Laughing at Death

The history of Halloween is interesting. It began as a Celtic practice called Samhain, which was held at the end of the harvest season, when late fall turns into frozen winter and the death of all the earth’s growing things was imminent. The Celts believed that on the day of Samhain, the veil between the living and the dead was lifted, and the dead came back and walked the earth. So the people dressed in costumes and lit bonfires to confuse the ghosts and ward off the evil spirits and the walking dead among them. Samhain was held on October 31st.

All Saints’ Day, a festival for remembering the saints, was set by Pope Gregory III on November 1st in order to co-opt this pagan tradition and connect it to a Christian practice. Samhain thus became known as All Hallows’ Eve, which we now call Halloween. In many ways, the two traditions are related. All Saints’ Day recognizes the work of the faithful who have died in the previous year and have gone on to experience God’s glorious eternity. Samhain was a day when people actively defied death, laughing at the very notion of it.

As it should be.

Nobody wants to die. We are designed by God to seek life, preserve life, protect life, and frankly, we spend most of our days trying to make the best of this life that we’ve been given. So while we don’t look forward to dying, we also can live our lives as those who are prepared to die, because living or dying, our life is with the Lord. God designed us for life, but death is a part of God’s design as well. Because of the resurrection of Jesus and his promise to take us to the place where he went upon his death, we can live in such a way that, while we don’t seek death, we don’t dread it either. We can even put on a Buzz Lightyear mask or Mickey ears and laugh at death on All Hallow’s Eve, because in the end, death has no lasting power over us:

1 Corinthians 15

51-57 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again.

At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!

Who got the last word, oh, Death?

Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

I know a man who is not afraid of death, despite his ongoing battle with brain cancer. He has sought treatments, has had surgery, and has received miracles of love, healing, and friendships from the Lord. A new tumor has stabilized, and the original tumor bed has another tumor growing in it. This will be dealt with through prayer, positivity, medical treatments, and the power of God. In the meantime, guess what this man did last month? He offered to lead a men’s Bible study and support group this year. That, my friends, is laughing at death. Who gets the last word? Jesus. Always Jesus. We ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

So mote it be.

Hatteras Campfire by Melissa Herring

Surround Yourself

The founder and creator of LARABARS shared her secret to success on NPR recently. After telling her story of how she made protein bars in small batches in her kitchen with her father, she goes on to explain that bringing in revenue of over five million dollars in the second year (!) was due to the fact that all the way along, she “surrounded herself with people who believed in her.”

That really hit home for me. All of my life’s joys and moments of feeling accomplished were times when I felt the tangible support of people who believed in me. I am blessed to have a family who believes in me. They might not always agree with me, or believe in the same things I believe in, but they believe in me. I am also blessed with two best friends who have run alongside of me for ten years who believe in me. I have a third who walks dogs with me and uplifts me in the same way. They have gotten me through some very rough times when I was under attack professionally, personally, and spiritually. They also don’t always agree with me, but they have stood by me through thick and thin. Their steadfast faith in me carried me through times when I felt weak, unsure, and insecure. I would have just up and quit several times, had it not been for all these blessings.

I often think of Jesus and his devotion to his disciples. They were a motley crew, who at moments really came through for our Lord, and at other times, failed miserably.

We all know the story of Peter’s heartbreaking denial of Jesus the night before his crucifixion. Lest we be hasty to judge, do you think you would have done any better? With soldiers and swords challenging you, with the impossibility of who Jesus REALLY was looking more incredible by the moment, wouldn’t you have wanted to flee as well? Doubt is a part of the faith journey. It helps us get to where we are going.

So let’s take a look at Peter’s redemption, and see if we can recall a time when we, too, were doubtful, and then believed:

John 21:15-25 New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Reinstates Peter

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

These words reinstated Peter, and he went on to become the rock and the foundation of the church. They gave him a chance to reclaim himself as someone who DID believe in Jesus, even though he let Jesus down in the final hour. You see, Peter didn’t always believe in Jesus, but Jesus always believed in Peter. And he believes in you, too.

This causes us to reflect on the fact that even our closest supporters can fail us. They can miss a cue, misread a moment, respond out of a selfish place, or just not see our need.

