Creeping Things

You might imagine that with a website called At Water’s Edge, I love anything that has to do with water. When we purchased our house on a small island on the Outer Banks I was immediately attracted to the listing description that boasted “water views from every room.” I had a hard time imagining this!!!!!! But on the point of land where I live, surrounded by canals on two sides and a harbor at the front, it turned out to be true. Water, water everywhere! There is something quite calming and peaceful about water. Unless it’s hurricane season. Or Nor’easter season. Or January.

Our beautiful Psalm today takes place at the water’s edge. The psalmist calls us “yonder to the sea,” and contemplates the innumerable creeping things that reside there. I find it more peaceful to NOT contemplate the innumerable creepy things that are in the water with me, but to each his own.

Psalm 104 (New Revised Standard Version)

24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

The reference to ships in the next section is so ancient and yet modern at the same time. Those who live on the coast know that ships are always present in our communities. Indeed, the Outer Banks is a community full of boats and ships. Many people here make their living on the sea.

26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

The psalmist correctly points out that the inhabitants of the water depend on God for their sustenance. Without God, all of creation would simply return to dust.

29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

From the sea we now turn our attention to the land and the mountains, which also rely on God’s goodness.

31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—

32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!

May the meditation of our hearts and the rejoicing from our lips be pleasing to the God on high today! Let us praise the Lord.

Yonder is the Sea by Michelle Robertson

Remnant Theology

Someone long ago planted a group of jonquils in front of my mailbox. It predates my arrival here, which happened eleven years ago. Every spring they pop up with their cheerful faces and strong pronouncement that winter is over and we can turn our faces toward summer. This gift of foresight on someone else’s part is always welcome. For most of the year, that patch of ground is empty and desolate. My neighbor once told me that the entire mailbox was once ringed with jonquils. Now only this one patch remains, and I am grateful.

In reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, we encounter something known as “remnant theology.” This describes God’s practice of taking a land, a society, or a whole nation down to almost nothing and then restoring a small percentage back after a period of desolation. Think of Noah’s family after the flood…it was up to them to replenish and repopulate the world when they finally came upon dry land. They were God’s remnant.

In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, we see God preparing Isaiah to speak a word of doom into a hopeless situation. The nation had fallen hard into apostasy, and their impending disaster was upon them. Isaiah was called to preach to a group of people who were too calloused and hard-headed to hear him, and the length of his service would be determined by how long it would take for them to turn with their hearts and seek God’s healing:

Isaiah 6 (Common English Bible)

God said, “Go and say to this people:

Listen intently, but don’t understand;
    look carefully, but don’t comprehend.
10 Make the minds of this people dull.
    Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind,
    so they can’t see with their eyes
    or hear with their ears,
    or understand with their minds,
    and turn, and be healed.”

But even in the midst of this proclamation, God offers the hope of a remnant that would provide a holy seed for the rebuilding of Israel.

11 I said, “How long, Lord?”

And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” 12 The Lord will send the people far away, and the land will be completely abandoned. 13 Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed.

The dichotomy of a God who destroys and a God who restores is striking. His mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and remnant theology teaches us that mercy always prevails, thanks be to God! God always leaves behind a holy seed.

If you are in a season of desolation and judgment, remember Isaiah. In the beginning of this passage, he declares that seeing God seated on the throne surrounded by flying seraphs had rendered him “undone.” Sometimes it takes a holy undoing before we can be restored to what we were are meant to be…holy, cleansed, called, and redeemed.

Gold Daffodils by Jan Wilson

Be One

The recent scare of a gas shortage hit the Outer Banks hard this week. People sat in their cars in long lines, waiting their turn to fill up. By the end of first day of this mess, many of the gas stations were completely empty. Gas stations with multiple entrances had the challenge of cars coming from different directions and then having to maneuver to the side where their gas cap was located, usually in very small spaces due to the congestion. I saw a picture of an SUV in a nearby town that was being loaded with multiple gas containers after the fellow had already filled his tank. Suffice it to say that this behavior is not acting in the best interest of the community. Hoarding a resource that is perceived to be in short supply does not contribute to the “oneness” of a community. Someone said that gasoline is the 2021 version of 2020’s toilet paper hoarding. Shame on us when we take what we don’t need and deprive others of the resources they need to survive.

We were created to live in community and be interdependent on one another. Shared vision, shared experience, and shared resources are part of the design by which we are made. Yet rarely do we function like this.

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ last prayer for his people was? Ironically, he prayed that we would be “one.”

John 17 (New Revised Standard Version)

6 ”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 

9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 

11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 

The oneness of the triune God is a natural reference for Jesus as he prays for the oneness of his followers. “So that they may be one” is the last petition that Christ makes on our behalf. How do you think we are doing with that? Our multiple denominations, schisms, splits, and divides surely must grieve him. I don’t think denominationalism will have a place in heaven. Can’t we all just get along?

