Get in Step

One of the greatest joys and challenges of my high school years was being the Drum Major of the marching band. For two years I marched in the clarinet section, and then suddenly in my junior year I was selected to lead the band. I was blessed to receive excellent training and a lot of encouragement from the adults around me. 

The most difficult part of being a Drum Major is setting the pace. Every song was memorized and practiced so much that I immediately knew how fast or slow to direct the musicians. If you ask any Drum Major to beat a pattern for a John Philip Sousa march, they can do it, even years later. We became like human metronomes. 

I was reminded of this when I read today’s passage about the conflict between following the law verses justification by grace through faith. In marching band terms, Paul would say that like the band, people don’t set the pace. Instead it is our Drum Major God who establishes the beat which we all follow. Paul understood that following the law was akin to the band boastfully leading themselves. God doesn’t respond to our lead; we respond to God’s lead.  

Romans 3:27-31 (The Message)

27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

29-30 And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.

Paul had to address this again and again in his letters to his churches, and some of our best theology of salvation by grace comes from his writings. He had a clear understanding that you could not boast of your salvation because you had nothing to do with it. We are not saved by our own merit or good works, but by the one God who saves both the circumcised and uncircumcised alike. It is by faith we receive forgiveness, not by the law.

When we get in step with God’s will and purpose for our lives, we find it much easier to follow the pace God has set for us. The law always pointed to a Messiah who would come to fulfill it, and Jesus is that fulfillment. Even the law quickens or slows to Jesus’ direction and works in harmony to keep us on a parade route of righteousness. 

Remember the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees about keeping the law that prohibited working on the sabbath? He reminded them that the sabbath was meant for people, not the other way around. Thus the ox could be saved from the ditch in an act of mercy on the sabbath, because the law itself was under Jesus’ direction.

Where are you in the parade? Are you anxiously trying to lead it in an effort to have control, or are you letting God direct your feet into places outside of your comfort zone? Are you marching to the beat of the world or the Lord’s cadence?

Maybe it’s time to stop marking time and follow Jesus. He will guide your steps onto the path of righteousness.

Shifting Focus by Michelle Robertson

Family Ties

My birthday has come and gone, and it was made all the happier by my cousin, who sent a ginormous arrangement of flowers, called me to tell me she loves me, and mailed a beautiful card. She is what remains of my childhood family and her care and attention on my birthday was such a blessing. When you reach the point of your life when your parents and siblings are gone, your birthday can be a harsh reminder of those losses. You know cards won’t come, calls won’t be made, and there will be no immediate family sharing in the celebration of your birth. Then your cousin lovingly steps in and makes up for all those feelings of loss with her beautiful and generous gifts and reminds you of your family ties. How blessed am I!

In our scripture today, we see Paul making the same kind of family ties as he links himself with Jesus. He is proud to be called to be an apostle and relishes the fact that he has been set apart as one who is charged with delivering God’s good news.

Romans 1 (Common English Bible)

From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news. 2-3 God promised this good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets in the holy scriptures.

Paul continues by connecting his family ties through the prophets, and then linked Jesus (and himself) to King David. Jesus was the fulfillment of David’s lineage, placing all of Jesus’ followers in line with Israel’s royalty.

His Son was descended from David. 

Having thus established earthly family ties, Paul reaches heavenward to establish ties to God. In this, we are reminded that Jesus was fully human AND fully divine. The power of the resurrection confirms Jesus’ place in the holy trinity.

He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Then, in typical Paul fashion, now that he has connected us to God through these various family ties, he charged us to accept our own appointment to be apostles, just as he had done:

Through him we have received God’s grace and our appointment to be apostles. This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake. You who are called by Jesus Christ are also included among these Gentiles.

The assignment is clear. We are descended from royalty and have received a commission to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And there is no better time to do this than Advent. How many churches in your neighborhood are offering special worship services and events this month? Find one, and invite someone to go with you.

I think it was especially clever of Paul to make this kind of appeal to the proud citizens of Rome. He invited them to participate in a worldview that is bigger than even Rome itself, and reminded them that they are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people:

To those in Rome who are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So are you. You are dearly loved by God, and you are called to be his people. Go, and tell the world!

Family Love by Peggy Bryson

Gaining and Losing

My grandson is fascinated with what my life was like when I was growing up. He thinks about this a lot, and he has a million questions about my childhood. He wants to know things like what my favorite Marvel movie was when I was a child, or did we have cars. (Geeze kid, I’m not THAT old!!) Recently he asked me, “Nana, what do you miss the most about being a kid?” I quickly responded, “My metabolism.” Gone are the days when I could eat anything I wanted and not carry it around with me for the rest of my life!

Who among us has not gained and lost weight over the years? Did you ever wonder what that the total poundage in each category would be? Speaking for myself, the numbers fluctuate daily. And as I’ve aged, I have had to accept that the ideal weight of my youth is not a realistic or attainable goal anymore. I have had to accept a new plateau. (Somehow that makes it sound better, right? “Plateau.” If you throw a little French accent on it, it almost sounds delicious.) In our younger years, it seems as though a few weeks of self-denial is all that it would take to get things back on track. Not so in the latter years. It’s the battle of the bulge, and the bulge is winning.

