Pencil Sharpening for God

The church I am currently serving has an incredible Care Ministry. It is organized, led, and maintained entirely by volunteers. They track people who are in need of a visit, a meal, a card, or a call, and deliver these things with grace, joy, and beauty.

When people first sign up to be a part of this wonderful thing, they are just happy to deliver an occasional meal to someone who needs it. What happens next is the incredible blessing that this ministry provides. The meal drop-off requires a phone contact, which turns into a visit, which ends up with someone getting to be heard, fed, and loved on. That is so much more than a hot meal. And then the volunteer returns home and realizes that THEY received the blessing of serving, and they know that for that one person, they were the image of Christ that day.

God takes our humble service and turns it into so much more when we do it with an open and generous heart.

We see this in the Old Testament, when a father named Jesse sent his youngest son David out to the battlefield to deliver lunch to his brothers.

1 Samuel 17

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

That lunch turned into something so much bigger. David heard the challenge of the great giant Goliath, and realized that God sent him on lunch delivery that day for a much bigger purpose. David listened, God supplied a sling and a stone, and Goliath was defeated.

So if you’re the guy who shows up once a week to see that the little yellow pencils are all sharpened and placed in the pew pencil holders, know that one day, because somebody had access to that pencil, they wrote down a prayer request. The Prayer Ministry received it and faithfully prayed over it, and that person was healed…because you put the pencil there. If you’re the gal who runs to the store every month to buy the King’s Hawaiian Bread and grape juice, lays out the plates, locates the clean white napkins, and fills the chalices, know that we all received the Body of Christ because of your behind-the-scenes act of service.

What little thing is God calling you to do? He can do great things from your little service. When you are obedient, God can use all things great and small to bring hope and healing to his people through your effort. So go and sharpen that pencil! God is writing his story with it.

It’s the Little Things by Kathy Weeks

Ordinary Life

Within a very brief period of time, things around the world have gone upside down. Australia is on fire, 180 people were shot down from the sky during a missile strike by Iran on Iraq, my own denomination is moving forward toward an historic and inevitable split, Puerto Rico suffered damaging earthquakes, and our government is in turmoil. We can hardly wake up in the morning without yet another unthinkable world situation coming out that seems to blow up the last one that we haven’t had time to assimilate. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up. I am beginning to think that Chicken Little was right; the sky indeed, is falling.

I hope that you all know that when such widespread disaster strikes, we can read scripture, pray, find opportunities to actively respond in tangible ways, and be obedient to the place God is calling us into in the midst of the storm. Without a doubt, one place we are NOT called to be is on the negative side of all these issues as explored through social media. Nothing EVER gets worked out there. No good comes from pot-stirring, endless speculation, name-calling, and spreading misinformation. There are so many better ways to respond. Here is just one:

Romans 12 The Message (MSG)

Place Your Life Before God

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

What would happen if we all took our ordinary lives and placed them before God as an offering? What would it look like if we eschewed the social media culture that we fit into without thinking, and instead fixed our attention on God? Are we too well-adjusted to this culture of hate-spewing and fact-mangling that we don’t even seek the truth?

If we took our everyday life and laid it before God each morning, do you think God would say, “Thanks for that! Now feel free to spend two and a half hours today (the current average daily social media use) of this precious time bashing one another on social media.” I don’t think so. I think he would encourage us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, comfort the lonely, bring water to the thirsty, and walk the shelter dogs. OK, I added that last part, but you get the gist.

In the midst of all of this recent, tremendously disconcerting strife, choose a better path. Lay your life before God and do something CONSTRUCTIVE and positive, and embrace what God is doing for you.

He is ready to change you from the inside out, and he wants something from you. Can you respond to him?

When we bring all that we are and all that we have and give it to God, we embrace all that he has given us and live our lives in the manner he desires from us. It is then that we are walking in the will and the way of the Lord.

So here’s a thought. Stay off social media for 24 hours. Take that two and a half hours and do something positive with it. Then see how you feel about the world around you.

Time spent in the silence of God’s presence is always time well spent. May you find peace, hope, and contentment there.

