Great Assembly

OK, here’s the truth. I am tired of everybody’s online worship. I am tired of watching myself on TV on Sunday mornings in my jammies, with a cup of coffee in my hand. We are all tired of trying to think of new and creative ways to tell the story of Jesus while making eye contact with the cold, hard lens of a camera.

I guess I’m just tired of the isolation of attending church in my living room. I bet you are, too. I need my people.

I believe we were created for corporate worship. I believe heaven rejoices when God’s people gather in a place and raise their combined voices as one melody of adoration. I believe kids should be noisy and fidgety, older people should snooze, and young people should text each other during church…like we normally do every Sunday!

(Look, I’m like Santa sitting up there in the front….I see you when you’re sleeping, I know when you’re awake…)

I also believe we should listen with open hearts and minds, and in my church, that is what we do every Sunday together. I miss my congregation’s attentiveness to the Word as it is spoken, proclaimed, sung, and experienced. You see, I also see people leaning in when the Word is offered.

So today’s Psalm sent a ping straight to my heart with the very first verse:

Psalm 22 (New King James Version)

My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!

But then we get to a verse that reminds us that we worship as all the families of the nations. In that context, we couldn’t possibly be together in one place, and thus we are reminded that God’s kingdom is so much larger than the sanctuary that we are all missing:

27 All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s,
And He rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

So what do you suppose our children are learning from this? Parents, what you are doing right now is teaching your children, who are the “posterity and the next generation,” about what YOU really feel about worship. Are you finding it less and less convenient to set Sunday morning aside for family worship? Is the beach, a sunny walk, picking strawberries, a bike ride to the woods, etc. more enticing to you as this pandemic wears on? Be careful with your priorities. The children are watching.

30 A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.

If you are a regular church goer, please hang in there. Your pastor did not receive training as a televangelist in seminary. We are doing the best we can. God still requires that we keep the Sabbath holy, even in a pandemic.

The good news is, the great assembly will return! So in the meantime, let us continue to set Sunday mornings aside for “corporate” worship. God is still here, and he is worthy of our praise.

New Normal

Pitching Tents in the Land of HOPE

Every day that goes by during this pandemic brings a new set of numbers, reports, opinions, plans, sorrows, and sometimes even words of hope. Trying to keep up with all of it is overwhelming. Taking a news-fast helps, but every driveway conversation with our neighbors as we walk the dog brings new information and more speculation into our thoughts.

The lectionary passage for the second week of Eastertide absolutely nails it. Again, the ability for the lectionary to speak directly into our situation continues to blow me away. I was accused of cherry-picking my texts (which I don’t do, if you understand how the lectionary works.) But if I was a cherry-picker, honey, I’d have picked this bright red cherry for us today:

Acts 2 (The Message)

22-28 “Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him.

What jumps out immediately is that Jesus was following the DELIBERATE and WELL-THOUGHT-OUT plan of God. That took me back to an earlier lectionary passage where we discovered Paul’s words of encouragement to persevere as we run this race, which is “already marked out” for us. We take that to mean that this pandemic has a beginning, a course of moving forward, and a finish line. There is hope in that! Every day we are one day closer to the end, thanks be to God.

Today we are reminded that God’s plan for dealing with this is deliberate and well-thought-out. Jesus followed it. So should we.

Did you know that God’s plan includes the death of death? He untied the death ropes from Jesus, and death was no match for him!

David said it all:

I saw God before me for all time.
    Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.
I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;
    I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.
I know you’ll never dump me in Hades;
    I’ll never even smell the stench of death.
You’ve got my feet on the life-path,
    with your face shining sun-joy all around.

I would love for us to make David’s words our prayer. Pray this today if you need a little boost:

Gracious and Loving God,

Today I have decided that nothing can shake me. YOU are right by my side.

Knowing this brings me gladness from the inside-out!

And so today, I will choose to pitch my tent in the land of HOPE.

I know that I will not be abandoned to the hell of death, because You have my feet walking the path of light.

Father, I raise my joy-bright face toward heaven and loudly proclaim:

NOT TODAY, SATAN. Amen.

Thank you for pitching your tent next to mine. Together, we will get through this.

