It Will Not Return Empty

Today is a milestone for At Water’s Edge. For over fifteen straight months, five days a week, you and I have shared a passion for reading God’s Word. The 300th devotional was just published, and that is only because YOU have been faithful to read them. Otherwise, there is no point in writing every day.

I believe God’s word goes where it needs to go and says what it needs to say to those who need to hear it. When I sit down every day, I don’t ever worry about what to write. I have faith that God will speak to us on these pages. I am simply the typist. He has never failed to bring forth a message, and when we receive it, he allows it to grow in our hearts.

And that perspective is biblical! Look what showed up in today’s lectionary:

Isaiah 55 (New Revised Standard Version)

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Here is where we can take comfort in knowing that our daily pursuit of scripture intake will bless and prosper us. Even when a passage is challenging or seems to not be relevant, it will show up later in our lives if we are faithful in allowing it to take root where God has planted it.

And the result? Peace. Joy. Everlasting hope.

12 For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

God’s word never returns empty. It plants seeds that grow into sturdy trees of discipleship. And then you take that seed and plant it in someone else’s life, and it grows some more. When we are filled with his Word, we can never be cut off from his love.


13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

So THANK YOU, faithful reader, for going on this crazy journey with me. Thank you for sharing these posts. I cherish you more than you will ever know.

The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Do you have a fear or a phobia? I think most of us do. I am VERY claustrophobic, and the fear of being trapped in a small space absolutely wigs me out. A friend shared her fear of bridges with me recently, and told me an amazing story.

The first time that driving over a bridge was a issue for her was a trip she made with her 12 month old child. Bridges weren’t a problem until the moment that they were. She experienced her first panic attack about two minutes into a long two-lane bridge. No turning around, no turning back. Part of the physical manifestation of the attack was a feeling of numbness in her arms and legs, making her fearful of losing control of the car. She began to say the Lord’s Prayer.

She made it over the bridge and stopped at a gas station. Because of the geography of the Outer Banks, there were only two choices: go back over the bridge she had just crossed, or go ahead….to another bridge.

There was a car full of ladies at the gas station. In a moment of desperation, she approached them and explained what had just happened. She asked if one of them would kindly get in her car with her and drive over the next bridge. Their immediate response? “Of course!”

Unforced grace.

Grace. Grace upon grace upon grace. Grace freely offered by angels in t-shirts and shorts, helping a complete stranger at a gas station.

Matthew 11 is a reminder of what to do and to whom we can turn when we are tired, scared, overwhelmed, and need God to help us recover from a situation:

Matthew 11 (The Message)

27 Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

Jesus invites us to come to him and listen as he explains God’s grace, line by line. We are called to get away from all of life’s anxiety and take a real rest. When we do, we learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I bet there are people in your life, like those ladies at the gas station, who can help you with the things you are dealing with that are heavy and ill-fitting. You just have to ask.

I KNOW that walking with Jesus is how we live freely and lightly. You just have to walk.

Maybe he is even calling YOU to be the angel in t-shirt and shorts for someone today. You just have to listen.

Come away with Jesus, and dwell in his unforced rhythms of love, joy, peace, gratitude, and especially grace. He just might send you an angel, too.

Bridges Everywhere by Bev Mineo

Slow to Anger

Are you slow or quick to anger? Someone I know is VERY quick to anger. Before the offense is even formed in her mind, the explosion is coming out of her mouth. Another person I know is slow to anger. He is thoughtful, measured, and considerate of everyone’s opinions before he responds. Luckily, these two people are married to each other. Isn’t God funny that way?

The thing I appreciate about the one who is quick to anger is that once the explosion is over, she moves on. I have never known her to hold a grudge. There’s something to be said for that.

But those who are slow to anger are more like God himself. And thank God that God is slooooow to anger!! Otherwise we would have all been smote by now…and some of us would have been smote several times over. Deservedly.

That’s what is amazing about God. He never gives us what we deserve, thanks be to God.

Psalm 145 (New Revised Standard Version)

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Such a wonderful word of reassurance to us today. There probably isn’t one of us who doesn’t need his steadfast love and compassion right about now. Part of the challenge of living through this pandemic is HOLDING OUR TEMPER. If you’re like me, you are feeling especially fragile right now and everything is annoying. My irritation meter is set on High and it is taking all of my self control to not respond to things around me. Do you feel that way?

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
    and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your  mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

But the psalmist sets out a bigger picture.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,
    and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
    and raises up all who are bowed down.

