Coffee Maker Grace

I am always happy when I remember to set up the coffee maker at bedtime. I program it to turn on so that the brew will be complete a few minutes before my wake-up alarm goes off. There is nothing better than waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee just a few minutes before the BEEP BEEP BEEP intrudes into the quiet of the morning. It is WONDERFUL to have coffee ready before you are even awake.

This, my friends, is surely what waking up in heaven will include. Coffee angels will be ready with large mugs of fresh brew as we wake up each day, except there will be no alarm clocks in heaven. Obviously, alarm clocks belong in Hell. Of that, I have no doubt.

The smell of fresh brewed coffee reaching into your subconscious as you are climbing up through the depths of sleep to the height of wakefulness is a practical example of a Wesleyan concept known as prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is just one type of grace, joining its well known sister and brother of sanctifying grace and justifying grace.

Prevenient grace describes the activity of God that comes before. It acknowledges that God is active in our situation well before we are aware of his presence. It points to God’s ability to woo us before we even know we need him. God initiates: we respond.

Titus 2 (The Message)

11-14 God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.

God’s readiness is understood as God going before us, to show us the way to salvation. By his prevenient grace, he offers us a way to a God-honoring life that frees us from the darkness. He woos us to a good, pure life that starts right now because he is ready. He draws us to himself while we are still stumbling around getting a shoe stuck in the muck and mire of sin. And there is nothing we can do to earn this: grace is God’s unmerited love and acceptance. Our job is just to respond.

How are you living out prevenient grace in your life? Can you cite examples of times and places where you became aware of God’s presence, and realized that he was there before you knew you needed him? Knowing that grace comes equally as an unwarranted gift to everyone, does this encourage you to be less judgmental of other people’s transgressions?

God woos us to his side every day. He goes before every trial, tribulation, and tragedy, and waits for us to acknowledge him. He is active in our lives at every moment: all we need to do is look for him, and we will find that he is already there.

Maybe it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

The Best Part of Waking Up. Photo courtesy of Midway UMC, Cumming, GA

I SAID dNO!

Nora Jean is one feisty chick. She comes by it honestly, as she is the progeny of a whole line of feisty chicks. Take her grandmothers, for instance. A super-energized nurse who raised three kids while her husband flew for the Navy, and then the airlines. The other grandmother is a super-energized chick pastor, who raised two kids while her husband flew for the Navy, and then the airlines. (That is not a typo. Both grandfathers are Navy/Airline pilots. Imagine the odds of THAT happening!)

And then there is her mother, the feistiest of the feisty-clan. SHE kicked cancer, danced in a 46-hour marathon 9 months after her last chemo, got two degrees, and is raising three kids while her husband flies for the Navy….oh Nora Jean, you are surrounded.

So it is absolutely no surprise that at age two, Nora J can express herself with great clarity. They took her and her less-feisty brothers to a restaurant called The T-Rex Cafe. T-Rex is a bigger-than-life venue of pre-historic trees and vines, loud animal noises, dark spaces, and oh, yes…a ginormous T-Rex and his friends. Nope, said Nora. Nope, nope, nope, and if you didn’t get my meaning, let my shrieking do the talkin’. So without even sitting down, they exited.

Oh, but wait! Nearby is the much gentler Rain Forest Cafe, with quiet waterfalls, monkey sounds, and lush foliage. So in they went, and out they came. The same dark, immersive environment was also not to Nora’s liking, and the volume of nonononononono was actually heard in the gift shop next door.

As her mother took her outside to see if a little explanation and cajoling might help, Nora took her mother’s face in her hands, looked her in the eye, and said, “I SAID dNO.”

Matthew 5 (The Message)

33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true.

Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

Let your yes be yes and your no be no, like a boss two-year-old!

It is interesting to see how The Message applies this to religious talk. How many times do you say to someone, “I will pray for you,” and then never do? Peterson calls that “religious lace.” In other words, we can see right through it. Worse, so can God.

I think there is a lot of smoke-screen-religious-speech happening right now. I would hazard a guess that there has always been a lot of it, if Jesus was addressing it over 2,000 years ago, calling it an issue that is “embedded deep in our traditions.“

We should strive for clear, accurate communication that is free of manipulative words that we use just to get our own way. Let us stick with the truth, and stop trying to making ourselves sound more religious with unnecessary embellishments. God calls us to mean what we say, and say what we mean.

