What Now?

Think of a time when you had to travel to a new destination. You’ve never been there before, never had to figure out how to get there, and really don’t have any idea what to expect when you arrive.

Life transitions such as the death of a spouse, a job transfer out of state, a military assignment, adopting a child, getting married, the first year of college, a pandemic, etc. are all times when we experience the mystery of “you’ve never traveled this way before.” Even addiction recovery can feel this way, when a person finally overcomes his or her past and ventures into sober life for the first time. It is like standing at a crossroad in an unknown town and looking in all directions saying, “What now?”

The third chapter of Joshua tells the “what now” story of the Israelites’ journey through a very foreign but still-promised land. They were of one mind and heart as they ventured forward, trusting their leadership to get them to the place where God was calling them to settle:

Joshua 3 (Common English Bible)

3 Joshua took down the camp early in the morning. He and all the Israelites marched out of Shittim and came to the Jordan, where they stayed overnight before crossing. At the end of three days the officers went through the middle of the camp. They commanded the people, “As soon as you see the Lord your God’s chest containing the covenant and the levitical priests carrying it, you are to march out from your places and follow it. But let there be some distance between you and it, about three thousand feet. Don’t come near it!

(If an image of one of the final scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark just flashed through your mind, you are my hero. “Don’t come near it” indeed!!)

You will know the way you should go, even though you’ve never traveled this way before.”

This sentence is EVERYTHING. God assures us that when he calls us into a new place outside of our comfort zone, he will go ahead of us. We will know the way to go, even though we’ve never gone that way before. Do you know how to get ready?

Joshua said to the people, “Make yourselves holy! Tomorrow the Lord will do wonderful things among you.” 

Make yourself holy. Stop, reflect, PRAY, meditate on scripture, and make yourself ready for your journey. God will do wonderful things among you.

Then Joshua said to the priests, “Lift up the covenant chest. Go along in front of the people.” So they lifted up the covenant chest and went in front of the people.

This is a final reminder for your journey: fix your eyes on God’s promise. Keep steady and walk forward. Don’t look to the right or the left…God’s future is ahead of you.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you great in the opinion of all Israel. Then they will know that I will be with you in the same way that I was with Moses.

May you also know with the same assurance that God will be with you in your “what now” as well.

Promised Land Sunrise by Michelle Robertson

The Feet of The Messenger

Before I go any farther, I want to make a disclaimer. Pastors aren’t perfect. Not every pastor works hard. Yes, there are some who work upwards of 70 hours a week, but others are just lazy. Pastors are flawed, have weaknesses, get frustrated, and basically are…human. There are good pastors and awful pastors. I have worked with both. Some may argue I have been both. If you are currently attending a church, even virtually, read on.

October is “Pastor Appreciation Month,” when Hallmark tells you to show your pastor a little love. I promise you that churches who make a thing of this are well-loved by their pastors. As with any institution, most pastors receive a ton more complaints than compliments, so a gesture of gratitude any time of the year really goes a long way.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, he lays out the kind of effort that pastors go through when they are called to shepherd a church. He talks about hard work, hardships, and struggling to make a living so that he could do the anointed work of preaching and teaching the Good News to the people.

1 Thessalonians 1 (Contemporary English Version)

My dear friends, you surely haven’t forgotten our hard work and hardships. You remember how night and day we struggled to make a living, so that we could tell you God’s message without being a burden to anyone. 

In my denomination, we call those folks “bi-vocational pastors.” Many work nine-to-five jobs and then conduct worship on Sundays. Somehow they fit in visiting the sick, attending to the administration of the church, offering counseling, performing weddings and funerals, doing a minimum of ten hours sermon prep, and a host of other things. God bless the bi-vocational servants who bring the good news!

And God bless the full and part-time pastors who juggle church, family, study time, home, social obligations, and community responsibilities as though they are riding unicycles on a high wire, each with a crazed monkey on their head. Pastoring is not easy. Just one small thing can disrupt the delicate, impossible balance and send everything spilling into the ring occupied by the marching elephants.

