Bless People Who Harass You

Yes, this phase is actually in the Bible. “Bless people who harass you” is straight out of Romans, chapter 12. Darn you, Paul! Here I was, thinking I am righteous in my indignation over people who harass me. I like to envision myself as a modern-day Jesus, overturning the money lenders’ tables at the Temple when I get royally aggravated at someone. Jesus got angry, why can’t I??

Well, to begin with, I am not the Messiah, and neither are you. An affront to the incarnate God on the steps of the Holy of Holies constituted something that was actually sacrilegious. My offenders are annoying, but they are not committing heresies against the divine. In short, there are many situations where we just need to get over ourselves.

A reader whom I offended confronted me about my “tone.” And as confrontations usually go, I was then offended by HIS “tone.” But we are two people who love each other and listen closely to the leading of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of difficult conversations. We were able to hear each other out and, by the grace of God, we’ve held on to what is good in our relationship. I think Paul would have been pleased with our exchange.

Romans 12 (Common English Bible)

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 

14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 

Where is God calling you to bless someone you would rather curse? Do you have a list? Most of us do. But Paul challenges us to love without pretending, and show honor to each other. This can only be done when you talk and listen to those whom you’d rather curse.

And don’t miss the part about devoting yourselves to prayer! Contending with harassers and enemies has got to come after time has been spent in prayer. It may take years.

Early in my ministry I was attacked by a matriarch of the church. She had no appreciation for what I brought to the table. She complained about my children’s sermons, said that my recruitment efforts to set up team-teaching in Sunday School had failed because nobody liked me, etc. She took those concerns to our Staff Parish committee (basically a Human Resources committee) and they called me in to talk about it. I was DEVASTATED. The committee discussed it further after I went back to my office, where I began to collect boxes to pack my things. About an hour later my assigned committee-advocate found me. He told me that the committee felt the matter was over that night and no action would be taken. But the deep pain I felt left a mark.

My advocate was much older and wiser than I, and advised me to follow the scripture that commands us to “pray for our enemies.” I took his advice. Lo and behold, many years later this woman came to me on a big church workday and called me down from a ladder to tearfully apologize for what she had said. She was sorry for the trouble she had caused all those years earlier. She had been working things out in her personal life at the time, and some of it spilled over and splashed on me. We reconciled in that moment and have maintained a friendly relationship ever since. Later on, when her child came into a time of trouble, she sought out my counsel, further solidifying our relationship. I easily love this woman without pretending.

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.

That last line is so accurate. When we feel offended by someone, we might just be missing an important lesson about our OWN behavior that needs some attention. Paul reminds us that God can do so much more with a humble and contrite spirit than a self-righteous one.

Where is God calling you to change?

Be Happy by Michelle Robertson

The DIY Myth

I have a love affair with any home improvement show that teaches how to “do it yourself.” The abundance of DIY programs on television tells me that I am not alone. If I believed that I actually COULD do these things by myself, I would have a fabulous grotto-lined swimming pool in my backyard, a master bedroom closet fit for a Real Housewife, and shiplap covering the walls of my living room. I don’t even know what shiplap is, but Joanna seems to like it.

Alas, the reality of my ability to DIY is far less than what the massive HGTV construction crews can do. I did, however, spray paint a small baker’s rack in the wind recently, so there is that.

My thinking is grounded in FROG theology: Fully Rely On God. While I know that I have been given certain abilities to do certain things, my entire existence on this planet is due to God’s providence. The few abilities I have come from God. A reader was once offended when I made a similar statement a few years ago, thinking that I was taking something away from her. She had grown up to be very self-reliant and did not want to give God the credit for what she had achieved through her hard work and struggles. I maintain that God is the one who makes us able. We are nothing without him on earth, and achieving a place in heaven is certainly not something we can DIY. Remember, grace is the unmerited favor of God…you can’t earn your way in.

In the Message version of Romans 8, Paul encourages us to move away from the thinking that we have achieved something with our do-it-yourself lives and move instead to an understanding of the resurrection life that we have received from God:

Romans 8 (The Message)

12-14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

I hope this fills you with excitement today! To be granted the opportunity to say to God, “What’s next?” is a true assessment of what we gain when we lose our lives to Christ. God’s spirit beckons us to new opportunities and adventures. We are invited to be adventurously expectant about our future. Indeed, God offers us a future with HOPE.

God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

So whatever you are going through right now, remember this; we are invited to fully rely on God and look ahead to the good times of a resurrected life with him. The only DIY part of this is for you to respond YES. God’s Spirit beckons you to a new life in him. What’s next, Papa?

DIY Dinner by Michelle Robertson

What Are You Waiting For?

My church has been blessed with four baptisms lately, and a fifth one is on the way. Do you know what pastors call new babies in the congregation? JOB SECURITY. It brings us such joy to welcome these precious children into our family! We wait with the mothers as their bellies grow each week, and we celebrate their good news with each arrival.

