The Sure Thing

Stadiums are closed. There will be no Olympics this year. We have learned that there IS crying in baseball…when it disappears. Movies and concerts are cancelled. Bars, clubs, and even Las Vegas are shut down. All of the world’s “sure things” aren’t so sure anymore.

A good friend asked me recently how I come up with things to write about every day. He wondered if I was worried that I would eventually not have anything to say. Does he KNOW me?? I am never at a loss for words! But my confidence is not in my own verbosity. My confidence is in the endless flow of messages that comes from the Word of God. I believe with my whole heart that the Bible has something to say about EVERYTHING.

That is a sure thing.

So imagine my delight when the scriptures assigned for this week included Psalm 40. I know for certain that the psalmist did NOT write this during a pandemic. But look at how applicable this is for where we are today:

Psalm 40: 5-10 (The Message)

Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,
    turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,”
    ignore what the world worships;

Indeed, everything we worshipped two months ago is gone for now. So in this time, we have an opportunity to discover God-wonders.

The world’s a huge stockpile
    of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
    comes close to you!

We can’t even attend church. Any attempt to “be religious” or “act pious” is out the window. Put away your Sunday hats, ladies. The expression of our faith can only come through our actions, words, and deeds.

Doing something for you, bringing something to you—
    that’s not what you’re after.
Being religious, acting pious—
    that’s not what you’re asking for.
You’ve opened my ears
    so I can listen.

Our notions of everyday life have been altered, and we have been forced to adapt. Kids don’t go to school anymore. Parents don’t go to work outside the home for now. But God still invites us to come to his party and allow his Word to enter into our lives and become part of who we are.

7-8 So I answered, “I’m coming.
    I read in your letter what you wrote about me,
And I’m coming to the party
    you’re throwing for me.”
That’s when God’s Word entered my life,
    became part of my very being.

Pandemics are a time to relearn that God is the only sure thing we have. And when we relearn that, we have to go and tell it.

9-10 I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
    I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
    a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.

So here are your marching orders: tell it all. Tell people about how dependable God is. Don’t hold back! Share his love and truth.

I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
    I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
    let the congregation know the whole story.

And let us remind one another that WE ARE ONE DAY CLOSER TO THE END OF THIS THING. And that’s a sure thing. Thanks be to God.

Sure Thing Sunrise by Michelle Robertson

Changing “Forever”

It is kind of hard to write about anything being ”forever“ right now. My concept of forever has changed in the last two weeks. Here are some things I just assumed would always be available forever:

Unfettered air travel.

Disney World open whenever I wanted to go.

Lovely, perfumed ladies hugging me in church every Sunday.

Tuesday morning staff meetings with my peeps, laughing, drinking coffee, and dreaming God’s dreams.

Attending my college’s Alumni Association Council meetings on our beautiful campus.

Going out to any restaurant on any given night.

Kissing my husband.

That last one might seem strange, but we have enacted a quarantine protocol in my house. My husband is a commercial airline pilot, and so he is considered essential personnel. Even with the drastic cut-back of flights, planes are still flying, delivering medical personnel and equipment to where they are needed, ferrying essential cargo, and returning families to their homes from far away places.

When he returns from a trip, he comes directly into the house and we begin a quarantine for 14 days. He sleeps in a separate room, uses a separate bathroom, and does not enter the kitchen. (This part may grieve me the most!! He is a great cook.) We don’t touch the same door knobs or light switches, and I sanitize everything. He doesn’t even pet the dog, and we maintain a 6-foot separation at all times. For 14 days. When he gets called out to fly again, the 14-day protocol will start all over again.

Like all of you, my concept of forever has changed.

So what is really forever?


Psalm 23 (New King James Version)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Dwelling in the house of the Lord is the one FOREVER we can count on. God’s mercy is forever. God’s love is forever. God’s salvation is forever. And thank God, his forgiveness is forever.

So when things get back to normal and I can kiss the cook again, I know I will be forever grateful for the true and unchangeable forevers that we all can claim.

And guess what? We are one day closer to the end of this thing.

Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley by Faye Gardner

Wake Up Call

See if this sounds at all familiar where you are. A family member blows up at another family member, and an onslaught of phone calls to the rest of the family ensues, each presenting their side of the encounter and trying to garner support.

A frustrated teenager slams her laptop closed and storms out of the kitchen because her younger siblings are chewing too loudly.