Finding God in the Quiet by Becca Ziegler

Worry Warriors

Did you know that over 40 million people a year struggle with some type of anxiety disorder? From Generalized Anxiety Disorder to PTSD, there are many types of anxiety disorders, and it is the most common mental illness. And for the most part, it is highly treatable.

While most of us probably don’t fit in to an Anxiety Disorder category, it can be said of all of us that we worry. And some of us worry too much. Worrying is both a symptom and a catalyst for anxiety, and can absolutely overwhelm you to the point of paralysis. When we worry, our joy is stolen, our peace is non-existent, and our well-being suffers, along with those around us.

The root cause of much of our anxious worrying is fear. When we are afraid of something, we turn that fear into negative thoughts and run through multiple scenarios of what could go wrong. And there are so many things that we fear!

Rejection

Failure

Abandonment

Exposure

Being manipulated

Losing someone or something precious

Losing control

Accidents

Not getting things finished

Being hurt in a realationship

And on, and on, and on.


Did you know that God does not give us fear? Nope. Fear is not from God. We manage that all on our own.

2 Timothy 17 (Modern English Version)

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control.

I think a clue for how to battle worry is found in what God DOES give us. Instead of fear, he gives us power. His power is available to us to help us in our problem-solving. Instead of fear, he gives us love, the strongest emotion a human can give or receive. There is strength for the battle in love. And perhaps most importantly, he gives us self-control, so that when worrying begins to overtake us, we can clang shut that nonsense and focus on things that are going right and the many places we have been blessed.

Power, love, and self-control. Next time you find yourself starting to worry, remember that you have these weapons in your battle bag. You are a worry warrior.

Fear Not, for God is With You. Photo by Michelle Robertson

Oy VEY

Sometimes I wonder how in the world God puts up with us. I mean, really! The nonsense of humanity is mind-blowing. Our stubborn rejection of his power, our steadfast belief in our own self-reliance, and our ability to see a MIRACLE and then walk away complaining is legendary. It’s a good thing God is God and I am not, ‘cause I would have smote us long ago.

Legendary among the many examples of this comes from a time when God had delivered his people from slavery and death and was leading them through the Red Sea toward the Promised Land. After God brought the plagues, resulting in Pharaoh’s decision to release them, and then delivered the incredible miracle of an entire sea parting so that they could walk along the bottom, what did the people do? Complained. Whined. Questioned what was right before their eyes. In other words, they were human.

When Pharaoh saw the ease with which they crossed through the parted waters, he realized that he had just lost a lot of free labor, so he led his army after them in one last ditch effort to return them to Egypt. When the Israelites turned and saw them in pursuit, they freaked out. Immediately they assaulted Moses with accusations and anger.

Exodus 14 (The Common English Bible)

10 As Pharaoh drew closer, the Israelites looked back and saw the Egyptians marching toward them. The Israelites were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt like this? 12 Didn’t we tell you the same thing in Egypt? ‘Leave us alone! Let us work for the Egyptians!’ It would have been better for us to work for the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”

I confess that I have done my share of ungrateful whining in my life, but few of us can top their response. So you saved us for THIS? Now we are about be overcome in the middle of your miracle? What kind of miracle is that? What, there weren’t enough graves in Egypt, so we get to drown here?? Somebody take me back to Egypt where I can be an abused slave again!!!

(As a side note, sometimes pastors identify a particular group or committee in a church as the “Back to Egypt Gang.” Don’t be one of those.)

But look how Moses responds:

Exodus 14

13 But Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand your ground, and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never ever see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you. You just keep still.”

In other translations, the final sentence is “You just keep quiet.” And of course The Message nails it:

God will fight the battle for you.
    And you? You keep your mouths shut!”

The lesson we want to glean here is that in the face of our failings, God continues to be faithful and fight the battles for us. He stands between us and incoming armies, rising sea waters, sure and certain disaster, and is there every time we need a rescue.

What is our job? To stand our ground. To watch him work. To trust in his fight and his might. To stay still. And to keep our mouths shut when the urge to whine and complain overcomes us.

Where is God calling you to trust him in your battle today? Do you need a rescue? If you (silently) observe your situation, can you see him quietly at work, fighting for you?