Love them anyway. Forgive them anyway. Offer a way back with open arms. And surround yourself with others who do believe in you.

People who are close to you who don’t believe in you can be a millstone around your neck. It’s up to you to shed them, or forgive them. But in either case, keep on keeping on, aligning yourself with those who uplift you and cheer you on no matter what. And better yet, be an encourager for those whom you believe in. It makes all the difference in the world.

Friends on the Beach by David Bevel Jones.

To Fly

Have you ever dreamed that you can fly? Not fly in an airplane, but do you ever have that dream where you can actually fly through the air, in your best Superman pose? I have had flying dreams ever since I was a child. It is always on a moonlit night in the little town where I grew up. The weather is mild, and I start off by standing on the sidewalk. In my mind, I simply decide to fly! My heels lift up behind me and suddenly I can fly over the houses and trees. I fly over my elementary school, the library next door, and down to the post office with the creepy woods behind it. From the air, the woods never look as creepy as they did in real life. But the feeling! To fly through the air, unencumbered and free….gosh, I hope heaven has an element of flying to it.

Psychologists suggest many reasons for flying dreams. They are an expression of the need for freedom, escape, a spiritual awakening, joy, and elation.

If, by chance, you don’t happen to fly in your dreams, take heart. At the end, we all will fly, straight into Jesus’ arms.

1 Thessalonians 4

6 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

So dream along with me for a minute. The Lord himself will come down for us. He will call us to himself. We will hear the call of the archangel and the trumpet, and we will arise. We will arise! We will met the Lord in the air, flying with our Superman arms extended, free, joyful, elated, and at peace.

No more tears. No more anger. No more hate. No more pain, death, cancer, divorce, disease, terrorism, war, and even no more political debates and taxes. This world will all fall away and we will FLY.

So for now, do what it says: encourage one another. Lift up one another. Build one another up and spur each other on to good deeds, loving each other, serving the needy, and telling the good news of our impending departure to everyone who has not heard yet. Get ready to defy gravity! Together we will be caught up in the clouds, and fly away.

I’ll fly away, oh Glory!

I’ll fly away.

When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,

I’ll fly away!

Feather Sunrise by Michelle Robertson.

For Billy Baldwin, who just earned yet another set of wings. Fly away home, sir.

Typos

Oh, my gosh, the TYPOS. The bane of my existence. No matter how often I proofread, edit, proofread, and edit again, I don’t think I have had one upload without a typo. I am blessed with a highly overqualified editor (Mass Media and Communication PhD, former professor, and an incredible woman of God) who gently sends me a private message when she finds them, and I fix them right away.

Unfortunately, those of you who receive these devotionals by email never get to see the corrected version. It only changes online. It drives me MAD.

Why, oh why, can’t I see them? It is as though a veil is over my eyes, and as hard as I look, they escape me.

Apparently the brain reads what the brain has intended to say. We know what we meant to say, and that is what we hear when we read it to ourselves over and over. The brain overrides the eyes, and we literally can’t “see” our mistakes. This is why we need good friends to edit us.

And that applies to so much more than writing.

Sirach 6:14-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14  Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:

    whoever finds one has found a treasure.

15  Faithful friends are beyond price;

    no amount can balance their worth.

16  Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;

    and those who fear the Lord will find them.

(Not familiar with this book? Sirach is a book found in the Catholic and Orthodox bibles. It was originally not included in the Protestant canon because there was no Hebrew version of it. However, a Hebrew version was discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Isn’t that a lovely scripture?)

Faithful friends provide a safe place, a security we can’t find elsewhere, and are good medicine when things ail us. Good medicine fixes things, and sometimes comes in the form of gentle corrections or appropriate edits along the way. Only a trusted pal can speak truth into your life in ways that others can’t.

There was a woman in our congregation whom others were convinced had an eating disorder. She cracked her pelvis due to weak bones and over-exercise. When she tried to go out for a light run a few weeks after her injury, her best friend reached out to me and implored me to intervene. I did not know this woman well, as she was an infrequent attender. People struggling with eating disorders tend to be very private, very afraid of discovery, and practice a lot of denial.

I told the friend that she was in a much better position to confront her friend, but she refused. She continued to persist that I speak to the woman, so I finally contacted her. You can guess the rest: I expressed the concern, and she was furious and denied it. She never returned to church again.

