Favored One

“Inside Out” is a wonderful movie about the exploration of emotions. We enter the world of eleven-year-old Riley, who experiences joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness over the prospect of moving to a new city. Along the way, young viewers learn a new vocabulary for expressing their own feelings. Some old ones do, too.

One of the blessings of the psalms is that they give voice to our many emotions. Think of them as a pre-Pixar “Inside Out”. All the “feels” are there as we see them finding expression for everything we are going through on a daily basis. The relevance of these writings is timeless.

Today’s psalm is no exception, as we see David once again fleeing for his life. This time it is his own son Absalom who was the pursuer. Absalom’s successful rebellion has driven David out of Jerusalem. In his distress, David expressed all of those emotions in just the first five verses. We see him cry out loud to God in fear. We see him disgusted with those who claim that God won’t help him. We see his anger against the many who stand against him. We see his sadness that people are talking about him. And finally, we see joy in his ability to feel confidence in his identity as a child of God, who is his shield. Can you relate to any of this? I can.

Psalm 3:1-5 (Common English Bible)

Lord, I have so many enemies!
    So many are standing against me.
So many are talking about me:
    “Even God won’t help him.” Selah

But you, Lord, are my shield!
    You are my glory!
    You are the one who restores me.
I cry out loud to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me.

By the way, “Selah” is a device in the psalms that offers a pause. It gives the reader/singer a chance to reflect before moving on. I recently told a group at a woman’s retreat that it is like saying, “Yo!” after a meaningful phrase. But I digress.

This psalm gives us permission to feel all those same things. Joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear are just some of the emotions we can run through on a daily basis. How we handle those feelings is an indication of where we are on our walk with Jesus. 

David handled his emotions with the confidence of a favored son. Do you know that you are God’s favored as well? And like David, God will answer us when we cry out, whether in silent prayer or by raising our voices and shouting to the heavens.

And don’t miss David’s dismissal of the people who talked behind his back and assumed that because of his past sin record, God would not come to his aid. David responds with a great big “But” and counters that God is his shield, his glory, and is the one who restores him. David knew that he was not defined by his past mistakes, but rather was defined by the future glory that came with his repentance and God’s forgiveness. Do you know that as well, or are you letting your past define your present?

Psalm 3 is a beautiful reminder of God’s continuing presence in our every emotion. It is a clear declaration that God’s mercy is always available to us when we cry out to our mighty God. 

Need help? Your Shield stands at the ready.

God’s Glory by Becca Ziegler

Weeping Through the Night

One fateful night, a pastor is called to the Emergency Room of a large hospital. Two teenagers have been in a horrific car crash. One is in the operating room, and the other in the morgue. Both sets of parents are there. One set waits in hopeful anticipation of the doctor coming out of surgery to say that their son will recover. The other set sits in stunned silence outside the morgue with no hope. But as the night goes on, it is discovered that the dead boy is the son of the parents outside the operating room. Those hopeful parents must now face the reality of death. It falls to the pastor to speak into this situation. What can we say to ease the horror of losing a child?

In the 37th chapter of Genesis, we read of the enormous grief that Jacob felt upon learning of the death of his favorite son, Joseph. We, the reader, know that Joseph is not actually dead but was sold into slavery by his devious and spiteful brothers. His braggadocios stories of his dreams that foretold the brothers bowing down to him as he swaggered in his precious brightly colored coat (a gift of favor from his father) led them to dispose of him in a cruel way. Even more cruel is their ability to watch their father grieve Joseph’s death without rushing to confess that he is alive as they present Jacob with Joseph’s bloody coat:

Genesis 37:33-35 (Common English Bible)

33 Jacob recognized it and said, “It’s my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him. Joseph must have been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put a simple mourning cloth around his waist, and mourned for his son for many days. 35 All of his sons and daughters got up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, telling them, “I’ll go to my grave mourning for my son.” And Joseph’s father wept for him.

Jacob’s grief is expressed in a powerfully visible way. He tears his clothes, he mourns and weeps, and he resigns himself to a life of grief that he will take to his grave. Have you ever experienced grief like this? It is said that grief is the price we pay for a love well-loved, and many of us in our lifetime will know the crushing emptiness of death.