Don’t be afraid. The Lord who parts the sea and provides dry land to walk upon will part the way for you to walk out of your problem. Be still, and know that he is God.

Sunlight Parting the Sea by Michelle Robertson

Stop, Sun

Ever wish you could stop time? As in, literally snap your fingers or push a button and have time stand still? Watching your baby daughter grow up right before your eyes, attending a family reunion knowing you won’t see each other for another year and wondering who will be gone then, starting your last semester of college, waking up to the first day of vacation…there are a lot of examples of situations when we might wish we could stop time and just linger for awhile.

Our hurried lives often leave us wishing we had such power. If only I could stop time, I just might get all these things on my “to do” list accomplished. If only I could just slow down the day, I could cram in all the things that I have over-committed to. If only the sun would stay up a little longer, I could meet everyone’s demands for my time and attention.

Did you know that there was a time in the Old Testament when someone actually asked God to stop time…and he did?

Joshua 10 (The Message)

12-13 The day God gave the Amorites up to Israel, Joshua spoke to God, with all Israel listening:

“Stop, Sun, over Gibeon;
Halt, Moon, over Aijalon Valley.”

And Sun stopped,
Moon stood stock still
Until he defeated his enemies.

13-14 (You can find this written in the Book of Jashar.) The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day. There’s never been a day like that before or since—God took orders from a human voice! Truly, God fought for Israel

The battle for Gibeon was set to end at sundown. Joshua’s military forces did not have night vision goggles, high beams, or even flashlights. In order to defeat the five kings of the Amorites, he needed more time, so he prayed that God would give him that. God heard his prayer and prevented the sun from setting until Joshua had finished his battle.

What battle are you in today that is suffering from your hectic, over-rushed life? Where has your hurry turned into debilitating worry, preventing you from relaxing into a moment and being present in the present? Hurry-worry is soul crushing. Are there things in your over-committed life that can be shed so that you can live in real time without so much stress?

Sun, stand still. Moon, stay put. We call on God to give us the tools that enable us to slow our frantic pace and attend to the meaningful priorities that will bring us closer to him, closer to one another, and closer to peace. This means allowing God to set priorities according to his will, and being willing to LET GO of anything that doesn’t fall into his prioritizing. Are you ready for that?

What do you need to do today to make that happen? Don’t let the sun go down before you do it.

Still Moon by Becca Ziegler

What, Me Worry?

Over the holidays I spotted a holiday edition of MAD Magazine. I was standing in the grocery store checkout line and there he was, gap-toothed Alfred E. Newman, grinning up at me. MAD Magazine is the iconic snark-fest, anti-establishment publication from the 70’s that was the delight of every sarcastic kid in my South Jersey neighborhood. Somebody would score a copy and it would be passed around like a precious loaf of homemade rye on a Bronx street corner. You would feast on every word and graphic until it was somebody else’s turn and you had to reluctantly give it over. If you were the lucky one to be at the end of the breadline, you got to savor it for weeks. I think (unfortunately) that a lot of my humor was formed in that savoring. I’m kind of proud and ashamed at the same time.

Alfred E. Newman was the de facto mascot, and he answered every satirical cultural problem with “What, me worry?” Everything was met with that response: the nuclear arms race, Watergate, the Vietnam War (Lordy, I am dating myself here)…no matter what was wrong, his response was the same. What, me worry?

Oh, how I long to have that attitude. Wouldn’t you like to be Alfred E. Newman for just one day and say back to every problem, “YOU CAN’T WORRY ME.” Instead, I think we actually go about our day looking for things to worry about. We succumb to a highly contagious disease known as what-if-itis and just what-if ourselves to death.

Meanwhile, God says to us, “What, you worry?”

Joshua 1 (New International Version)

”Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

This incredible passage is God’s response to Joshua upon the death of Moses. MOSES. ‘Young Joshua, I want you to continue Moses’ work and lead the people into the promised land. There will be rivers to cross, Hittites to battle, hunger to address, and the people you are leading are not particularly known for their compliance and cooperation, not to mention that you are replacing MOSES, but you go, young Joshua! Take my people into a foreign land.‘

And we think we’ve got trouble!

