His Grace is Enough

There is a mind-set among church people that if your ministry is dormant, it won’t come under attack from the Evil One. We think that as ministries catch fire through the power of the Holy Spirit and go “into revival,” it is more likely that attacks will come. This is a comforting thought, because it allows us to understand our trials and tribulations as evidence that we are doing our job in proclaiming the Gospel. It also is Biblical.

In the twelfth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he confesses to having a handicap, or a “thorn in the flesh.” Much has been written about this. Was it a physical ailment? Did he have a speech impediment? Was it a mental disorder? What exactly was holding Paul back?

2 Corinthians 12 (The Message)

If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.

7-10 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty!

Paul correctly identifies the problem: he is under attack. His ability to receive God’s word, and the extravagance of God’s revelations, put a big target on his head. Satan tried his best to stop the revival by stopping Paul. Had Paul been ineffective, he would have been left alone. That realization didn’t make life easier, but it did lead Paul to one of the greatest revelations of his life:

At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

This is PROFOUND. Do you hear what Paul is saying? God’s grace is ENOUGH. No matter what physical, mental, relational, or spiritual thorn you are dealing with, God’s grace is enough. Do you believe that?

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Paul teaches us that yielding to a situation is the best way through that situation. God didn’t remove the Red Sea when the Israelites were escaping from Pharaoh’s army….he parted it so they could move through it. Where is God trying to help you move through something? Have you yielded to his power in your problem? Are you praying about it?

Paul discovered that when you allow Christ’s strength to move in on your weakness, you will gain strength. So be like Paul and just let Christ take over! God’s grace truly is enough, and it’s all you need.

Need a blessing? Take a look and listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz54g-Q0jUQ

Enough by Michelle Robertson

Shake the Dust Off

A young writer struggles to complete his first novel. Living in a trailer, driving a broken-down Buick, and working as a gas station attendant, he really needs a win. So he sends his manuscript out to 30 publishers and is rejected by every single one.

The writer? Stephen King. The novel? Carrie.

This is a story about how to take rejection and move on. It is also a story about believing in your mission. King believed that he could write and sell books, and he ended up being right. He is the author of over 50 novels and ranks in the top 20 of the most published people in the world.

Obviously he did not let those first 30 rejections slow him down. He “shook the dust off his feet” and moved on to a place where his gift would be accepted and celebrated. And monetized!

In the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus and the disciples were having a rough go of it. Jesus had just been completely rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, where the people knew him as “Joe’s son” and “Mary’s boy.” They scoffed at the notion that homeboy was the messiah. No worries, said Jesus. We’ll just keep moving on.

So he gathered his men and sent them out in pairs with very specific instructions:

Mark 6 (Common English Bible)

He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11 If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 

There are times in our lives when people will turn their backs on us and refuse to listen. There are cliques and groups who refuse admission to newbies based on some mysterious standard for who should sit at the “cool kids’ table.” Even family can be cold when it comes to acceptance and hospitality. What should you do? Shake the dust off your feet and walk away.

12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

The disciples did what Jesus instructed, and because they were able to walk away from the drama of exclusivity, many people were included in God’s plan for changed hearts, changed lives, and total wellness. The disciples didn’t pout…they just got on with it. They believed in who they were, and they believed in their mission.

How about you? Do you believe in yourself enough to walk away from toxic relationships? Can you shake off the dust of rejection and put one foot in front of the other as you pursue what you are meant to be? Do you believe in your mission?

One place we are always received with open arms is at the heavenly banquet. God himself sets the table and invites all who repent to come in and “set a spell.” Everyone there is a “cool kid,” from the top of their heads all the way to their dusty toes. So just shake the other stuff off and walk on over. You’ll fit right in.

