Hiding God’s Word

I had an amazing conversation this week with a high school classmate who is a Benedictine monk. My Lent Bible study had a chapter on asceticism and it occurred to me that as a monk, my friend lived a life totally committed to the cause of Christ in ways that most of us could never understand. In explaining the vows that he took, he talked about poverty. He literally owns nothing. He talked about chastity. He will never know the comfort of a good marriage. He talked about vocation. His is a vocation that involves multiple sessions of prayer, scripture reading, and participating in mass every day. He told me that every day he prays for those who have no one to pray for them, and my heart was deeply touched.

He talked about obedience.

Obedience is the way of life in a monastery. It is the ultimate form of asceticism. Each monk relinquishes total control of body and self to the service of God as directed by the abbot. His entire life is “all in” and there is no room for selfhood.

This beautiful life of sacrifice is summed up in our Psalm today. While I would imagine very few of our readers today are being called to become a monk, I do believe that the “all in” nature of the psalmist’s commitment are worthy of our attention…and obedience.

Psalm 119 (New International Version)

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.

Today is a good day to pray “I seek you with all my heart.” This would require some heart surgery, though. What are you holding back? What needs to be cut out? What indulgences are you loathe to let go of in order to truly seek God?

Obviously in order to be obedient we need to become learners and disciples of God’s word. We need to hide it in our hearts. We need to be open to God’s teaching. We need to memorize his laws and understand his statutes.

11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.

God calls all of us to be obedient in reading and doing his word in our lives. Are you willing? I know you’re able. What would you have to rearrange in your daily routine to ensure that you are not neglecting God’s word?

16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word.

Every day that you dedicate these moments to At Water’s Edge in reading, thinking, and responding to scripture is a day spent moving closer to God. Let us continue the journey together so that when we meet God, he commends us as his good, faithful, and obedient servants.

Delight in God’s Decrees by Sharon Tinucci

Hidden Places, Secret Spaces

Our beautiful Psalm today comes from a moment in King David’s life when he had just been called out by his friend Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba. The affair resulted in a pregnancy, so David called her husband home from the war for a “conjugal visit” in hopes of a cover-up. Uriah did not “cooperate” so David sent him back to the front lines so that he would be killed in action. David thought he had gotten away with his deceit…until Nathan called him out.

Facing the enormity of his sin was far greater than the condemnation of his friend. David’s heart is truly broken at his own behavior. He is crushed by his own transgression, and he crawls to the Lord in agony. Only God’s forgiveness can bring him relief.

Have you ever felt that way?

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!

David understands that he can’t make amends based on his own character. He has to count on God’s great compassion. He longs to be made clean.

Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.

When David says “I have sinned against you—you alone” he is not discounting the damage he has done to Uriah and Bathsheba. But he is aware that the breach of trust he has committed with God is far worse than any human consequence. He has to tell the truth.

And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just offer God truth in your hidden places? Well, you can. No matter what sin has separated you from God, confession and repentance allow you to start over again. God will completely cleanse you of your guilt.

Repentance is a complete turning away from the evil behavior that ensnared you. It is walking away and not looking back.

When you do that, ask God to teach you his wisdom and fill your most secret spaces with his word. God’s faithful love will redeem you.

Secret Spaces by Kathy Schumacher

The Hour Comes

One of the blessings of observing Lent for six weeks is the focused anticipation of Easter. Some of us anticipate it with the breathless excitement of a child waiting for her Easter basket full of jelly beans. Some of us anticipate it like a child attending an Easter egg hunt….we know there are hidden treats there somewhere, but we are still looking through the high grass. Most of us just want the six weeks of self-deprivation to end.

Whatever your perspective is as we begin this fifth week of Lent, Easter is coming. The hour approaches. The culmination of this season of disciplined waiting is about to end.

How are you doing?

Have you kept up with the commitments you made on Ash Wednesday to be more diligent in your fasting, prayer, scripture reading, meditation, repentance, worship, and serving?

Yeah, me neither.

