Aggravations

Friends of mine are finally building their “dream home.” The perfect location, plans that they helped design, space for an in-law suite, and views for miles…what’s not to love?

Moving. Moving is not to love.

Having started my married life as a Navy wife for the first eight years, I know the pain of frequent moving. During the first two years, we moved four times while my husband attended different flight schools. I never bothered to learn any of the zip codes. There was no point! It would change in a few months anyway.

In this FABULOUS passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us a different spin on moving. He likens our earthly homes to tents, which have to be put up and taken down with some regularity as we relocate ourselves to different homes here on earth. But better things are coming, and we should be ready to talk about it!

2 Corinthians 4 (The Message)

13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

My friend is hoping this will be her final move. She recently posted, “If I ever move again it will be too soon!” But this aggravation, and ALL of our aggravations, is here today and gone tomorrow.

What is aggravating you today? God promises to make a new life out of this old one where things are falling apart on us on a regular basis. We can claim, as Paul does, that not a day goes by without experiencing God’s unfolding grace. Today’s hard times are “small potatoes” compared to what is coming.

1-5 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it!

So whatever you are going through right now, hold on to the fact that it is temporary. Life here on earth is temporary. And compared to eternity, this current aggravation is just a blink of an eye. All of our frustrations will melt away into nothingness compared to what’s ahead.

We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

So hang on! Better things are on the way.

Heaven Awaits by Michelle Robertson

With All My Heart

One of my favorite moments in a wedding happens during the ring vows. As the rings are nervously being slipped onto fingers for the first time, the couple says to each other, “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.” There is something quite profound in that statement.

“With all that I have” is a promise that you will share every single resource you possess with the other, including everything that the future promises. Going beyond the material and financial support that is pledged, this statement is a way of saying that there is not one part of my life that I will not share from this point on.

But when you say to someone, “with all that I AM,” the commitment goes even deeper. It promises that you will not hold anything back. It says I will honor you with my inner self. I will honor you with my secrets. I will honor you with my hopes and dreams. I will honor you with sharing my failures and fears. Pledging such deep loyalty to another person with all of your heart is an audacious act of optimism and hope.

Whom do you love with all your heart?

In our Psalm today, David puts God in that place of honor and love:

Psalm 138 (Common English Bible)

 I give thanks to you with all my heart, Lord.
    I sing your praise before all other gods.
I bow toward your holy temple
    and thank your name
    for your loyal love and faithfulness
        because you have made your name and word
        greater than everything else.

David’s feelings of gratitude, love, and loyalty came from a place of reciprocity. God extended these blessings to him first, and his response to God’s faithfulness was to pledge himself by thanking God’s name. God answered David in times of trouble.


On the day I cried out, you answered me.
    You encouraged me with inner strength.

Let all the earth’s rulers give thanks to you, Lord,
    when they hear what you say.
Let them sing about the Lord’s ways
    because the Lord’s glory is so great!
Even though the Lord is high,
    he can still see the lowly,
    but God keeps his distance from the arrogant.

When we feel lowly, it is good to know that God sees us and answers us, no matter what it is we are experiencing. But beware of being arrogant…God has no tolerance for that.

Whenever I am in deep trouble,
    you make me live again;
    you send your power against my enemies’ wrath;
    you save me with your strong hand.
The Lord will do all this for my sake.

Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
    Don’t let go of what your hands
    have made.

Have you ever been let down by someone who supposedly loves you? I have.

I don’t know what you are going through today, but hear this; God’s faithful love for you lasts forever. In those moments of deep hurt, betrayal, disappointment, and estrangement from the people you love and count on, remember that God is incapable of letting you go. His hands have made you, and you are HIS.

With all that God is, and all that God has, God honors you.

Two Loves.

Oh, I Just Can’t Wait to be King

The Disney classic The Lion King tells the story of young, ambitious Simba, a lion cub who dreams big dreams. Simba foolishly thinks that when he becomes the king of the land, it will be the answer to his problems. Becoming the king will be the fulfillment of all of his young, ego-driven potential:

I’m gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware
I’m gonna be the main event like no king was before
I’m brushing up on looking down, I’m working on my roar!

Oh I just can’t WAIT to be king!

The reality is much different, of course. Being the king of ornery animals who are stubborn, duplicitous, uncaring, and in some cases downright EVIL is not the majestic existence he dreamt of as a young lion. Simba quickly learns that kingship is filled with tragedy and sober responsibility.