Come Set a Spell by Kathy Schumacher

Even to Death

With Covid restrictions lifting, the church is back in (modified) business. One of the things we did not do for the duration of the pandemic was funerals. People, however, continued to die. This brought much sorrow to grieving families who needed the closure that a memorial service brings. Funerals truly are designed for the living, not for the dead. To gather in a quiet sanctuary where you hear the resurrection proclaimed, sing hymns of faith, and tell stories of the departed can be a soothing balm for every hurting soul.

We have done several funerals in the last month and it feels right again. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, we need the comfort of being gathered together to sustain us.

I love the moment after a memorial service when the family has gathered in the Fellowship Hall to receive guests. The tension and formality of the service is behind us and we can hug, comfort, and laugh together as we swap stories and share memories. With a glass of lemonade in one hand and a plate of deviled eggs and finger sandwiches in the other, we take the next step together toward life without the decedent. Even in the midst of pain, we have a sense that God will make everything all right because we have friends and family we can count on.

It is a holy privilege to officiate a funeral. To see God’s abiding spirit among the mourners is a blessing every time.

Our Psalm today is a tribute to God’s presence in the holy city of Jerusalem. The psalmist reminds us that God is present in the city, the mountain, the palaces, and indeed the whole earth as he knew it:

Psalm 48 (New King James Version)

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.

God’s presence in Jerusalem is so well known that foreign kings tremble as they pass:

For behold, the kings assembled,
They passed by together.
They saw it, and so they marveled;
They were troubled, they hastened away.
Fear took hold of them there,
And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs,
As when You break the ships of Tarshish
With an east wind.

As we have heard,
So we have seen
In the city of the Lord of hosts,
In the city of our God:
God will establish it forever. Selah

It is interesting to note how the focus of “God in his temple on Mount Zion” begins to change over time to include “God at the ends of the earth.” The early Israelites thought that God resided in one location: first it was the tent of the meeting in the desert, then the ark of the covenant, then the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem…it was a while before the concept of “God is everywhere” began to take hold.

We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness,
In the midst of Your temple.
10 According to Your name, O God,
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let Mount Zion rejoice,
Let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Because of Your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion,
And go all around her.
Count her towers;
13 Mark well her bulwarks;
Consider her palaces;
That you may tell it to the generation following.

When Jesus came, we understood him to be Emmanuel, which translates to “God with us.” We understand that God is not limited to a location, but is present with us no matter where we are. He is present in our lives and most certainly in our deaths as he leads us from life to everlasting life.

14 For this is God,
Our God forever and ever;
He will be our guide
Even to death.

This is what we proclaim at a funeral. God is our fortress in life and he will be our guide even to death. Therefore we will not fear! God goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death and we are never alone. Thanks be to God.

God is With Us by Michelle Robertson

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

I love anything spicy. I have actually been known to say to a waiter, “If it doesn’t make my forehead sweat, it’s not spicy enough.” I said this to a local seafood provider once when I ordered Spiced Steamed Shrimp. Billy’s is a local establishment that is located right on the water. If you peek behind the flat, one-story cinderblock building, you can see crabbing boats tied up at the dock. Crab pots are stacked all over the property, and the minute you open the door, the smell of fresh fish assaults your nose. An L-shaped table holds today’s catch nestled in ice. Tuna, grouper, flounder, crab packed in containers, scallops, oysters (but only in months that have the letter “r”), and three sizes of fresh shrimp are just some of the bounty that awaits you. I go to Billy’s for two things: Miss Judy’s Tunafish Salad (made daily with fresh catch) and their steamed shrimp, which they cook to order.

So I made my famous statement about spiciness as I requested “extra spicy,” and the fellow took it on as a challenge. He even drew a picture of a steaming cauldron with the words CAUTION! HOT! EXTRA HOT!! on the outside of the styrofoam container. As soon as I opened the lid, I saw what he had done. In addition to Old Bay and the usual blackening spices, he added a liberal dose of cayenne pepper. Suffice it to say that my forehead sweat a lot that night! When it comes to cayenne pepper, a little bit goes a long way.