You might be like me. I have been satisfactory in one area. I’m teaching a Lent study to help me focus in on scripture and the commitment to teach gave me no out! But I totally bombed in another. I committed to not snacking in the evening and that has been a big fail. My definition of “evening” keeps getting pushed back…all the way to midnight.

Today’s scripture is a glimpse of how Jesus spent his last hours before the crucifixion. Notice his complete and total commitment to what was about to happen.

John 12 (English Standard Version)


20 
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The hour has come. This must be finished. A grain of wheat must die in the ground to produce seed for the fruit. You must die to your life to produce seed for eternal life. Jesus invites us to follow him in this last hour.

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus didn’t waver at the end. Neither should we. Let us push on with our Lent practices and finish strong. Remember that the whole point of Lent is to bring us closer and deeper into God’s Holy presence. It’s not so much about “giving up” as it is “focusing in” on who God is and whose we are. That focus allows God to be glorified in our lives and the crowd of people around us will know we are Christ-followers by our example.

No turning back.

Glorified by Kathy Schumacher

Joyful Hospitality

I am teaching a Lent Bible study based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians and this week’s lesson was on joyful hospitality. Hospitality is a very big deal in the Bible. The people depended on it in order to travel in a time before Marriott Courtyards and Airbnbs were available. To be welcomed in, fed, and offered a place to rest was essential. From Abraham and Sarah to the Disciples, hospitality was ingrained in the culture. Because of this practice the gospel spread from town to town and country to country. It is how the church began.

Last week’s lesson was on humility, where we are invited to consider that there is no task too small in serving God. When we combine humility with hospitality we become something very useful to God.

In today’s reading, Paul tells his beloved church that he is planning to send two men to visit them in the near future. He is counting on them to provide their usual joyful, humble attitude and their hospitality. He reminds them of what a joyful church should look like:

Philippians 2 (The Message)

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

In welcoming others we are reminded to be energetic, reverent, and sensitive before God. What we say, how we say it, and most importantly what we DO reflect God’s presence in our lives.

In class this week a member shared a story of two women in our church who volunteered at a local thrift store when they lived in our community. The thrift store supports a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery program in our community and these women loved the young men who are in the program. They determined that the clothing part of the store was in disarray so they volunteered three days a week to manage that part of the enterprise.

One Monday night at our evening worship one of them mentioned that her back was sore. Her friend asked if they had processed a lot of donations that day and she responded that no, it was sore from scrubbing the toilet at the store that the young men used all day. The humbleness of this task takes my breath away. She was doing her task readily and cheerfully, providing living proof of God’s work in the world. The combination of humility and hospitality in her gesture is the very gospel itself.

14-16 Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

What can you do today as a gesture of humility in doing the work of the Lord? Who is God asking you to invite in? What offer of hospitality can you extend to someone that will bring the light-giving love of Christ into their reality?

God calls each one of us to practice the same humility that Christ exhibited as he humbled himself on the cross. We are invited to be invitational in sharing his cross with others in our community.

Go, and do likewise.

All Are Welcome by Jess Spiegelblatt

Irritable and Cross

Raise your hand if you thought the title is referring to how I woke up this morning…haha! Fortunately, it is a bright and sunny day here on the Outer Banks but that’s not to say that there are times when we wake up irritable and cross. What do you do to remove that dark cloud when it happens to you? When those around you are irritable and cross…say, your children/spouse/co-workers…how do you react?

In today’s passage we see God “reaching his very last nerve,” as we say in the South. The children of Israel had been set free by the power of his own hand. They were being delivered into a Promised Land of milk and honey that he provided. They were safe, whole, and free.

And irritable. And cross. And wholly ungrateful.

Hence, the last nerve.

Their constant complaining reached a point that exacerbated even the patience of God. When their shouts of “why did you free us from beatings, starvation, and slavery just to have to eat this lousy food” became too much, God responded.

Numbers 21 (The Message)

4-5 They set out from Mount Hor along the Red Sea Road, a detour around the land of Edom. The people became irritable and cross as they traveled. They spoke out against God and Moses: “Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this godforsaken country? No decent food; no water—we can’t stomach this stuff any longer.”