The Lord indeed raises up all who are bowed down under the pressures of life. And he holds us up as we are falling. Take a moment to feel his arms around you, supporting you in your stumbles and struggles.

Sometime today, this week, or maybe in the next five minutes, you will feel annoyed. That annoyance will want to express itself in anger.

Don’t let it. Take a deep breath, walk away, and remember how God deals with YOU.

Slow to anger…it’s a God-thing.

The Glorious Splendor of God’s Kingdom by Wende Pritchard

Prisoners of Hope

I recently did a children’s sermon on the word “hope” and used it as an acronym to explain what it means. I said that hope is wanting something to get better. So we can have HOPE when we remember that there are always (H)elpers who will come alongside of us when we are in trouble. And if we remain (O)pen to seeing what God is doing all around us, it can help us to realize that God is working for good in our situation. Of course, HOPE comes to us when we (P)ray, and we should always (E)xpect that God is listening to us and will answer in his time, because his Word promises exactly that. That’s hope!

As I’ve been following the lectionary in these daily devotionals, it has been amazing to see how many times the assigned passage has spoken directly into the pandemic that continues to rage on. Today’s passage does not disappoint.

But I also want you to think of places in your life where you are lacking hope. Perhaps your job situation or your business is crumbling around you. Maybe your marriage or a relationship is in trouble. A challenging child or your teenager might be a dark place for you today. The prospect of remote learning this school year may be getting you down. Or maybe a betrayal or argument has kept you up at night.

Whatever is going on in your life that has left you feeling hopeless, this scripture is for you:

Zechariah 9 (New Revised Standard Version)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Does that sound like Jesus? Zechariah was an Old Testament prophet, proclaiming the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. With New Testament hindsight, we can see Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in this passage.


10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As Christian readers, we see a prefiguring of Christ’s second coming in this verse. We all long for the day when Christ’s dominion will rule the earth and his peace will be known in every nation. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Here’s where it gets personal. You have a blood-covenant relationship with Christ if you are part of his flock. He is active right now in setting you free from the waterless pit of your despair. So return to your stronghold of looking for helpers, opening your heart to God’s activity, praying without ceasing, and expecting God to restore you. Hope is your stronghold. Cling to that.

In times of great distress, God calls us to be prisoners of hope. May we never let go of that chain.

Hope’s Still Water by Jamie Mathis

Arise, and Come Away

“Love you!”

When did “Love you!” at the end of a phone call become a thing? I remember a time when you didn’t end each conversation that way. Of course, I also remember rotary phones. Now it is such a standard signing-off phrase, we say it without thinking…like my friend did recently as she was getting off a call with her dentist’s office. Boy, was that receptionist surprised! So let’s talk about the simple act of saying, “Love you.”

We’ll start with a little romance from the most romantic book in the Old Testament.

The Song of Solomon is a set of lyrical poems that describes the feelings between a young maiden and her beloved. The beauty of the language alone is worth the read, and you occasionally hear a selection from Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs) in a wedding ceremony. The intensity of the maiden’s feelings for her partner are clear and tangible.

I think that weddings should include the level of passion for two becoming one that is reflected in these poems. At every wedding I conduct, I pray that the newlyweds maintain the same strength of feeling they have on their wedding day for the entirety of their marriage. Of course the reality is that life gets in the way, and courtship eventually turns into dishwasher and laundry duty.

But how lovely it is to remember those first intense feelings of any love relationship:

Song of Solomon 2 (New Revised Standard Version)

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.

The game is afoot. He approaches her gently, and looks are exchanged. Can you believe this stuff is in the scriptures? It reads like a saucy beach novel!

10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.

You know what this tells us? That God loves love. That God blesses love when it is mutual and shared. Spouse to spouse, parent to child, sibling to sibling, neighbor to neighbor, and friend to friend, love is a fragrant offering that connects us to each other and to God’s creation. As winter turns to spring, the call to love one another is always in season.

Where is God calling you to show love to someone today? Where can you be the voice of hope to someone who needs to hear that they are loved? Chances are, someone you know feels wholly unloved right now. You can change that.

Remember that love has the power to take us away to a better place. It invites us to leave the ordinary and come away to something extraordinary.

Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

Love never fails. Faith, hope and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

Love you!

What the World Needs Now is Love by Wende Pritchard

Sin Diet

Have you ever been on a diet? Honestly, I don’t know a single adult who hasn’t been on at least one in their lifetime. Low fat, low carb, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, calorie counter apps…the need for help when trying to lose weight has fueled a multi-billion dollar industry. Why is losing weight so hard?