For Jacob, his belief that his son was dead was his reality. This reminds us of the power of belief, and perhaps this can be a source of calm reassurance when someone passes. What do you believe happens at death? Where is God? 

As crushing as grief can be, we must hold on to the hope of the resurrection to which we are all invited if we believe in Jesus. Upon his own death, Jesus invited the thief on the cross to join him in paradise that very day. In an act of penitence, the thief asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom. This was the thief’s confession of faith, and we are assured that upon his death, the thief entered eternal life.

Thus, our belief in eternal life can begin to sooth the horror of deep and overwhelming grief. We will meet again! This is exactly what the pastor said to the grieving parents that night. This is what our Lord says to us in our lowest moments. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5, New Revised Standard Version).

Joy Comes in the Morning by Michelle Robertson

Penitence Psalm

The signs are always there. My dog, who usually greets me with unbridled enthusiasm when I come home, greeted me with a small wag and then waited downstairs. I knew exactly what has happened. I ascended the stairs to the kitchen to find that she had once again “unloaded” the dishwasher and had generously licked all the dirty plates clean. She waited to hear my unhappy response as I clean up dishes, some of them broken on the tile floor. Then about ten minutes later she quietly came up and nuzzled her head under my hand. She knows she can count on my love and mercy for forgiveness. If only Mom would remember to close the dishwasher before leaving, these things wouldn’t happen!

     Psalm 6 is a psalm of penitence and was often sung on Ash Wednesday in the early church. It certainly has a Lenten feel, as David started with confession and humility as he anticipated God’s punishment and anger. We don’t know what sin David committed and it doesn’t matter. David speaks into all of our sin in this psalm, describing exactly how we feel when we come face to face with what we have done. The shaking, the crying, and the devastation of knowing that we have separated ourselves from God by our actions are explicitly laid out in this psalm. Who among us hasn’t experienced a “what have I done??” moment?

Psalm 6 (Common English Bible)

Please, Lord,
    don’t punish me when you are angry;
    don’t discipline me when you are furious.
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I’m frail.
Heal me, Lord,
    because my bones are shaking in terror!

My whole body is completely terrified!
        But you, Lord! How long will this last?
Come back to me, Lord! Deliver me!
    Save me for the sake of your faithful love!

No one is going to praise you
    when they are dead.
Who gives you thanks
    from the grave?

I’m worn out from groaning.
    Every night, I drench my bed with tears;
    I soak my couch all the way through.

My vision fails because of my grief;
    it’s weak because of all my distress.

Get away from me, all you evildoers,
    because the Lord has heard me crying!

The Lord has listened to my request.
    The Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be ashamed
    and completely terrified;
    they will be defeated
    and ashamed instantly.

     When this happens and we feel the anger and the discipline that we deserve, we need to remember what Hebrews teaches us about God’s discipline. “Bear hardship for the sake of discipline. God is treating you like sons and daughters!” (Hebrews 12:7, Common English Bible). God’s discipline is given to those whom God has adopted, so to be corrected is a mark of being a child of God. So, when your sins and the consequences of your actions keep you up at night, flooding your bed with tears, count on your status as God’s beloved and know that mercy and forgiveness will prevail.

     And let’s not miss the lesson in verse 8, where David says, “Get away from me, all you evildoers”. This is a timely reminder to us to disassociate ourselves from people or places that contribute to our sin. God calls us to walk away from ungodly relationships, even those in our families and workplaces. Anything that might cause us to stumble on our walk needs to be removed from our lives, including social media and the things we watch on television.

     David ends with a word of confidence that the Lord listened to his request and accepted his prayer. So too will God do for you when you come before him in an attitude of humility and repentance.

Guilty.

We All Fall Down

Ring around the rosie! A pocket full of posey. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

Who remembers this little nursery rhyme? I have fond memories of watching my mother with my girls and my niece in a Disney hotel pool, holding hands and circling around while singing this. The finale was to all fall backwards into the water, which is a clever way to help young children learn how to hold their breath and immerse their heads under water without fear. Sneaky Grandmere!

I was startled to learn that some people attribute this cute little ditty to the plagues. Yes, the plagues. It is thought that ring around the rosie refers to the fever-flush that would appear on the face with the onset of sickness. Pocket full of posey refers to the medicinal herbs that were used to treat the victim. And of course ashes refers to the necessary burning of the bodies in an attempt to stem the course of the virus that was taking out entire villages.