12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.

This scripture calls us today to lay down our need to assert our individual thoughts, needs, and perspectives and work toward a common goal of preaching Christ-crucified…and nothing more. When we do that, we show people that following Jesus is a group effort, and together, we can change the world.

Be Sure to Stop at the Bank First

The One Who Has the Son

There was a great story in the news on Mother’s Day about a ten-year old boy who saved his mother’s life because he knew how to be fast. His mother was talking on the phone when suddenly her face drooped, her speech became garbled, and when she tried to stand up, she fell on the floor. Her son Lance knew something was very wrong and he bolted up the stairs to a neighbor’s apartment, who immediately called 911. This mother made a full recovery because her son knew how to be fast and saved her life.

Do you know how to recognize when someone is having a stroke? I listened to an NPR report on this yesterday. There is an acronym that outlines symptoms that indicate that a stroke may be happening, and it ends with what you should do. It is B.E. F.A.S.T. Here is what to watch for:

Balance is suddenly affected.

Eyes begin to droop.

Facial muscles sag.

Arms can’t be lifted properly.

Speech is slurred.

Time is of the essence, so get help immediately.

If you spot these things, be fast and call 911.

Our scripture today has a phrase that reminded me of Lance and his mother: “The one who has the Son has life.” Check it out:

1 John 5 (Common English Bible)

9 If we receive human testimony, God’s testimony is greater, because this is what God testified: he has testified about his Son. 10 The one who believes in God’s Son has the testimony within; the one who doesn’t believe God has made God a liar, because that one has not believed the testimony that God gave about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son.

12 The one who has the Son has life.

13 The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life.

God sent his only son so that YOU might have life. He testified to this fact at Jesus’ baptism when the heavens parted and he proclaimed, “This is my SON in whom I am well pleased.” With his son comes the promise of eternal life if you accept him as your savior.

Do you know him? Do you have the testimony of the son within you? When was the last time you shared it? The invitation for us today is to go and tell someone about the life-giving gift of the son. And be fast! Your word just might save a life.

Big Sky by Michelle Robertson

The 120

A few years ago I became enamored of a television show called The 100. I love all things science fiction and this really captured my imagination. The premise was based on the earth’s apocalypse and the survival of humankind. After a devastating nuclear event rendered earth uninhabitable, a group of people fled to an orbiting space station. Three generations later, the space station’s life support system began to fail, and so a plan was devised to send one hundred delinquent juveniles back to earth to see if life can now be maintained. From this small number, civilization begins to regroup. They are eventually successful after seven seasons of twists and turns.

This premise is biblical in two ways. First, it supports “remnant theology,” which teaches us that God always preserves a remnant of humanity for the future. We see this from the Genesis flood narrative to the diaspora stories in the Old Testament. The New Testament picks up the theme when a band of twelve becomes a global movement. Second, it reminds us that God uses small seeds to reap great harvests. His faithfulness to us is evident all throughout the Bible.

This show came to mind this morning when I read the scripture assignment for today. Right away the number one hundred twenty jumped out at me. I love reading about the early formative days of the church, and today is no exception to the wonderment of it all. Think of it: at one point, we were only one hundred twenty strong as a church of Christ-followers. A quick Google search reports that the number today is 2.3 billion.

From tiny beginnings, great things grow!

Acts 1 (Common English Bible)

15 During this time, the family of believers was a company of about one hundred twenty persons. Peter stood among them and said, 16 “Brothers and sisters, the scripture that the Holy Spirit announced beforehand through David had to be fulfilled. This was the scripture concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 This happened even though he was one of us and received a share of this ministry.”

I appreciate the Common English Bible’s use of the word “family.” It is comforting to remember that at one time, those who loved Jesus and his message were a family. I doubt that the same thing would be said of us today. Our extreme denominationalism has fractured us into disparate entities. Competition, resistance to opposing view points, and our tendency to erect walls around our doctrinal beliefs have rendered us incapable of functioning as a whole unit of believers.

21 “Therefore, we must select one of those who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus lived among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken from us. This person must become along with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

24 They prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s deepest thoughts and desires. Show us clearly which one you have chosen from among these two 25 to take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” 26 When they cast lots, the lot fell on Matthias. He was added to the eleven apostles.

In selecting a new apostle, the eleven prayed for discernment and left the decision to God. They knew that he would examine the thoughts and desires of the candidates and would reveal his choice in the casting of lots. By this method, the integrity of their group would be maintained…and from that tiny band of twelve, many would join and the numbers would grow.

The challenge for us today is to realize that in our warring of ideologies, we would do well to simply pray for discernment and leave the decisions to God. People too quickly weigh in on all kinds of issues that are better left to prayer. Where is God calling you to water, rather than uproot, the seeds he has planted? Do you really have the full picture of the garden he laid out thousands of years ago? Who is the Master Gardener?