Let your dNO be dNO.

My dNO means dNO.

Surf Fishing

Surf fishing is a very popular sport on the Outer Banks. Our entire coastline provides numerous spots that are perfect for this. Wherever you go on the beach, you are likely to run into a surf fisherman. I am a beach walker, so I know to carefully look for the sun’s reflection on their lines and walk under or behind them. It would be counterproductive to decapitate myself whilst trying to get in shape.

The beauty of surf fishing is that you can simply walk to your fishing spot. No boats, nets, piers, or docks required. Take off your shoes and cast your line! Of course the challenge is the surf itself. Negotiating the waves and the unknown depths of the water just beyond the break are part of the fun. More than once I have watched someone excitedly reeling in a fish while walking into the waves, only to hit the underwater drop-off and submerge up to their chest. By the way, the fish love it when that happens.

Surf fishing also requires a fair amount of “situational awareness,” especially as you cast. Always look around you, and especially behind you! Nobody wants to hook a sunbather in the eye. Or the bikini top.

Jesus knew a lot about fishing.

Mark 1 (The Message)

16-18 Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.

19-20 A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.

So, had you realized that surf fishing is in the Bible?? Simon and Andrew were net-fishing from the beach. James and John were in a boat. All were given the instruction to leave their work and follow Jesus. The new job would be to fish for people.

Fishing for people also requires a kind of “situational awareness.” How ready is this person to hear the Gospel? What is the best approach? What do they need…a testimony, or a sandwich? What would communicate God’s love best?

You are also called to people-fish. Dropping the net you are currently holding is the best way to approach this new task. How can God use your abilities, resources, and personality to spread a word of hope, acceptance, and love?

Jesus calls us to follow him. May we be like the disciples and drop what we’re doing, leave everything behind, and immediately respond. You never know what you’ll catch.

Sunrise Surf Fishermen by Michelle Robertson

Keeping Up Appearances

I am obsessed with a writer named Malcolm Gladwell. His recent book “Blink” is a fantastic study on how people make assessments based on first impressions, and how unconscious impressions can guide our thinking. The book is about “the power of thinking without thinking.”

In his book, he describes a time when the classical music world realized their system for auditioning musicians by having them play live before a judging panel was biased. While they thought that their assessment of the musician seated before them was fair, their first impression of that person was deeply informed by his or her appearance. As a result, most of the acclaimed symphony orchestras were made up of white men, which, by the way, was also the demographic of the judging panels.

So thirty years ago they started a practice of doing live auditions behind a screen, and something remarkable happened…the number of women in the top U.S. orchestras has increased fivefold. When factors like outward appearance and unconscious prejudice were removed, only pure ability was considered. Gladwell tells this story of one female French horn player: 

When Julie Landsman auditioned for the role of principal French horn at the Met, the screens had just gone up in the practice hall. At the time, there were no women in the brass section of the orchestra, because everyone “knew” that women could not play the horn as well as men. But Landsman came and sat down and played—and she played well. “I knew in my last round that I had won before they told me,” she says. “It was because of the way I performed the last piece. I held on to the last high C for a very long time, just to leave no doubt in their minds. And they started to laugh, because it was above and beyond the call of duty.” But when they declared her the winner and she stepped out from behind the screen, there was a gasp. It wasn’t just that she was a woman…. And it wasn’t just the bold high C, which was the kind of macho sound that they expected from a man only. It was because they knew her. Landsman had played for the Met as a substitute. Until they listened to her with just their ears, however, they had no idea she was so good.

The power of thinking without thinking is a natural and human thing. We all make instant assessments based on first impressions that inform how we will respond to someone. But that can be unfair.

Ever wonder if this is the way God sees us? I think not. God doesn’t take into account our outward facades, but instead looks directly into our hearts:

1 Samuel 16 (The Message)

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

I think part of our spiritual journey is to try to become more like the Lord and less like ourselves every day. To see people as God sees people takes a lot of intentional focus. No longer should we see the dirty homeless person, the office drunk, the struggling transgender teenager, the adulterer, the bully, but rather we should try to see them the way God sees them. We look at the outside: God looks into the heart. What HE sees there is his business. What we should see are the many children of God on every spectrum of life, worthy of God’s love…and ours.

