked attack? Having someone come alongside of you and take up your cause can be life-giving. In contrast, standing alone against oppression can absolutely flatten your soul. To hear someone articulate your defense is what everyone desires in such moments. If you have ever defended a friend against an attacker, you are a blessing. Friends don’t let friends stand alone.

Our Psalmist today is in that exact spot. He is alone in his situation and looks to God for vindication. What better friend could we have than the Lord to stand with us?

Psalm 43 (New Revised Standard Version)

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
    because of the oppression of the enemy?

In God’s timing, the vindication is not immediately given. We don’t know why. Perhaps the Psalmist needed to learn how to defend himself. Perhaps God was teaching him something. Certainly patience and trust in the waiting times are things we learn when we cry out to God and have to wait for an answer.

That is exactly where our Psalmist lands. He knows what to do, where to go, and who will deliver him as he waits and asks for help.

O send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
    O God, my God.

This statement of loving trust is beautiful. He calls out for God to send light and truth. He asks to be led up the holy hill where he will worship at God’s altar with exceeding joy. Already he is anticipating that vindication is coming.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

He remembers God’s help and reassures himself that he doesn’t need to be cast down. Hope returns, and he is comforted.

Do you know what to do, where to go, and who to wait for when you are feeling beat down? Do you trust God to hear when you cry out for deliverance? Do you anticipate his coming, even in the waiting?

God is your refuge and strength. Keep seeking his light and his truth. When the time is right, he will defend your cause and deliver you from deceit and unjust treatment. So go to the altar and wait. Praise God with joy and wait. Lift up your head and wait.

Hope in God! He is your help and salvation, and he’s on his way.

Hope Dawns by Paul J. Clifford

The Feet of The Messenger

Before I go any farther, I want to make a disclaimer. Pastors aren’t perfect. Not every pastor works hard. Yes, there are some who work upwards of 70 hours a week, but others are just lazy. Pastors are flawed, have weaknesses, get frustrated, and basically are…human. There are good pastors and awful pastors. I have worked with both. Some may argue I have been both. If you are currently attending a church, even virtually, read on.

October is “Pastor Appreciation Month,” when Hallmark tells you to show your pastor a little love. I promise you that churches who make a thing of this are well-loved by their pastors. As with any institution, most pastors receive a ton more complaints than compliments, so a gesture of gratitude any time of the year really goes a long way.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, he lays out the kind of effort that pastors go through when they are called to shepherd a church. He talks about hard work, hardships, and struggling to make a living so that he could do the anointed work of preaching and teaching the Good News to the people.

1 Thessalonians 1 (Contemporary English Version)

My dear friends, you surely haven’t forgotten our hard work and hardships. You remember how night and day we struggled to make a living, so that we could tell you God’s message without being a burden to anyone. 

In my denomination, we call those folks “bi-vocational pastors.” Many work nine-to-five jobs and then conduct worship on Sundays. Somehow they fit in visiting the sick, attending to the administration of the church, offering counseling, performing weddings and funerals, doing a minimum of ten hours sermon prep, and a host of other things. God bless the bi-vocational servants who bring the good news!

And God bless the full and part-time pastors who juggle church, family, study time, home, social obligations, and community responsibilities as though they are riding unicycles on a high wire, each with a crazed monkey on their head. Pastoring is not easy. Just one small thing can disrupt the delicate, impossible balance and send everything spilling into the ring occupied by the marching elephants.

10 Both you and God are witnesses that we were pure and honest and innocent in our dealings with you followers of the Lord. 11 You also know we did everything for you that parents would do for their own children. 12 We begged, encouraged, and urged each of you to live in a way that would honor God. He is the one who chose you to share in his own kingdom and glory.

A good pastor does exactly this. They focus their life’s work in honest labor to encourage their parishioners to live in a way that honors God. Paul is right. Good pastors love their churches like parents love their own children.

13 We always thank God that you believed the message we preached. It came from him, and it isn’t something made up by humans. You accepted it as God’s message, and now he is working in you.

There is nothing more important to a pastor than to know that they have brought someone to Christ. Nothing beats it. When you walk out of a service and tell your preacher that you have heard God’s message, that is the best kind of appreciation you can offer. And when a pastor sees their congregation serving with a sense of purpose, calling, understanding, and humbleness, it is a game-changer. That is a church we never want to leave.

If you are part of a faith community that is being well-shepherded by a loving pastor, thank God. It is so much harder than it looks, especially now. The pandemic has knocked every pastor I know for a LOOP.

To my fellow pastors, I raise my hand in gratitude and praise for everything you are going through right now as you are faithful to your calling. May God bless you and keep you from going crazy.

Friends, pray for your pastors. Encourage them, uplift them, and let them know you care. Even when it isn’t October.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of joy!” (Romans 10:15 NKJV)

How Beautiful!

