A Joyful Noise

I am just going to put it out there. Kids belong in church. I don’t care if you disagree. I once talked back to an usher for telling a hassled single Mom that she should take her fussy child out of the sanctuary. I pulled him aside and corrected him in my best minister-voice. We do not ever tell a tired mother to remove her exuberant kids from the sanctuary. Not for any reason. Not on any occasion. NOT. IN. MY. CHURCH.

His reasoning was that the child was disruptive. So was Jesus.

He was afraid that the noise would prevent others from following the service. That’s why we give out a bulletin.

He didn’t want visitors to not want to come back. They are welcome to find a church where kids aren’t welcome. This is not that place.

He was concerned I would be distracted in my preaching. Buddy, don’t try to hide your gate-keeping bias under some fake concern for me. I love that sound and I can preach in harmony with it any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Like, for real, twice on Sunday.

Babies, toddlers, and old people singing loudly (off key, and several beats behind) are the Lord’s joyful noise. Even the angels rejoice at this noise! I don’t know a preacher who isn’t used to it and can’t ignore it when it happens. The fact that it happens tells us one thing: we have a baby in church! There is a child here! Some parent went to a tremendous amount of effort this morning to get here to worship.

Please tell me how that is a bad thing.

Matthew 19 (New International Version)

The Little Children and Jesus

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

So if you like to take scripture literally, let’s unpack that one for a bit. Let them come. Don’t hinder them. The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Hold up there a minute. The Kingdom of God belongs to the little children? Jesus wants them to come to him? Sounds like all the big people sitting in the pews are the actual interlopers, since apparently we are invading the church that, according to Jesus, belongs to the kids. Ponder that! Maybe it’s a good thing that they still need us to drive them to church; otherwise they might decide to unionize and hinder US from coming. No more Grups! (Some of you may recognize Gene Roddenberry’s contraction of grown ups from a very early Star Trek episode. If so, I salute you.)

And that is so true. We all realize that the future of our churches and our denominations depend on the children who are squirming in the pews and running helter-skelter to the doughnut table, but do we acknowledge that they are also the PRESENT of the church?

Maybe it’s time to count the ways kids are hindered from worship. Like parents who are overcommitted and too tired to make the effort on Sundays. Like churches who don’t make an effort to warmly and intentionally welcome them and make a place for them. Like pastors who continue to use dusty, old sermon illustrations meant for the over-50 crowd. Like worship committees who don’t utilize children and youth as worship leaders.

Where is Jesus calling you to open your heart to the little disciples? Do you need an attitude change? Parents, is God calling to a stronger commitment to consistent worship participation with your family? Or maybe your entire church needs a shake-up?

Let the little children come to Jesus, with all of their joyful noise. When Jesus laid his hands on the children and prayed over them, I bet that is just what he asked his Father to do. Wake up, churches. The future-present is crawling under the pews during the offertory. Make way!

Raising Cain.

Covenant

I love the word covenant. For me, it may be one of the most significant words in the Bible, just after salvation, peace, and forgiveness. Covenant describes the reason all those other words exist. In a Biblical sense, a covenant is a solemn agreement or contract between God and his people that is flesh-and-blood binding.

In the Old Testament, covenants were made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants were promises God made to never destroy the earth again, to provide land and descendants, to bless those who followed the law, (and punish those who didn’t) and that the house of David would produce the kings of Israel. Not to mention THE King.

In the New Testament, we have the end-all-be-all covenant of Jesus, known as the New Covenant. The New Covenant came as a completion of all the old laws, ways, covenants and promises. In the New Covenant, God promises to offer forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of his son on the cross. All who believe will receive eternal life.

In every case, God is the agent of the covenant-making. He initiates, he declares, he invites, and he promises. Every type of covenant relies on both parties doing their part and agreeing to the terms as presented.

One of my favorite modern uses of the word covenant is in the wedding ceremony. It appears in several places, and is in the prayers when we refer to “this solemn act of covenant” and ask God to bless the union. At the end, we invite the bride and groom to “seal your covenant with a kiss.”