I thought about that this morning as I read this account of the moment that David became the king. He had faithfully led the Israelites as a successful military commander, and they came to him to be their leader. As you read through the passage, see if you can spot the moment when a little bit of power goes a long way in David’s mind:

2 Samuel 5 (New International Version)

1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

So far, so good. David responded to the request of his people as they reminded him that God had called him to shepherd and lead them. Then they made him king and he ruled over them.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years

But the next verse contains a hidden clue that things are about to take a turn in David’s heart. Can you spot it?

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

Somehow in the course of events, David lost sight of his calling to be a shepherd. Now that he’s the king, he named an entire city after himself and built it up as a fortress from the terraces INWARD, where he was safely tucked inside. He became more and more powerful because God had anointed him to lead, but by the time the next wars began, he elected to stay home. As king, he now let other men lead while he relaxed in the palace with nothing to do. Then he noticed the beautiful Bathsheba bathing next door, and his lust for her resulted in adultery and murder. Gone is the faithful shepherd-leader as pride and arrogance grew larger in his heart. A little bit of power goes a long way. In the end, it ruined David.

Take a look at your life. Have you let a little bit go too far? Are there places in your heart where power, laziness, self-indulgence, anger, resentment, privilege, etc. have gone too far and taken over?

Remember who you are. You are called to walk humbly with God and give him the glory for the great things he has done. It is never too late to put things right with the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Give God the Glory by Michelle Robertson

Betrayer

Have you ever been betrayed? Few things in life sting the way a betrayal stings. The wounds left behind can feel raw and open for a long time. Whether it happens in a professional setting or a personal one, even the memory of someone turning against you can cause pain. I know a woman who was terribly betrayed decades ago by a former boss. The boss used her position and power to undermine and derail my friend. She ended up resigning just one step ahead of an unfair dismissal. Her career never recovered. When she talks about it even to this day, you can feel her anger and grief as though it happened yesterday.

We know that our Lord suffered many betrayals in his lifetime. He was rejected by his own people and lied about by men “in charge.” His daily skirmishes with the Pharisees were a constant irritant as they rejected him over and over. The refusal of the high priests to acknowledge his messiahship was a constant attempt to undermine his divine authority. Even the disciples were confused and dull in their understanding of his mission. And then, of course, came the ultimate betrayal:

John 13 (Common English Bible)

21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

Do you suppose it helped that Jesus knew it was coming? I don’t. This translation says that he was “deeply disturbed.” My heart breaks for Jesus in this moment. You and I have been in that place of being hurt by someone we loved and trusted. This pain is real.

22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. 23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side. 24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about.25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Poor Simon Peter! His love for Jesus and his loyalty made it hard for him to hear that one of them was about to betray the Lord. Imagine how it felt to realize that this tight team of men, who had lived and worked together for three years, was about to be obliterated by one man’s actions. They must have felt helpless at this news. All of them, of course, except the betrayer:

26 Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.”Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

The scripture makes it clear what happened. Satan entered Judas. It was a demonic possession. Judas is now being employed by the devil himself to finish Jesus’ ministry. This is being done to fulfill all of the prophecies about the messiah that foretold that Jesus would suffer and die so that everyone might be raised up with him into eternal life.

So who used who? Certainly God’s purpose is now being met by what Judas is about to do. God had the ultimate authority over Satan’s futile attempt to derail and undermine the power of Jesus. Jesus’ power only grew stronger through the crucifixion and resurrection. In this way, Judas was only a pawn…not of Satan, but of God.

Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him.29 Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.

Judas had been accepted into the group and was considered to be trustworthy enough to “hold the purse.” He was a person of noble character. He was a follower of Jesus. He was an important member of the team right up until the very end. Yet his guilt over his actions that night led him to take his own life after receiving his thirty pieces of silver for his heinous deed. Perhaps in the moment when Satan released him, he couldn’t bear living with what he had done.

