Beautiful Things

What can you do when your heart is heavy with concern for someone you love? I have a colleague who is dealing with the murder of his daughter and her unborn child. An arrest has finally been made, and we are praying that justice will prevail. Another friend is watching her marriage crumble after decades of being together. A neighbor is struggling to negotiate the depths of her mother’s dementia, and a young woman I know has just received the news that the baby she is carrying has Down Syndrome. When someone you care about is hurting, you hurt.

A few days ago when I woke up early to write, this Psalm popped up in the lectionary assignments for this week. I had already been reminded of all four of these situations before I logged into my lectionary library, and here was David’s reminder for all of us about what we can do in the heaviest of situations. Before you read it, think about what is troubling you today, and pray that God will enable you to lay that burden down at the foot of the cross. Then read this as his answer to you:

Psalm 16 (Common English Bible)

Protect me, God, because I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord.
    Apart from you, I have nothing good.”

God is our only place of refuge when we are in trouble. I remember once being chased by bullies on the way home from school one day. This may be the moment when I happily discovered that I am a decent runner. All I kept thinking was that as soon as I reached my house and the safety of my mother, I would be okay. David is reminding us that we can run home to God whenever we are in trouble.

Now as for the “holy ones” in the land,
    the “magnificent ones” that I was so happy about;
    let their suffering increase because
        they hurried after a different god.
I won’t participate in their blood offerings;
    I won’t let their names cross my lips.

David has realized that following after people who don’t follow after God is a fruitless and useless pursuit. Does that resonate with you today?

You, Lord, are my portion, my cup;
    you control my destiny.
The property lines have fallen beautifully for me;
    yes, I have a lovely home.

This brings me such comfort! To know that all these people I have been praying for are completely being cared for by the Lord, who is the one who controls their destiny, is a blessing beyond measure. It also reminds me that God is God … and we are not.

I will bless the Lord who advises me;
    even at night I am instructed
    in the depths of my mind.
I always put the Lord in front of me;
    I will not stumble because he is on my right side.
That’s why my heart celebrates and my mood is joyous;
    yes, my whole body will rest in safety
10     because you won’t abandon my life to the grave;
    you won’t let your faithful follower see the pit.

My prayer for you today is that you can tap into the kind of relief that David describes when he says that his heart celebrates and his mood is joyous knowing that his whole body will rest in safety. Our life crises are not beyond God’s reach! God is on our right side.

11 You teach me the way of life.
    In your presence is total celebration.
Beautiful things are always in your right hand.

I hope you can take a moment to breathe into that last line: beautiful things are always in God’s right hand. Even in times when you can’t see it, they are there. Lord, give us insight and patience as we wait for our vision to clear. Your presence with us is a total celebration … thanks be to God.

Refuge by David Bevel Jones

Pointless

Have you ever engaged in a pursuit that you discovered was absolutely pointless after awhile? I have had projects that I had to abandon because I realized I was not suited to the task. Sometimes these experiences are life lessons about trying to do something outside of your natural skill set, also known as “spiritual gifts.” Learning about your own giftedness is a good exercise for everyone, and spiritual gift inventories are easy to find online. I know a fellow who has a significant job helping run a major corporation, and spends his Sundays working in Children’s Ministry. While he is perfectly capable of running any of the administrative functions of the church (and has, on occasion), the one place of serving that brings him joy is working with the kids. He is an incredible blessing to his church! When you work and serve in places that make you feel content, you know you are working in the place to which you’ve been called. If there is no satisfaction, it may be time to move on.

Psalm 127 comes along as a reminder that we must follow the Lord’s leading when it comes to many things: building a house (or church, or family), guarding a city (or church, or family), and doing hard labor (for the church, or for the family).

Psalm 127 (Common English Bible)

Unless it is the Lord who builds the house,
    the builders’ work is pointless.
Unless it is the Lord who protects the city,
    the guard on duty is pointless.
It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late,
    eating the bread of hard labor
    because God gives sleep to those he loves.