That is quite a morbid take on a nursery rhyme, but it does lead us into a contemplation of our own mortality as we approach the season of Lent this Ash Wednesday. 

Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) prior to Easter when we are invited to slow down our frazzled pace and contemplate the meaning of life, death, and life beyond death. Lent is a remembrance of the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness that Christ endured on our behalf. We are invited to practice lenten disciplines such as prayer, bible study, meditation, self-examination, self-sacrifice, worship, and repentence. It is a season of preparation for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter morning. We are wise to approach it with a serious, soul-searching attitude. 

Psalm 51

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Truth in the inward being is a noble pursuit. God knows the secrets of our heart, but do we? Is there stuff buried so deep that we have forgotten about it? The strength of our denial can enable us to live as though certain actions and behaviors never took place. We go along on our merry way, thinking we have gotten away with it.

Lent says otherwise. It is an opportunity to confront our deepest sin without fear, because Jesus has the power to cleanse us, FREE US, and make us whole again.

You know that the thing you have buried is still there, waiting like a ticking time bomb to resurface and explode you into pieces. God says that is not necessary. You can give it over to him and let him diffuse it once and forever.

This Lent, let us fall down before God and ask him to teach us his wisdom in our secret hearts. 

It’s time to come clean.

Sound Sunset by Brant Honeycutt

You’re My Only Hope

The scene is so iconic, you don’t even need to be a Star Wars fan to recognize it. It is a favorite meme and GIF even for those who have never seen the movie. In the 1977 movie “Star Wars,” the evil Empire attacked the planet Alderaan, and Princess Leia Organa of the Resistance sends a holographic message to General Obi-Wan Kenobi via a droid named R2-D2. Darth Vader has captured her ship and the situation is dire. “Help me, Obi-Wan. You’re my only hope” is the message. Have you ever felt that hopeless? Have you ever been someone’s only hope?

In the first three verses of Psalm 57, David made the same plea. He fled to the safety of a cave with insane Saul in hot pursuit. Saul was trying to kill him, and David was literally running for his life. We can hear his anxiety when he repeated himself in verse 1: “Have mercy on me God; have mercy on me.” He had already survived several attempts on his life and now found himself alone, discouraged, and fearful.

Psalm 57 (Common English Bible)

For the music leader. Do not destroy. A miktam of David, when he fled from Saul into the cave.

57 Have mercy on me, God;
    have mercy on me
    because I have taken refuge in you.
    I take refuge
    in the shadow of your wings
        until destruction passes by.
I call out to God Most High—
    to God, who comes through for me.
He sends orders from heaven and saves me,
    rebukes the one who tramples me. Selah
        God sends his loyal love and faithfulness.

Yet even in this dangerous situation, David identified himself as a beloved son of God. His cry for mercy was made with full assurance that God not only heard him but would intervene. David didn’t come from a position of childish entitlement, but rather one of trust. David understood that he didn’t deserve mercy, but that God’s grace offered it, and so he placed himself in the shadow of God’s wings.

 This beautiful word picture evokes an image of a mother bird completely encasing her young in her wings to protect them from predators, the elements, and any potential danger. Jesus used this same image when he described his love for Jerusalem in Matthew: “How often I wanted to gather your people together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37b, Common English Bible.)

It is interesting to note that even as David was in the relative safety of a cave, he acknowledged that God was his only place of true refuge. This is an important lesson for us today.

Have you ever felt the need to be protected by a merciful and mighty God in such a way? Have fear and anxiety overtaken you? When illness, disaster, disappointment, and other fearful things come into our lives, it is good to know that God spreads wide open the wings of refuge and help for everyone.

 Do you need that shelter today? Is God calling you to be somebody’s last hope? We can always flee to the refuge that is our almighty God and know that under those strong wings, we will be safe.

Refuge by Kathy Schumacher

Pay Attention

Have you ever been an eyewitness to an event? You probably can recount it in great detail. When you witness something quite profound, your mind slows down the action and records it in detail, capturing every nuance. I was present when my youngest daughter gave birth to her first born. Even after being with her through 33 hours of labor, I can recall the moment of his birth like I am watching it on a movie screen. That eyewitness event will happily stay with me forever.

