“Eight Words of Enlightenment”

Ever had one of those moments when you got to look at something in a new way?  I had one just the other day.  It was Sunday morning and I was struggling with my shirt, which had French cuffs.  French cuffs are cut extra-long so you can fold them over and use cuff links to put them together.  They look great but they clearly were designed for another age, the age of Downton Abbey, when gentlemen of a certain position in life had valets to help them dress.

So, Sunday morning, I had my shirt on and was struggling with my cuff links like I always do.  That’s when my wife, who was watching my contortions, said, “Why don’t you put the cuff links on the sleeves first and then put your shirt on.”

Long pause.  My mind raced through the possibilities.  What if the cuff is too tight and my hands don’t fit through the sleeves?  Pushed my hands through the cuffs—they fit.  Next excuse.  I’d never done it that way before.  So what? Then it hit me.  She was right.  It would be easier.

Thanks to Joyce, I had an “aha” moment, and I said, “”Huh.  I’d never looked at it that way before.”

And there they are, the eight words of enlightenment.  Those precious words we utter, or keep to ourselves out of embarrassment, when we have that moment of insight or revelation.  Another word for that is epiphany, and that’s the season of the church year we are in right now.

The Bible contains many “aha” moments, or epiphanies, when God breaks through the hardened shell of human beings to reveal something marvelous about God’s self.

  • Christmas was one such occasion. God took on human form, became one of us, to save us from ourselves.  “He became what we are that we might become what he is.” That’s how St. Athanasius, a deacon in the church of Alexandria in Egypt put it during the early Church’s debates over the divinity of Christ.  God put on mortality so that we might become immortal through Christ.  That’s still Good News for those who never looked at it that way before.
  • The Magi coming to Jerusalem in search of the new born king had their “aha” moment when they asked where to find the new born king of the Jews.   They’d followed the star but needed to know where to look for the Messiah.  Who knew? The scribes, the educated men of the Jewish Temple, knew where to look.  In Bethlehem of Judea; that’s where the prophecies say the Messiah is to be born.  The Magi went and found the child and his family, just as the scriptures had said. But what about those scribes?  They had the information about the Messiah, but they didn’t go themselves.  I wonder why? Were they afraid of King Herod?   Or had they heard the prophecies so many times and seen too many failed messiahs that they no longer believed God would actually, one day, fulfill God’s promise?  Maybe the scribes never looked at it that way before.

All of us get stuck in a rut, a singular viewpoint, and are guilty of putting on blinders from time to time.  But epiphanies, large and small, come our way to help us see things from another point of view.

light-bulb-moment-2615457__480

I pray this year will allow us to see new possibilities, new avenues and new opportunities to grow closer to God and to share God’s love with our world.  Early this year, our vision process will come to fruition.  As we take this time to examine ourselves, our community and God’s Word for us, may God grant us an “aha” moment, an epiphany, a moment of enlightenment in the Lord, so that we can see the way ahead God has in store for us. May we be like the Magi in following God’s Light.  And may we be blessed in the doing of the will of Him who died for us that we might live for Him.

Peace,

Pastor Bob

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“On This Rock”

IMG_0708I was driving back to Thurmont from Sabillasville, where I had just finished my first stint this year as a volunteer in the 4th Grade classroom, when I noticed something different about Owens Creek. There was a mist hovering over the water as it flowed vigorously down the mountain alongside the road.

Not one to pass up a “Kodak moment” (anyone remember what those were?) I got out of my car and took some pictures with my cell phone’s camera.  On shot in particular stood out—a single boulder sitting in the middle of the Creek.

Anytime I see a large rock like this, my mind shifts immediately to the world of biblical imagery and metaphor.

  • God as the salvation rock for God’s people: “Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!” (2 Samuel 22:47).
  • God as refuge from the dangers of this world: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go…Be my rock of safety where I can always hide…” (Psalm 71:3)
  • And God as the firm foundation: “They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built” (Luke 6:48).

Rocks can be comforting signs of God’s presence in our lives.  Like the rock, God provides firmness, stability, and protection in times of uncertainty.

There’s a torrent of world news and news from around the country that is making me more of a rock seeker than ever before. There’s sad news about the flooding in the Carolinas where so many people have lost their homes. Outrageous news about the treatment of (mostly) women and children by (mainly) men in positions of power in industry, government and even the church. Heart-breaking news of teens and veterans who give up hope and take their own lives. And even more…

Yes, I am looking for rocks more frequently these days. Each one I find reminds me again that however bad the news gets, there’s good news that can’t be beat:

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).

