Filling the House

Do you know someone who lights up a room when they walk in? Or who instantly brings the mood down upon entering? It is interesting to observe group behavior and how it can be changed with the addition or subtraction of one personality.

I am still experiencing a little PTSD from Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. I am sure by now that you have seen the clip of Will Smith walking up onto the stage and slapping Chris Rock for a joke he made in reference to Will’s wife. Jada Smith suffers from alopecia and is bald. Rock made a joke about “GI Jane 2,” a reference to a movie with a female character who shaved her head for combat.

Neither man was right. It is wrong to mock someone’s medical condition. It is wrong to assault a person because you don’t like what they said.

In the aftermath, much has been written about the crowd’s behavior. Regardless of your opinion about their reaction, one thing is clear: the atmosphere in the room was irrevocably changed. A few people who spoke after the assault tried to lighten the mood and help the crowd move on, but the thing that we all witnessed permeated the rest of the night. People were unsure of what they had just seen. Then ten minutes later, they gave Smith a standing ovation for his Oscar win. Twenty years from now people will still be talking about this year’s Oscars, but not for the right reasons.

This Oscar night began as a bright and spangly celebration, as the Hollywood elite joined in person after a year of isolation due to the pandemic. Even if you care very little for the event, it felt good to realize that holding the Oscars in their legendary theater was a sign that things are becoming normal again. The glitz, the glamour, and the gowns all spoke of a return to the pleasant superficially of movie makers and their stars. And let’s face it … movies helped us get through two years of isolation. But in one ill-considered exchange, two men changed the atmosphere of the event and it will always be remembered for that. Our delight in the evening came crashing down with the stink of their behavior.

This serves as a reminder that you can change the atmosphere for better or for worse by the things you choose to do and say.

We turn our attention to John now as we move closer to the crucifixion in our story. Easter is on the horizon, but we are not there yet. In this passage, watch for what Mary does.

John 12 (Common English Bible)

12 Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. 

We see another lovely picture of the Martha/Mary dynamic. Martha served. Of course Martha served! She was the one who was always focused on the practical task at hand. We need Marthas to get the jobs done around us. But we especially need the Marys, who see the world through spiritual lenses and show us what God is doing in our midst. She chose to anoint Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and the pleasing aroma of her prophetic offering filled the entire house. Everyone received the blessing of her gift as they breathed in the fragrant perfume.

Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

And then comes Judas the mood-killer, questioning her actions and taking all the joy out of the moment. He calls their attention to the price of the gift and how it had just been squandered. He points out the waste of it and makes them feel guilty for having enjoyed its sweet fragrance. He changed the atmosphere. But Jesus intervenes.

Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”

Jesus saw exactly what Mary was doing and used it as another step toward preparing them for the crucifixion that was yet to come. He invited them to live for a moment in the present, warning that they won’t always have him.

The challenge for us is to heed his words. Where is God calling you to be present in the present and fill your house with joy and peace? The people in your house won’t always be with you. Is God inviting you to examine the effect your attitude has on others? Is God directing you to change your behavior?

You can fill your house with the scent of positivity or the stink of negativity. You can bring everyone up or push everyone down.

Which will you choose?

Choose Joy by Michelle Robertson

Going to Bed Angry

I always loved those moments in church when someone would raise their hand and announce that they were celebrating a wedding anniversary. What a joy! When the number of years was especially impressive, say forty, fifty, and even sixty, I would ask them to share their secret to success. A couple of times the husband would joke that he learned early in their marriage to say “yes, dear.” But more often than not, the answer had something to do with “not letting the sun go down on their anger.” One wife told me that she and her husband believed in that so much, they would stay awake all night to resolve their argument rather than go to bed angry. That is excellent relationship advice from people who know!

We believe that scripture has warned us about going to bed when you’re angry with your bedmate, and so we assume this scripture relates to those kinds of relationships. But that is not the case. Read carefully and see if you can determine what exactly is said about not going to bed angry:

Ephesians 4 (The Message)

25 What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

26-27 Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Did you notice that it says nothing about the person with whom you share a bed? No, indeed. This is how you are supposed to treat your NEIGHBOR.