A friend gets angry, failing to recognize that the unreasonable response of his friend is because the guy is actually having a panic attack.

Overwhelmed spouses bicker to the point of silliness over kitchen duties.

Any time God’s children encounter a great deal of stress, we have two choices. We can let the situation bring out the worst in us, or we can take a deep breath and ask God to help us to be a light in the darkness.

The difference between the two choices is focus, intention, and a deep desire to do what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 4 (New International Version)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 

11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

What if this season of great stress is an opportunity for us to discover Christ’s light in a new and more visible way? What if this time could result in many more seeing and following his light?

And what is your part in it, if not to wake up and be the light?

These are challenging thoughts for challenging days. Listen, it never hurts to take that deep breath BEFORE you react, and ask God to use you as a light in someone else’s darkness. When this season finally turns into the next, won’t you want to look back at the many ways Christ shone through you?

Let us seize this opportunity to live as children of the light and do the things that please God the most. Let us reject the fruitless deeds of darkness and turn on the high beams of God’s mercy, grace, and HOPE in this dark time. I believe that people, like moths, are always attracted to the Light.

And guess what? Today, we are one day closer to the end of this thing.

Wake Up and Be the Light. By Michelle Robertson

Clear Lenses

Every contact lens wearer knows the joy of “new contacts day.“ Oh, the delight of opening that sterile, sealed container and slipping new, pristine contacts onto our weary eyeballs! The clarity, the comfort, the EASE!

For those of you who don’t wear them, contacts deteriorate with each wearing. I am supposed to change mine once a month, but with dust, eye makeup, and normal every day living, I don’t even make it three weeks before the need for new ones becomes overwhelming. And it’s shorter in pollen season! Dirty contacts hurt the eyes, compromise your eyesight, and are ineffective in their mission of correcting your vision.

Jesus has much to teach us about keeping our vision clear:

John 9 (The Message)

 1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

Jesus chose to heal the man’s blindness as a testimony to God’s power. But the townspeople and Pharisees refused to see what was right before their eyes. The tried to claim the man was never actually blind. They even interrogated his parents. The real issue?

Jesus had healed the blind man on the sabbath, breaking the law. The Pharisees felt it was their privilege and their position to sit in judgement and ignore the miracle in front of them. In their spiritual blindness, they couldn’t see Jesus for who he was. They judged him according to their rules, and found him to be inadequate.

Have you ever been guilty of judging someone?

The reaction of the Pharisees reminds us that being judgmental is akin to leaving dirty contacts in our eyes and then looking in the mirror and not seeing our own flaws. That is how the Pharisees see things…through the dirty lens of bias and entitlement.

39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

Be careful of your own lenses. God calls us see our brother in the same way that he looks upon us: with the lens of mercy, grace, equality, and acceptance. With that clarity, we will learn to love as God loves, and accept one another as he accepts us. Lord, open our eyes!

I can see clearly now…

No Time for Goodbye

A girl I love is a few months away from graduating from High School. We met a few weeks ago in the “before-time” at a local coffee shop and talked about colleges, scholarships, growing up, and life in general. The sun illuminated her strawberry blond hair as we sat at an outside table with not a care in the world. As I said, it was in The Before.

Now that we have arrived in The After, I can only see pictures of her on FaceBook. She just had her senior pictures taken. What I probably won’t get to see is her dressed in a cap and gown walking across the stage. I won’t see a hundred shots of her in her prom dress with her boyfriend in a matching tie. I won’t see beach pictures of her running in the waves on a rare day off from her summer restaurant job. And we had no time to say goodbye.

Teachers who miraculously scrambled to put their lessons online with one day‘s notice are just now allowing themselves to grieve the loss of being with their kids in person. Healthcare workers are having to quarantine themselves in their garages or at the hospital for fear of infecting their children at the end of work. My Alma Mater just announced that Spring Semester is over. The students moved out weeks ago, thinking they would be back after an extended Spring Break. Now it’s over, don’t come back. It was so unexpected, they had no time for goodbyes.