I was in no position to “correct” her, and I knew that. The friend would have been so much better heard. That’s what a good friend does. A gentle word, softly spoken, goes a long way between friends. We can all use editing now and then.

We often can’t see our mistakes. Things we intend to be seen or heard one way can be interpreted another way. We can put a veil over our own eyes when we get caught up in something we have no business doing. A good friend helps us to see what we can’t see, and correct the “typos” of our lives.

Where is someone trying to speak truth into your situation? You need to listen. Where do you need to gently edit a friend before they go off the rails? You need to speak.

It’s hard to tell someone that they are drinking too much, eating too little, spending too much, neglecting their health, flirting with the wrong person, driving while impaired, etc. It’s harder when you’re the one who needs to HEAR those corrections. This all requires loving words, a solid relationship, and a whole lot of prayer.

Editing is a hard thing, and it takes delicacy. But faithful friends try. Faithful friends are a treasure without measure…no amount can balance what they’re worth. Open our eyes, Lord, to the truths that faithful friends deliver.

Where Two are Gathered by my faithful friend Elaine Reed

True Colors

The saying “character is who you are when nobody is looking” is true. If we want and claim to be people of personal integrity, truth, honor, and righteousness, then who we are when we aren’t puffed-up and trying to impress people is the truest reflection of ourselves.

Integrity is sorely lacking among the puffed-up today. Politicians, multi-million dollar athletes, celebrities, church leaders, news personalities, local community leaders…the list is endless, and the hypocrisy great. Maybe it’s part of our human makeup. We would cringe for others to see who we are for real, so we create great facades of perfection and hide behind them.

Facebook and Instagram are wonderful vehicles for puffed-uppedness. Just scroll through everyone’s pretty, perfect pictures and you can come away with a notion that your life STINKS compared to the exotic vacations, gorgeous spouses, well-mannered children, and obedient pets that your friends post. It’s depressing…and fake.

If we showed our true colors, a lot of chaos, messiness, mistakes, Pinterest fails, love handles, and flapping thighs would dominate our feeds. Think I’m exaggerating? When is the last time you took a selfie holding your phone at waist level? NOPE, we all know to hold it as high as we can and look up with our cheesy grins, knowing we have made our double chins and saggy jawlines magically disappear.

Do you know what God says about all this?

“WHATEVER.”

Philippians 4:8 New International Version (NIV)

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Whatever is true.

Whatever is noble.

Whatever is right.

Whatever is pure.

Whatever is lovely.

Whatever is admirable.

In a world of inauthentic people, of puffed-up show-offs, of plastic facades, and fake smiles…be a whatever. Show your true colors. Be authentic. And if you’ve got parts of your soul that need fixing, fix them. Take that selfie from the waist level and let your crows feet show your joy!

When we choose true, noble and right over what just looks good, we honor God and make ourselves approachable to the other whatevers around us. And that’s how we win the world.

True Colors at the End of Our Street by Gail Driver

Snap Judgement

In Malcolm Gladwell’s marvelous book Blink, he shares a story of a statue sold to the Getty Museum for ten million dollars. The museum spent fourteen months authenticating the statue. It met every standard of a sixth century BC kourous, a Greek statue of a nude boy standing with his left foot forward and his hands to his side. Less than 200 kouroi exist today, and most are in very poor condition.

The statue went on display and a group of museum experts from around the world were invited to the opening. Suddenly, there was a problem. It didn’t “look right” to some of the guests. An Italian art historian who served on the Getty’s board of trustees, a foremost expert on Greek sculpture, and the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York all agreed that something was “off” with the sculpture.

It was sent to Athens for further authentication, and immediately experts there had the same reaction. George Despinis, the head of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, said that he thought it was a fake because when he first saw it, he felt an “intuitive repulsion.”

Further testing was done…it turned out that the statue was a fake.

Gladwell calls the ability to make a snap judgement “adaptive unconscious.” He points out that our intuitive response to things, and how we come to a conclusion with little information in the first seconds of seeing something, is a gift we have but don’t use. I bet you’ve been in a situation where a truth is finally revealed and your first thought was, “I KNEW something was wrong!” Yet for some reason, you diverted your mind away from seeing the reality in front of you. Adaptive unconscious is a God-given ability that we somehow don’t trust.

