Judging Covers

Living on a canal affords us magnificent views of the sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and the neighbors’ back yards. Think “Rear Window,” the iconic Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly thriller. In that movie, Stewart is confined to a wheelchair after an injury, and spends hours watching his neighbors from his apartment’s rear window. He witnesses what he realizes is the murder of one of them, and the disposal of her remains by her guilty husband. If you have never seen this movie, find it today if you enjoy Hitchcock mysteries. Or just to watch Grace Kelly, who is nothing less than ethereal in this film.

But here in Colington, I have only observed the mundane things of water living; neighbors and their kids swimming off their docks, people enjoying the sunshine on their decks, a lot of waterfowl, lots of fishing, and early morning crabbers going out in their boats to check their traps. On Wednesdays I see sailboats circling in the harbor for the weekly community sail out to the sound. One time I watched an aggressive osprey fight with a large eel that kept slipping out of its talons. The osprey almost dropped it on my head as it victoriously flew over my deck back to its nest to feed the family. That surely would have caused me to list my house immediately, views or no views.

The fronts of our houses face the water, so when you travel along the streets of Colington, you are actually looking at the rather plain backs of houses. I remember taking my Mom on a boat ride on the canals and she exclaimed, “Oh, the houses are so pretty! I never realized I’ve been looking at the back of the houses all this time!” Indeed, the fancy decks and staircases, the covered porches, and the tiki bars that people have constructed all face the water. It’s like the houses have turned their backs on the street in order to face the prettier view themselves.

There is a saying that comes to mind: Never judge a book by its cover. This is just a reminder to us to look deeper and don’t make assumptions about books, houses, and especially people.

There was a time when a man named Samuel was sent to select the next king of Israel. When he looked at the fine young men standing before him, all of them Jesse’s sons, he naturally selected the biggest and most handsome one, but God said no. He continued down the line, and each time God rejected the obvious selection:

1 Samuel 16:7 New International Version (NIV)

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Finally, the smallest son was called from the field where he had been tending sheep. This one, the runt of the litter, was the one whom God chose. His name was David, and he became one of Israel’s greatest kings.

The Lord looks at the heart. People focus on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks inward.

What can we glean from this today? Is there someone in your life who needs and deserves a deeper look? Are you guilty of making snap judgements about people you meet, based solely on their appearance? Where is God calling you to take a second look, and this time to look at the heart?

I met an elderly lady once in the lobby of a very fine restaurant. We were surrounded by all sorts of people, nationalities, and ages. The younger ones were tattooed, as most younger ones are today. Within the first three minutes of meeting this woman, she expressed outrage at all the girls and their tattoos. I live on the Outer Banks and don’t even SEE tattoos on people anymore. It’s wearable art. Everybody has at least one. This lady was dressed to the nines, but would have been highly offended if someone had criticized her choice of scarves and fake pearls. She would have wanted people to see the real her. So do the tattooed girls.

Take a look around you. The down-and-out person might be just the one Christ is calling you to befriend. The uppity church lady wearing too much perfume might be shielding a life of loneliness and heartache. The frantic, hassled guy at the gas pump might have just been told his wife is dying of cancer. The rude teenager might be having suicidal thoughts.

Look deeper. Ignore the wrapper. Be like Jesus and look into the HEART. What is on the outside is just window dressing, but what is inside is a real human, deserving of your kindness and consideration. That tattooed girl just might be royalty under all that ink. After all, she is the daughter of the King.

This tattoo is on the arm of a girl with a heart of gold.

Deafening Busyness

“After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

This time I was certain that the house was going to blow down. Winds that were the force of hurricane gusts brought an impressive cold front to the Outer Banks, and the windows rattled, the screens tore, and the house swayed. This three-story house was swaying in the wind so hard that it woke me up from a dead sleep. Winds are not uncommon on our little island on the edge of the continent, but this was a doozy. There is something both unsettling and reassuring when we are confronted with the power and force of a true “act of God” of Old Testament proportions. We can do nothing but listen to its howl and wait for it to subside on its own accord.

In the book of 1 Kings, Elijah has fled for his life, with Jezebel on his heels. He runs to the safety of a cave and has a one-on-one with God, complaining that he is the only righteous man left in Israel, and now they are about to kill him. He is instructed by an angel of the Lord to climb the same mountain where Moses received the commandments, and wait.