Wholly People

What does it mean to be holy? In its simplest form, the word holy means to be set apart. Holy things are sacred, special, and outside of the norm of the secular world. God is holy. Worship is holy. Prayer is holy. Sacraments are holy. You are holy.

Surprised?

Think of it this way: being made in the image of God and redeemed by his blood, we have inherited a holiness that we are called to live up to on a daily basis. Being holy humans means we are called to reflect God’s holiness in everything we say, do, and think. Justice, righteousness, equity, unconditional love, forgiveness, honesty, mercy, and especially grace should be the attributes of holiness that we endeavor to live out every day.

That is what a holy human looks like. Unfortunately, those who are wholly human often succumb to anger, name-calling, deceit, bias, pettiness, prejudice, and vengeance.

Leviticus 19 (Common English Bible)

The Lord said to Moses, Say to the whole community of the Israelites: You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

In our pursuit of daily holiness, God is our measure and standard. Here are his rules for holiness:

15 You must not act unjustly in a legal case. Do not show favoritism to the poor or deference to the great; you must judge your fellow Israelites fairly. 16 Do not go around slandering your people. Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed; I am the Lord. 

17 You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your fellow Israelite strongly, so you don’t become responsible for his sin. 18 You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

This instruction to the Israelites on how to live together is an important reminder to us as we move forward as a nation. Where is your citizenship? Is it with your political party or is it in heaven?

In a few weeks America will declare a winner. Regardless of the outcome, we are to remain holy and not hold grudges. We are to love our neighbors who vote differently. It is against God’s word to slander each other. We absolutely must NOT hate our fellow citizens in our hearts. It may be in our human nature to do these things, but as God-followers, these things cannot be our response to the election. You are commanded to love your neighbor as yourself.

Wholly human or holy human? The choice is yours.

Holy Moment by Wende Pritchard

People-Pleasing

How many of you struggle with an addiction to people-pleasing? You may have grown up in a household that taught you this. Pleasing mom and dad meant peace at the dinner table. Displeasure brought different levels of grief.

Folks who have a bent for people-pleasing find themselves in all kinds of trouble. For example, there is the trouble that comes from not being able to say no. Come on now, you know who you are! If you are over-committed to your family and every community and church volunteer opportunity, you are probably a people-pleaser.

Then there are the people-pleasers who can’t stand up for themselves. When others who don’t give a fig about people-pleasing encounter them, they get walked all over and used as door mats.

It is hard to be in a relationship with a people-pleaser because you never quite know where you stand. They will agree with everything you say, laugh at your lame jokes, and tell you that you look good in those jeans that add 15 lbs. of visual weight to your frame.

Beware of the people-pleasers!

In his letter to the newly formed church in Thessalonica, Paul is assuring the congregation that his efforts are completely void of any such nonsense. He states that his words to them have not been based on false information, wrong motives, or deception.

1 Thessalonians 1 (Common English Bible)

2 As you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, our visit with you wasn’t a waste of time.On the contrary, we had the courage through God to speak God’s good news in spite of a lot of opposition, although we had already suffered and were publicly insulted in Philippi, as you know. Our appeal isn’t based on false information, the wrong motives, or deception.Rather, we have been examined and approved by God to be trusted with the good news, and that’s exactly how we speak.

In his work with the church, he and the other apostles have endeavored to do one thing…please God. They have been trusted by God with the good news and they only want to please him.

We aren’t trying to please people, but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts. As you know, we never used flattery, and God is our witness that we didn’t have greedy motives. We didn’t ask for special treatment from people—not from you or from others— although we could have thrown our weight around as Christ’s apostles.

The integrity of his efforts shines through. The message of the gospel can get out because people know that Paul isn’t just telling them things they want to hear and buttering them up with flattering words. Instead, he is speaking words that convey love, hope, and TRUTH.

Instead, we were gentle with you like a nursing mother caring for her own children. We were glad to share not only God’s good news with you but also our very lives because we cared for you so much.

As we make our way to the polls in America, ask yourself these questions. Does your candidate speak to please God, or to butter up voters? Is he or she operating from selfish motives, hidden agendas, and deception, or is there a sincere desire to serve the public? Are they humble or self-aggrandizing? Do they have integrity like Paul?

The ranks of leadership at every level are filled with people-pleasers. Let’s find the God-pleasers this time.

Rays of Hope by Bruce Winterstine

A Thousand Years

Time. We never seem to have enough of it, are always running out of it, have no control over it, and rule our lives by it. Think about how many times every day you check your watch/phone/Alexa to see what time it is. Nobody likes to be late for an appointment, and time sets the pace for our daily activity.

When someone you love dies, time starts to play tricks on you. Suddenly time stops. You find yourself dwelling on the past, trying to stretch out last moments, and not wanting to move into a future without them. Days and weeks either get stuck in the slow molasses of grief or suddenly accelerate to a holiday you hadn’t anticipated where you get to relive your loss in a new way.

