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Holding on to the Experiences of Life

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
    and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.[a]

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul[b] may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. 

(Psalm 30 NRSV)

Whew!  That was rough.  I never saw it coming.  One minute I’m happy, fancy-free and having mountain-top experiences.  Before I knew it, I was in a pit unable to get out.

I tried, though.  God knows I tried.  I dug and dug and couldn’t get out.  The more I tried, the worse it became.  On top of that, God was silent.  Looking back I think God had decided to let me have my own control until I was ready to listen.

Was God angry at me?  Perhaps.  Disappointed? Undoubtedly.  I can’t blame God, though.  I was so wrapped up in myself and getting out of that hole, that I hardly noticed.

That’s when I cried out.  Loud.  Noisy.  Gut-wrenching cries.  God held me as I cried out my pain.  Heartsick, disappointed in myself and angry.  Angry with God.  Angry more with myself.  God held me through the night.

It was a long night.  I still had to dig out, but this time I had wisdom from God.  This time, I thought things through and found myself looking for grace in the turmoil.  I began to realize that some of what happened was for my benefit.  In the long run, the digging was a bit easier.

I discovered help was available.  I couldn’t depend only on me, but I needed the help of others.  Friends showed up with shovels and pickaxes.  Others showed up with food and water.  Everywhere I turned, I saw God’s acts of saving and providing.

My situation didn’t turn out like I thought it would.  In the end, it was better.

What I learned this time, was that I’m not in control.  I need God and I need my community of church and friends and even strangers.  I needed the prayers and the actions of those who are in my life.

I also learned that I don’t always get it right.  I may want to be in control, but there are times when I take that control too far and turn my back on God.  As the Psalmist says, “For his anger is but for a moment, his favor is for a lifetime.” (verse 5a.)

I also learned that when I cried out to God, I was beginning to put my trust where it belonged.  Like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) I guess when you reach rock bottom it’s easier to trust in God than yourself.

Eventually, the morning arrived with the sun and a freshness I’d forgotten existed.  I could dance again and sing.  I praised God’s name, remembered God’s mighty acts of the the past.  God hadn’t left me.  Not really.  I suppose it was I who had left God.

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  It’s when we feel fragile that we tend to fight back and try to gain control.  That’s probably the best time to turn to God.  It would have saved me a lot of time and effort if I’d done that in the first place!

And so, I invite you to join me in my dance of gratitude.  Celebrate my return to my place with God.  And while we do that, perhaps we can remember those who are struggling:

  • the victims of an unnecessary house fire
  • those battling illness and disease
  • your loved ones who will go home to God soon
  • those who are grieving loss of any kind
  • the food deprived

There are many folks who live in that dark night of the soul.  We can pray that God will hold them through the night, ever so gently.  We can pray that though their weeping may linger for the night, that joy will come with the morning.

We can also celebrate with those who have returned from the dark valley:

  • those coming out of their grief and loss
  • those whose bodies are healing
  • those accomplishing life’s dreams and ambitions
  • those who have turned away from anger and hate to the bright light of love and acceptance

I know you can add to either of these lists and I so hope you will.

We can’t always get it right.  Some days our trust is in God and we live in that vulnerability.  Other days we grab for control until we can’t handle the overwhelming, overpowering pressures.  In our prayer for help, God sees our trust and in a way, that is praise.

Is God angry?  Perhaps.  But, it lasts a moment.  Love and compassion win the day and we are united with our God who saves, provides for us and, most of all, listens to us.

And that’s when our joy returns: unbelievable, exhilarating, almost giddy joy that we haven’t known for awhile.

But, first we have to come down from that mountain built of our own sense of independence.  God will help with that as well.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Touch the Earth Lightly

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b]
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Psalm 8 NRSV)

David slept under the heavens and the work of the Creator’s fingers for years.  He gazed on the moon and the stars that God created and must have felt insignificant among that grandeur.

And so do we.  We feel so small among all those stars and the vast sky.  We can hardly take our eyes off this view and the further away from an earthly light source we get, the more astounding the scene and the emotions it evokes.  We can’t find the words to describe what we’re feeling.