10 Both you and God are witnesses that we were pure and honest and innocent in our dealings with you followers of the Lord. 11 You also know we did everything for you that parents would do for their own children. 12 We begged, encouraged, and urged each of you to live in a way that would honor God. He is the one who chose you to share in his own kingdom and glory.

A good pastor does exactly this. They focus their life’s work in honest labor to encourage their parishioners to live in a way that honors God. Paul is right. Good pastors love their churches like parents love their own children.

13 We always thank God that you believed the message we preached. It came from him, and it isn’t something made up by humans. You accepted it as God’s message, and now he is working in you.

There is nothing more important to a pastor than to know that they have brought someone to Christ. Nothing beats it. When you walk out of a service and tell your preacher that you have heard God’s message, that is the best kind of appreciation you can offer. And when a pastor sees their congregation serving with a sense of purpose, calling, understanding, and humbleness, it is a game-changer. That is a church we never want to leave.

If you are part of a faith community that is being well-shepherded by a loving pastor, thank God. It is so much harder than it looks, especially now. The pandemic has knocked every pastor I know for a LOOP.

To my fellow pastors, I raise my hand in gratitude and praise for everything you are going through right now as you are faithful to your calling. May God bless you and keep you from going crazy.

Friends, pray for your pastors. Encourage them, uplift them, and let them know you care. Even when it isn’t October.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of joy!” (Romans 10:15 NKJV)

How Beautiful!

Avenging Wrong Deeds

A friend has come to me over the last several months seeking help with a sin that she keeps committing. She knows the destruction and pain this sin is causing her and all those around her but she continues to indulge in it over and over again. Every time she is caught she goes through a period of remorse and self-loathing only to turn around a month later and do it again. The pull of the temptation of this sinful behavior is too strong for her to resist. Mindlessly, she forgets all of the pain it brings.

Here is a startling thought about sin. Most of us grew up thinking that God’s reaction to our sin is punishment. Surely in life when we sin and experience the consequences, we are engaging in some form of self-punishment. Our parents punished us when we did bad things. We were punished at school if we broke the rules.

We know there will be hell to pay if we do a particular thing but we do it anyway, consequences be damned. And when we are living through those consequences we feel God’s anger and wrath. Punishment is God’s response to our wrong deeds.

Or is it?

Psalm 99 (Common English Bible)

The Lord rules—
    the nations shake!
    He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures—
    the earth quakes!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them thank your great and awesome name.
    He is holy!

Strong king who loves justice,
    you are the one who established what is fair.
    You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Magnify the Lord, our God!
    Bow low at his footstool!
    He is holy!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel too among those who called on his name.
They cried out to the Lord, and he himself answered them—
    he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them.


Lord our God, you answered them.
    To them you were a God who forgives
    but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.

Wait, what? God forgives and avenges wrong deeds?

What does it mean to avenge? To avenge is to step out from behind someone and take up their cause on their behalf. Avenging is an action of inflicting harm on something that caused harm to someone else. So when God is avenging our wrong deeds, his action is against the behavior, not aimed toward us. Thus the punishment we feel is not an indication that he doesn’t love us anymore because we have sinned. Indeed the exact opposite is true. He loves us so much he is angry at anything that separates us from that love…especially our wrong deeds.

Magnify the Lord our God!
    Bow low at his holy mountain
    because the Lord our God is holy!

Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He is the ultimate avenger who will fight against everything that gets between you and him…especially your sin.

Magnify the Lord by Michelle Robertson

I Will Give You Rest

Raise your hand if you’re not sleeping well. An unscientific sampling of my friends and colleagues tells me that many of us are struggling with the inability to fall asleep when we go to bed, experiencing restless nights, or waking up hours before the alarm goes off. I try to take the opportunity in those times to pray, but even the comfort of laying my burdens down before God isn’t enough to bring rest sometimes. Not because God is inadequate, but because I seem to have a perverse need to pick everything back up that I just laid at his feet.

How about you? Are you tossing and turning as well?

When Moses was on his final leg into the Promised Land he was sleepless. The strain from fighting Pharaoh, leading his ornery people through an unforgiving wilderness, and the realization that this huge nation was about to enter a land already filled with hostile people finally overcame him. He pleaded with God for his protection and presence. He knew he couldn’t go it alone.