Time in God’s terms, however, is a much altered thing. In Psalm 90 we see a common idea that in God’s perspective, a thousand years is like a day:

Psalm 90 (Common English Bible)

Lord, you have been our help,
    generation after generation.
Before the mountains were born,
    before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
    from forever in the past
    to forever in the future, you are God.

You return people to dust,
    saying, “Go back, humans,”
    because in your perspective a thousand years
    are like yesterday past,
    like a short period during the night watch.

This is what happens when you apply eternity to time. Suddenly centuries of years become like days. In heaven there are no clocks to measure out 24-hour periods of existence. Time simply IS.

The blessing in that for all of us is that our loved ones who have gone before us will experience our arrival as though it is happening right after theirs. The compression and expansion of eternity mean that for them, time is a seamless flow of entry into heaven. So when my father died in 2009, he turned around and there came my mom in 2014, which in eternity was like a day later. Best of all, their lives now are timeless as they rest in our Father’s arms. So too will yours be when you get there “tomorrow.” From forever in the past to forever in the future, God is with us.

You sweep humans away like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning.
True, in the morning it thrives, renewed,
    but come evening it withers, all dried up.

Take some time today to meditate on these things. God has been with you since before he birthed the earth and the inhabited world, and he will be with you forever. Thanks be to God!

Timeless Beauty by Becca Ziegler

Son of a None

Have you ever let your anger get the better of you? I have. It happened on a day when I had not had much sleep for weeks due to raising two small children while being a full-time seminary student and working part-time at a church. On that morning I allowed my exhaustion to turn into anger. The five-year-old defied my directions to get ready for school and was having tantrum of her own. Between the two of us, it was the perfect storm in the house that morning. I had no patience and she had no self-control. So the part where shoes had to be put on or the bus would be missed became a WWE wrestling match. We rolled around on the floor as I tried to cram shoes on flailing feet as she wailed in protest. Because I was bigger, I won. She made the bus on time.

IMMEDIATELY guilt became the second challenger in the ring and in no time at all, it gave me a one-two knock out. I was miserable when I realized that I had allowed my anger and frustration to be the way I touched my child before sending her off for a long day at school. So after I dropped the three-year-old off at preschool, I drove to the school and asked the teacher if I could speak to my daughter in the hall. I’ll never forget the crushing humility of being on my knees and apologizing for how the morning had gone. I told her that Mommy was sorry for her angry hands.

In typical kid-fashion, my child hugged me and told me it was all right. She had forgotten all about it and was so happy to see me in school, and would I come in the room so she could show me off to her friends? I learned a great lesson that morning and never again did I let my frustration and anger be expressed in my hands. My voice, yes, but never my hands.

Today’s lectionary passage ends the Moses saga that we have been following for months. The great leader who singlehandedly brought a huge nation from slavery in a foreign land to the Promised Land has died.

The leadership reins are now passed to a young fellow named Joshua. All we know about him is that he is the son of Nun and that Moses had “placed his hands on him.” The first fact is a big nothing. Being the son of Nun was akin to being the son of none. But the second statement is everything. The “placing of hands” is an indication of the conference of power, an anointing of a kind, and a visual statement to the nation that this is the new leader who has been chosen not only by Moses, but by God.

Kings are empowered this way. Popes and Bishops receive their authority by a laying on of hands. Even local pastors feel the hands of the church’s authority on ordination day.

Deuteronomy 34 (Common English Bible)

Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight wasn’t impaired, and his vigor hadn’t diminished a bit.

Back down in the Moabite plains, the Israelites mourned Moses’ death for thirty days. At that point, the time for weeping and for mourning Moses was over.

Joshua, Nun’s son, was filled with wisdom because Moses had placed his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to Joshua, and they did exactly what the Lord commanded Moses.

How are you using your hands today? Do they communicate gentleness and love, or anger and hostility? Can your hands be employed to confer kindness to someone else? What would God do if you gave your hands and your heart completely over to him?

Do this right now: lay your hands palms up in your lap, and pray for God to use them for his purposes. May the work of your hands be pleasing to the Lord this day and may they be anointed with love always.

A New Day by Bev Mineo

Sassy Jesus

I like Sassy Jesus. When Jesus was confronted by the ever-irritating Pharisees, he often returned a sassy response. I think he had just so much patience to give to these conversations and preferred to be out doing important things like healing blind folks and feeding the 5,000. Yet to his credit, he gave them his attention anyway.

Do you suppose his compassion for them made him want to respond in the hope that one or two of them would see him for who he was? Did he look at them as lost sheep in need of his shepherding? I can say that in times that I have been attacked, I did not look so graciously upon my attackers. There is a lesson in this.

