The One Who Has the Son

There was a great story in the news on Mother’s Day about a ten-year old boy who saved his mother’s life because he knew how to be fast. His mother was talking on the phone when suddenly her face drooped, her speech became garbled, and when she tried to stand up, she fell on the floor. Her son Lance knew something was very wrong and he bolted up the stairs to a neighbor’s apartment, who immediately called 911. This mother made a full recovery because her son knew how to be fast and saved her life.

Do you know how to recognize when someone is having a stroke? I listened to an NPR report on this yesterday. There is an acronym that outlines symptoms that indicate that a stroke may be happening, and it ends with what you should do. It is B.E. F.A.S.T. Here is what to watch for:

Balance is suddenly affected.

Eyes begin to droop.

Facial muscles sag.

Arms can’t be lifted properly.

Speech is slurred.

Time is of the essence, so get help immediately.

If you spot these things, be fast and call 911.

Our scripture today has a phrase that reminded me of Lance and his mother: “The one who has the Son has life.” Check it out:

1 John 5 (Common English Bible)

9 If we receive human testimony, God’s testimony is greater, because this is what God testified: he has testified about his Son. 10 The one who believes in God’s Son has the testimony within; the one who doesn’t believe God has made God a liar, because that one has not believed the testimony that God gave about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son.

12 The one who has the Son has life.

13 The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life.

God sent his only son so that YOU might have life. He testified to this fact at Jesus’ baptism when the heavens parted and he proclaimed, “This is my SON in whom I am well pleased.” With his son comes the promise of eternal life if you accept him as your savior.

Do you know him? Do you have the testimony of the son within you? When was the last time you shared it? The invitation for us today is to go and tell someone about the life-giving gift of the son. And be fast! Your word just might save a life.

Big Sky by Michelle Robertson

Reigning over Anger

Have you ever gotten really, really angry at God?

There are times in our lives when confusion, despair, disbelief, and tragedy can make us lie flat on our backs in a darkened room where we work hard just to breathe. The shell shock of abrupt loss can rend us speechless, mindless, and hopeless. A sudden death. A sudden divorce. A sudden business closure. A sudden betrayal. All that is left is anger.

I felt this way many years ago when a precious friend and co-worker died of cancer in her late 40’s. Her kindness and joy were a bright light in every situation, and when cancer did its ugly thing, I thought the warmth of her light had gone from the earth permanently and I was ANGRY at God.

A few months after her death, I went out to the beach in the middle of a terrible storm and stood on a sand dune for hours. The winds and the ocean raged around me as I raged at God. In the end, I came to realize one thing: God is mightier than the loudest thunder of my grief and mightier than the most destructive breakers in my sea of anger. He met me there with the warmth of his light and taught me how to go on and find a light of my own.

Psalm 93 (New International Version)

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
    indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
    you are from all eternity.

Realizing that God is from all eternity puts an exclamation mark where death and loss have tried to leave a question mark. There is nothing to fear when we accept that God’s throne was established long ago, way before our misery began. Even before the devastation came, the Lord on high, mighty and robed in majesty, was present. Without minimizing our agony, God still reigns in the reality of eternity. And so we can let go of our grief and grasp ahold of the hem of his robe, where healing and hope can be found.

The seas have lifted up, Lord,
    the seas have lifted up their voice;
    the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
    mightier than the breakers of the sea—
    the Lord on high is mighty.

I don’t know what sorrows or griefs you are dealing with today, but know this: the Lord is greater than your struggle. He sent his only son to die so that you might have life, and have it abundantly. So while you wait to breathe again and for the light to return, look to the one who is mightier than the deepest sea. God longs to soothe you with his love.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
    holiness adorns your house
    for endless days.

May he reign over your happiness for endless days and nights as you seek the warmth of his strength. His presence is firm and secure, and he will never leave you, no matter how angry you are.

