Don’t Pet the Shark

One of the best things that happens in July is the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, where every program is devoted to sharks. Shark movies, shark documentaries, shows that explore how sharks react in certain situations, (and the divers demonstrate each one with live sharks….anything for ratings!) shark commercials, shark talk shows…it’s a sharkapalooza.

This year the Outer Banks was treated to a visit by the Shark Week Blimp flying overhead. Just in case you weren’t concerned enough about sharks in the water, now we have one in the sky!

I watched a show where a diver demonstrated where you can touch a shark and where you can’t. (Ummmm….just don’t touch the shark??) Our fascination with sharks fuels this entire industry. Shark attacks are on the rise. Sharks are not our natural predators, but we are increasingly getting into their habitats with disregard to our safety.

Here are a few tips from Shark Week:

If you fall off your paddle board near a shark, don’t thrash around. Stay very still (because that would feel so natural) and ease your way back on the board. Be cool. Betsy’s pro tip: to be even smarter: don’t paddle board in shark-infested water.

Don’t bring your iphone or iWatch into the water. Your electronics attract the sharks and they will approach you to ask to make a phone call or have a selfie taken with you. Betsy’s pro tip: just don’t bring your electronics in the the water, DUH.

If you encounter a shark in the wild, don’t reach out and touch it. If it comes for you anyway, touch it on the top of the snout and gently redirect it. But don’t touch it under the nose, or he will automatically open his jaws and eat you. Betsy’s pro tip: don’t pet the sharks.

Sharks have excellent hearing, but they don’t like heavy metal bands or the sound of a camera flash going off. This was scientifically proven this week. One last pro tip: next time you go surfing, invite Iron Maiden along.

Follow me for more pro tips!

Now while there are no stories in the Bible involving sharks, there is a pretty cool story about a whale and a man named Jonah. Jonah was an Israelite whom God had called to be a prophet. Jonah didn’t want to be a prophet, so he went on a sea cruise instead. God then raised a great storm to get Jonah’s attention. The sailors, realizing that Jonah’s disobedience had caused the storm, threw him overboard to try and save their ship. He was swallowed by a whale and lived for three days inside the creature, after which the fish “vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” Thankful that his life had been spared, Jonah took up his prophetic mission:

Jonah 3 New International Version (NIV)

Jonah Goes to Nineveh

3 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

So here are three lessons from Jonah:

You can run from God, but you can’t hide.

God’s call may be hard, but it may also save lives (including your own).

God is a God of second chances.

Think about that today. Where is God calling you to do something difficult? Are you running? Or maybe you are in a dark fish-belly of disobedience and you’re sick and tired of the smell. Do you need a do-over? We serve a God of second chances. You get to come out and try again, this time with the power of the Holy Spirit helping you to make it.

God’s message to us today is that he is bigger than the shark, bigger than the whale, and bigger than anything this world has thrown at us to keep us down. He is a 24/7 God who is actively working to bring us to wholeness through joyful obedience and second chances.

Rise up, people. Our deliverer is here.

Look UP! By Karen Bacon

Raining Bread

Do you know someone who is quick to complain about EVERYTHING? People like that can just suck the joy right out of you. Nothing is ever good enough. They’ve had better somewhere else. The food was not hot/cold/fast enough. The movie didn’t speak to me. The sermon was too long/short/dry/humorous. (Some people think you shouldn’t laugh in church. Thank goodness none of them worship in my church!)

Let’s face it. As a people, we can be very hard to please.

God suffered this negative nelly reaction when he rescued the ungrateful Israelites from slavery and hardship in Egypt. After parting the Red Sea so that they could escape to the Promised Land, God got an earful about how they would have rather died in Egypt, where at least their oppressors gave them the occasional sandwich. Their hunger in the desert made them “hangry,” and the complaining began as soon as they arrived. How quickly they forgot their miraculous deliverance!

At first, they took it out on Moses and Aaron. Moses quickly reminded them who it was that had delivered them, and who will continue to provide for them:

Exodus 16 (Common English Bible)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.”

God had devised a plan to not only feed them, but to teach them to listen to his commands and trust that he would provide. By instructing them to gather only enough bread for one day at a time, they would be trained to realize that they could count on God to “give us this day our daily bread.”

We need that kind of instruction, too. We so often want to be self-reliant. God wants us to be God-reliant.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

As if on cue, the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud. Maybe the people could see it more clearly because they were looking up instead of being cast down and focusing on all their troubles. Too much navel-gazing isn’t healthy for anyone.

11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

The scripture calls into question our own response to God. When things go wrong, do we remember the many times he has delivered us from trouble? Or do we focus on the new problem that has raised its ugly head?