6-7 So God sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them and many in Israel died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against God and you. Pray to God; ask him to take these snakes from us.”

The extreme reaction of God sending biting snakes might catch you off guard today. We tend to focus on God as our “forever friend” so much that we belittle his right and need to discipline his children in the way that he sees fit. But read on:

Moses prayed for the people.

God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a flagpole: Whoever is bitten and looks at it will live.”

So Moses made a snake of fiery copper and put it on top of a flagpole. Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.

Even in this, God redeems his people. He fashions a substitute that would take on the sins of the nation and cheat death. He raises up a coppery snake as an atonement for sin. Why? Because the people repented. The leadership prayed for mercy. They confessed their sin.

If a metal snake on a flagpole can do this under God’s authority, how much more powerful is the action of Christ raised on a pole of wood? When God sent his son as a substitute offering for your sin, he guaranteed your eternal life.

So turn your eyes upon Jesus. Confess, repent, and believe. There you will find forgiveness that ensures that you will live forever and sin will no longer be able to bite you to death.

Promised Land by Debby Fox

The Redeemed

What does it mean to be redeemed?

When you study the roots of the word you will find phrases like “buy back,” “win back,” and “to free from captivity by payment of ransom.” This last definition gets to the heart of the matter in a theological sense. Your very soul was freed when Jesus paid a ransom for it on the cross. YOU are one of the redeemed.

In our Psalm today, we receive instructions on what the redeemed should do. This is a terrific reminder in this season of Lent when we are trying to be more disciplined in spiritual matters. How do you measure up?

Here is what the psalmist suggests:

Give thanks to the Lord,

Say that his faithful love lasts forever,

Cry out to the Lord in your distress,

Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,

Declare what God has done,

Sing songs of joy!

Psalm 107 (Common English Bible)

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
        because his faithful love lasts forever!”
That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
    the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
    the ones God gathered from various countries,
    from east and west, north and south.

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
    They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
    they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
    he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
    and declare what God has done in songs of joy!

This psalm was written during the time when God redeemed the nation of Israel from captivity in Babylon. They had cried out and were heard. They suffered because of their wickedness and were delivered. They were sick to death and were healed of their desperate circumstances. God redeemed his people.

Our challenge today is to choose one of the things that the redeemed do, and go out and do it. Can you offer a thanksgiving sacrifice by paying for someone’s order in the line behind you? Can you call or text a friend and remind them of God’s faithful love? Perhaps you might sing a song of joy to the Lord today as you take a walk or spend extra time in prayer offering nothing but thanks.

We are the redeemed. We are his people. We are bought and paid for by the shed blood of the atonement. Give thanks!

Let all the redeemed say so.

Waiting for Sunrise by Michelle Robertson

Easter Eggs

Movie-goers love to find “Easter eggs” hidden in scenes of popular films. Easter Eggs are hints or clues that reference a less obvious part the story. These hidden messages are fun to hunt and act almost as love letters from the movie’s creators to their fan base. Alfred Hitchcock often appeared as an extra in the first five minutes of his films. Fans love to try to spot him. “Catch Me If You Can” is the story about Frank Abagnale’s defrauding the government out of millions of dollars. The real Frank Abagnale appears as a cop in the scene where his character (played by Leo DiCaprio) is arrested. Caught ya, Frank!

In a similar way, the scriptures are full of Easter Eggs that reveal clues and hints about the nature of God. I have always thought that the Bible is one big love letter from the Director. These glimpses of his character are meant to reveal him to us.

See if you spot any Easter Eggs in this very famous passage.

John 3 (Common English Bible)

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

In writing to the Jews, John deliberately takes them back to the time of Moses’ authority. Moses is the hero of their faith. Moses led them out of slavery into the Promised Land. Moses defeated Pharaoh. Moses gave them freedom. The symbol of the raised snake on the pole was a sign of deliverance.

Easter egg: Jesus is the new hero. Jesus will lead his people to an eternal promise. Jesus defeated death. Jesus gives us freedom. The symbol of Jesus raised on the cross is a sign of deliverance.