Let’s turn this around now and consider times when we were the betrayer. Have you ever gossiped about someone, spoken a word against someone out of jealousy, or actively undermined someone for your own personal gain? Have you betrayed a confidence or repeated a falsehood to make yourself look better? Did you ever cheat on a relationship? Are you guilty of betraying God? I imagine we all are. I am a betrayer. I bet you are, too.

If God is dealing with you on this issue, it’s time to come clean. Confess your actions to the person you have hurt and confess your sins to God. All of us carry some kind of “Judas guilt,” but we don’t have to let it take our lives as well. Thank God, you can be forgiven and cleansed of your betrayal!

Is it time to seek forgiveness? God is ready to hear you. Are you ready to speak?

Come Clean by Michelle Robertson

Good Answer

Are there Bible passages that absolutely stump you? Do you read stories in scripture that not only make you scratch your head in wonder, they make you look away in avoidance?

Today’s reading is one of those passages for me. I am confused, saddened, and honestly, a little repulsed. But scripture itself assures us that all scripture is beneficial for teaching, so let’s jump in together and see what we can learn.

Mark described a moment in Jesus’ ministry when Jesus was traveling throughout Israel, teaching, ministering, and healing people. The word of his miracle-making had preceded him and in a futile attempt at some rest, he tried to stay away from the crowds. But people knew he was in Tyre when a persistent mother sought him out:

Mark 7 (Common English Bible)

24 Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

I’m sure you can anticipate my objections to this passage. I don’t understand how the Messiah, who came because “God so loved the WORLD, he sent his only son,” would reject a mother’s plea for her child to be released from demonic possession. I know that his reference to “the children needing to be fed first” refers to the fact that he was sent to the Jews for their salvation. He was their long-awaited Messiah, whom prophets had foretold for centuries leading up to this moment. But how can Jesus say this to the woman? Is he rejecting her because she is a Syrophoenician? What the heck?

Let’s unpack this.

First, verse 24 tells us that Jesus traveled (over 50 miles) to the region of Tyre, which was where the Gentile cities were located. When he entered a house there, he entered a Gentile house. This was against Jewish law that said that Jews and Gentiles shouldn’t mix, but Jesus overcame this to be present in this moment with this Gentile mother. He chose to be there.

Next, we need to consider the “pericope” of this story. The pericope includes the stories that come before and after the text you are studying, and thus sets the passage into context. Jesus had just had a lengthy conversation with the Pharisees where he had basically undone the “clean or unclean” laws in regard to food. Is he now undoing the idea of “clean or unclean” people in this Gentile community where he has been received?

Finally, consider the woman. She is clearly not a Hebrew. Her background and her current residence in a Gentile city suggest that she is a pagan. In any case, she is not part of the “lost sheep of Israel” and thus has no concept or context for Jesus’ messiahship. Why has she come before him, then? Might she be hoping that his magician’s parlor tricks would work on her daughter? Surely she has no idea that she is standing before the incarnate Son of God, so who does she think she is asking for help?

Yet, she asks, and Jesus referenced the children needing to be fed before the “little dogs.” Don’t miss the fact that he didn’t refuse her. He didn’t say that he won’t heal her daughter…what he said was “yes, but not quite yet.” Perhaps he wanted a moment to rest…or perhaps he had already healed the daughter and was teaching the mother about persistence in faith.

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

You do have to admire her persistence! She is like a dog with a bone, nipping at Jesus’ heels and letting him know that “not yet” was NOT the answer she had come for. Perhaps at this moment she has a Holy Spirit awareness of who Jesus was, and she is now able to stand before the Savior and ask for her daughter’s salvation. She may realize that the power of God within him is more than enough to save both Jews and the Gentiles alike. Or perhaps she still thinks he is a magic man, but at least he’s a good one. We’ll never know, but it is obvious that to Jesus, it doesn’t matter in the end who she thinks he is. He knows who he is, and he knows who sent him to save the world.

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

This event made it clear to all who observed it that the Jewish Messiah had a ministry beyond Israel. As the disciples, the Pharisees, the Gentiles, and the nations watched, he announced the full inclusion of everyone he came to save.