Exodus 33 (New Revised Standard Version)

12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 

14 The Lord said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

This phrase brings reassurance that God’s presence goes with us everywhere we go. When we can fully immerse ourselves in that reality, rest will come to us.

Rest is a gift of God that can only be opened when we truly let go of all of our worries and cast all of our cares upon him….which is so hard to do! Our brains want to keep “working the problem.” It takes a lot of submission to give things over and leave them there.

15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

Moses asks God to be his strength and his shield against all the ites….the Moabites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, and all the other ites who will attack the Hebrew nation as they attempt to settle in the land. Do you have ites attacking you? Jealous-ites? Fear-ites? Anger-ites? Illness-ites? Betrayal-ites? Listen to how God answers Moses and remember that HE KNOW YOUR NAME, TOO.

17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.“

Take that, all you ites!! We are the Lord’s people and we will not be moved. God knows us by name and he brings us goodness, mercy, graciousness, and deliverance.

So rest in that. God knows you by name and he goes before every problem and issue you are facing. Thanks be to God! 

God Goes Before Us by Michelle Robertson

Timeless

When you think of something that is timeless, what comes to mind? In art, you might recall pieces like the Mona Lisa or the Statue of David. In music, surely Beethoven’s Fifth and Bizet’s Carmen pop up. In cars it would have to be the Ford Model T or a 1960s era Corvette. In Rock and Roll it would be Stairway to Heaven or anything by Queen. (Argue with me!)

But when it comes to the Psalms there is only ONE. Heads and tails, the 23rd Psalm stands above the rest. Because of its inclusion in most funeral liturgies, it may be the most read aloud scripture of all time. At least in this pastor’s experience it certainly is the one scripture I have read aloud the most and for good reason: it is absolutely beautiful. It teaches us about the nature of God, it includes lyrical phrases, it proclaim’s God’s majesty, and it speaks to the heart of every pilgrim wanderer. It’s timeless!

Psalm 23 (New King James Version)

 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

I will always remember having an epiphany during a church matriarch’s funeral. I was preparing to read the 23rd Psalm as a soloist was singing. When my eyes hit the phrase “valley of the SHADOW of death” I realized that God was reminding us that death is just a mere shadow. When the light of Christ hits your life you don’t have to fear what lurks in the shadows any more. His light brings life.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

If you’ve had a rough week, meditate on these words. You will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER. Surely that balances out the aggravations of inflammatory politics, the constant threat of this pandemic, the uncertainty of our economy, all of our personal struggles, and the upcoming elections. ALL of these things will pass away and God assures us that the days of our lives will be filled with goodness and mercy.

Thanks be to God!

Valley of Shadows by Kathy Schumacher

Enduring Love

Think about something you love in this world. Maybe it’s your spouse or your child. Maybe it’s where you live. It could be your football team. Perhaps it is something you were given that you truly cherish. Maybe it’s pizza. If we were to each make a list of the ten things we love, I imagine our lists would be quite different.

Just so you know, the first thing on God’s list of “Things I Love” is YOU.

Other things that God loves are justice, righteousness, delivering his people, and forgiving their sins.

Psalm 106 (New Revised Standard Version)

Praise the Lord!
    O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord,
    or declare all his praise?
Happy are those who observe justice,
    who do righteousness at all times.

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
    help me when you deliver them;
that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
    that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
    that I may glory in your heritage.

Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
    we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.

God wants his people to prosper and participate in the gladness of his nation. We are all part of his heritage. And oh, how it must grieve him that we continue to turn again and again to little gods of our own making.

They made a calf at Horeb
    and worshiped a cast image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
    for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior,
    who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham,
    and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them—
    had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
    to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

A friend of mine recently posted that he loves it when he reads in scripture that God changed his mind. The friend goes on to say that when he does, it is always toward compassion. Indeed, how could it not be? God is the creator and sustainer of compassion. Combined with his steadfast love for us, we are the blessed recipients of everything that flows from compassionate love.

