These are trying times. That may be the understatement of the year. I don’t need to list all the reasons that I write that because you are living it. In my lifetime, nothing has been this hard, divisive, confusing, and in many ways, dangerous. The list of don’t do this, don’t go here, don’t engage in this behavior is endless. In my state, the governor just reduced indoor gatherings from 25 to 10. We are hunkering down for the next tidal wave of infections, which have already started…just in time for winter.

I know of two families who will not be able to share a Thanksgiving dinner together because younger members are not willing to isolate prior to that day. They have decided that going to the bars, gyms, and other social events is something they aren’t willing to give up for two weeks in order to be together safely. Another friend reports that she hasn’t seen her parents in months because they won’t wear masks when they go out and they continue to attend a monthly club dinner where nobody is wearing masks as they sit side by side at large tables.

Like I said, these are trying times. And trying times can bring out the most selfish tendencies that people have. It makes me think that I have been sleepwalking all of my life until 2020 reared its challenging head. Well, I’m woke now.

The lectionary assignment for today is (once again) startling in its accuracy. I had a wonderful chat with a colleague about the power and the relevance of the lectionary selections for this cycle. God is always ON POINT in scripture, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the lectionary assignments written decades ago keep bringing the living word right into our current situation.

Take a look at Paul’s letter to his church at Thessalonica. If we didn’t know better, we might think he wrote it last night.

1 Thessalonians 5 (The Message)

1-3 I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would.

About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.

Although Paul is referring to the end times, the image of people walking around complacently declaring that “we can take it easy” is an accurate portrait of what’s happening in pandemic ridden post-election America. We’re just tired. We want it all to be over. Our vigilance in many areas of society has slipped, and the numbers are surging.

4-8 But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others.

Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.

I love how Paul encourages us to keep our eyes open and be SMART. We can’t be taken off guard by this. Families are making hard decisions about gathering together. We may have to face the reality that our holiday meals will look much different than the festive tables we took for granted in the past.

But it won’t always be this way, so maybe it’s better to look beyond the immediate. Even in this struggle, we are alive in Christ…and that’s the good news.

9-11 God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him!

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing .

Paul gives the best advice. Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope! Make the sacrifice to quarantine so that you can be with your family members. We are all in this together, and together we can ensure that no one is left out. Let’s not sleepwalk through this. As Paul says, be smart!

We’re All in This Together by Michelle Robertson

Never Put Off ‘Til Tomorrow

Here is a macabre question for you today. If you were to die in the next hour, what business would you leave undone? What words would you wish you had said? What regrets would you have as you draw that last breath? What is left to finish in the next sixty minutes?

The human spirit is a powerful thing. I have watched dying people hang on for days and weeks in order to finish something. I’ll never forget sitting at a bedside with a church member for weeks as she waited for her estranged daughter to come. Every day she asked for her, and every day the daughter didn’t show up. Finally the other daughter drove to another state to get her sister, and when she walked in, she and her mother finally reconciled. They held each other and cried, forgave all past grievances, and expressed their love. The mother died peacefully in minutes.

Sorry for the “Debby Downer” tone of this devotional! But the question is legit. What unfinished business is lying around in your soul?

Today’s passage is a reminder that we never know the day or the hour of our last breath. We never know the moment when this world and all of its horror will suddenly be replaced by the Kingdom of God. (Come, Lord Jesus, COME!) The point is to be ready.

Matthew 25  (Common English Bible)

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.

“When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’

“Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’

Jesus is not being coy in this parable. He is clearly delineating the wise people from the foolish ones. The foolish people think they have time to make amends, pursue righteousness, reconcile bitter divisions, and walk in obedience. They are wrong.

The wise ones live each day as if it were the last one on earth. They are ready to meet their maker.

“But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.

11 “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’

12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

It was too late for the foolish bridesmaids, but it’s not too late for you. Today is a good day to reflect on your readiness. Do you need to repent? Should you ask God for forgiveness? Have you hurt someone and need to apologize? Are there unreconciled relationships that require your attention?

Don’t wait. Tomorrow may be too late.

13 “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.

The Hour is Upon Us by Michelle Robertson

Coming Out of It

We are in soft shell crab season on the Outer Banks. Here on Colington, the shedders are being watched day and night, and crab harvesters are working under the hanging bulbs to capture these delicacies the minute they are ready. The dilemma is that the restaurants aren’t ready. So while the harvest is happening on its own timeline, there is not the usual demand. Friends of these hardworking folks are trying to help them sell their soft shells to locals to cook at home, and the community is responding. But this is just one small sadness in the midst of all that is sad about the economic impact the pandemic is having on our beautiful island.