No doubt about it: children are a gift from the Lord;
    the fruit of the womb is a divine reward.
The children born when one is young
    are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.
The person who fills a quiver full with them is truly happy!
    They won’t be ashamed when arguing with their enemies in the gate.

I want to interject my thoughts on the second paragraph. I don’t think the psalmist means to say that ONLY by having children can you be truly happy. We know that is not the case. Many couples can’t or choose not to have children and are perfectly content with their lives. Having a child is not a guaranteed blessing when they are born into extreme circumstances. Indeed, Paul counsels against even getting married so as to not have distractions from following Jesus. (1 Corinthians 7).

But in those situations where children are wanted and welcomed, children are a gift from the Lord and a continued blessing for those who are called to be parents.

Are you laboring in vain right now with a task that has brought you no joy? Are you volunteering in an area that is wearing you out rather than lifting you up? If the Lord hasn’t called you to it, you are laboring in vain. Think about that, and perhaps take a spiritual gifts test to see where God wants you to serve.

God never calls us to a pointless mission … thanks be to God!

Spiritual Gifts Test

Breaking Dawn by Michelle Robertson

Running on Empty

The classic rock song, ”Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, was written as a result of his daily grind and daily commute to a music studio when he was recording his hit album The Pretender. According to an interview he gave to Rolling Stone magazine, he lived close enough to the studio that he never bothered to fill up his tank with gas. But then there were those days when that caught up with him, leaving him running on empty AND running behind:

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don’t know about anyone, but me
If it takes all night, that’ll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too

Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind

We’ve all been there. If we don’t stop long enough to fill up our emotional and spiritual tanks, we can suddenly hit a wall and realize we’ve run out of ”gas.” This happens when caregiving, working late, the loss of a loved one, parenting, helping a friend through an emotional crisis, raising teenagers, etc. gets overwhelming and we don’t allow for enough rest and refill.

If that is you today, take a look at this wonderful story from the Old Testament about a widow who was running on empty in every sense of the word:

1 Kings 7 (Contemporary English Version)

The Lord told Elijah, “Go to the town of Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve told a widow in that town to give you food.”

10 When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire. “Would you please bring me a cup of water?” he asked. 11 As she left to get it, he asked, “Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?”

12 The widow answered, “In the name of the living Lord your God, I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil. I’m on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me. After that, we will starve to death.”

13 Elijah said, “Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me. 14 The Lord God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won’t run out and your bottle of oil won’t dry up before he sends rain for the crops.”

15 The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her. She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time. 16 The Lord kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.

This story comes to us today as a reminder of God’s provision. There is one source where we can go to get everything refilled … our personal resources, our family’s needs, the things lacking in our communities, and especially our spiritual emptiness.

The problem is that we try to fill ourselves with things that only end up emptying us farther: drugs, alcohol, inappropriate relationships, over-eating, over-spending, temporary distractions … useless nonsense that the secular world offers in the absence of a meaningful relationship with God.

But we know better.

If you are running on empty today, STOP RUNNING. Sit in the silence of your room and wait on the Lord. Rest in his grace, rest in his POWER, and fill yourself with his presence. Ask God to fill up your cup, and fill it up to overflowing.

The Lord keeps his promises! You can never run out of his grace.

Reflections of Grace by Kathy Schumacher

Wisdom Seekers

Many of the Old and New Testament writers focused on the subject of wisdom, and the lack of it. All were in agreement that people should continually seek to be wise, but James gives it a particular spin by stating that being tested in our faith is an occasion for joy, as it produces endurance, which is completed in maturity. If your testing reveals that you lack wisdom, you’re in luck! God gives it freely to anyone who asks:

James 1 (Common English Bible)

My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 6

When James boldly stated that we should think of various tests as occasions for joy, he was leaning on his own wisdom of what happens when we are tested. His correlation between testing and maturity describes how he understood that wisdom is attained. He understood this as a process, much like Paul understood the correlation between suffering and endurance:

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).