As God reminded Job, the gift of insight comes from God alone:

Job 38:35-38 Living Bible (TLB)

36 “Who gives intuition and instinct? 37-38 Who is wise enough to number all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven, when everything is dust and clods?”

And Paul encourages us to seek God’s gift of spiritual knowledge and insight:

Philippians 1 Living Bible (TLB)

9 My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, 10 for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean, no one being able to criticize you from now until our Lord returns.

I think we see, and then don’t want to see, so we look away. I have done this. I saw signs and symptoms of a problem that didn’t immediately add up. My gut told me one thing, but I couldn’t see what I was seeing. I was manipulated into a state of unbelief until the truth was revealed, and I realized, “I KNEW something was wrong.” I wish I had trusted my adaptive unconscious response and allowed God to show me the truth sooner. It might have averted some genuine pain later.

I think God calls us to a higher knowledge. I think God equips us with a Holy Spirit-informed insight. I think we look away because it’s too painful to see what is right in front of us.

What is staring you in the face right now that you are refusing to see? Where is God sending you signals and signs of warning? What is the truth you refuse to acknowledge?

Allowing God to speak truth by the power of the Holy Spirit through your insight will enable you to clearly see the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean. So open your eyes. Open your mind. Keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight. And don’t blink.

Fall Moon by Mary Anne Mong Cramer.

Bang Bang-Bang Bark

The roofers have finally arrived. Hurricane Dorian caused it to rain in my closet, and it should never rain in your closet. She took out a good portion of the roof, caused my flag pole to crash through part of my fence, and was a very unpleasant visitor indeed.

Now I have other unpleasant visitors. While I am grateful to know that the temporary tarps will be replaced by permanent shingles, roofers are hard to live with. Well, it’s not even just the roofers…it’s the dog barking at the roofers. The incessant bang bang-bang is accompanied by the dog barking her fool head off. I am living in a cacophony of distraction. And as the damaged shingles are flung off the roof to a tarp they just constructed right next to where I sit in my writing corner, I also get the pleasure of objects flying in my peripheral vision that make me duck. Oh, and did I mention that we now have to proceed with caution into the bathrooms, which all have windows…without shades.

Did you know there was a time in the Bible when God used noise to win a battle?

Judges 7

16-18 He divided the three hundred men into three companies. He gave each man a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch in the jar. He said, “Watch me and do what I do. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly what I do. When I and those with me blow the trumpets, you also, all around the camp, blow your trumpets and shout, ‘For God and for Gideon!’”

19-22 Gideon and his hundred men got to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after the sentries had been posted. They blew the trumpets, at the same time smashing the jars they carried. All three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands, ready to blow, and shouted, “A sword for God and for Gideon!” They were stationed all around the camp, each man at his post.

The whole Midianite camp jumped to its feet. They yelled and fled. When the three hundred blew the trumpets, God aimed each Midianite’s sword against his companion, all over the camp. They ran for their lives—to Beth Shittah, toward Zererah, to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

I just want you to know that if Russia attacks OBX tomorrow, my roofers and I will defeat them, one nail gun blast and dog bark at a time.

The Gideon passage is a great testament to what God can do with (1) small things, (2) unexpected things, and (3) non-traditional things. Jars and trumpets are not the usual weapons of war, yet they were. Three hundred men versus an army of thousands should not have won the day, yet they did. Noise shouldn’t conquer an enemy, yet it happened.

Ever feel small against insurmountable odds? Ever feel totally out of your league when faced with a conflict? Ever think your skill set was lacking, your voice was ineffective, and your resolve was too weak when faced with a battle?

Shout. Just shout. Raise the roof, make some noise, stand up for yourself, break your jar of insecurity and TAKE YOUR POSITION. God is with the righteous, and he goes before us. He reminds us that the battle is his, and he can use anything and everything to make the Enemy flee.

Are you ready? God is able. Lift up your torch and go.