It is a matter of “trust, and obey.” And pray.

Lemon Tree by Bev Mineo

The Disrespectful

When did it become acceptable to be so disrespectful?

Regardless of what side you take on a political or social issue, you will find loud statements of disrespect on both sides. Name calling, snide remarks, hate words, slander…all these are weapons in the war of words which society fully engages in day after day. Social media is very anti-social. News is not so much newsworthy as it is opinionated, and those who are privileged with opinion platforms are loud, inappropriately angry, and seethe with disrespect.

What does this do to us as we listen? Do you walk away from these encounters discouraged, defeated, detached, and with your blood pressure elevated? Me, too.

In our Psalm today we are reminded that happiness can’t be found among the disrespectful.

Psalm 1 (Common English Bible)

The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds.

I have a friend who initially gave up social media for Lent and then decided to stay off due to the constant disrespect he experienced when he expressed his political beliefs. He discovered that his “friends” quickly went on the attack, even if he was trying to respectfully argue a point. I have another friend who is a retired police officer who suffers daily from what he reads on the internet.

I think it is important to remember that the celebrity “news” people and your so-called “friends” on social media platforms are merely dust that blows away. The trick is to not let it get in your eyes as it blows past you. We need to keep clear eyes focused solely on the Lord’s instruction. That helps us to be like trees that are planted by the water that will bear fruit for the kingdom if we focus on keeping the righteous things in the foreground.

That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
    neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed.

God blesses the righteous with happiness and destroys the disrespectful.

Perhaps we should all closely monitor the things we engage in that are making us unhappy. My guess is that spending less time engaging with angry people will result in feeling more peaceful. Reading God’s word day and night will result in an intimacy with him that brings calm to our hearts.

And thank you so much for reading At Water’s Edge! May you find peace, hope, and contentment today as you carry his word in your heart.

Come and Sit

Reality Test

I remember a time before reality TV. A time when stories were told, news was reported, documentaries were produced to take viewers deep into places unknown, and cooking shows were of the Julia Child variety where the most unexpected thing might be seeing her drop an entire cooked turkey onto the floor. Bon Appetite!

Now we are inundated with “reality” shows that aim to titillate, shock, and disturb, in an effort to sell more products. With a plethora of bachelors, back-biters, unreal and highly nipped and tucked “housewives,” big brothers watching from cameras in every room, and well-scripted scenarios of misbehavior below decks, we have lost the distinction between fiction and reality. These guilty pleasures are harmless as long as you understand that distinction. Trust me, what you are seeing is all fiction. Reality is found elsewhere.

Our lectionary passages from John’s writings this week keep pulling us back into God’s reality of the connection between love and obedience. Keeping God’s commandments is the way we demonstrate our love for God, and a way that we experience his love for us. By giving us order, God keeps us safe and protected inside his loving arms. And when he sent Jesus, we were commanded to love one another as a proof of our love for God:

1 John 5 (The Message)

 1-3 Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.

A key component to the gift of the commandments is that they are not meant to be troublesome, but to bring life to our lives. Staying within those safety rails is a way to experience wholeness and freedom. When we follow God’s law, we separate ourselves from the chaos of the world. Jesus conquered the world with his death-killing death:

The Power That Brings the World to Its Knees

4-5 Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

6-8 Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.

Just think of it! We are invited to partake in the reality of his spirit, his baptism, and his crucifixion.
There is nothing that television can script that could even come close to the disruptive and shocking reality of what Christ did on the cross for the benefit for all of humanity…and we get to participate in it with him. His baptism becomes our baptisms, his resurrection gives us eternal life, and his Spirit helps us defeat the world as we make better choices and live within his commandments.

All of this is a gift, given to us without price. So next time you indulge in a moment of “reality TV,” consider the truth and reality of God’s presence in your life. It is far better than anything you will see.

Truth by Michelle Robertson

Reigning over Anger

Have you ever gotten really, really angry at God?

There are times in our lives when confusion, despair, disbelief, and tragedy can make us lie flat on our backs in a darkened room where we work hard just to breathe. The shell shock of abrupt loss can rend us speechless, mindless, and hopeless. A sudden death. A sudden divorce. A sudden business closure. A sudden betrayal. All that is left is anger.

I felt this way many years ago when a precious friend and co-worker died of cancer in her late 40’s. Her kindness and joy were a bright light in every situation, and when cancer did its ugly thing, I thought the warmth of her light had gone from the earth permanently and I was ANGRY at God.

A few months after her death, I went out to the beach in the middle of a terrible storm and stood on a sand dune for hours. The winds and the ocean raged around me as I raged at God. In the end, I came to realize one thing: God is mightier than the loudest thunder of my grief and mightier than the most destructive breakers in my sea of anger. He met me there with the warmth of his light and taught me how to go on and find a light of my own.