I think this passage gives us all permission to persist. Persist in prayer. Persist in asking for healing even if you feel unworthy. Persist in gaining an understanding of who Jesus is. Persist in interceding on someone else’s behalf. Persist in your faith.

When the timing is right, Jesus will answer your persistence just as he did the Syrophoenician woman. Just don’t give up!

Don’t Give Up by Michelle Robertson

Turned Hearts

What tempts you away from the good things that you know you should be focusing on? Is it food, wealth, possessions, laziness, your neighbor’s spouse…the list is endless. All of us have a weakness for something we want that we know we shouldn’t have.

With Solomon, it was women. Perhaps it was wine, women, and song, but mostly it was women. (As in, over 1000 women.) He was the son of King David, who also had a weakness for women that weren’t his to enjoy. Solomon was a huge womanizer in a culture that thought little of women. His conquests were staggering, and his appetite was insatiable.

God loved Solomon and warned him about intermarrying with all these foreign women, but Solomon ignored every word:

1 Kings (Common English Bible)

11 In addition to Pharaoh’s daughter, King Solomon loved many foreign women, including Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. These came from the nations that the Lord had commanded the Israelites about: “Don’t intermarry with them. They will definitely turn your heart toward their gods.” Solomon clung to these women in love. 

Had Solomon clung to God, the rest of this story would have a better ending. Instead, he clung to these women in love. But I have to stop here and ask, what are YOU clinging to that threatens your relationship with God? Are you also turning away from God’s words of warning?

He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred secondary wives. They turned his heart. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods. He wasn’t committed to the Lord his God with all his heart as was his father David.Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s eyes and wasn’t completely devoted to the Lord like his father David. 

“They turned his heart after other gods.” Our mamas warned us about running with a bad crowd. When you hang out with reprobates, you are likely to become one yourself. Mama was right.

On the hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a shrine to Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and to Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. The Lord grew angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from being with the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 The Lord had commanded Solomon about this very thing, that he shouldn’t follow other gods. But Solomon didn’t do what the Lord commanded.

Have you ever failed to do what the Lord commands? Sometimes temptations are so great they blot out everything else. Godliness, decency, moral living, and proper behavior are often the victims of a temptation to which we succumb.

11 The Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done all this instead of keeping my covenant and my laws that I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 12 Even so, on account of your father David, I won’t do it during your lifetime. I will tear the kingdom out of your son’s hands. 

The punishment is pronounced, but notice that even in anger, God’s love for both David and Jerusalem results in a measure of grace being extended. But Solomon’s actions result in the loss of a united Israel. After his death, the kingdom divides and grows weaker and weaker. Eventually even Jerusalem falls.

13 Moreover, I won’t tear away the entire kingdom. I will give one tribe to your son on account of my servant David and on account of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Solomon the Wise turns into a King of Fools when he succumbs to his temptations. His strength becomes his weakness as he goes from following God to actually building detestable idols in his own backyard. We can see in his story that having wisdom is not a panacea against the wiles of evil. Being smart does not equate to having strength of character.

Where is God calling you to outwit your temptations? Have you stepped aside from God’s will for your life as you have chased after idols? Has someone or something turned your heart?

Through the grace offered by the shed blood of the atonement, you can turn away from those things and come back to God. Forgiveness is the blessing that is always available to the repentant person. Softly and tenderly, Jesus calls us to come home.

Come Home by Peggy Bryson

Deception

Is there ever a good reason to lie?

Can God use a falsehood or deception for our good?

Every pastor at some point in their ministry faces this dilemma. I faced mine many years ago when a battered wife came to me for refuge with her two small children. Her husband had become very violent after a horrific argument, so she fled to me for safety while she worked out something more permanent.

