In 2008, Pixar Studios released a cautionary tale called “WALL-E.” It was a love story about two robots who were left behind to work on what remained of earth after humanity fled on starships. As we journey through their relationship issues, we see a startling portrayal of what has become of humankind. With robots available to do every kind of work, people have become debilitatingly obese and are confined to lounge chairs, living their lives through screens and artificial intelligence.

In Biblical terms, they have “allowed their god to be their stomach” and are now suffering from the pursuit of earthly pleasures and indulgences. This dystopian look at humanity’s future was also predicted by Paul, who warned against such things in our reading today. Even as he addressed the church at Philippi, he was very forward thinking, wasn’t he?

Philippians 3:17-21 (Common English Bible)

17 Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models. 18 As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross.19 Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. 20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.

Paul was deeply distressed over these “enemies of the cross” who lived lives that were complacent and content in the wrong-headed assumption that once salvation of the soul had occurred, the body could pursue earthly delights with abandon. This type of thinking was called Gnosticism and it became the bane of Paul’s ministry throughout his life. He encouraged them to follow his example and the example of others who were imitating the life of Christ.

And we know that the life of Christ was a life of self-denial. The Gnostics practiced a life of self-indulgence, and it grieved Paul to his core.

We, too, are to imitate Christ as Paul did. One of the best things about the season of Lent when it comes around is the deliberate resetting of our priorities as we reevaluate the quality of our spiritual health. Practicing self-denial for 40 days goes a long way toward recalibrating our hearts and minds toward Christ. Perhaps we should practice Lent as a daily lifestyle all year long.

Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven and should focus our thinking as those who are merely foreigners here. Earthly delights will fade away in the light of heaven’s rewards, and if heaven is our true home, we will be strengthened against any temptation this “colony” has to offer.

God has promised to transform us into the likeness of Christ when we join him there. Our challenge today is to transform our thoughts, actions, words, and deeds into his image in such a way that others will see and know that we don’t belong here but are just passing through. How is God calling you to respond to this text today? Do you need to give something up in order to claim your heavenly citizenship? Save your own soul and follow Paul’s example.

Just Passing Through by Michelle Robertson

Say Hello

Tom Hanks starred in a wonderful movie called “News of the World” a few years ago. It was the story of an itinerant news reader who traveled all over Texas in 1870 to read news stories about presidents, queens, disasters, and all kinds of adventures to people who had no access to newspapers and most likely were illiterate. Folks would gather in the community hall or a tent to sit and listen in awe as this former Civil War veteran read to them.

 It is hard for us to imagine such a world where even a basic newspaper isn’t available. We are spoiled by an overabundance of news outlets right at our fingertips, from 24-hour television news to online sources that update every few minutes.

We also have an amazing ability to keep in touch with our family members now, thanks to technology such as FaceTime and ZOOM. During the pandemic, my family started a weekly ZOOM call to keep everyone in touch with each other. From Germany to Montana to Georgia and Virginia, we connected electronically to share our weekly joys and sorrows and to see each other’s faces. We still continue that today.

When we read Paul’s letter to Colossae, we get a rare glimpse into the difficulties of keeping a large family of followers in touch with each other. Paul had to entrust his letters to people who took months to travel with them to their intended destinations. The fact that this letter even exists to be read by modern Christians today is a miracle of God’s making. Paul writes about the men with whom he is travelling, and the common work they are doing in spreading the gospel. 

Colossians 4:7-15 (Common English Bible)

Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful minister, and fellow slave in the Lord, will inform you about everything that has happened to me. This is why I sent him to you, so that you’ll know all about us and so he can encourage your hearts. I sent him with Onesimus, our faithful and dearly loved brother, who is one of you. They will let you know about everything here.

10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, says hello to you. So does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (you received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him). 11 Jesus, called Justus, also says hello. These are my only fellow workers for God’s kingdom who are Jewish converts. They have been an encouragement to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, says hello. He’s a slave of Christ Jesus who always wrestles for you in prayers so that you will stand firm and be fully mature and complete in the entire will of God. 13 I can vouch for him that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Luke, the dearly loved physician, and Demas say hello.

15 Say hello to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, along with Nympha and the church that meets in her house.

He mentions two men of particular interest: Onesimus, a former slave whom he describes as a faithful and beloved brother of the church and should be welcomed as one of them; and Epaphras, who is described as a bondservant in Christ who has been laboring fervently in prayer for them. In so doing, Paul is strengthening the family ties between these diverse men and ensuring that they are all keeping up and strengthening their relationships with each other.

This gives us pause to think about our own relationships with our family, friends, coworkers, and church. Are we making it a priority to stay in touch, or do we let months (or years) go by? How hard is it to just say hello?

