Counting Stars

One of the unique aspects of the Outer Banks is the ability to see the stars at night. Our small population, the lack of high rise buildings and pollution, and our minimal use of street lights make this the perfect place to stargaze. I live on Colington Island, where there are no street lights on the side roads, so it is especially lovely to see the entire heavenly realm from our front porches.

A few weeks ago, I returned from our Ash Wednesday service well after dark and was struck once again by the beauty of the night sky. The pancake supper and service had been very lovely and uplifting. Many families finally returned to church after a pandemic absence. Dare Challenge, our local drug and alcohol recovery group, was in attendance. I watched them joyfully consuming seconds and thirds of supper before helping to clean up and put tables away. I made ash crosses on foreheads that I hadn’t seen in a very long time, and my heart welled up with joy. Yes, I was wearing a mask. No, I didn’t care.

It finally felt normal.

Lent is a season when we pursue righteousness. We hunker down and get serious about Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, self-examination, repentance … anything that can draw us closer to the heart of God. Lent is the perfect time to get right with God.

Surprisingly, into this moment comes Abram. Speaking for myself, I did not see that coming.

Abram was a man whom God found to be righteous, and so God promised him more heirs than stars in the Outer Banks sky:

Genesis 15 (New International Version)

 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

You have to love Abram’s skills here. He is a master negotiator. Somehow he politely but forcefully reminds God that since God has given Abram no children, there cannot be heirs. I wonder if Abram was a lawyer in his past. Well played, Abram!

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

The promise is made, the course of Abram’s life is dramatically changed, and Abram believed:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Belief is the cornerstone of righteousness. It is the foundation of all of our moral centering. When we believe in a loving God who provides, a saving Son who redeems, and a living Spirit who empowers us to to what is right, we are on the path toward righteousness.

Do you believe? Do you love God with all you heart, mind, soul, and strength?

As we continue on this Lenten journey together, may we encourage one another to remain on the path that leads to righteousness.

Moon Rise by Michelle Robertson

Melting Mountains

I am one of those mothers who raised her children to not use the word hate. I was hoping to avoid that moment in middle school when one of them would yell ”I hate you!” at me. We use ”I don’t care for,” ”I don’t like,” etc. but ”hate” was on the bad-word list.

I recently completed a writing assignment on Ecclesiastes 3 where I had to affirm that there is a time for everything, even hate. After doing some research and praying for illumination, I realized that there are many things we should hate. Injustice. Prejudice. Evil. Abuse. Violence. Everything that opposes God.

I read something this morning on Twitter that I absolutely hated, and I don’t mind saying that. The question was asked, ”Who are your favorite women pastors, preachers, theologians, teachers, authors, etc.” A male pastor responded that actually, he preferred these women “hanged or burnt.” He later added ”or drowned.”

I realize that Twitterverse is full of ignorance, where cowards hide behind a wall and hurl hateful words under a guise of anonymity. This guy is so full of himself that he used his real name and the denomination he represents. His church eventually took down his hateful rhetoric, but his tweet had been screenshot and shared. I hope he loses his job. Some responders tried to defend him by explaining that this denomination was ”traditional.” Really? If you think that burning, hanging, and drowning women fit in with your tradition, I can’t help you.

Today’s Psalm comes at a good time for my heart. It reminds me that God is the ruler of everything, and he sits on a throne of righteousness and justice. There will be the burning of people, but it won’t be the women preachers. It will be the enemies of God on every side … and surely people who use their positions and pulpits to spew hatred that is antithetical to the Gospel will feel its heat, in due time.

Psalm 97 ( Common English Bible)

The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let all the islands celebrate!
Clouds and thick darkness surround God.
    His throne is built on righteousness and justice.
Fire proceeds before him,
    burning up his enemies on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
    the earth sees it and trembles!

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of the whole world!

Famous commentator Charles Spurgeon reminds us that God is the great Way-Maker: “Men cannot move the hills, with difficulty do they climb them, with incredible toil do they pierce their way through their fastnesses, but it is not so with the Lord, his presence makes a clear pathway, obstacles disappear, a highway is made, and that not by his hand as though it cost him pains, but by his mere presence, for power goes forth from him with a word or a glance.” If you are facing an insurmountable mountain this morning, go to the One who can melt it like wax.

Heaven has proclaimed God’s righteousness,
    and all nations have seen his glory.
All those who worship images,
    those who are proud of idols,
    are put to shame.
    All gods bow down to the Lord!
Zion has heard and celebrates,
    the towns of Judah rejoice,
    because of your acts of justice, Lord,
    because you, Lord, are the Most High
        over all the earth,
    because you are so superior to all other gods.

It was interesting to read the responses to the pastor’s tweet. Many encouraged others to speak out against his evil. While addressing the violence he advocated in his ”joke,” many people took this as an opportunity to speak out against prejudice and to promote the true Christian ideal of love, inclusivity, and justice.

