Is This Roanoke Island?

It started innocently enough. Several years ago, a friend offered to take my daughter Jamie out for a jet ski ride in the sound behind our house. They jumped aboard with nothing but the clothes on their backs and off they went. After a wonderful hour or so of tooling around, suddenly the engine conked out. They drifted for a while, and the friend finally got out and towed the jet ski with Jamie on board to the nearest shore line. It was seemingly uninhabited, which presented a problem since neither of them had a cell phone.

As they sat on the shore trying to figure out what to do, a pickup truck suddenly approached them from the woods. A man got out and asked them what they were doing. They showed him the broken down jet ski, and asked if they could borrow a phone to call a parent.

“So you didn’t come here on purpose?” the fellow asked.

“No,” replied Jamie. “We were just riding in the sound and the engine went out.”

“So you don’t know where you are?” He asked.

Jamie’s friend, more familiar with the area, looked around and replied, “I think we’re on Roanoke Island?”

The man then relaxed and said, “Yes, Roanoke Island. This is Andy Griffith’s estate.”

Convinced that they had not come to trespass or intrude, he offered his cell phone and Jamie called me to come pick them up. She and her friend then walked out to the road where she had instructed me to get them.

While they were waiting for me, the pickup came out a second time. This time a woman got out and introduced herself as Mr. Griffith’s assistant. She handed each one a brown paper bag containing peanut butter crackers and a drink.

“Mr. Griffith wanted you to have a snack while you wait. He thought you might be hungry.”

Andy Griffith died a few years later, and this moment of graciousness extended to two stranded kids will stay with us forever.

Matthew 25:35-40 The Message (MSG)

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Such a beautiful invitation to share what we have with those who have not. That plate of cookies for an elderly neighbor, the casserole taken to a sick friend, the offer to feed your friend’s dog so she can visit her family….all of these are ways that we serve the Lord by caring for those whom he loves. This could not be more clear.

The opposite is also very clear:

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,

I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

I was homeless and you gave me no bed,

I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,

Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

Let’s take a positive lesson from this. Where is God calling you to extend yourself, and I mean extend yourself, for someone else’s behalf? People on your street, in the grocery store, walking on the side of the road, in the inner city, at our nation’s southern border…God’s people are hungry, thirsty, shivering and sick everywhere. What will you do about it?

Decide today to be the one who offers the peanut butter crackers and a drink in a paper bag. Be like Andy. Be a sheep. Be like Jesus.

Truck with hurricane supplies sent from the Outer Banks to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

64 Colors

Back to school time brings memories of the last weeks of summer and getting ready for school. I had an old trunk in my room as a child, and I would excitedly fill it with composition books, pens, pencils and other school supplies as my mother and I would shop during August. But my favorite thing to add every year was that wonderful large box of brand new, pristine Crayola crayons. Not the 10 pack or 12 pack, but that big box of 64 with its perfectly pointed rows of every color known to the existing coloring book world. The best part? The sharpener imbedded in the back of the box. That meant that even as I wore down Burnt Orange, Cerulean, Apricot and Scarlet, I would get that pointy point back by peeling down the paper and sharpening it.

Almost.

While sharpening brought back the fineness to the rounded end of a well-used crayon, it could never bring back that original shape with the molded rim, the perfect cone, and the cut-off top. As much as I sharpened, I could never bring the whole box back to its original state. Using them the way they were intended allows the crayons to perform their purpose. Crayons change as they impart color from themselves to paper. Just as they were designed to do.

And oh, the color they added to my world!

Ephesians 2 The Message (MSG)

He Tore Down the Wall

2 1-6 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.

He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

Our collective purpose here is to join Christ in the work he does. It is good work, it is work he has prepared for us, and it brings meaning to our lives to join him in this. God does the making and the saving, and we are invited to be the earthly expression of that, according to our gifts. When we fulfill our purpose like this, we are changed like a well-used crayon.

For some, that will be doing hands-on mission work. For others, that will be teaching children about Jesus, starting a recycling program in their community, delivering a casserole to a shut in, or listening to someone unburden themselves. Just like a box of crayons, we all have a different color that God calls us to use in his service. I can’t be Cerulean, but I can strive to be the best Burnt Orange I can. And by submitting to the sharpener of listening to God’s word and God’s will in our lives, we can remain useful in bringing about the kingdom on earth.