For James, the end result was wisdom. For Paul, it was hope.     

John Wesley was also a believer in process. He devoted his entire lifetime to seeking wisdom through the Scriptures, and thus was known as an homo unius libri, or a“man of one book,” referring of course to the Bible. Even though he was considered to be one of the most well-read men at Oxford, he attributed his understanding to that One Book. This is why it is important to keep up our daily scripture reading.


Wesley believed in salvation by grace through faith. In his sermon The Scripture Way of Salvation, Wesley lays out a process that begins with prevenient grace and runs through justifying grace, sanctifying grace, and onto Christian perfection. Wesley understood perfection as “having the mind of Christ as he walked” … in other words, “perfection” in the sense of maturity. The end result of perfection is a state of wholeness in which we continue to grow in our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of God’s amazing grace for us.


We need to be continually seeking God’s wisdom in every circumstance. When the winds of change are swirling around us, and as people’s opinions of what is fact and what is truth change with the whims of those in power, God’s wisdom is our only hope of understanding the real, certain, and unbreakable truth. Seeking wisdom allows us to seek first the kingdom of God and all of its righteousness. 


The writer of Proverbs says it well: “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:4b-7 New Revised Standard Version).

In other words, we all need wisdom, so we need to make it a priority to get it before we do anything else. Living with wisdom affects how we think, speak, act, relate to God, and relate to others. Biblical wisdom overrides cultural or situational wisdom every time, and it will last forever. James is right. The testing of our faith produces endurance, and when the work of that testing is complete, we truly will be lacking in nothing. God has wisdom in abundance to pour into everyone … as long as we are willing to ask for it, and willing to receive.

Seeking God by Kathy Schumacher

Forswunk

I came across a new word on Twitter the other day, and now I am trying to use it as much as I can. The word is forswunk. It harkens back to the 13th century and it means to be exhausted from overwork. Holy cow, people! There is a NAME FOR IT. Raise your hand if you are forswunk! The poster went on to make a marvelous joke: being ”forEswunk” is to be exhausted before you even begin. I don’t know who Susie Dent is, but this got an immediate follow from me. She is my soul sister when it comes to having fun with words.

I have been both for- and fore-swunk. The recent push to publish a book, writing these devotionals, plugging away on a huge writing assignment for Cokesbury, attending my alma mater’s Alumni Association Council meetings for several days in Pennsylvania … in addition to my usual church and family responsibilities …I am forswunk! How about you? Are you forswunk? And as Halloween approaches in two days, are you realizing how quickly Christmas follows … so now you are feeling foreswunk as well?

What can we do when forswunkness overtakes us??

Stop.

Breathe.

Reevaluate.

Prioritize.

Then take things OFF our lists.

Jesus never used the word, but he certainly understood what it was like to be exhausted by overwork. Here is his counsel for you and for me:

Matthew 11 (New Revised Standard Version)

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Come to Jesus. Lay down your burden, lay your head in his lap, and rest. When he invites us to take his yoke rather than the heavy burden we are carrying, it is a reference to how a young ox is paired with older, stronger, more experienced ox. The older ox carries the weight of the yoke and guides the younger ox along. It is only in Jesus that we will find rest for our souls.

Are you tired? Have life, relationships, work, worries, and the troubles of the world got you down? You are not alone. Jesus longs to walk beside you and carry that load for you.

You don’t have to stay forswunk. Jesus is able! Just come.

If you are looking for a way to stave off foreswunkness as your mind turns toward the busy-ness of Christmas, consider this Advent devotional resource. It was deliberately written to encourage all of us to slow down, minimize, re-focus, and appreciate Christmas for what it is … the greatest gift we could ever receive.

Excerpt from ADVENTuring to the Manger:

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we had kept it as just a birthday party for Jesus, instead of the giftpalooza-partypalooza-spendtoomuchpalooza-shoptilyoudroppalooza that it has become. Imagine it: we would wake up, talk about how wonderful Jesus is, plan a nice meal, bake a birthday cake, have the celebration, blow out the candles, and call it a day. And it would truly be just about him. How can we make Christmas just about Jesus again?