IMG_0710Jesus is our rock and refuge, our strength and our salvation. When all else fails, and all others fail us, Jesus provides the grace and mercy of our loving God. God is with us in the day-to-day messiness of our lives. And when we trust Him, Jesus will be our foundation for life, through the torrents, through the heartbreak, and through the storms.

If you’re feeling the stress of troubled times, then go to Jesus; look to the Rock who provides you shelter from the storms of life.

May the Rock of Ages become a hopeful sign to you, so that you remember you are loved beyond measure by a God who is Father, Son and Spirit.

Peace, Pastor Bob

 

“A Place of Springs”

There’s a psalm in my heart.  Well, to be more accurate, bits and pieces of many psalms.  I think I only know one psalm by heart—the 23rd, of course.  But verses and phrases of many others come to mind as I go through my day.  They help me remember the God who gives me life and whose kingdom (or sovereign reign) has already begun through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  All that from a psalm.  Not bad, eh?

The Psalms are the songs of the Hebrew people.  My study Bible reminds me the Hebrew word for this book is Tehillim, which means “hymns” or “songs of praise.”  That praise is directed toward the God whom we worship as Creator, Sustainer, Lover and Redeemer of all that exists.  This praise of God is expressed in a wide variety of images that all point to the God “whose steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136, among others).

What’s the imagery of this sovereign God’s steadfast love that’s on my mind today?   It’s the “place of springs.”  It comes from Psalm 84, where we are given a picture of the joy of pilgrims who are on their way to worship God in the Jerusalem Temple.  They are not just looking forward to the trip, as we would a vacation. They’re thirsty for God.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.

My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

These people know what we need to remember for our own spiritual journeys—God is our true home.  That destination is beautiful, awesome, fantastical…(choose your own adjective and insert here).  God is our goal.  And the pilgrim’s journey there, to the house of God, is filled with joy and blessing. Listen:

Happy are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

Psalm 107

Do you hear what happens along the pilgrims’ way?  Going through the valley of Baca, presumably a dry and inhospitable place, “they make it a place of springs.”  No longer dry and unlivable, the springs and the rains make this bit of desert habitable, inviting, life sustaining.  In another Psalm we read: “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.  And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in…” (Psalm 107:35-35).

For folks who live in the desert, water is life.  No one can survive for very long without it.  In this psalm, somehow the pilgrim journey to God (Zion) brings blessing to the earth.  God has done this by God’s grace, but here’s the kicker: blessing comes through the journey of the faithful pilgrim whose heart is set on God.

I don’t know about you, but this gives me goosebumps.  Let’s think of ourselves as the pilgrims in the psalm.

  • We’re the ones whose hearts are set on God.
  • We’re the ones who are yearning with every fiber of our being to worship and praise God in God’s home.
  • We’re on the road with these thoughts on our minds and a fire for God in our hearts.

And along our pilgrim way, the people and the places we encounter are blessed through us—by words of grace and love; and, by acts of mercy and kindness that reflect the love we have for God.  This is how God gives life to a dry land—through the people of God who have their eyes and hearts set on God.

Beloved, look for the dry places around you.  See the friend or neighbor who needs to hear a good word instead of criticism, a helping hand rather than a clenched fist. Then be your pilgrim self.  Bring springs of water, pools of rain to your friend, your neighbor, your street, your school, your church.  Be a “spring-bringer.” And let the Living God be the source of your joy, your strength, and your hope.

Peace,

Pastor Bob

“Something You Don’t See Every Day”

Can anything good come out of Hollywood?  We may often wonder.  The film industry does a wonderful job telling in stories that inspire, touch hearts and lift the human spirit.  It also produces films that are overly violent, sexually charged and morally bankrupt.  And then there are lots of films that fall in between those two extremes.  While it may not be fair to generalize about an entire industry, there are enough bad examples to make you shake your head in discouragement.

So it was quite unusual, and refreshing, to see one of Hollywood’s top box office draws, Christ Pratt of Jurassic World fame, talk about God after he won the MTV Next Generation Award.  In his acceptance speech, Pratt took about four minutes to share his “Nine Rules” for living.  Some were humorous, like “No. 4, when giving a dog medicine, put the medicine in a little piece of hamburger.  They won’t even know they’re eating the medicine.”  But most were inspiring and several spoke of his faith in God.

His advice was so good it’s worth repeating.  So here are the best of
Chris Pratt’s Nine Rules:

“No. 2: You have a soul, be careful with it.”

