5:23am

 

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I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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The Supreme Supreme Court

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Down through the annals of American History, there have been 118 supreme court justices.  We’re due for another, and the confirmation process is getting messy, as it sometimes does.

I understand why.  The stakes are high. As a country, we should be very discerning about who gets to join this exclusive club.  Let’s hope our elected officials make good, informed decisions.

9 people sit on the court, making definitive decisions about what is right, what is just, and what is law in the USA.  When there’s a death or retirement, a replacement justice is found.  Sometimes the nominee leans to the right, and sometimes to the left.  Sometimes the court is more balanced than others.  Whether or not we live up to the “Supreme”, the idea behind this “Court” is a lofty goal for us as a country.

I wonder if you are familiar with a court that is even more supreme than the Supreme Court.  There are hints of it in a few places in the Bible, although we rarely pay attention to it.  Genesis 1:26 is perhaps the best example.  .

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Who is “us”?  Who is “our”? Why does suddenly God shift to the plural, and then back again afterwards?  Ever notice that?  It may seem like a small thing, but this passage, along with some others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7, 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 1) paints a picture where God is not alone.

What are some possible explanations for this?  A translation error?  Maybe. Many would say God is speaking within the Trinity, a conversation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although that is never spelled out.  Some people have asserted that God is simply using the “Royal We” and talking to himself.

Others believe God is talking to his wife, a hold over from the Canaanite religion.  And still others have pointed out that the name Elohim (which means Children of El) is another ancient idea passed down to the Hebrews, in which God is a little like Zeus, presiding over a divine court.  Truth is?  Nobody really knows.

Regardless of the theological implications, wouldn’t it be kind of cool if God was the Chief Justice of this Supreme Supreme Court?  Making decisions about creation, about how people live together, about right and wrong?  Can you picture them (whoever they are) deliberating and discussing and driven by a desire to do what is right for the sake of the world?

Well now…it may have occurred to you, but God doesn’t NEED a Supreme Supreme Court to do all those things.  God is the source of wisdom, and love, and right and wrong.  God is already our Chief Justice.  That’s why we are a monotheistic religion.  That’s why we declare “In God We Trust”.

If God were being nominated for our Supreme Court, I’d like to think it would be a breezy process, but knowing how complicated things can be we might want to ask him a few billion questions first.

The truth is, God doesn’t need a court.  But we do.  It’s our human attempt to honor our values and each other in a diverse and ever-changing world.  That’s why we try to confirm very human people into these very demanding positions–9 at a time.

How faithfully will they accomplish their task?

You and I may debate and disagree on that,

But only God can Judge.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Meghan Markle Rocks Denim Dress

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They say to write what you know.

That is not what I am doing today.  Today, I am writing about the Duchess of Sussex, otherwise known as Meghan Markle.

Why? Because, as I’ve been surfing around the Interlands this week, I keep seeing little clickbait articles about her everywhere.  She is everywhere. 

Somebody out there clearly has an obsession with this woman, and all I seem to know is…didn’t she get married or something?

Yes, she did.  A little time on Wikipedia makes me a sort-of expert.  Here’s what I learned:

  • She was born in 1981.
  • She was a TV actress, best known as Rachel Zane on the law drama “Suits”.
  • She’s been divorced.
  • She married Prince Harry, the Grandson of Queen Elizabeth the II.
  • As far as I can tell, ever since the marriage, the press seems compelled to photograph every item of clothing she wears (like the People headline above), every tiny gesture that is not “proper” enough, and every time her and Harry make eye contact with each other.

It’s been so many months since the wedding, (May ’18) and still people are swooning about her.  I finally think I understand why:  She’s a living fairy tale.  Like Princess Diana a generation ago.  She’s an everyday person plucked out of the crowd to be part of the royal family.  It’s the kind of thing some folks just drool over.

To you Marklers (or Meghaholics?) please know that I’m not condemning you.  A fascination with the Duchess seems harmless enough.  But just the same, keep this in mind:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
–1 Timothy 4:7

It is possible, the writer of Timothy reminds us, to get tangled up in fairy tales, to the point that we lose track of the very real story we’re called to live. Daydreaming about marrying your prince could, if not checked, leave you drifting in fantasy land.

The same holds true for rabid sports fans, video game junkies, breaking news fanatics, Netflix bingers and more.  What fairy tales or other forms of escapism capture too much of your attention?