Psalm 93 (New International Version)

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
    indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
    you are from all eternity.

Realizing that God is from all eternity puts an exclamation mark where death and loss have tried to leave a question mark. There is nothing to fear when we accept that God’s throne was established long ago, way before our misery began. Even before the devastation came, the Lord on high, mighty and robed in majesty, was present. Without minimizing our agony, God still reigns in the reality of eternity. And so we can let go of our grief and grasp ahold of the hem of his robe, where healing and hope can be found.

The seas have lifted up, Lord,
    the seas have lifted up their voice;
    the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
    mightier than the breakers of the sea—
    the Lord on high is mighty.

I don’t know what sorrows or griefs you are dealing with today, but know this: the Lord is greater than your struggle. He sent his only son to die so that you might have life, and have it abundantly. So while you wait to breathe again and for the light to return, look to the one who is mightier than the deepest sea. God longs to soothe you with his love.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
    holiness adorns your house
    for endless days.

May he reign over your happiness for endless days and nights as you seek the warmth of his strength. His presence is firm and secure, and he will never leave you, no matter how angry you are.

The Seas Lift Up Their Voice by Michelle Robertson

Mine! Mine!

In the Disney classic Finding Nemo we meet a group of greedy seagulls who chant “MINE! MINE!” as they forage for food. While fish and sea life are definitely their preferred diet, seagulls will also feast on human food, garbage, and refuse. Have you ever watched two seagulls tussle over a French fry in a fast food parking lot? The Disney spin that a seagull will claim anything they see as “mine” is not far from the mark. And as someone who lives near the beach, can I please make a request? DON’T FEED THE SEAGULLS. You are contributing to their behavior!

When I read today’s passage, I wondered if the early Christ-followers didn’t have a similar perspective. Jews who understood all the messianic prophecies and realized that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of all they had waited for were probably quite startled to learn that Jesus came to save everyone, including the gentiles:

Acts 10 (The Message)

44-46 No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

The proof was in the pudding. The outsiders spoke in the tongue of the Holy Spirit, a unifying voice that proclaimed that what once was “mine” is now for everyone. The outsiders have been let in.

46-48 Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.

With the evidence of the universality of Christ right in front of them, they acted in one accord to acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit and confirm it with baptism in the name of Jesus. The “mine” became “ours.”

If only we could adopt that same perspective! Our bitter division, our denominationalism, our thinking that “my doctrine is better than your doctrine”…all of this surely grieves the Holy Spirit, who calls us to be one in Christ.

One body. One voice. One heart.

A quote that is attributed to many sources including John Wesley helps us to keep the main thing the main thing: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. And charity in all things.” If we live in a time when we can’t agree on the essentials or the non-essentials, let us at least agree on charity in all things.*

This passage points to the main thing. The Holy Spirit is the transforming power of God and will come upon whomever God chooses to come upon. The outward and visible sign of this is found in baptism, which is a confirmation of the work that God has already done. Jesus instructs us to go into the world and teach and baptize in his name. We can all agree on this.

In the kingdom of God there is no mine or yours…only ours. Go and share him with someone today.

*Read more about this quote here.

OBX Seagull by Agatha Knab

Joy Made Complete

Last week we said farewell to a beautiful man in our congregation who lived a joy-filled life. His joy was so complete, it spilled out from his pores whenever you were near him. From his vigorous bell ringing to his infectious smiles to his proud excitement over announcing his Special Olympics medals and achievements, he was simply pure joy. Our sanctuary is a bit dimmer in his absence. He knew that God is love, and he exuded that love everywhere he went. Now he knows completely what he only knew in part here on earth. A life-long fan of The Wizard of Oz, his eternal life over the rainbow is a source of joy for all who mourn his passing.

Do you know this joy? The joy that comes from living a life fully centered in God’s presence?

We continue with Jesus’ last set of discourses to his disciples, and we find a clue in the 15th chapter of John about how our joy may be made complete. Would it surprise you to know that it comes from obedience? Not the “obey the rules, don’t rock the boat, stay in the lines” kind of obedience, but the type of obedience that comes from living IN the love of the father where obedience to his commandments brings harmony, peace, ease, and relief. Think about that for a moment. While following the rules brings a certain kind of order and calm to our lives, real joy comes from remaining inside the boundaries of God’s love:

John 15 (Common English Bible)

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 

Jesus instructed his disciples to keep the main thing the main thing: to love one another just as he loved them. This kind of love is the key to joy. It is the gateway to peace on earth, if we could just be obedient!

Jesus offered the extreme example of sacrifice by giving up his life for that love.

13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 

And so we are left with this…the call to obedience to God’s commands is centered on the greatest command that we love each other. And when we lay down self and selfishness and do just that, the world indeed will become a place of complete joy.

17 I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

Tim-man’s Rainbow by Lola Hilton