Sunrise in the Land of Hope by Michelle Robertson

ONE thing

Many of you know that I have a dog named Georgia. She is a big yellow lab, and by big, I mean 110 pounds big. Georgia loves many things….long walks, swimming, any kind of food, and anything that smells. She can be a real challenge to walk.

Often when I am walking her, my arm suddenly gets yanked out of the socket because she has found something good to smell. I keep explaining to her that we came out for a walk, not a sniff! I spend the whole walk telling her to lift her head up…more than once she has walked smack into a mailbox post that she never saw coming. She has amazing focus….just on the wrong thing!

Philippians 3 (New International Version)

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

But ONE thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

This scripture is a beautiful portrait of Paul, the Jesus-follower. The fact that Paul had such a passion for following Jesus is amazing, considering where he started. Remember that before he became Paul the apostle, he was Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Jesus-followers. Paul’s credentials were impressive: he was circumcised eight days after his birth, was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, was a Hebrew among Hebrews, a Pharisee, and a zealous advocate of the Jewish faith until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. 

From that point on, he was a zealous advocate of only one thing: Jesus. Look again at vs. 13 and 14: “But ONE thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Did you notice Paul’s focus? “But ONE thing I do…” Not ten things, not a hundred things, but ONE thing. 

I would bet that if we were to hire a consultant to look at our lives and advise us on how we can be more successful, the first thing that consultant would say is, “You’re trying to do too many things.” Henry Ford once said, “A weakness of all human beings is trying to do too many things at once. That scatters effort and destroys direction. It makes for haste, and haste makes waste.” The key to a successful life is to have one goal, and to pursue that with all your heart, might, and focus.

What ONE thing is Christ calling you to focus on right now? Is it healing your marriage, forgiving someone who has hurt you, releasing a grudge and moving on, starting a deeper, intentional commitment to your discipleship…where should your focus be?

Paul invites us to join him in his ONE thing. Forget the old baggage of what lies behind. Strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward your goal. Pursue the upward call of God….and find Jesus.

Focused Fishermen by Michelle Robertson

At the Center

I spotted this picture on a friend’s Facebook page and immediately asked if I could use it. I have never seen a “hanging nativity” scene before. Isn’t it clever? You have to hang them in a certain location in order to tell the story. Jesus has to go in the center, and everyone else, including the lamb, has a particular place to be.

At the heart of it, nativity sets are all about telling the story, which is why every house, especially homes with children, should have one. And, if I may be so bold, they should be made of something unbreakable so that the children can play with them, acting out and retelling the story themselves.

I have to confess that I am a bit of a nativity snob. A very long time ago a friend and I were traveling through Israel together and she mentioned to me, “I hate those nativity sets where Jesus is all alone in the manger, reaching up with his arms outstretched. It’s like he is saying, ‘Somebody pick me up!’ I know that is meant to be a kind of ‘glory’ moment, but he just looks cold and lonely to me.”

BAM. From that point on, I never wanted a nativity set unless Mary was holding Jesus. If I ever found a set with Joseph holding Jesus I would probably lose my mind.

The order of the characters in a nativity set helps to reinforce the lesson of Christmas. Shepherds take their place off to the side as invited guests. The angels float high above in all their reflected glory. The wise men, late arrivals to the scene by about two years, usually place themselves on the opposite side of the shepherds. (Kings and servants know their place.) Cows and lambs, displaced by all these humans intruding into their home, are scattered about according to height. Mary and Joseph flank the manger, looking downward adoringly at their son.

And in the center of it all is Jesus.

If Jesus isn’t at the center of Christmas, we are totally missing the point. All the rest of the nativity set is just window dressing.

When people are hungry, they fill their stomachs with food. Often with unhealthy food. When they are thirsty, they fill themselves with drink. Often with unhealthy drink. When they are sad, lonely, angry, depressed, disenfranchised, pushed aside, etc., they fill themselves with anything that makes them feel full. Often with unhealthy fillers. Christmas can be used in such a way…we fill our homes with tinsel and gaudy things, fill our time with overspending, fill our bellies with overeating and over-drinking, and use the season to try to complete a void in our lives. Then we wake up in January and realize that the void has become even bigger.

That can happen if we forget to keep Jesus in the center of it all.

