Follow the Directions

Have you ever been led astray by your GPS? When the GPS first became popular there were several reports of people following GPS instructions and driving into a lake or going the wrong way on a one-way street. Even with outstanding advancements in technology, it can sometimes be hard to get to a place if the technology is faulty or if you enter the wrong address.

When I first moved to the Outer Banks eleven years ago there were parts of Southern Shores that were not on the satellite maps. I spent one frustrating afternoon trying to visit a church member only to have to return to the church to get directions. I was using one of the older free-standing GPS units and I had left my cell phone at the church, so I couldn’t call anyone for directions. By the time I got back to my office it was too late for the visit and I was in tears. So much for advanced technology!

Isaiah was an 8th Century prophet who was the voice of God’s concerns during the Babylonian exile. His basic function was to be a GPS to the Israelites. He gave words of direction, instruction, and hope during the dark time of exile from Israel. The people of the diaspora desperately wanted to return home. They were looking for a way back. They needed a GPS to direct them to the holy mountain. Then came good news: insiders and outsiders alike were called to come to worship.

Isaiah 56 (The Message)

“And as for the outsiders who now follow me,
    working for me, loving my name,
    and wanting to be my servants— All who keep Sabbath and don’t defile it,
    holding fast to my covenant—
I’ll bring them to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.

The outsiders are us, folks. The Gentiles and outcasts who chose to follow God received an amazing offer to enter into the house of worship.

Here is the map for both insiders and outsiders to follow, laid out in two steps.

  1. Keep the Sabbath and don’t defile it.

2. Hold fast to my covenant.

Sabbath-keeping is so important to God. It is a mandatory respite from our busy life that directs us to intentionally stop everything and focus solely on God. Many of you will remember “blue laws” that required that everything shut down on Sundays. By removing all temptation, families couldn’t defile the Sabbath with distraction, leisure, or (worst of all) work.

God’s covenant was spelled out to the people in the Ten Commandments. By following God’s law, people could find their way into God’s house and remain there all of their days.

They’ll be welcome to worship the same as the ‘insiders,’
    to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to my altar. Oh yes, my house of worship
    will be known as a house of prayer for all people.”

Here’s the best part. The house of worship becomes a house of prayer for ALL people. Imagine it! If we were to follow the directions laid out for us in this passage, we could be gathered together into a house of prayer for all people.

The Decree of the Master, God himself,
    who gathers in the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather others also,
    gather them in with those already gathered.”

What do you need to do today to re-direct your life so that you are headed in the right direction? What does God’s covenant mean to you? Are you loving God and loving neighbor in everything you do? Are you defiling the Sabbath or keeping it holy?

All are welcome to worship in the house of prayer, where there is plenty of joy to go around. Come! Now is the time to worship and pray.

Let Us Go Up to the Holy Mountain by Becca Ziegler

It was Good

To return to the very beginning of scripture and the first moment of time is a jolt in the midst of so much civil unrest and a global pandemic. Perhaps that is the best reason to do it today. When everything around you seems to be crashing in, it helps to remember that God’s plan was that all the things he created would be good, and when we return to the Eden of his making, it will be good again. It’s just this stuff in the meantime that can be so challenging and exhausting.

So let us remember how we started.

Genesis 1 (Contemporary English Version)

 In the beginning God
created the heavens
    and the earth.
The earth was barren,
    with no form of life;
it was under a roaring ocean
    covered with darkness.
But the Spirit of God
    was moving over the water.

Imagine the earth in its barren state. That is a hard image to conjure up. I live in a community that was developed in the ‘60’s by dredging out canals and then slowly building houses on the fingers of land that remained. When we spot old photos of Colington Island, it is amazing to see how pristine it all was, and then experience it now in its fully built-out state. While it is still quite beautiful, Colington has certainly changed since it was chartered in the late 1600’s.

In the beginning, it was good.

God said, “I command light to shine!” And light started shining. God looked at the light and saw that it was good. He separated light from darkness and named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” Evening came and then morning—that was the first day.

The creation narrative continues through each day with plants, animals, and eventually humans being added. Each time, God stops and declares the day’s work to be “good.”

When was the last time you completed a day’s work and declared it to be good? I can’t ever remember going to bed with a feeling that I had actually finished something, much less declared it to be good. That is the nature of life. That is the nature of ministry. It is messy. It can be unforgiving. And it is always filled with unfinished business. Things get moved from today’s to-do list to tomorrow’s to-do list and so forth and so on. If we were honest, we would write out a to-don’t list and call it a day.

I don’t think God wants us to feel this way. I think Genesis is written to teach us about the work-sabbath relationship, and to set an example of working hard, realizing the value of your day’s effort, marking it good, and then ending the week with an appropriate sabbath rest.

