Our help…

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

These words come at the end of our Old Testament passage for this weekend. While Christ is giving us a very stern reminder about the life of faith, the lectionary offers us this passage as a different kind of reminder.

The full passage speaks of being protected from enemies – something that happened quite often for the people of Israel. It speaks of how our life is a gift because God is with us. God is an ever-present help.

The place you may have heard the verse above is probably not where you are thinking about. It is at times when we come to church seeking comfort and sustenance, filled with sighs too deep for words. The place you have likely heard these words before is at a funeral.

One of the options, that many of us use when planning these services, is to forgo a traditional call to worship and instead to use several “sentences of scripture” – snippets and snapshots of our faith that come through specific verses from the sacred text. These have been chosen carefully by wise liturgy scholars who ensure that we do not take anything out of context by using only one or two verses. But what I have found is that at times of deepest stress, sometimes all we can do is to hold onto those short, sweet, strong promises of God. We need them. They keep us going until our faith is in a place where we can once again seek after complicated questions again.

Even when we are not in a time of stress or distress, these words hold an essential reminder for us: we are never alone. God is always with us, providing aid and assistance in everything we go through. Now, it may not always look like the help that we think we want, but God is always there walking with us and giving us some sort of help that we need. Sometimes that is simply presence and sometimes it is something more.

So, whatever you may be facing today, may this verse be a reminder for you that God is already working in everything that is happening. God will bring you to the far-side of every storm with grace and give you peace. And no matter what may come or wherever you may find yourself – God will never, ever leave your side.

Blessings,     Janie


There Is Growth

… and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelations 22:2)

This weekend we will finally come to that moment we have been waiting for – the special celebration of a very special anniversary. Thirty-five years ago this church was chartered and given the charge to “grow where you’re planted.” And what a period of growth it has been.

As we enter into this time of rejoicing and giving glory to God for all God’s many blessings, let us remember that this growth has come in many shapes and forms.

Like the lilies of the field, we have seen periods of growth when numbers and life seem to be flourishing from every corner.

Like planted seedlings, we have also seen times of growth where it came internally and happened beyond what the eye could tangibly see.

Like the mighty oak tree, through all the periods of growth our roots have grown stronger and our branches reached wider. In everything we have done, are doing, and will continue to do – there is growth.

In Revelation, we hear of a great tree that will stand in the middle of the city of God next to the river of life. That tree is known for two distinctive qualities: twelve kinds of fruit and very special leaves. The fruit likely represent the twelve tribes, the twelve disciples, the twelve ways we will live into our calling as Christ’s own.

The leaves, though, are even more important. They will provide healing to the nations. At the end of the day, the most important thing we can do, as a mighty tree that is always growing and reaching, is to bring healing into the world around us.

I hope all of us will reflect on the ways Highland lives into that essential part of our calling as we prepare to gather this weekend. For it is in our leaves and branches, not just our roots, that our future and legacy lie.

Blessings,     Janie

Dry Bones

“Then God said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…'”  (Ezekiel 37:4-5)

This weekend, our youth will lead us in worship to share about their experiences from Montreat Youth Conference and Youth Group this past year. We can all look forward to a service full of energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Our younglings adore leading worship and having the chance to make their voices truly heard. So get excited, ’cause this is gonna be good.

Among the passages we studied at Montreat this summer was this one from Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones. It is a somewhat famous passage when God tells the prophet in a vision that the dead – the really, really dead – will live again. The bones are the people of God. And the good news of this prophecy is that nothing and no one is beyond new life.

The younglings studied this passage on the very first day of the conference, when we were considering God’s voice. Specifically, this passage teaches us clearly about God’s sovereignty – God’s ability to do all things. We considered that God’s voice is always speaking new life into the dry places, the barren places, the forgotten places in this world. This includes within us and among us and beyond us.

Though there are times when we may be tired, weak, and worn, God’s presence in our midst means that there are always new things happening. There is nothing beyond God’s ability and no one beyond God’s reach. We do believe that God will never force us, but the life force is there waiting and working so that when we are ready, God’s promises will already be fulfilled.