The Seas Lift Up Their Voice by Michelle Robertson

Good Shepherds

I got pulled over by a Sheriff’s deputy last week. Yep, it happens. It was an unexpected encounter in many ways. First, when he put his flashy blue lights in my rear view mirror, I seriously thought he was trying to get around me to go bust a heroin ring or chase down a gunman. We were on a narrow, twisty, curvy two-lane road on the island where I live where passing is nigh impossible. So when this good citizen saw the lights go on, I assumed I was being asked to do my duty in cooperating with whatever chase he was about to start and get out of his way.

Turns out he was chasing me.

I pulled into a convenient side road and was startled when he pulled in behind me. I had checked my speedometer when the lights went on by reflex, and I had been driving 34 in a 35 MPH zone. What the heck!?!

We exchanged pleasantries through the open window and I still wasn’t sure why we were having such a lovely chat. Turns out that I had been doing 34 in a 25 MPH speed zone. This is what happens when you aren’t paying attention to which part of the curves you are traveling on. Most of the road is 35, except that small portion of extreme curviness where he caught me.

I deserved a ticket.

Our passage is a very familiar one from John which talks about the Jesus being the Good Shepherd. I want you to read this differently today and focus on the function of the sheep pen:

John 10 ( The Message)

11-13 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

14-18 “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too.

The sheep pen is a place of safety, just like speed limits. When we stay inside them, we are kept from harm. Just like playgrounds have fences, things that are designed to “contain” us are meant to be places where ravaging wolves and traffic accidents can’t threaten us. Jesus not only wants to keep us safe in his “pen” of commandments, he wants those who live outside the pen to come in.

They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.”

Our Good Shepherd acts completely for the good of the one flock. He is willing to freely lay down his life for the sheep…which in fact he did.

My encounter with the deputy reminded me that this man is also willing to lay down his life for my safety. All first responders do. They race into places where harm is happening, without any thought to their own safety. I am grateful for that.

I am also grateful that Officer Long did not give me a ticket or even a written warning that day. I deserved it, but he showed me some grace. He was my Good Shepherd on the road, and I am humbled to know that he is out there keeping my community safe.

Remember to pray for the first responders in your community. They need the protection of their Good Shepherd, too.

Slow Curves

Gladdening the Heart

What rules did you have to obey as a kid? Every family establishes its own set of house rules so that order is maintained and fairness is achieved. In my house, there were rules around homework, bedtime, respect for one another, taking turns, and not chewing with your mouth open. That last one was so strongly enforced that, as an adult, I have had to walk away from people who chew with their mouths open. There is some remnant of a childhood aversion in my spirit that makes me not be able to tolerate the breaking of this particular rule, as though a punishment is going to come down from heaven and I don’t want to be any part of that.

Plus, it’s gross!

We appreciate the safety net that society’s rules and regulations place around us. Don’t speed. Don’t run though red lights. Place your trash cans on the curb on certain days. No swimming without lifeguards. Rules are good for us.

In today’s Psalm, David celebrates the laws and instructions that God has laid down for his people. David knows firsthand the chaos and devastation that come when you break the rules, as he personally violated all of the Ten Commandments and experienced the misery of living outside of God’s safety and provision.

Psalm 19 (Common English Bible)

The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
    reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
    making naive people wise.
The Lord’s regulations are right,
    gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
    giving light to the eyes.
Honoring the Lord is correct,
    lasting forever.
The Lord’s judgments are true.
    All of these are righteous!
10 They are more desirable than gold—
        than tons of pure gold!
    They are sweeter than honey—
        even dripping off the honeycomb!

David’s love of the law almost goes overboard here. He declares that the law is more desirable than tons of gold and sweeter than honey dripping off the honeycomb. As we say, there is nothing stronger than the testimony of a reformed sinner! He has seen both sides of the law and knows that staying on the right side of it is far preferable to the punishment that comes from breaking it. Remember, he lost a son because of his sin.

11 No doubt about it:
    your servant is enlightened by them;
    there is great reward in keeping them.
12 But can anyone know
    what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
    Clear me of any unknown sin
13         and save your servant from willful sins.
        Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
    I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.