Do you trust God to deliver you?

Manna comes in many ways. God even provided a double portion on the sixth day so that they could rest on the sabbath. By looking for his manna in unexpected places, we open ourselves to God’s initiative in our situation. Look around you. Look UP. The Bread of Life is present in every situation, no matter how deep your troubles are.

Then you will know that he is the Lord your God.

The Lord Appeared in a Cloud by Michelle Robertson

The Truth Hurts

Have you ever been called out for something you did wrong? Has anyone confronted you with the truth about your actions and caused you to feel shame and remorse? I am sure that we have all had that moment. I know I have. When we are held accountable for our sins, especially when this accountability comes from a friend, it is a very painful way to have to own up to our bad behavior. The truth hurts.

Our scripture today comes from 2 Samuel, when King David had Uriah the Hittite sent to the front line of battle in order for him to be killed. David seduced and impregnated Uriah’s wife, and after a failed attempt to cover up his misdeed, he resorted to plotting murder against Uriah. David then took Uriah’s wife for his own. He thought he had gotten away with it.

Then he got caught by his good friend Nathan:

2 Samuel (The Message)

12 1-3 But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.

“One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”

5-6 David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”

How quickly David screams for accountability! Yet he doth protest too much. It is interesting to see how easily David could spot the splinter in the traveler’s eye whilst having to look around the ginormous log that was lodged in his own. It is a common thing for guilty people to quickly deflect responsibility to others and point a finger away from their own behavior.

7-12 “You’re the man!” said Nathan.

You are the man. You are the guilty one, David, and God will surely deal with you in his own way. In the end, the truth always comes out, and David indeed was punished.

We are in the midst of the investigation of the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6th here in America Two Capitol police officers and two Metropolitan police officers gave their testimonies yesterday. These brave men in blue put their bodies on the line to protect and serve the men and women working in the Capitol building that day. Without a thought to their own safety, they did their job of protecting people against a violent insurrection.

Listen closely to their testimonies. Watch the evidence of their body cameras. It will break your heart. The truth of what they went through is so painful, it will make you want to turn away. Don’t turn away. They deserve our respect and our prayers for the continuing healing of their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Those who raised fists, used tasers, destroyed property, deployed tear gas and bear spray, bashed bones with baseball bats, flag poles, and pieces of furniture, etc. must be held accountable. Those who yelled, “Kill him with his own gun” must be held accountable. Those who facilitated this horrific event must be held accountable.

The truth is often hard to hear and harder to see. May God grant us clarity as we discover the uncomfortable truths. And God bless those officers who took the brunt for many people who remain ungrateful.

May the truth set them, and us, free.

The Truth Will Set Us Free by Michelle Robertson

Olympians

Did you know that for the first time ever, rock climbing is an Olympic sport? It is called Sport Climbing, and there are three different types of competition. Speed pits two climbers in a head-to-head race, climbing a 15m wall. Bouldering puts the climber on a 4.5m wall, climbing over fixed routes in a specified amount of time. Lead is where climbers try to go as high as possible on a 15m wall as fast as they can before the whistle blows. Who knew?

NPR aired a program yesterday where they interviewed a few pioneers of sport climbing. At the end of the show, the interviewer asked about finger strength. I was intrigued about this as well. I can’t open a pickle jar, so there is no way I would have the strength and dexterity to hang from a cliff by my fingers. It turns out that you can develop strong hands and fingers by exercising them in specific ways. They have even created “finger boards” to do this. I wonder if that means that piano players are a step ahead of the rest of us.

As with all Olympic sports, being an Olympic sport climber is a combination of God-given natural ability, strength training, perseverance, and determination.

In our passage from Ephesians today, Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus about their own training regimen. They are in the Growing-in-Christ Olympics. Paul encourages them to be disciplined in this sport and to be steady, consistent, and unified:

Ephesians 4 (The Message)

1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Obviously in Paul’s mind, this is a team sport. He instructs them to walk….better yet, run!…on the course that God has laid out for them. Running on this track will take them closer to the God they love. We can imagine them in a relay race, where instead of handing off a baton, they hand off acts of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

7-13 But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts.

Yet even as a team, this calling to be the body of Christ together is fortified by the fact that each participant has a different strength and spiritual gift. All of these individual spiritual gifts combine to make us stronger in our Oneness…as long as each one does their part. It is like the Olympic Parade of Nations. Each country walks behind their flag, with everyone wearing the same uniform as they represent different sports. So, too, is the church called to stand behind one Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Like synchronized swimmers, we are called to move rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in our response to God. Sometimes that means giving way. Sometimes that means compromising. Sometimes that means putting the needs of the many before your own.