That Sunday, as she and the children remained sheltered in my home, her husband suddenly walked down the aisle just as worship was about to begin and stood and addressed the congregation. He cried and pleaded with us to tell him where his “deranged wife had hidden his children.” He claimed that he knew it was someone in the church and he demanded the truth. Anyone harboring his children was evil, he shouted. He looked straight at me as he made his speech, knowing that I would be one of the places where she should flee. As he turned to leave, he asked me directly if I knew where his family was. I looked him straight in the eye and said “no” in front of the entire congregation.

Thus I told a blatant untruth in the sanctuary on the Sabbath, and I would do it again.

In this wonderful story from the second chapter of Joshua, we see a woman look a man straight in the eye and tell a lie:

Joshua 2 (Common English Bible)

2 Joshua, Nun’s son, secretly sent two men as spies from Shittim. He said, “Go. Look over the land, especially Jericho.” They set out and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab. They bedded down there.

Someone told the king of Jericho, “Men from the Israelites have come here tonight to spy on the land.”

So the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab: “Send out the men who came to you, the ones who came to your house, because they have come to spy on the entire land.”

We have to interrupt this message to remind ourselves of the importance of hospitality in this ancient culture. The Jewish Virtual Library says this about Old Testament hospitality:

In ancient Israel, hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution which grew out of the harsh desert and nomadic existence led by the people of Israel. The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger in one’s midst was the matrix out of which hospitality and all its tributary aspects developed into a highly esteemed virtue in Jewish tradition. Biblical law specifically sanctified hospitality toward the ger (“stranger”) who was to be made particularly welcome “for you were strangers in a strange land” (Lev. 19:34 and see Ex. 12:49). Foreign travelers, although not protected by law (Deut. 15:3; 23:21), could count on the custom of hospitality.

So Rahab is complying with the expectations of hospitality in ancient Israel that dictate that strangers in your house come under your protection. But then she takes that one step farther:

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. Then she said, “Of course the men came to me. But I didn’t know where they were from. The men left when it was time to close the gate at dark, but I don’t know where the men went. Hurry! Chase after them! You might catch up with them.” But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the flax stalks that she had laid out on the roof. The men from Jericho chased after them in the direction of the Jordan up to the fords. As soon as those chasing them went out, the gate was shut behind them.

Why did Rahab lie? Why risk getting caught in this blatant untruth in order to save two strangers from her fellow countrymen? Did Rahab know something else?

Before the spies bedded down, Rahab went up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land. Terror over you has overwhelmed us. The entire population of the land has melted down in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Reed Sea in front of you when you left Egypt. We have also heard what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. You utterly wiped them out. 11 We heard this and our hearts turned to water. Because of you, people can no longer work up their courage. This is because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. 

Rahab’s lie was based on a larger truth. It was the truth that the Lord God who had brought the Israelites out of Egypt through the Reed Sea was the same God who had sent the two spies into her home that night. She knew of God’s might and power, and so she aligned herself with these men in order to barter for the protection of her family:

12 Now, I have been loyal to you. So pledge to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal loyally with my family. Give me a sign of good faith. 13 Spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, and sisters, along with everything they own. Rescue us from death.”

Rahab’s cunning and quick thinking saved the lives of the two men, and they in turn protected her family. A lowly prostitute outwitted the authorities by leveraging what she had for what she needed.

14 The men said to her, “We swear by our own lives to secure yours. If you don’t reveal our mission, we will deal loyally and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.”

Sometimes we need to go to extremes to protect the ones we love. Sometimes, especially in the face of violence, we are called to lie, deceive, and leverage what we have in order to provide safety and sanctuary for the weak and vulnerable.

God protects those who protect others in the name of the Lord. The truth of God’s divine power and might wins out every time.

Safe Sanctuary by Lola Hilton

Turn, Turn, Turn

Sometimes I get a song stuck in my head and it lives there for days. Every time I read Ecclesiastes 3, I hear a folk rock song that was released in 1965 by a band called the Byrds. It was called Turn, Turn, Turn and I bet many people were surprised to learn that it comes directly from scripture.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.

Now you can have this song stuck in your head, too!