But for today, stop, breathe, reevaluate, and prioritize. Jesus’ yoke is easy and light. Come!

Stopping to Rest by Michelle Robertson

Listen!

I have always loved the Olympic Games. It is fun to watch all the the media attention that is given to the athletes prior to the first competition. While listening to the promos and background stories one day, I discovered an acronym that threw me off for a minute. I may be the last person in the world to know what it meant. When Simone Biles was described as the “goat” of women’s gymnastics, I was a little offended on her behalf. How could that commentator have possibly compared this incomparable athelete to a barnyard animal? The next day I saw it in print, and I realized that it was spelled G.O.A.T. And of course you already know what I had to learn from Google: G.O.A.T. stands for “greatest of all time.” I guess we didn’t recognize G.O.A.T.s in the marching band when I was growing up. At least not that kind of goat.

Jesus was once asked about which of the commandments was the G.O.A.T. In the twelfth chapter of Mark, he encounters a legal expert who is hoping to trip him up with a trick question. The people around them are leaning in to hear which of the Ten Commandments Jesus will pick. But watch what Jesus does:

Mark 12 (Common English Bible)

28 One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Jesus responds by quoting the ”Shema” from the book of Deuteronomy. The word ”shema” means to listen. There is a special meaning in this: not only does he give them the traditional faith prayer of his people, which commands them to listen, but he is also instructing the people around him to listen as he clarifies the greatest commandment. Here is the full text of the Shema:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 New Revised Standard Version).

Jesus instructs them to listen up! First and foremost, love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength.

Then he continues:

 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

Jews familiar with Scripture would hear the echo of Leviticus:

 Leviticus 19:18; “Forget about the wrong things people do to you. Don’t try to get even. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (ERV)

Jesus’ response is a beautiful rendering of the Ten Commandments in two statements. The first statement blends the first through the fourth commandments, which address our relationship with God. The second statement combines the fifth through the tenth commandments, which instruct us on how to act toward one another.

Even the legal expert was impressed!

32 The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

In the end, loving God with all that you have and loving your neighbor with all that you are pretty much covers everything. These commandments truly are the G.O.A.T. and we are called to live by them every day.

What can you do today to share your love of God with someone? Where is God calling you to reach out to a neighbor in love and service?

Wherever God leads you, go and do it. Then you can be a goat, too.

Dolphin Tales by Michelle Robertson

Rule Forever

Several years ago I was blessed to travel to Israel. I will never forget this trip of a lifetime. Some of my wonderful memories include watching the sun set over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and riding a camel. By the way, camels are mean! I also remember watching faithful Jews praying at the Western Wall. This historic location is the site of the temples in Jerusalem up through Jesus’ time. It is a space that is shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. All three of these religions have significant history there.

On the Jewish side, there is access to the wall itself, and visitors are invited to place rolled up prayer requests between the ancient stones and pray there. We watched as Jewish families prayed, with men and women separated by a thick curtain. One striking feature of the prayers was how people stood as they prayed. They bowed continuously from the waist with hands clasped and heads lowered, murmuring their prayers in a low, harmonic hum. As I stood there placing the prayers that I had carried from my church in the mortar cracks, I closed my eyes and listened to all of the many languages that were being lifted up. I had a strong conviction that this is what heaven sounds like. Watching the faithful Jews lined up and facing the wall as they bobbed and weaved was a marvelous sight. The sound was even better.

The origin of this practice is found in an interpretation of Psalm 146, which encourages us to praise the Lord with our ”whole being.” So rather than sit in a passive attitude thinking their prayers, these men and women gathered at the wall were engaging their ”whole being” in a physical expression of moving through the prayer.

Psalm 146 (Common English Bible)

    Let my whole being praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord with all my life;
    I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.

