Worthless Things

This is the season of “Back to School.” But in many parts of the country we aren’t back to school in the traditional sense. Parents have had to become homeschool teachers without any semblance of teacher training. Many now have to try to balance their own careers with teaching their kids at home.

This is the season of “Back to Church.” But in many parts of the country we aren’t back to church in the traditional sense. Preachers have had to become televangelists without any semblance of technical training. We have had to try to balance our usual clergy duties with not being able to use our buildings or do in-person visitations.

This is the season of “Fall Bible Study Sign-Ups.” But in many parts of the country we aren’t back to Bible studies in the traditional sense. Teachers are trying to negotiate how to do video-based curriculum on ZOOM, in-person classes in masks, or some hybrid of both.

Nothing is quite seasonal in this “season.” And nothing is normal. How can we learn then?

The psalmist speaks a longing of heart today that truly resonates with the desire we feel to be in God’s word and God’s house, regardless of our current season of trouble.

Psalm 119 (Common English Bible)

33 Lord, teach me what your statutes are about,
    and I will guard every part of them.
34 Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction
    and keep it with all my heart.
35 Lead me on the trail of your commandments
    because that is what I want.
36 Turn my heart to your laws,
    not to greedy gain.

Oh, how we long to return to life in the traditional sense! We long to attend church on Sundays so that we can understand God’s instructions and feel the protection of living inside his will for our lives. We want to walk a trail that God lays out before us that leads directly to him. We need Bible studies, Sunday School classes, small groups, youth group, the chance to do mission work, the joy of fellowship time, the opportunity to eat donuts, to sing in the choir….we need all the ways we typically learn about God. But in this season, living in God’s way will take a lot more effort on our part.

We need to turn our eyes away from looking at worthless things like regret over things not being “normal.”

37 Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things.
    Make me live by your way.
38 Confirm your promise to your servant—
    the promise that is for all those who honor you.

So what are you looking at? What has captured your attention and diverts you from seeking God? Is your nostalgic longing for the way things used to be preventing you from engaging in the way things are?

We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We want the normal things back. But until that happens, we must find a way in this season to return to God’s word and his presence. God’s rules are good. When we seek after learning he will help us live by his righteousness.

So find that Bible study and sign up! Make a concerted effort to attend worship this Sunday no matter how it is offered. Join a ZOOM small group. This is the season to reconnect regardless of ”how.” This is the season to reconnect even if it won’t be like it used to be. This is the season to just do it.

39 Remove the insults that I dread
    because your rules are good.
40 Look how I desire your precepts!
    Make me live by your righteousness
.

Sanctuary by Ann Marie Haywood

Foot Lamp

When I was growing up, my family loved to go camping. We started out in a large tent, progressed to a pop-up trailer, and somewhere in my teenage years we upgraded to a travel trailer. We traveled the entire east coast from Canada to Florida as die-hard campers.

Of all the equipment that is essential for campers, I think the flashlight is probably in the top five. Until we finally reached the luxury of owning a travel trailer that had its own “john,” trips to the loo had to be done on foot. Those trips necessitated a flashlight after dark, lest you trip over a rock. Or a snake. Having a foot lamp was essential in these “essential” matters.

Psalm 119 (New King James Version)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
106 I have sworn and confirmed
That I will keep Your righteous judgments.
107 I am afflicted very much;
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.

Are you mentally singing, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path?” You are in good company. I can’t read Psalm 119 without Amy Grant singing in my head:

When I feel afraid
Think I’ve lost my way
Still you’re there right beside me
And nothing will I fear
As long as you are near
Please be near me to the end

Isn’t that an incredible thought? God’s Word provides a light in the darkness of life that illuminates the way. It lights our path and keeps us safe. Scripture shows us how to live and move and have our being. But like a flashlight, it only works when we turn it on and use it.

108 Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord,
And teach me Your judgments.
109 My life is continually in my hand,
Yet I do not forget Your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I have not strayed from Your precepts.

Our lives are continually in God’s hand…but can we join with the Psalmist and say that we have not forgotten God’s law? Can we claim that we have not strayed from God’s precepts? Or has there been a little back-slidin’ going on?

Is God shining his light onto a behavior or attitude today that needs attention? Is your heart wandering away from God’s will?

I will not forget
Your love for me and yet
My heart forever is wandering
Jesus be my guide
And hold me to your side
I will love you to the end

Jesus, hold us to your side! Be our guide. We stumble in the dark without you.

111 Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever,
For they are the rejoicing of my heart.
112 I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, to the very end.

Here’s the good news: every day is a new opportunity to get it right. Every morning when we wake up, God offers us a “do-over.” Perhaps that is the light he is shining onto your path right now.

When we follow the path of repentance to Christ’s offer of forgiveness, we too will be revived according to God’s Word. So turn on your light, and let your light so shine that others might see it and be drawn to the Lord.

And a Light Unto My Path by Michelle Robertson

Pre-Light

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.

Colington Pre-Light