David’s plea to be cleared of any unknown sin is a reminder to us today to be diligent in reading God’s instruction for our lives. During Lent, we are called to immerse ourselves in scripture everyday. This is a call that will last past Easter and should be the “rule of law” for every day of our lives.

So good for you…you have read scripture today! Like David, we are enlightened by studying God’s commands. Our hearts are gladdened when we read and obey.

Gladdened Hearts by Jessica Spiegelblatt

Again

March in the Outer Banks is a confused and confusing month. Half winter, half spring, spits of windy days followed by spats of rainy days…it simply can’t make up its mind what season to be. Yet the beauty that surrounds me every waking day, regardless of the weather, is breathtaking. Even on the worst day, this place sings of God’s handiwork.

This beautiful song reinforces that notion that God’s creation has a language of its own. Heaven doesn’t need words. The sky can communicate without them. The days and nights proclaim God’s handiwork by their very existence. We are surrounded by evidence of God’s grace and glory.

In the presence of such majesty, words are unnecessary.

Psalm 19 (Common English Bible)

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
    the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
    and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
        their voices can’t be heard—
    but their sound extends throughout the world;
        their words reach the ends of the earth.

When was the last time you stood outside and just reveled in God’s handiwork? With no other thought, petition, need, or want crowding your mind…just the experience of creation informing your soul of God’s presence?

God has made a tent in heaven for the sun.
The sun is like a groom
    coming out of his honeymoon suite;
    like a warrior, it thrills at running its course.
It rises in one end of the sky;
    its circuit is complete at the other.
        Nothing escapes its heat.

The sun rises every day, bringing light, heat, and the promise of new things. You can count on that, just as you can count on God’s presence in your situation. So no matter what you are going through right now, know this: God is with you. God is here. God redeems.

If you forgot that, just go outside and look up.

Again by Michelle Robertson

A Double Portion

If you could have a double portion of anything in the world, what would it be? Fame? Fortune? Vacation time? A new house? A carefree lifestyle? Cheesecake?

In our continuing story of the prophet Elijah and his apprentice Elisha, the moment has come when Elijah is called up to heaven in quite a dramatic way. Elisha has been dreading this moment, as we all do when a loved one is on the verge of leaving us. What was on Elisha’s mind in the moment of this reality?

2 Kings 2 (Contemporary English Version)

Fifty prophets followed Elijah and Elisha from Jericho, then stood at a distance and watched as the two men walked toward the river. When they got there, Elijah took off his coat, then he rolled it up and struck the water with it. At once a path opened up through the river, and the two of them walked across on dry ground.

After they had reached the other side, Elijah said, “Elisha, the Lord will soon take me away. What can I do for you before that happens?”

Elisha answered, “Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets, so I can be the one who takes your place as their leader.”

It may seem self-centered that Elisha would request a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic power. But it reflects a healthy awareness that Elijah is indeed on the way out, and Elisha will have to put on the mantle of being the prophet for the people. Life goes on, and Elisha is hoping to be as prepared as he can while Elijah is still with him in these final moments.

10 “It won’t be easy,” Elijah answered. “It can happen only if you see me as I am being taken away.”

11 Elijah and Elisha were walking along and talking, when suddenly there appeared between them a flaming chariot pulled by fiery horses. Right away, a strong wind took Elijah up into heaven. 12 Elisha saw this and shouted, “Israel’s cavalry and chariots have taken my master away!” After Elijah had gone, Elisha tore his clothes in sorrow.

Now equipped for the task ahead, Elisha demonstrates the true measure of his condition by tearing his clothes in sorrow. But the next day he will get up and do the work of the Lord in Elijah’s name, having been made ready for the task at hand.

I have a friend who lost her husband. On the one-year anniversary of his death, she made some changes in her environment and in her heart. She still grieves, and will always grieve, but she has taken a great step forward in being ready for the work to which she is called. Her example is a beautiful reminder that even in the midst of crushing sorrow, God still has a plan and a purpose for our lives.