Now pay attention to this next part, and remember that it was written thousands of years ago in a much different political environment than the one we live in today:

Don’t trust leaders;
    don’t trust any human beings—
    there’s no saving help with them!
Their breath leaves them,
    then they go back to the ground.
    On that very same day, their plans die too.

So maybe the political environment thousands of years ago was not that much different than today! Truth is truth. God’s truth will always abide … the rest is just fleeting breath and temporary manmade plans. The only way to find help is through God. The only way to find happiness is by resting your hope on the Lord. Human beings will let you down all the time, but God gives justice to the oppressed, bread to the starving, and freedom to the prisoners.

The person whose help is the God of Jacob—
    the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God—
    is truly happy!
God: the maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
God: who is faithful forever,
    who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
    who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
    The Lord: who makes the blind see.
    The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
    The Lord: who loves the righteous.
    The Lord: who protects immigrants,
        who helps orphans and widows,
        but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!

10 The Lord will rule forever!
    Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!

Today, make your prayers active prayers. Move around, take a walk, pray out loud. Let your WHOLE being praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

Maker of Heaven and Earth by Beverly Mineo

Job Satisfaction

I truly dislike doing the laundry. I am that person who waits until the hamper is full, and then I finally and begrudgingly haul it down two flights of stairs to process it through the washer and dryer. Too often it ends up in the dryer for a day, requiring it to have to be fluffed again to de-wrinkle the load. Then I fold it all and haul it back upstairs, where it sits neatly folded in the laundry basket for several more days. When I need the laundry basket again, I finally put the last of the clean clothes away and start the process all over again. Like I said, I dislike doing the laundry! Why? BECAUSE IT IS NEVER REALLY FINISHED. It just goes on, and on, and on … wash, rinse, repeat. The same goes for housework, grocery shopping, cooking … there is no such thing as job satisfaction with any of that nonsense!

Before Jesus came, the people of Israel had the same problem with all of their ritual sacrifices and offerings. Just as they would complete one, it needed to be repeated. Remember the time when Jesus turned over the money lenders’ tables at the Temple in Jerusalem? They had set up shop to provide animals for the yearly altar sacrifices that were part of the annual pilgrimage to the Temple. Making these offerings was something that was never really finished … wash, rinse, repeat every year.

Jesus did more than turn over the tables … he turned over the world. He replaced the priests and their offering systems. He replaced the offering. He became the once and for all sacrifice that never needs repeating, because he is the holy, incorrupt, innocent, and ultimate sacrifice for our sins:

Hebrews 7 (Common English Bible)

23 The others who became priests are numerous because death prevented them from continuing to serve. 24 In contrast, he holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. 25 This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them.

The supremacy of Christ as the mediator for our sins is cleanly laid out in this chapter. What a marvelous gift! He is the only one who can save us, and he lives to speak with God for us. What do you wish he would say about you right now? What intercession do you need Jesus to make on your behalf as he and his father are chatting today?

26 It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. 28 The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Jesus is the one and done, the end all, the be all, and the real deal. When he sacrificed himself for the sins of the world, the need for us to keep repeating the same useless burnt offerings to cleanse our sins ended forever. The only offering we need to make now is our repentance.

Need to get something off your chest today? Go to Jesus. He and his father are listening.

Burnt Offering by Michelle Robertson

The Power of Song

Last week we sang A Mighty Fortress is our God in worship, and I was immediately transported back to a time in a different church when I had come under attack by a church member. My charismatic friends assured me that the attack was from the Enemy, who was trying to thwart my ministry and derail me from doing God’s work. In the midst of that pain and confusion, we sang A Mighty Fortress, and I felt the blessed peace of God’s protection come over me. I remember looking up and finding the friend who had been diligently praying for me during this turbulent time. She was staring at me with a look of ”SEE!!! This is God’s answer!” on her face. It brought me immense comfort. Are you feeling down today? Are you under attack? Read this:

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2 Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.

