Just Shut Up

Have you ever said something and instantly wished you hadn’t? Or have you wished you had said something in a critical moment, but were silent instead? I still cringe when I remember a harsh response I once gave my mother when I was a teenager. My angry and hurtful words haunt me to this day, and even though I know I was forgiven, I regret ever saying those things to her in a moment of immature anger. How about you?

Our inability to control our tongues in moments of anger, disruption, surprise, and plain old normal, every day life has been part of our story from the beginning of time. Even the most articulate among us has feelings of regret over words that were spoken too hastily in the heat of a moment.

James made the case that making mistakes with words signals a lack of maturity. We understand this to mean that a truly mature person has learned to control what comes out of their mouth. Do you agree?

James 3 (Common English Bible)

3 My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies.

Sometimes it takes enormous self-control to shut up in a moment of offense or outrage. Sometimes our response might even be justified, given the circumstance…but is it wise to just mindlessly spew?

James’ answer was no:

Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly.

Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.

What James is suggesting is that controlling the tongue is a matter of considering the long term ramifications of what you are about to say. Is it helpful? Is it kind? Is it well thought-out? Is it instructive? Is it necessary? An unconsidered word is like a small spark in a dry forest. Before you know it, a forest fire can ignite and you might be dealing with the consequences of those words for years to come.

People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!

And this is the crux of the matter. Can you bless God and curse God’s children with the same mouth? Can you claim to love Jesus and not love all of the people whom Jesus loves? All of humanity is made in God’s likeness. When we condemn entire groups of people for simply being different, we condemn ourselves as immature people who can’t control their restless, evil tongues. As James said, “It just shouldn’t be this way!”

11 Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not, and fresh water doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either.

If you love God, your words must reflect a love for God’s children…all of them. Your “spring of fresh water” is a reflection of the deep well of living water that is Jesus within you. Jesus loves unconditionally. When you became a part of him, you became a part of all that he loves.

Consider your words. Is God calling you to tame your tongue?

Pilots Direct Their Ships

How God Sees It

I have a vision condition called mono-vision. One eye is sighted to see distance while the other is sighted to see close-up. My optometrist prescribed contact lenses of different strengths to help my brain learn to focus in order for an image to be clear, regardless if it is near or far away. It is strange in the beginning, but in a short time your brain can actually learn how to instantly chose which lens to use to see the object. The vision in the dominant eye is corrected for distance while the other is left somewhat nearsighted for close vision, and the brain takes over.

In the Bible, we encounter all kinds of “visions” that come to people in different ways. Prophets had visions that were intended to correct the community, like the vision of dry bones that Ezekiel saw. Joseph and Daniel had visions that came through dreams, warning them about dangers and conflicts that were coming. The entire book of Revelation is John of Patmos’ vision of the new heaven and the new earth. God spoke though visions in order to reveal plans to those who would listen. Biblical visions are a way for us to explore how God sees things.

In this passage from Ephesians, Paul described how God sees the activity of Christ on the cross and what that means for us. We were brought to life while we were dead in sin because of God’s great love for his creation.

It is a vision of pure, unconditional grace:

Ephesians 2 (Common English Bible)

4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!

The vision continued as Paul saw us raised up in the heavens with Jesus. He described our destiny in this letter…we are destined to rise up with Christ because God is so good and God’s grace is so great.

 And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

Isn’t this amazing? God has plans to seat you in heaven. That is God’s vision for your future!

Can you see it? Are you prepared? Or do you need to take your eyes off whatever is distracting you first and focus on your relationship with Jesus?

What are you looking at right now?

Wherever this scripture finds you today, turn your eyes upon Jesus. Jeremiah wrote that God has plans for you. These plans are to prosper you, not harm you. God plans to give you a future with hope! (Jeremiah 29:11) Focus on this and make it your own vision. Know that because of the resurrection, your place in the heavens is set. You’ve been saved by God’s grace!

That’s how God sees it.

Seated in the Heavens by Bev Mineo

True Wisdom

What is true wisdom? How is it defined? Is wisdom a matter of Mensa memberships, IQ scores, and success that is determined by wealth, achievement, and status? Or is wisdom something else…perhaps a combination of natural intelligence, the ability to learn, and the capacity to show compassion to others?