In 1 Samuel 8, a major change happened in the way Israel was run. Up to this point, they had been ruled by wise judges and prophets who leaned very heavily on God for instructions on how to lead and manage the people. But then came the time when the prophet Samuel was about to die, and his sons proved to be of no use to the nation. In addition, the other nations had KINGS. This turned the heads of the Israelites. Why can’t we have a king? they ask.

1 Samuel 8 (Common English Bible)

So all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods.

This is a heartbreaking moment. If you remember your Old Testament history, what follows next is the ultimate downfall of Israel. The fact that these people, who had been loved, nurtured, and saved by God, are now rejecting him is unfathomable.

Or is it? Do we ever reject God in favor of a “king” we have put in God’s place of authority?

So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. 

14 He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. 15 He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. 16 He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves!

18 When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

God offered the Israelites a cautionary tale about the potential disruption and corruption earthy kings can bring to the nation. They ignored his warnings and pushed for a king instead…much to their peril.

Have we learned this yet?

The invitation today is to refocus our hearts on worshipping the true king, Jesus, and allow him to reign over our lives in every way. Earthly leaders will ALWAYS let their people down. Who is your King?

Look up, and you will see the Lord seated on the throne, right where he belongs.

Queen of the Boat

Why I Don’t Like Snakes

I have a vegan friend who is a true animal lover. She has rescued many of God’s creatures. This woman dares to go where no sane person (speaking completely for myself) has gone before. She has rescued dogs, cats, a serval, owls, turtles, a pelican, and….wait for it…snakes.

Why did it have to be snakes?

She keeps a chicken enclosure in her large back yard, and she loves and protects her chickens from all manners of evil. One morning at feeding time she realized that a snake, attracted by their eggs, had entrapped itself in the protective fence. Now any sane person would have called the local “Critter Gitter” (we have one on the Outer Banks) to remove said snake, or would have killed it and disentangled its lifeless body. Not this girl. She worked for an hour to slowly untangle it, and then she set it free.

My dislike of snakes is Biblical. I contend that after what happened in the Garden of Eden, we are all predisposed to not like snakes. Prove me wrong!

Genesis 3 (The Common English Bible)

During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees. The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

We have to stop there to observe a few things. First, how lovely that must have been! The evening offered a cool breeze, God was present, the man and the woman stood among the garden’s beautiful trees….and then came the question. “Where are you?” God inquires.

How many times has God asked you that? In the middle of some place where you should not have been, engaging in some activity you should not have participated in, have you not also heard God asking, “Where are you?” Of course it probably didn’t sound as much like God’s voice as it did your own, coming from somewhere in the back of your mind…which is much easier to ignore. God speaks to us through our conscience. When we rationalize and justify our sinful behavior, we are ignoring the voice of God.

Having been caught with their pants down (as it were), the man and the woman started the blame-casting:

10 The man replied, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree, which I commanded you not to eat?”

12 The man said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

13 The Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?!”

And the woman said, “The snake tricked me, and I ate.”

It’s God’s fault for giving the woman to the man. It’s the woman’s fault for giving the fruit to man. It’s the snake’s fault for tricking the woman….oy vey. Notice that neither the man nor the woman takes responsibility for having eaten the fruit.

One thing is certain: we haven’t evolved much since the Garden, have we? All you have to do is turn on the news and you’ll see a lot of finger-pointing that dominates the air time. Rarely do we see people taking responsibility for their own behavior.

14 The Lord God said to the snake,

“Because you did this,
    you are the one cursed
        out of all the farm animals,
        out of all the wild animals.
    On your belly you will crawl,
        and dust you will eat
        every day of your life.

15 I will put contempt between you and the woman,
    between your offspring and hers.
They will strike your head,
        but you will strike at their heels.”

So the snake takes the first fall, and humanity falls next. The concept of “original sin” points to the innate tendency we all have to sin, and traces back to Adam and Eve’s first sin and subsequent dismissal from the garden.

We also are asked, “Where are YOU?” God calls us to take responsibility for our actions and sinful behavior, and to stop trying to blame people or circumstances for our decisions. And when we do, the offer of absolution of our guilt is always there in the presence of Jesus. When you own up to your sins and ask for forgiveness, you are GUARANTEED to receive it.

Don’t let sin entrap you for one more day. Untangle yourself from its grip and let God set you free.

Snake Handlin’ by Wende Pritchard

Bless People Who Harass You

Yes, this phase is actually in the Bible. “Bless people who harass you” is straight out of Romans, chapter 12. Darn you, Paul! Here I was, thinking I am righteous in my indignation over people who harass me. I like to envision myself as a modern-day Jesus, overturning the money lenders’ tables at the Temple when I get royally aggravated at someone. Jesus got angry, why can’t I??