The Hebrew word for sin translates as “Missing the Mark”.  When the focus of our hopes, dreams, and discipleship is something other than God, we make the wrong things the bullseye in our lives.  That is sinful behavior, and can cause big problems in our lives!

Most of us have our things we geek out on, and I think that’s okay.  It’s part of how we have fun, and can even present itself as a hobby.  We just have to make sure we keep our priorities straight.

For instance, if you read the title of today’s devotion and instantly knew that this was the dress Meghan wore to Harry’s polo match a couple weeks ago, you may need to tear yourself away from the tabloids for a while.

After all, you want to avoid Missing the Mark,

even if it means Missing the Markle.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Unattached

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They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
–Colossians 2:19

I wrote a strange story, years ago, about a land called Umbillica.  In this world, umbilical cords were permanent.  Children remained attached to their mothers by very long strands of veins and arteries, connecting one generation to the next.

In this way, as many as five generations would travel and live together.  Families were literally bound to each other.  When a woman decided to marry, her new husband would disconnect from his clan, and tie on to his wife’s family.

This kind of connection was the only way the citizens of Umbillica knew how to live.  And in this world, there was really only one thing to fear:  Being unattached.

Being unattached? It only happened in the rare instances when a calamity wiped out the rest of one’s family, leaving a poor figure to walk the world alone.  Or, far more scandalously, it happened when an occasional clan member deliberately untethered themselves from their family, and scampered off into the night, never to be seen again.

There was nothing more taboo than to be unattached.

As the creator of this peculiar world, even I’m not sure why I set it up that way.  But can you imagine such a world?  Where familial attachments reign supreme, and untethered people feel ostracized?

Yeah, I can, too.  Sounds familiar.

Our society can project a subtler form of response to the unattached.  Sometimes we will pity people who are on their own, as if their lives must be sad and incomplete. Sometimes I suppose that’s true, but unattached people frequently find their own new clans to be a part of. New people to connect with.  And unattached people can find joy in their independence, adventure on the horizon, peace in solitude.

It’s important to remember that God’s grace is not just delivered in family-sized doses.   It comes to every person in every circumstance.  Maybe your family is healthy, or in shambles.  Maybe you’ve cut yourself off from your family because of conflict or abuse or dysfunction.  Maybe you can feel the tug of that umbilical cord…it’s just a very long one.   Whatever your attachment (or unattachment) issues are, know this:

God longs to connect with you.  Through other people, out in the world, through scripture, through your family, through the Holy Spirit, and a million other ways.

That’s the way the creator of this peculiar world set it up.

Don’t worry.  God is not stalking you, or trying to smother you.  God’s grace is not dependent on the number or strength of any of your connections, either.

And it comes (you’ll be happy to learn),

with no strings attached.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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I am giving up for Lent.

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Chocolate. Smoking. Facebook.
Soda.  Pizza.  Swearing.
Smart Phone. Complaining. TV.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Alcohol. Procrastinating. Fast food.
Shopping.   Salt.  Red Meat.
Caffeine.  Gossip.  Selfishness.

There are so many things people give up for Lent.  You could choose any one of them to help you focus spiritually this season, or…

You could just give up.

As in, “I give up!”

As in, “My hands are raised in the air, God.  This is me giving up!”

As in, “I surrender”.

This is not an easy thing to do.  Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He says, “My Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) , and then,  My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42

That passage is not about Jesus wanting to give up drinking for Lent! It’s about Jesus putting his life in God’s hands.  He gives up his own human desire for self-preservation, and surrenders himself into God’s will.

This is what I want to do, this year.  I want to try.  I want to give up for Lent.  For me, giving up means consciously resisting the urges I have to resist God.  I want to avail myself of God’s will as much as I can.

That means trying, at least, to give up some of my worst habits.  My overwhelming desire for comfort. My fear of speaking and acting in faith.  The pain that has me looking at the world through jaded eyes.

I want to give all that up!  Release it into the cosmos.  Then I want to listen obediently.

I do not expect God will lead me to a cross.  But I expect God will lead me.  And giving up is my sign of willingness to follow.

Along the way I may eat a little chocolate.  I may complain a bit.  I may stumble and fall, for the journey to the cross is not always easy.

But I will rest in the knowledge of the One…

Who never gives up on me.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Candy Dust to Dust

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You’ll never believe what happened when Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday fell on the same day, back in 2018.