In other words, who is wiser…Elon Musk, the creator of Tesla and SpaceX, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, or Mother Teresa, who spent her life in poverty ministering to the sick and poor of Calcutta?

Merriam-Webster defines wisdom as “having the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; having insight and good sense; and having good judgment.” Notice that this definition has nothing to do with IQ scores, economic achievement, or innovation.

The book of James is a fascinating exploration of the subject of wisdom. It becomes clear that God defines wisdom much differently than the world defines it.

James 3:13-18 (Common English Bible)

13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 

Immediately we see that worldly wisdom falls short of this standard. James made a deliberate connection between being wise and having a humble lifestyle.

14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic.

That last sentence surely catches our attention. James delineated the difference between wisdom from above and wisdom of the earth, which he called demonic. That’s bold! Perhaps this is a straightforward matter of “considering the source.” Those who live, work, and strive for wealth in a state of separation from God cannot hope to achieve the peaceful, gentle, and genuine wisdom that comes from heaven:

16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 

When we seek wisdom from above, it leads us to places of justice and peace. Those who have employed their intelligence for sheer profit and gain will often sell their soul, or at least their product, to the highest bidder. When wealth is the goal of wisdom, people on the lower economic spectrum are left behind. The poor will never enjoy a Tesla or a ride in space. Those who toil their lives away working for Amazon are underpaid and desperately overworked. But the people who received the wise counsel and ministrations of Mother Teresa, though they were the poorest of the poor, became the richest in the world because she gave them God. Mother Teresa sowed seeds of justice in an unfair world with her acts of humility and goodness. That is true wisdom.

18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.

Are you an example of wisdom that comes from above? How will you pass it along to others? True wisdom, according to James, is revealed in acts of mercy, justice, peace, and fairness. Go and share the wisdom of Mother Teresa with someone today.

Sow Seeds of Peace by Kathy Schumacher

Text Anxiety

Raise your hand if you experience recurrent dreams about taking a test in a class for which you have not prepared. I have both hands raised. My dream involves sitting down to take a college final for a class that I had registered for, but never attended. Somehow I forgot, and now I am staring at the final with no clue about what to write. I hear from my alumni friends that this type of test anxiety dream is common. I’m sorry to tell you that you never stop having test anxiety, even if your last college exam was many (many!) decades ago.

Tests often make us feel unprepared. Even when we did attend class and study hard, the possibility of failure looms large in our minds when we open up the exam and read the first question.

I once completely froze in seminary when my Systematic Theology final included a question that asked “Who is God, and how do you know?” I know the professor expected a lengthy response quoting the various theologians we had studied all semester. We were supposed to defend our thesis with solid theories and attributions. All my brain could conjure up was, “God is love. I know, because the Bible tells me so.” At the end of the hour, it was all I had. Luckily, I had a strong A going into the final and the professor could not argue with my position, so I ended up all right. But even writing about that moment makes my heart flutter!

James 1 (Common English Bible)


My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 

Tests as occasions for joy?? Speaking for myself, that is a big ask! Let’s read on…

After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 

This is a beautiful answer to our test anxiety issues. Tests produce endurance and endurance leads us to maturity, completeness, and WISDOM. And isn’t wisdom the goal? James contended that all we need to do is ask for wisdom and God will certainly give it. I should have asked for some when I took that final!

Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.

We know that doubt is often a gateway to learning, so what James may be suggesting is that we are not supposed to get stuck in our doubts. We should never doubt that God will answer us if we seek him. When our questioning minds lead us to further inquiry and wisdom-seeking, we come through it better prepared to understand. But stubbornly remaining in doubt can result in tossing and turning and never moving forward in our understanding.

Are you caught in a sea of doubt? Are you unsure of your faith? Does the idea of being tested in your relationship with God bring you anxiety? James invites us to persevere in our pursuit of wisdom as we grow in our knowledge of who we are, and Whose we are.

We are the children of God…of that, we can be sure. The rest will sort itself out if we continue to study and learn.