10 Those of you who love the Lord, hate evil!
    God guards the lives of his faithful ones,
    delivering them from the power of the wicked.

While I hope this man is sanctioned for his words, I know that God is using this conversation to bring forth a justice of its own kind. The fact that his church removed the tweet gives me hope. Somebody is paying attention. Somebody is sowing a seed of righteousness that proclaims that this is not acceptable. Somebody is shining a light on his misogyny, and God will be his judge.
11 Light is planted like seed for the righteous person;
    joy too for those whose heart is right.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, righteous ones!
    Give thanks to his holy name!

This is good for us to remember today. We can rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. We can rest in knowing that God is bringing justice and healing in his wings. No matter what injury you have suffered, no matter what injustice you have received, God will make it right in the end. Give thanks to his holy name!

Let the Earth Rejoice by Rev. Alice Rogers

Plumb Line

My house is located on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It is a little like the Mother Goose nursery rhyme about the Crooked Man:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

Decades of settling on a point of land that occasionally gets BOMBARDED by hurricane-force winds has made my house a little crooked. Doors don’t close properly and the floors slant enough to roll a marble from one side to the other.

I am quite sure that the original builder used levels, measuring tools, and plumb lines to ensure that the walls and floors were once straight. But the years have taken their toll, and we live in a little crooked house now.

A plumb line is an ancient carpentry tool that ensures a straight wall. A plumb line is made of a simple string with a weight on one end, usually with a pointed tip. When you hang the line downward, the weight pulls the string taut and creates a straight, vertical line. That provides the guide for hanging a wall straight.

In the seventh chapter of Amos, God uses a plumb line to warn Israel that disaster is about to ensue because they could not keep their lives in a straight line:

Amos 7 (Common English Bible)

This is what the Lord showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall, with a plumb line in his hand. The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

“A plumb line,” I said.

Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
    in the middle of my people Israel.
        I will never again forgive them.

The shrines of Isaac will be made desolate,
            and the holy places of Israel will be laid waste,
            and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Israel’s apostasy finally caught up with them. The people had originally hung pretty straight along the standard of God’s law and God’s covenant, but over time they began to wander away and build false idols in the holy places. Instead of following God, they elected to follow corrupt kings like Jeroboam, who did not worship God.

Where do you think God is setting a plumb line for the world today? Do we still measure up to the standards of God’s law and God’s covenant, or have we tilted too far and become crooked? Where in your personal life have you slanted away from your relationship with God? Have you reached out for ungodly things? Are you slipping away?

A plumb line is not only a measure of uprightness, but it can also be a lifeline that you grasp when you feel yourself slipping way. Have you lost your footing? Take ahold of God’s righteousness and straighten up! Disaster will be avoided if you get right with the Lord today.

Jesus is our plumb line, and he can help you correct your ways. Thank God for the cross, which brings us all into the safety of clean lines and clear hearts.

Sunrise Lines by Michelle Robertson

When Justice Fails

What do you do when the unjust appear to be winning? Have you ever been involved in a legal struggle where the guilty party prevailed? How did your divorce go? Many of us can share a story about a time when justice was not served.

Recently in the news we read that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the verdict of the Bill Cosby trial due to a technicality from an earlier proceeding in 2005. We also have been reading about pop singer Brittany Spear’s attempt to free herself from an oppressive conservatorship. Regardless of our conclusions on these particular matters, it is a fact that justice does not always serve the innocent. When that happens, what can we do?

The Bible makes it clear that there are different standards of righteousness. The world’s standard falls far short of God’s standard. There will be times here on earth when the guilty ones literally get away with murder. There will be times when the innocent are harmed in a judicial proceeding. But take heart, for the One who comes to rule the nations will deal with all those who live on the earth. Righteousness will prevail according to HIS standard:

Psalm 24 (New Revised Standard Version)

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
    and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
    and vindication from the God of their salvation.

When the world is unjust, our vindication comes from the Lord. Our job is to ensure that we can climb God’s holy hill because we are the ones who have not lifted our souls to falsehoods nor sworn deceitfully. Only the ones with clean hands and pure hearts will stand in God’s holy place.

Such is the company of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

God promises peace to those who seek him. He invites us to turn to him in our hearts. When we do this, salvation is offered. His glory will dwell in our land.

When God’s righteousness prevails, all are judged accordingly. His courtroom is one where steadfast love and faithfulness preside. The truth is that we are all guilty of something, but in God’s courtroom, righteousness and peace join forces and pardon is given to everyone who confesses and repents. Behold, the King of glory comes!

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
    he is the King of glory.Selah

God will always offer what is good to those who seek him with all their hearts. He clears the path of righteousness for us to follow. This is not the case in the secular world, where the rich people win and those with power oppress those who have none.

So if you have been dealt with unfairly in your life, take heart. The Lord’s salvation is at hand! Listen as he speaks to the faithful, and do not be dismayed. What happens here is just temporary, but God’s righteousness lasts forever.

Rainbow Cloud by Susie Fitch-Slater