I miss my congregation so much it stings my eyes every time I think of them. I miss Miss Jean’s sweet bent-over hug. I miss Bonnie’s grin. I miss Jonny’s laughter. I MISS SINGING TOGETHER. God, I miss singing together. I miss them all. I didn’t know that the last time I saw them would be the last time I would see them. No time for goodbye.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus reminds us that we are blessed when we mourn:

Matthew 5 (The Message)

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

When everything you know and love gets stripped away, there is God. For such a time as this, we were made to seek him out for comfort and companionship. Blessings WILL happen in The After.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

This is especially poignant for The After. Being stuck inside allows us to get our inside world put right.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

The After is a time of no goodbyes, but also a time of saying hello to a whole new set of blessings we never would have discovered in The Before. God is with us. We are with each other.

And the good news is, we are one day closer to the end of this thing. Thanks be to God.

One Day Closer by Wende Pritchard

Endurance

Who remembers the television show Endurance? It was one of our favorite family programs. It was shown on the Discovery Kids cable network, and was a kind of “teenage Survivor” program. Kids would arrive on an exotic island and strategize and compete in physical and mental challenges for the ultimate prize of a trip to some amazing location like the Galápagos Islands. Through the season of challenges and hardships, a boy/girl team would eventually endure and take it all.

Life surely is a series of challenges and hardships, especially today. God calls us to endure it to obtain the prize that Jesus has already won for us. Take a look at this passage and note the progression of problems>trouble>endurance>character>hope:

Romans 5 (Common English Version)

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Hope never fails us. Paul once reminded us that faith, hope, and love endure. This passage promises us that the love of God has already been poured out in our hearts by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 

The worst thing that anyone could possibly endure is permanent and final separation from God. But this has been already been eliminated by Christ’s dying for us. This is how God showed his love for us! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Love is the final product of endurance. Faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

And so in love, we have separated ourselves from one another. In love, we aren’t gathering as a church or in communities so that our fragile members are protected. In love, we have canceled the world so that this hideous virus will end. In love, we submit to this new world order that will surely bear a price of loneliness, isolation, cabin fever, and stir-craziness to an extent we have never experienced before. But we do it, in love.

What to do? Go check on your neighbor (from 6 feet away.) Make a grocery run for an elderly friend (and leave it on their porch.) Call three people today who need to hear your voice. Do an online workout with your dog. Write a letter or send a card everyday until this is over.

READ A BOOK.

This season of endurance will surely produce character. I guarantee we will all look back at these weeks and months are realize we discovered new strengths in each other. And that newfound character will give birth to a new hope. We will realize how strong we are as individuals, families, communities, and as a nation. Life will never be the same because we will have endured something TOGETHER. Hang in there. And guess what? We are one day closer to the end of this thing.

This olive tree in Jerusalem has endured for centuries. Photo by Faye Gardner

New-Born

I was (finally) cleaning out some old storage containers and I came upon a onesie that both my daughters wore. I saved it because it was my favorite. The puppy-flying-an-airplane motif seemed just right for a family of dog lovers whose Daddy is a pilot. I was glad to find it, because it made a perfect object for my children’s sermon last Sunday.

John 3 (The Message)

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

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

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

This is a confusing story. We are confused, just as Nicodemus was confused. Explaining to the children on Sunday that my 5’10” daughter would never fit into this onesie again was pretty easy to understand. Obviously we aren’t meant to take a literal view of born again. So what was Jesus trying to get at?

When you think about it, becoming a new-born makes sense in the context of setting aside your adult preconceptions and seeing your relationship with God the way a newborn looks at her mother. Newborns are totally reliant on their parents for food, nurturing, learning, and life. Jesus is telling us to be new-born and rely solely on God for those things. We are to depend on him, not ourselves, for our daily needs. We are to look to him for what we need to learn, and not lean on our own understanding. We are to look to him to feed us both physically and spiritually.

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

How can you look at your relationship with God through new eyes today? What is he trying to teach you?

God invites us to be formed by something we can’t see and touch…the Holy Spirit. When we submit to his power and authority in everything, when we put ourselves under the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, we can be born anew. Only then can we enter God’s kingdom. May the invisible move the visible in us toward new life.

New Born

The Hiding Place

Many years ago I participated in women’s retreats that included a worship session that dealt with helping the participants release long-buried hurts. I was amazed at some of the conversations that followed that session. One in particular has stayed with me. I sat under a piano with a woman until 2:30 in the morning as she told me a life story that involved an affair, an unwanted pregnancy, a secret abortion, a life of regret, self-abuse, and depression. She had released all of that at the altar at the conclusion of the evening, and was finally ready and able to tell someone the things she had carried in her heart for decades. I saw the release, healing, and new start that being forgiven brought to this woman. The transformation was profound. Happy are those who are forgiven!