Having been in that place twice myself, I know that pregnancy-waiting is a unique experience. It is filled with hope, anticipation, fear, pain, dread, and eventually release.

What are you waiting for right now? The final, official end of the pandemic? Getting out of a bad marriage? Finding a new job? The completion of an overwhelming project, college courses, or graduation? Are you waiting to move on with your life?

God is with us in the waiting.

Romans 8 (Common English Bible)

22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

In this passage, Paul is writing to the church in Rome about their hope that Christ’s return is imminent. Paul reassures them that their waiting through the persecution and rejection they are experiencing will end in full deliverance. Even in the hardest moments, he encourages them to see their waiting as “joyful expectancy.” The Spirit of God is present within them.

Is God encouraging you to see your waiting as joyful expectancy? Do you believe that he is with you?

26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

This is such a powerful reminder! When we are wordless in those moments of despair to the point that we don’t even know what to pray, the Holy Spirit prays through our sighs and moans. What a relief! Sometimes the best we can do is fall on our knees in a mute stupor and look to heaven for help…and that is enough.

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Be assured today that you are not alone in your waiting. God is very involved in your situation. He is present. Know that God is working things out for your good even when you can’t see his activity. He knows what you need even better than you do. So wait on him, and he will deliver you.

Our mothers were right. Good things come to those who wait.

Waiting for a Bite by Michelle Robertson

Simeon the Anticipator

This was originally published on Sept. 2, 2019. Clearly I was annoyed that Christmas resources were being hyped before Labor Day. But the scripture is absolutely perfect for this first week after Christmas 2020, as we meet Simeon the Anticipator. What are you anticipating today? Enjoy!

This headline fairly jumped off the page in an advertisement from my denomination’s publisher:

“DO YOU FEEL THE ANTICIPATION BEGINNING??”

It came unwanted and unbidden on a sunny day in August. You can probably already guess what they were selling: Christmas resources. In August.

Yes, it is time to order Advent materials. No, I don’t feel the anticipation beginning.

You see, I live on the Outer Banks. In August, all I anticipate is SEPTEMBER. September is a magical month where the weather is gorgeous, the beaches are less crowded, the air is cooler, the restaurants are still in full swing, and you can actually navigate the by-pass without getting stopped at all NINE stoplights between Colington and Kitty Hawk, which is only a four-mile trek. (Seriously, the by-pass traffic is a THING. I once wrote a song called “The By-Pass Blues,” and made my entire congregation sing it.)

Ahhh, traffic-free September! Now that’s something to anticipate!

When it comes to feeling the anticipation building, we have to talk about Simeon. Simeon was one of the best anticipators in the Bible.

Luke 2 (NIV)

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Wow, so much to unpack here, but let’s stay focused on Simeon the Anticipator. He was waiting for the Lord’s Messiah, and was empowered in his waiting by the Holy Spirit. He had been assured by God that the Messiah would actually come in his lifetime and he believed that so much, he went to the temple every day. He was there that day, led by the Holy Spirit, anticipating that he would see Jesus.

Let that soak in.

What are you anticipating today? Are you waiting with full assurance that you will encounter Jesus? Are you making your way toward his saving grace with confidence that you will be delivered?

Anticipation tells us that whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever sin we have committed, whatever burden of grief we bear, no matter WHAT, Jesus is ready. He is ready to heal, to direct, to rebuke, to fight for you….Jesus is ready.

Simeon teaches us to anticipate with hope. We are invited to stand firm on the promises of God in our lives and EXPECT to be delivered. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Jesus:

Romans 8 (NLT)

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” God always delivers on his promises.

Simeon saw Jesus, and we can too. Do you feel the anticipation beginning?

Morning’s Anticipation by Michelle Robertson

For the Good

A very long time ago, I worked for a wonderful church that went through a major building project. We purchased 63 acres of land three miles from our building and built a second campus with a thousand-seat worship center. Just months before we took occupancy of the building, the congregation was invited to write their favorite scripture on the concrete floor before the carpet was laid. Folks were encouraged to figure out where they would probably sit in the new sanctuary (based on where they sat every Sunday in the current one) and write their scripture in that spot. See! We understand how important “your pew” is to you!

The other pastors and I chose a place in the front where we anticipated sitting. I took the big Sharpie pen and wrote, “For God can use ALL things for the good of those who love him, and who are called to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I left that church 11 years ago, and those words are still there on the floor. I have experienced the truth of that scripture all of my life. No matter what comes our way….death, cancer, job loss, estrangement, pandemics….God can use those things for our GOOD.

If we let him.

And that’s the point.

Let’s back up a moment and look at that verse in its context:

Romans 8 (Contemporary English Version)

26 In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. 27 All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people.