David wrote this Psalm to try and put into words what he was feeling.  Sovereign and majestic are just the beginning.  Even babes in arms sing God’s praise.  God uses even the weakest of us to defeat the chaotic forces that threaten this creation.

We may feel insignificant gazing on the night sky.  Then we remember what we’ve learned: God remembers us; God cares for us; God pays attention to us.

There’s more.  God has made us kings and queens.  God has given has dominion over creation.

All we can say is, “Wow.”

We could turn to guilt trips at this point: about fossil fuels, and mining practices, and… well, you know what I mean.  But if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I don’t like to do that.  Especially on this topic.  Because it’s so complicated.

Do we stop developing nations from cutting down their forests?  They need the wood for cooking and heating.  Workers need the income to support their families.  So, we bring in alternatives to save the forests and perhaps end up with worse problems.

Do we use paper or plastic?  What happens to the batteries on a hybrid car?  If we don’t buy books, we use an E-reader and where do they go to die?

It seems as if every action has a rippling effect.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  We’re damned if we do; damned if we don’t.

Perhaps we don’t have to worry about it, some will say.  The world is going to end soon.  So, eat, drink and be merry.  It doesn’t matter how we use up the earth.

Others are living simply, gardening, re-purposing, recycling… They compost the kitchen scraps for next year’s planting.  They can food for the winter.  A few of them drive us crazy with their preaching.

Still others fight back with name calling, like “tree huggers.”  They point out that the cost of products is high because of what they believe are excessive regulations.  People lose their jobs over these same regulations.

Are we having strange weather or is climate change real due to global warming?

Where and how do we find the balance?

I have recently returned to composting.  I used to compost grass and leaves.  This time I added kitchen scraps.  I knew that eventually the compost would heat up and cool down.  The result would be good soil for my gardens.  And, I felt less guilty about the food that went bad in my refrigerator!

A few weeks ago I turned the compost to speed up the process.  I found insects and worms.  I understood the worms and valued them.  But I didn’t expect the tiny ants and other little microbes that were happily moving through my garbage.

What I learned was, that these little critters were eating the compost and leaving behind castings (poop.)  That’s what turns to dirt, apparently.  The circle of life begins with some dirt and a seed.  The seed grows into a cucumber or a zucchini or a strawberry.  What doesn’t get eaten, goes into the composter and becomes soil for the next crop.

God’s creation is amazing.  The beauty of the multiple floral and fauna, and also the way these cycles work to sustain the creation.

And that’s where we return to the starry night sky.  While we feel our insignificance, we remember that God cares for us.  God hasn’t abandoned us.  That God is always re-creating and redeeming creation.

We recognize our significance to God.  We’ve been crowned and given an important occupation: dominion of creation.  Not domination, but caring for it like good kings and queens care for their people.

The problem comes when the sun rises.  Life slips into what it believes is it’s entitled place at the head of the line.  Creation will have to wait while we take care of the worries and the problems of the day.  We forget.  We didn’t mean to forget.  There’s so much going on and so many demands on our time and attention.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus’ parables talked often about agriculture?  Sheep and goats, mustard seeds, sowing and reaping.  I’m not sure he ever used a hoe, but he certainly knew a lot about growing things.  I wonder if we might return to those parables and learn the lessons: that we can’t control the seeds growing, we can only sow and water and weed around it; that God cares for God’s creation so much that he’ll leave 99 sheep to find the one lost lamb; that the tiniest seed can grow into a huge tree five times taller than you and me.

As we gaze at the starry sky and before the sun rises, it’s a good time to say, “Thank you.”  Remember how we teach our children to say “thank you”?  It teaches them manners.  And it also helps them internalize the gift or the compliment.

Let’s do that.  Let’s say thank you to God for the gifts of creation and redemption and re-creation.  Let’s say thank you for the cycles of life that keep this planet running along.  Let’s confess what we know we do to hurt the creation.

Then, let’s listen.  Affirm what you are already doing for the earth: canning fruit from your trees, composting, working in your garden, recycling, re-purposing.  Listen to the Holy Spirit share with us one thing we can do to touch the earth more gently.

And before we leave that beautiful, magnificent night sky, feel the majesty and the glory of the creator.  Even if you can’t express it, feel it.  That’s what matters.