The timeless wisdom of this passage is meaningful in every circumstance of life. Births, deaths, graduations, weddings, wars, and occasional pandemics are all seasons we can experience in a lifetime. The writer reminds us that with every season, God has a purpose:

Ecclesiastes 3 (Common English Bible)

There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens:
    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
    a time for killing and a time for healing,
    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
    a time for crying and a time for laughing,
    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

This is incredibly helpful to remember when you are in a season of sorrow. A friend who recently lost her mother describes it as “sorrow sitting with joy.” If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you know the terrible disorientation that falls over you. When my mother-in-law died, I remember thinking that it was just stupid that she was not in the world with us anymore. It made no sense. It was a big mistake and we just needed it to be fixed. But in time, mourning faded as dancing with happy memories took over. Eventually our season of crying turned into a season of joy when we welcomed her first great-grandchild into our family. A daughter became a mother, a mother became a Nana, a sister became an aunt, and suddenly God restored balance.

    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
    a time for searching and a time for losing,
    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
    a time for loving and a time for hating,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

We get out of balance when we forget that everything has a purpose under the heavens. Your life was designed for something meaningful and long-lasting. What will your legacy be? Do you live according to God’s purpose? Or have you lost your way and somehow wandered into a meandering, pointlessness existence?

When I have gone through seasons of wandering, I have found it helpful to immerse myself in daily scripture reading and prayer until I found my way home. The Psalms are especially helpful for wilderness walking and if you read one a day, you’ll have 150 chances to discover yourself again.

Whatever season you are in right now, turn, turn, turn back to your purpose. No season lasts forever, but God has a call on your life in every season. Turn around and listen, and God will remind you.

A Time for Laughing by Bonnie Bennett

Untied

My denomination is in the process of moving from “united” to “untied.” We are a large and global church that has reached a point of considering schism because we can’t agree on major points of practical theology. All of us are grieving. Nobody wanted this to be the result of our decades of conversations. When we entered life in our local churches, few of us imagined that this would happen in our lifetime, yet here we are. In preparing for what inevitably will come, we try to soothe ourselves with the notion that two strong denominations will emerge from this separation There may be some truth to that, God willing. But this divorce will be costly, exhausting, and worst of all, it has taken our eyes off of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our infighting is a poor witness to the world Jesus came to save.

What does the Bible say about unity? Should people, churches, and entire denominations try to stay together in deep disagreement for the sake of remaining intact?

We look to Paul for answers:

1 Corinthians 1 (Common English Bible)

10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.

Paul could not have anticipated the many fractions of Christian expression that we have today. Where he encouraged preaching the good news, we have encouraged dogmas, doctrines, and disciplines that ended up drawing so many lines in the sand, we have neutered the message of “Christ-crucified.” Shame on us.

Human wisdom versus the cross

18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 

As denominations debate their individual positions regarding social justice and the practice of ministry as each one sees it, God’s wisdom is lost in a sea of cacophonous dialogue. Those of us who have no other choice but to wait for the results are exhausted, overcome, and ready for it to be over. Paul reminds us that our one and only job is to preach “Christ-crucified.” Unfortunately, much of the foolish preaching that goes on in our churches has strayed far from this mandate.

21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Paul went on to say that God’s plan for the conversion of the world was through those who were not considered wise or powerful, and were not from the upper class. Instead, the Gospel message would be carried out by those whom the world considers weak, low-class, and low-life:

26 Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. 29 So no human being can brag in God’s presence. 

What does this say to all of the many top-heavy denominations? In creating hierarchies among people, have we completely lost sight of the mission?

30 It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. 31 This is consistent with what was written: The one who brags should brag in the Lord!

As we move forward, may we take comfort in being part of the denomination of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone. That is the only place where our “membership” should reside. The rest of our structures and man-made institutions will all fade away someday, and rightfully so.

Let us brag only in the Lord, even if that means walking away from something we have loved for too long.

Walking Away by Kathy Schumacher