(As an aside: we stopped inviting the groom to kiss the bride when we finally realized that the old liturgy assumed the bride to be an object to be given away by her father at the beginning of the ceremony and kissed by the groom at the end. We now ask the family to “present this woman to be married,” and both bride and groom are invited to “seal the covenant with a kiss.”)

In a marriage, we have an equal partnership of covenant-makers. Each benefits from the mutually agreed upon terms from a position of parity. But not so with our covenant with God. We are not his equal. We cannot hope to match what he can give as part of his covenant agreement. It could not be more lopsided, and yet, there it is:

Hebrews 8 The Message (MSG)

A New Plan with Israel

6-13 But Jesus’ priestly work far surpasses what these other priests do, since he’s working from a far better plan. If the first plan—the old covenant—had worked out, a second wouldn’t have been needed. But we know the first was found wanting, because God said,

Heads up! The days are coming

    when I’ll set up a new plan

    for dealing with Israel and Judah.

I’ll throw out the old plan

    I set up with their ancestors

    when I led them by the hand out of Egypt.

They didn’t keep their part of the bargain,

    so I looked away and let it go.

This new plan I’m making with Israel

    isn’t going to be written on paper,

    isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;

This time I’m writing out the plan in them,

    carving it on the lining of their hearts.

I’ll be their God,

    they’ll be my people.

They won’t go to school to learn about me,

    or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons.

They’ll all get to know me firsthand,

    the little and the big, the small and the great.

They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven,

    with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.

By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and his people, God put the old plan on the shelf. And there it stays, gathering dust.

The New Covenant offers us the opportunity to be a part of the kingdom of God. God will write this new plan in our hearts. It is a plan that offers us his kind forgiveness, where repentance results in our sinful slates being wiped clean. God desires to be known firsthand. He will be our God and we will be his people. Did you catch that? The God who created the entire universe wants to be our God! He wants to be known in the little and the big, the small and the great. Can you even imagine?

The only thing we can do….the ONLY thing that God asks…is accept this gift of covenant. We can’t earn it, we can’t reciprocate in kind, and we certainly can’t mechanically adhere to meticulous laws to prove ourselves worthy. We just have to open up our hearts and receive the promises of God.

And that’s the best news of all. God has made a promise to us, and God always keeps his promises. How will you respond? What will you do with this gift? Can you keep up your side of this covenant?

God invites all to come to the table he has prepared before us. Will you accept?

God’s Creation, Offered Without Price. Photo by Patti Kohl Koehler

Neckties

Consider the history of the necktie. Legionnaires in the 2nd century B.C. wore the first neckwear, according to some historians. Their cloth bands were worn as protection from the weather. Other people cite the 3rd century B.C. terra-cotta statues of Chinese warriors as the first evidence of neckties. They wore neck scarves to protect the source of their strength, i.e. their Adam’s apples.

Most experts, however, date the initial appearance of what led to the modern tie back to 1636. Croatian mercenaries hired by King Louis XIV wore cloth bands around their necks to ward off natural elements and sword slashes.

Today, however, men don’t need to protect themselves from weather, assaults to their Adam’s apples, and hopefully not sword slashes. So why the tie? Most men find them uncomfortable and bothersome. Loosening the tie is often the first thing a fellow does the minute he leaves the office. I mean, even the word neck-tie sounds restrictive.

Neckties are a means of uniformity. Imagine the workplace of the 1960’s without men in neckties. Imagine the church of the 1990’s without men in neckties. Uniformity was the goal, and neckties were the instrument that tied it all together. Blessed be the tie that binds? Not when it is tied around the neck!

Thank God we are over that.

Ties, hats, gloves, and heels have faded away as mandatory “Sunday morning best.” Society has accepted the fact that it is so much more important to show up than to show off.

So with neckties out, what should we wear around our necks?

Proverbs 3 New Living Translation (NLT)

3  My child, never forget the things I have taught you.

    Store my commands in your heart.

2  If you do this, you will live many years,

    and your life will be satisfying.

3  Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!

    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.

    Write them deep within your heart.

4  Then you will find favor with both God and people,

    and you will earn a good reputation.