David slept under those stars and felt that same insignificance and the same inability to properly express his feelings.  We can’t put into words what our hearts are exploding to say.

Simply take it in.  Live for a few moments in the experience.  Carry it with you into the light of day.  Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into a place where you can touch the earth a little more gently, learning as you go.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Holy Spirit Upheaval

 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  (Acts 2:1-21 NRSV)

Maybe Babel is to blame.

Perhaps you remember the Tower of Babel from your childhood.  (Genesis 11:1-9)   Everyone on earth was gathered in one place.  There biggest fear was being “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:4)  They wanted a name; an identity.  They enjoyed their uniformity.  So they built a tower.

God arrived on the scene and gave His prognosis.  It was time to scatter; they needed to diversify.

God loves diversity.  God created mountains and valleys and flowers and trees and animals of all kinds.  God created the kangaroo, the sloth, the horse and the giraffe.  God created hundreds and thousands of species that we’ve still discovering today.  God rejoices in diversity.  God’s creation rejoices in diversity.

Homogeneity is what we cling to, though.  We cling to uniformity at Babel because we fear being dispersed.  Babel is afraid of change.  Babel is afraid of the new and different.  Babel is afraid of difference and the “otherness” in people.

So, God looked around and proclaimed, “You’re ready.”  God mixed up their language and they entered into a new scary era.  What they feared most is what came to pass.

God didn’t punish the people.  God bestowed a variety of gifts in different ways to create a variety of peoples.

And we’ve been bucking it since then.

Pentecost is a Jewish holiday.  It follows Passover by 50 days and celebrates the first fruits of the harvest.  According to Luke, Jesus instructed his followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived.  They did as they were told, staying together in prayer.  About 120 people consisting of the Apostles, relations of Jesus and disciples.

The sound of  wind; what appeared to be tongues of flame; the sight and sound of them speaking in languages known to all who witnessed the event.  The kingdom comes in with power and might and those chosen to help deliver are uneducated Galileans.

Those who witnessed it were, in large part, amazed.  They heard their native language and it was music to their ears.  Perhaps you’ve enjoyed traveling to another country and hearing the native language spoken.  As time moved on you became tired of hearing it; a wall developed between you and the speaker because you couldn’t understand what was being said.  When someone finally spoke English, you were so relieved!

That was probably how they received the message that day.  Whether they had been living in Jerusalem or were pilgrims for the Jewish Pentecost, they rejoiced to hear someone speaking the language of their childhood.

They spoke of the might deeds of God.  They spoke to Jews and Greek, rich and poor, slave and free.  They spoke in the language of every known nation on earth.

Maybe Babel is to blame.  We want to look and act alike.  What have trouble embracing the “otherness” in others.  Pentecost, for Christians, is the day we set aside our fear of diversity and our love of uniformity and moved into the dimension of unity.

We are united in Christ to people of all cultures and ways of life.   Christians in Palestine and Iraq, Russia and China, India and Sri Lanka, Argentina and Venezuela.  We are united in one truth: the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our cultural differences teach us new ways of thinking and being; our faith is what holds us together and we live out that faith through our unique culture.

We need Babel.  We need the comfort of a common identity and culture.

We need the spreading out and the cultural differences that enhance our lives and teach us about who we are.

We need Pentecost. It helps us cross the boundaries of uniformity and diversity into an era of great possibilities.

In what ways do you embrace uniformity?  For many it’s Sunday morning: the most segregated day of the week.  We worship with those who aren’t necessarily in agreement with your politics, but who enjoy the music, the message and fellowship.

In whats do you embrace diversity?  Have you the courage to visit with someone from another nation or culture; from a faith tradition different from yours; from an economic level whose values are different from yours.

You probably do it more than you realize it.  I encourage you to notice it in the coming weeks.  I encourage you to pause in your day and consider why that person in the grocery store worries you: is it their manner of dress or the language they speak or something else?

There are many “others” in the world.  They come from a variety of cultures, political views, religions.  At times it overwhelms us.  It can scare us and suspicion creeps in.  In Pentecost, we have a Counselor, Advocate, Holy Spirit, to help us respond to this diversity.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Shackles

16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.

19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.

22-24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jail keeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.