God’s word to Joshua is the same to us today. Take another look at that problem you are worried about, and remember that God is telling you to not be afraid. He encourages you to not be discouraged. His COMMAND is to be strong and courageous. How can God make such an outrageous request of us as we stand here with our knees knocking? Because he promises to be with us wherever we go.

Wherever you go. The operating room, the divorce court, the psych ward, the funeral home, the test room, the angry conversation, the teenager’s bedroom…God is with you. Be strong. Be courageous. You are not alone.

What, you worry??

Look at the birds in the air. They neither sow nor reap, yet God provides for them. Who among you can add one single hour to your life by worrying?
Photo by Michelle Robertson

Having Epiphanies

Ever have an epiphany? Like, a really, really good one? I recall having an epiphany once about a toxic relationship I was in. For the longest time I had been blinded to the reality of it, following along and taking the negativity toward me as “personality-driven.” Every time something was said that made me wince, I wrote it off to the other person’s stress/having a bad day/quirky humor/maybe I heard it wrong. But I was hearing it right, and when the epiphany finally came that this relationship was causing me harm, I had to begin the painful process of extricating myself from the friendship.

An epiphany happens when we finally see the light. The word harkens back to the time in scripture when people literally saw the light, a star hanging over Bethlehem that lit the way to the manger and thus lit the way to the salvation of the world.

Matthew 2 (New King James Version)

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

The star led them to Jesus, but an epiphany warned them to stay away from Herod. An Epiphany epiphany.

The word epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation. We celebrate the day of Epiphany on January 6th as the final day of the twelve days of Christmas. Many people keep their decorations and lights up until this day to commemorate the Light of the World being made manifest on earth.

In all senses of the word, epiphanies are about the breaking of darkness by the sudden intrusion of light-power. That is what happens every time God appears. Yet in the sense that God is always there, perhaps it is more accurate to say that it happens every time we finally are ready to see the light.

The irony of the Epiphany is that the pagan astrologers saw what the religious scholars refused to see. Trapped in their ritual, expectation, scripture memorization, and endless arguments about doctrine, they missed the entire event, while the star-gazers got to see the Messiah.

Take a look around you. What is God trying to show you? Where is he shining a light on something in your life and yelling, “Pay attention to this!”

Epiphanies happen every day. God breaks into darkness every day. God sheds new light on bad situations every day.

Open your eyes, and behold.

The Hiltons’ Epiphany star.

Still Waters

You’ve probably noticed that for the most part, I default to The Message when selecting a Bible translation for my devotionals. I read several translations before I select one, looking for the one that is the most readable and easiest to understand. That often brings me to The Message. Eugene Peterson spent years with his ear pressed to the dialect of today as he transcribed the ancient words of yesterday. It always seems to speak directly into a situation. I was sad when I learned of his passing just over a year ago. I resonate with his lifelong desire to make the scriptures accessible to everyone. On a daily basis.

As much as I adore The Message, the one place where I steer away from it is the Psalms. Call me old school, but there is nothing that satisfies my need for rhythmic poetry better than the King James Version or the New King James Version. With the New King James Version, the fluidity is maintained while all the eths are dropped and the thees and thines are changed to you and yours. Thus “He leadeth me beside still waters” becomes “he leads me beside still waters,” and “For thou art with me” becomes “for you are with me.” Same rhythm, updated words.

Hey, imagine if there was a New King James New Jersey Version! The thees and thines would be youze and youze guyz. But I digress.

I took a run in my neighborhood a few weeks ago and ended up at the marina that overlooks the sound. It was one of those mornings where the water was impossibly still. I could see the reflection of the sun mirrored perfectly in the glassy surface. Naturally, I thought of Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 (New King James)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Psalm 23 is a song about God’s steadfast protection in our lives. It sings about God’s promise to lead us in righteous paths. It reminds us that he accompanies us on every journey…even into death. We learn that he sits beside us when we face our enemies.

And he leads us to the still waters.

I think this is a reminder today that if you find yourself in turbulent waters, God did not bring you there. Thankfully, he is IN the storm with you, but he doesn’t lead you into tsunamis. No, we do a pretty good job of finding our way into rough seas all by ourselves. God’s desire is to lead you out of your mess and into the still waters, where peace is found.