That is the church.

14-16 No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are easy prey for predators. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

In typical Paul fashion, he tells us to GROW UP. He wants us to know the whole truth and tell it IN LOVE.

I believe that our team is strengthened every time we search the scriptures and discern God’s will. I believe our disciplined training of worship, prayer, giving, meditation, self-examination, service, discernment, study…in other words, all of the spiritual disciplines…will draw us closer to God and to one another.

You are an Olympian, too. Where is God calling you to train harder?

Keep on Climbing by Karen Warlitner

Preparation is Key

I faced a dilemma a few weeks ago. It was a crazy-busy Sunday in the height of the summer season on the Outer Banks. A nation-wide worker shortage is adversely affecting the restaurant business, and wait times of up to two and a half hours for a table are not unheard of, especially for Sunday brunch. We were blessed to have our District Superintendent visit us for worship, but that left us with a problem of where to take him for lunch afterward. Lo and behold, one of my favorite restaurant offers reservations. Bliss!

Can you imagine the incredible work and preparation that goes into running a restaurant? From ordering supplies, hiring and scheduling workers, designing menus, ensuring that equipment and ingredients are prepared and ready to go everyday….it boggles the mind.

Now think about what happens when a restaurant, a business, a surgery, a classroom, or even a short trip happens without proper planning. It can spell disaster in a hurry.

When God sent out those who would be prophets, he was preparing the people for things to come. God was hoping to guarantee their success by being specific with the words the prophets were to proclaim on his behalf. It must have been a terrible calling, especially for the Old Testament prophets who were instructed to warn their people of the coming wrath and judgment.

But when John the Baptistizer was called to be a prophet, his message was “repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” He was to serve as a preparer of the way, making things ready for Jesus to come. Jesus himself affirmed John’s ministry:

Luke 7:24-35 (Common English Bible)

24 After John’s messengers were gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind?25 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who dress in fashionable clothes and live in luxury are in royal palaces.26 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 He is the one of whom it’s written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.

Everything takes preparation, even a good messiahship. John was the “back of house” fellow who labored in the kitchen, chopping and prepping the mis en place so that when the real deal came, the table had already been set.

28 I tell you that no greater human being has ever been born than John. Yet whoever is least in God’s kingdom is greater than he.”29 Everyone who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and legal experts rejected God’s will for themselves because they hadn’t been baptized by John.

Those who were humble and received John’s baptism were prepared for a place in the kingdom that would be even higher than his. But the arrogant, prideful ones who rejected John’s baptism would pay the price for their haughtiness. There are consequences for rejecting God.

Are you prepared? Do you know where you will spend eternity? Are you prepared to answer for your life? Are you ready to teach the next generation about the kingdom of God?

Is it time to repent?

Make ready, for the day of the Lord is at hand.

Prepare the Way by Kathy Schumacher

As We Forgive

Ephesians 4:32 (Common English Bible)

32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32)

John Wesley understood the need for forgiveness from both a giving and receiving perspective. His personal need for God to forgive him was a theme in much of his preaching. He also understood that God gives us strength to forgive others. Considering how many churches he had been thrown out of in his ministry, including one that hung him in effigy(!), Wesley was no stranger to being hurt.

In 1752, Wesley wrote this in his journal:

“I cannot but stand amazed at the goodness of God. Others are most assaulted on the weak side of their soul; but with me it is quite otherwise; if I have any strength at all (and I have none but what I have received), it is in forgiving injuries; and on this very side am I assaulted more frequently than on any other. Yet leave me not here one hour to myself, or I shall betray myself and Thee![1]

Wesley was right in saying that he better not be left alone when it came to offering forgiveness for an offense. He knew that in his own strength, he wouldn’t last an hour. Neither would we.

Let’s talk for a moment about the spiritual discipline of forgiveness. Forgiveness means to cease to feel resentment against an offender; to pardon. It might surprise you to think of forgiveness as a spiritual discipline since it doesn’t make the usual list. But giving and receiving forgiveness is very necessary for our spiritual growth, even if it is one of the hardest disciplines to practice.

In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us.” God desires that we not only seek forgiveness for ourselves, but offer it to others with the strength that comes through the Holy Spirit.

When we receive God’s forgiveness, we are absolved of our sin and washed “whiter than snow.” When we offer forgiveness, we remove obstacles to relationships, adjust our course, rekindle our joy, and are released from the past. As with all spiritual disciplines, forgiveness is good for the soul. 

So today I invite you to consider ways to practice forgiveness. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Send a text. Write an offense on a slip of paper and burn it, or leave it at the altar when you receive communion.