Where is God calling you to color your world? Have you grown dull from misuse or disuse, and need a good sharpening?

Proverbs 27 tells us that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Find a person deep in the word, go to church and listen to the sermon, join a Bible Study…ask others to help guide you to the good work to which you are called. Then get out your crayon and color away. You are useful. You are called. You have a purpose, and nobody else can color your color. Be you, and go color your world!

Photo by shop.crayola.com

That Awkward Moment

I had spotted her at events we both are required to attend, and felt her discomfort. An episode in our past that did not directly involve either one of us had created a social divide. I don’t know how she had processed what happened, but I know we both have felt pain and awkwardness since.

I spotted her again at a recent event and knew I had to approach her. I suppose I will never know how it felt on her end, but I felt the strong leading of the Holy Spirit to “break the ice” and hopefully make it so that when we encounter each other again, we can nod and say good morning rather than circle the room to avoid each other.

I cannot say it was a break-through moment. I could feel her body stiffen up as I approached her. I said good morning, asked her how she was, and let her know I was praying for her family. Her responses were polite and minimal, making me fear that my “drive-by compassion” had really caught her off guard and did not bridge the awkwardness that I had hoped it would. Worse, I fear I may have caused her pain by speaking to her, something completely opposite of what I was hoping to do.

So then I did what we all do in that moment. I began to question whose leading I was truly following by approaching her….God’s, or mine?

I had a mom in my office last week who expressed the same confusion. Praying for her son had led her to believe that a situation would be resolved in a particular way. When that did not transpire, she naturally began to question whether she was hearing God’s voice or her own as she prayed.

God speaks to us in ways that we do not communicate with others. His Spirit speaks to our spirit and we “hear” what he is saying….but only if we are tuned in with fine precision. This requires spending a lot of time in his presence, so that the voice becomes clearer with each encounter. We tune in every time we pray, serve, worship, meditate, fellowship and SIT with his word.

John 10 The Message (MSG)

He Calls His Sheep by Name

10 1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6-10 Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

14-18 “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.”

Recognizing God’s voice in the cacophony of all the sounds swirling in our minds and hearts takes practice, discernment and the constant abiding in God’s word, God’s will and his presence. The good news is HE LOVES HIS SHEEP. He is constantly calling, cajoling, rebuking, correcting, wooing, comforting, directing and saying words of caring to us.

Are you trying to hear God today? Tune in, stay tuned, adjust your dial, and wait. The Good Shepherd is calling.

God speaks in the stillness of a moment. Are you listening?

Photo by Michelle Robertson.

“I’ll Take My Pizza Now”

We are very blessed to have two airline employees in our family who regale us at big family events with stories of life in the air. I like to watch how the rest of the family “leans in” when one of them starts to talk. Last month my flight attendant daughter told a story from her first year of flying. She was enthusiastically greeting passengers as they boarded, and a man handed her a large pizza box. Usually passengers hand over their trash at the end of a flight, but she accepted it and welcomed him aboard. When everyone had boarded, she made her way to the back galley and stuffed the box into the trash bin. The flight went along as normal, and after the first drink and snack service, a flight attendant call light went off. Jamie answered it, and recognized the fellow who had handed her the pizza box.

“I’ll take my pizza now; you can just warm it up for me.” Jamie leaned closer. “Excuse me, sir?” “My pizza. The one I handed to you when I boarded. I’m ready for you to warm it up and serve it to me.” Jamie straightened back up and said, “Sir, when you handed me that box, I assumed it was trash. It’s in the bottom of the bin.” The man exploded, “THAT WAS A WHOLE PIZZA! HOW COULD YOU THROW MY PIZZA AWAY?”

Of course she felt bad that she had thrown away his dinner, but can you imagine someone thinking that was an appropriate expectation? What if all 200+ passengers handed the flight attendant an entree when they boarded and expected it to be heated and served on demand….and for the record, sir, AIRPLANES ARE NOT EQUIPPED WITH PIZZA OVENS. In fact, airplanes don’t even have ovens, per se; just small, airplane-dish-sized convection ovens designed to re-heat those little airplane-sized dishes in little airplane-sized-galleys. Think Barbie Dream House and you’re close.