Well, to begin with, I am not the Messiah, and neither are you. An affront to the incarnate God on the steps of the Holy of Holies constituted something that was actually sacrilegious. My offenders are annoying, but they are not committing heresies against the divine. In short, there are many situations where we just need to get over ourselves.

A reader whom I offended confronted me about my “tone.” And as confrontations usually go, I was then offended by HIS “tone.” But we are two people who love each other and listen closely to the leading of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of difficult conversations. We were able to hear each other out and, by the grace of God, we’ve held on to what is good in our relationship. I think Paul would have been pleased with our exchange.

Romans 12 (Common English Bible)

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 

14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 

Where is God calling you to bless someone you would rather curse? Do you have a list? Most of us do. But Paul challenges us to love without pretending, and show honor to each other. This can only be done when you talk and listen to those whom you’d rather curse.

And don’t miss the part about devoting yourselves to prayer! Contending with harassers and enemies has got to come after time has been spent in prayer. It may take years.

Early in my ministry I was attacked by a matriarch of the church. She had no appreciation for what I brought to the table. She complained about my children’s sermons, said that my recruitment efforts to set up team-teaching in Sunday School had failed because nobody liked me, etc. She took those concerns to our Staff Parish committee (basically a Human Resources committee) and they called me in to talk about it. I was DEVASTATED. The committee discussed it further after I went back to my office, where I began to collect boxes to pack my things. About an hour later my assigned committee-advocate found me. He told me that the committee felt the matter was over that night and no action would be taken. But the deep pain I felt left a mark.

My advocate was much older and wiser than I, and advised me to follow the scripture that commands us to “pray for our enemies.” I took his advice. Lo and behold, many years later this woman came to me on a big church workday and called me down from a ladder to tearfully apologize for what she had said. She was sorry for the trouble she had caused all those years earlier. She had been working things out in her personal life at the time, and some of it spilled over and splashed on me. We reconciled in that moment and have maintained a friendly relationship ever since. Later on, when her child came into a time of trouble, she sought out my counsel, further solidifying our relationship. I easily love this woman without pretending.

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.

That last line is so accurate. When we feel offended by someone, we might just be missing an important lesson about our OWN behavior that needs some attention. Paul reminds us that God can do so much more with a humble and contrite spirit than a self-righteous one.

Where is God calling you to change?

Be Happy by Michelle Robertson

The Beauty of Holiness

If you regularly worship in a church, think for a moment about what happens when you settle yourself into your seat, whether it is in a physical worship center or in another location as you worship online. I have a friend who spent the better part of the pandemic taking her coffee every Sunday morning at sunrise to a nearby sand dune where she read a full week of At Water’s Edge devotionals as her worship liturgy. Truly, if we learned one thing during the pandemic it is that worship can happen anywhere or anytime that you open yourself in an attitude of praise and attention to God’s abiding presence. So the question really becomes, how do you prepare for worship?

When my girls were very young, I had to report early on Sundays to a church that offered multiple service times, and thus I was mostly spared what mothers and fathers do to get a house full of kids ready to go to church. Many Sundays I would look out at my girls with their father in the pew and know instantly who had gotten the final word on the day’s outfits and hairstyles. My husband never did quite master a French braid, but his pigtail braids were unbeatable. Indeed, getting ready for church with young children is sometimes a Herculean undertaking. We see you, young parents.

Worship preparation for pastors is a much different thing. Our brains are on fire with all of the details that make Sunday morning look seamless to the worshipper. Going over our sermons and prayers, checking in with other worship leaders, noting the temperature of the room, dealing with complaints, giving last minute instructions to ushers and musicians, ensuring that the offering plates/candles/mics are in place, checking on the nursery….speaking for myself, the mental focus that this requires is EXHAUSTING. I am often asleep by 2:00 on Sunday afternoon.

How do you get ready to worship? What happens in your mind, your heart, and your soul? Are you dialed in to the presence of a holy God, or are you mentally going through your list of things to do as soon as worship is over?

Psalm 29 (New King James Version)

 Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

One of the things I pray for myself and my parishioners during the opening prayer is that the Holy Spirit would come and take away all of the distractions and to-do lists that we brought into the sanctuary with us. Some days it is truly a challenge to keep the worldly things from crowding out the divine.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The psalmist reminds us of the power of God’s voice. But the truth is, we are also powerful in our ability to completely shut God’s voice out….even in the midst of worship. Worries, troubles, annoyances, distractions, crying babies, the smell of too much perfume, seeing someone in the pew who has offended you….there are many things that can pull you out of worship while your body is still sitting there.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”

We would do well to spend a moment before worship focusing on clearing our minds so that we can join together and say, “Glory!” in an attitude of humility and submission to the Holy Spirit. If we ask, God will give us his strength to do this.