Genesis 2

 1 So the heavens and the earth and everything else were created.

By the seventh day God had finished his work, and so he rested. God blessed the seventh day and made it special because on that day he rested from his work.

Maybe there is a connection here. When was the last time you had a bonafide, honest to GOODness rest? When have you fully and completely allowed yourself a day of sabbath, with no work, no chores, no projects, no running errands….have you ever?

God’s work ended with a full day of rest. This was after six days of creating the entire known world.

Take a break, people. If the creator of the universe can carve out a day of downtime, so can you.

And THAT will be good.

It’s All Good by Michelle Robertson

Great Assembly

OK, here’s the truth. I am tired of everybody’s online worship. I am tired of watching myself on TV on Sunday mornings in my jammies, with a cup of coffee in my hand. We are all tired of trying to think of new and creative ways to tell the story of Jesus while making eye contact with the cold, hard lens of a camera.

I guess I’m just tired of the isolation of attending church in my living room. I bet you are, too. I need my people.

I believe we were created for corporate worship. I believe heaven rejoices when God’s people gather in a place and raise their combined voices as one melody of adoration. I believe kids should be noisy and fidgety, older people should snooze, and young people should text each other during church…like we normally do every Sunday!

(Look, I’m like Santa sitting up there in the front….I see you when you’re sleeping, I know when you’re awake…)

I also believe we should listen with open hearts and minds, and in my church, that is what we do every Sunday together. I miss my congregation’s attentiveness to the Word as it is spoken, proclaimed, sung, and experienced. You see, I also see people leaning in when the Word is offered.

So today’s Psalm sent a ping straight to my heart with the very first verse:

Psalm 22 (New King James Version)

My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!

But then we get to a verse that reminds us that we worship as all the families of the nations. In that context, we couldn’t possibly be together in one place, and thus we are reminded that God’s kingdom is so much larger than the sanctuary that we are all missing:

27 All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s,
And He rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

So what do you suppose our children are learning from this? Parents, what you are doing right now is teaching your children, who are the “posterity and the next generation,” about what YOU really feel about worship. Are you finding it less and less convenient to set Sunday morning aside for family worship? Is the beach, a sunny walk, picking strawberries, a bike ride to the woods, etc. more enticing to you as this pandemic wears on? Be careful with your priorities. The children are watching.

30 A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.

If you are a regular church goer, please hang in there. Your pastor did not receive training as a televangelist in seminary. We are doing the best we can. God still requires that we keep the Sabbath holy, even in a pandemic.

The good news is, the great assembly will return! So in the meantime, let us continue to set Sunday mornings aside for “corporate” worship. God is still here, and he is worthy of our praise.

New Normal

Sabbath Snow

Walking with a fellow preacher on President’s Day, we began to commiserate about the fact that we often work on days that most people experience as holidays. Christmas and Easter are the obvious ones, but even those happy little Monday holidays that normal people enjoy don’t usually provide a day off for us. Sermons still need to be written, bible studies need prepped, and urgent hospital visits aren’t canceled due to the calendar. Don’t get me wrong, we love our work. But carving out a sabbath for people who work on the sabbath takes effort. Everybody who has to work on the weekend, raise your hand!

My friend confessed to me that the only time she really feels released from work is on a snow day. The inability to physically get out of the house is the one time she can just let herself have a do-nothing day and relax without feeling guilty. We don’t get many snow days on the Outer Banks, but when we do, it’s a treat.

There is truly something magical about a snow day that helps the world shut down and reflect. I can remember the joy of a snow day when I was a kid. All of Chatham Road would gather on the street for snowball fights, sledding, and making snowmen in each other’s front yards. Snow days are a child’s best sabbath.

Exodus 20 (The Message)

8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town.

For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

I joked with my friend that poor God is looking at all of his hard workers and saying, “What, I gotta send you SNOW to make you take a rest?” God created the sabbath for us so that we might cease our work and spend that time with family, friends, our thoughts, and God himself. That’s why he made it HOLY: it is set apart for his use so we might re-charge and re-connect with him.

Sabbath-making and sabbath-taking is meant to be a blessing to us. Many of my friends work seven days a week for months on end. The Outer Banks is a seasonal community, and our population quadruples with visitors in the warmer months. Our local businesses go crazy when the season begins. Sometimes there is no choice.

So the key here is to create sabbath in ways that accomplish what sabbath is intended to do: to re-charge our souls and re-connect with God. In other words, find a way to create your own snow day.

If God, who created the universe, counted and named all the stars, and set the rising and the setting of the sun in motion took a day off, so can you. Rest. Recuperate. Relax and remember who you are, and whose you are.

Tomorrow comes either way.

Come Unto Me, and I Will Give You Rest by Becca Ziegler