Do these things, and God will set you free.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger by Jamie Mathis


[1]John Wesley, The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M. (New York: Carlton and Phillips. 1855), page 543.

Feeding the Need

Crowdsourcing is a way of outsourcing a task or obtaining information for a project by using the input of a large group of people, typically via the internet. Social media, smartphone apps, and electronic surveys are just some of the means by which interested parties can source work or gather information. People are invited to collectively contribute ideas, time, expertise, or funds to a common goal. For example, traffic tracking apps such as Waze use driver/rider generated reports to communicate accidents, objects in the road, construction, and police on your journey. Uber pairs drivers with people who need a ride, an example of crowdsourced transportation. We use these types of crowd sourcing applications to “feed the need” of others.

A few years ago, Lays Potato Chips really maximized the concept of crowdsourcing in its campaign “Do Us a Flavor,” where they asked people to submit ideas for potato chip flavors. The public was invited to vote on the flavors they would like to try. The top four submissions became actual products. So new flavors such as Crispy Taco, Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle, and Beer Cheese have been crowdsourced from inception to having the final selection available at your local Publix. I don’t know who came up with the idea of Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle potato chips, but I want some!

At the heart of crowdsourcing is the notion of people coming together to help each other. I once traveled to Florida using Waze and saved close to two hours in traffic. Others ahead of me reported a crash that had shut down the highway, and Waze suggested a faster route.

Crowdsourcing existed in the early church, but of course they didn’t call it that. Martin Luther was an original crowd-sourcer. His frustrations with the institutional Church led him to write his “Ninety-Five Theses: A Disputation on the Power of Indulgences” and nail them on the door of the church in Wittenberg, which was located in the heart of the city on the public square. People read it, printed it, translated it, and shared its ideas with others throughout Germany and the rest of Europe, and thus the Reformation began.

But Jesus, of course was THE original crowd SOURCE. He spent a good deal of his ministry among the crowds, finding ways to feed their needs. In the wonderful miracle known as the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” we see him at his crowdsourcing best:

Matthew 14 (The Message)

Supper for Five Thousand

13-14 When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

15 Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”

16 But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”

17 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.

18-21 Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.

Did you notice how that went? The disciples were expecting Jesus to come up with the meal. Jesus told them to figure something out. They came up with five loaves and two fish, and lunch was served on the lawn. So Jesus sourced the miracle, and the crowd sourced the resource.

What resource are you holding onto that would be better shared with the crowd? Where can you offer your expertise, your ideas, or your opinions in a way that constructively benefits others? Where is God calling you to take the Good News out into the public square and re-form the people?

Whatever our resources may be, God calls us to break our loaves and fish out of our lunch pails and offer them to the world. And whenever you have served the least of these with whatever you have, you have served the Lord. And don’t forget to pick up the leftovers!

Crowd-Saving at the Lifeguard Competition by Karen Warlitner

Listen Up

According to research, babies are able to recognize the sound of their mothers’ voices by the third trimester of pregnancy.[1] It is a miracle of God’s design that our dependent infants are born knowing their mothers. Of course, by the time they approach their teenage years, they may not always listen! That, too, is part of normal development as they begin to explore independence.

Did you know that you were created with the same ability to hear and recognize God’s voice amidst all of the cacophonous noise that surrounds you? The pursuit of increasing our ability to follow God’s wisdom and direction for our lives is the spiritual discipline known as guidance.

Richard Foster writes, “Guidance is the most radical of the Disciplines because it goes to the heart of this matter of walking with God. Guidance means the glorious life of hearing God’s voice and obeying His word.” [2] When we practice this discipline, we develop a kind of ‘perfect pitch’ in our ability to hear what God is saying to us. Jesus reminded us that we are his sheep, and thus we recognize his voice:

John 10:27 (Common English Bible)

27 “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand.”

Sometimes God uses more than the self-authenticated voice of the Holy Spirit to gently lead us in our decision-making. Indeed, God also employs other means such as visions, dreams, signs, and even angels. It is not a cliché to say that you have received a sign from God! As you develop the spiritual discipline of guidance, God’s will for your life will become more and more apparent. Practicing guidance plays a significant role in seeking God’s wisdom.

When I was trying to discern my calling to ordained ministry, I listened very carefully for God’s voice through scripture, prayer, conversation with faith-filled friends, and other preachers. As I began to hear God’s direction through these many different microphones, I could not deny what God was saying to me. It was no longer a matter of just hearing, but also doing.

Practicing the spiritual discipline of guidance will bring us closer to God’s will and purpose for our lives. When you read scripture every day, ask God to guide you to respond according to his will for you.