Loyalty and kindness. The perfect neckwear for any occasion! This type of necktie will help you find favor with God and people alike. When we tie the things God has taught us around our necks, we will have a satisfying life and a good reputation. Now that’s a necktie everyone should have in their closet.

I once had a conversation with a teenager about church clothes. Michael was the son of the school bus driver and never attended church. I knew him from the High School marching band, where I volunteered as a chaperone and band announcer. All the kids knew me, but most didn’t know I am a pastor. Michael had spent the weekend at Taylor’s house, and when they awoke on Sunday morning, Taylor’s mom called them to breakfast and told them what time to be ready for church.

When Michael arrived, he looked around at all the people dressed up for church, and all the men wearing ties. He found me and immediately came up to me. “Miss Betsy, I am so sorry to be wearing my band t-shirt and jeans in your church,” he said. “I spent the night at Taylor’s house and my Mom didn’t know we would be coming to church.”

I looked him in the eye and asked, “Michael, are you in a church?” He replied, “Yes, M’am.” I said, “And are you wearing clothes?” He laughed and said, “Yes, M’am.” “Then you’re obviously wearing church clothes, so have a seat.”

The Gospel is a message of freedom, not restriction. Church is a place of harmony, not uniformity. Come on in and find a seat! We’re just glad you’re here. There is no dress code in God’s house. In my church at the beach, the acolytes wear flip flops and the pastor never wears a tie. Got clothes? Come on in.

This leash is as close to a necktie as I’ll ever get.

Percolating

Back before Keurigs, way before Starbucks, even before drip coffee makers with automatic shut-off switches, there was an ancient device known as a percolator. You might run across this historical artifact today in an antique store, the Pawn shop, or any local church’s kitchen.

It was a thing of beauty and simplicity. A basket that holds the coffee grounds sits atop a long, thin metal cylinder. This unit is inserted into a metal coffee pot. Water is poured into the pot, and the attached cord is plugged in. As the water heats, it bubbles and percolates up through the cylinder and over the basket, running through the coffee grounds and magically, you have coffee. You couldn’t pre-set it the night before, and you had to unplug it to turn it off, but hey, if it was good enough for the original Apollo astronauts, it was good enough.

I love the idea of percolating. Heating something up, bringing it to boil, channeling the bubbles, and then watching it produce something well-considered is a joy. Good things come when we percolate. Sermons, ideas, stories, arguments, speeches, hanging wallpaper with your spouse, new ventures, movies…all manner of things benefit from taking the time to percolate.

Percolating should precede any major decision we make. Thinking about divorce?Percolate. Contemplating a move? Percolate. Ready to pop the question? Percolate. About to send an angry email/post a snippy retort/yell at your teenager? PERCOLATE.

The reason percolating is so effective is that it gives you time to step away from your immediate and emotional response and allows the Holy Spirit to weigh in with other ways to go about doing the same thing.

Opening ourselves to God’s guidance always pays off. I learned the hard way not to immediately fire off an email when I was deeply aggravated. I learned that after a time when I fired off an email when I was deeply aggravated. I regret it to this day. How about you? Ever wish in hindsight that you had waited for the right words to come to you?

Matthew 10 (The Message)

17-20 “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news!

And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.

That’s why percolating is such a helpful practice. In the slow warming up of an idea, in the increasing heat of a completed thought, and in the bubbles of the Holy Spirit rising up in your spirit, your finished product will be soooo much better. Like the best cup of brewed Sumatra with heavy cream, it will be a delight rather than a thin and possibly nasty version of what it should have been.

So take a beat. Stop and breathe. Suspend your need for instant gratification and sloooow youuuuur rolllll. Give God a chance to enter in, and let percolation have its way. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply them. You’ll never regret letting God percolate inside you.

Fresh brewed.

When the Sound Returns

Winds and storms in the Outer Banks are notorious for causing flooding. As my hairdresser explained while holding up a comb, “the Outer Banks are as thin as this comb, with the huge ocean on one side and the huge sound on the other…it is literally THIS thin!” she exclaimed. Indeed, there are parts of Highway 12 south on Hatteras Island where you could throw a football with your feet in the water of one and hit the water in the other. At high tide. If your name is Trace McSorley.

