Reality Test

I remember a time before reality TV. A time when stories were told, news was reported, documentaries were produced to take viewers deep into places unknown, and cooking shows were of the Julia Child variety where the most unexpected thing might be seeing her drop an entire cooked turkey onto the floor. Bon Appetite!

Now we are inundated with “reality” shows that aim to titillate, shock, and disturb, in an effort to sell more products. With a plethora of bachelors, back-biters, unreal and highly nipped and tucked “housewives,” big brothers watching from cameras in every room, and well-scripted scenarios of misbehavior below decks, we have lost the distinction between fiction and reality. These guilty pleasures are harmless as long as you understand that distinction. Trust me, what you are seeing is all fiction. Reality is found elsewhere.

Our lectionary passages from John’s writings this week keep pulling us back into God’s reality of the connection between love and obedience. Keeping God’s commandments is the way we demonstrate our love for God, and a way that we experience his love for us. By giving us order, God keeps us safe and protected inside his loving arms. And when he sent Jesus, we were commanded to love one another as a proof of our love for God:

1 John 5 (The Message)

 1-3 Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.

A key component to the gift of the commandments is that they are not meant to be troublesome, but to bring life to our lives. Staying within those safety rails is a way to experience wholeness and freedom. When we follow God’s law, we separate ourselves from the chaos of the world. Jesus conquered the world with his death-killing death:

The Power That Brings the World to Its Knees

4-5 Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

6-8 Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.

Just think of it! We are invited to partake in the reality of his spirit, his baptism, and his crucifixion.
There is nothing that television can script that could even come close to the disruptive and shocking reality of what Christ did on the cross for the benefit for all of humanity…and we get to participate in it with him. His baptism becomes our baptisms, his resurrection gives us eternal life, and his Spirit helps us defeat the world as we make better choices and live within his commandments.

All of this is a gift, given to us without price. So next time you indulge in a moment of “reality TV,” consider the truth and reality of God’s presence in your life. It is far better than anything you will see.

Truth by Michelle Robertson

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

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

Truth

Truth. What an elusive word. Truth is very much on trial these days. The twisting and manipulating of facts to fit political agendas is so rampant that we don’t trust anything, and we question everything…as we should. What is the truth? Can we ever know anymore?

God’s word is the last remaining truth, and yet we see even scripture being used to forward agendas. Clever people can argue a scripture “both ways” in order to push a personal perspective. It happens at all levels of ecclesiastical structures, the government, and even from your local pulpit and Sunday School class.

I think we have forgotten that God has sent us an advocate who is the only one capable of speaking truth into a situation. The Holy Spirit, referred to as a Companion in this translation, was given to us by Jesus upon his departure from this earth so that we might know the truth. But notice how this passage starts:

John 14 (Common English Bible)

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. 17 This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.

Jesus is making a direct connection between keeping the commandments and knowing the truth. The commandments are something else we have forgotten. In a world that doesn’t know or follow God’s rule of living, truth becomes muddled and unobtainable. And while the Ten Commandments still stand as foundational to our society and even our laws, let us not forget what Jesus said are the greatest ones:

Matthew 22 (New International Version)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The TRUTH of the matter is, if we were to do just these two things, truth would be revealed. If we were actually capable of loving God with ALL our heart, soul, and mind, we would contain the truth within ourselves. Loving God with all our minds would mean there is no room for hate-talk, vitriol, prejudice, bias, or ostracizing the “other.” The truth would render us incapable of doing and saying much of what we do and say today. The truth would enable us to truly love our neighbor, and in so loving, all political and personal agendas would cease.

Notice how Jesus refers again to keeping the commandments:

John 14 continued

18 “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. 19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Want to know the truth? Try being the truth. Try filtering all of your thinking through the commandments. And where your thinking doesn’t measure up to loving God and loving what he loves, change your mind. If your words and deeds don’t measure up to loving your neighbor, change your behavior. The Holy Spirit enables us to love as God loves. That’s the truth.

The Truth Will Set Us Free by Barbara Hudson