This is good news. Many times in our life we feel like we walk through the darkest valley, one filled with the really, really dead, dry bones. We feel as though we have nothing left. Sometimes we are right and we are understandably beyond our ability to keep going. First, remember that God does call us to rest and take care of ourselves. Secondly, remember that the strength you need to face the challenges ahead is already there within you in that place where God resides. It may not be easy, but you and I can do this. Thanks to the promises of God, the dry bones will live and we will find the new beginnings we seek. May it be so with us and with the world.

And we’ll see you on Sunday!

Blessings,     Janie


Body & Spirit

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. (James 2:26)

This is, in truth, an odd comparison. Generally, if we were to look at faith and works versus body and spirit, we would see the body having to do with works and faith having to do with the spirit. Yet, here our author has compared these items in the exact opposite way.

What can this teach us?

First, it displays that just as faith is necessary, so is the body. Thanks to generations of writers who have seen our earthly bodies as disposable, we have lost touch with the importance of God’s creation in our physical selves. Not so for this and other ancient authors.

Faith is entirely a matter for the body. In other words, faith requires the whole self, including our flesh and bones – made to be a part of the world God originally intended. We are to care for our bodies so that our bodies can care for others.

A second thing that this comparison from James teaches is that works are the spirit of faith. They are its core exhalation – for remember that the word for spirit in Hebrew literally means “breath.”

Just as we cannot live without breathing, so our faith will not be alive and thriving without works that demonstrate its meaning. Faith is not lip-service or simply following a simple plan of “right and wrong.” Instead, we are invited into a life-changing way of being that will transform everything we’ve ever known, thought, and been.

My prayer for all of us is that we will take this verse from James into our hearts and truly learn what it means for our lives.

Blessings,     Janie

To Follow

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. (James 2:18)

We, the church of Jesus Christ, were never intended to be solely about “spiritual matters.” Though we have heard this rhetoric, and it kept us warm through much of the past century, we lost an essential part of ourselves in its telling.

Jesus did care about the soul of a person – but only as a part of the whole person. This is, in fact, an ancient Jewish notion: that the body and soul and spirit (or breath) were always intended to be together. They are inextricably linked. It was the ancient Greek religion that introduced the thought that flesh is evil to the Christian faith. And oh the woes we have caused ourselves ever since.

Our bodies and souls and breath were made by God’s own self to love and be loved. All of it. Every part of us was intended to be good. Though evil may creep into our beings, it usually comes much faster into the soul, where darkness can easily reside without notice for a great long while.

Why does all of this matter?

We are living in a time when we need to reclaim what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ. This occurs not only within our walls as we care for one another and learn and grow and even worship – but just as, if not more, importantly beyond our buildings and campus.

To follow means to care about the whole being of others around us. All others. No exceptions.

To follow means consciously choosing to care when the world casts someone out, decides they are unimportant, or silences them altogether.

To follow means to display Christ’s love in our everyday lives – not just in church on Sunday.

As we head into Labor Day weekend, when we give thanks for the memory of those who fought to see others cared for in our own nation’s history, may we find ourselves once again renewed in our walks of faith to become those who work hard so that all of the people around us will find the wholeness God desires for them.

Blessings,     Janie

Daily Prayer

This summer, we have spent the past few months diving deep into the words and meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. We may say it every Sunday (hopefully every day), but few of us have taken an extended period to consider all of its facets. So we took the last weeks and did so.

What have we learned?

Well, for one thing, the prayer that we all know by heart is not the prayer given to us in scripture – at least not precisely. Instead, we use a combined version that has been developed by the body of Christ throughout the centuries and passed down to us. This does not remove it’s authority, but should make us pause to consider what else we might learn from the originals.

Second, it is debts and trespasses and sins. In fact, all three are accurate translations of the Greek word in either Luke or Matthew (the gospels from which the Lord’s Prayer comes). So, whichever way you feel comfortable praying – if you are using one of those three options, you are correct.

Lastly, that the prayer’s foci mirrors and echoes the focus of Jesus’ own work in the world. Put simply – that the kingdom will come, God will be honored, and evil will be overcome. Along with that, though, comes a side to the prayer that we often don’t want to talk about.

Prayer is not just to deepen our connection with God. It is to take part in the transformation God offers to us – one that will make us more like God, a little bit every day. And if we become more like God, Christ, and the Spirit that guides us, we will find ourselves living as they do: loving others, serving everyone, giving their life for even those who do not deserve it.