The dynamics of this ribbon of land between two massive bodies of water are especially heightened during hurricanes, Nor’easters, and large storms. The winds are capable of literally pushing the water out of the sound to the point where you can walk across its muddy bottom. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds are 2,900 square miles of water fed by ten major rivers and numerous creeks. They are large enough that in certain locations, you can stand at one of the few points on the East Coast where you have unobstructed views of the sun setting into water with no land in sight. In fact, the Spanish explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano mistook the Pamlico Sound for the Pacific Ocean when he arrived here. It’s that big.

So the conundrum of the winds pushing all the water out during a storm is this: When it returns, it can come back with such force that it will create massive sound-side floods and high water that can cause more damage than the storm itself.

This is the way we live. This has been part of the cost of the beauty of our location for centuries. We know how it works, and we wait, often for days. I read a meme on Face Book recently that said, “Waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.” It is the not-knowingness of the situation that will slap wear you out.

I think this echoes what many people experience in other ways. A test result is suspicious, so further testing must be done. Wait. A spouse has been unfaithful and the couple doesn’t know if divorce will be the answer. Wait. A terminal diagnosis has been given, with a two-to-four year life sentence. Wait. A young woman receives an engagement ring and begins to plan her wedding and dreams of her married life. Wait. Another finds out she is pregnant. Wait. A military family sends their service member off for months to an unknown destination. Wait.

Psalm 27 (NRSV)

13 I remain confident of this:

    I will see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the Lord;

    be strong and take heart

    and wait for the Lord.

David’s assurance that he would see goodness in the land of the living is a pretty bold statement, considering the fighting going on all around him and the fervor with which his enemies were pursuing him. Just a few sentences earlier, he describes his situation this way:

2 When the wicked advance against me

    to devour me,

it is my enemies and my foes

    who will stumble and fall.

3  Though an army besiege me,

    my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

    even then I will be confident.

I would say he was under a fair amount of stress, wouldn’t you? Yet he counsels us to wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart, and WAIT. How can David be so sure? Because David was a man after God’s own heart. He knew the Lord, loved the Lord, danced for the Lord, and had a lot of experience in waiting and being delivered.

So while you wait, do not fear. In this in-between time of not-knowingness, don’t let your heart be troubled, and neither let it be afraid. God is mightier than the besieging army, faster than your foes, and stronger than the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds combined. When the Sound returns, you will see the goodness of the Lord.

The Pamlico Sound bottom, waiting for the water’s return. Photo by Tim Fitch.

Standing in Awe

I recently watched the movie I Can Only Imagine, which is the story of how the number one Christian song by the same name was written and produced. The band Mercy Me and its lead singer Bart Millard are the central characters in the story, with a great performance by actor Dennis Quaid as the abusive father. There is a surprising twist of how Amy Grant played a pivotal role in what happened. Those are all the spoilers you will get here, so go find it and watch it.

The song explores what happens when we die. Millard asks the question, “Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you, be still?”

I have a friend who is actively dying. I have lain awake at night trying to process this. I am no stranger to death. My parents are dead, and as a pastor, I have seen more funerals than baptisms and weddings combined. I have been with people at the very moment of death and watched that transition.

A group of Girl Scouts once interviewed me as part of their merit badge program, and the question was asked, “What is your favorite part of your job?” I looked at this pack of giggly girls and I’m sure they expected me to say, “Weddings!” Every giggly girl would think that would be just wonderful, to be part of so many weddings. This is not the case. I told them that ministry with the dying was my favorite part, and their faces fell. I went on to explain that it is in those moments that I feel closest to God and experience the pure and uncomplicated “sacred.”

We understand the word sacred to mean set apart. Things that are sacred are set apart from the ordinary, set apart from the earthly, and set apart for God’s use and his glory.

Death is sacred. There is not one sacrament created by the church that can even touch it. Communion, baptism, and all the other things churches observe as sacramental cannot hold a candle to death.

In the moment of death, the veil is literally torn between this earth and that heaven. The process of transition is that moment of our lives where we experience God in his fullest. Even our birth isn’t as powerful as our death.