And guess what? You’ve already passed your finals…Jesus took them on your behalf.

Tossed and Turned by the Wind by Michelle Robertson

Don’t Deviate

I hate it when I am driving somewhere and I have to deviate from my normal route. This past week has been a series of annoying deviations on the small island where I live. Utility poles are being replaced on the tiny, twisting three-mile road that connects us to the rest of the Outer Banks. This has caused a lot of delays, as we have to stop frequently to share a single lane with oncoming traffic. The turn lane onto this road from the busy by-pass has also been closed, causing a lot of confusion. Am I allowed to turn right from the straight-through lane? Do I have to go through the intersection and turn right at the next road, and then back-track? I just want to get home!

God understood that people needed pretty straightforward directions to follow, so he sent a list of ten very direct commandments to keep us on the straight and narrow. If you can manage to stay in the lanes of these laws, your life will be blessed. You will be keeping your part of the covenantal relationship that gives God the authority to be God, while you acknowledge that you are not God. Pretty simple, right?

The Encyclopedia of the Bible explains it this way:

The Ten Commandments can be seen only, like the rest of the law, against the background of the Covenant; this in turn rests on the salvation-history of the Exodus. Other codes within the law are basically an expansion and application of these principles to various facets of life, rather as the NT epistles apply the truth of the Gospel. Thus the Commandments became the root of all subsequent Israelite morality as well as of religion.

But we are prone to wander (as the hymn writer says) and prone to leave the God we love. We deviate from all the good things that God has prepared for us every time we chase after temptations and titillations that are unholy and unsafe. We replace God with the gods of self-interest, pleasure, lust, and distraction.

Deuteronomy 28 (Common English Bible) 

1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice.

14 Don’t deviate even a bit from any of these words that I’m commanding you right now by following other gods and serving them.

“Don’t deviate even a bit!” Could Moses have been any more forthright than that?

While the Israelites struggled with the wood, stone, and metal-cast gods of the non-Hebrew people around them, we struggle with different gods of our own making. The list is endless, and the truth is, anything that you put in a place of priority over your relationship with God can become your god. Sports, greed, social media, pursuing wealth, substance abuse, and even cheating on your taxes can harm your relationship with the Lord. These deviations make us fall to the wayside and lead us down paths that are harmful and wrong.

Where is God calling you to align yourself once again with the heart of the covenant? Your relationship with God is cursed when you deviate from the Word and break the rules. We all just want to get home…is it time to turn around?

Straight and Narrow by Kathy Schumacher

Fences

When I was a brand new mother, I became obsessed with renowned pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s show on TLC called “What Every Baby Knows.” I was quite sure that every baby in the world knew everything that I didn’t know, so I hung on his every word. He filmed the episodes right in his office, where the viewer watched parents interact with their children as Dr. Brazelton patiently explained everything they were doing wrong. Just kidding! Actually, he was quite affirming in a gentle, grandfatherly way, but he still addressed things they could be doing better.

When it came to toddler behavior, his perspective was that rules are not only necessary, but what the child actually wants and craves. He explained that setting firm guidelines was like building a protective fence around your child. They wanted to know the limits, because going outside the safety of the fence was as scary to them as it was to the parents. I never had trouble enforcing rules with my kids after that…just ask them. When I realized that saying no and addressing rule-breaking was something a child needs to feel secure, I embraced the philosophy. It wasn’t always easy, but it worked.

Such it is with God’s laws and rules for us. The Ten Commandments and the laws that followed were given out of the love of a parent who only wants the best for the children. These rules ensure that the entire community will be safe and enjoy the well-being that comes from everyone knowing what to expect. Justice can’t be a part of a nation without laws.

When Jesus came, there was confusion about the Law. The radical new system that he taught turned a lot of things upside down. The law under the Pharisees had become punitive and was eventually filled with the minutiae of 613 additional regulations. Jesus redefined things.

