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.

Patient Waiting

In the constantly evolving science of a global pandemic, we have been through several iterations of do this/do thats. From ‘bleach your groceries‘ to ‘further science has determined that you may not need to bleach your groceries,’ we have followed the science with bated breath, waiting for the day when science will have the final word. Personally, I continue to pray fervently that 1. God removes this virus from the earth, and 2. We develop a vaccine. Yes, I know a vaccine may not completely solve this issue. See #1.

In the days of Jeremiah, the cream of the crop of Israel, including the king, the scientists and artists, had all been removed from Jerusalem and taken away to Babylon. Jeremiah received a prophecy from God that the people were to settle into this new normal and await God’s promised return to their land. But in the meantime, they were to plant crops and have babies. In other words, everyone needs to wait patiently for God.

Hananiah stood up in the temple and announced that the exiles and all the spoils of war were about to returned in full, and that victory and peace had been achieved. This was not the case. Jeremiah stood to speak the harsh truth of the matter.

Jeremiah 28 (Common English Bible)

Then the prophet Jeremiah responded to Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the Lord’s temple. The prophet Jeremiah said: “Indeed. May the Lord do just as you have said! May the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied and bring back from Babylon the equipment of the Lord’s temple and all the exiles to this place. 

However, listen closely to what I have to say to you and all the people: The prophets who came before you and me long ago prophesied war, disaster, and disease against many lands and great kingdoms. So the prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as one who is actually sent by the Lord only when that prophet’s message is fulfilled.”

I wish that the news that we have conquered this virus and are now safe to return to normal operations was true. It is not. The numbers say otherwise. States that have seen a recent upswing in positive cases are now moving to mandatory face masks and enforced social distancing. Some have issued curfews. Some counties are levying fines for those who don’t comply.

Science now suggests that wearing masks will help us bring this thing to an end. The more compliance we see, the sooner the virus will be defeated. As we move forward, let us continue to pray for our county, state, and national leadership to make wise and informed decisions that will help us defeat this thing. The Hananiah’s among us are trying to claim victory. But Hananiah was wrong. In other words, we all need to wait patiently for God.

See #1.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait by Wende Pritchard

Persecution

There are places in our world where owning a bible, going to church, or proclaiming your faith could result in imprisonment, beatings, or even death. It is hard for people living in free countries to fathom that there are countries where being a Christ-follower is dangerous. North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq rank among the top nations where practicing Christianity is punishable by death. It is estimated that one in eight Christians world-wide lives in a country where practicing their faith is outlawed. (You can read more about this here)

When free people read the following passage in Matthew 10, we think about the rejection and ridicule we might experience for sharing our faith. We don’t think about danger if we are privileged enough to live in a country where such activity is permissible.

But today, I challenge you to read it with the lens of the persecuted church in mind:

Matthew 10 (Common English Bible)

26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. 27 What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops.28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already.30 Even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid. The stark reality that some could could kill the body but have no power over the soul is shocking when set in the context of countries who literally are torturing and executing Christians for their faith. Yet Jesus boldly proclaims three times not to be afraid, because the Father knows your situation down to the very last hair on your head.

Friends, we must pray for the persecuted church.

32 “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Do you ever deny or downplay your faith? When you’re at a party or meeting someone for the first time, do you play it cool until you know if your faith will be accepted? Do you change the subject at family gatherings rather than suffer someone’s sarcasm?

Those of us who live in free nations must not hesitate to go and tell the good news of Christ. If ridicule is the worst weapon that might be formed against us, bring it on. We have brothers and sisters all over the world who can’t even possess a bible. Maybe we could open ours and do what it says on their behalf.

Free to Tell By Michelle Robertson

Wonder-Worker

Have you ever had a time in your life when you really, really needed someone to just listen to you? As in REALLY listen, not just nod their head waiting for their turn to speak. Deep listening is an ability that some people never fully achieve in their lifetime. Maybe you know someone like that. Maybe you married someone like that.

The gift of having someone deep-listen to your heart is an amazing catharsis and a healing balm. Sometimes just being HEARD is therapy enough, even without the other person saying a single word. Your heart takes a deep cleansing breath with each word, and exhales frustration, sadness, angst, and heaviness with each syllable.

If you have someone who can listen to you like that, thank them for the blessing they give you.

If you can be someone who can listen to others like that, use your gift in God’s service. You are a blessing.

Psalm 68 (Common English Bible)

Lord, listen closely to me and answer me,
    because I am poor and in need.
Guard my life because I am faithful.
    Save your servant who trusts in you—you! My God!
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I cry out to you all day long.
Make your servant’s life happy again
    because, my Lord, I offer my life to you,
    because, my Lord, you are good and forgiving,
    full of faithful love for all those who cry out to you.

Nobody can listen to you the way that God can listen to you. God’s word assures us that when we cry out to him, he listens closely.

Listen closely to my prayer, Lord;
    pay close attention to the sound of my requests for mercy.
Whenever I am in trouble, I cry out to you,
    because you will answer me.

Are you in trouble? Cry out to your Heavenly Father. Nothing can compare to his works.

My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods!
    There is nothing that can compare to your works!
All the nations that you’ve made will come
        and bow down before you, Lord;
    they will glorify your name,
10     because you are awesome
    and a wonder-worker.
        You are God. Just you.

God is a wonder-worker. God is YOUR wonder-worker. Need someone to listen? Just talk.

Lightening in the Cloud By Michelle Robertson

Dead to Me

Have you ever been so “over” something that you just wanted to yell, “This is dead to me!” A broken trust, the ninth consecutive day of rain, a cheating spouse, a relative showing up drunk and obnoxious once again, a contractor who ripped you off, waking up with yet another hangover…it is harsh but understandable to wish a situation or relationship to be “dead” to you when you no longer want to deal with it. Just. Go. Away.

Abuse, you are dead to me.

Alcohol and drugs, just go away.

Lying, cheating, soul-destroying behavior, you are dead to me.

Toxic relationship? Dead to me.

Rain, be GONE.

Scripture condones a “dead to me” response in a specific situation: when we declare sin to be dead to us.

Romans 6 (The Message)

1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

Sin! Just. Go. Away. I don’t live there anymore.

3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Baptism, forgiveness, and the new life promised from the cross guarantee that we have moved to a new land of grace. In that place, God comes alongside of us and offers his strength to resist temptation and sin, and helps us to not return to sin-country.

6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word.

You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

Where in your life is God asking you to declare a certain sin dead-to-you? What behaviors and habits continue to drag you back into the miserable life that sin guarantees?

We aren’t called to a life where we get to keep sinning because we know God forgives. We are called to be included in Christ’s sin-conquering death so that we can be a part of his life-saving resurrection. So do better. Pack up that sin and leave it for good. God is speaking his language of redemption now…hang on his every word.

Just. Go. Away. By Teresa Holloway