I have a young friend who took her family to the mountains this year in lieu of a big gaudy Christmas. She was inspired to make memories instead of making a hole in her bank account from purchasing things her children would quickly outgrow. The trip was a revelation to her. Time spent together in the beauty of God’s creation was the greatest gift of all, and when her sons are old men, they will always remember this Christmas. That what happens when you put Jesus in the middle.

What changes can you make to your approach to Christmas that would put Jesus back in the center of your life? Where is God calling you to place yourself in the nativity set at the foot of the manger…and stay there all year? Going to church on Christmas Eve is a wonderful practice, but how about making a commitment to go every Sunday?

Let this Christmas be a beginning of your coming home to the nativity. With Jesus in the center, you won’t need any of the other trappings.

1 John 2 (The Message)

15-17 Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

A Precious Nativity by Patti Kohl Koehler

Blue Christmas

When I was a child, my family’s Christmas lights were red, yellow, green, white, and orange. I don’t recall when blue lights came into vogue, but I remember being stunned the first time I saw a tree vibrant with blue LED lights dominating the color scheme. Blue is now my favorite Christmas light color. After all, blue is the liturgical color for the season of Advent.

Then I experienced my first “blue Christmas,” a phrase now used to define a sad, lonely, and sorrowful Christmas. Not everybody has a holly, jolly Christmas. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, a family member not being able to come home, having to work over the holidays, and just plain disappointment can all lead to feeling blue during the most wonderful time of the year. My blue Christmas was due to three things. I had moved away from my church of 16 years, and I was on leave with no Christmas Eve services to look forward to. My oldest daughter had just gotten married and was spending Christmas in another state with her in-laws. Worst of all, my father passed away suddenly two days after Thanksgiving.

I wasn’t just blue, I was black and blue.

Have you ever felt like a holiday could smack you right down? Holidays can be sneaky little buggers. They can come up behind you without any warning in the mall or at a party and poke you so hard from behind that it knocks the wind right out of you. A flash of memory, a familiar song, a taste of nostalgia, and suddenly, unbidden, you are feeling the pain of your loss with such intensity that you can’t move or breathe. The unhappy irony of that is that Christmas is the celebration of the Prince of Peace, the Comforter:

Isaiah 40

1 Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

5  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Even in the bluest of Christmases, God comes into our valley of sorrow to lift us up and level us out. Grief is a natural expression of a life that was well loved. It is the heart’s way of dealing with the unthinkable void that death creates. God longs to bring comfort to his people who mourn. He longs to comfort you in your blueness. And here is the good news: he will stay by your side until you begin to feel just the smallest and slightest bit better. And eventually you will.

He won’t leave you or grow tired of comforting you, for he is the everlasting God.

28  Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

Are you having a blue Christmas this year? You are not alone. If you look around, you will probably find others in the same color scheme as you. So don’t feel ignored or left out of all of the “have yourself a merry little Christmas” celebrations…others are faking it, too.

I hugged a friend last week who just lost her mother. I know she is dreading this Christmas. I have experienced that same dread and the feeling of disconnect with the joy-to-the-world spirit that others were feeling. I even felt resentful and could not wait for Christmas to be over. As I held her, I heard myself saying, “Every time you miss your mom this season, try to get up and do something for someone else. Think of someone who needs a prayer, or a card, or a casserole, and focus on that.”

I don’t know if that will help. I do know that when we push our way out of our circumstance, we survive for another day and live to tell about it. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. Blue Christmases are a game of survival. And when grief finally loosens its stranglehold on us, we can begin to feel joy again.

So look around. Others are blue, too. Somebody you know is having a bleak mid-winter this year. Find someone who needs their pain to be acknowledged, and let them know that you see them. When you do that, blueness begins to fade….theirs, and yours.

Blue LED lights

Here is a resource that might help, or be the perfect gift for somebody blue on your list: Mourning Break-Words of Hope for Those in Grief

December Birthdays

Raise your hand if you are among the unfortunate ones who have a December birthday. Those of you born in the other eleven months don’t have a clue. Who else gets “combination birthday/Christmas presents?” Nope, that is reserved for us December babies. I can give you a list of such combo-presents: every bike I ever received, a fancy cowgirl outfit (with boots), a black and white TV for my teenage bedroom….yes, my parents would do the combo thing when they were debating a somewhat expensive present that they were struggling to afford. Bless them!!