Ask yourself this: in the chaos of your situation, in the disruption of your circumstance, were you following God, or did you get there on your own? Is he trying to lead you out of a destructive habit, a dangerous lifestyle, or a demoralizing relationship into a better place?

Look around. God will lead you out. Have faith and be courageous. If you follow where he leads, he will restore your soul in green pastures, beside the still waters. You just have to get up and walk.

Still Waters in Colington Harbour

20/20 Vision

According to the American Optometric Association, 20/20 vision is defined as:

20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. If you have 20/100 vision, it means that you must be as close as 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet.

Today we begin a new year. A decade has closed, a year has been added, and a new beginning is offered. Looking back at the year just ended, what do you see? Joy, regret, growth, retreat, inertia, advancement…what did the last 12 months bring into your life?

Now looking at the next 12 months, what do you HOPE to see? And no matter what those hopes are, do you see God being active in your year? Does your vision for your life match HIS vision for your life?

One of my favorite scriptures on vision comes from Isaiah, Chapter 6:

Isaiah 6

6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 

Here is the quick take-away: King Uzziah was a great and powerful king. Isaiah served as his temple priest. If you look closely at the first sentence, you’ll notice that Isaiah says, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I SAW the Lord.” Kinda’ makes you wonder if the charismatic and powerful earthly king was a distraction. It took his death for Isaiah to see the Lord, who obviously was there all the time. Could it be?

In a smaller sense, we are all guilty of putting things on the throne that distract us from seeing the Lord. Indulgences of every kind, gossip-spinning, hours of Netflix, too much screen time, grudge-holding, over-indulging our children, vanity, laziness…fill in your own blank.

2020 is an opportunity to capture God’s 20/20 vision for your life. We get a do-over.

What earthly “king” is keeping you from God’s vision for your life?

What have you put on the throne in place of God?

What are you worshipping that has become a replacement for God?

Why are you so distracted?

When we clear out all the junk, vision becomes clarified. When we sweep away the debris of our past, we can capture God’s vision for our future. Putting God back on the throne of our hearts will enable us to enter the new year with hope, peace, joy, and love.

May 2020 bring us 20/20.

A New Year Dawns by Michelle Robertson

Turning the Corner

I live on an island off an island off an island. My commute to work requires me to travel over two bridges and drive on an incredibly curvy road for three miles. At one point the road curved around a small Methodist church that was large enough to block your view as you drove around it, causing several accidents. The DOT finally came along and straightened out the road after centuries of curviness. As we traverse Colington Road, we all have to be alert to what is just around the corner. It might be a political sign, a muddy rut, or even a chicken. Turning each corner is a challenge of staying alert.

As we say goodbye to an old year and welcome a new one, we have an opportunity to “turn the corner,” offering us a time to reflect on the trajectory we’ve been on and possibly change direction. It is not uncommon to see people back in the gym, (regular gym-goers hate January with its crowded classes and busy weight rooms!) starting new diets, pledging to be more thoughtful and intentional, and otherwise making changes that promise to turn the corner on some aspect of their lives that needs fixing.

You know, Jesus was all about the turning-the-corner-life. God sent him to get us out of the muddy rut humanity was in, and offers us a way out through belief in him:

Acts 3 (The Message)

19-23 “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.

For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven until everything is restored to order again just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old, said it would be. Moses, for instance, said, ‘Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from the people.’

The act of turning toward God and having him wipe away your sins results in God pouring out showers of blessing to REFRESH you. In all the ways we will seek a refreshing this new year, this soul-refreshing is the most significant. And we need to be alert to what is just around the corner. If we meet heartache, illness, betrayal, despair, or even death there, we had better be prepared with God at our side.

Want to lose weight? Take off the heavy burden of sin. Want to get fit? Exercise your belief. Want to be more intentional and thoughtful? Immerse yourself in scripture. Ready to turn the corner? Give your new year over to God and see what HE will do with it.

The showers of blessing that come from turning toward God are peace, hope, joy, and contentment. Wouldn’t that make for a wonderful 2020?

Colington UMC on curvy Colington Road