When I was a very young pastor, I was called to the hospital bed of my church organist’s mother. She was dying, and we waited. We held her hands and talked in soft voices as she took her last breath. It was the first of many times I would experience the moment of death, and the memory is still vibrant to me. I saw/felt/understood her spirit rise out of her body and linger in the upper corner of the room. It was so real, I turned my head to look up at the corner. When I looked back at her, she was gone.

Gone where?

Philippians 3 (The Message)

20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

The thief on the cross next to Jesus who believed Jesus was the son of God was promised that he would be in paradise THAT DAY. The moment of death becomes the moment of life, when we enter into our citizenship of high heaven. Our earthly bodies become transformed into something glorious, beautiful, and WHOLE. Death has no victory…death has no sting! No more pain, no more illness, no more confusion, no more tears.

Ponder this today, and make it your life’s goal to enter this paradise. And do not fear death. You will never experience the sacred in this life in the way you will experience it in death. God with us, Emmanuel, in a way we have never felt before.

Can you only imagine?

The Open Portal by Michelle Robertson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lrrq_opng

Judging Covers

Living on a canal affords us magnificent views of the sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and the neighbors’ back yards. Think “Rear Window,” the iconic Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly thriller. In that movie, Stewart is confined to a wheelchair after an injury, and spends hours watching his neighbors from his apartment’s rear window. He witnesses what he realizes is the murder of one of them, and the disposal of her remains by her guilty husband. If you have never seen this movie, find it today if you enjoy Hitchcock mysteries. Or just to watch Grace Kelly, who is nothing less than ethereal in this film.

But here in Colington, I have only observed the mundane things of water living; neighbors and their kids swimming off their docks, people enjoying the sunshine on their decks, a lot of waterfowl, lots of fishing, and early morning crabbers going out in their boats to check their traps. On Wednesdays I see sailboats circling in the harbor for the weekly community sail out to the sound. One time I watched an aggressive osprey fight with a large eel that kept slipping out of its talons. The osprey almost dropped it on my head as it victoriously flew over my deck back to its nest to feed the family. That surely would have caused me to list my house immediately, views or no views.

The fronts of our houses face the water, so when you travel along the streets of Colington, you are actually looking at the rather plain backs of houses. I remember taking my Mom on a boat ride on the canals and she exclaimed, “Oh, the houses are so pretty! I never realized I’ve been looking at the back of the houses all this time!” Indeed, the fancy decks and staircases, the covered porches, and the tiki bars that people have constructed all face the water. It’s like the houses have turned their backs on the street in order to face the prettier view themselves.

There is a saying that comes to mind: Never judge a book by its cover. This is just a reminder to us to look deeper and don’t make assumptions about books, houses, and especially people.

There was a time when a man named Samuel was sent to select the next king of Israel. When he looked at the fine young men standing before him, all of them Jesse’s sons, he naturally selected the biggest and most handsome one, but God said no. He continued down the line, and each time God rejected the obvious selection:

1 Samuel 16:7 New International Version (NIV)

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Finally, the smallest son was called from the field where he had been tending sheep. This one, the runt of the litter, was the one whom God chose. His name was David, and he became one of Israel’s greatest kings.

The Lord looks at the heart. People focus on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks inward.

What can we glean from this today? Is there someone in your life who needs and deserves a deeper look? Are you guilty of making snap judgements about people you meet, based solely on their appearance? Where is God calling you to take a second look, and this time to look at the heart?

I met an elderly lady once in the lobby of a very fine restaurant. We were surrounded by all sorts of people, nationalities, and ages. The younger ones were tattooed, as most younger ones are today. Within the first three minutes of meeting this woman, she expressed outrage at all the girls and their tattoos. I live on the Outer Banks and don’t even SEE tattoos on people anymore. It’s wearable art. Everybody has at least one. This lady was dressed to the nines, but would have been highly offended if someone had criticized her choice of scarves and fake pearls. She would have wanted people to see the real her. So do the tattooed girls.

Take a look around you. The down-and-out person might be just the one Christ is calling you to befriend. The uppity church lady wearing too much perfume might be shielding a life of loneliness and heartache. The frantic, hassled guy at the gas pump might have just been told his wife is dying of cancer. The rude teenager might be having suicidal thoughts.