On the other hand, I do share a birthday with Walt Disney. I found that out when I was in High School, and have always loved it. It makes me happy to share a birthday with a man of his creative genius and genuine expertise in story telling. Happy birthday to us, Walt!

The most important birthday in December of course is Jesus’ birthday. I had a childhood practice of either staying up past midnight on Christmas Eve or waking up early on Christmas morning to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before the day began. I would look out the window from my bed at 5 Chatham Rd. and see the street light shining in the dark, and sing to baby Jesus. More often than not, I could see the snow falling on Christmas morning in that light, and snow on Christmas was EVERYTHING. This is possibly the only benefit of growing up in New Jersey.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we had kept it as just a birthday party for Jesus, instead of the giftpalooza-partypalooza-spendtoomuchpalooza-shoptillyoudroppalooza that it has become. Imagine it: we would wake up, talk about how wonderful Jesus is, plan a nice meal, bake a birthday cake, have the celebration, blow out the candles, and call it a day. And it would truly be just about him.

How can we make Christmas just about Jesus again?

First, we can care about the things that he cares about. The widow, the orphan, the children crying for their parents at our country’s border…he cares about that. Giving to the needy and sharing our abundance is something he cares about. He cares about the people who are ill, in hospital beds, or nursing homes. He cares about things that are lost: souls, marriages, teenagers, car keys, runaway pets, and your will to resist temptation. He cares about the planet his father created. He cares about YOU.

Micah 6:8 Amplified Bible (AMP)

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

Except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness (compassion),

And to walk humbly with your God, setting aside any overblown sense of

importance or self-righteousness?

This Christmas, let us focus on getting Jesus the perfect birthday present. Let us dive deep into his word and grow closer in our relationship with him. Let us stand up for justice, diligently practice kindness, love one another, offer compassion, and be humble before him. Or, as Christina Rossetti once wrote:

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd

I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man

I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him,

Give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Mountain Snow by Mary Anne Mong Cramer.

The Google

Do you remember a time when you couldn’t pick up your phone to access a global source of information in a matter of seconds? We are so accustomed to having a map, dictionary, encyclopedia, calculator, instant news, weather, etc. at our finger tips, it’s no wonder we freak out when we lose our smart phones or worse, drop them in the toilet. Yes, I’ve done that. Twice.

I haven’t the foggiest notion of how “the Google” works, but I do know that you have to frame your search inquiry correctly to get the results you want. As search engines evolve and algorithms track your previous searches, it gets easier to find things out. For example, I do so many searches for scriptures that scripture references now pop up whenever I type in a few words. Alexa listens to our conversations and then an ad for that very thing magically pops up on our FaceBook feed. We are living in a time when artificial intelligence not only responds to our inquires, but actually directs our behavior. Big Brother is not just watching us, he has moved into the guest room and has commandeered the best fluffy comforter and the biggest bathroom in the house.

But none of this happens until you initiate a request for a response. You start the process by seeking something: a product, an answer, a direction…you seek, and Google finds.

I wonder if the Wisemen would have found Jesus faster if they had Google Maps and a Star Finder app.

Occasionally during the holidays you will find something that says, “Wise people still seek him.” I love that. Whenever we stretch out an arm to shade our eyes and cast our vision outward, we can easily find God. He is never far away from our presence, and longs to be found.

He can be found in the eyes of a homeless man looking for help. He can be heard in the cries of a child separated from her family at our nation’s border. He can be felt in the palm of a dying grandmother, longing for one last hand-holding with her grandson. He can be seen in the Sunday morning choir as they stand to bring their harmony into worship. God can be found in God’s people everywhere: all we have to do is look.

In seminary, a professor taught us that the Bible is God’s love letter to his people. In scripture we find not just the answers to the complexity of the world and beyond, but the Answer to everything in Christ Jesus. The Old Testament is the search. The New Testament brings the answer.

Hebrews 11 The Message (MSG)

11 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

3 By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

6 And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.

Anyone who wants to approach God must believe that he cares enough to respond to those who SEEK him. Ask, knock, and seek, and you will find.

Psalm 105 English Standard Version (ESV)

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;

    make known his deeds among the peoples!

2  Sing to him, sing praises to him;

    tell of all his wondrous works!