In any case, every time they came at him thinking that they could trip him up, their efforts fell flat each time. You can’t trick the Son of God, boys.

Matthew 22 (The Message)

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

When Jesus takes the Ten Commandments and consolidates them into two overriding commands, he effectively puts the Pharisees in their place yet again. Notice the care he takes to explain that these two great commands are the pegs upon which all ten hang…and not only all the commandments, but EVERYTHING in God’s law AND the Prophets hangs from these two statements. Remember that eventually the priests and scribes developed a system of 613 laws. Sassy Jesus was making a statement about what was really important in contrast with what was minutiae.

These two rules for living are as relevant for us today as they were 2,000 years ago. Think of your life and your actions and ask yourself:

Do you love God with all your passion, prayer and intelligence?

Do you love others as much as you love yourself?

Is your life a reflection of these two things?

We need to own the fact that there is a little Pharisee in all of us. If the things we say, post, share, and think are different than what God intends for us, we are just as flawed as the Pharisees.

Today is a new day. Hold these commandments close to your heart and do everything you can to reflect them in your behavior. You are the only Jesus someone may see today. Act like it.

New Day by Michelle Robertson

Judging With Equity

Let’s talk about the word EQUITY. Miriam-Webster offers this definition: justice according to natural law or right, specifically freedom from bias or favoritism.

Equity is the goal of institutions that strive to break down barriers built on prejudice, privilege, and preconceptions born in bias. I serve on a committee established to address diversity, equity, and inclusion at my alma mater and it has been an eye-opener in regard to calling out institutional bias and favoritism. My daughter just cast a vote to eliminate preferential treatment of ”legacy” granddaughters, sisters, and daughters of alumnae in her sorority. The sorority’s national council is proposing that legacies should be discontinued, as this practice contributes to a lack of equity and is a barrier to the inclusion of minority women.

Equity is a biblical concept as well. In Psalm 96 we see the statement that God will judge the people with equity.

Psalm 96 (New Revised Standard Version)

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
    The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
    He will judge the peoples with equity.”

If the Lord judges with equity, that suggests that he watches and evaluates his people’s behavior without bias or favoritism. He doesn’t see color. He doesn’t see privilege. He doesn’t see economic status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or even past history.

God sees the heart in its current state and make assessments based on that clear and unbiased vision.

Oh, if only his children could do likewise! Let’s face it…we all judge people as well. But rarely do we judge with equity. If we could, all of the division we experience right now would disappear. All of the hate, the prejudice, the profiling, and the anger would be replaced with joy. The earth would rejoice at the harmony that equity would produce.

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13     before the Lord; for he is coming,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.

Friends if you long for this, just wait. When the Lord returns equity will be the rule of law. There will be no more division…only his righteousness and truth.

He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with his truth.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Let The Heavens Be Glad by Michelle Robertson

Avenging Wrong Deeds

A friend has come to me over the last several months seeking help with a sin that she keeps committing. She knows the destruction and pain this sin is causing her and all those around her but she continues to indulge in it over and over again. Every time she is caught she goes through a period of remorse and self-loathing only to turn around a month later and do it again. The pull of the temptation of this sinful behavior is too strong for her to resist. Mindlessly, she forgets all of the pain it brings.

Here is a startling thought about sin. Most of us grew up thinking that God’s reaction to our sin is punishment. Surely in life when we sin and experience the consequences, we are engaging in some form of self-punishment. Our parents punished us when we did bad things. We were punished at school if we broke the rules.

We know there will be hell to pay if we do a particular thing but we do it anyway, consequences be damned. And when we are living through those consequences we feel God’s anger and wrath. Punishment is God’s response to our wrong deeds.

Or is it?

Psalm 99 (Common English Bible)

The Lord rules—
    the nations shake!
    He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures—
    the earth quakes!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them thank your great and awesome name.
    He is holy!

Strong king who loves justice,
    you are the one who established what is fair.
    You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Magnify the Lord, our God!
    Bow low at his footstool!
    He is holy!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel too among those who called on his name.
They cried out to the Lord, and he himself answered them—
    he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them.


Lord our God, you answered them.
    To them you were a God who forgives
    but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.

Wait, what? God forgives and avenges wrong deeds?

What does it mean to avenge? To avenge is to step out from behind someone and take up their cause on their behalf. Avenging is an action of inflicting harm on something that caused harm to someone else. So when God is avenging our wrong deeds, his action is against the behavior, not aimed toward us. Thus the punishment we feel is not an indication that he doesn’t love us anymore because we have sinned. Indeed the exact opposite is true. He loves us so much he is angry at anything that separates us from that love…especially our wrong deeds.

Magnify the Lord our God!
    Bow low at his holy mountain
    because the Lord our God is holy!

Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He is the ultimate avenger who will fight against everything that gets between you and him…especially your sin.

Magnify the Lord by Michelle Robertson