10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
11 The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.

So before you enter your “church” next time, spend a moment in preparation to deeply, wholly, and completely worship God. All those distractions will still be there at the end of the hour, but you will be more fortified to handle things after having devoted yourself to worshipping God.

God invites us into the beauty of his holiness…don’t miss it.

The Beauty of Holiness by Bev Mineo

The DIY Myth

I have a love affair with any home improvement show that teaches how to “do it yourself.” The abundance of DIY programs on television tells me that I am not alone. If I believed that I actually COULD do these things by myself, I would have a fabulous grotto-lined swimming pool in my backyard, a master bedroom closet fit for a Real Housewife, and shiplap covering the walls of my living room. I don’t even know what shiplap is, but Joanna seems to like it.

Alas, the reality of my ability to DIY is far less than what the massive HGTV construction crews can do. I did, however, spray paint a small baker’s rack in the wind recently, so there is that.

My thinking is grounded in FROG theology: Fully Rely On God. While I know that I have been given certain abilities to do certain things, my entire existence on this planet is due to God’s providence. The few abilities I have come from God. A reader was once offended when I made a similar statement a few years ago, thinking that I was taking something away from her. She had grown up to be very self-reliant and did not want to give God the credit for what she had achieved through her hard work and struggles. I maintain that God is the one who makes us able. We are nothing without him on earth, and achieving a place in heaven is certainly not something we can DIY. Remember, grace is the unmerited favor of God…you can’t earn your way in.

In the Message version of Romans 8, Paul encourages us to move away from the thinking that we have achieved something with our do-it-yourself lives and move instead to an understanding of the resurrection life that we have received from God:

Romans 8 (The Message)

12-14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

I hope this fills you with excitement today! To be granted the opportunity to say to God, “What’s next?” is a true assessment of what we gain when we lose our lives to Christ. God’s spirit beckons us to new opportunities and adventures. We are invited to be adventurously expectant about our future. Indeed, God offers us a future with HOPE.

God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

So whatever you are going through right now, remember this; we are invited to fully rely on God and look ahead to the good times of a resurrected life with him. The only DIY part of this is for you to respond YES. God’s Spirit beckons you to a new life in him. What’s next, Papa?

DIY Dinner by Michelle Robertson

Things That Go Bump

“From Ghoulies and Ghoosties, long-leggety Beasties, and things that go bump in the night,
     Good Lord, deliver us!”

This old 20th Century prayer is a reminder that we don’t like things that startle us in the night. A noise in the daytime is quite different than that same noise in the dark of night. Our imaginations can go wild about the source of night-time interruptions.

Movie makers take advantage of this. Think of how all the scary scenes take place at night! Have you ever seen the classic apocalyptic film The Omega Man? The fact that the creepy zombie people can only come out at night is one of the best plot twists of that film. Everything happens at night…none of it good.

In our scripture today we see that a man named Nicodemus interrupted Jesus late at night. This is an important part of this encounter. Why didn’t he approach Jesus during the day, when Jesus was out teaching on the hillside? Something was amiss:

John 3 (The Message)

1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

John is explicit about why this had to happen at night. He lays out Nicodemus’ credentials in the first sentence: Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a prominent leader among the Jews. Imagine what might have happened to his social rank and political status if he had been seen consorting with this untrained, radical teacher. It would not have been appropriate. We have to give Nicodemus credit, though, for acknowledging Jesus’ connection to God. It was remarkable for a Pharisee to point to Jesus’ teachings and attribute them to God. But he could only say it in the dark of night. His brothers surely would have persecuted him for thinking this way.

Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”

“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

In typical Pharisaical behavior, Nicodemus questioned the practicality of the premise. He was not quite ready to yield to the idea of new life in Christ. His hold on the Jewish laws and ways is too strong, and so he resisted being won over….just yet.

5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

We are all like Nicodemus in a way. Some of us resist the complete yielding to God that is necessary for full conversion to new life. We like the idea, but we are not so sure we want to leave it ALL behind to follow Jesus.

7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

What are you holding back? What habit or behavior do you still cling to that prevents you from truly being “born anew?” (Common English Bible) The Spirit of God calls us to enter a baptism into a new life through water AND the spirit. Only then do we become living, breathing spirits that are formed under God’s direction.

What do you need to leave behind in order to move ahead?