25-26 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”

29-31 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”

32-34 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn’t wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.  (Acts 16:16-34 The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

My name is Mantic.  I was the slave girl who had the spirit of divination.  I had believed that I was given this gift by the Roman god Apollo.  I was a pythoness with oracular power.  My owners made a lot of money because of me.  They used me until I was used up; in more ways than fortune telling.

The first time I laid eyes on the Apostle Paul I saw something I had never seen before.  He wasn’t like anyone I had seen; he had a spirit within him.  It was like mine, yet different.  And then I knew.  He was a prophet of the Most High God.  A God I had never met before, but was superior to all other gods, nonetheless.

I watched for awhile as Paul and Silas walked around Philippi, visiting with people.  Sometimes in earnest, but always with joy, even laughter.  Finally, I couldn’t help myself.  I had a spirit of proclamation.  So I proclaimed.

“These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” 

I listened to them speaking to others.  They spoke about freedom from a life that shackles us.  For me, I was shackled to men who used me and my talent.  I wanted to be free.  I didn’t know what else to do.

So, I followed them relentlessly.  When I wasn’t professing for my masters, I was following these men of God around, making a spectacle of myself and them.  They sure were patient!  It took days to break through.  Finally, Paul turned around and ordered the spirit out of me.

“Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” he said.  That’s all it took.  I was free.  No more spirit of pythona in me.  I could find a life of my own.

I hadn’t thought things out very well.  My owners didn’t need me any more.  They dumped me by the wayside on the way to getting retribution from the men of God. 

Now, you’ll notice that this scripture text never finishes my story.  I’m as invisible in that story as I was to my masters.  I was invisible to Paul and his followers; I’m even invisible to you, aren’t I?  Do you wonder what happened to me?

I continued to follow these men.  My former masters grabbed them and took them to the market place.  Now, I may not be very educated, but I do know the customs and the laws about slaves.  I was property.  My owners had a legal right to take Paul to civil court.  The charge would have been impeding on private property and preventing them from earning a living.

That wasn’t enough for my masters.  They were so angry that they set out for revenge.  They used their Jewishness against them.  Isn’t it amazing how we turn on those who don’t look and act like us?  Then they accused them of not being proper Roman citizens.  Their was nothing to back up these charges, but they sure got the attention of the mob in the market place. 

Then they lied by accusing them of unlawful behavior.  They called them atheists because they only worshiped one God.  They accused them of cannibalism because they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus. 

Others joined in and soon their was a mob out for blood.  No who’s enslaved, I wondered?  They weren’t interested in the truth.  They refused to listen to their defense. 

What these men didn’t know was that these men of God were Roman Citizens.  What the magistrates permitted was illegal.  Later Paul would demand a public apology, but the beating and jail time took place anyway.

I watched the men during the beating.  I followed them to the jail and slept outside the jail walls.  If I was very quiet, I could hear singing.  Even at midnight!  They were singing!  Some of the other prisoners joined in with them.

Then came the earthquake.  Afterwards, I heard that the jailer had his sword out ready to take his life because he assumed everyone had escaped.  Once again, it was Paul who saved the day. 

I saw the jailer take Paul and his friends to his house next door.  He cleaned the sores.  The men loved the feel of the cool water on their skin.  His wife put out a meal that smelled delicious.  Then Paul did something strange with the water.  It was called baptism and everyone in the household received it.

Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about God and his son Jesus.  I may have lost my pythona, but I learned that I had a Spirit within me that I had always had and it never left.  Eventually I was baptized and joined the house church here in Philippi.  I learned a new trade, but I never forgot my ability to read people and to see their pain.

Since that time I’ve seen many people in shackles.  My former owners were shackled by money and greed.

The crowd wore shackles of hate and bigotry.  They wore chains that attached them to anyone who would tell them what the problem was and that they and only they could fix it.  Mob mentality ruled that particular day.

The magistrates were shackled by politics.  Keep the peace or lose their jobs.  Keep the peace because someone else was in line for their job.  They were shackled by the greed for power.  They were shackled by the fear of losing their power.

Paul and his friends may have been shackled by leg irons, but they were the only ones who were truly free.  They followed Jesus and his teachings.  Worldly power and greed and corruption weren’t important.  Freeing others from their chains was all they wanted to do.