For example, the law that commanded that the Sabbath be made holy was interpreted as saying that work on the sabbath was prohibited. And “work” became very strictly defined. Jesus argued that if your ox fell in a ditch on the Sabbath, it was within the law to get it out. Therefore healing on the Sabbath was permissible as well. This rocked the Pharisees to the core. Who was this man and what was he saying? Was he about to completely dismiss all of the Law and the Prophets who came before him? Rumors and questioning began in the community.

So Jesus sat down on a mountain and taught the people about the Law:

Matthew 5 (Common English Bible)

17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 

Jesus is clear that what God had inscribed on the stone tablets in Moses’ presence still provided the covenantal framework for how the people were to behave. The Law still applied, but not the minutiae. When the scholars undertook to write rules that explained the Law, they missed the intent of the Loving Parent who gave the Law. God made the sabbath for humanity, not the other way around.

19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Law is a gift to keep us safe inside a defined boundary that is lovingly overseen by the Lord. Breaking the commands will result in being called the lowest of the kingdom, but keeping the commands will result in being considered great.

Being righteous in this context means understanding and adhering to the heart of God’s rules rather than punishing others for violations of the man-made addendums to it. Jesus invited his followers to err on the side of grace in their treatment of others. In this way, they would enter the kingdom of heaven well before the legal experts and Pharisees, who could only ever attain self-righteousness.

Where is God calling you to step back inside the security of his commands? Have you gone outside his commandments to pursue things that aren’t good, and certainly aren’t godly?

Jesus is the gatekeeper, calling us to repentance and righteousness through the confession of our sins. Is it time to come back inside?

A Tiger Enjoying a Meat-cicle

Now I Know My ABC’s

I grew up in a singing family. We were a perfect quartet. My father was a Barbershop Chorus baritone, my Mom sang alto, my sister (who has perfect pitch) handled the tenor notes, and I am a soprano. While other families counted cows and played license plate games on long trips, we sang. I must say that our four-part harmony on “I Love to Go A’Wandering” was pretty on point.

And yes, this was long before kids had screens and earphones to entertain them. It’s a shame that families don’t sing together much anymore.

Have you ever stopped to consider how much you have learned through songs? From learning your ABC’s to memorizing the continents and state capitols, songs play an important part in our education. And it is through singing that we understand much of our faith. Whether you are a traditional hymn singer or love to sway with contemporary praise music, you are being taught things about God every time you experience sacred music.

Charles Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns, many of which are in the United Methodist hymnal. While brother John toiled away explaining theology in the form of sermons, Charles expressed his theology in poetic words, notes, crescendos, and harmonies.

Take a look at this verse from his hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling:”

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of Heav’n to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

This teaches us many things. We learn that God’s love excels over any other kind of love. We learn that love was sent from heaven. We ask for this love to be fixed in us. We discover that Jesus, the Joy of Heaven, is all compassion and unbounded love. We invite the Lord to bring salvation to our trembling hearts. That is a LOT of good theology, and it’s only the first verse!

Our passage today comes from Colossians. In these two short verses, Paul lifted up the value of singing our faith as a way of learning God’s word:

Colossians 3:16-17 (Common English Bible)

16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

As we seek to know God better, we shouldn’t overlook the wisdom that comes from the psalms, hymns, and praise music. There is a difference between head-learning and heart-learning. While it is a worthwhile endeavor to master the names, places, and timelines of scripture, it is just as important to feel and experience the movement of the spirit through its lyrical passages as well. God seeks not only to inform us through the word, but also to transform us. True wisdom is heart-deep.

The invitation is to sing or listen to a praise song, hymn, piece of classical music, or just hum “Jesus Loves Me” as you go about a simple task today. Let us explore how music can bring the word of Christ to live richly in our spirits.

And may we do everything we have learned in the name of Jesus, thanking God for all of our blessings.

Sing a Song by Wende Pritchard

Caught

Caught….red-handed….without a hope of denying it.

Have you ever been caught doing something you shouldn’t have done, and then had to face the consequences? I sure have. I will never forget getting caught gossiping in the cloak room of my fifth grade classroom about a girl of whom I was very jealous. The teacher heard me, sent the girl out of the room on an errand to spare her feelings, and then made me stand in front of the class and repeat what I said while she condemned every word. I was HUMILIATED, and rightfully so. The sting of that experience is still with me.

