In an Alien Land

“It is confusing to be in a world without her … a world I have never known.”

These words were posted by a friend who just lost her mother. They spoke directly to my heart, as I felt exactly the same way when my mother died. Your mother is the one who has been with you since conception. When she leaves, the world becomes an alien landscape until your mind and heart accept the reality of the new world that her passing creates.

This is often how we feel when a loved one dies. Losing a spouse, a child, a dear friend, a sibling, etc. can make you look around and not recognize your surroundings for a while.

We can also feel this way right after moving to a new town, losing a job, getting a divorce, watching a child go off to college, or when there is a sudden change at work. Time, support, prayers, and patience will help you adjust, but in the interim, where can you go to ground yourself?

You can go to the One who created all things.

Psalm 118 describes the joy the psalmist (possibly King David) felt when he walked through the gates of the city of Jerusalem. He had passed through an ever-changing landscape as he traveled in foreign lands during his pilgrimage. He was comforted by the unchanging nature of Jerusalem. He recounted the many things God had done for him, thanking God for answering him and for being his “saving help”:

Psalm 118 (Common English Bible)

1Open the gates of righteousness for me
    so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!
20 This is the Lord’s gate;
    those who are righteous enter through it.

21 I thank you because you answered me,
    because you were my saving help.

The passage takes an interesting twist here. This is the Psalm that Jesus quoted in Matthew 21:42 just after he, too, had made his way into Jerusalem. It happened on the day after “Palm Sunday,” which was Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city as the Messiah. Like Jacob, Joseph, and David before him, Jesus is the “stone rejected by the builders” that has now become the “main foundation stone.”

22 The stone rejected by the builders
    is now the main foundation stone!
23 This has happened because of the Lord;
    it is astounding in our sight!
24 This is the day the Lord acted;
    we will rejoice and celebrate in it!

While offering God his praises and accolades, the psalmist suddenly shifts gears and cries out to be saved and asks for God to ensure success:

25 Lord, please save us!
    Lord, please let us succeed!

That is how loss feels at times. We are aware of our blessings, but we can suddenly become acutely aware of our loss, often without warning. That is the time to stop, breathe, and call out to God to come save you from your sorrow.

26 The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;
    we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.
27 The Lord is God!
    He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
    all the way to the horns of the altar.

So when you find yourself in a foreign land, take heart. You can enter the Lord’s house in the Lord’s name and you will be blessed. There you will find comfort, familiarity, consistency, and hope. God will shine a light on your confusion and hold you until you feel better.

28 You are my God—I will give thanks to you!
    You are my God—I will lift you up high!
29 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
    because his faithful love lasts forever.

Amen, and amen.

Give Thanks to the Lord by Michelle Robertson

Triumph

One of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me is they could see ”word pictures” when I read Scripture aloud. This was a tremendous blessing to me because I actually see word pictures when I read a passage. Today’s Scripture is especially good for seeing a visual as you read the words.

Our task today is to read through the ”Palm Sunday” passage and just SEE it. See the young colt. See its owner’s confusion. See the coats, the crowds, the joy, and the innocence.

See yourself standing among the revelers:

Luke 19 (Common English Bible)

28 After Jesus said this, he continued on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Procession into Jerusalem

29 As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. 30 He said, “Go into the village over there. When you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’” 32 Those who had been sent found it exactly as he had said.

33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “Its master needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. 36 As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.

3As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen.38 They said,

“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
    Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

As we move toward Holy Week, it is good to imagine Jesus’ triumphal entry. All too soon we will experience his death. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today, Jesus is king and the people rejoice! Well, most of the people:

3Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

40 He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

I love Jesus’ response. YOU CAN’T STOP THIS. YOU CAN’T STOP THE JOY OF WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN SEVEN DAYS. Even the stones will shout for joy when the big one is rolled away.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. We are called to ride along with Jesus on that colt and rejoice.

Can you picture it?

Joyful Stone by Ania Flis

New Things Spring

Spring has finally sprung on the Outer Banks. March came in like a lion and went out like a lion. We were still being treated to overnight freeze watches just a few weeks ago. But the presence of daffodils, osprey, and Canadian Geese traveling in pairs is a sure sign that a new season has begun and the cold grey skies are behind us at last.