Today’s Psalm is a reminder that the forgiven are the blessed ones. Other translations use the word “happy” instead of “blessed.” This is a psalm of David, who knew what it meant to be forgiven after carrying the burden of sin for so long. His own foray into adultery, murder, coveting, deceit, and disobedience made him an expert on this subject:

Psalm 32 (ESV)

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

David gives us first-hand knowledge of the relief he felt after he finally opened up and was honest with God and himself. He felt the heaviness of God’s hand upon him until he finally acknowledged his actions. When he released it, he discovered that God is a hiding place of refuge:

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.

You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

Is God calling you to release something buried deep in your soul? Is he saying that it is time to unburden, and let forgiveness be your blessing? Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. God wants nothing more than to remove the heaviness of things you have carried for too long. IT IS TIME.

Won’t you let him?

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart

Happy are the Forgiven! By Michelle Robertson

The Rescuing Gift

Living in the Outer Banks has increased my deep appreciation for First Responders. When the tourist season begins in earnest, we see an increase in their efforts. Ocean Rescue begins their patrols again. Life Guards take their stands. Emergency crews gear up for the inevitable water and Bypass accidents. The Coast Guard increases their practice drills. We go from sleepy chill to high alert as winter moves into spring and on into summer.

I am forever impressed and humbly grateful for the work these men and women do. They RUN toward tragedy while the rest of us shrink back. I remember a time when my mother collapsed outside a restaurant and was lying unconscious on the ground. I called for help and within minutes the EMTs arrived. Their incredible care, their kindness in dealing with her, and they way they spoke to both of us still stay with me to this day. People like this have a rescuing gift, and thank God, they use it to serve the community.

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about the ultimate rescuing gift that came in the form of Jesus on the cross. Paul makes the case that one man’s sin (Adam) separated us from God. But that was overturned by another man’s gift (Jesus) which gave us life:

Romans 5 (The Message)

15-17 Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

I love how Paul describes this as a breathtaking recovery, a wildly extravagant life-gift that Jesus provides. It is indeed a grand setting-everything-right that puts death at bay and offers eternal life in its place. Death has no sting! All because Jesus said yes.

18-19 Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

How about you? Is today the day you will say yes to Jesus? Will this be that moment that you accept him as your Savior and put your whole trust in his grace? Will you confess your sins and ask him to cleanse you? And then promise to follow him for the rest of your life?

It’s a simple step, one that brings the rescuing gift into your own grasp. Jesus died so that you might live. He offers you the breathtaking recovery of a sovereign life, and gives you an extravagant life-gift. Are you ready?

Just say yes.

Getting Ready

Whatcha Lookin’ At?

If this were a Bible class and you were reading from the Bible in your hands, I would have you take out a highlighter and highlight every time the word “see” or “saw” appears in this passage. Since you are reading it online, use your imaginary highlighter instead!

Genesis 3 (The Message)

3 The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?”

2-3 The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”

4-5 The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on”—saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.

See/saw/sinned/sewed. It was a quick downhill slide! And that LYING snake, twisting God’s words for the first of many, many times. But I want us to focus on how “seeing” is the first step in the downhill slide of sinning.

When the Woman SAW that the tree LOOKED like good eating….it started with that. Eve looked at something she was told to pass by, but instead she stopped to contemplate it. Every sin we willingly participate in begins the same way. Adultery, lust, coveting, greed, stealing, killing, etc. all begins with looking at something we can’t have, and taking it anyway.

When the forbidden fruit was consumed, the two of them did “SEE what’s really going on-SAW themselves naked! So once the covenant with God was broken, the cover-up began. The lies took over, the shame took hold, and the trust was fractured. Sin replaced love as they tried to hide from the Father. Aren’t we just like that? When the threat of exposure of our sins takes hold, we lie through our teeth to try to prevent everyone knowing what we’ve done and who we truly are.

So the question for us this Lent morning is, what are you looking at? What’s in your hand? What temptation has Satan put in your view that is calling you to sin against God?

Look away. You can avoid the whole downward spiral right now by looking away, walking away, and telling Satan to beat it.

Tempting Apples by Becca Ziegler