Happy Easter, beloved readers! I am breaking my sabbath practice of not posting on Sunday to share this beautiful Outer Banks Easter sunrise picture. May your Easter celebration be holy, happy, and draw you closer to one another and our Savior. He is risen, indeed!
If you have ever had a teenager, if you have one now, or if you simply know a teenager, you have heard the word whatEVER waaay, waaay too much. It becomes the common response to EVERYTHING for a (thankfully) brief period of time…say, from age 11 to about 21. (31?) Often delivered with an eye roll, a foot stomp, and a perfectly dismissive tone of voice, whatEVER signals to the hearer that the speaker is finished with the conversation and has totally moved on. End of. Door closed. Don’t bother to knock.
Oh, the joys of raising kids!
In defense of the teens that we all raise and love, whatEVER also signals that your teen is overwhelmed, frustrated, distracted, and emotionally underwater. The dismissiveness is not always a lack of respect, as much as it feels like it. It is your kid’s way of saying, ”TOO MUCH. School is too much, social media is too much, my boy/girl friend issues are too much, the bullying at lunch is too much, my so-called-friends are too much, the pressures of hormonal life with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex are just TOO MUCH.” It’s perhaps in this moment that they need Mom and Dad the most, even with the strong-arm/push-away behavior that they are exhibiting.
And don’t be fooled…whatEVERness is not just restricted to teenagers. Look around your friend group, your workplace, and your community, and you’ll find someone choosing dismissive and off-putting behavior as a way to deal with their own TOO-MUCHNESS.
WhatIF we could turn their WhatEVERs into something lovely?
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
When someone comes at you full bore and you get blindsided by their hostility, it is a good thing to pause and consider what else is happening. It’s also important to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, and pleasing about them. In other words, in the face of resistance, rebellion, and rudeness (whether from your kid or another adult) think to yourself: what is really going on? Is there ANY redeeming quality in this person (albeit not in this moment?)
If the answer is yes, take a deep breath and think about THOSE things. Then pray.
Someday, you will be glad that you did not overreact to your teenager’s hormones. Someday, you will be glad that you didn’t meet rudeness with rudeness. Someday that awful co-worker who was trying to undermine you may actually come back to apologize, and thank you for your graciousness.
And someday, that overwhelmed kid will be an overwhelmed parent of a teenager themself. And when that happens, and they come complaining to you about what their child just had the NERVE to say to them, you know what your response can be?
Last week brought gale-force winds to the Outer Banks, and these winds often bring sound-side flooding. Our schools had to quickly scramble to declare an early dismissal so that the buses could get kids home safely before the roads flooded with salt water and became impassable.
I live on an island off the main drag, and so we have to be particularly aware of the three-mile road that links Big Colington Island to Little Colington Island to Kill Devil Hills. The low road is bordered by water on both sides and connected by two bridges. When the wind shifts, the lowest parts flood pretty quickly, and suddenly you can’t get on or off the island. But locals know to just wait, because the wind always shifts back and takes the water with it.
Island life is a constant reminder of who is in charge of the winds, the tides, the rising sea, and the setting sun. Whenever a change in the weather traps us inside for awhile, it is good to recall the words of hope and promise in Isaiah. And whether your entrapment is weather-related, or life-situation-related, the truth remains the same:
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Whenever you pass through the waters, I will be with you. I have two beloved women in my life who are going through very difficult custody battles. I think of them everyday, and pray this over them. When things like this happen, remember that you are only PASSING THROUGH this time of your life.
When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. Another friend just lost her husband. Waves of grief will now come on a regular basis for a while. I pray this over her. When someone you love dies, remember that you will NOT be swept away by the sorrow forever; it will not always feel this way.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. For all of you undergoing cancer treatments, spending another day of your life in prison, struggling to find work, advocating for your family’s rights, walking in protest, fighting your way out of abuse, overcoming addiction…I pray this for you. Remember that you will NOT be burned by your journey…just keep walking.