Listen. Do you hear God speaking?

Listen by Kathy Schumacher

[1] https://babyschool.yale.edu/does-my-baby-recognize-me/

[2] Foster, Richard J., Richard Foster’s Study Guide for Celebration of Discipline. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978; p.68

Letters from Prison

Many years ago, I was involved in prison ministry at my local county jail for about five years. It began when a teenager in my church shot a friend in the chest while they were playing “Russian Roulette” with a loaded gun. The friend died. I began to visit the teenager several times a week, often having more access to him than his mother did. Once the guards realized that I was coming on a regular basis, they asked me if I would visit other inmates as well. Thus began a long and challenging time in my ministry. To be perfectly honest, I loved and hated every minute of it.

The inmates all wanted to write to me between visits. Letters from prison are a holy and sacred thing. Even in my closest relationships with these men, they never expressed themselves as openly in person as they did in their writings. Thoughts, hopes, fears, and utter defeat poured out with every pencil stroke, written on torn notebook pages. I saved many of these letters over the years to remind myself that when you are obedient to go where God sends you, the Holy Spirit will be made manifest there, in spite of your inadequacies.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he describes the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the family of God. Then he responses to all of the wonderful things God has done and is doing. Even though he is writing this from prison, his sense of awe and optimism spills out through his words. It makes us wonder if we would respond the same way. Think of a time when you were in a particularly bad situation. Did you fall on your knees in reverence and humility, praising God for everything he has done? Did you offer a song of praise in the midst of deep trouble? Too often we focus on our immediate problem and neglect to lift our eyes heavenward, as Paul does here:

Ephesians 3 (The Message)

14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

When all of your inner strength is tapped out, you can tap into God’s undeniable, indescribable, and inexhaustible power. We are invited to invite Christ in, and he will live in us as soon as we do. The Message rightly states that we will be able to take in the “extravagant dimensions” of Christ’s love, where we will explore the breadth, length, depth, and height of what it means to be the people of God.

As I stand on the beach and look out toward the bottomless sea, having no concept of its size, I can get a small glimpse of what Paul is saying. He says that you really can’t understand this….all you can do is just experience it. What a comfort it is to know that God is so much bigger than any burden that we bear!

20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

The mystery of the incarnate God-in-Christ becomes the mystery of the incarnate Holy Spirit-in-us. That God is willing to gently guide us in our thinking and our behavior is a miracle in and of itself. God-with-us becomes God-in-us….never pushing, but always leading.

This revelation is overwhelming. What can we say in response to such a gift?

This is when the church rises to its feet to sing the Doxology. All we can do is open our hands in amazement and offer harmonies of praise. In like manner, Paul concludes this chapter with a doxology of his own:

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

May we bring glory to God in everything we do. Oh, yes!

Glory to God by Michelle Robertson

There Is No God

Let’s talk about fools today. We often assume that when we call someone a fool, we are describing an intellectual incapacity. We think about foolishness as a lack of common sense, or making poor decisions. When a friend does something foolish, we respond with “Well, that was stupid!” Foolish behavior is seen as a function of the mind, and fools lack the wherewithal to “know better.” Fools are imprudent and silly.

In David’s time, however, the word fool was more a factor of heart than mind. Foolish behavior came from a place of morality, not intellect. Thus fools were the ones who were morally bankrupt evildoers, regardless of intelligence. Fools believed there is no God.

David makes it clear in Psalm 14 that he considers anyone who rejects God to be corrupt and perverse. He complains that there are few people who seek God, stating that everyone has gone astray. He draws a clear line between those who accept God for who he is and those who contend that there is no God:

Psalm 14 (New Revised Standard Version)

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.

You can almost feel David’s disdain for anyone who denies God. He is solidly in the camp of those who call upon the Lord for everything, and so he has no patience or respect for godless evildoers.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror,
    for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

Here is the application for modern day readers: those who call upon God will find a refuge of safety in that relationship. Knowing that God is real puts one in the camp of the righteous, where God resides. It is not only the smart choice, it is the only safe choice. God is our strength. God is our restoration. God is our deliverance.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Do you know someone who denies the existence of God? They, too, may make this assertion from a heart-perspective rather than a head-perspective. Ask questions. Have they been hurt by the church? Have they suffered at the hand of “religion?” Have they felt condemnation from those who know God?

Listening to the heart is much better than lecturing to the mind. When people see God in your actions as you offer unconditional love, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, they can see with their hearts that God is real.

You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. Go and preach the Gospel with your winsome ways, and only use words when absolutely necessary.

God is our Refuge by Michelle Robertson