God\’s Whisper

“Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong.
If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now
by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments,
his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive,
 and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
Deuteronomy 30:15, 16 (Common English Bible)
     The beaches of Palm Beach County are some of the most densely nested by sea turtles in the United States. Sea turtles can be found in our waters year round, but in the spring and summer, large numbers of adults populate our beaches for laying eggs. Nesting generally begins in early March, usually leatherback turtles, with loggerheads arriving in significant numbers in May. Nesting continues into August and early September with hatchings of small sea turtles continuing through late October. 
     This is a familiar ritual for south Florida residents and tourist to our area. The female sea turtle crawls ashore during the cover of night to dig a nest, deposit her eggs, cover the nest and return to the water. It is this time that the female is out of the water that she is timid and vulnerable and can easily be frighten if disturbed causing her to abort the nesting process. One to three hours is required to lay approximately 110 ping pong ball-sized eggs. Trained staff and volunteers monitor our beaches each morning during sea turtle nesting season, identifying the nests and marking their location with yellow tape. Florida law protects the sea turtle – touching and disturbing nesting sea turtles is not permitted, including their hatchlings, and their nest.
     The laws that protect sea turtles exist for one reason – to preserve life. Many varieties of sea turtles are endangered. Demand for sea turtle meat, eggs, as well as loss of habitat, commercial fishing, and pollution of the seas have contributed to their decline. Artificial lighting along our beaches is also a contributing factor. When babies emerge from the eggs they instinctively move in the brightest direction. Nature provides the moonlight to call the baby turtles out to sea where they live their entire life. When artificial lighting along the beach is brighter than the moon, the sea turtles are drawn onto road surfaces where they are killed by cars.
     In this teaching from Deuteronomy we learn the one reason for God’s laws – to preserve our life. The most common assumption that is made is that disobedience to God’s laws results in God’s anger and punishment. That is not true. Simply, God’s laws are to us what the moonlight is to baby turtles: God knows which direction results in life and which direction results in death. God’s laws call us to live in such a way that the natural result is life. Ignoring these laws results in a natural consequence similar to what can happen when baby turtles go in the wrong direction and enter a busy road.  Freedom to choose our direction in life is a gift from God. Yet, that doesn’t stop God from whispering in our ears, choose life.



Don\’t Be Afraid

“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha said, “because there are more of us than there are of them.”
2 Kings 6:16 (Common English Bible)
     This week, the world was startled to learn that two Palestinians, armed with a gun, knives and axes, burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and murdered three rabbis and a fourth man during their morning prayer.  This outrageous act represents the kind of extremism that continues to destabilize the efforts toward peace and security for all of the Middle East. Yet, the world must never lose sight that for the majority of Palestinians and Israelis, peace is desired, prayed for and sought. As with any other people, those who make the Middle East their home wish simply to raise their families knowing they’re safe and secure. The difficulty is that these horrific acts, when they occur again and again, have the capacity diminish hope and shape a mood of pessimism and cynical expectations.
     Into the midst of this pessimism and cynical expectations the church has a word from the Lord, “Don’t be afraid.” Morale is the church’s business. As God’s people, the church must apply herself to the daunting task of reshaping our communities and unifying the public mood with an atmosphere that is hopeful. Never must the church permit people to wallow in dire despair or give free reign to expectations of disaster and experience of hopelessness and fear. Against the compulsion to panic the church is called to present another viewpoint, that of certainty and conviction in the active presence and work of God in the world.
     The world, in all of its brokenness, fear and anxiety, needs a theology of hope. Reservoirs of moral strength, genuine love and extravagant forgiveness is the gift the church received from the cross of Christ and it is the same gift that we are to distribute to every nation, to every people. It is at the very moment that terrible things happen that the church is surely called to instill again and again its confidence in the power of goodness, a goodness that springs forth from faith in God.  For only from this position of spiritual strength can people escape from utter despair and become caught up in compassion toward one another.
     If we are indeed God’s people, we are to play a part, however small, in bridging divisions and healing hurts. Perhaps our own contribution may be as simple as exercising civility, in speech and behavior, with those with whom we find disagreement. Rhetoric in our nation has become considerably more intense than most of us can ever remember. Our work, as God’s people, is now to cool our nation’s rhetoric and get on with building confidence once again in the immense spiritual strength that is available in God’s promise that “there are more of us than there are of them.”

The One Who Comforts Us

“He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.”
2 Corinthians 1:4 (Common English Bible)
     Captured in these words is one of the great secrets of life; if we are to help others effectively we must recall how God has helped us. Forgetfulness in the one direction breeds selfishness in the other. It is a keen sense of God’s mercy and comfort in our own lives that fills our hearts with the desire to share that same mercy and comfort to others. Through memory our own mercy and comfort is endowed with wise and intelligent sight.
     This truth suggests that where mercy and comfort is lacking in the heart there remains soul work to do. Selfishness – and lack of mercy – is often the manifestation of someone wounded by selfishness and uncaring behavior. Emotional defenses are built, the result being that the broad stream of comfort and expression of concern neither flow into or out of the heart. What is required is fresh attention to God; attention to the promises of God in scripture and prayer that the eyes of the heart may once again discern the active presence and work of God in the present. Remembering what the Lord has done for us teaches us what we ought to do for others. More, clarity of memory results in the compulsion to participate in God’s ministry of grace.
     How will you participate in this great avalanche of comfort and mercy today? What attitudes will you change or action will you take or prayer will you pray this week as you seek to love God and neighbor more deeply?  Who do you know that needs your words of comfort or demonstration of caring concern? The apostle Paul, the author of these words, asks that you first remember what God has done for you. It is then that God’s comfort and care will be multiplied by your response.


The Most Important Commandment

“’Which commandment is the most important of all?’
 Jesus replied, ‘The most important one is Israel, listen!
Our God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart,
 with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 Mark 12:28b-31 (Common English Bible)
     The question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” is telling, even indicting. The question discloses the human heart that continually seeks, with considerable eagerness, to advance in personal stature by right belief and acts of piety. It is a question that is less concerned for another. The concern is for self and doing all that is necessary to be held in high esteem by others. So, what is sought is an understanding of the rank and priority of scale of God’s laws. With this knowledge is the ability to focus behavior for maximum value in the sight of God – it is the striving for self-righteousness. Are we to do this first or the other?
     Of course, this isn’t the only place we see this condition of the human heart. Jesus addresses this on multiple occasions, most notability in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (verse 1).” Such behavior – or condition of the heart – misses the aim of God’s story. What God desires is “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).”  Striving to please God by demonstrations of piety is devoid of any semblance of humility.
     God’s desire is not for sacrifices and human scrambling for an esteemed position among God’s people. Instead, God’s pleasure is dwelling with humanity and abiding together as God leads us into a deeper understanding and embrace of love – love for God and love for neighbor. More, God is more than a participant in this covenantal community; God is the prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. The resurrection of Jesus marks the end of self-righteousness.
     Jesus’ answer to the question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” is a call to unshackle ourselves from a faith that values right belief and outwards acts of piety over transformed hearts, lives, and communities. God’s concern is about life together, not one’s personal stature. Anything else marginalizes the central message and objective of Jesus – the call to right relationships – and imprisons once again the human heart in ceaseless striving to earn favor with God. Walk in love, teaches Jesus, and in this walk the truth of God’s Kingdom will have its finest witness.