Eventually, the winds do shift. The flood water recedes, the dry land re-appears, and travel becomes easier.
Hang on. God had redeemed you. He has summoned you by name. You are HIS.
Binoculars are fascinating. Heavy and clunky, they contain a series of lenses and prisms that capture light and image, flip them around, and bring them to the eyes with clarity and a close-up view that is impossible to the naked eye.
In case you are curious about the science of binoculars, read this from https://www.explainthatstuff.com/binoculars.html:
Binoculars are simply two telescopes side by side, one for each eye. But there’s a catch. When light rays from a distant object pass through a convex lens, they cross over. That’s why distant things sometimes look upside down if you look at them through a magnifying glass. The second lens doesn’t sort out that problem. So binoculars have a pair of prisms (large wedges of glass) inside them to rotate the image through 180 degrees. One prism rotates the image through 90 degrees (flips it onto its side), then the next prism rotates it through another 90 degrees (flips it onto its side again), so the two prisms effectively turn it upside down. The prisms can either be arranged in a back-to-back arrangement (known as roof prisms) or at 90 degrees (known as Porro prisms).
Are we clear now?
All I know is that owning a pair of binoculars on the Outer Banks is almost essential. There are many times when I see something in the water, or across the harbor at the club house that needs a closer look, and my handy binoculars do the trick. Our clubhouse parking area is the local heliport for emergencies, and I have observed several take-offs and landings there. It takes a moment to focus the binoculars, but then everything is clear.
Ephesians 1 (The Message)
15-19 That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks.
But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!
This prayer that Paul lifted up for his friends in Ephesus is one we should continue today. We should ask God to make us intelligent and discerning. We should ask him to help us know him personally. Especially today, we ask that our eyes are focused and clear enough to see EXACTLY what it is he is calling us to do.
This is my prayer for you. You have a calling. You have a divine appointment! May God grant you binocularvision so that you might see and know your calling in the world. May he grant you clarity of sight so that you know without a doubt what actions you should take, what words you should utter, and what step to take next. Focus in! He will show you the way.
I can’t stop thanking God for you.
I am not a morning person, so my favorite way to watch the sunrise is catching my friend’s FaceBook posts about an hour and a half after the fact. But Sundays are a different matter, as I wake up in the dark to prepare for church. As I caffeinate, I notice the beautiful deep blue that replaces the charcoal grey as the sky prepares to welcome the sun. The pre-light of dawn is almost prettier than the sunrise itself. It is so filled with promise.
Here on the Outer Banks, we enjoy “big sky,” where you can see for miles and miles. There are no high rises, no buildings, and even no trees to obstruct your view. As a friend’s child once observed on a cruise ship, you can “see as far as your eyes can see.” When the sky changes here, it colors the entire horizon.
If you’ve ever spent a sleepless night staring out your window, you know the change that comes over your soul when day finally begins to break. Somehow the company of the sun brings a warmth with it that dispels the darkness of the spirit, and even can bring with it a sense of “maybe this isn’t so bleak” as the night dissipates and clarity comes in.
Every day is filled with promise. Every day is an opportunity to get it right, undo a wrong, make a difference, bring joy to someone, and talk to the Lord. Pre-light signals hope.
Psalm 119 (New International Version)
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws.
150 Those who devise wicked schemes are near,
but they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, Lord,
and all your commands are true.
The psalmist speaks into the pre-light. Having stayed awake all night to meditate on God’s promises, he rises before dawn and cries for help. Ever been there?
So often we put our hope in other things: spouses, family, neighbors, the government, friends….and with luck, these things come through for us. But putting our hope in God’s word is the only thing we can really count on to sustain us and preserve us.
God is near, and his word is always true. So next time you find yourself awake in the dark, lean on his understanding and not your own.
Arise and shine, for your light has come.
