“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

 

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“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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 3.41.29 PM

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.

“The Christmas Difference”

Original versionWhat a difference a week makes! And what a contrast between the silent night, holy night of Christmas Eve and the hoopla of New Year’s Eve. Two nights, separated by seven days, and celebrated in markedly different ways. Consider:

On New Year’s Eve, there are lights in the sky as cities and towns around the globe launch fireworks to celebrate the birth of a New Year. At Christmas, a star provided the light that guided wise men to the place where Jesus lay.

On New Year’s, shouts and cheers of joy reverberate in the streets as crowds of people, some packed together like sardines, revel in the change of years. At Christmas, the streets of Bethlehem were empty, the inns were full, and the only shouting came from a young peasant girl as she gave birth to her firstborn son.

On New Years, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” (the phrase can be translated as “old long since” or more simply “long, long ago”) to bid farewell to the old and usher in the new. On Christmas, the shepherds heard angels sing “glory to God in the highest” as a way to say farewell to the old age that separated God and humankind, and welcome the new age of Emmanuel, God with us.

With New Year’s come resolutions and promises to make positive changes in our lives in the coming year; we hit the “refresh” button on those parts of our lives we want to change. With Christmas comes the fulfillment of God’s promise to never leave us; with the birth of Jesus, God gives us the way to “refresh” our lives by forgiving our sins and making us new creations.

The New Year’s spirit of joy and sense of newness will last a short time, about as long as a New Year’s resolution. But the joy, hope, peace and love that come from God through Jesus will last a lifetime.

To keep the joy and peace of Christmas in our hearts all year long requires that we yield our lives to God. Every day, we have to make way for God in our lives, to get ourselves out of the way so that God’s self can be formed in us. It’s hard, to be sure, and we have to work at it constantly. But that, after all, is what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

The message of Christmas is one for the entire year. It’s God’s way of saying, in the words of Jesus: “My peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Let’s make a Christmas difference all year long. Let’s start by making a difference in our lives with a simple prayer like this: “Jesus, make me more like you this day. Let me carry the love, the joy, the hope and the peace of Christmas with me every day; and with your help, let me share them with those I meet. Amen.”

Peace,

Pastor Bob