The grey skies of Lent end this week as well. Today marks the first day of Holy Week as we accelerate toward Easter Sunday. I hope this Lent has brought about new things in your life, especially a practice of daily scripture study and meditation. Lenten disciplines are designed to bring about new things: new habits, new understandings, new growth, and a new relationship with God. It is my prayer that we would observe Lent all year long, always seeking to know God more fully as we continue in our devotions together.

Today we look at the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who wrote beautiful words of hope during a time when Israel needed a deliverer. When we read his words through the lens of the Gospel, it is easy to find Jesus here:

Isaiah 42 (New International Version)

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This certainly fits our Lord to a t. He carries God’s spirit and brings justice to the earth. When he comes again, he will reign in that justice. He was bruised for our transgressions and remained silent at his trial before Pilate. They attempted to snuff out his fire but he smoldered for three days until he flamed again. He was chosen by God to bring salvation to the world.

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

God sent his only son to offer a covenant to all people, including the Gentiles. Indeed, Jesus came to save EVERYONE . He came to give sight to the blind and to release us all from our chains. When he arose from the dead on Easter morning, the final chain of death was snapped. We are invited to participate in his resurrection by simply believing in his name.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

A lot of our journey toward the cross this year has focused on leaving the past in the past and striving toward the new thing God is creating. Is God calling you to let go of something in your past? Do you need to be released? Can you see the bright future he has created for you once you do?

God is declaring a NEW thing for you today. The former things have passed away! It is time to move ahead.

New Day Sunshine by Michelle Robertson

A Well-Taught Tongue

Compassion has gone out of style. Maybe not with you, or your small group, but as a society, we are less compassionate toward the marginalized and more focused on a “Me First” mentality. This attitude prevails from the schoolyard to the seats of government. Bullying is common at all levels of society and often goes unchecked. People say and post things aimed to mock others. Nations turn their backs on struggling nations so that their own resources aren’t compromised.

Thank God for Poland, who has graciously received over two million Ukrainian refugees. England agreed to take 10,000. America will receive 100,000. Frankly, we all can do better. Who will stand up for the tired people?

Isaiah reminds us that God has given us a “well-taught” tongue and we are called to use it as we offer COMPASSION to people who are struggling.

Isaiah 50 (The Message)

The Master, God, has given me
    a well-taught tongue,
So I know how to encourage tired people.
    He wakes me up in the morning,
Wakes me up, opens my ears
    to listen as one ready to take orders.
The Master, God, opened my ears,
    and I didn’t go back to sleep,
    didn’t pull the covers back over my head.

All of us have opportunities every day to alleviate someone’s suffering. A kind word, a smile, a card, or casserole delivered to someone who is sick or isolated can go a long way toward easing someone’s burden for even a brief moment. God is trying to open our ears to the people around us whom we can encourage and lift up.

Isaiah found himself being ridiculed and mocked for his prophetic warnings to the people of Israel. Sometimes doing God’s work entails taking on someone’s anger and rejection. In those cases, Isaiah reminds us to set our faces like flint:

I followed orders,
    stood there and took it while they beat me,
    held steady while they pulled out my beard,
Didn’t dodge their insults,
    faced them as they spit in my face.
And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me,
    so I’m not disgraced.
Therefore I set my face like flint,
    confident that I’ll never regret this.

Have you ever been ridiculed or rejected for doing something good for someone? Never mind. God is our only audience when we walk in his instruction and offer compassion to others.

My champion is right here.
    Let’s take our stand together!
Who dares bring suit against me?
    Let him try!
Look! the Master, God, is right here.
    Who would dare call me guilty?
Look! My accusers are a clothes bin of threadbare
    socks and shirts, fodder for moths!

Look, the Master is RIGHT HERE. Are you being called to serve God by serving others? Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. They soon will flit away to discourage someone else. We are called to serve the Master, God. And when we do, WE receive the blessing.

Sunrise Colors by Michelle Robertson




Street Cred

What are your goals? Do you ever sit and ponder that question? This is a question I ask married couples who come to me for counseling. I try to ascertain the depth of their commitment to each other and to the counseling process. The question often reveals things that forecast the potential outcome of the process.

Many times we get complacent in some of the aspects of our life and stop working toward certain goals. If retirement is your goal, what will you do when you get there? If a promotion is your goal, what will be your next aspiration when you’ve gotten it? We encourage our kids to have goals in sports and schools, but I wonder how many of us encourage them set goals for their married lives and their spiritual lives?

