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

The Trust Clause

We sat in a waiting room at the Mount Nittany hospital, waiting for the doctor to let us know that our daughter’s fibroid removal was complete and she was in Recovery. It was a relatively simple procedure, made a little more complicated due to the fact that the fibroid was just a tad too big to be removed laparoscopically, and so surgery was necessary. I had taken a week off of work to stay with her while she recovered from the incision, and planned to return home when she returned back to classes. Her Dad planned to return a few days after the surgery to go home to our other teenage daughter.

Then the words “cancerous tumor” came out of the doctor’s mouth, followed by “months of chemo” and “she’ll have to drop out of college indefinitely.” As my mind swirled with this unexpected horror, I suddenly heard a voice in my ear saying, “It’s OK, Bets. I’ve got this. You and Sarah are going to go on a journey that will teach you many things about me.” The peace that passes all understanding came over me, and I felt equipped for what came next.

God had offered us a trust clause in that moment. An unbreakable contract, a promise that was iron-clad, and a guarantee that our daughter would not only survive, but thrive. We grew closer to each other as a family and to God in those months of cancer treatment, and we learned how to TRUST, even when the things that were right in front of us (extreme nausea, hair loss, weight loss, isolation, additional surgeries) suggested otherwise.

Today Sarah has beautiful long hair, an amazing husband, two degrees, and three kids. God blessed us in abundance.

Romans 4 (The Message)

16 This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions andthose who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father.

Not everyone gets to hear God speak words of reassurance in the moment of crisis. This is why developing a life of faith-based trust is so important.

In our scripture today, Paul is reminiscing about Abraham’s call to leave the unknown and settle his family in a land far away. In faith, Abraham agreed. With no evidence that it would turn out all right, he simply was obedient to the strange and disconcerting instruction. God spoke, and Abraham trusted. In doing so, he became the father of all nations, and was blessed to be a blessing.

Where is God calling you to trust him in the absence of any real evidence that doing so will work out well for you? Where is acting on faith rather than by guarantees the response he is looking for?

God’s promise comes as a gift. One promise we can all stand on is his promise to prosper us and not harm us, as he offers us a future with HOPE. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Whatever you are facing today, remember this: when we step out in faith, we never step out alone. Thanks be to God.

Survivor! by Sarah Haas Callahan

War is Hell, but Moving is a Close Second

A long time ago, I volunteered to help a new music director move into her new home. She was moving to take a job at my church, and a large group of us gathered at her house to help with the unloading of many boxes. One of my friends, an Army wife, showed up in a t-shirt that read “War is Hell, but Moving is a Close Second.” It still makes me laugh!

I spent the first eight years of my marriage moving around the country at the Navy’s behest. During the first two years, we moved four times. I never bothered to memorize my zip code…I just kept it handy in my purse, crossing each one off and adding the new one.

One of the many sacrifices our military service families makes is the willingness to move when and where needed. This probably goes under-appreciated by most people. But if you have ever served, you know the stress, anxiety, fatigue, and uncertainty of moving into a new community with all of your worldly goods, your kids, the dog, and memories of your last duty station and the friends you left behind. It can be heart-exhausting.

Genesis 12 (Contemporary English Version)

The Lord said to Abram:

Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. I will bless anyone who blesses you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you.

4-5 Abram was seventy-five years old when the Lord told him to leave the city of Haran.

I am always amazed at Abram’s obedience. He left everything behind to follow God’s command. He staked everything he had on God’s promise that all would be well if he complied, and even believed that God would bless him as he said he would. And God did. We are the evidence of that.

This example of obedience is a great teaching for us today. Did you notice that he was 75 years old when he left the safety and security of his hometown to go where he was sent? What a wonderful reminder that God calls us at any time of life to follow him, and the wise ones respond with acceptance and joy mingled in with the trepidation.

What is God calling you to do? Where is he asking for obedience today? Are you hearing him telling you to leave something behind so that you can experience a new joy?

The cost of obedience is often high, but the cost of disobedience is even higher. God always has a plan for your life, and that plan is guaranteed to prosper you and not harm you. It is a plan to give you a future with HOPE. Is God calling? GO.

A VERY Close Second by Nancy Bealer