So when you see someone today who is different, marginalized, angry, distant, etc. try to imagine what God sees, and treat them accordingly. After all, the face we put on every morning may not reflect who we are, either. Yet God loves us still.

So should we love one another.

Mirrored Sky by Wende Pritchard

Star Counter

Sometimes when my problems feel overwhelmingly big, I try to remember that there are much bigger things:

God’s love for me

God’s prevenient grace

God’s ability to carry my burden

God’s willingness to fix me

God’s creation around me

God’s warrior skills.

Living at the beach provides a constant reminder of how small we are. I stand at the edge of the ocean and watch its power. The waves follow one after the other, the sun sets, and the moon pulls the tide. I have nothing to do with that. Yet I live my life as though I am in control.

The ocean teaches me that it is a fool’s errand to think such things. The water moves on its own accord, set into motion by the God of creation. The beauty around me reminds me that every trial, every tragedy, every misstep, every betrayal, and every hardship we will ever know is smaller than the one who not only counts the stars, but KNOWS THEM BY NAME.

Psalm 147 (New King James Version)

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.

He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

What does that say to you today? If he knows the name of every star, surely he knows yours. And the name of your enemy. And the name of your battle. And the names of your family. Listen, he even knows your cat’s name.

If knowing the names of the stars matters to God, how much more do you matter to him? His understanding is infinite. He is mighty in power. In the smallness of our mess, God steps in and binds up wounds and heals the brokenhearted.

Whatever you’ve got today, know this: God’s got you. Whatever is defeating you, remember that God has already won your battle. Whatever is making you feel hopeless, turn to God, who created the universe and is your HOPE.

So sing praise in your darkness, and lift high the name of the Lord in your brokenness. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Photo courtesy of NASA/Hubble Space Telescope


Something from Nothing

Two of my favorite shows are Project Runway and Top Chef. Everyone who knows me is probably surprised by this, as I can’t sew, I can’t cook, and I am certainly no fashion maven. My style sense runs to “does this solid look OK with this solid?” I am pretty much a jeans-and-top girl except on Sunday, when I show up in the same old thing every week. Thank God for clergy robes.

But my fascination with these shows is that fact that every week, they all make something from nothing. On Top Chef, they are given a challenge and a pantry of ingredients and VOILA, gourmet food is produced. “Here is a can of SPAM and a bunch of fresh fennel. Your challenge is to create an amuse bouche for a team of Alaskan dog sledders. Don’t forget to make it packable, and GO!” Project Runway is even more amazing. “Create a red carpet look with unconventional materials found in a candy store. You have one day for this challenge.”

These programs are an homage to the creative spirit in all of us. Well, at least in all of them. I would have just sent the can of SPAM with a can opener to the dog sledders and called it a day. And eaten the candy. But I am FASCINATED by people who can make something from nothing. This ability is a true reflection of God’s creative power.

Genesis 1 (The Message)

 1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
        And light appeared.
    God saw that light was good
        and separated light from dark.
    God named the light Day,
        he named the dark Night.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day One.

From nothingness, God brought forth the universe. From the bottomless emptiness, light was born. In the inky blackness, animals and humans were created. It was a labor of love.

The reformer Martin Luther, once said, “God made the world out of nothing. It is only when we become nothing that God can make something out of us.” Something to ponder as we bask in the glory of God’s creation today.

What would God make of you, if you emptied yourself of ego, need, agendas, preoccupations, doubt….? How can you become nothing, so that you can become his everything? What do you need to lose so that you can be made into something useful for the Kingdom?

You are also a labor of his love. Let him make something from your nothingness.

Beauty from Nothingness by Wende Pritchard

A Pig’s Tale

A pastor’s job is never done. All day long we are about our Father’s work, laboring with him to save souls. Then we get in our cars to take our weary bodies home, still thinking about saving souls.

Then there was that one day when I got in my car and had the chance to save something else. A 300-pound pig.