What will you do first when we come out of this? Eventually we can go back to hugging, eating at a favorite restaurant with our friends, taking the kids to a real playground, getting on a plane…until then, this time of isolation and quarantine certainly feels like being in exile. If the pandemic ends in time, I would rush out and eat a fried soft shell crab sandwich at the Salt Box Cafe.

Today’s scripture invites us back to the time when Israel lived in exile. They had been overrun and carried away into Babylon, where they couldn’t live life as usual and were forced to adapt to a completely different culture. Jeremiah dreamed of the time when their exile would be over and they would return to a normal life:

Jeremiah 36 (Contemporary English Version)

At that time, declares the Lord,
    I will be the God of all the families of Israel,
        and they will be my people.

The Lord proclaims:
The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness.
As Israel searched for a place of rest,
    the Lord appeared to them from a distance:
I have loved you with a love that lasts forever.
    And so with unfailing love,
        I have drawn you to myself.

This picture of God appearing to Israel from a distance as they are returning from the wilderness is profound. We are immediately reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son, where the father was waiting at the edge of the field every day for his wayward son to return. God indeed has gone before us, and waits there to welcome us back to normal life when our exile is over. And notice the phrase “found grace in the wilderness.” Have you found grace in your pandemic wilderness? Can you list some “silver linings?”

Again, I will build you up,
    and you will be rebuilt, virgin Israel.
Again, you will play your tambourines
    and dance with joy.
Again, you will plant vineyards
    on the hills of Samaria;
    farmers will plant and then enjoy the harvests.

The hope in these verses make me tingle. God will build us up again. We will dance for joy again. We will plant vineyards and farmlands and harvest them again. We will have life as normal again. Gosh, I can’t wait for Again to begin. How about you?

The time will come when
    the watchmen shout from
        the highlands of Ephraim:
“Get ready! We’re going up to Zion
    to the Lord our God!”

Hold on to these words. There will be a time when this virus is completely gone from this earth. Get ready! And in the meantime, look for grace in the wilderness.

Grace in the Wilderness by Michelle Robertson

Every Kind of Aggravation

We are living in the days of every kind of aggravation. In all of my years of living, I have never experienced this level of sustained aggravation before. There were certainly times of grief, trial, exhaustion, and all manner of challenges, but not like this. How about you? I won’t even attempt to list them, but just a snapshot of trying to buy groceries once a week should give you a picture. Spoiler alert: there is a lot of WHINING in this next section.

I don’t report to work early on Sundays anymore since we are now taping the service on Thursdays. That should make for a nice, slow Sabbath. But in the early days of the pandemic, when I was still driving to church on Sunday to do Facebook Live, I discovered that my local Publix opened at 8AM and was very uncrowded…and the toilet paper was restocked every Saturday night.

So now I get out early on Sundays just to shop. That is the beginning of all kinds of aggravation. Mostly it is my N95 mask and disposable gloves that aggravate the heck out of me. By the time I speed through the aisles, being careful to follow the one-way arrows and social distancing, my claustrophobia is peaking and my hands are literally dripping with sweat. And even though I have a concise list, I spend time waiting my turn to go down an aisle that already has a looky-loo leisurely standing in front of an array of products and seemingly reading the ingredient list of each one. She can see me waiting (I dare not pass her) yet she lingers…and ends up not putting anything in her cart.

A friend and I were commiserating about the fact that we used to enjoy shopping and found it relaxing. Now it is like entering a war zone of mine fields, and your heart is racing to just get out. Not to mention all the shortages of products, resulting in having to think on the fly of different meals based on what is actually available. OK, RANT OVER.

Our passage from 1 Peter takes us away from whatever is aggravating us right now, and reminds us that we have been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for:

1 Peter 1 (The Message)

3-5 What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

My mantra for months now has been, “we are one day closer to the end of this thing.” Look at that last sentence: “The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—-life healed and whole.” Man, did I need to hear that this morning! How about you?

6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

Peter reminds us that faith, like gold, gets refined in the fire. Folks, we are in the fire right now. What a time to refine our faith! What an opportunity to come out of this thing stronger, better, and more deeply connected with God because we’ve worked hard to stay in the Word. Think about it…what would you normally be doing right now? Our hustle-bustle life got slammed shut. God is inviting us to use the SLOW to reevaluate EVERYTHING.

8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

What is God asking you to reevaluate today? Where do you need further refining? Will you go back to your old self when this is over?

I hope not. I hope that enduring every kind of aggravation right now bears the fruit of all kinds of godly behavior in all of us. And maybe I’ll learn to be more patient with the looky-loos in the grocery store. Anything is possible with God!

Another Day Closer by Lisa Lawrence