Do you have spiritual goals?

Paul did.

In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul wrote to his friends about his process of becoming a Christ-follower. He began with a long litany of how he got to where he was at that moment. This is an interesting look at Paul’s “street cred,” or street credentials if you will. It almost seems a tad braggadocios, but truly Paul has earned that right!

Philippians 3 (Common English Bible)

though I have good reason to have this kind of confidence. If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more:

I was circumcised on the eighth day.

I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.

I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.

With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee.

With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church.

With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.

Now Paul shifts his list to a more theological exploration of what the past became in light of his present reality. All of the things he lost in order to follow Christ are now considered “sewer trash,” and all the things he gained have led him to pursuing the goal of the resurrection:

These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

Here is the kicker. Paul had completely given his life to Christ, but he still had goals. He still pursued Christ. He still pursued the prize of God’s upward call. He was reaching, learning, growing, and striving to put the past behind him and reach for the things ahead of him:

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

Are you letting things in your past hold you back? Is God telling you to let go?

Do you continue to have spiritual goals, or has a complacent attitude taken over?

It is never too late to reach for Christ. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to walk away from the old things and vigorously pursue a new life.

So sign up for that Bible study! Get sober! Go on the mission trip! Grow your bangs out! Volunteer to help with the youth! You are never too young or too old, and as long as you’re still breathing, it’s never too late.

Morning Clouds by Vic Miles

Filling the House

Do you know someone who lights up a room when they walk in? Or who instantly brings the mood down upon entering? It is interesting to observe group behavior and how it can be changed with the addition or subtraction of one personality.

I am still experiencing a little PTSD from Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. I am sure by now that you have seen the clip of Will Smith walking up onto the stage and slapping Chris Rock for a joke he made in reference to Will’s wife. Jada Smith suffers from alopecia and is bald. Rock made a joke about “GI Jane 2,” a reference to a movie with a female character who shaved her head for combat.

Neither man was right. It is wrong to mock someone’s medical condition. It is wrong to assault a person because you don’t like what they said.

In the aftermath, much has been written about the crowd’s behavior. Regardless of your opinion about their reaction, one thing is clear: the atmosphere in the room was irrevocably changed. A few people who spoke after the assault tried to lighten the mood and help the crowd move on, but the thing that we all witnessed permeated the rest of the night. People were unsure of what they had just seen. Then ten minutes later, they gave Smith a standing ovation for his Oscar win. Twenty years from now people will still be talking about this year’s Oscars, but not for the right reasons.

This Oscar night began as a bright and spangly celebration, as the Hollywood elite joined in person after a year of isolation due to the pandemic. Even if you care very little for the event, it felt good to realize that holding the Oscars in their legendary theater was a sign that things are becoming normal again. The glitz, the glamour, and the gowns all spoke of a return to the pleasant superficially of movie makers and their stars. And let’s face it … movies helped us get through two years of isolation. But in one ill-considered exchange, two men changed the atmosphere of the event and it will always be remembered for that. Our delight in the evening came crashing down with the stink of their behavior.

This serves as a reminder that you can change the atmosphere for better or for worse by the things you choose to do and say.

We turn our attention to John now as we move closer to the crucifixion in our story. Easter is on the horizon, but we are not there yet. In this passage, watch for what Mary does.

John 12 (Common English Bible)

12 Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. 

We see another lovely picture of the Martha/Mary dynamic. Martha served. Of course Martha served! She was the one who was always focused on the practical task at hand. We need Marthas to get the jobs done around us. But we especially need the Marys, who see the world through spiritual lenses and show us what God is doing in our midst. She chose to anoint Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and the pleasing aroma of her prophetic offering filled the entire house. Everyone received the blessing of her gift as they breathed in the fragrant perfume.

Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

And then comes Judas the mood-killer, questioning her actions and taking all the joy out of the moment. He calls their attention to the price of the gift and how it had just been squandered. He points out the waste of it and makes them feel guilty for having enjoyed its sweet fragrance. He changed the atmosphere. But Jesus intervenes.

Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”

Jesus saw exactly what Mary was doing and used it as another step toward preparing them for the crucifixion that was yet to come. He invited them to live for a moment in the present, warning that they won’t always have him.