When we are caught, feelings of shame and regret are immediate and overwhelming. Our first thought is “Why, oh WHY did I do it?” Right up to the moment of discovery, we delude ourselves into thinking that we will get away with our sinful behavior. Most of us can even rationalize that if nobody finds out, nobody gets hurt.

Then everybody finds out, and everybody gets hurt.

Such is the case in Psalm 51, written by David after he was caught committing adultery with Bathsheba and was confronted by his friend Nathan. He immediately felt the searing pain of knowing that he has sinned against God and now everyone knows it. Listen to the regret and remorse that flowed from his pen as he composed a song of confession:

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.

David is such a man of faith that his sinning against God was the worst part of it for him. He knew his wrongdoings. This sin was not done in ignorance of the Law that commands “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” He knew that he coveted another man’s wife and then had that man brought home from war to cover up the unplanned pregnancy that resulted. Then David sent him back to the front lines to be killed. Coveting, adultery, lying, murder…David was guilty on all counts.

Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

David was blessed to have received wisdom from God in the “most secret space.” He studied the scriptures. He experienced God’s power first hand when he faced down Goliath many years earlier. All of David’s experiences had been an adequate teacher of God’s will and direction for his life. It is this truth in the hidden places of his heart and soul that he walked away from in his pursuit of Bathsheba. There is no pleading ignorance here…David totally knew better.

As did I, when I sinned.

As do you, when you sin.

His song of confession then moves from pain to hope, and David reminds God that God alone has the power to wash this sin away. He writes that joy can be felt once more, but only after God wipes away all of his guilty deeds:

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all my guilty deeds!

Singing these words to the God that he loved provided a moment of humble obeisance for David, as the song now moves to a plea for a new, clean heart. This may be one of the prettiest verses in all of the Psalms:

10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
    please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
    and sustain me with a willing spirit.

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and return unto me the joy of your salvation!” This should be our song today as well. God always inclines an ear when people confess with contrite hearts and humility.

Where is God calling you to lay down your sin so that you might take up a new and faithful spirit? God truly longs to sustain you with the power of the Holy Spirit, but you have to come clean first.

Don’t let the sun go down on your sin. Open yourself to God and ask for a clean heart to be created in you. And may the joy of God’s salvation make you sing.

Sunset Awaits by Michelle Robertson

Clearing the Path

There is a farm in Pennsylvania that sits on 16 acres of beautiful hills and open fields. A creek runs through it, and when you climb to the highest point of the property you can see miles and miles of pastoral farmland in every direction. When my husband’s grandmother was alive, we would visit this place on weekends when we were in college and hike a well-groomed path through patches of trees and blackberry bushes to glimpse the vista.

His grandfather had carefully laid out the path many decades before, taking advantage of the natural topography so that the walker would experience the best parts of the land. The path was maintained every spring with mowing and clearing so that when you walked it, you were safe and protected. When you emerged from the trees to the open fields, all of God’s beauty was spread out before you.

Throughout Biblical history, God has been clearing out paths between us and heaven itself. God’s word, will, prophecies, and plans are all designed to lead us from the darkness of sin and death to new life through Christ. God carefully designs and grooms the way to salvation in a clearly defined path. Are we wise enough to follow?

Our scripture today comes from the book of Malachi. According to Britannica.com, Malachi was written to address the impending day of judgment in an effort to prepare the nation for what was to come:

The book consists of six distinct sections, each in the form of a question-and-answer discussion. With the aid of this unusual discussion technique, the prophet defends the justice of God to a community that had begun to doubt that justice because its eschatological (end of the world) expectations were still unfulfilled. The author calls for fidelity to Yahweh’s covenant. He emphasizes the necessity of proper worship, condemns divorce, and announces that the day of judgment is imminent. Faithfulness to these ritual and moral responsibilities will be rewarded; unfaithfulness will bring a curse.

When you read this, look for how God is clearing a path for the people to follow:

Malachi 3:1-4 (Common English Bible)

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.