Because we can’t say no.

We can’t say no to the things we eat that are inherently bad for us. Consider this: the fast food industry is also a multi-billion dollar industry. With all its salt, fat, and calories, fast food is consumed in high enough quantities to fuel the need for the weight loss industry. We can fall into an endless cycle of lose-gain-lose-gain when we can’t break free of our attraction and addiction to the unhealthy things that we put in our mouths.

Add to that our sedentary lifestyles and you have a situation where we keep sabotaging our best intentions. We need help!

Paul gets us. He wrestled constantly with the temptation to sin, or as he put it, “doing things I absolutely despise.” Sound familiar?

Romans 7 (The Message)

15 What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

Do you ever feel that way? Like you can’t be trusted around ice cream or cheeseburgers? Or you can’t stop yourself from saying that harsh word to your spouse, or gossiping about your neighbor? We need something more.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

“I can will it, but I can’t do it.” Notice how many times Paul asks for help.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

What part of you covertly rebels against making good choices? Where does sin take over and leave you helpless? It can happen in the things you say, in the way you treat other people, in the thoughts you have, and in the things you do. Do your actions betray your convictions to be a godly person?

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

Are you ready for the answer?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Sin is powerful and pulls with the force of a moon tide. But Jesus offers us a lifeline. When we cry to him for help, he steps in to save us.

Jesus’ actions on our behalf were intended to rescue us from the power of sin. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Grab ahold of his lifeline when sin comes after you. Jesus is our rescuer.

Rescue Me by Michelle Robertson

RipWords

Have you ever been picked on or singled out from the crowd for some reason? Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, ages, political persuasions, and religious preferences. When you are on the receiving end of someone’s vitriol, you long for release. It can be embarrassing and even humiliating to be “called out” by someone who disagrees with you or simply doesn’t get who you are. You can feel like you are drowning and nobody is throwing you a lifeline.

And when you are completely misrepresented, it’s even worse.

Even in those circumstances where the person has made incorrect assumptions, is projecting their issue on you, is threatened by you, or is jealous of you, being the object of someone’s derision is uncomfortable at best and demoralizing at worst. You just want to hide, and you wish to heaven that someone would come along and defend you.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever made someone feel that way?

Read these words and see if they resonate with you:

Psalm 69 (New King James Version)

13 But as for me, my prayer is to You,
O Lord, in the acceptable time;
O God, in the multitude of Your mercy,
Hear me in the truth of Your salvation.


14 Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters.


15 Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor let the deep swallow me up;
And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.

This imagery of floodwater overflowing us when we are hurt by someone’s words is powerful. The psalmist pleads with God to not let him sink in the mire and to deliver him from the deep waters.

Have you ever been caught in a riptide? This deadly force can swiftly carry even the strongest swimmer out to sea in a matter of minutes. It flows from the shoreline to the waters beyond the waves and takes everything with it, much in the same way that a mean-spirited and angry person can take you out with his words, lies, and innuendos.

16 Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good;
Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
17 And do not hide Your face from Your servant,
For I am in trouble;
Hear me speedily.

God wants us to learn how to swim parallel to the shore when riptides and ripwords assault us. We are to look to him to help us out of the undertow of somebody’s disapproval. Just keep swimming along the shoreline and you will eventually swim out of it. It works with tides and people. You have the power to keep your head above water and swim out of their deadly pull. Fighting both tides and ignorance gets you nowhere.


18 Draw near to my soul, and redeem it;
Deliver me because of my enemies.

If you are in a war of words with a bully, stop talking. Walk away. Respond with good wishes, show them some lovingkindness, and then get on with your life. You may need to block their number, unfollow, or unfriend them…whatever it takes to swim out. Never feed a troll.

God delivers those who deliver themselves.

Hidden Undertow by Michelle Robertson

How Long?

Do you remember life in the before-time? When you didn’t have to strategically plan an early morning grocery store trip on the day you knew toilet paper had been stocked the night before? When you could run a quick errand without having to stop to grab your mask? When everything was open? When you could choose to watch a movie, eat out at a restaurant, go to a football game, or attend a middle school band concert in the school auditorium on any given weekend?

Yeah, me neither. I react when I am watching television and I see people less than six feet apart until I realize it was filmed before the pandemic started. I think in the beginning of this we all thought that if we sacrificed, stayed at home, minded our p’s and q’s, and hunkered down, we would flatten the curve and everything would quickly go back to the way things were. Now we find ourselves in an extended first wave that is not flattening as we had hoped, and a second wave is becoming more of a reality.