The challenge for us is to heed his words. Where is God calling you to be present in the present and fill your house with joy and peace? The people in your house won’t always be with you. Is God inviting you to examine the effect your attitude has on others? Is God directing you to change your behavior?

You can fill your house with the scent of positivity or the stink of negativity. You can bring everyone up or push everyone down.

Which will you choose?

Choose Joy by Michelle Robertson

Way-Maker

I begin this devotional by confessing that I struggle with claustrophobia. It has gotten noticeably worse as I have aged. Mine manifests itself in a fear of being trapped, rather than a fear of small spaces. This became very evident on a trip to Paris several years ago when I descended to the basement level of a charming restaurant in search of a ladies’ room. The restroom ended up being dark and tiny, as those places tend to be, but that was fine … right up until the point when I tried to leave and discovered that the door handle wouldn’t move. It was amazing how the room grew smaller and smaller, like the time that Luke, Leia, and Hans got trapped in the trash compactor in Star Wars. I swear I saw the dark tiled walls closing in around me.

I had walked down three passages to find this place, so I knew its remote location was not in my favor. As the reality of my entrapment became more and more evident, panic took over and I found myself banging on the door and yelling in broken French (maybe it was Spanish?) for someone to come save me. Eventually a waiter came by and began to yell instructions (in French, of course … not helpful) to stop yanking on the door handle so that he could fix it. He used a screw driver to get the door open, making me think that this had happened before. I emerged exhausted, sweaty, and very grateful to see the annoyed, eye-rolling waiter.

Have you ever found yourself in a horrible situation where you could not find a way out? A relationship, a job, a marriage, a terminal illness, an addiction, a family situation … we can get stuck in situations where we don’t think there is any way to escape. Like people on a crowded elevator stuck between floors, we feel paralyzed by circumstances beyond our control and lose sight of which way is up or down. Hopelessness and panic easily set in when you can’t find your way out of a bad scenario. I have been there and I imagine you have, too.

Several of my friends are stuck between floors right now. One is newly divorced and one is newly widowed. One is dealing with a son’s addition. They all feel trapped in their sadness and are having a hard time imagining that life will feel better.

It will.

God is the great way-maker, and he desires to “un-stick” us when we feel hopeless.

Isaiah 53 (Common English Bible)

The Lord says—who makes a way in the sea
    and a path in the mighty waters,
17     who brings out chariot and horse,
    army and battalion;
    they will lie down together and will not rise;
    they will be extinguished, extinguished like a wick.

Isaiah recounts the time when God brought Israel out of slavery and hardship in Egypt through the Red Sea to the Promised Land. Pharaoh’s army was in strong pursuit, but God caused its chariots, horses, and battalions to get stuck in the mud. God extinguished Israel’s pursuers as easily as one extinguishes a candle wick. He will do that for you as well.

18 Don’t remember the prior things;
    don’t ponder ancient history.
19 Look! I’m doing a new thing;
    now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
    paths in the wilderness.

This is the best and the hardest part of the teaching today. God’s instruction is to not remember the prior things, and to stop dwelling on ancient history so that you can focus on the new thing he is doing. When we are stuck, the “prior things” are all we can see. When those things bring up feelings of fear, anguish, and despair, God desires for us to wait and watch him make a way in the desert of our hopelessness.

20 The beasts of the field,
        the jackals and ostriches, will honor me,
    because I have put water in the desert
    and streams in the wilderness
    to give water to my people,
    my chosen ones,
21     this people whom I formed for myself,
        who will recount my praise.

God is our great way-maker. No matter what the circumstance, he works to free us from our situation so that we can find the streams of hope in the desert of life. He will work to open up the snare that is caught around your ankle so that you can walk in freedom toward a new and different future.

Are you stuck right now? Ask God to come and unlock your chains. Our great Way-Maker is able and ready.

A New Thing by Becca Ziegler

New Creations

How many times in your life have you “made yourself over”? I have lost count. I have been a blond. I’ve been a brunette. I’ve been 20 pounds heavier and 20 pounds lighter. I’ve been a yankee and a southern girl. I’ve been a student and a teacher. The list goes on. I think it is only human to try to make ourselves over in some image that has captured our attention. The popularity of make-over shows on television supports this theory. Don’t we just love the big reveal, when the work of experts has brought out a new and better version of the person, house, or restaurant?