This is what Jesus did for us on the cross. He let compassionate love flow from his veins and delivered all sinners from imprisonment of their sin. We are free because of his enduring, saving, and forgiving love.

So when you’re making your list of things you love, start with Jesus. Teach your children to love him, sing of YOUR enduring love of God to all who will hear, and most importantly be a reflection of that love to a world that desperately needs to see it.

Evening Reflection by Michelle Robertson

Worries

Last week was filled with worries for all of us. Covid numbers are back on the rise, families are dealing with remote learning struggles, we experienced the debacle of the Presidential debate, many of us are worried over the elections…and to top it all off our President, First Lady, and key leaders in our government have tested positive for corona virus. Can 2020 get any worse? Have we all somehow stepped into the twilight zone?

When the world as we know it feels like it is crashing at our feet, it is always good and helpful to do two things: pray and turn to scripture. Amazingly (yet not surprisingly in the way the Holy Spirit works) the lectionary passage for today speaks directly into this unspeakable time. With the wisdom of the ages, God’s holy word written over 2,000 years ago offers exactly the right advice for today.

Rejoice.

When the diagnosis comes, rejoice. When death draws near, rejoice. When the sting of rejection is so hard you can’t breathe, rejoice. When divorce is requested, rejoice. When the world seems to be going straight to hell as you watch from your sofa, rejoice.

Who in their right mind would rejoice in this season? The people of God. You see, rejoicing casts out worry. Rejoicing opens up prayer. Rejoicing is the foundation for supplication to a Heavenly Father who is ready and able to hear your requests.

Rejoicing brings PEACE.

Philippians 4 (New Revised Standard)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The news this week will likely not be any better. In fact, it will probably be worse. But the God of peace is right here, right in the middle of it, right by our side. Paul didn’t say to rejoice when the news is good. He said to rejoice ALWAYS. Do not worry about anything.

So hang on to the good, the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, and the things that are pleasing to God. Set aside all of your worries and think about these things. Keep following Jesus, reading his word, praying for our nation, and focus on things worthy of praise.

Think about those things, and only those things, and the peace of God will be with you. His peace surpasses all understanding. The world can’t give us any peace, but the Lord is always near.

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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Again I will say, REJOICE!

The Peace of God by Mary Watts

Overwash

Highway 12 is the main road that runs north to south on the Outer Banks. It is a narrow two-lane road that is bordered by the ocean on the east and the sound on the west. There are places where it runs through Pea Island National Seashore that are so narrow you can easily walk from ocean to sound in a few minutes.

Highway 12 has been closed for several days due to ocean overwash and wet sand impeding travel. Big swells from Hurricane Teddy and our normal high tides have impacted that little strip of road and our Department of Transportation has struggled to keep up. Water is powerful. Water is sometimes dangerous. Water gets its own way.

I have always lived close to water. I grew up in New Jersey about an hour from the ocean, spent my summers camping by the streams and lakes of Central Pennsylvania, and now live on a canal that opens out to a harbor and the sound. My “At Water’s Edge” life is a metaphor for the beautiful power that water has over our lives. It sustains us, nourishes us, cleanses us, satiates us, keeps us alive, and even symbolizes our initiation into the household of God at our baptisms. Water is essential to life…yet too much of it can be deadly. Not enough of it can be fatal as well.

Psalm 78 (Common English Bible)

But God performed wonders in their ancestors’ presence—
    in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13 God split the sea and led them through,
    making the waters stand up like a wall.

This amazing image of God parting the Red Sea so that the thousands of Hebrews could walk across on dry land is stunning. He made the waters stand up like a WALL. It is a timely reminder that no matter what you are dealing with today, God’s power can easily move it aside so that you can safely walk through it.

14 God led them with the cloud by day;
    by the lightning all through the night.

Then God combined water vapor with air and created a cloud for his people to follow. It gave them much needed direction and the assurance that as long as they followed him they would be all right. It was a tangible reminder of God’s abiding presence. Are you feeling alone? Look up. God’s cloud is with you.