God has a plan and a purpose for you, too. Like Elisha, I pray that the sorrow that has caused you to rend your clothes in grief will subside, and that your sense of purpose will take over so that you can move forward with doing the work to which you are called.

And know that you are NEVER alone.

Gone The Sun

Sleepwalking

These are trying times. That may be the understatement of the year. I don’t need to list all the reasons that I write that because you are living it. In my lifetime, nothing has been this hard, divisive, confusing, and in many ways, dangerous. The list of don’t do this, don’t go here, don’t engage in this behavior is endless. In my state, the governor just reduced indoor gatherings from 25 to 10. We are hunkering down for the next tidal wave of infections, which have already started…just in time for winter.

I know of two families who will not be able to share a Thanksgiving dinner together because younger members are not willing to isolate prior to that day. They have decided that going to the bars, gyms, and other social events is something they aren’t willing to give up for two weeks in order to be together safely. Another friend reports that she hasn’t seen her parents in months because they won’t wear masks when they go out and they continue to attend a monthly club dinner where nobody is wearing masks as they sit side by side at large tables.

Like I said, these are trying times. And trying times can bring out the most selfish tendencies that people have. It makes me think that I have been sleepwalking all of my life until 2020 reared its challenging head. Well, I’m woke now.

The lectionary assignment for today is (once again) startling in its accuracy. I had a wonderful chat with a colleague about the power and the relevance of the lectionary selections for this cycle. God is always ON POINT in scripture, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the lectionary assignments written decades ago keep bringing the living word right into our current situation.

Take a look at Paul’s letter to his church at Thessalonica. If we didn’t know better, we might think he wrote it last night.

1 Thessalonians 5 (The Message)

1-3 I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would.

About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.

Although Paul is referring to the end times, the image of people walking around complacently declaring that “we can take it easy” is an accurate portrait of what’s happening in pandemic ridden post-election America. We’re just tired. We want it all to be over. Our vigilance in many areas of society has slipped, and the numbers are surging.

4-8 But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others.

Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.

I love how Paul encourages us to keep our eyes open and be SMART. We can’t be taken off guard by this. Families are making hard decisions about gathering together. We may have to face the reality that our holiday meals will look much different than the festive tables we took for granted in the past.

But it won’t always be this way, so maybe it’s better to look beyond the immediate. Even in this struggle, we are alive in Christ…and that’s the good news.

9-11 God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him!

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing .

Paul gives the best advice. Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope! Make the sacrifice to quarantine so that you can be with your family members. We are all in this together, and together we can ensure that no one is left out. Let’s not sleepwalk through this. As Paul says, be smart!

We’re All in This Together by Michelle Robertson

Avenging Wrong Deeds

A friend has come to me over the last several months seeking help with a sin that she keeps committing. She knows the destruction and pain this sin is causing her and all those around her but she continues to indulge in it over and over again. Every time she is caught she goes through a period of remorse and self-loathing only to turn around a month later and do it again. The pull of the temptation of this sinful behavior is too strong for her to resist. Mindlessly, she forgets all of the pain it brings.

Here is a startling thought about sin. Most of us grew up thinking that God’s reaction to our sin is punishment. Surely in life when we sin and experience the consequences, we are engaging in some form of self-punishment. Our parents punished us when we did bad things. We were punished at school if we broke the rules.

We know there will be hell to pay if we do a particular thing but we do it anyway, consequences be damned. And when we are living through those consequences we feel God’s anger and wrath. Punishment is God’s response to our wrong deeds.

Or is it?

Psalm 99 (Common English Bible)

The Lord rules—
    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!

Strong king who loves justice,
    you are the one who established what is fair.
    You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Magnify the Lord, our God!
    Bow low at his footstool!
    He is holy!
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.

Wait, what? God forgives and avenges wrong deeds?