Our last devotional dealt with the Transfiguration of Jesus as observed by Peter, James, and John on the mountain top. Today we have an interesting opportunity to revisit that moment through Peter’s own recollection and writing. This passage in 2 Peter is from a letter he wrote to the early Christian community about 25-30 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection. It appears to have been written very close to the end of Peter’s life at the hands of Nero. Many stories had been circulating for years about the crucifixion, and as stories go, most had been amplified or suffered from omissions. He made the case to his listeners that regardless of what stories or “crafty myths” they have heard, they should now listen to his eyewitness account of the incident:

2 Peter 1 (Common English Bible)

16 We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. 

I appreciate Peter’s concise recollection of the Transfiguration and how he fails to mention that in the heat of the moment, he suggested that three shelters might be built so that they could all set a spell. How often do we retell a story in a way that makes us look better than what actually took place? Of all the things I love about Peter, that fact that he is so much like me is my favorite. But he speaks the important truth from the on-the-scene perspective, erasing any doubt about what happened there.

19 In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Most important, you must know that no prophecy of scripture represents the prophet’s own understanding of things, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

There were over 322 prophetic writings in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled everyone. Combined with what Peter saw with his own eyes, we are instructed to pay attention to it as we would to a lamp shining in a dark place. Peter then adds weight to his words by reminding us that men and women receive prophecy not through their own study and understanding of events, by God himself as conveyed by the Holy Spirit.

What is God telling you to pay attention to today? Are you overlooking something you need to attend to? Is there someone you could be encouraging and supporting who needs to hear from you? Is he calling you into prayer?

Whatever it, is pay attention to these urgings of the Holy Spirit and get it done. He just might be calling you to your own mountain top.

Mountain Top Moment by Kathy Schumacher

Forever Changed

Can you recall a life-changing experience you have had? Was there ever a single point of time where everything stood still and suddenly and with great clarity you knew and saw things in such a profoundly different way that immediately changed your thinking, your attitude, or even your life? Good teachers and mentors can do this with people they are helping. Good parents can do this by identifying things in their children that have gone unnoticed. Going away to focus on our spiritual lives can often result in a new understanding of where we are heading and what we need to change to get there. Addicts speak of “hitting rock bottom” and arising to find help and tools to walk away from the harmful things. Teenagers see their lives changed at youth retreats. What was your mountain top experience?

This Sunday we will celebrate “Transfiguration Sunday” in the protestant church. It celebrates a moment in time when three disciples ascended a mountain top with Jesus and experienced something quite profound:

Luke 9 (The Message)

28-31 About eight days after saying this, Jesus climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.

When I said “quite profound” I really meant scary as heck. I can’t imagine what this was like for Peter, James, and John. They were already confused by who Jesus was and were quite mystified about what his messiahship was really about. One could hardly blame them for their dullness. But here in this moment, they were literally blinded by the light … a light so profound, they immediately fell asleep. I am sure that Jesus’ blinding white appearance hurt their eyes, but even more so, it hurt their heads.

32-33 Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.

I like how Peterson in this translation writes that “when they came to … they saw Jesus in his glory.” Oh, how this applies to all of us! Oh, how this applies to the unbelieving world! We are stumbling around in the darkness of sin and despair, sleeping through all of God’s revelations around us, and we need to wake up.

And then there is Peter’s reaction, who suggests they build memorials for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Of all the things wrong with this notion, (poor Peter!) the fact that he equates the three men proves that he entirely has missed the point of Jesus’ glory. This is the moment where the Law represented in Moses and the Prophecy represented in Elijah have come in submission to the One who is Lord over all of the law and the prophets combined. Jesus was being elevated in this glory moment, and Peter missed it.

Until God spoke:

34-35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”

By shining light on the fact that only one of these three pillars of faith was actually his Son, his Chosen, God settles one and for all what direction his children were meant to go … Jesus is the great high priest above all others. Follow him.

36 When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.

Peter, James, and John were treated to a mountain top experience like none other. There they met and saw Jesus for exactly who he really is.

Do you need to see Jesus? Are you wandering in a valley of darkness? Take some time today to pull away from the noise of your activities and go away and pray. That’s what Jesus did. May you meet him there and be forever changed.

Radiant Light by Michelle Robertson

But is it Fair?