I’ve learned since then that God is in charge.  Lies, innuendo, and false information hold a lot of power.  But, eventually, the lies are replaced with new lies that spin the truth. 

I’ve learned that God will have His way.  It may not be on our time table, but God is ultimately in charge. 

How about you?  Do you need an earthquake?  Does your world need to have their shackles released? 

Perhaps, while you sit in the dark, stinky dungeon, you could begin praying and singing.  I suspect Paul will join you.

And while you wait for the earthquake, remember that change is always occurring.   God is always at work. 

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


God Makes Straight with a Crooked Line

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[a] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  (Acts 16:9-15 NRSV)

Imagine Paul and Silas and Timothy, perhaps even Luke, relaxing after a long day’s journey. They discuss the events of the day. One thing leads to another and they begin reminiscing.

“Remember when we attended the Jerusalem Council?”

“Boy, that was some debate, wasn’t it?  Thank God the right decision was made to attend to the Gentiles and not require circumcision.”

“And then we decided to journey through Asia Minor.  We had such a grand plan, didn’t we?”

“If memory serves me, we planned to first visit the new churches in the south and then travel north and plant new churches up there.”

“That’s when we met you, Timothy.  You joined with us for the church planting.  And we kept running into dead ends.”

“I remember it well.  I couldn’t figure out what kept stopping us from entering those towns and attending the synagogues.  You helped me understand that God moves in mysterious ways.”

“And then Paul had that dream.  A man from Macedonia was calling to Paul to come spread the word in Europe.  That was strange!”

“Remember when Paul got us up in the middle of the night?  He hustled us out the door and on to that boat before our first coffee!  We knew this had to be God’s call, though, when we arrived on Samothrace a day later instead of three or four.”

And that’s how the three men arrived in Philippi.  They had tried to spread the word in new parts of Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit kept saying, “No.  Not there.”  Philippi became the first new church plant in Europe.

They stayed in Phillipi a few days becoming familiar with it.  One of the things they discovered was that there was no synagogue.  No problem, they’ll go outside the city gates by the river.  They’d be sure to find some Jews worshiping there.

This had been a strange journey and it continued in that vein.  They don’t find any men praying by the river as they had anticipated.  Instead, they discover a group of women praying.

Paul and Silas and Timothy joined them.  Then Paul sat down to teach them.

The leader of the group was Lydia.  A businesswoman, she was a dealer in rich purple cloth only available to the wealthy.  She was her own woman in a patriarchal society; strong and astute.  She was a successful businesswoman with a home and servants of her own.

Lydia wasn’t Jewish, but she was a  gentile God worshiper.  Paul’s words fell on a hungry heart and she gave her heart to Christ. She and her whole household were baptized.

Then she insisted that they stay with her.  Did I mention she was a strong woman?  Lydia would continue to support the Philippian church.

When have you looked back and seen the hand of God at work?  Did that journey take many twists and turns?  Did you have false starts and road blocks and closed doors?  Yet, looking back, doesn’t the road appear straight.  God made straight with a crooked line.

Life is like that.  We have a well-thought-out plan.  We’ve gathered the resources we’ll need and we’re out the door, so to speak.  It falls flat and we wonder, “what happened?”

It’s disorientating.  Isn’t that what God wanted us to do?, we ask.  It was a good plan!  A perfect plan!  Do we need to work harder?  Pray harder?  Plan better?

Probably not.  The plan could have been perfect, and God may put it to use some day.  But not today.  Today God has a vision that needs your attention.  Right now.

But we have no resources to do that!  We have no money.  Not enough people.  The energy will run out.

That’s God’s problem.  Just move forward.

But, we’ve never been there.  It means crossing boundaries.  As much as I want to be a Christ-like presence for people, how can speak to people who aren’t like me?  How can I relate.

Let go and allow God’s words to be your words.  Just move forward.

Yes, you’ll feel as if you’re out on a limb.  That’s where God does his best work.  When we’re not so sure about the outcome or the roadmap is a bit vague, we tend to look up and out.  We listen better to the Holy Spirit’s whispers when we feeling our most vulnerable.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important.  You may never know what results come from your action.  But if  you do nothing, there will be no result.”