I was driving home from my office on Kitty Hawk Road when the little lass in the picture darted across somebody’s front lawn and ran in the road directly in front of me. I made a U-turn, parked in someone’s driveway, and set about chasing her. She had a good head start, but I am a less-than-300-pound runner, so I caught up. She turned to look at me as though to assess what kind of game we were playing, and suddenly I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I would do if I actually caught her. All I wanted was to keep her from getting hit on our busy road.

At that point I was only a block away from the Kitty Hawk Police Department. Having been raised to trust and respect the men and women in blue, I immediately set out to get my new friend over to the police station. Listen, it was a good plan…even their cars say they “protect and serve.” I was sure that in Kitty Hawk, that is not limited to people.

So I began to walk toward the station, calling, “Here, Piggy Piggy!” For those of you laughing, what exactly would YOU have said?? After all, Piggy and I had not been formally introduced.

At first she just stared at me. I think she liked the chase better. But after rooting around a little more in somebody’s yard, she began walking my way. (Do you think she maybe recognized the call of a savior?) I had to stop traffic when I needed to get her to cross the road (next morning‘s Sentinel headline: Why Did Piggy Cross the Road? To Get to the Police Station) and she trotted right over to my side.

I piggy-piggied her right up to the front door of the station, and walked in the front lobby and told the very startled receptionist, “I’m here to report a rogue pig.”

“Excuse me, M’am, a rogue WHAT? Oh….well, that’s just Caroline. She gets out all the time.”

She called an officer up from the back and he took one look at the pig and said, “Caroline, did you take yourself out for a walk again? Come on, let’s get you home.” And the Caroline and the officer trotted off to a property behind the police station where Caroline was safely delivered back home. Thus ends my pig tale.

Caroline is apparently a notorious Kitty Hawk wanderer, and I was not the first to save her. In fact, it was obvious to me that Caroline wanted to be saved.

How about you?

2 Peter 2 (The Message)

21-25 This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.

They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

Jesus used his servant body to carry our sins to the cross so that we might be saved. His actions enabled us to be free to live the right way. By his wounds we are healed! No longer lost sheep, (or pigs) we know the way home. Jesus did that for you.

Are you longing to be saved? Today is the day. Kneel down and confess your sins. Ask Jesus to cleanse you and make you whole. Ask him to live in you from now until he calls you home. Dedicate yourself to a life of following him, serving him, learning about him, and never straying from his path again.

Jesus saves. Is he calling you? Get yourself home.

They call me the Wanderer.

Is He Real?

My four-and-a-half year old grandson had the opportunity to see Star Wars Storm Troopers marching down the street at Disney World last month. He is still processing the experience. He has a Storm Trooper play figure at home, and a book that has pictures of them. We watched a Star Wars LEGO movie which of course has Storm Troopers. What is real? What is plastic? What is true? What is story?

As we discussed the marching Storm Troopers, he knew that they were real people wearing white plastic costumes. But knowing that only added to his confusion…if they were real people, were they REAL STORM TROOPERS? Like, after work, did they get into their troop transport to be delivered one by one back home to their Storm Trooper spouse and kids?

As we negotiated this conversation, I thought back to a time when the same was asked about Jesus. He was just as confusing to the people around him. It was obvious that he was a real person, but was he just wearing a God-costume?

Matthew 16

13 When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17-18 Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.

One of the amazing things about scripture is that no matter how familiar you are with a passage, each reading brings new insight. Did you notice this:

My father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are.

The more we know Jesus, the more we know ourselves. The better we understand who he is, the better we understand who we are. This is such a lovely thing. God-awareness becomes self-awareness.

When I pray in church I often use the phrase “who we are, and whose we are.” I like to remind us all of that dynamic. We are children of God, made in his image, striving every day to be more like Jesus. That is who we are.

But WHOSE we are? We belong to God, who is the great high king. God, the one who formed the earth, has claimed us as his own. He is our steadfast provider, our hope, and our redeemer. And he chose to be in relationship with us. Imagine that!

Who are you today? A striving follower of the way, or a defeated and tired foot-dragger? Are you a loyal son or daughter, or are you wondering if this whole God-thing is just a bunch of plastic story-telling?

The ones who were closest to Jesus struggled with that question. But when the resurrection happened, the truth was made clear. So let us strive to be people of the resurrection story. God is real, and he came in the form of a storm-trooping Messiah to save the world from evil and sin. THAT is how this story plays out.