Our lectionary psalm today is one of three psalms that begin with a proclamation that “the Lord reigns.” (See Psalm 93 and 97.) This one takes it a little farther by stating that not only does he reign, but he is present both “between the winged heavenly creatures” and in Zion as a king who loves justice. With our New Testament eyes, we can leap forward and see Christ as the embodiment of a king who brings equity, justice, and inclusion to his reign on earth. Thus, in some ways, this psalm could be viewed as a prophecy of the reign of Jesus, especially in the last verses that speak of his forgiveness.

Psalm 99 (Common English Bible)

The Lord reigns—
    the nations shake!
    He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures—
    the earth quakes!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them thank your great and awesome name.
    He is holy!

The word “holy” means separate or set apart. It implies a sacredness that stands in contrast with the mundane. By proclaiming that God is holy, the psalmist reminds us that there is a distance between God and humanity, not just morally (as one who is pure would be from the sinful) but also in regard to his eternal nature compared to our earthly existence. He is divine.

Strong king who loves justice,
    you are the one who established what is fair.
    You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.

My denomination has been focused on justice issues from the beginning of its inception. John Wesley spoke out against poverty, forced child labor, and the system of “poor houses” that kept people trapped in a life of despair. He spoke out for the fair treatment of widows, orphans, and prisoners. Wesley was one of the first churchmen of his time to address the issue of slavery:

The United Methodist Church, has a long history of concern for social justice, including speaking out against racial injustice, advocating for and working toward equality.

Methodism founder John Wesley was well known for his opposition to slavery. In 1773 he printed a pamphlet titled “Thoughts Upon Slavery,” in which he decried the evils of slavery and called for slave traders and owners to repent and free their slaves.

“Nothing is more certain in itself, and apparent to all, than that the infamous traffic for slaves directly infringes both divine and human law,” he wrote.

Wesley’s writings influenced political leaders of his day — including William Wilberforce, a British Parliament member who led a movement to abolish the slave trade. The last letter Wesley wrote, six days before his death, was addressed to Wilberforce, urging him to continue his work. In that letter, he lamented that “a man who has a black skin being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress.” (From ResourceUMC.org)

The most powerful thing about Wesley’s work here is that he was just an ordinary Anglican priest. He wasn’t a king, he wasn’t a politician, he was just a preacher. But he used his influence to fight for justice. Being a “man of one book,” i.e., the Bible, he knew God’s position on justice and fairness, and he obediently used his voice to fight for what God loves.

I say to you today that if God loves justice, so should we.

Magnify the Lord, our God!
    Bow low at his footstool!
    He is holy!

Part of our job here on earth is to aspire to emulate all that is holy and to love what God loves. Perhaps one of our greatest challenges comes in the fact that God loves all his children, each and every one. Do you struggle with that? Do you find some people or even some groups of people hard to love? Are there members of your own family who are unlovable? Remember that God loves them just as they are.

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel too among those who called on his name.
They cried out to the Lord, and he himself answered them—
    he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them.
Lord our God, you answered them.
    To them you were a God who forgives
    but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.

The psalmist reminds us that there is great wisdom to be gleaned from the writings of the Old Testament priests. When we study Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and the others, we see God’s activity and learn the history of our “desert forefathers” in a way that helps us understand God’s activity here on earth. We are comforted by the fact that God answered their cries, God led them through a wilderness, God forgave them, and God protected them.

Magnify the Lord our God!
    Bow low at his holy mountain
    because the Lord our God is holy!

We are invited to bow low before our holy God and do all we can to learn about him and care about the things he cares about. It is not only a call to study, but a call to action, as Wesley understood. Where is God calling you to promote justice and fairness in your community?

The Lord our God is holy, and he will guide your steps when you follow him.

The Lord Reigns by Michelle Robertson

Solid Food

Our nine-month-old twins are happily receiving solid foods. They are over the moon with this new adventure. Beets, kale, bananas, apples, avocados and more are now part of their diet, pureed into delightful combinations and consumed with great joy. The little girl twin loves solids so much, she bangs her palms on the tray of her highchair and squeals loud enough to cause her more thoughtful brother to rest his head on his tray and cry. He likes the food, too, but the noise coming from the next highchair … well, not so much.