This is the part of our learnings that will make many of us uncomfortable. We want to just say our rote words, get the “Jesus points” and be done for the day. But God desires our whole lives to reflect the glorious life of God.

Whatever you have learned this summer, I hope you will take with you an enlivened sense of God’s presence each time you pray Christ’s prayer. I hope that you will hear God speak to you anew in words you have spoken your entire life. I hope that you will take the bold next step of allowing God’s Spirit to shape you into a follower of Christ who does not merely seek the love of God, but also seeks to love our neighbors.

Blessings,     Janie

The Problem of Evil

For the Lord gives wisdom… It will save you from the way of evil, from those who speak perversely, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil; those whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 2:6, 12-15)

When we speak of evil, many of us already have a picture in our minds of what evil looks like. For most of us, the leaders of the Third Reich come to mind, along with Stalin and several other dictators who did terrifying things to their people.  That is blatant evil. It is easy to identify that perverseness has so infiltrated a human’s thought process and way of being that they almost cannot choose anything other than the most frighteningly pain-provoking option.

What we do not like to admit is that we also want to paint other people as evil. Those who look, believe, speak, act, and think differently than we do – some of them must surely be under the influence of evil, too… Right?

If we remember that sin is to break God’s commandments – specifically Jesus’ two commandments to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves – then how does evil fit in? Evil is the piece that goes beyond mere sin to an insidiously sneaky and overpowering level. A basic definition is that evil is what is against God.

That being said, there are some provisos that should be considered.

The main caveat is that all people – yes ALL – are made in the image of God. All of us were created good. Though the fallen world may infiltrate us from a very young age, no human being is ever truly evil. Systems are evil. Actions and words can be evil. But humans cannot be in their inmost nature that reflects the God we serve.

Why does this matter? Because we are human and we are always looking for someone to blame. The easiest target is the great Tempter himself – but note that neither Job nor Jesus blamed Satan for his influence or trials. They understood their own agency in their decisions.

The next simplest target are fellow humans that are different than us. Now, some people do purely represent the vision Proverbs will depict in our passage this weekend – those who have allowed evil to become so intricately interwoven into their souls that they will always be prone to be perverse, crooked and devious. Most of the time, though, we want to blame any number of groups of people who are not like us.

The short response to such thoughts, words, and actions on our part is: STOP it. It is sin to do so. And it is evidence of how much we have resigned ourselves to the evil infiltrating our own beings.

What God has called us to do is to take responsibility to see perversity, crooked ways, and devious dealings eradicated. In short, we are to take part in the battle against evil. But never by turning on one another.

One of my professors and Civil Rights Activists, Dr. James Lawson, once said, “Love is our only weapon.” We are to do all things in love. To hold one another and our leaders accountable for the hurt we cause. To love those who the world and especially the church casts out. To stand with the oppressed and to comfort those in need. We are to do these things and more because as followers of Christ, our job is to live into the very best of who we are and to fight against the very worst we can become.

As we tackle the problem of evil this Sunday in one of our last installments of our Summer Sermon Series on the Lord’s Prayer, my hope is that we will all be open to God’s presence at work among us.

Blessings,     Janie


“To you I will give their glory and all this authority… If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:6-7)

Several years ago, this quote appeared in a daily calendar of bible quotes. On the surface it looks quite appropriate and even useful. Very tempting.

In reality, this is a quote spoken by Satan as he is tempting Christ.

This Sunday, we will be exploring the line of the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” As a part of our exercise, we will include the passage from which these verses come – the temptation of Jesus from Luke. Why? Because temptation is more complex than we like to admit.

It is a hot topic upon which I have often been asked to teach, especially to teenagers. However, when someone asks me to teach about temptation, to any audience, they are wanting me to give fix-its for how to avoid “bad behaviors.” This is an unhealthy attitude toward temptation and life, because it knocks all our actions down to a laundry list of dos & don’ts.

Temptation is about sin. And sin is about breaking relationships – with God, with others, with ourselves. To talk about the way the world entices us requires that we rethink not only what, but how we think. How we make decisions. What it means to prevail over sin’s entrancing grip will look different in different situations. To say it is a one, two, or three choice list of how-to’s will get us into trouble.