The power of these two verses is profound.

When we are weak, the Spirit is here to help.

When we don’t know how to pray, all we have to do is groan.

God knows our thoughts at all times.

He understands what the Holy Spirit is doing…and what the Holy Spirit is doing is praying the prayer you can’t form the words to say.

Feel better yet?

 28 We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.

Here is the trick. God is always at work for our good, but we have to yield to his understanding of what is good. We have to train ourselves to have the faith and humility to lay down our concept of “good” in exchange for his.

When I left that church, I was convinced it wasn’t a good thing. I was wrong. When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I knew no good would come of it. Good things did come. When this horrific pandemic hit, I gave up all hope that there would be anything good in life again. Yet all around me I see evidence to the contrary. I see people reaching out to help others in ways they NEVER would have done in their pre-pandemic busyness. I see families slowing down and spending quality time with each other. I see ingenuity, creativity, compassion, and scientific understanding growing exponentially. People are reading more scripture and experiencing the presence of God in new and surprising ways. And as a nation, we are confronting and discussing centuries-old issues that we have suppressed for way too long. Do we see a lot of bad right now? Absolutely. But yielding to God’s understanding of “good” requires that we see beyond the bad.

Need more convincing? How about this:

Because we are driving less, places like Washington DC, Los Angeles, and cities in China are reporting the cleanest air they have seen in decades.

Less large ship traffic in the waters is providing relief during the annual migration of sound-sensitive animals such as humpback whales.

Walmart just announced they will be closed this Thanksgiving. Folks, that is not only good, it’s a miracle!

So is the pandemic good? Oh, heck no. But can God use bad things for our good in some way? Yes. Even in this horrific time, God is still and always will be working for our good.

Where can you claim the good today? What one thing has gotten better since this started? What aspect of your life would you not go back to when the pandemic is lifted?

Think on those things, and ponder them in your heart today.

Quiet at the Docks by Michelle Robertson

Life on God’s Terms

Toddlers are such unique creatures! Somewhere around age two to four, children move from being dependent babies to becoming individuals who are separate from their parents. This transition comes with independent thinking, resulting in children wanting to do things their way. Toddlerhood is all about trying to do life on their own terms…and it’s exhausting.

Our twin toddlers are in this stage right now, and the challenge is REAL. On any given day they refuse naps, are very particular about their clothing choices, insist on carrying their alligators all day, and will or won’t cooperate depending on their moods. Each day brings a new expression of stubborn independence.

I wonder if God ever looks at us doing the same thing and thinks to himself, “What a group of toddlers I created!” Thank God HE never gets exhausted.

Part of the challenge to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic is that some people refuse to give up freedoms they feel entitled to as part of living life on their own terms. This week a friend described watching a large group of teenagers doing “chicken fights” on the beach. It’s hard to practice social distancing on each other’s backs.

Doing life on God’s terms is always the better way. It involves asking God to move in and set up permanent residence. It requires us to give over our terms to receive the life he has promised:

Romans 8 (The Message)

9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.

Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?

When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

I love how this passage points out that if God has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. This is an important reminder to us in this moment. The call to obedience we experience as followers of God should have prepared us for this season of doing hard things for the greater good.

God is calling us to think more of each other than we think of ourselves. That means following all the social distancing guidelines and demanding that our kids do so as well.

These are hard days. This season will be long, and requires a lot of sacrifice. But we know that when we live life on God’s terms, we will not only experience God living and breathing in us, but we will be delivered from that dead life of living only for ourselves. God’s spirit dwelling in us guarantees it, and blesses it.

Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh! Photo by Lisa Cobb Lawrence

Relentless

The word relentless conjures up so many images. The helpful salesman at the car dealership. Athletes preparing for the Olympics. Perfume-sample people at the mall. Wrestlers. A two-year-old. The pace of the music in Hamilton.

To be relentless is to show no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace: to be unrelenting. Relentless people have a stick-to-itiveness that others lack: they get the job done. I often think that had I been relentless in my piano practicing, I might actually play the piano today. I do not. Somewhere along the way, other things crowded in and I lost my momentum. Has that ever happened to you?

One thing that is completely relentless is God’s love for you.

Romans 8 (The Message)

31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.

It doesn’t matter who you are.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gone backwards.

It doesn’t matter how deep your sin is, how high your disobedience gets, how wide your lies are, or how narrow your hope is.

It doesn’t matter.

God’s love for you and his RELENTLESS forgiveness will follow you to the depths of hell and bring you back. Nothing can get between you and God’s relentless love because of the way that Jesus has embraced you.

So the next time you fall flat on your face and can’t get up, remember that God put his life on the line for you, and NOTHING…not trouble, not hatred, not hard times, or hunger….NOTHING can separate you from the great love of God through Jesus Christ, our relentless savior.

Winter Shrimpers by Michelle Robertson