Back Scratching

Getting to the airport from where I live is no easy thing. I was spoiled by living 20 minutes away from one of the world’s largest airports for the 20 years we lived near Atlanta. Now an airport run takes up to two hours one way and involves a fair bit of traffic, state interchanges, bridges, poorly lit country roads, and a lot of aggravation.

I recently arranged for a friend to ride home with my pilot husband to spare her husband a four-hour round trip to get her. I know the inconvenience that would have been for him and was happy to help. These are friends who are gracious and hospitable. I know for sure they would do the same thing for me. In a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” relationship, it is easy to give and receive, knowing that the good will that is extended will come back in some form when you need the favor.

God calls us into reciprocal relationships in order to strengthen our ties in our community. We need to know we can count on folks when we get into a jam. I never considered that we have a reciprocal relationship with God, however. God is so far above us; I can’t imagine how we can ever “repay the favor” in any meaningful way. God has provided everything we need in life, including his only son, who guarantees our eternal life. How can we possibly respond?

But today’s psalm offers an idea. This is a psalm of David, who begins by outlining the many, many things he has received from the Lord:

Psalm 40 (Common English Bible)

I put all my hope in the Lord.
    He leaned down to me;
    he listened to my cry for help.
He lifted me out of the pit of death,
    out of the mud and filth,
    and set my feet on solid rock.
        He steadied my legs.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise for our God.
Many people will learn of this and be amazed;
    they will trust the Lord.
Those who put their trust in the Lord,
    who pay no attention to the proud
    or to those who follow lies,
    are truly happy!

David gets it. He knows that God has listened to him in times of great trouble, and credits God for pulling him out of “the pit of death” and restoring his life. God has blessed David with the ability to sing new praise songs for what God has done. He continues listing all of God’s goodness to him:

You, Lord my God!
    You’ve done so many things—
    your wonderful deeds and your plans for us—
        no one can compare with you!
    If I were to proclaim and talk about all of them,
        they would be too numerous to count!
You don’t relish sacrifices or offerings;
    you don’t require entirely burned offerings or compensation offerings—
    but you have given me ears!
So I said, “Here I come!
    I’m inscribed in the written scroll.

Now comes an idea of how to repay God for his goodness. First, we are encouraged to seek God’s will and learn as much about God as we can:

    I want to do your will, my God.
    Your Instruction is deep within me.”

David continues this thought with a specific way that all of us can repay God for his kindness: we can testify. We can share the good news with everyone we meet. We can go all out in witnessing to our faith.

It begs the question: when was the last time you shared your faith with someone? Have you been inviting people church? Have you borne witness to an answered prayer to your neighbor? Have you offered to pray with a hurting friend? Do you say grace in a restaurant?

I’ve told the good news of your righteousness
    in the great assembly.
    I didn’t hold anything back—
        as you well know, Lord!
10 I didn’t keep your righteousness only to myself.
    I declared your faithfulness and your salvation.
I didn’t hide your loyal love and trustworthiness
    from the great assembly.

Read that last part again, and let it inspire you.

Having demonstrated how he has reciprocated God’s attention, David now boldly shifts to the “scratch my back” part of the psalm:

1So now you, Lord—
    don’t hold back any of your compassion from me.
Let your loyal love and faithfulness always protect me,
12     because countless evils surround me.
My wrongdoings have caught up with me—
    I can’t see a thing!
There’s more of them than hairs on my head—
    my courage leaves me.
13 Favor me, Lord, and deliver me!
    Lord, come quickly and help me!
14 Let those who seek my life, who want me dead,
    be disgraced and put to shame.
Let those who want to do me harm
    be thoroughly frustrated and humiliated.
15 Let those who say to me, “Yes! Oh, yes!”
    be destroyed by their shame.

I love how David doesn’t hold anything back. Even in his demanding tone, he is letting God know that the reason he asks for favor and deliverance is because he believes in God with all his heart. He knows God will answer him! Do you ask for what you need with such confidence?

16 But let all who seek you
    celebrate and rejoice in you.
Let those who love your salvation always say,
    “The Lord is great!”
17 But me? I’m weak and needy.
    Let my Lord think of me.
You are my help and my rescuer.
    My God, don’t wait any longer!

I want to encourage you to do a few things today. First, ask boldly for what you need. God will surely lean down with all his might to hear your prayer. And second, find someone in your circle today who needs to hear about God. Give a word of testimony, offer a casserole and a prayer, post a Christian meme on your Facebook page … let people know where you stand in your relationship with God. Find some way to let everyone know that “The Lord is Great!”

Because he is great, indeed.

Wave Watching by Michelle Robertson

Drop Your Differences

How many of you have had to unfriend or unfollow friends or family members because of things they have posted on Facebook? You can’t see it from where you are sitting, but I am raising my hand. I hope it doesn’t shock you to know that I have even unfollowed (never unfriended) church members.