What does it mean to avenge? To avenge is to step out from behind someone and take up their cause on their behalf. Avenging is an action of inflicting harm on something that caused harm to someone else. So when God is avenging our wrong deeds, his action is against the behavior, not aimed toward us. Thus the punishment we feel is not an indication that he doesn’t love us anymore because we have sinned. Indeed the exact opposite is true. He loves us so much he is angry at anything that separates us from that love…especially our wrong deeds.

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

Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He is the ultimate avenger who will fight against everything that gets between you and him…especially your sin.

Magnify the Lord by Michelle Robertson

Timeless

When you think of something that is timeless, what comes to mind? In art, you might recall pieces like the Mona Lisa or the Statue of David. In music, surely Beethoven’s Fifth and Bizet’s Carmen pop up. In cars it would have to be the Ford Model T or a 1960s era Corvette. In Rock and Roll it would be Stairway to Heaven or anything by Queen. (Argue with me!)

But when it comes to the Psalms there is only ONE. Heads and tails, the 23rd Psalm stands above the rest. Because of its inclusion in most funeral liturgies, it may be the most read aloud scripture of all time. At least in this pastor’s experience it certainly is the one scripture I have read aloud the most and for good reason: it is absolutely beautiful. It teaches us about the nature of God, it includes lyrical phrases, it proclaim’s God’s majesty, and it speaks to the heart of every pilgrim wanderer. It’s timeless!

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.

I will always remember having an epiphany during a church matriarch’s funeral. I was preparing to read the 23rd Psalm as a soloist was singing. When my eyes hit the phrase “valley of the SHADOW of death” I realized that God was reminding us that death is just a mere shadow. When the light of Christ hits your life you don’t have to fear what lurks in the shadows any more. His light brings life.

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.

If you’ve had a rough week, meditate on these words. You will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER. Surely that balances out the aggravations of inflammatory politics, the constant threat of this pandemic, the uncertainty of our economy, all of our personal struggles, and the upcoming elections. ALL of these things will pass away and God assures us that the days of our lives will be filled with goodness and mercy.

Thanks be to God!

Valley of Shadows by Kathy Schumacher

Worries

Last week was filled with worries for all of us. Covid numbers are back on the rise, families are dealing with remote learning struggles, we experienced the debacle of the Presidential debate, many of us are worried over the elections…and to top it all off our President, First Lady, and key leaders in our government have tested positive for corona virus. Can 2020 get any worse? Have we all somehow stepped into the twilight zone?

When the world as we know it feels like it is crashing at our feet, it is always good and helpful to do two things: pray and turn to scripture. Amazingly (yet not surprisingly in the way the Holy Spirit works) the lectionary passage for today speaks directly into this unspeakable time. With the wisdom of the ages, God’s holy word written over 2,000 years ago offers exactly the right advice for today.

Rejoice.

When the diagnosis comes, rejoice. When death draws near, rejoice. When the sting of rejection is so hard you can’t breathe, rejoice. When divorce is requested, rejoice. When the world seems to be going straight to hell as you watch from your sofa, rejoice.

Who in their right mind would rejoice in this season? The people of God. You see, rejoicing casts out worry. Rejoicing opens up prayer. Rejoicing is the foundation for supplication to a Heavenly Father who is ready and able to hear your requests.

Rejoicing brings PEACE.

Philippians 4 (New Revised Standard)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The news this week will likely not be any better. In fact, it will probably be worse. But the God of peace is right here, right in the middle of it, right by our side. Paul didn’t say to rejoice when the news is good. He said to rejoice ALWAYS. Do not worry about anything.

So hang on to the good, the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, and the things that are pleasing to God. Set aside all of your worries and think about these things. Keep following Jesus, reading his word, praying for our nation, and focus on things worthy of praise.

Think about those things, and only those things, and the peace of God will be with you. His peace surpasses all understanding. The world can’t give us any peace, but the Lord is always near.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Again I will say, REJOICE!

The Peace of God by Mary Watts