Jesus had an interesting conundrum to present to his disciples. It was also a matter of gain verses loss. But in this case, a few instances of self-denial would not be enough to turn things around. He was asking them for a life of a total abandonment of self:

Matthew 10 (Common English Bible)

39 Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.

Matthew 16 (Common English Bible)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 

When Jesus stated that coming with him not only meant saying “no” to themselves, but also taking up their own cross, he wasn’t playin’. The disciples would have instantly recognized what that meant. The cross was an instrument of torture. It was a place of humiliation. It was an invitation to join Jesus on death row.

25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?

But oh, the benefits of that choice! The reward for total self-emptying is the fullness of grace. The plateau that we reach when we take up our crosses and follow Jesus is a place of eternal life that is filled with joy, devoid of pain, and there is not a weight scale in sight. Heaven has no calories, hallelujah! Tacos, here I come.

We are invited to this same promise. Following Jesus means walking away from our sinful selves and walking toward a Savior who leads by example. This life is filled with service to others, obedience, compassion, kindness, worship, prayer, imitating the mind of Christ, and loving as he loves.

Want to come along? You have everything to gain.

Heaven to Gain by Wende Pritchard


How many groups do you belong to? Over the course of a lifetime, we belong to many things. We are part of an elementary school class, then a work team, we participate in community efforts, we join social groups, we play on a sports team, we connect with alumni groups, and hopefully we belong to a community of faith. We even join rewards clubs so we can earn extra points on our purchases. Hello, Sky-miles!

Each group comes with a different set of membership requirements. Even on Facebook, you have to answer some questions before you can join a specialized group. Some groups have a low threshold, such as a neighborhood book club that simply asks that you read the book before coming, and some have a high bar, like having to take classes prior to joining, such as volunteering for the local fire department or hospital. Sometime churches require taking a membership class in order to join.

I have never regretted the day that I became part of Jesus’ group. Belonging to Jesus is a life-long process of walking with him. All are invited to follow him. Those who share a common belief that Christ is Lord belong to each other, and God invites us to lose our life in order to find it by living for his son.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes what belonging to God looks like. This is a pretty high bar. He suggests to the Romans that being a part of this group means that they don’t live for themselves anymore:

Romans 14 (Common English Bible)

We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

What does that mean for you today? Does it seem like a big ask?

I think the beauty of this passage comes in the reciprocal nature of what Paul is describing. Christ died for us so that we might live for him. Which is the harder task? Our living or his dying?

But more importantly, whether we live or die, we belong to God. That means we share in the glory of knowing the son up close and personal. That means we share in the glory of a promised new heaven. That means we participate in the glory of the resurrection.

That means we are never alone.

Are you feeling vulnerable right now? Do you feel alone? Are you struggling with a burden that is too big to carry by yourself?

Never forget that you belong to God. He calls you by your name and he prepares a table before you. All you have to do is follow.

Reflected Glory by Kathy Schumacher

Push Out Into Deep Water

Our Scripture today is a true classic. You will recognize it as soon as your read it. Now that I live on the Outer Banks, all the fishing stories in the Scriptures have a different meaning for me. I am surrounded by boats, water, fishermen, nets, and beautiful ocean sunrises.

(Okay, in complete transparency, it is my friend Michelle who gets up at o-dark-thirty to capture the sunrises, but I live vicariously through her photography. When I get up. Two hours later.)

Luke tells the story of Jesus encouraging the fishermen to go back out to the water and try again to catch some fish after a long day of fishing with no results. This is a little like that time your Dad told you to try again when your legs, arms, or brain were too tired from your fruitless exertion as you attempted to do something. Whether it was learning how to ride a bike after countless falls, pitching poorly in the eighth inning in the Georgia heat, or having to re-take your SATs, Dads are always pushing frustrated kids to try again. Jesus is just like that here:

Luke 5 (The Message)

 1-3 Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

The fishermen only scrub their nets at the end of the day, so you know they were over it. Finished, pooped, kaput … they were DONE.

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

So now Jesus tells them not only to try again, but to push out into deep water, which meant rowing farther and harder than they had all day. I’m sure there was an eye-roll or two among them. Didn’t he notice that their nets had returned empty? Come on, Jesus!

5-7 Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

Oh, my goodness. Pushing out to the deep as Jesus instructed resulted in a bounty of fish so great, it took two boats of tired fishermen to haul it back to shore.

8-10 Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

10-11 Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.

Where is God calling you to ”push out into the deep?” Is he telling you to move beyond your comfort zone to do his will or his work? Do you feel unworthy, like Peter? We all do. But this story is a great reminder that when you are obedient to God’s instruction to ”try again,” he will multiply your blessings.

All you need to do is follow him.

Pushing Out by Michelle Robertson