God is in the make-over business. In fact, he has been trying to make-over humanity for thousands of years. The trouble is that God’s standard for beauty is so much different than ours. We look at superficial things like weight and appearance, while God only concerns himself with the heart.

2 Corinthians 5 (Common English Bible)

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

You are a new creation in Christ! That statement brings all the hope and promise of a changed life, a changed attitude, and a changed heart. God desires us to be clean and whole through the application of the shed blood of the atonement. You can apply all the eyeliner and lipstick you want, but you will never achieve the change that giving your life to Jesus brings.

1All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.

Our transformation comes through our reconciliation to God through the cross. We are made one with the One who dismisses our sins and makes us become something new. There is no better “look” than that!

20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.

When you undergo a physical change, people notice and comment. What would it take for them to notice a spiritual change in you as well? Christ offers to change your inward appearance so that your outward appearance … notably your actions and deeds … match up with the new you. So don’t just go and tell. Go, and show.

Reflections of God by Wende Pritchard

The Sluice Box

A few years ago, we took our grandchildren to a place called Dinosaur World. The day was highlighted by a stop at a gem-finding place. It was one of those venues where you purchase a bag of dirt and pour it into a tilted sluice box. Water runs through the box and washes away the dirt to reveal the hidden gems. Rose quartz, red jasper, amethysts, and other beautiful stones emerged with each washing. The kids were thrilled with their new treasure!

We are like that in a way. Every time we go before the Lord to confess our sins, we are washed in the sluice box of his forgiveness. The beauty of our potential is revealed through repentance. We emerge from this experience as humbled, forgiven people who reflect the light of Jesus in every sparkling facet.

Today’s psalm uses a powerful image of God as the Rock of our salvation. It is fitting. In the bag of rocks at the gemstone place, each gem is a small piece that was broken off from a bigger rock. To realize that God is our Rock is to acknowledge that he is our stronghold, our place of origin, and our constant source of strength and rescue. We are but small pieces, made in his image.

We are invited to come before our Rock with joyful shouts and singing:

Psalm 95 (New King James Version)

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

God’s greatness is our hope. Everything in heaven and on earth is his.

For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.

There is nothing for us to do but bow down and worship.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.

Do you need to present yourself before the Rock and find his salvation once again? Are you feeling broken, separated, small, or fragile? Do you need forgiveness to wash over you like the running water in a sluice box?

Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. In HIS hand is everything we need to make it through one more day.

The Rock of Our Salvation by Kathy Schumacher

Warnings

I confess that I have always loved apocalyptic stories. I have a weird fascination with the way the end-times are depicted in these fictional accounts. If you consume a lot of these kinds of stories, you realize that it is not the zombies, walking dead, aliens, monsters, robots, or spaceships that defeat humankind … it is humankind itself. People eventually turn on one another, much to the delight of the enemy.

Our Scripture today reads like a scary scene from a dystopian future. There are warnings. There are consequences for ignoring those warnings. There is death. There are epidemics. There is danger.

There are snakes. (Why did it have to be snakes??)

Paul starts out innocently enough, recalling the history of Israel and the blessings of God’s deliverance from slavery through the Red Sea to the Promised Land. God provided all of their daily needs, and they ate spiritual food and drank from the living waters.

But then the unthinkable happened:

1 Corinthians 10 (The Message)

10 1-5 Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ.

But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

Yes, temptation, that death-eater of all satanic forces, came upon them with laser-beam accuracy and they all fell, one by one.

6-10 The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—“First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

Sexual promiscuity, discontent, the party-culture, the disobedience to God’s will … it all came down on the people until the people all came down.

11-12 These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

Paul pulls no punches. We are just as capable of falling as the Israelites. We will fall flat on our religions if we don’t listen to the warnings. We need to drop our self-confidence and immerse ourselves in a culture of God-confidence.

Where is God warning you about your behavior and temptations? Are you listening?

13 No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.

Lent is a time to confront our temptation to stray, be lazy, lie, covet, cheat, and participate in all the destructive things that separate us from God. The good news is that he will help us overcome those temptations IF we turn to him for help and strength. That is a big IF. Too often we are so beguiled by the temptation that we end up running away from God.

Where is God calling you to trust him to help you?

God will never let you down.

Bright Hope for Tomorrow by Michelle Robertson