As people of God, we are invited to stay informed and pray with great fervor for one another. Is God calling you to pick up the phone and reach out to someone today? Don’t hesitate. You may not always have this chance.

Hello, OBX! by Michelle Robertson

Get in Step

One of the greatest joys and challenges of my high school years was being the Drum Major of the marching band. For two years I marched in the clarinet section, and then suddenly in my junior year I was selected to lead the band. I was blessed to receive excellent training and a lot of encouragement from the adults around me. 

The most difficult part of being a Drum Major is setting the pace. Every song was memorized and practiced so much that I immediately knew how fast or slow to direct the musicians. If you ask any Drum Major to beat a pattern for a John Philip Sousa march, they can do it, even years later. We became like human metronomes. 

I was reminded of this when I read today’s passage about the conflict between following the law verses justification by grace through faith. In marching band terms, Paul would say that like the band, people don’t set the pace. Instead it is our Drum Major God who establishes the beat which we all follow. Paul understood that following the law was akin to the band boastfully leading themselves. God doesn’t respond to our lead; we respond to God’s lead.  

Romans 3:27-31 (The Message)

27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

29-30 And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.

Paul had to address this again and again in his letters to his churches, and some of our best theology of salvation by grace comes from his writings. He had a clear understanding that you could not boast of your salvation because you had nothing to do with it. We are not saved by our own merit or good works, but by the one God who saves both the circumcised and uncircumcised alike. It is by faith we receive forgiveness, not by the law.

When we get in step with God’s will and purpose for our lives, we find it much easier to follow the pace God has set for us. The law always pointed to a Messiah who would come to fulfill it, and Jesus is that fulfillment. Even the law quickens or slows to Jesus’ direction and works in harmony to keep us on a parade route of righteousness. 

Remember the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees about keeping the law that prohibited working on the sabbath? He reminded them that the sabbath was meant for people, not the other way around. Thus the ox could be saved from the ditch in an act of mercy on the sabbath, because the law itself was under Jesus’ direction.

Where are you in the parade? Are you anxiously trying to lead it in an effort to have control, or are you letting God direct your feet into places outside of your comfort zone? Are you marching to the beat of the world or the Lord’s cadence?

Maybe it’s time to stop marking time and follow Jesus. He will guide your steps onto the path of righteousness.

Shifting Focus by Michelle Robertson

Every Good Gift

If you had all the money and the power in the world and could bestow a gift on everyone you know, what would it be? Would you give them wealth? Prosperity? Fame? Good health? What do your friends need that you would grant if you could? What would you ask for yourself if your friend could give you anything?

Today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians reveals things that were on Paul’s mind as he writes to his young church. The content of this letter includes an explanation of the fundamentals of Christian life, an assurance that their suffering would increase their faith, and a word of encouragement about the example they are setting as those who are sounding forth the word of God.

He asks them to pray for him.

1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 By the Lord’s authority, I order all of you to have this letter read aloud to all the brothers and sisters. 

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

He ends his letter with a very strong instruction that the epistle be read to everyone. This is the first of his letters to this community and so public readings weren’t the norm yet. The letter is acting as a substitute for a personal visit from Paul, so he wants to be sure everyone hears from him through the letter. He also may have been concerned about the letter being abridged or mis-stated, so he wanted the people to hear it for themselves. And then he finishes by offering them a word of grace.

A study of Paul’s letters reveals a pattern of his greetings and endings. The phrase “grace and peace” appears in five of his letters. We might assume then, that these things are important to him. It follows that of all the things Paul wanted to give his followers, grace is the most important thing.

Grace is the bestowal of God’s love and acceptance of us as we are invited to come just as we are. Grace is the magnanimous gift of unmerited favor that allows us into the kingdom of God. Grace is gift that can’t be earned but must be received. Grace is the best gift a friend could wish upon another.

Every good gift from heaven came in the form of Christ’s grace on the cross; his gentleness, his tenderness, his patience, and his sacrificial love are poured out from the pitcher of grace onto a hurting world. Can anything beat that? What grace doesn’t have is judgement, arrogance, privilege, bias, oppression, or favoritism. Grace is offered to all through the blood on the cross, and we as the church must do all in our power to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to receive it.

This is why Paul begins and ends his epistles with a wish for peace and grace to be experienced in his churches. He loved them like a parent loves a child and only ever wanted the best for them.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you today!

Fountain of Grace by Kathy Schumacher

The Best Secret

What is the best secret you have ever kept? Was it yours, or someone else’s? Secrets are generally kept for two purposes…either to protect someone or something, or to orchestrate a surprise. Everybody enjoys a good mystery, especially when they can guess the ending.