3  Glory in his holy name;

    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

4 Seek the Lord and his strength;

    seek his presence continually!

Got questions? Need answers? Feeling empty, and long to be made full? Seek God today. He will be found.

Layers of Light by Michelle Robertson.

A Joyful Noise

I am just going to put it out there. Kids belong in church. I don’t care if you disagree. I once talked back to an usher for telling a hassled single Mom that she should take her fussy child out of the sanctuary. I pulled him aside and corrected him in my best minister-voice. We do not ever tell a tired mother to remove her exuberant kids from the sanctuary. Not for any reason. Not on any occasion. NOT. IN. MY. CHURCH.

His reasoning was that the child was disruptive. So was Jesus.

He was afraid that the noise would prevent others from following the service. That’s why we give out a bulletin.

He didn’t want visitors to not want to come back. They are welcome to find a church where kids aren’t welcome. This is not that place.

He was concerned I would be distracted in my preaching. Buddy, don’t try to hide your gate-keeping bias under some fake concern for me. I love that sound and I can preach in harmony with it any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Like, for real, twice on Sunday.

Babies, toddlers, and old people singing loudly (off key, and several beats behind) are the Lord’s joyful noise. Even the angels rejoice at this noise! I don’t know a preacher who isn’t used to it and can’t ignore it when it happens. The fact that it happens tells us one thing: we have a baby in church! There is a child here! Some parent went to a tremendous amount of effort this morning to get here to worship.

Please tell me how that is a bad thing.

Matthew 19 (New International Version)

The Little Children and Jesus

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

So if you like to take scripture literally, let’s unpack that one for a bit. Let them come. Don’t hinder them. The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Hold up there a minute. The Kingdom of God belongs to the little children? Jesus wants them to come to him? Sounds like all the big people sitting in the pews are the actual interlopers, since apparently we are invading the church that, according to Jesus, belongs to the kids. Ponder that! Maybe it’s a good thing that they still need us to drive them to church; otherwise they might decide to unionize and hinder US from coming. No more Grups! (Some of you may recognize Gene Roddenberry’s contraction of grown ups from a very early Star Trek episode. If so, I salute you.)

And that is so true. We all realize that the future of our churches and our denominations depend on the children who are squirming in the pews and running helter-skelter to the doughnut table, but do we acknowledge that they are also the PRESENT of the church?

Maybe it’s time to count the ways kids are hindered from worship. Like parents who are overcommitted and too tired to make the effort on Sundays. Like churches who don’t make an effort to warmly and intentionally welcome them and make a place for them. Like pastors who continue to use dusty, old sermon illustrations meant for the over-50 crowd. Like worship committees who don’t utilize children and youth as worship leaders.

Where is Jesus calling you to open your heart to the little disciples? Do you need an attitude change? Parents, is God calling to a stronger commitment to consistent worship participation with your family? Or maybe your entire church needs a shake-up?

Let the little children come to Jesus, with all of their joyful noise. When Jesus laid his hands on the children and prayed over them, I bet that is just what he asked his Father to do. Wake up, churches. The future-present is crawling under the pews during the offertory. Make way!

Raising Cain.

Neckties

Consider the history of the necktie. Legionnaires in the 2nd century B.C. wore the first neckwear, according to some historians. Their cloth bands were worn as protection from the weather. Other people cite the 3rd century B.C. terra-cotta statues of Chinese warriors as the first evidence of neckties. They wore neck scarves to protect the source of their strength, i.e. their Adam’s apples.

Most experts, however, date the initial appearance of what led to the modern tie back to 1636. Croatian mercenaries hired by King Louis XIV wore cloth bands around their necks to ward off natural elements and sword slashes.

Today, however, men don’t need to protect themselves from weather, assaults to their Adam’s apples, and hopefully not sword slashes. So why the tie? Most men find them uncomfortable and bothersome. Loosening the tie is often the first thing a fellow does the minute he leaves the office. I mean, even the word neck-tie sounds restrictive.

Neckties are a means of uniformity. Imagine the workplace of the 1960’s without men in neckties. Imagine the church of the 1990’s without men in neckties. Uniformity was the goal, and neckties were the instrument that tied it all together. Blessed be the tie that binds? Not when it is tied around the neck!

Thank God we are over that.

