Dress the Part

Back in the day, airline employees and their families were required to wear “first-class appropriate” attire in order to fly free on an empty seat on the plane. This was an attempt to have non-revenue passengers blend in with those who paid thousands of dollars for their seats, especially in the event that first class seats were open. It made sense for a while….right up until the point that revenue first class passengers began to wear pajama pants with oversized sweatshirts on the plane. It took awhile, but the airlines eventually relaxed their non-rev travel dress requirements. Until that happened, you could instantly spot the airline families…we were the ones who were blatantly over-dressed for the trip.

This policy was taken very seriously when it was in place. Women had to wear panty hose with skirts and dresses, or wear dress pants. Denim of any kind was verboten, and wearing it was a quick way to be denied boarding.

I remember a trip where I had carefully selected a belted shirt-waist dress in a light blue chambray, and wore the required panty hose and dress shoes. The gate agent came over and told me that there was a first class seat open, but he could not seat me there because of my denim dress. I held out my sleeve as proof and explained that chambray was a men’s dress shirt fabric and not denim, but he would not budge. I can promise you that I never traveled in that dress again.

When the standards are high, you need to pay attention and follow the rules.

Psalm 15 is a writing that pulls no punches when it describes the rules and standards for those who will be allowed to live in God’s tent on the holy mountain, or risk being denied boarding. Take a look, but I’ll warn you….it’s a little scary:

Psalm 15 (Common English Bible)

Who can live in your tent, Lord?
    Who can dwell on your holy mountain?
The person who
    lives free of blame,
    does what is right,
        and speaks the truth sincerely;
    who does no damage with their talk,
    does no harm to a friend,
    doesn’t insult a neighbor;

This list of appropriate behaviors is admirable, worthy, and very daunting. It is a reminder to us every day to strive to do better in our actions. We, who are the people of God, should be known in our community as those who adhere to a certain way of life that includes speaking truth sincerely and never hurting our friends and neighbors with our talk. God expects us to do what it right.

We continue:

    someone who despises
        those who act wickedly,
        but who honors those
        who honor the Lord;
    someone who keeps their promise even when it hurts;
    someone who doesn’t lend money with interest,
    who won’t accept a bribe against any innocent person.

Keeping this list in the forefront of our minds as we begin each day is helpful in remembering what is pleasing to the Lord. If we are faithful to his call to be upright and free from blame, our feet will not stray from his path.

Whoever does these things will never stumble.

It bears mentioning that this psalm is not a prescription for “works righteousness,” where people mistakenly believe that you can earn your way into heaven. No indeed, we can only approach the holy mountain because of the unmerited love of God and the shed blood of the atonement by Jesus. It is only by grace that we are saved, and not by any actions we might do.

So why the list?

To keep you on the straight and narrow so that you remember both God’s standards and God’s promises, and more importantly, so that you won’t stumble on your way up the holy mountain and cause others who are watching you to stumble in their faith as well.

So keep on climbing. Keep on bearing witness to the Good News. Make the changes in your attitudes or actions that this Psalm has brought to your attention. Make sure you are dressing the part of a follower of Christ. Your first-class seat is open….welcome aboard!

Ready to Board by Katie Bartoo

It Depends on Faith

When you are at your darkest moment and you open your eyes in the morning and all you see is crushing despair, how strong is your faith?

Friends who are saddled with the unrelenting sadness of failed marriages, family members involved in criminal activity, terminal diagnoses, and watching a mother waste away in hospice are currently experiencing this right now. Maybe you are, too.

In the bleakest of our circumstances, Paul advises us to look to God’s promises to counter-balance the hopelessness that we feel. God’s promises are real. God’s promises are steadfast. God’s promises are eternal.

The promise made to Abraham in the form of a covenant of God’s abiding presence with his descendants is one of the most comforting promises we can rely on in times of trouble. God promises to always be WITH us, having claimed us for himself. This promise is not based on any law, but based solely on God’s faithfulness to his people.

Romans 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 

The promise rests on grace. Hallelujah! It doesn’t rest on performance on our part, it doesn’t rest on the law, but solely on the grace of God. We understand grace to be the unmerited favor of our Lord. You can’t earn it, so you can’t lose it, thanks be to God. God’s grace is guaranteed.

18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 

And so we must be like Abraham, and hope against hope. No matter how awful your circumstance is, grace can come in such a way that your head will spin. God often does the unexpected in answer to our fervent prayers and unwavering faith. Even old Abraham and geriatric Sarah conceived a child!

20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

May we have the faith of Abraham as we encounter the terrible. May we have the righteousness of Sarah as we pray for the impossible. And may we be raised in Christ as the final proof of our hope that “with God, all things are possible.”

New Mercies I See by Michelle Robertson

Rainbow Covenant

I love everything about living in the Outer Banks except January and February. Don’t get me wrong, if you love the color GREY, this is the place to be. But the days upon days upon days of rain do me in after a while. Walking the dog becomes a challenge of finding how far up our neighbor’s front lawns we have to go to avoid puddles that take days to clear. Winds make umbrellas impossible, if not somewhat dangerous!

I know, first world problems. But I really miss the sun and the blue skies.

One of the rewards of the rain, however, is an abundance of rainbows. Probably because we enjoy “big sky” in every direction, rainbow spotting is a common occurrence. As the rain begins to taper off and the sun (finally) emerges, the perfect conditions are created for these beautiful reminders of God’s promises.