Parents remember making that switch with their babies to solid foods. It is a growth milestone that is anticipated by tired mothers who have been serving as the only source of sustenance until that point finally arrives. It is a happy moment for dads, partners, and grandparents who can now take a turn at feeding the babies. And the baby food industry is a thriving, multi-million dollar concern whose happy employers and stockholders are glad that they can produce a much-needed product to the world’s families.

But we aren’t meant to stay in that milestone, just as we aren’t meant to consume milk for the rest of our lives. These things belong to babies.

Paul likened the church in Corinth to babies who had to drink milk because they weren’t ready for solid food. In his analogy, he accused them of spiritual infancy based on their infighting and divisions in the fellowship. It was a severe chastisement, and he made it clear to them that he was ashamed of their behavior:

1 Corinthians 3 (Common English Bible)

3 Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards? 

The church had divided along the lines of following the men who introduced them to the faith. They then pitted themselves against each other. Jealousy and fighting were traits of those living solely in the flesh, and Paul had a higher goal for his church. They were anointed by the spirit, and he demanded that they act like it.

When someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and someone else says, “I belong to Apollos,” aren’t you acting like people without the Spirit? After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants who helped you to believe. Each one had a role given to them by the Lord: I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. 

Their allegiance to these ordinary men offended Paul. It was God who made the church grow. Paul questioned their motives and accused them of being without the spirit. Instead, he encourages them to be planters and waterers, working together to bring forth a crop worthy of God’s attention. He makes the point that their fighting over these insignificant men would have an insignificant outcome. God is the master gardener here.

Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow.The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. We are God’s coworkers, and you are God’s field, God’s building.

When churches fight within themselves, growth stops. When divisions happen, the field goes fallow and the planting and watering ceases. When we stop working together, we are acting like babies.

But there are things we can do to set aside our divisions and work toward a common goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ. The first step is to do that “one thing” that Jesus commended Mary for understanding … we need to sit at Jesus’ feet and take in all of his teaching. When we focus on the one thing we are called to do, our differences fade in the light of his glory. Centered in the unity and peace of Christ, we can arise and build the kingdom together.

Are you causing dissension in your field? Stop, sit, and feast on his word. By keeping the main thing the main thing, we can plant, water, and grow together as coworkers in the field. God will sort out the rest.

Plant. Water. Grow. by Becca Ziegler

Stay on Course

It takes a certain kind of insanity to run a Half Marathon eleven years after you ran your first “one-and-done” Half. It seemed like a good idea last summer. A run was being planned in a town where my daughter lives, and I had the idea that if I signed up, I would not slack off on running like I normally do in the colder months. The starting line was a five-minute walk from the house, and it started at 7:00 am, which meant I didn’t have to get up terribly early … something I absolutely hate. Everything about the race sounded appealing. Then my friend and running partner decided to join me at the last minute, making it even better. Did I set any records? Nope. Did I finish without puking (my one and only goal)? Happily, yes. Did I stay in better shape, knowing the race was coming up at the end of January? Yes, until I broke my arm three days before Christmas. But for the most part, I was satisfied with how it all came out and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. Especially the finish line. And not puking.

God has established a finish line for each one of us. He invites us to stay on the course he has set before us and urges us to not deviate from it. His is a road that leads to redemption. His is a road that leads to salvation. His is a road that leads to a future with hope. And you’re never alone.

Psalm 119 (The Message)

1-8 You’re blessed when you stay on course,
    walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
    doing your best to find him.
That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
    you walk straight along the road he set.

There have been many times in my life when I went off on my own. How about you? I regret every step that took me away from God’s will and God’s way. Thank God, Jesus came to help us get back on track through the atonement of sin and the forgiveness he purchased on the cross on our behalf.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
    now you expect us to live it.
Oh, that my steps might be steady,
    keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets
    in comparing my life with your counsel.

Do you have regrets about your past? Do you grieve over your sins? Do you carry the heaviness of your misbehavior? Jesus walks along side of you and is able to shoulder every burden you are carrying, if you are willing to submit and yield to his instruction.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
    I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do;
    don’t ever walk off and leave me.

God will never, ever walk off and leave you. Just as my running partner joined me for the race, Jesus is ready, able, and willing to run with you and teach you the pattern of his ways. You are never alone when you invite Jesus to run the race with you.

Steady on!

See Nana Run by Sarah Haas Callahan