“No. 5,…reach out to someone in pain [and] be of service.  It feels good and it’s good for your soul.”

“No. 6: God is real, God loves you, God wants the best for you.  Believe that.  I do.”

“No. 8: Learn to pray.  It’s easy and it’s so good for your soul.  You just close your eyes, you list off people for which you are grateful, ask for protection for the people you love.  Don’t be embarrassed by it, you let people see you do it, it’s good for their soul, too.”

“No. 9: Nobody is perfect.  Nobody.  None of us, not you.  People are gonna tell you you’re perfect just the way you are.  You’re not!  You are imperfect, you always will be, but there is a powerful force that designed you that way.  And it loves you, accepts you for exactly who you are.  It forgives you for your flaws, no matter what they are, and if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace.  And grace is a gift.  And like the freedom that we enjoy in this country, that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood.  Do not forget it.  Don’t take it for granted.  It’s a gift for which none of us are worthy.  So do your best to earn it.  Just be kind, don’t be a bully, be of service…God bless you.” hands

Some Christians have criticized Pratt for what he said, or rather, for what he failed to say about God and Jesus Christ.  Why, they wonder, did he not give a fuller witness about salvation in Jesus?  But as one commentator noted, Chris is a relatively new Christian and doesn’t have the biblical and theological depth of someone who’s been a Christian for many years.  More importantly, consider his audience.  The MTV-sponsored award program is a secular event for a predominantly secular audience, one that doesn’t hear much about God to begin with.  His combination of humor and talk about God spoke well to that generation.

I think Chris’ speech spoke to his audience in such a way that they heard basic gospel truths in a language they could understand coming from a person they admired.  His words made me think of something the Apostle Paul wrote about doing whatever it takes to share the Gospel: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

So thank God for Chris Pratt.  I hope he finds more ways to share his growing faith in Christ for this generation, and the next.

Peace,

Pastor Bob

“But God”

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

“It was a dark and stormy day and the sundial showed the ninth hour.” If someone were writing about the death of Jesus, they might be tempted to tell about the hour of his death with an opening line like this. It’s close to the truth. All three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record the time with similar words:

  • “From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Matthew 27:45)
  • “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:33).
  • “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the after- noon…” (Luke 23:44).

John’s Gospel does not mention the time of Jesus’ death; instead, John adds other important details about his last hours on earth.

In addition to the time (three o’clock was the ninth hour of the day as the Romans reckoned it), what stands out in these accounts is the darkness. This is an unnatural darkness, a night that shows up in the middle of the day.

This is the darkest hour in human history. God’s only Son, Jesus of Nazareth, is put to death by God’s beloved human beings. Once again, it seems, death has triumphed. Once again, injustice pre- vails. Once again, human cruelty is on display in a death most awful—crucifixion. Once more, it seemed as if people would go on living in the darkness of a world so sick with sin that it puts to death the innocent, the blameless, the unblemished Lamb of God. 
For two more days, until Sunday morning, the dark- ness had full reign.

And then, as we might tell the story, comes two of my favorite words in the Bible: “But God.”

How else can we relate what happened next without these two marvelous and precious words? Jesus was dead. They put him in a tomb and sealed it. The Romans and Jewish religious authorities alike believed that would be the end of his story. Like so many would-be Messiahs who came before him, this Jesus would be forgotten and the world would go on just like before. Nothing more to see here, Roman subjects—just one more dead Jewish rabble-rouser taken care of by the brutal efficiency of Rome. You can go back to your homes now and thank almighty Caesar for preventing a further disturbance of the pax Romana (Roman peace).

From all appearances, death had won in that dark hour.

But God—there’s just no other way to say it—had other plans.

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And the rest, as they say, is “His Story.” God raised Jesus from the dead, giving new life to him and to all who believe in him. Because He lives, we can face however many tomorrows come our way.

We’ll continue to face the darkness in many different forms and at different times in our lives. But God has given us the light of new life in Jesus the
 Son, who overcomes the darkness. He is the true “Sonrise” that we celebrate this Easter, every Easter, every Sunday, every day of our lives.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

Pastor Bob

 

“The Ins and Outs of Lent”

It’s March and depending on how you look at it, spring is either here or just around the corner. If you are a weather aficionado, someone who loves to pore over the maps meteorologists produce showing the high and low pressure systems coming our way, then you know that spring is here. March 1 is the start of meteorological spring. On the other hand, if you go by the astronomical calendar which looks at the rotation of the earth around the sun, you’ve got until March 21, the day the sun runs parallel to the earth’s equator, before you can say spring has sprung. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take spring as soon as I can get it—give me the meteorological calendar anytime.