Surf fishing is a very popular sport on the Outer Banks. Our entire coastline provides numerous spots that are perfect for this. Wherever you go on the beach, you are likely to run into a surf fisherman. I am a beach walker, so I know to carefully look for the sun’s reflection on their lines and walk under or behind them. It would be counterproductive to decapitate myself whilst trying to get in shape.
The beauty of surf fishing is that you can simply walk to your fishing spot. No boats, nets, piers, or docks required. Take off your shoes and cast your line! Of course the challenge is the surf itself. Negotiating the waves and the unknown depths of the water just beyond the break are part of the fun. More than once I have watched someone excitedly reeling in a fish while walking into the waves, only to hit the underwater drop-off and submerge up to their chest. By the way, the fish love it when that happens.
Surf fishing also requires a fair amount of “situational awareness,” especially as you cast. Always look around you, and especially behind you! Nobody wants to hook a sunbather in the eye. Or the bikini top.
Jesus knew a lot about fishing.
Mark 1 (The Message)
16-18 Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.
19-20 A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.
So, had you realized that surf fishing is in the Bible?? Simon and Andrew were net-fishing from the beach. James and John were in a boat. All were given the instruction to leave their work and follow Jesus. The new job would be to fish for people.
Fishing for people also requires a kind of “situational awareness.” How ready is this person to hear the Gospel? What is the best approach? What do they need…a testimony, or a sandwich? What would communicate God’s love best?
You are also called to people-fish. Dropping the net you are currently holding is the best way to approach this new task. How can God use your abilities, resources, and personality to spread a word of hope, acceptance, and love?
Jesus calls us to follow him. May we be like the disciples and drop what we’re doing, leave everything behind, and immediately respond. You never know what you’ll catch.
When I was a child, my family’s Christmas lights were red, yellow, green, white, and orange. I don’t recall when blue lights came into vogue, but I remember being stunned the first time I saw a tree vibrant with blue LED lights dominating the color scheme. Blue is now my favorite Christmas light color. After all, blue is the liturgical color for the season of Advent.
Then I experienced my first “blue Christmas,” a phrase now used to define a sad, lonely, and sorrowful Christmas. Not everybody has a holly, jolly Christmas. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, a family member not being able to come home, having to work over the holidays, and just plain disappointment can all lead to feeling blue during the most wonderful time of the year. My blue Christmas was due to three things. I had moved away from my church of 16 years, and I was on leave with no Christmas Eve services to look forward to. My oldest daughter had just gotten married and was spending Christmas in another state with her in-laws. Worst of all, my father passed away suddenly two days after Thanksgiving.
I wasn’t just blue, I was black and blue.
Have you ever felt like a holiday could smack you right down? Holidays can be sneaky little buggers. They can come up behind you without any warning in the mall or at a party and poke you so hard from behind that it knocks the wind right out of you. A flash of memory, a familiar song, a taste of nostalgia, and suddenly, unbidden, you are feeling the pain of your loss with such intensity that you can’t move or breathe. The unhappy irony of that is that Christmas is the celebration of the Prince of Peace, the Comforter:
1 Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Even in the bluest of Christmases, God comes into our valley of sorrow to lift us up and level us out. Grief is a natural expression of a life that was well loved. It is the heart’s way of dealing with the unthinkable void that death creates. God longs to bring comfort to his people who mourn. He longs to comfort you in your blueness. And here is the good news: he will stay by your side until you begin to feel just the smallest and slightest bit better. And eventually you will.
He won’t leave you or grow tired of comforting you, for he is the everlasting God.
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Are you having a blue Christmas this year? You are not alone. If you look around, you will probably find others in the same color scheme as you. So don’t feel ignored or left out of all of the “have yourself a merry little Christmas” celebrations…others are faking it, too.