God sends a great and strong wind to assault the mountain, but he himself is not in the wind. Then an earthquake follows, but he is not in the earthquake. Finally, a fire rages through, but still no God. When the ruckus is over, God chooses then to speak to Elijah in a still, small, thin, and quiet voice:

1 Kings 19 (NIV)

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

After the power display, God tells Elijah that it’s time to get back to work. Elijah receives his marching orders, is given a helper, and sent back into the trenches. His mission to bring Israel back to the Lord.

I often wonder if I am missing God in the loudness that surrounds me.

I wonder if we miss our own marching orders because we are so focused on the wind, the earthquake and the fire that we don’t stand still long enough to tune our ear to the whisper. So much to do! We are so overwhelmed with busyness! I’m WAAY too busy to sit quietly and listen! The winds of our jobs, the earthquakes of family responsibilities, and the fire of maintaining our day-to-day lives keep us from hearing the still, small voice that offers the solution.

Woe unto us if we continue living in the cacophony. God is patiently waiting us out. He will not shout over the noise we have surrounded ourselves with, but rather will wait until we are ready to tune our busy noise out so we can tune his quiet love in.

Take heed. As Advent approaches, it is going to get louder. Busy upon busy, we will frantically run around preparing to celebrate the….what? Oh, yes, the birth of the Savior, who was quietly laid in a humble manger with only the sounds of the soft-spoken cow and the peacefully snoring donkey providing background noise. Christ is the focus, so don’t get caught up in lights and tinsel and all the rest of the noise so much that you miss the moment.

God with us, Emmanuel. Be quiet! And listen.

Blustery Day by Michelle Robertson.

Be the Light

A dear friend is going through a pretty mean divorce, and the constant wrestling with her husband over the children’s schedules, whose turn it is to have them, and other parenting issues are really wearing her down. He is constantly pulling the rug out from under her, so that she never quite knows whether she is coming or going. His latest trick is to change arrangements by text minutes before an appointed time. She is worn out.

She has tried to be upbeat and positive through it all, and to accommodate him as much as possible. Their children love and need their dad, and she works hard to ensure that they have regular access to him. When he has asked for more time, or needed to switch to a different time, she has gladly given it. But after describing yet another very tense interaction with him, when he refused to take the kids as prearranged in order to get back at her for some imagined offense, she looked at her hands in her lap and said, “It is getting so hard to be a light in this darkness.”

We know we are called to be the light. Jesus came to be the light of the world, and we are called to reflect that light into the darkness of our surroundings:

Matthew 5 (New International Version)

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

In over 20 years of counseling, I have noticed a certain myopia that comes over people when a relationship breaks apart. The daily hurts and struggles, the shock of I do’s turning into I don’t, I can’t, and I won’t, and the sheer energy drain that it puts on people is exhausting. Folks in the midst of this often get lost in the daily battles, and can’t see the long view.

When something like this comes into your life, it is important to keep your eyes looking upward and outward. There you will find Jesus looking straight back at you. His word assures us that he will never leave us or forsake us, even to the ends of the earth. It is also important to not lose sight of who you are, which is so easy when you are being pushed and shoved at every turn. Regardless of what the other person is doing, remember WHO you are, and WHOSE you are. You are the Lord’s beloved. You will get through this, with God’s help.

My friend is a light. She is radiant, and glows with joy and the delight of the Lord. I know that she will get though this, and by remaining true to the God who created her, she will retain her sense of self even when darkness tries to invade.

Are you in the middle of a battle? Do you feel as though the darkness has taken away your shine? Are you losing yourself? Take heart. Stay focused on God’s commandments, his blessings, and his light. Sunrise breaks through the darkness for good people. Grace, mercy, and justice will come.

Psalm 112 The Message (MSG)

1-10 Hallelujah!

Blessed man, blessed woman, who fear God,

Who cherish and relish his commandments,

Their children robust on the earth,

And the homes of the upright—how blessed!

Their houses brim with wealth

And a generosity that never runs dry.

Sunrise breaks through the darkness for good people—

God’s grace and mercy and justice!

Sunrise at Avalon Pier by Michelle Robertson

To Fly

Have you ever dreamed that you can fly? Not fly in an airplane, but do you ever have that dream where you can actually fly through the air, in your best Superman pose? I have had flying dreams ever since I was a child. It is always on a moonlit night in the little town where I grew up. The weather is mild, and I start off by standing on the sidewalk. In my mind, I simply decide to fly! My heels lift up behind me and suddenly I can fly over the houses and trees. I fly over my elementary school, the library next door, and down to the post office with the creepy woods behind it. From the air, the woods never look as creepy as they did in real life. But the feeling! To fly through the air, unencumbered and free….gosh, I hope heaven has an element of flying to it.