That’s a bit startling, isn’t it? So what do you suppose would happen if we practiced this scripture with integrity? What would the world look like if everyone resolved their issues with their neighbors before bedtime? Some of us wouldn’t sleep for weeks.

Paul is right about needing to clear the air when there is a dispute. The devil absolutely is LOOKING for footholds in your life, and unresolved anger is a favorite.

Also notice that anger is not the villain here. Paul encourages us to go ahead and be angry. It is okay to be angry, but it is never okay to use it as fuel for revenge. Feeling anger is a natural response to conflict, but stuffing down your anger is far from healthy. Better to go to your neighbor and tell the truth. Get it out. Stop pretending. Open a mature dialogue. BUT DON’T STAY ANGRY.

And then he goes on to address other issues in the neighborhood:

28 Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.

29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.

This is especially important when you are talking to that neighbor about what has made you angry. Say ONLY what helps, and watch the way you talk.

30 Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.

And the final word on the subject is a great summation of how to live in harmony with your neighbor:

31-32 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

Are you caught in a situation where someone keeps making you mad? Pray, pray, pray, and then go gently into a conversation with them. Be honest, use helpful words, lay down your anger, avoid backbiting and profane talk, and be ready to forgive, even if you aren’t received well.

If you do this, you may sleep better tonight.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down by Bonnie Bennett


Did you know that for the first time ever, rock climbing is an Olympic sport? It is called Sport Climbing, and there are three different types of competition. Speed pits two climbers in a head-to-head race, climbing a 15m wall. Bouldering puts the climber on a 4.5m wall, climbing over fixed routes in a specified amount of time. Lead is where climbers try to go as high as possible on a 15m wall as fast as they can before the whistle blows. Who knew?

NPR aired a program yesterday where they interviewed a few pioneers of sport climbing. At the end of the show, the interviewer asked about finger strength. I was intrigued about this as well. I can’t open a pickle jar, so there is no way I would have the strength and dexterity to hang from a cliff by my fingers. It turns out that you can develop strong hands and fingers by exercising them in specific ways. They have even created “finger boards” to do this. I wonder if that means that piano players are a step ahead of the rest of us.

As with all Olympic sports, being an Olympic sport climber is a combination of God-given natural ability, strength training, perseverance, and determination.

In our passage from Ephesians today, Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus about their own training regimen. They are in the Growing-in-Christ Olympics. Paul encourages them to be disciplined in this sport and to be steady, consistent, and unified:

Ephesians 4 (The Message)

1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Obviously in Paul’s mind, this is a team sport. He instructs them to walk….better yet, run!…on the course that God has laid out for them. Running on this track will take them closer to the God they love. We can imagine them in a relay race, where instead of handing off a baton, they hand off acts of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

7-13 But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts.

Yet even as a team, this calling to be the body of Christ together is fortified by the fact that each participant has a different strength and spiritual gift. All of these individual spiritual gifts combine to make us stronger in our Oneness…as long as each one does their part. It is like the Olympic Parade of Nations. Each country walks behind their flag, with everyone wearing the same uniform as they represent different sports. So, too, is the church called to stand behind one Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Like synchronized swimmers, we are called to move rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in our response to God. Sometimes that means giving way. Sometimes that means compromising. Sometimes that means putting the needs of the many before your own.

That is the church.

14-16 No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are easy prey for predators. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

In typical Paul fashion, he tells us to GROW UP. He wants us to know the whole truth and tell it IN LOVE.

I believe that our team is strengthened every time we search the scriptures and discern God’s will. I believe our disciplined training of worship, prayer, giving, meditation, self-examination, service, discernment, study…in other words, all of the spiritual disciplines…will draw us closer to God and to one another.

You are an Olympian, too. Where is God calling you to train harder?

Keep on Climbing by Karen Warlitner

There Is No God

Let’s talk about fools today. We often assume that when we call someone a fool, we are describing an intellectual incapacity. We think about foolishness as a lack of common sense, or making poor decisions. When a friend does something foolish, we respond with “Well, that was stupid!” Foolish behavior is seen as a function of the mind, and fools lack the wherewithal to “know better.” Fools are imprudent and silly.