Either way you look at it, March can be a month of extremes. We could have snow, or temperatures in the 80s. The old-timers tale about March comes to mind: “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” I found this poem by Lorie Hill that expresses these extremes:

In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb

March roars in

like a lion so fierce,

the wind so cold,

it seems to pierce.

The month rolls on

and Spring draws near,

and March goes out

like a lamb so dear.[1]

These “ins and outs” associated with the month of March made me think about Lent. According to the church calendar, Lent covers most or all of the month of March. (It all depends on when Easter falls, which depends on when Passover takes place). For Christians, Lent is a season of reflection. We are to think more deeply about our relationship with God, about our shortcomings and our mortality—“you are dust, and to dust you shall return”—and about the God who gives us life through Jesus Christ. We reflect on the Passion, the pain and suffering Jesus endured for us. And if we do that in a meaningful way, we are humbled by what God did for us so that we can have an abundant life.

Like the month of March, the season of Lent begins with lions on the prowl.

  • At the start of his ministry, Jesus is baptized, then the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness to face a time of testing by Satan and the harsh desert environment. (Mark 1:9-15)
  • Jesus speaks harsh words to Peter—“Get behind me, Satan!”—when the well-intentioned fisherman rebukes Jesus for saying the Son of Man must suffer and die in Jerusalem. (Mark 8:31-38)
  • In the Temple courtyard, Jesus cracks the whip, literally, and tosses tables to chase away the animals and moneychangers who have dishonored the house of God. (John 2:13-22)

image001With all this temptation and trial, confrontation and conflict, you’d think the lions would come out on top. Not so. In the end, the Lamb of God emerges, broken by the lions of Rome, and lays down his life for a broken humanity.

So as you think about Lent remember that it comes in like a lion all right, but it goes out with the Lamb of God rising on Easter Day.

Join us on April 1 to celebrate our Risen Savior!

Pastor Bob

[1] Lorie Hill, “In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb,” Scrapbook.com, https://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/694.html.

“Picture That”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That’s a question we frequently ask our children. Or, if we fail to ask them, they are quick to tell us what they want to become: a firefighter, a police office, a teacher, an astronaut, a baseball player. I’m sure these old standbys are still popular. And I’m sure they’ve been supplemented by more recent professions that weren’t around “back in the day,” like—computer programmer (not a hacker), videogame designer, social media analyst, or soccer player.

Times may have changed but the imagination of children has not. Ask them what they want to be and right away they will picture themselves in that role, as that person they want to become.

Then we grow up. Reality strikes. Not everyone can be an astronaut/ baseball star/ videogame designer. Fair enough. But do we lose the ability to dream big, God-sized dreams for ourselves? Do we lose the ability we had as children to envision what we might become?

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia about what happens to a person when they identify their lives with Jesus:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Picture that: A life no longer my own, but one that now belongs to Christ.

image001One of my recent devotional readings used the Galatians passage to make this stunning statement:

“Do you love the Lord with all your heart? He accepts us as we are now, and slowly molds us toward His image of what we can be. He knows us as we will be, and works to conform us to that image.”[1]

 

In case you missed the stunner, here it is: “He knows us as we will be…”

If we stop to think about who we are now, we should cringe at the thought of what God sees. But the good news is, who we are now is not all God sees. In fact, it’s not the main thing God sees when God looks at us. God sees what we will become in God’s future. We are works in progress, but God sees the finished product. In good Wesleyan terms, God sees us as our “perfected” selves, made perfect in love by Christ and in Christ.

Jesus told his disciples to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It’s not something we do our own. It’s what we allow God to accomplish in us when we give our lives to Christ. This is not an easy thing because it requires death. It takes death of the self (“I have been crucified with Christ”); and it takes surrender of our worldly appetites, loyalties and allegiances.

It is not easy. In fact, it is a daily struggle to place ourselves in the will of God. When we do, the picture God has in mind for us becomes clearer. The image of God in us is restored. And the image of Christ takes shape in us.

Give over to God all that drags you down.

Give over to God your struggles, bad habits, and unwanted desires.

Give over to God your shortcomings, hurtful relationships, and pain.

Give over to God your puffed-up sense of self-importance and pride.

And receive the gift from God—forgiveness and acceptance as beloved children of God, sisters and brothers of Christ.

Picture that!

Pastor Bob

[1] Celtic Daily Prayer, (London: Collins, 2005), 609.