Today we thank God for who his is, and for whose we are.

Real or Not?

Matriarchal Advice

Back when I was a very young mother, a church matriarch gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. We were attending a program on prayer and she leaned over to me and said, “Betsy, do you pray for your children?” I had a two-year old at the time and was eight months pregnant with the second one. “Yes, I do. Every day,” I responded. “What do you pray FOR?” she asked. “Well I pray mostly for their health and their safety,” I responded.

She looked at me sideways and said, “You should be praying for their college roommates and their husbands.” My mind went “Whaaaaat?”

“Think about it. Who in their lives will have influence over them when they leave home? College roommates and spouses will have a direct effect on their happiness long after your influence is over.” Well, heck. That was just so sad, somewhat devastating….and true.

So from that day forward, I added those two things to my daily prayer list. And lo and behold, each girl had wonderful college roommates who are still close friends to this day, and boy, oh BOY did we hit the husband lottery! Twice! I thank God every day for these wonderful young men who indeed have a much greater influence on their happiness than I do. They truly are God-sends.

God answered my prayer, and the wonderful matriarch who suggested this taught me a valuable lesson…PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN and for future things.

In fact, I believe we should pray for all the children. Yours, your friends, the kids on the block, the ones in the church, the vulnerable ones all over our country, the broken ones crying at our border…all of them.

I still pray for my “children,” even though they are grown up ladies with children of their own. They will always need Mama’s prayers. And I pray for their children, the children in my village, and beyond. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to pray for all of God’s children.

Colossians 4

Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving.

So to the young mamas and papas out there, get down on your knees tonight and start praying for all the future boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, co-workers, bosses, teachers…all the people who shape and form your children as they grow into adulthood.

Be persistent. Be devoted to praying for them and their little friends. Be alert to what God reveals to you as you pray. And focus your petitions with gratitude that you have a God who listens and answers.

And for the rest of us, let us join in by praying for the children around us and the children far away. May God hear our hearts as we bow in love and hope for their future. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them.” May the Kingdom of God be truly theirs.

Lord, Bless all the Little Children

With All Your Heart

Last week I had the opportunity to take a walk with my four-and-a-half year old grandson. That “half” thing is important. He understands that four-and-a-half is more than four, so you’d better get it right or you will likely be corrected.

We were holding hands and just walking along when he said to me, “I like being with you, Nana.” Be still my heart!! Somehow I managed to respond, “I like being with you, too, Connor” before my throat closed off with the raw emotion of that sweet moment. Connor won’t remember it, but I know I will carry it to my grave.

Oh, to be four (and a half) again, and be able to live in every moment with such singular focus! The pleasure of taking a walk with a grandparent, the lack of worry about whether or not lunch would be provided, the easy and carefree days…one blessing of childhood is that it is probably the only time in our lives when we get to focus on one thing at a time.

Imagine if we could corral that feeling when it comes to our relationship with God. Imagine if we could spend five minutes a day just thinking about his love for us, the many blessings we receive, and his constant presence, without distraction or concern for anything else.

When the Israelites were taken into exile to Babylon, they longed to return to Jerusalem. They missed their home, hated being strangers in a strange land, and thought of nothing else. But God instructed them to settle down, plant gardens, celebrate weddings, and make a life for themselves while they waited. Ever wonder why?

I think a clue is found in verse 13 of Jeremiah 29:

Jeremiah 29 (New International Version)

12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

You will find me when you seek me WITH ALL YOUR HEART.

You see, while their hearts were divided between living in exile and longing for home, they couldn’t focus on God. They weren’t seeking him because they were looking for their past, for a way home, and for a way out of their current situation. But when God instructed them to settle down by settling down, they settled their minds, their lives, and their hearts. Suddenly they were able to seek him with ALL their hearts. Whenever we do that, we find God.

What is dividing you today? What are you seeking instead of God? Is a longing for the past preventing you from being in the Lord’s presence in the present?

Guess what…God is seeking you with HIS whole heart. When we do likewise, he will be found and made known to us.

So call on God today. Pray to him. Seek him, not just with a fraction of your attention, but with all your heart. Seek, and you will find. Guaranteed.

Seek God in the Way that He Seeks You by Michelle Robertson