Dorian-1, Flagpole-0

Second Wind

Have you ever had a never-ending week that turned into a never-ending weekend that suddenly became the middle of the next week, and you had not yet come up for air? And then it became a month, then a year, then a life of never ending-ness? I think this is why God created the second wind. Were it not for our ability to catch a second wind, we would have all burned out decades ago.

So let’s talk about second winds for a second. (See what I did there?) According to Grammerist.com, a second wind is defined as:

A second wind is a renewed sense of vigor after becoming fatigued, a fresh conviction that one is able to achieve one’s goal, a burst of energy following exhaustion. The word wind, in this case, refers to breath. The idea is that one becomes fatigued and is out of breath, and then becomes reinvigorated and catches one’s breath. The term second wind may be used to mean a burst of energy after one becomes physically fatigued, or it may mean a burst of energy when one is mentally or spiritually fatigued. The term second wind was first used in the 1830s, to mean a renewed sense of vigor when one has become tired from physical exertion.

I love the fact that this definition mentions becoming spiritually fatigued. Spiritual fatigue can happen just like any other fatigue. When we push hard at something, even the rewarding task of spiritual development, worship, sharing the good news with others, trying to be a light in the darkness, or just getting through the day without punching somebody in the throat, exhaustion can happen.

We are living in a time when hate, anger, hostility, rudeness, and viral vomiting are the norm. These things hurt our spirit. These things exhaust our souls. It is exhausting to be the light when people feel the freedom to bash, criticize, condemn, and bully others on every social media platform, news program, and radio show that we turn on. We are surrounded by a cacophony of negative noise that makes in impossible to hear anything good or wholesome. And that wears us out.

Are you worn out? Need a second wind?

I think there are two things to keep in mind when your will to go forward goes backward and you just want to sit down and stop.

First, sit down and stop. The whole reason God created the sabbath is so that we would stop everything and have a sabbath rest. Some days you just need a day of disconnected, unplugged solitude in order to recharge. Pushing when you have absolutely nothing left in your tank just means your engine will stop anyway, just farther down the road.

Second, consider what Paul says about second winds:

Hebrews 12 The Message (MSG)

Discipline in a Long-Distance Race

12 1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

When you see yourself flagging in your faith, take a breath, stop to rest, wait for the second breath to come, and remember why you are doing this. Remember what Jesus plowed through. Remember the story, every step of the way, and how Jesus plowed through all the hate, anger, and hostility that he had to overcome.

YOU are the light of the world. YOU are the salt of the earth. You got this.

Take a breath, and then a second breath, recharge, and get back in the race. And keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we are running. God is at the finish line, so breathe.

Just breathe.

Resting Sun by Steve Hanf.

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a way of outsourcing a task or obtaining information for a project by using the input of a large group of people, typically on the internet. Social media, smartphone apps, and electronic surveys are just some of the means by which interested parties can source work or gather information. People are invited to collectively contribute ideas, time, expertise, or funds to a common goal. For example, traffic tracking apps such as Waze use driver/rider generated reports to communicate accidents, objects in the road, construction, and police on your journey. Uber pairs drivers with people who need a ride, an example of crowdsourced transportation.

Lays Potato Chips has really maximized the concept of crowdsourcing in its campaign “Do Us a Flavor,” where they asked people to submit ideas for potato chip flavors. Then the public was invited to vote on the flavors they would like to try. The top four submissions became actual products. So new flavors such as Crispy Taco, Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle, and Beer Cheese have been crowdsourced from inception to having the final selection available at your local Wawa. I don’t know who came up with the idea of Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle potato chips, but I want some.

At the heart of crowdsourcing is the notion of people coming together to help each other. I once traveled to Florida using Waze, and saved close to two hours in traffic. Others ahead of me reported a crash that had shut down the highway, and WAZE suggested a faster route.

Crowdsourcing existed in the early church, but they didn’t call it that. Martin Luther was an original crowd-sourcer. His frustrations with the institutional Church led him to write his “Ninety-Five Theses: A Disputation on the Power of Indulgences” and nail them on the door of the church in Wittenberg, which was located in the heart of the city on the public square. People read it, printed it, translated it, and shared its ideas with others throughout Germany and the rest of Europe, and thus the Reformation began.