15 God split rocks open in the wilderness,
    gave them plenty to drink—
    as if from the deep itself!

When they were almost perishing from lack of water, God split rocks in the desert and made clean, potable water flow out. They had plenty to drink…from rocks. If God can do this, is there nothing he wouldn’t do to save you from your situation?

16 God made streams flow from the rock,
    made water run like rivers.

Yes, water is powerful and often dangerous. But God is greater than all of that. So if you feel like you are drowning today, reach up. God will surely grasp you by the hand and pull you out. Ask him to wash over you with his grace, mercy, and healing and he will lead you across the dry land to his safe place.

Highway 12 Overwash by Tim Fitch

Is God Here?

Can you think of a time in your life when things were so chaotic that you wondered “Is God here?“ A death, divorce, terminal diagnosis, a national event like 9/11, or anything currently happening in America might cause you to ask such a thing. Anytime we sustain a shock to our system we are tempted to question God’s presence and activity.

Such was the case with the struggling Israelites as they made their way across the desert. Tired, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, they quickly forgot how God had just delivered them from certain death in Egypt. They voice their fear that they might be looking at certain death in the wilderness:

Exodus 17 (The Message)

 1-2 Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn’t a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: “Give us water to drink.” But Moses said, “Why pester me? Why are you testing God?”

But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?”

When they looked at their immediate circumstances, it indeed seemed as though God was absent. Their thirst and exhaustion were the only things they could see. Any hope for the future based on the deliverance in their past was wiped from their minds. Desperation set in.

Have you ever been in that kind of wilderness where all you could see was pain and despair and you forgot how God had loved you through your wilderness wanderings in times past? It is easy to forget.

Moses cried out in prayer to God, “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!”

5-6 God said to Moses, “Go on out ahead of the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel. Take the staff you used to strike the Nile. And go. I’m going to be present before you there on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock. Water will gush out of it and the people will drink.”

You see, the people hadn’t arrived at their final destination yet. They needed to keep moving forward. They needed to be obedient to God’s call to become his people and follow his way. They needed to have a smidge more faith. God was trying to lead them out of their thirst and into a land flowing with milk and honey…they just needed to keep moving forward.

6-7 Moses did what he said, with the elders of Israel right there watching. He named the place Massah (Testing-Place) and Meribah (Quarreling) because of the quarreling of the Israelites and because of their testing of God when they said, “Is God here with us, or not?”

Where is God telling you right now to just keep moving forward? What circumstance has you so momentarily paralyzed that you have forgotten his goodness to you in the past?

God goes before you. If you look up with the eyes of faith, you are sure to spot him there on the rock where the waters of peace, hope, justice, and consolation await. Is God here with you? You betcha.

And the People Will Drink by Michelle Robertson

Leveling the Playing Field

It is always a shock when we learn that someone we have held in high esteem has committed a crime or egregious sin and has fallen from the pedestal we had put them on. I recently watched a movie that told the story of the head of a very popular news organization and how he fell from his high tower of power when his sexual exploitation of several female employees was revealed. It was an eye-opener.

Perhaps that says more about our tendency to erect pedestals than anything else. Society has a way of creating a hierarchy built on power, wealth, and social status. Sin has a way of knocking all of that down. The only safe pedestal to perch upon is the word of God.

In the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, Jesus had a conversation with the chief priests and elders of the people. They were at the top of the food chain in Israel and loved to flaunt their status. They had the audacity to question Jesus about his authority, as if their self-assigned societal authority gave them the right to question the Son of God.

As if!

See how handily Jesus knocks them off their man-made pedestals:

Matthew 21 (Common English Bible)

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.

Whoa, Nellie. That was a deep cut. The prostitutes and the TAX COLLECTORS? Surely that rankled the chief priests. Jesus effectively mopped the floor with their over-blown pretensions and their misunderstanding of “greatness.”

To be the first, one must commit to being the last. To enter the kingdom of God, one must be humble. Securing eternal life requires changing our hearts, minds, and LIVES. Walking God’s righteous road is the way.

Look at the pedestal you are currently standing on. If you see privilege, position, wealth, status, or arrogance there, jump off and save yourself.

Walking The Righteous Path by Kathy Schumacher