Life certainly is filled with unmet, unrealistic, off-base, and downright inappropriate expectations.

Part of the blessing of officiating weddings is doing the pre-marital counseling. Using a pre-marital inventory, we discuss the subjects of Communication, Family, Children, Finances, and that mystical, elusive topic: Marriage Expectations. This delves into the couples’ pre-conceived ideas of the nuts and bolts of married life, such as who will do what around the house: who will clean, who will grocery shop, who will write bills….and it is the one category where nobody does well. Maybe if people had realistic expectations of what marriage is really like, nobody would ever get married! But it is always an interesting exploration as we uncover their unrealistic expectations and get them aligned before the wedding.

Pay attention to the word expectation in this scripture.

Psalm 62:5-6 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)

5 My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him.

6 He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be moved.

Doesn’t this put your hopes and dreams into a different reality? Realizing that only God can bring both hope and expectation truly changes our expectations of life. The psalmist goes on to explain why he places his expectation in God: he has found God to be his Rock, his Salvation, his Defense and his Fortress. Holy Cow, what else in life could possibly meet our expectations like that?

Relationships, marriages, co-workers, children, adult children, spouses, pastors, churches, our government….all of these will surely let you down at some point and fail to meet your expectations. Better to re-evaluate and readjust your expectations, basing them in your current reality, than to suffer one more disappointment. We can embrace the fact that God our Rock will meet our expectations when we wait and silently submit to him.

We will never be let down in the arms of our Savior. You can count on it.

Photo by Michelle Robertson.

Little Eyes See Big Things

“Nana, do you see the moon?” It was midday, and Connor and I were walking the dog. I squinted up in the direction he was pointing. “Wow, Connor, that was good! I did not see the moon until you pointed it out,” I replied. He looked at me from the top of his eyes (as if to say, “Silly Nana…”) and said very seriously, “I have little eyes. I can see big things.”

From the mouths of babes. I began to ponder why my big eyes can’t always see big things.

Am I focused on the wrong thing?

Am I too distracted to notice things around me?

Does my immediate perspective of my circumstances alter what I actually see?

Does God speak through moons and clouds to the littlest ones because they are more open to it than adults?

Take a look at verse 18 in this scripture from the Apostle Paul:

Ephesians 1 New International Version (NIV)

Thanksgiving and Prayer

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

You see, that’s the thing. My eyes aren’t focused on the hope. My eyes aren’t focused on the glorious inheritance we have through Christ. And my eyes certainly aren’t seeing the incomparably great power of Christ. This scripture calls me out because it is showing me what I should be looking at: Christ’s rule, authority, power, and dominion over every earthly thing.

I wasn’t able to see the moon that day, because I was ruminating on the hatred and the anger I see every time I open my iPad and look at social media. I couldn’t cast my eyes upward to the heavens because I was visualizing an email I stumbled upon that was extremely hurtful. And over a year old. (Why had I saved it??) I couldn’t see God’s hope because I was recalling a conversation with a friend who has opposing political opinions to my own, and I was wishing I didn’t know that about her. And I’m sure she feels the same way.

Paul reminds us today that Christ has AUTHORITY AND RULE over all that nonsense. Christ’s power far surpasses any earthly realm in which we find ourselves each day. When Christ comes again, none of it will matter or even be remembered.

So look at the moon today, and remember the ONE who put it there for your benefit. He who fills everything in every way is coming back to take you to himself. Whatever you are looking at right now will all pass away, if you would just look up.

Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord.

Photo by Michelle Robertson

Pushing Through Adversity

These beautiful flowers are called vinca. They delight their owner with their snowy white and Barbie pink petals. But if you look closer, you will spot the real source of amazement; they grow out of a crack in the driveway every year. These delicate beauties fight the resistance of heavy concrete and darkness, pushing through the tiny strip of dirt to emerge and display their glory. Vinca are survivor-fighters.

The genus name “vinca” means to bind or fetter in Latin. (A fetter is a shackle or leather strip that ties around the ankles or feet to hold them down.) Their name is due to their long, flexible stems, which can be bound together for things such as garland and wreaths.

The picture was shared on a Christian Breast Cancer Support FaceBook page with the caption, “Vinca growing in the cracks in my driveway. They are SURVIVORS like my breast cancer sisters.”