For those of you not on Facebook, this means that I no longer see their posts, but I remain ”friends” with them. But am I really? I tell myself that I am doing this for my peace of mind, as some folks post things that get me riled up. But it doesn’t say much about me that I can simply cut them off in that way. On the other hand, when I see them on Sundays, I don’t recall ten offensive things that they posted during week. Perhaps this ensures that my approach to them can be open and without hesitation. Is it better not to know?

A healthier way to handle these things would be to have a real life conversation and see if we could establish places of agreement, or at least try to drop our differences. Understanding someone’s perspective can lessen the sting of disagreement. You may never think alike, but understanding how someone came to their opinion can open up a relationship. And it’s biblical.

The truth is, we are constantly assessing each other by external things. Physical appearance, the size of our homes and cars, the things we put on social media, the amount of jewelry we wear, the kind of company we keep … these are the metrics by which we evaluate one another.

But is that the way God desires us to behave? Is that the way God evaluates us?

2 Corinthians (The Message)

16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.

Paul reminds us that God looks upon the heart, and so should we. We are called to look beyond the superficial things and really consider the quality underneath.

I dearly love a man who posts things that make me roll my eyes and shake my head. But his capacity for helping people in need is enormous. He is willing to extend himself to the marginalized in ways that impact the kingdom. He allows God to use him in places where I would dare not go. When I see a post that raises the hair on the back of my neck, I need to remember these things.

The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives.

This is a powerful teaching. We are Christ’s representatives in the world. How are you doing with that? Can people see Jesus in your interactions? Can others feel the power of God’s love through what you say and do? Are your posts winning others to the Kingdom?

God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

This hit me hard today, because I would rather not engage with people who think differently than me. This is wrong. God persuades us to drop those differences and join together in an effort to make things right. Will we ever agree? Nope. Do we have enough in common to build upon? Yep. I need to remember that any friend of God is a friend of mine.

21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

Let us move forward in this Lent season and work to make things right between us.

Friends of a Feather by Michelle Robertson

Edgar and Ali

Edgar was a very refined Snowy White Egret. He lived all his life on the Reedy Creek Swamp with his family and friends. He was a very special bird, who had been rescued as a young baby from the jaws of an encroaching raccoon at the edge of the water.

This brazen predator had wandered where raccoons usually dare not go, due to the presence of alligators in the swamp. When Edgar attempted his first flight, he fell from the nest and was grabbed by the raccoon, who bit hard on Edgar’s wing. His brave mother rescued him by attacking the nasty thing and forcing it to drop Edgar. Unfortunately his wing was injured in the melee, and he had a wing-wobble for the rest of his life which made flight impossible. But still, his life on the swamp was happy and warm.

You see, when Edgar was recovering from his injuries, he met a lovely young alligator named Ali. She had spotted him by the edge of the water and swam over for a closer look. Seeing his despondent face, she asked, “Oh, dear! What ever is the matter? Your face is as long as a meadow horse!”

Edgar had never seen a meadow horse, but she seemed kind, so he took her word for it. “Well, I fell out of the family nest a few weeks ago and a raccoon bit my wing so hard, Doc Heron said I will never fly again. My family is off right now, flying to the other side of swamp, and I am stuck here.”

“Dear, dear,” said Ali. “That is very sad, indeed.” Ali thought for a moment and suddenly her face brightened. “Well, there is only one thing for it. All aboard the Ali-Boat!”

Edgar blinked. “The whaaaat?”

“The Ali-Boat! Just hop on my back and I will take you over!” Edgar hesitated. His mother had warned him that living in the trees above the gators was for their protection, as the possums and raccoons who eat egrets did not live near the gators. But gators were known to eat the discarded egret eggs that fell from the nests, so you never could be too careful…

Edgar looked at Ali with her big toothy grin, and decided to take a leap of faith. Anything was better than sitting under the same tree, day after day.

And so the friendship of Edgar and Ali began with that first ride, and they have been going around the swamp together ever since. They love to talk, and laugh, and observe swamp-life together. Edgar’s sharp eyes help Ali see things far in the distance, and Ali’s smooth swimming helps Edgar get to places where he could never fly.

Ecclesiastes 4 (The Message)

9 It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
And if one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, tough!

11 Two in a bed warm each other.
Alone, you shiver all night.

12 By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.

I bet you have an Edgar in your life. Or an Ali. God created friendship to be a symbiotic partnership, so that we might not feel lonely, so that we might protect and be protected, and so that when one of us falls, the other is right there to help us get up. With a friend, you can face the worst.

A wise grandmother once told me, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.”

Go and be a good friend to someone today.