Psychologists suggest many reasons for flying dreams. They are an expression of the need for freedom, escape, a spiritual awakening, joy, and elation.

If, by chance, you don’t happen to fly in your dreams, take heart. At the end, we all will fly, straight into Jesus’ arms.

1 Thessalonians 4

6 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

So dream along with me for a minute. The Lord himself will come down for us. He will call us to himself. We will hear the call of the archangel and the trumpet, and we will arise. We will arise! We will met the Lord in the air, flying with our Superman arms extended, free, joyful, elated, and at peace.

No more tears. No more anger. No more hate. No more pain, death, cancer, divorce, disease, terrorism, war, and even no more political debates and taxes. This world will all fall away and we will FLY.

So for now, do what it says: encourage one another. Lift up one another. Build one another up and spur each other on to good deeds, loving each other, serving the needy, and telling the good news of our impending departure to everyone who has not heard yet. Get ready to defy gravity! Together we will be caught up in the clouds, and fly away.

I’ll fly away, oh Glory!

I’ll fly away.

When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,

I’ll fly away!

Feather Sunrise by Michelle Robertson.

For Billy Baldwin, who just earned yet another set of wings. Fly away home, sir.

A Future With Hope

April 25, 2019

This morning I am waking up in an off-season beach rental, with a cup of caramel flavored coffee in my hand. The early morning sun is streaming onto my propped up feet and I can see that even with a good rinsing, I still have beach sand and tiny pebbles on my feet. As for my coffee, when it comes to mugs, size matters! I like a big mug. It has to be big enough, but not too big. But I dislike the jumbo ones, because the coffee goes cold too quickly. I am a mug snob.

The sun arose and lit up the room with its wake up call. There is no sleeping in at the beach. Even black out curtains won’t prevent its strong alarm, and so I get up to find a favorite chair by the window to write.

God is working something out in me. My journey through the recent Lenten season, when I woke up every morning to post a Lent devotional on my church’s Face Book page, has left me wanting more. I want the discipline of sitting down to write every morning. I want the first thoughts of the day to be focused on scripture. I want to feel the Holy Spirit moving through words, images, fingertips on keyboard, and gazing out my window and looking at the water’s edge where I live in the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Today I am literally on the water’s edge. The Atlantic Ocean is right outside my open sliding glass door. My daughter and I have “evacuated” to this beach house to escape the repairs to a broken sewer line that are being done on my home by the sound. I can hear the waves and the calls of the seagulls searching for their morning meal. There has always been something calming and inspirational for me whenever I stand on the beach and gaze out at the infinite edge of the ocean. I take deep breaths of salt air and immediately feel centered. God is so present to me by the sea, and has been ever since I was a little girl growing up on the beaches of New Jersey and Delaware.

Writing the daily Lent Devotionals was purely by accident and not by design. After preaching on Ash Wednesday, my music director paid me a high compliment by suggesting that I post the suggestions I had made in my sermon on the 7 Lenten Disciplines. So the next morning I got up, sat in my chair by the window overlooking the marina that leads out to the Albemarle Sound, and cut and pasted. Lo and behold, people asked for a daily reminder of Lenten practices, and thus a 40 day journey began. I was suddenly on task to write something every morning, and when Easter arrived, I realized that God was calling me to continue this discipline in another format.

And so here we are, at water’s edge, looking for hope. A lifetime of standing at water’s edge has led me to appreciate the moment of leaving everything behind and staring out onto a body of water full of possibility, meaning and purpose. I sorted out my relationships, my frustrations, my failures, and my calling while walking the East Coast beaches. Here is where contentment lies.

“At Water’s Edge” is a place you can come to find the peace you lack, the answers you need, and the comfort of searching the horizon and finding a friend. God meets us here to take our hand and lead us through our day. I hope this blesses you as much as it blesses me.

And while I had no plan that first day of writing to spend the next 40 days producing a daily devotional, it appears that it was God’s plan all along.

Our Old Testament friend Jeremiah stood at the edge of Jerusalem and watched it’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. The Israelites had fallen into idol worship and were far away from God. Jeremiah and his people were carried away into exile, leaving the place that they loved. Yet, even then, he wrote these words:

Jeremiah 29:11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+29&version=NRSV

God has a plan for you. Let’s find it together at water’s edge.

Photo credit: Michelle Robertson