When have stepped out and made a difference?  Was it that time you paused in the produce section to visit with a stranger and you spoke words that seemed to feed her hungry heart?”

Maybe it was the time when you felt a compunction to shop at a store you hadn’t been to before.  Outside the door of the shop you ran into an old friend you hadn’t seen in years.  Thirty minutes later, you walked to the parking lot together and your friend admitted that he, too, had felt the same compunction to come to this place.  As you drove away you realized that you had received a word of encouragement that only God new you needed.

That delay in traffic that sent you to a new place; that answered prayer that turned out vastly different from your expectations; the risk you took to use scripture to comfort someone.  Each time you acted, you crossed a boundary.

The Holy Spirit lives, moves and has its being, not by our wants and desires, but its own vision.  We try, God says, “No, not there.”  Then we receive a message and the world of ministry opens up to us.  It’s scary.  it’s exhilarating.  It’s exciting.

That’s how God’s kingdom works.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Easter Reverberations

21 I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.

3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

6-8 Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty.

(Revelation 21:1-6  The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

“I am making all things new.”

How many times do we hear God say those words in scripture.  We saw God in action when he spoke creation into being.  We saw them in the many covenants God made with God’s people.  God freed God’s people people, provided in the wilderness, brought us back from exile.  God continually works to make all things new.

The ultimate, so far in history, is a child born to a poor family, revealed to the most reviled in society (shepherds) while heaven’s messengers announced “tidings of great joy.”  That child grew to bring us the same message, but this time he put feet on those words.

When he died, he was risen again to defeat death.  We would think that we’d have nothing further to worry about.

And God continues to be at work.  So today we read in Revelation these words, one more time:  “I’m making all things new.”  God continues to redeem and provide and liberate.  The promise is that God is at work in God’s creation because in the end, God will bring it to conclusion.

Not with destruction, but with a new heaven and earth.  The old will pass away and the new world order will be ushered in by none other than God.

What have we to fear?  God has a plan and God will continue to work that plan.  Our place in creation is set.  What have we fear?

Well, war, poverty, immigration, food insecurity, illness. To name a few.

Daily we see a backdrop of evil, hurting and injustice.

The hope is this: God really does continue to be at work.  God really does continue to make all things new.  Our world is getting better because people like you refuse to ignore the issues and get involved.  Whether writing a check or hands one.

We help make the difference through prayer and discernment.  We allow God to use our gifts and talents and our passion to move forward.

God will dry every tear.  God is making all things new.  God will break down the chasms and walls that keep us separated.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


A Promise We Can Trust

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

Psalm 23 (NRSV)

The Shepherd’s Psalm.  Many of us memorized it as children.  We carry its words with us in dark times.  Perhaps we don’t remember it word for word.  Yet, we know the phrases that hold meaning for us.

“I shall not want.”  What would you want for if it wasn’t for the shepherd?

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (KJV)  We need those words when a friend or loved one dies.  There are also times in our life when we feel as if death’s dark shadow will overwhelm us at any moment.  The Psalmist reminds us that even in these moments, the shepherd won’t abandon.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…”  Follow me.  Lead me.  Cover me.  Goodness and mercy is everywhere we can possibly be, because the shepherd never abandons.

What phrases stand out for you?  Read the Psalm again, slowly.  Read it out loud and listen to the phrases.  What stands out for you?  Close your eyes for a few moments and consider those particular words.  Why do they hold meaning for you at this time and in this place?

Read through it again.  Slowly.  What is the Shepherd saying to you?  Sit quietly for a few minutes.  Allow the words to speak to you.

Now, one more time.  One more reading.

If you were able to go deep, you’ve experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit speaking to you words you probably needed to hear.  Were they comforting words? Guiding words?  Stirring words?

What will you do with what you’ve discerned?  How will you respond?  Write it down and carry it with you this week.

The 23rd Psalm provides peace and comfort, even serenity.  It’s words can be trusted and believed.  The Shepherd doesn’t let us down, but provides for our needs and gives us rest when we need it.  Believe these words.  Rest in them.  Feel their comfort.  And when you’re ready, go out to live your faith, knowing the shepherd won’t let you down.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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