3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

4 That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever! 

Being able to sing our way out of a difficult time is a true blessing, and a gift from God. Many times music can provide the necessary release we need, as we find the raw emotion to express our feelings of remorse, joy, awe, surrender, and humility. The psalms provide us with the language of faith during life’s challenges that might otherwise leave us speechless and floundering in doubt. The power of song is huge. That is why the Israelites who were exiled in Babylon sang so much, their captors asked to be entertained by their singing. (Psalm 137:7) That is why singing was so important when Hezekiah restored worship in the temple … the king, his officers, and everyone gathered sang praises with gladness. (2 Chronicles 29:30) That is why Jehoshaphat sent the choir out to battle first, providing the frontline of defense against Israel’s enemies. (2 Chronicles 20:21) That is why the disciples left the upper room after the Last Supper and sang hymns on the way to the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 26:30) Our faith, our hope, and our hearts are strengthened when we sing. 


I think that the Enemy hates it when we sing. Our songs can become spiritual weapons against the present darkness that threatens to undo us, especially when we unify our hearts, minds, and voices into one consolidated power, made possible by the Holy Spirit. Remember that Paul and Silas were once imprisoned. They were praying and singing hymns while the other prisoners listened to them. Suddenly there was a huge earthquake and immediately all of the doors of the jail were opened, and everyone’s chains were unlocked. (Acts 16:25-26) There is power in song!

God indeed inhabits the praises of his people! The power of praise is greater than he who is in the world, so sing, my brothers and sisters!

Just sing.

Just Sing by Kathy Schumacher


Boundaries

Hurricane season in 2021 began in June and is forecast to end on November 30th. Living on the coastal waters of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I pay attention to this. We continue to have ”red flag days,” where swimming is prohibited due to dangerous surf conditions brought by passing off-shore storms. The key part of that sentence is ”off-shore storms.” It is not over yet, but we are beginning to exhale just a tiny bit as the season winds down with no direct impact this year. (Please Lord, make it so.) Our friends in Louisiana took a double portion of hurricanes this year, and I know that they are also anxiously awaiting the end of hurricane season.

People in other parts of the country probably think that the worst devastation from a storm comes when it makes a direct hit on the shore. I spoke with a woman from Michigan last week who thought it would be safer to live on the sound than the beach. In truth, there can just as much devastation when the west-side sounds flood as a result of the hurricane’s ability to displace tons of water in a short amount of time. When the sound returns, it returns with a vengeance.

Today’s Psalm offers a word of comfort for those times when we feel a storm coming and we fear for our safety. Those storms can be weather-related or situational. Storms of anger, betrayal, depression, confusion, and hopelessness can feel just as damaging to your spirit as a full-on Cat 5.

The psalmist begins with beautiful praise language:

Psalm 104 (Common English Bible)

 Let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Lord my God, how fantastic you are!
    You are clothed in glory and grandeur!
You wear light like a robe;
    you open the skies like a curtain.
You build your lofty house on the waters;
    you make the clouds your chariot,
    going around on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
    you make fire and flame your ministers.
You established the earth on its foundations
    so that it will never ever fall.

Let the image of God wearing light like a robe and going around in a chariot of clouds sit with you for a moment. Isn’t that beautiful? Breathe it in.

You covered it with the watery deep like a piece of clothing;
    the waters were higher than the mountains!
But at your rebuke they ran away;
    they fled in fear at the sound of your thunder.
They flowed over the mountains,
    streaming down the valleys
    to the place you established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross
    so they’ll never again cover the earth.

This is where I find comfort. God set a boundary for the waters that they cannot cross, so they’ll never again cover the earth. Even when the worst storm is raging, God is still in control. Even when the winds of change are assaulting us and the waters of despair are rising, God is still in control. Even when the husband leaves, the baby gets sick, the business fails, the job is lost, the parent dies … even then, God is still in control.

I hope this brings you comfort today. God has set a boundary around your life and has wrapped you in a robe of eternity. The resurrection guarantees that no storm can permanently harm you, even when you are in the midst of one and it feels like there is no way out.

There is. His name is Jesus.

Stormy Weather by Michelle Robertson