In David’s time, however, the word fool was more a factor of heart than mind. Foolish behavior came from a place of morality, not intellect. Thus fools were the ones who were morally bankrupt evildoers, regardless of intelligence. Fools believed there is no God.

David makes it clear in Psalm 14 that he considers anyone who rejects God to be corrupt and perverse. He complains that there are few people who seek God, stating that everyone has gone astray. He draws a clear line between those who accept God for who he is and those who contend that there is no God:

Psalm 14 (New Revised Standard Version)

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.

You can almost feel David’s disdain for anyone who denies God. He is solidly in the camp of those who call upon the Lord for everything, and so he has no patience or respect for godless evildoers.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror,
    for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

Here is the application for modern day readers: those who call upon God will find a refuge of safety in that relationship. Knowing that God is real puts one in the camp of the righteous, where God resides. It is not only the smart choice, it is the only safe choice. God is our strength. God is our restoration. God is our deliverance.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Do you know someone who denies the existence of God? They, too, may make this assertion from a heart-perspective rather than a head-perspective. Ask questions. Have they been hurt by the church? Have they suffered at the hand of “religion?” Have they felt condemnation from those who know God?

Listening to the heart is much better than lecturing to the mind. When people see God in your actions as you offer unconditional love, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, they can see with their hearts that God is real.

You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. Go and preach the Gospel with your winsome ways, and only use words when absolutely necessary.

God is our Refuge 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

The Beauty of Holiness

If you regularly worship in a church, think for a moment about what happens when you settle yourself into your seat, whether it is in a physical worship center or in another location as you worship online. I have a friend who spent the better part of the pandemic taking her coffee every Sunday morning at sunrise to a nearby sand dune where she read a full week of At Water’s Edge devotionals as her worship liturgy. Truly, if we learned one thing during the pandemic it is that worship can happen anywhere or anytime that you open yourself in an attitude of praise and attention to God’s abiding presence. So the question really becomes, how do you prepare for worship?

When my girls were very young, I had to report early on Sundays to a church that offered multiple service times, and thus I was mostly spared what mothers and fathers do to get a house full of kids ready to go to church. Many Sundays I would look out at my girls with their father in the pew and know instantly who had gotten the final word on the day’s outfits and hairstyles. My husband never did quite master a French braid, but his pigtail braids were unbeatable. Indeed, getting ready for church with young children is sometimes a Herculean undertaking. We see you, young parents.

Worship preparation for pastors is a much different thing. Our brains are on fire with all of the details that make Sunday morning look seamless to the worshipper. Going over our sermons and prayers, checking in with other worship leaders, noting the temperature of the room, dealing with complaints, giving last minute instructions to ushers and musicians, ensuring that the offering plates/candles/mics are in place, checking on the nursery….speaking for myself, the mental focus that this requires is EXHAUSTING. I am often asleep by 2:00 on Sunday afternoon.

How do you get ready to worship? What happens in your mind, your heart, and your soul? Are you dialed in to the presence of a holy God, or are you mentally going through your list of things to do as soon as worship is over?

Psalm 29 (New King James Version)

 Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

One of the things I pray for myself and my parishioners during the opening prayer is that the Holy Spirit would come and take away all of the distractions and to-do lists that we brought into the sanctuary with us. Some days it is truly a challenge to keep the worldly things from crowding out the divine.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The psalmist reminds us of the power of God’s voice. But the truth is, we are also powerful in our ability to completely shut God’s voice out….even in the midst of worship. Worries, troubles, annoyances, distractions, crying babies, the smell of too much perfume, seeing someone in the pew who has offended you….there are many things that can pull you out of worship while your body is still sitting there.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”

We would do well to spend a moment before worship focusing on clearing our minds so that we can join together and say, “Glory!” in an attitude of humility and submission to the Holy Spirit. If we ask, God will give us his strength to do this.

10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
11 The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.

So before you enter your “church” next time, spend a moment in preparation to deeply, wholly, and completely worship God. All those distractions will still be there at the end of the hour, but you will be more fortified to handle things after having devoted yourself to worshipping God.

God invites us into the beauty of his holiness…don’t miss it.

The Beauty of Holiness by Bev Mineo

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