I think that we have lost our sense of mystery. Nothing surprises us anymore. Movies are so formulaic that we can predict the outcome in the first five minutes. (Only two minutes for a Hallmark movie.) Television is worse. Politics, national affairs, the economy, even pandemics all follow patterns and processes that are predictable to a degree. Think I’m wrong? Study the Spanish Flu of 1918. Even the recent pandemic was predicted.

The secret that Paul refers to in today’s reading is a mystery that shook up the world. It was held in secret by the prophets for a time, and then revealed in due course in order to surprise the world. This announcement gives us strength for our future and becomes the source of our hope. God’s might is delivered with this good news to all who will hear.

Romans 16:25-27 (Common English Bible)

25 May the glory be to God who can strengthen you with my good news and the message that I preach about Jesus Christ. He can strengthen you with the announcement of the secret that was kept quiet for a long time.

26 Now that secret is revealed through what the prophets wrote. It is made known to the Gentiles in order to lead to their faithful obedience based on the command of the eternal God.

27 May the glory be to God, who alone is wise! May the glory be to him through Jesus Christ forever! Amen.

It was always assumed that the Gentiles would never have any part in what the Jews held as their own. A messiah was promised to come and redeem Israel. But there was a secret component to that…he would also redeem the rest of the world. Surprise!

The mystery of Jesus is that he came to lead his people, not in war against their oppressors so that he could establish his own kingdom, but into peace. The surprise of Jesus is that he is God incarnate, God-made-flesh. He was born of a woman, walked among us, and was crucified for the sins of humanity. The secret of his crucifixion is that it had been planned all along in order to save us.

And the mystery of his resurrection caught the world totally off guard.

And here’s the not-so-secret of it all: if you accept Christ as your savior and put your whole trust in his grace, you, too, will share in the resurrection. We get our strength from God’s announcement of this secret plan of inclusion and are empowered to take it to the world. God is our strength and our shield and works through our witness to strengthen others in Jesus’ name. When we feel weak and unsure, we can plug into the mystery of the incarnation and renew our strength like eagles’ wings.

It’s time to let the secret out. Jesus was born in a manger so that he could die on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. May we all shed light on his glorious, absolute truth.

Surprise in Bloom by Michelle Robertson

Be Bold

On Halloween night in 1938, CBS radio listeners tuned in for Orson Wells’ weekly Mercury Theater program. That night’s program was a production of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” a tale of an alien invasion in New Jersey. The show was done in a fake news bulletin style, and it was clearly stated in the beginning that the piece was fiction. But listeners who tuned in later were led to believe that they were actually listening to breaking news, and some called the police, newspapers, and other radio stations in great confusion.

The next day, newspapers across the country spread rumors of mass stampedes, multiple suicides, thousands of people fleeing their homes, and national panic due to the broadcast. Further investigation showed that very few people actually listened to the low-rated show, and the “nation-wide panic” that ensued was greatly exaggerated. To this day, many people still believe that the broadcast resulted in a hysteria, but there is no data to support that thinking. Wells was accused of deliberately deceiving the listeners and his career was tainted by the experience.

 In our reading from Acts today, we see an impressive group of local Jewish leaders who are willing to listen to Paul despite knowing that “people everywhere are talking against” him. Rather than buy into the rumors and then amplify them, they gathered in large numbers to hear him witness from morning to evening about being chained to Christ who was the “hope of Israel” as he described it (verse 20).  Some were convinced, some were not, but all listened and heard the good news proclaimed.

Acts 28:17-24 (Common English Bible)

17 Three days later, Paul called the Jewish leaders together. When they gathered, he said, “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I’m a prisoner from Jerusalem. They handed me over to the Romans, 18 who intended to release me after they examined me, because they couldn’t find any reason for putting me to death. 19 When the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar. Don’t think I appealed to Caesar because I had any reason to bring charges against my nation. 20 This is why I asked to see you and speak with you: it’s because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”

21 They responded, “We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea, nor have any of our brothers come and reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we think it’s important to hear what you think, for we know that people everywhere are speaking against this faction.”

23 On the day scheduled for this purpose, many people came to the place where he was staying. From morning until evening, he explained and testified concerning God’s kingdom and tried to convince them about Jesus through appealing to the Law from Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others refused to believe.

I wonder if it was Paul’s description of being chained to Christ that made them open to receive his message. Here was a man who was literally chained to a Roman guard while he was awaiting to appeal his arrest before Caesar, yet he still boldly spoke the truth everywhere he went to whomever would listen.

Boldness is the key when it comes to our testimony. How bold are you? Do you talk to the stranger on the plane about your faith? Does your doctor know you are a Christian? If being a Christian was a punishable offense, would there be enough evidence in your life to arrest you for it?