But Jesus, of course was THE original crowd SOURCE. He spent a good deal of his ministry among the crowds. In the wonderful miracle known as the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” we see him at his crowdsourcing best:

Matthew 14 (The Message)

Supper for Five Thousand

13-14 When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

15 Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”

16 But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”

17 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.

18-21 Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.

Did you notice how that went? The disciples were expecting Jesus to come up with the meal. Jesus told the twelve to figure something out. They came up with five loaves and two fish, and lunch was served on the lawn. So Jesus sourced the miracle, and the crowd sourced the “re-source.”

What resource are you holding onto that would be better shared with the crowd? Where can you offer your expertise, your ideas, or your opinions in a way that constructively benefits others? Where is God calling you to take the Good News out into the public square and re-form the people?

Whatever your resource may be, God calls us to break our loaves and fish open and offer them to the world. And whenever you have served the least of these with whatever you have, you have served the Lord. And don’t forget to pick up the leftovers.

Fishing off Avalon Pier by Michelle Robertson

Blessing of the Animals

Pets are a wonderful blessing…well, for the most part. I have had dogs most of my life, and except for the times when my favorite shoes get chewed up or potty training was going badly, I have loved every minute of being with my dogs.

Well, there was the time Georgia ate half a pork roast, an entire bag of bagels (including the plastic bag,) a left-over baked potato, and then polished it all off with a scented candle. A scented candle! Palate cleanser, perhaps? Oh, yes, and the time she broke through the decorative fence at my daughter’s house, ran helter-skelter across the golf course disrupting everyone’s game, and then jumped in the lake, right on top of a duck. The whole time I was chasing her and yelling for her to stop. Her temporary and utterly complete hearing loss in that moment has always amazed me.

But our pets are part our family, and we cherish them. We may even like them better than members of our family….let’s face it, sometimes they are better behaved than particular family members.

There is a wonderful celebration of animals of all kinds in many Anglican-based churches called the “Blessing of the Animals.” It is usually held around October 4th, which is the traditional feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, known for his great love of all creatures great and small. Animals are brought to the church grounds or inside the sanctuary (with towels provided for “spills”) and the priest/pastor/vicar offers an individual blessing for each one. Water used to be used, but the cat union got on that one pretty quickly, so now it’s just a laying on of hands that goes along with the spoken blessing. In my denomination, we say this:

Bless, O Lord, this creature,

and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for its being.

I have officiated Blessings of the Animals a few times in my ministry, and the most exotic animal I have blessed was a very large lizard named George. Another pastor was with me that day, so I indicated to the boy with the snake that he should get in that pastor’s line. I was amazed at the number of church members who brought their animals, and it was a joy to watch their faces light up when their turn came to step forward. (The people, not the pets. If the snake’s face lit up, I will never know. Thanks be to God.)

In the book of Genesis, God gives humanity the care and protection of all of the animals he created:

Genesis 1 (The Message)

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them

        reflecting our nature

    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,

        the birds in the air, the cattle,

    And, yes, Earth itself,

        and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

    God created human beings;

        he created them godlike,

    Reflecting God’s nature.

        He created them male and female.

    God blessed them:

        “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

    Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,

        for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

This is why churches for centuries have done blessings of the animals. We have been given a great gift, and with it comes a greater responsibility. God asks us to be responsible for EVERY living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.

If we take this seriously, we would all run to our local animal shelter right now and adopt a pet, as we are able.

If we take this seriously, we would all run to our local animal shelter right now and donate money or supplies, as we are able.

If we take this seriously, we would become animal rights advocates, denounce sport hunting, and become vegan, as we are able.

If we take this seriously, we would take good care of the pets with which we have been entrusted and look after our neighbor’s pets, as we are able.

If we take this seriously, we would safely pull over and move a turtle off the road, as we are able. (If you do this, place the turtle on the grass in the direction he was going, not back the way he was coming from. Otherwise, he will just go out in the road again. Just a little OBX wisdom.)

Our pets are a blessing to us. If you have one, love them tenderly today. If you don’t, reach out with some form of support to your local shelter or to a neighbor who might appreciate it if you offered to walk their dog. God is counting on us to care for his creation. We fill our hearts with thanksgiving for them being here with us.

Blessing of the Animals at Colington UMC. Photo by Patrice White Taylor-Welch.