These women, like these flowers, have persevered against the heaviness of their diagnosis and turned their faces toward a God who heals, delivers, and grows them into the scarred beauties that they are.

I also think that part of their beauty is in the root of both the flower and root of the word. The root of the flower is bound to a creeping vine that pushes through obstacles to bloom. The root of the word “vinca” evokes an image of things that are tied together for strength in order to survive. These flowers, and these women, are bound and fettered to one another. They are bound and fettered to God. They have bound and fettered themselves to hope.

The vinca knows that its strength and beauty comes from the vine that runs under the pavement. What is the source of your strength and beauty?

John 15 The Message (MSG)

The Vine and the Branches

15 1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

4 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love.

We are fettered to the Father. He is the farmer who tends the vine and strengthens the branches to produce the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. When we lose those things, it is an indication that we have somehow separated from the vine-father. That’s when it is time to bind ourselves to him though his word. Abiding in him and making our home with him is the best way to combat the darkness, the concrete, and the diseases.

One last note of interest to the cancer survivor-fighters: vinca alkaloids are also important for being cancer fighters. There are four major vinca alkaloids in clinical use: Vinblastine (VBL), vinorelbine (VRL), vincristine (VCR) and vindesine (VDS). (International Journal of Preventive Medicine)

So these little beauties that represent you so well may have also cured you. When you abide in Christ, all things are possible. So bloom away! And tell of his good deeds wherever you are planted.

Photo by Jan Wilson

O to grace how great a debtor

  Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

  Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

  Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

  Seal it for Thy courts above.

South of the Hype

Any trip going North-South on Interstate 95 is a lesson in bombardment-marketing at a DEFCON 1 level. If you’ve traveled this way before, you know what I am talking about: South Carolina’s famously tacky South of the Border. This enclave of plywood stores features a 100-foot-tall statue of a man named Pedro wearing a huge sombrero that can be seen from outer space, garishly painted firework shops, a reptile lagoon, Mexican restaurants, and even a dog potty complete with fake fire hydrants.

But even more amazing than the location itself is the plethora of billboards. In fact, there are 173 billboards, beginning about 170 miles away. The slogans are corny, yet strangely eye-catching:

A large, three demential hot dog with the caption, “You never sausage a place.”

“Pedro’s forecast: Chili Today, Hot Tamale”

And probably the most honest one: “Fill Your Trunk With Pedro’s Junk.”

I can remember driving with my family from New Jersey to Florida and just thrilling at all the signs. It meant we were getting closer, and my sister and I salivated at the idea of stopping to buy some of Pedro’s junk. Unfortunately, my parents were not the type to do the souvenir shop thing, so it wasn’t until I was adult that I actually got to stop there. Sadly, the experience did not live up to the hype. I was disappointed that it turned out not to be the place of my childhood fantasies and dreams. Still, it is an institution that has charmed many a traveler for over 70 years, so there is that.

I think Jesus suffered the same thing. He wasn’t able (by design) to live up to the hype surrounding what people assumed the promised Messiah would be. Of course he exceeded all possible expectations when he fulfilled his ministry with his resurrection and gateway to eternal life, but nobody was prepared for what his messiahship would actually look like. The Jews in his day were awaiting a fierce Battlestar Galactica warrior, who would ride in on a huge beast and slay all the oppressors. Their messiah would be a king who would restore Israel as the most powerful nation, and all other nations would bow down to his might. Instead they got a gentle carpenter, and they were very confused:

Matthew 22 English Standard Version (ESV)

Whose Son Is the Christ?

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

This is just one instance of many where Jesus’ contemporaries thought he was the son of David and would have a reign in the manner and scope of King David, Israel’s favorite and most effective army general-king.

They were wrong. They believed the hype as it came down to them through generations of watchers and waiters, and they got it totally wrong. Even at his crucifixion he was labeled King of the Jews, when in fact his kingdom is for everyone.

Who do you say Jesus is?

I think that is an important consideration. Sometimes we leave our childhood churches either thinking he is a harsh and terrible judge or a kind and gentle friend. Neither image on its own is correct. While he does sit on his judgment throne separating the sheep from the goats, casting those who denied him into the eternal fire, this isn’t the entire picture. Neither is the gentle shepherd who will leave the flock behind just to find you. These are parts of our Lord’s greater whole, and all of these aspects combine together to bring us a complete understanding of who he is.