The goal for followers of Christ is to remember that temptation is an inevitability. Sin, in this life at least, is the reality. We will never be perfect at this and frankly, to tell ourselves that we can or should avoid temptation is unfair to even our very best selves. Given that they are a part of life, the way we overcome those things that tempt us is to keep our focus where it should be.

Our lens, through which we check everything else we do, is the love of Christ. This is part of our Reformed heritage. When we are offered an opportunity to take advantage of someone – does this display the love of Christ? What about a way to cause harm to the bodies God has given us? And, key of all the questions, will this action support or injure my relationships with those closest to me?

At the end of the day, the way we treat others and ourselves is the way we are treating God. So moving past temptations is not about avoiding things that we are told are “bad,” but engaging them with the things that are “good.” We should seek to love God and others and ourselves in all that we do. We are meant to find ways to do this rather than simply avoiding things that have a negative impact upon us and our relationships.

So seek positive engagement with those things that tempt you to be anything other than who God has called you to be. Once you know better, be better. And whatever you do, do everything in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God through him.

Blessings,     Janie

Clothed in Love

Above all, clothe yourselves in love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. (Colossians 3:14-15)

In this passage, the writer gives a vision of a world truly ruled by God’s purposes and guidance. Harmony rings from every mountaintop and peace reigns throughout the many valleys. All are one.

Would that the world truly reflected such a beautiful visage.

The world is not so simple. It is broken. It is hurting. It is full of forces that are in direct opposition to these purposes of God. The discordant tones of hatred, violence, and death beat stridently against our souls. The world is falling apart. What can we do?

This is where this passage actually matters.

We are invited to clothe ourselves in love – to let it fully envelope us so that every part of who we are might display God’s love to the world. This includes not only our physical bodies (how our hands reach out in grace and our feet run to bring peace), but also our minds, our hearts, and our spirits.

To aid us in the challenging journey ahead, the author prays that the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, would dwell within us in order that we might remember this essential part of who we are: we are one.

This is not uniformity, but it is unity. Everything that happens to one person effects everyone else. The ripple effect is real. And it is only together that we will find the way we can serve our God who has called us to ensure everyone knows they are part of the fold.

Not just everyone we think of, but every one of God’s children. All of them. No exceptions.

We are called to be welcome, home, and friend to all people. To seek a better world. To ensure that all have enough and live in safety. And to let love be a force that pours down like waters and engulfs the world like a rolling stream.

Picture that world. Now… make it so.

Blessings,     Janie


“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)

This rather famous quote comes from one of our passages for this coming weekend as we will be considering the line in the Lord’s Prayer – give us this day our daily bread. The passage from Luke we will explore focuses on the importance of sharing our resources with others in need. This passage from Matthew takes a different trek through the importance of trust in our faith.

Every day, we must make the conscious decision to once again accept our role in God’s kingdom. For some of us, that role comes through our specific profession. For others, it comes through our hobbies and outside interests. For everyone: God has ways we can serve the kingdom, here and now, right in our midst.

As we look to that vocation, it should not surprise us that sometimes the cares of the world – and specifically simply having enough daily resources – can weigh on us. We worry that we will not have enough for the days, weeks, months, or years to come. These are completely understandable, realistic, and important concerns.

Jesus is not saying, in this passage, that if we just trust in God and sit on our tails then everything will get done for us. There are countless jokes about that misunderstanding for a reason.

On the contrary, as the old saying goes, “faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God hands you a shovel.”

The promise of this passage is that if we are trusting in God and seeking to fulfill our role in God’s kingdom – as the sparrow fills hers – then we do not worry about what we will need. In the work, God will provide opportunities for the resources we need and opportunities for good stewardship of those same resources over time. Our daily bread will be there if we are about God’s kingdom (which is a constant work in progress).

Jesus is also pointing out that worrying does not make our day any better. It is a distraction that taxes our minds, bodies, and spirits of the strength we need to fulfill our vocation. Focus on what challenges we can or need to grapple with – tomorrow’s can wait.

One final piece to this puzzle: this passage is the basis for the beloved hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” which has been inspiring several generations by poignantly expressing how close our God is to us in our living. May this arrangement of it be a moment of inspiration to you as you press on towards the goals God has set before you.

Blessings,     Janie