As a nation, along with other nations in the world, we groan with one breath and cry out, “How long?” How long will we have sorrow in our heart every day? How long will this enemy virus have power over us? How long until we completely forget what “normal” looks like?

In Psalm 13, the psalmist beautifully articulates exactly what we are feeling right now. He asks the painful question of how long his torment will last:

Psalm 13 (New King James Version)

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

But his faith steps in and he remembers to whom he is speaking. He asks God to hear him. And we know that whenever we cry out to our Lord, he always inclines his ear.

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”;
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

So even in the terrible circumstance that brought him to pen these words, he defaults to his trust in God’s mercy. He is able to turn his lament into a rejoicing of heart, anticipating God’s salvation.

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

Guess what? We are officially one day closer to the end of this thing. So let us prepare for that day by warming up our voices and practicing our harmonies. There will come a day soon when we will sing to the Lord with thanksgiving for his bountiful mercy to us.

I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

God’s Bounty by Kathy Schumacher

Freedom

How would you define freedom? Is it a political thing? Does it have the force of law? Is it a state of mind? Is it defined entirely by the country you inhabit, or the company you keep?

Paul talks about freedom almost exclusively in terms of spiritual matters. For him, freedom is the end result of salvation and forgiveness as we leave the enslavement of sin and death and live under the openness of God’s grace.

Romans 6 (The Message)

15-18 So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!

OK, hang on a minute, Paul. Do you mean to say that we have just traded one master (sin) for another master (God) who gives commands?

Read on…

19 I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

God’s freedom comes with some conditions. For one, you will be healed. And your life will be expansive in holiness. I don’t know about you, but I think I can live with that.

20-21 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

22-23 But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

A whole, healed, put-together life is the freedom-gift God offers. His gift is real life, eternal life, given to all who choose to receive his offer of salvation and believe in him.

Where is God offering you freedom from sin right now? Are you ignoring him? Living a life under the tyranny of sin results in less and less freedom. You may think you are living life on your own terms, but the end result is nothing you can be proud of. It’s a dead end.

Choose true freedom.

Flowing Freedom By Michelle Robertson

Hospitable

The quality of hospitality was highly prized in Jesus’ time. People had to depend on the hospitality of a stranger when they needed to travel, as there were no Holiday Inns or Expedia services that made finding accommodations easy. From Abraham, who taught us that sometimes we entertain angels unaware, to the admonition to church leaders in the books of 1 Timothy and Titus, hospitality has been viewed as an attribute of God and thus a practice that all God-followers should embrace.

Do you know somebody who is especially adept at making others feel welcome in their home? Are you that kind of person?

I have a sister-in-law who is gifted this way. She has hosted several of the family bridal and baby showers, and each time she manages to completely anticipate her guests’ every need. It is a pleasure to see how her days of intense preparation come together. Heirloom dishes are beautifully laid out with homemade delicacies, tables are dressed with festive tablecloths and napkins, desserts and drinks are separated to accommodate traffic flow, and comfortable seating is ready to receive weary travelers. She has a heart for her guests that expresses itself in a well-organized and festive celebration. Everyone who walks through her door feels welcomed and loved.

When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Matthew 10 (The Message)

40 Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who welcomes a prophet, just because that person is a prophet, will be given the same reward as a prophet. Anyone who welcomes a good person, just because that person is good, will be given the same reward as a good person. 

This passage says it all. Anyone who welcomes another welcomes the Lord. And in so doing, they welcome God. Welcoming others in the name of Jesus is like opening your door to Jesus and inviting him in to “set a spell” with a glass of cold ice tea and a slice of hummingbird cake.

And Jesus takes it one step farther:

42 And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will surely be rewarded.

Here we are instructed to go one step beyond normal hospitality and extend ourselves to people in need. Jesus’ most humble followers need what we can provide: cold water, warm food, dry accommodations, and most importantly, compassion.

The pandemic has forced many people to close their businesses and has rendered a large part of our workforce food-insecure. More and more people are becoming shelter-insecure. And we still have a way to go.

Where is God calling you to extend your hospitality beyond your family and friends and welcome the stranger?

Check with your local food bank and see where the needs are. People in your community need a cup of cold water that demonstrates the love, compassion, and hope of Jesus himself.

And when you serve the least of them, you have served Christ.

OBX’s Beach Food Pantry. Photo via Facebook.