The only way I know to cut through the hype is to become a student of the Word. When we study the entire Bible, digging deep from Genesis to Revelation, we have a better chance of seeing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as they have been faithfully understood for generations. Empirical evidence will emerge as we discern and contemplate the why, when, how, where, and especially the who of the trinity.

Who Jesus is to me will be different than who Jesus is to you. Just like on the road to Emmaus, Jesus meets us where we are and deals with who we are in that moment. But what remains steadfast in all of our experiences with him is grace. Grace is the unmerited love and mercy God gives us as a gift that we can’t earn and rarely deserve. Grace is the empowering pardon that sanctifies us and reconciles us to God. Through grace and grace alone we are redeemed and saved. Jesus is grace upon grace.

So if you are experiencing him as a punishing judge of your sin, there is great grace in that. If you know him as a comforter in your grief, you know his grace. If you turn to him for guidance and direction in your confusion, his leading will be sprinkled with grace. Grace is his messiahship, his kingdom, and his unchanging nature.

And that’s no hype…only hope.

Photo by the Dillon Herald.

“How I Built This”

NPR has a Sunday morning show called “How I Built This” that I listen to on my way to work every week. It is an interview with an entrepreneur who has taken a dream and turned it into a multi-million dollar business. For example, last week they interviewed the developer of Stacy’s Pita Chips. Her story was similar to others; she started out running a small pita sandwich business out of a Boston hot dog cart. She decided to cut the leftover pitas, add seasonings, and bake them as chips. She and her partner worked hard on this one, focused idea, living on practically nothing. Eventually they were able to place a small amount of their product in a local “Whole Foods” type store, and it took off. Thus a huge company was born, and ten years after its inception, Stacey’s Pita Chips sold to PepsiCo for over 250 million dollars. Don’t you wish you had thought of it first?? If you are someone who tithes, I do too!

The New Testament offers some suggestions for how to build things:

Matthew 7 New International Version (NIV)

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Building yourself, your family and your life on the words of Jesus Christ is the way to ensure that you have a good foundation. While the passage refers to all the words of Christ, it is interesting to look at the chapter in its entirety to see which particular words lead up to this statement. Matthew 7 specifically addresses this:

Do not judge, or you will be judged.

Do not overlook the log in your own eye while focusing on the speck in your brother’s eye.

Do not misuse the sacred trust you have been given.

When you ask, seek and knock, God will respond to you in the way you respond to your hungry child.

The way that leads to life is narrow and small. Destruction’s gate is wide open. Choose the narrow one.

There are true and false prophets and disciples all around us. Beware of the false ones, and be a true one.

That’s a lot of foundation to build on, and it’s only one chapter of one book! If we were to just live a Matthew 7 life, what would it look like?

Building our lives on God’s words helps us to shore up our framework so that we can withstand the storms that come into every life. But building ourselves on the Word that IS Jesus Christ is the surest way to stand firm when sands begin to shift under our feet. John 1 reminds us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.” Centering ourselves in the personhood of Jesus Christ is our best bet against the hurricane. In that way, our deeply-focused lives become lives of fortitude, endurance, and hope.

The only way I know to do this is by full immersion. It is the best way to learn a new language, and the best way to learn a new life. Full immersion means weekly worship, daily Bible reading (congratulations! You have just hammered a truss into place by reading this!), hourly prayer, faithful service, consistent meditation where you open yourself to the Holy Spirit, regular fasting, critical self-examination, repentance, and some self denial thrown in for good measure. You may recognize that list as spiritual disciplines, usually practiced at Lent. Guess what? Lent isn’t a season, it’s a construction tool.

What do you need to do today to strengthen your abode? God calls us to abide in him, and he will abide with us. Start now. It’s always hurricane season in the spiritual realm.

Photo by WUNC.

Running Lights

Sunset in Colington Harbour brings all of the boats back into port. Stately masted sailboats and little junkie pontoons all turn away from their day-trippy cruises and head back for the safety of secure slips and backyard docks. The ones who try to last out on the sound until the very last vestige of sunlight has slipped over the horizon have to return by the illumination of their boat’s running lights.