Here’s what happened:

I had left the house in a rush, grabbing my stuff and wishing my wife an “I love you!” as I ran for the door.  I had to make it to church in time for the come-and-go imposition of ashes. We decided not to have a service this year, opting instead for a couple hour-long spans when people could come to the church, receive ashes and a devotion booklet, and be invited to pray in silence.

There were already a couple people sitting in pews waiting when I got to the sanctuary.  I dropped my stuff in the front pew and reached in my satchel for my vial of ashes—and it wasn’t there!  Instead I found a bag of Valentines candy.  Little candy hearts I was going to pass out to my staff and family that evening.

I stood there, paralyzed, as another person came into the sanctuary.  The man walked down the aisle right to me, brushing away his hair so I could impose the ashes that I didn’t have.

Panicking, and not knowing what else to do, I ripped open the bag of hearts, grabbed one, and placed it in the man’s palm.  Looking down, we read together what it said:  “Be Mine”.

He looked at me, startled.  Straight-faced, I muttered, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” He slowly turned away, as if trying to decide if he was supposed to eat it or not.

There was a line now.  The woman behind him stepped forward, and tentatively held out her hand.  I pulled another one out.  It said, “Hot Stuff”.  Obviously that wouldn’t do, so I popped it in my mouth, said a silent prayer, and pulled out another.  “True Love.”  That was more like it.

“Repent and believe the Gospel,” I said, placing it in her hand.  She smiled.  That was a good sign. The line was all the way down the aisle, now.  Would I have enough appropriate hearts to pass out?  I said another silent prayer.

The next one surprised me: “Have Faith”.  The one after that said, “I Forgive.”  Amazed, I pulled another and gasped.  It said, “Died 4 U”.  People were leaving with tears in their eyes now.  I had to wipe a few away myself.  In later days people would tell me it was the most moving Ash Wednesday they could remember.  Believe me, I gave God all the credit.

As the last person left the sanctuary, I looked down in the bag.  One heart left.  Bracing, I pulled it out.  It said “Dust 2 Dust”.

Indeed.  Wiping the candy dust from my hands, I sank down into the pew and began my own Lenten journey.  I tried to quiet my mind, but the thought wouldn’t leave me…

If God could make Valentines Day into a meaningful observance of Ash Wednesday,

What might God do with April Fool’s Day and Easter?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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My Way

Frank Sinatra My way

“Alexa, play the Frank Sinatra station.”

Alexa’s my Amazon speaker-thingy.  You just tell it what you want to hear, and it provides the soundtrack for your life! This morning, I felt like some old standards.  This is what I got:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

Listening, I thought to myself, “this is such a good song.  An old classic.  Well written, and ole Blue Eyes really knows how to belt it out.”

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

The words to the song, I just looked them up, were written by Paul Anka.  But the philosophy of life clearly belongs to that of the Chairman of the Board.

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

The song is about a man, near the end of his life, looking back with pride. Every time life got tough, he made his own uncompromising decisions.  He did it “My Way”.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

It was at this point that I decided to write this devotion.  Did you notice that this song is seriously missing something? There’s no leaning on God.  No leaning on others.  There’s no collaboration, no love.  There’s only a man standing tall.

And you know what?  That’s not enough.

I know lots of people who have graduated from the Frank Sinatra school of hard knocks.  They learned to keep their own interests front and center.  They learned not to trust others or accept much help.  They learned to be strong and determined and single-minded.  They aim to be King of the Hill, A-Number One, and they aim to do it “My Way”. But they don’t learn to trust in God’s way, and that means missing out on the greatest experience of life.

It’s a tricky thing, putting your faith in God’s hands, especially when the world keeps telling you to go it alone.  Even long-term Christians can struggle with this.

I went hunting for “my way” quotes from scripture.  Here are 4 that I found from the Psalms:

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  –Psalm 18:32

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. –Psalm 119:59

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. –Psalm 139:3

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.   –Psalm 142:3

Apparently there’s room for both “My Way” and God’s Way.   That balance between God’s sovereignty and Human agency is a mysterious one — humans have been asking about that theological question since day one.  I’m apt to think that we can be strong people of integrity who are guided in our steps, hearts, and minds by a loving God.  We can have it both ways.

When I get to the point in my life when I say, “And now the end is near…” I hope I sing a very different song about my life.  One filled with lots of harmony and inspiration and love, one that reminds me that if I keep God in my life…

I’ll never walk alone.

Have a great week,

Mitch