Ties, hats, gloves, and heels have faded away as mandatory “Sunday morning best.” Society has accepted the fact that it is so much more important to show up than to show off.

So with neckties out, what should we wear around our necks?

Proverbs 3 New Living Translation (NLT)

3  My child, never forget the things I have taught you.

    Store my commands in your heart.

2  If you do this, you will live many years,

    and your life will be satisfying.

3  Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!

    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.

    Write them deep within your heart.

4  Then you will find favor with both God and people,

    and you will earn a good reputation.

Loyalty and kindness. The perfect neckwear for any occasion! This type of necktie will help you find favor with God and people alike. When we tie the things God has taught us around our necks, we will have a satisfying life and a good reputation. Now that’s a necktie everyone should have in their closet.

I once had a conversation with a teenager about church clothes. Michael was the son of the school bus driver and never attended church. I knew him from the High School marching band, where I volunteered as a chaperone and band announcer. All the kids knew me, but most didn’t know I am a pastor. Michael had spent the weekend at Taylor’s house, and when they awoke on Sunday morning, Taylor’s mom called them to breakfast and told them what time to be ready for church.

When Michael arrived, he looked around at all the people dressed up for church, and all the men wearing ties. He found me and immediately came up to me. “Miss Betsy, I am so sorry to be wearing my band t-shirt and jeans in your church,” he said. “I spent the night at Taylor’s house and my Mom didn’t know we would be coming to church.”

I looked him in the eye and asked, “Michael, are you in a church?” He replied, “Yes, M’am.” I said, “And are you wearing clothes?” He laughed and said, “Yes, M’am.” “Then you’re obviously wearing church clothes, so have a seat.”

The Gospel is a message of freedom, not restriction. Church is a place of harmony, not uniformity. Come on in and find a seat! We’re just glad you’re here. There is no dress code in God’s house. In my church at the beach, the acolytes wear flip flops and the pastor never wears a tie. Got clothes? Come on in.

This leash is as close to a necktie as I’ll ever get.

Percolating

Back before Keurigs, way before Starbucks, even before drip coffee makers with automatic shut-off switches, there was an ancient device known as a percolator. You might run across this historical artifact today in an antique store, the Pawn shop, or any local church’s kitchen.

It was a thing of beauty and simplicity. A basket that holds the coffee grounds sits atop a long, thin metal cylinder. This unit is inserted into a metal coffee pot. Water is poured into the pot, and the attached cord is plugged in. As the water heats, it bubbles and percolates up through the cylinder and over the basket, running through the coffee grounds and magically, you have coffee. You couldn’t pre-set it the night before, and you had to unplug it to turn it off, but hey, if it was good enough for the original Apollo astronauts, it was good enough.

I love the idea of percolating. Heating something up, bringing it to boil, channeling the bubbles, and then watching it produce something well-considered is a joy. Good things come when we percolate. Sermons, ideas, stories, arguments, speeches, hanging wallpaper with your spouse, new ventures, movies…all manner of things benefit from taking the time to percolate.

Percolating should precede any major decision we make. Thinking about divorce?Percolate. Contemplating a move? Percolate. Ready to pop the question? Percolate. About to send an angry email/post a snippy retort/yell at your teenager? PERCOLATE.

The reason percolating is so effective is that it gives you time to step away from your immediate and emotional response and allows the Holy Spirit to weigh in with other ways to go about doing the same thing.

Opening ourselves to God’s guidance always pays off. I learned the hard way not to immediately fire off an email when I was deeply aggravated. I learned that after a time when I fired off an email when I was deeply aggravated. I regret it to this day. How about you? Ever wish in hindsight that you had waited for the right words to come to you?

Matthew 10 (The Message)

17-20 “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news!

And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.

That’s why percolating is such a helpful practice. In the slow warming up of an idea, in the increasing heat of a completed thought, and in the bubbles of the Holy Spirit rising up in your spirit, your finished product will be soooo much better. Like the best cup of brewed Sumatra with heavy cream, it will be a delight rather than a thin and possibly nasty version of what it should have been.

So take a beat. Stop and breathe. Suspend your need for instant gratification and sloooow youuuuur rolllll. Give God a chance to enter in, and let percolation have its way. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply them. You’ll never regret letting God percolate inside you.

Fresh brewed.