I hugged a friend last week who just lost her mother. I know she is dreading this Christmas. I have experienced that same dread and the feeling of disconnect with the joy-to-the-world spirit that others were feeling. I even felt resentful and could not wait for Christmas to be over. As I held her, I heard myself saying, “Every time you miss your mom this season, try to get up and do something for someone else. Think of someone who needs a prayer, or a card, or a casserole, and focus on that.”
I don’t know if that will help. I do know that when we push our way out of our circumstance, we survive for another day and live to tell about it. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. Blue Christmases are a game of survival. And when grief finally loosens its stranglehold on us, we can begin to feel joy again.
So look around. Others are blue, too. Somebody you know is having a bleak mid-winter this year. Find someone who needs their pain to be acknowledged, and let them know that you see them. When you do that, blueness begins to fade….theirs, and yours.
Blue LED lights
Here is a resource that might help, or be the perfect gift for somebody blue on your list: Mourning Break-Words of Hope for Those in Grief
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
It is so tempting to hit the “Publish” button right now. What could possibly be added to the glory and beauty of that Isaiah passage? It gives me chills to read it. I can hear the echos of Handel’s Messiah as I read it: those gloriously phrased notes of “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God! The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!”
I had the unexpected blessing of standing next to my sister-in-law and singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Disney World this week. Yes, Virginia, they do read scripture at Disney World. It is accompanied by a full orchestra, a 200-plus choir, six herald trumpets, and a deaf interpreter signing each note and word from the stage. All hope is not lost in this world. My sister-in-law is an excellent alto, and our voices combined in harmony with hundreds of others as we sang the truth about why Christmas happened.
It is important for us to sing the truth this season.
In the midst of the world’s cacophony, we need to sing, and sing loudly. We need to be that light in the darkness of commercialism and secularism. It is good for us to remind each the world that Christmas is still Christ’s Mass, a celebration of his birth. We need to complain to school boards that remove every sacred song from school Christmas productions and feed our children a sugar-diet of “Jingle Bells,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and “All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” OK, I get that the last one is relevant to the Elementary School set, but still….
Where is the truth? What is the truth?
Handel knew. He wrote Messiah in just 24 days. He wrote from morning to night. Given the sheer volume of the 259-page score, it is estimated that he wrote 15 notes per minute. In total, he wrote roughly a quarter of a million notes in a little more than three weeks. That is insane. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Messiah is in three parts. Part I begins with this prophecy by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. Part III tells of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. The story is complete, a reminder to us that when you sing of the truth of Christmas, it is good to tell the whole story, from the Old Testament promise of his first coming at the manger, to the New Testament promise of his second coming.
So go and tell. Go and sing. Go and speak the truth, using both words and actions.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplished it. Hallelujah!
Candlelight Processional by Kenn Haas
Do you remember the wonderful scene from the original Mary Poppins movie where she plops her large carpet bag on the table and begins to pull out things like a hat stand, a large wall mirror, a potted plant, shoes, clothing, and a very special measuring tape? I remember as a child being fascinated by her bag. Can you imagine being able to reach in to your carpet bag and get whatever you needed?
Many decades later, Hermione Granger one-upped Mary with a small and elegant beaded bag that had a lot of useful things, including a large multi-level tent and an invisibility cloak. And her bag was small enough that she could hide it in her sock.
This notion of magical bags is something that children innately understand. Think about it; how many times does your child expect you to instantly produce what they want, often making unreasonable and unrealistic requests? And when it’s possible, don’t you make every effort to respond?
In the same way, we can treat God as though he has a magical bag. We operate under an assumption that we can make requests and God will supply them. All of us are guilty of treating God like a big ATM machine in the sky at one time or another. We use him when we need something, but when our pockets are full, we pass on by. Is this a good practice? Do you ever feel guilty about asking God for things beyond your ability to provide for yourself? Check this out:
Luke 11 (NRSV)
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Good gifts. We know how to give good gifts to those whom we love. In most people’s minds, this season is all about getting and receiving good gifts. Look at the advertising all around you. Lexuses wrapped in big red bows, overly expensive and lush outfits that dance across your screen, flashing diamond jewelry featured in commercials where the husband/boyfriend gets a big reward of love for choosing the right piece…and in each case, the bigger, the better.