Look deeper. Ignore the wrapper. Be like Jesus and look into the HEART. What is on the outside is just window dressing, but what is inside is a real human, deserving of your kindness and consideration. That tattooed girl just might be royalty under all that ink. After all, she is the daughter of the King.

This tattoo is on the arm of a girl with a heart of gold.

Use Your Mannas

Breakfast was a thing when I was a kid. Nobody had ever heard of (or would have approved of) “intermittent fasting,” this new, cool way to describe skipping breakfast. No, indeed, the first sensation of the morning was the smell of toast (Oh God, I miss the smell of toast!) and the sweet scent of Cream of Wheat doused with a spoonful of sugar and drowned in whole milk. This was the manna of my childhood, the sustenance that enabled me to walk close to two miles in New Jersey winters to school, (Uphill! Both ways!) and the provision laid out by my mother that communicated love with every bite.

It seems that biblical manna was not too far off from the breakfast mannas we grew up on. More Frosted Flakes than Cream of Wheat, it was a sweet, crunchy coriander-like substance that appeared on the ground in the mornings when the Israelites were immigrating through the wilderness toward a promised future. When they began to complain that the food provided in their slavery in Egypt was better than starving, God whooped them upside the head with grace and provision. He is a much better parent than the rest of us.

Exodus 16 The Message (MSG)

16 1-3 On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”

4-5 God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”

The manna rained down, and quail was also provided. Just your basic meat and bread meal, home delivered by the Lord himself. He was doing home delivery meals before home delivery meals were cool.

God was trying to teach them to depend on him, so he only provided enough for one day at a time, with twice as much given on the sixth day so they didn’t have to work for it on the Sabbath. If the people gathered too much and tried to hoard it, it turned smelly and wormy over night. That’ll teach ya!

This manna appeared like a fine dew on the ground, and God instructed them to go and gather it. Because it was a substance completely of heaven and never before seen on earth, they called it man-hu, a Hebrew word that roughly translates into whatizit?

I think God provides whatizits all the time. Bread from heaven rains down on us daily, but we are too busy complaining to notice. The sun rises every morning bringing warmth, but we’re focused on the cold front and the low temperatures. A baby is born, a miracle unto itself, but exhausted parents reminisce about the sleep they don’t get anymore. A husband comes home with a gift that isn’t quite right, and the wife focuses on the imperfection. A wife prepares a meal and burns the broccoli, and the magnificent pork loin is overlooked. A worker with paycheck in hand spews his discontent over his coworkers every day after work, ungrateful for the job that provides said paycheck. We do it all the time. WE LOVE TO COMPLAIN.

People, use your manners. Better yet, use your mannas. Everything you have is a gift of God. Your home, your work, your family, your food…there is nothing you possess that isn’t a part of God’s grace and provision. Quit thinking it’s all about you and your abilities. Where do you think those abilities came from? We would be nothing without God. God provides, and we receive.

A few years ago I spent the night at our church volunteering in our homeless ministry. These people are wandering in the wilderness of NOTHINGNESS. The ministry itself is their manna, and they are completely humbled and grateful for warmth, a blanket, a meal, and a smile. As I was settling into my cot, complaining about the discomfort of a cot, one of our guests came over to me and asked me if I like fresh pineapple. I do. I love fresh pineapple. She went to the guest room and returned with a fresh pineapple for me. I was shocked, and tried to refuse. She had purchased a pineapple that day and the store was having a “buy one, get one free” deal, so she wanted me to have her free pineapple. It meant the world to her to give a gift to the pastor, so I accepted it.

Manna. Bread of heaven. Whatizit? It is you, giving away your pineapple so that someone can share the sweetness of the sustenance God provides you. Go and be someone’s manna today, and let grace, mercy and gratitude rain down on you.

Deafening Busyness

“After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

This time I was certain that the house was going to blow down. Winds that were the force of hurricane gusts brought an impressive cold front to the Outer Banks, and the windows rattled, the screens tore, and the house swayed. This three-story house was swaying in the wind so hard that it woke me up from a dead sleep. Winds are not uncommon on our little island on the edge of the continent, but this was a doozy. There is something both unsettling and reassuring when we are confronted with the power and force of a true “act of God” of Old Testament proportions. We can do nothing but listen to its howl and wait for it to subside on its own accord.