Night Lite by Karen Hunt

She’s Come Undone

Have you ever had something happen to you that left you completely “undone?” Something so devastating, shocking, surreal, or life-altering that you thought you would never be the same again? Where do you suppose God was in that moment?

It happened to Isaiah.

Isaiah 6 (Common English Bible)

6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!
All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

This holy (and wholly frightening!) encounter occurred around the year 742 BC. It was the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, which lasted through four kings, ending with Hezekiah. His audience comprised the people of Judah and Jerusalem after the time of Israel’s separation into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. 

In one breath, Isaiah states that in the year King Uzziah died, he saw the Lord. Ever wonder if these two things are connected? Perhaps the popular and successful earthly king was a distraction from the heavenly one. In any case, Isaiah is standing in the temple and he suddenly sees the Lord on the throne.

We get a clue about what had caused Isaiah to look away from God in the first few verses. Isaiah saw the high and exalted Lord wearing a train so magnificent that it filled the entire temple. Kingly trains were designed to be long, heavy, and imposing, as though to convey the image of a man who was so powerful, he had attendants just to carry his train. The attendants in this case were flying creatures called seraphim; they spoke only to each other as they cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” in voices so thunderous the pillars shook. Isaiah’s response immediately reveals that he is overcome with his sense of unworthiness. He woefully cries out in fear and shame, declaring himself to be ruined, or as the King James Version says, “I am undone.”

Several years ago I attended a women’s retreat where one of the participants sought me out at the end of a very intense session. We sat under a piano in the dining hall late into the next morning, and her story spilled out between sobs and whispers. It was a story of failed marriages, alcohol and drug abuse, infidelity that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and the loss of her family and every job she had. Here we were on the cold, hard floor when she finally saw God for the first time. But her feeling of shameful disgrace was like a blindfold over her eyes. She could not see how God could possibly love or forgive her. She had truly come undone.

In Luke 5:8, we see Simon Peter having a similar response when sees Jesus. He fell to his knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man” (NIV). 

And yet in every case, the activity of Christ on the cross makes the sinner worthy. We can never achieve this on our own, but the shed blood of the atonement brings us into a place of redemption in the eyes of God. To deny him that power is to proclaim that our sin is greater than the cross. Are we really so boldly arrogant as to say that to God?       

That is what I told that woman that night, and she woke up the next day with perfect spiritual eyesight. She clearly saw God’s grace-filled presence in her redemption. She has never looked back from that moment.

Have you ever come undone? Do you struggle with feelings of unworthiness?

Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is faithful to his purpose. He does not begin a work and then leave it undone.” So maybe a takeaway from this lesson is that it is good to be undone! What God has begun in you, he will be faithful to complete.

We are invited to give God all of our brokenness, our ruin, and our “undone-ness,” and ask him to make us whole. With repentance comes forgiveness. Don’t wait another day.

Scallop Waves by Michelle Robertson

    

Gale Force

If there is one thing we know about here on the Outer Banks, it is WIND. We are famous for it. Remember the Wright Brothers? They came here to try out their new-fangled flying machine because our winds are strong and consistent. That’s great for kite flying on Jockey’s Ridge, but not so great for spray painting a baker’s rack, which I did last week. I ended up with more paint on the grass than the metal.

When the winds hit gale force, we hunker down or leave. That is why I was so amazed this morning to read that in the face of gale force winds on the day of Pentecost, the devout pilgrims in Jerusalem ran TOWARD the sound:

Acts 2 (The Message)

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
    Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
    Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

In John 15 we read that Jesus prays that his followers might be one. Here again we see that the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost united the followers in such a way that their languages could be understood by each other. Unity is a theme in the early church. It is God’s desire for his followers. How are we doing?

12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

The cacophony of confusion was so strong, it appeared as though the people were drunk. But Peter explains that it is only nine o’clock in the morning and they haven’t had time to get drunk. Peter has obviously never been to a morning college football game.

But notice that he stands to speak to the confused crowd with bold urgency. When was the last time you spoke for God with bold urgency?

Peter Speaks Up

14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
    on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
    also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
    your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
    I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
    and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
    and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
    the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives,
    the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help
    to me, God, will be saved.”

This foretelling of what will happen in the end times is chilling. God’s Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people. Visions, dreams, and prophesies will abound. Wonders in the sky and signs on the earth will be hard to miss, as will the blood, fire, and billowing smoke.

All these things will announce that the Day of the Lord is at hand. It sounds terrifying. Are you ready?

Whoever calls out for help will be saved.

Wonders in the Sky by Amy Wrenn