Paul’s example of bold tenacity is a clear reminder to us today to take advantage of all those opportunities where someone might be ready to hear about Jesus. We, too, are chained to the hope of Israel … and the world.

Bold Sunrise by Michelle Robertson

Say Goodbye


In the typical order of worship, there is one moment we all look forward to: the benediction. Come on, you know you do! It means the service has been completed, the message has been delivered, the songs have been sung, and the prayers faithfully prayed. It signals that the irritation of 1. trying to keep your kids quiet; 2. sitting next to someone who put on WAAAY too much perfume or aftershave; or 3. the loud whisperer behind you catching up on gossip is finally over and you can go home. Even pastors like the benediction. Trust me, we look forward to it, too. It means our week’s work is finished and for better or worse, we have offered our labor to the Lord and now get to catch our breath before starting all over again.

You know that in pastor-time, Sunday comes every 4 1/2 days, right?

Today we are reading Paul’s benediction to the people in Corinth. I love his happy goodbye as he is leaving people whom he loves.

This benediction is a sermon in itself.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

11-13 And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. Greet one another with a holy embrace. All the brothers and sisters here say hello.

He encourages us to be cheerful. No matter what our daily trials are, we all have eternity to look forward to at the benediction of our lives. He tells us to keep things in good repair, such as your house, your family, and especially your soul. I hear this as an encouragement to not let the small stuff get us down!

By the way, it’s all small stuff.

Paul’s invitation to harmony could be a whole sermon series. It is a great reinforcement of the fact that God desires unity in the body of Christ. That can only happen when we lay down our individuality, our differences, and we work to think in harmony. If you do these things, you will experience the peace and love of God all week. Sermon done, right there in the benediction!

Greeting one another with a “holy kiss/embrace” was a common salutation that was practiced in eastern countries during Paul’s time, as handshakes are today. Paul was encouraging them to greet one another in an affectionate manner and treat each other with kindness and love. The use of the word “holy” here serves to remind us that Paul intended it as an expression of Christian affection and not as an improper contact.

While we probably won’t adopt a practice of kissing per se, (!) it would serve us well to be holy in our approach to each other and greet each other with the kindness and love befitting a Christian community…and not just at church.

When we do that, it will be easier to be cheerful, stay in harmony with one another, and keep our souls in good repair. And when that happens, the love and the peace of God will be with us for sure.

Harmony by Kathy Schumacher

Street Cred

Letter writing has become a thing of the past. We have lost this art to emails, texts, PMs, DMs, and communicating through social media. I needed to write a letter to my uncle, and I procrastinated for weeks. Why? Because my handwriting has become almost illegible from years of neglect. Think about it: other than your signature, do you do much long handwriting anymore?

 Reading Paul’s carefully crafted letters is like stepping back in time. There is a letter writing etiquette that is foreign to us, especially in the greetings. Today’s reading is no exception, as we see Paul working hard in the beginning sentences to establish his “street credentials” with the churches in Galatia. We can feel his passion for his churches and his desire even in the greeting to establish the fact that he has a God-appointed mission that was not the work of any human council or board. By establishing himself as approved by God, he hoped to engender the trust and respect of the Christians who would read this letter.

Galatians 5:1-5 (Common English Bible)

From Paul, an apostle who is not sent from human authority or commissioned through human agency, but sent through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead; and from all the brothers and sisters with me.

To the churches in Galatia.

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.He gave himself for our sins, so he could deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. 

To God be the glory forever and always! Amen.

This is a marvelous reminder to us when we take a stand and proclaim the good news of Christ. We are also divinely appointed to this task and that appointment comes with God’s strength and power. Whether it is volunteering to hold a baby in the church nursery, preaching from a pulpit, or leading an international mission trip, the credentials we bring as people who have been tasked by God help people to trust and receive our ministry. When we proclaim Christ, we are not alone.

Note the beautiful language in verse 3 where Paul gives his apostolic greeting with the words “grace and peace to you.” He used this phrase five times in the New Testament, and one could argue that “grace and peace” describe Christianity in a nutshell. Grace, from the Greek, and peace, from the Hebrew, consolidate everything we know and want to share about the life Christians lead. We are the blessed recipients of Christ’s grace, an undeserved favor that is bestowed upon us in the form of unconditional, forgiving love. And peace is what Christ came to give us, confirmed in the fourteenth chapter of John: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (John 14:27, Common English Bible). Could we find any better credentials than this?

Paul ends his greeting by outlining Christ’s credentials. His letters always focused on the centrality of the cross, and he clearly explains that Christ gave himself for our sins. It is by this authority and the authority of the will of God that we go out into the world in Jesus’ name, and for Jesus’ sake. Is God calling you to use your own street cred in your witness? Take the authority and go.

Greetings by Michelle Robertson