It was always the mission of the Old and New Testament prophets to bring God’s message of covenant and reversal. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continues through the major and minor prophets and always carries both warnings and hope. New life will happen, but a cleansing must occur first. We know that in a reversal of their expectations, God sent Jesus.

Who can endure the day of his coming?
        Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        He will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.

We see this prophecy fulfilled in the form of Jesus, who was sent to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will have eternal life. They will become a righteous and pleasing offering to the Lord. Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming. Sounds scary, yes? But hang on….the hope is coming.

The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.

God’s covenant with Judah and Jerusalem will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. We can count on it! The ancient relationship between God and God’s people will come full circle when Jesus returns to claim us. What we need to do in the meantime is submit to the refining process.

Where is God trying to refine you right now? What hot, cleansing fire are you in? Is he trying to purge impurities out of your life so that you will be ready for a blessing?

Pay attention. You belong to the Lord. God has cleared out this path so that you are safe and protected as you follow his ways…you have nothing to fear.

Liquid Gold by Michelle Robertson

Be Prepared

Several years ago I married two chefs from a local restaurant. For the rehearsal dinner, they prepared and served all the food in one delicious “small plate” after another. It was absolutely the BEST rehearsal dinner I have ever attended.

The preparation work to pull this off was impressive. Food was sourced, prepped, chopped, roasted, sauced, and ready. Place settings, chairs, napkins, and centerpieces were thoughtfully procured. Servers were recruited, wine was poured, and the show began. This seamless presentation was an indication of enormous prep work that took weeks to accomplish. All these years later, they run their restaurant with the same excellence of precision.

Nothing in our lives goes well without adequate prep work. Think of how your day is going; how much preparation went into it? We have all experienced what happens when we don’t prepare well. You wouldn’t take a trip, serve a meal, give a presentation at work, or sit down to take a test without adequate preparation. Otherwise, disaster happens.

In our scripture today, we see the work of a prophet who is attempting to prepare the people for what was to come. God sent John the Baptist to prepare the nation for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah. They were about to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of a savior right before their eyes. It would change everything they knew about God, the Law, and how to live.

Were they ready?

Luke 7:24:35 Common English Bible

24 After John’s messengers were gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind?25 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who dress in fashionable clothes and live in luxury are in royal palaces.26 What did you go out to see? A prophet?

We can tell by Jesus’ questions that the people were very confused about what was happening. “What did you go out to see?” Jesus asks. John had garnered a reputation for being a bit wild, with his locust-and-honey eating, his camel’s hair clothing, and his forceful message of repentance. He was tasked with preparing the people for the judgment that was coming. The Messiah had arrived, and everyone would need to make a choice to follow him or die by the old ways. Failure to prepare properly would result in disaster.

Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 He is the one of whom it’s written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you. 28 I tell you that no greater human being has ever been born than John. Yet whoever is least in God’s kingdom is greater than he.”

Jesus himself said a prophetic word here, which should have alerted the hearers to the imminent reversal of the status quo. The least will become the greatest, he warned, signaling a difference in how greatness is defined in the eyes of God compared to how humans define it.

We see this sentiment echoed in Luke 22 when the disciples argued about who among they would become the greatest:

Luke 22 (Common English Bible)

25 But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. 27 So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

So John the Baptist was sent as the one to prepare the people for the Great Reversal of everything they think they know about God. Get ready, he said, because your world is about to be completely turned upside down.

Did the people get it? Did they change their ways? Sadly, only a few did. Those who were John’s disciples and had been baptized by him understood what was about to happen as Jesus began his own ministry after his baptism. But most of Israel failed to heed John’s warnings, and they rejected his prophecies about the Messiah:

Luke 7 (Common English Bible)

29 Everyone who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and legal experts rejected God’s will for themselves because they hadn’t been baptized by John.

And their failure to prepare for the inevitable led to their downfall.

Where is God preparing you for something that is about to happen? Has he sent a prophetic word to you through someone? Are you are trying to ignore what they are saying? Does the daunting task of needing to change your ways stop you from listening?

God speaks to us every day. We are invited to get ready for what he is calling us to do, or fail to prepare at our peril.

Where is God calling you to change?

Getting Ready by Kathy Schumacher