In the book of 1 Kings, Elijah has fled for his life, with Jezebel on his heels. He runs to the safety of a cave and has a one-on-one with God, complaining that he is the only righteous man left in Israel, and now they are about to kill him. He is instructed by an angel of the Lord to climb the same mountain where Moses received the commandments, and wait.

God sends a great and strong wind to assault the mountain, but he himself is not in the wind. Then an earthquake follows, but he is not in the earthquake. Finally, a fire rages through, but still no God. When the ruckus is over, God chooses then to speak to Elijah in a still, small, thin, and quiet voice:

1 Kings 19 (NIV)

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

After the power display, God tells Elijah that it’s time to get back to work. Elijah receives his marching orders, is given a helper, and sent back into the trenches. His mission to bring Israel back to the Lord.

I often wonder if I am missing God in the loudness that surrounds me.

I wonder if we miss our own marching orders because we are so focused on the wind, the earthquake and the fire that we don’t stand still long enough to tune our ear to the whisper. So much to do! We are so overwhelmed with busyness! I’m WAAY too busy to sit quietly and listen! The winds of our jobs, the earthquakes of family responsibilities, and the fire of maintaining our day-to-day lives keep us from hearing the still, small voice that offers the solution.

Woe unto us if we continue living in the cacophony. God is patiently waiting us out. He will not shout over the noise we have surrounded ourselves with, but rather will wait until we are ready to tune our busy noise out so we can tune his quiet love in.

Take heed. As Advent approaches, it is going to get louder. Busy upon busy, we will frantically run around preparing to celebrate the….what? Oh, yes, the birth of the Savior, who was quietly laid in a humble manger with only the sounds of the soft-spoken cow and the peacefully snoring donkey providing background noise. Christ is the focus, so don’t get caught up in lights and tinsel and all the rest of the noise so much that you miss the moment.

God with us, Emmanuel. Be quiet! And listen.

Blustery Day by Michelle Robertson.

Here Come Da Judge

You know her. She never enters a conversation without making a one-sided proclamation. Or maybe it’s a him, who sees everything from behind his horse blinders and doesn’t hesitate to share his particular squinty-eyed world view with everyone around him. We are surrounded by a great gallery of judges. Everyone feels free to weigh in on matters that are frankly better left to our Lord to judge, but that doesn’t seem to stop the flow of condemnation that comes from their mouths.

If we sit with a judge whose prejudice and bias match our own, we sometimes don’t even notice it. We hear their banter as “opinions,” and everyone is entitled to their opinions, right? Free speech is the foundation of our society, and we roll with the judgements that suit us. But when someone runs counter to our thinking, we balk. That person is being so judgmental! Who gave them the right to spew?

Who, indeed?

Matthew 7:1-6 New International Version (NIV)

Judging Others

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

YIKES! I think I may just sit here quietly for the rest of the week. This passage makes God’s position very clear. He sits as the only judge on the bench, and any attempt we make at judging others is sure to come back on our hypocrisy and subject us to the harsh judgement we mete out to others. God’s word is simple. DO NOT JUDGE.

We have all been the subject of somebody else’s judgement. Early in my ministry, I was judged by some church people to be too female to be a clergy person. That was something about myself that I could not change, so I tried not to feel the sting of that dismissive assessment of my gifts. But it hurt, I’m not going to lie. To have one aspect of my self-hood be a reason for someone to reject me was hard, and it stung.

We’ve all been on the back end of judgment. We’ve been told we’re too young, too black, too gay, too differently-abled, too short, too fat, too thin, too old, too Asian, too tall, too much on the spectrum, too different, too liberal, too traditionalist….it’s all just TOO MUCH. How dare we?

Give as you would like to get. Love as you would like to be loved. See people the way God sees them. And treat everyone with the respect you would like to receive. God’s word is clear: judge not, lest you be judged. God is a jealous God, and he does not need anyone sitting on the throne of judgement but himself.

Sun Setting on a Colington Day