Jesus is the new Moses…only better.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

John loved to write about light and dark. It is a dominant theme in his book. In this passage he helps us understand that sin traps us in the darkness of evil. But here is the Easter Egg: Christ is the Light of the world, a light no one can extinguish. ALL the world (not only the Jews…surprise!) may come out of the dark and live in his Light. And surprise! When God sees your actions through the Light of Christ, he won’t condemn you for your sin. He will save you from it.

God so loved the world that he sent his only son. This is his enduring plan to save us all. Thanks be to God.

That the World Through Him Might Be Saved by Karen Warlitner

The Power of Love

The power of guilt is something that can overtake an entire life and crush it with the strength of an oncoming avalanche. I saw this firsthand at a women’s retreat I attended many years ago. A participant sought me out after a very emotional worship experience where people were invited to give over their guilt, sins, burdens, and shame in an act of “dying moments.” The invitation was to process those life-long secrets and figuratively place them at the foot of the cross and “die to them” by letting them go.

This particular woman had about twenty years worth of crushing heaviness to lift up. She told me her story in gasps and sobs as we sat under a piano until 3 a.m. It included drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity, adultery, an abortion she had never told anyone about, and the eventual loss of her marriage and children. It all came spilling out that night. She was dead inside.

Ephesians 2 (Common English Bible)

2 At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

This is exactly where this woman was in her journey. She had lived a life of disobedience to God’s will. She spent her life doing things that “felt good” and subsequently lost her life to those things.

4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

And so here she was sitting with a strange pastor in the middle of the night and it all came out. Her greatest struggle was believing that with all that she had done, God would still be able to forgive her. She kept saying that her behavior was unforgivable. She was unredeemable. She was “unworthy.”

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

When she had finally exhausted herself, I calmly asked her if she thought that she was stronger or greater than Jesus. The question took her aback and she said no, of course not. I went on to explain that there is no sin greater than his activity on the cross and so it takes a certain kind of arrogance to think that OUR sin is the one so great and unforgivable that his death couldn’t obliterate it forever. To Jesus, she IS that worthy.

Otherwise the cross is a joke.

The next day, this woman woke up and knew for the first time in her life that she was forgiven, redeemed, and freed of her sins. She was a brand new creation in Christ. Hallelujah!

We are God’s accomplishment. Salvation is not something we possess on our own. It’s not something we did and now we can be proud of ourselves. And the opposite is true: there is nothing we’ve done that is so bad it can’t be forgiven. That’s the power of love.

You were created in Christ Jesus to do good things. Receive his forgiveness and go forth in your new life.

Cleansed by the Water by Jess Spiegelblatt

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

Again

March in the Outer Banks is a confused and confusing month. Half winter, half spring, spits of windy days followed by spats of rainy days…it simply can’t make up its mind what season to be. Yet the beauty that surrounds me every waking day, regardless of the weather, is breathtaking. Even on the worst day, this place sings of God’s handiwork.

This beautiful song reinforces that notion that God’s creation has a language of its own. Heaven doesn’t need words. The sky can communicate without them. The days and nights proclaim God’s handiwork by their very existence. We are surrounded by evidence of God’s grace and glory.

In the presence of such majesty, words are unnecessary.

Psalm 19 (Common English Bible)

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
    the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
    and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
        their voices can’t be heard—
    but their sound extends throughout the world;
        their words reach the ends of the earth.

When was the last time you stood outside and just reveled in God’s handiwork? With no other thought, petition, need, or want crowding your mind…just the experience of creation informing your soul of God’s presence?

God has made a tent in heaven for the sun.
The sun is like a groom
    coming out of his honeymoon suite;
    like a warrior, it thrills at running its course.
It rises in one end of the sky;
    its circuit is complete at the other.
        Nothing escapes its heat.

The sun rises every day, bringing light, heat, and the promise of new things. You can count on that, just as you can count on God’s presence in your situation. So no matter what you are going through right now, know this: God is with you. God is here. God redeems.

If you forgot that, just go outside and look up.

Again by Michelle Robertson