Running lights are regulated and have to comply with local guidelines. For example, port sidelights are red, starboard sidelights are green, and both shine from dead ahead to 112.5° aft on either side. Stern lights are white and shine aft and 67.5° forward on each side. This means that stern lights and sidelights form a complete circle of light around the bottom of the boat.

Running lights help us find our way home in the dark. So does Jesus.

Jesus Begins to Preach Matthew 4  New International Version

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

    Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people living in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The people living in darkness have seen a great light. This prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled by Jesus’ birth. In this passage, he has just left the desert where Satan has tempted him three times, and he is now beginning his ministry on earth.

There is a connection between the “great light” reference and vs. 17: the great light we are invited to see is the kingdom of God that Christ is ushering in. He brings the kingdom of God to earth with his incarnation, and the shadow of death is forever gone.

But don’t miss the point. Repentance is the point. Jesus’ first-ever sermon was a call to repentance. It wasn’t about forgiveness. It wasn’t about love. It wasn’t about eternity, or how to treat people, or giving to the poor. It was about repentance.

How often we would prefer to skip that step! Repentance is hard, because it means a complete turning away from the sin you have been committing. It is not just being sorry, but a total reversal of that behavior or practice that has broken you away from God and others. If you go back and repeat that behavior again, you didn’t really repent. You may have felt bad, but you didn’t repent.

Christ calls us to true repentance so that we can be cleansed and made new. With true repentance, we are freed of the chains of our sinful behavior and can walk unencumbered toward the cross. When we confess and repent, a new creation is born in us and our slate is wiped clean.

Where is God calling you to repent today? What horrible thing have you been carrying around like a millstone on your neck for way too long? It is time to be set free. It is time to be ransomed. Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near. It is time to come home from the dark.

Colington at sunset.

Heavy Metal Knitting

It’s a thing. NPR just did a wonderful report on this new phenomenon, and it is just what it sounds like; a competition between knitters who knit on stage with a live heavy metal band playing behind them. The World Championship was recently held in Finland.

You all think I make this stuff up, don’t you?

The event’s Facebook page reads,

“In heavy metal knitting, needlework and music become united like never before. On the same stage, accompanied by a million dollar guitar solo, with hair flowing in the air, there’s heavy metal music and knitting, shaking hands. Knitting to the rhythm of heavy metal music can be compared to playing air guitar – which is a Finnish way to goof around as well. In heavy metal knitting, the knitter becomes a part of the band, showing their best needlework tricks as the heavy riffs echo on the background. The knitter takes part in the jam while their balls of yarn and knitting needles swish through the air…”

First place went to a Japanese team, “Giga’s Body Metal,” which included five knitters who wore kimonos, kabuki dresses, and performed traditional sumo wrestling while knitting. Second place went to Denmark’s “Crafts With Ellen,” and third place went to USA’s “9 Inch Needles.”

Finland is a natural location for this world championship, as they have an inordinate amount of heavy metal bands, and apparently a lot of knitters. Sociologists attribute this to the long, cold, dark winters. I suppose that could drive you to either knit or take up the electric bass. So the unlikely mix of knitting and heavy metal music produces a wonderful, weird, and remarkable product born of the symbiotic blending of two very unlike things.

In a wonderful, weird and similarly symbiotic way, this reminds us of how God puts the Body of Christ together. He takes what appears to be disparate parts, each with its own separate function, and blends them together to form a remarkable thing:

1 Corinthians 12 The Message

14-18 I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

27-31 You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this.

How amazing is this! This tells us that whatever spiritual gift you have, it is needed, necessary, and vital to the functioning of the entire body. I love how Paul reminds us that it’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. Like a good marriage. Like an extended family. Like an office of co-workers, a sports team, or a surgical unit. Or a church. Each doing its own thing as they contribute to the functioning of the whole. Like heavy metal knitting! Who knew?

What is your part in the larger whole? Are you the eyes that see truth, the knees that bend in prayer, the feet that walk the mission field? Are you the cilia of the ear, filtering out harsh words, the aorta beating life into everything, the esophagus delivering sustenance (in Methodism, we call this Care Team Casserole Delivery) for the body?

Never forget that YOU are vital. YOU make a difference. Without you, the body/team/office/family/marriage would fall apart. So go today and be YOU, because you are vitally needed. We can’t be the body without you. God has carefully placed you just where he wants you. Thanks be to God!

Photo by Wende Pritchard.