Today’s lectionary takes us to that very moment when God established the bow as a sign of his protection:

Genesis 9 (Common English Bible)

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, 10 and with every living being with you—with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you. 11 I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

We understand the word covenant to be more than just a promise. It is an ironclad agreement brought about through the relationship of God and his people. It has the force of law, and is unbreakable. It is a contract that is signed by the very word of God.

12 God said, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. 13 I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. 16 The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.”

Later would come a contract that was signed by the very Word of God. Jesus is our final Covenant, and when we receive him into our lives, we have an ironclad guarantee that we will find refuge, shelter, forgiveness, and protection under his wings.

Where have you broken your side of the covenant with God? Have you willfully walked away and set aside all of his promises for the fake promises of the world? Are you guilty of turning away from what God has called you to do, say, think, or repair? Perhaps this is the moment to return. The best thing about God’s promises is that they are always available to the repentant seeker.

God is our great Covenant-Maker. He sent Jesus as the final signature on the contract. You can bet your life on it.

Colington Rainbow

Pandemic Promises

Think back to everything you know about God’s promises. Perhaps you can even claim a time in your life when you were the beneficiary of one of his promises. The list is endless.

For me, the biggest promise made in the Bible is when Jesus told us that he would never leave us. He explained to his disciples that he was simply going ahead to prepare a place in heaven for us and then reminded them (and us) at his departure that he is always with us “even unto the ends of the earth.”

This morning’s Psalm is a great reminder of an Old Testament promise that God made to us after the Great Flood. You may remember from your Sunday School lessons that when the flood waters receded, Noah saw a rainbow in the sky. God explained that he put it there as a reminder of his promise that he would never again destroy the earth.

Hold that thought in your heart as we read Psalm 105. This Psalm recounts the miraculous delivery of the Hebrew nation through the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army close at their heels. God delivered them from slavery and deposited them in the Promised Land. He lived up to his earlier promise that they would not be destroyed.

What promise can we claim from this in regard to the pandemic?

Psalm 105 (New Revised Standard Version)

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.

I hope that the pandemic has brought us enough of a “pause” as we’ve followed stay-at-home orders to seek the Lord and his strength. This has been something I have tried to do in my personal discipleship….to seek his presence continually. How are you doing with that?

Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
    and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad when they departed,
    for dread of them had fallen upon it.

Egypt was GLAD when they left! The might of the Lord was so great, they were relieved to be rid of Israel from their land. God provided light, food, and water for his people in the desert.

39 He spread a cloud for a covering,
    and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quails,
    and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
    it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

43 So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing
.

What does this say to us, a pandemic people? It tells us that this time of sickness WILL END. It reminds us of God’s mighty power to deliver US, his people. It reassures us that at the appointed time the virus will be wiped clean from the earth and the pandemic will be over. Thanks be to God!

God always remembers his holy promises. Let us come out with joy and sing to the Lord.

God Keeps His Promises

The Trust Clause

We sat in a waiting room at the Mount Nittany hospital, waiting for the doctor to let us know that our daughter’s fibroid removal was complete and she was in Recovery. It was a relatively simple procedure, made a little more complicated due to the fact that the fibroid was just a tad too big to be removed laparoscopically, and so surgery was necessary. I had taken a week off of work to stay with her while she recovered from the incision, and planned to return home when she returned back to classes. Her Dad planned to return a few days after the surgery to go home to our other teenage daughter.

Then the words “cancerous tumor” came out of the doctor’s mouth, followed by “months of chemo” and “she’ll have to drop out of college indefinitely.” As my mind swirled with this unexpected horror, I suddenly heard a voice in my ear saying, “It’s OK, Bets. I’ve got this. You and Sarah are going to go on a journey that will teach you many things about me.” The peace that passes all understanding came over me, and I felt equipped for what came next.

God had offered us a trust clause in that moment. An unbreakable contract, a promise that was iron-clad, and a guarantee that our daughter would not only survive, but thrive. We grew closer to each other as a family and to God in those months of cancer treatment, and we learned how to TRUST, even when the things that were right in front of us (extreme nausea, hair loss, weight loss, isolation, additional surgeries) suggested otherwise.

Today Sarah has beautiful long hair, an amazing husband, two degrees, and three kids. God blessed us in abundance.

Romans 4 (The Message)

16 This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions andthose who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father.

Not everyone gets to hear God speak words of reassurance in the moment of crisis. This is why developing a life of faith-based trust is so important.

In our scripture today, Paul is reminiscing about Abraham’s call to leave the unknown and settle his family in a land far away. In faith, Abraham agreed. With no evidence that it would turn out all right, he simply was obedient to the strange and disconcerting instruction. God spoke, and Abraham trusted. In doing so, he became the father of all nations, and was blessed to be a blessing.

Where is God calling you to trust him in the absence of any real evidence that doing so will work out well for you? Where is acting on faith rather than by guarantees the response he is looking for?

God’s promise comes as a gift. One promise we can all stand on is his promise to prosper us and not harm us, as he offers us a future with HOPE. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Whatever you are facing today, remember this: when we step out in faith, we never step out alone. Thanks be to God.

Survivor! by Sarah Haas Callahan