But the question remains, should we/may we/might we treat God like a department store Santa, and go sit on his lap with a big list of “gimmes?”
The answer is yes. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus-like aspect of God. And that’s all right.
You see, God longs to hear the desires of our hearts. God wants the intimacy of a trusting child who goes to a parent in the hope and anticipation of getting a Red Ryder BB Gun. Will he give you things that might harm you? Nope. Will he give you what you need instead? Yup. It is the relationship of love, trust, and honesty that blesses the Lord. When we ask, seek, and knock, we are demonstrating our belief that God is able to respond. That demonstration of faith is vital to us, and to God.
So in this season of preparation, while we anticipate the greatest gift to humankind that the world has ever known, go to God in prayer. Ask away. Watch him reach into his carpet bag and pull out the very thing that you need, even if you didn’t ask for it. God invites us to ask, seek, and knock. It’s pretty much in the bag.
Well, Hello There by Mary Anne Mong Cramer
Come along with me on a great adventure. One that doesn’t require time in the malls or searching Amazon, but one that ushers in the ADVENT of the Kingdom of God on earth. This breaking-through of the holy presence did not get cleaned up by hospital nurses and handed to his momma wrapped in a hospital print blanket and matching hat. This presence did not receive a baby shower with brightly wrapped presents from his adoring family. This presence didn’t even have a gender reveal party…can you imagine?
No, this presence was birthed in dirt and spent his first night on earth sleeping to the sounds of a mooing cow and a snoring donkey. The stink must have been noticeable, but he was too little and much too polite to mention it.
This miraculous presence came straight from heaven above, intended to take root in the hearts and souls of humanity. God sent his only son to walk among us, to experience temptation, to feel hunger, pain, disappointment (lots and lots of disappointment), anger, and friendship. When God deigned to be one among us, he went whole-hog. He didn’t just tickle his toes in humanity-water, he went for the deep dive and didn’t come up for air for 33 years. God with us, Emmanuel.
The great ADVENTure we will embark on will lead us straight to that manger scene, where we will find ourselves standing among dirty shepherds, regal wisemen, a couple of sheep, vibrant angels, and his parents. Like a piece in a nativity set, we will freeze there in worship and adoration.
But not just yet.
In the meantime, we must prepare. Advent is a season of preparation. Not with decorating, buying, baking, and decking all our halls, but by making our spiritual heart-homes ready to receive the awe that is coming.
In Matthew, we are reminded that we didn’t know the hour of Christ’s first coming on earth, nor will we anticipate the timing of his second coming. So we have one job: to be ready.
Matthew 24:36 (NRSV)
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
KEEP AWAKE. You don’t know. You must be ready. The hour will be unexpected. You don’t want to be caught unaware.
How can you get ready for the greatest breaking-in of heaven upon the earth? How can you prepare to receive this incredible gift of the infant God, who came to save, heal, forgive, teach, help, rebuke, serve, and love?
Maybe it’s time to clean out the musty attic of your heart and create a space for the manger child to have a room there. Do you carry any unconfessed sin? Repent. Do you harbor a grudge with someone? Forgive. Are you estranged from a family member? Reconcile. Are you lazy in your discipleship? Begin a new discipline, like reading this Advent devotional without fail every morning.
Advent kind of sounds like Lent, doesn’t it?
This season heralds the greatest adventure humankind has ever known. If you keep stressing about gifts, cookie baking, parties, cleaning, and entertaining, you are sure to miss it.
Don’t do that again this year. Be still. Listen. Breathe deeply of the fragrance of the Evergreen that brings both life and eternal life into your nostrils. Settle yourself down so that you can be open to receive him.
See you at the manger.
Pennsylvania Snow by Becca Ziegler.