Don’t Get Ahead of Christ!

Image result for walking with JesusBy Joe LaGuardia

We are but a few weeks away from Holy Week.  It is around this time that I am reminded of “watersheds” in the gospels, those little verses in which Jesus turns from local ministry in the northern country and begins his journey to the cross.

Sometimes a watershed verse is simple, such as the one in Luke 9:51, “And he set his face towards Jerusalem.”  Other times, it is a little more nuanced, such as Mark 10:32, “Jesus and his disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus walked ahead of them; they were amazed and they were afraid.”

I appreciate Mark’s watershed for several reasons.  For one, Jesus walks ahead of his disciples.  He always goes before us, marking our way.  He leads us and guides us, and we are to follow him.  No one is ahead of him, and those who try to get ahead of him do so at their peril.

Jesus is adamant about going to the cross too; he knows that whatever needs to live must die first.  Even in the midst of death and darkness, Jesus goes before us– “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me!” (Ps. 23:4).

If you are anxious or uncertain, if you feel lost or can’t find your way, you may want to stop and pray.  Ask God, “Where am I getting ahead of you?  Where have I failed to follow you?  Where have I gotten off-course?”

Backtrack your steps, and remember that the deeper you go into sin, the more laborious getting out of it when you reverse your course.

Second, those who follow Jesus have mixed emotions.  Some disciples were amazed; others were fearful.  When we walk with Jesus we will be amazed; but fear is not absent–especially if we are unsure of Christ’s way.

It is scary to walk with Christ–it requires vulnerability and risk.  Sometimes he goes places where we do not want to go; of course, when we follow him, we are never alone!

The writing of F. W. Faber, cited by Arthur J. Gossip in the Interpreter’s Bible on the Gospel of John, hits the nail on the head and beautifully summarizes this lesson,

We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and the dark.  Wait, and He will come.  he never comes to those that do not wait.  he does not go their road.  When He comes, go with Him, but go slowly, fall a little behind; when He quickens His pace, be sure of it, before you quicken yours.  But when He slackens, slacken at once: and do not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for He is God.

Be sure to follow Jesus today.  Don’t get ahead of him…or yourself!  It may just be a watershed in your own life.

Bergamot promotes health, peace, and patience

WILD BERGAMOT Monarda fistulosa

WILD BERGAMOT
Monarda fistulosa

By Orrin Morris

There are four Sundays in the Advent season. The first Sunday, last week, focused on hope.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah wrote words of hope to the Hebrew’s exiled in Babylon:

In those days, and at that time, will cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 33:15).

Amid the hopelessness of exile, the prophecy assured them that the Messiah of the lineage of David would come to save all who trusted in him.

This Sunday, the second of the Advent season, focuses on peace. John the Baptist’s father was visited by an angel assuring him of a son who would proclaim the coming of the Messiah with these words, “To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The wildflower for today is not very common, so to find it and benefit from its beauty requires patience. In the same but more serious manner, those Hebrews that remember the exile of 600 years that passed from Jeremiah’s prophecy had to be patient for the fulfillment of his proclamation of peace.

Wild bergamot is also known as Monarda and, for obvious reasons, often mistaken for bee balm. Both plants are present throughout the U.S. Both plants have thin, rigid, hairy stems. Both have serrated leaves of similar size and shape. Both have deep green leaves that are affixed as pairs opposite one another up a stem that may be 2 to 3 feet tall. Both have flower heads composed of two-lipped blooms that stand aright.

The flowers of both plants’ colors are in the reddish range; however, the bee balm blooms are bright red while the bergamot blooms range from light pink (nearly white) to a pinkish-lavender.

The bergamot prefers dry sandy soils while the bee balm requires moist soil. The greenish bracts under the flower head flare out and downward for the bergamot, thus creating a cluttered and enlarged effect. The bergamot has a rectangular stem, and starts blooming in June and continues through September.

This part of the mint family was named after Nicholas Monardes, a Spanish physician who published a book on the medicinal values of plants in the New World. Wild bergamot was also called Oswego tea and used as a treatment for chills and fevers. Other American Indian tribes used tea from the leaves for headaches, sore throat, bronchial infection, acne and to soothe bug bites.

Rev. Orrin Morris is an artist and retired Baptist minister.  His weekly column appears in The Rockdale Citizen.

Paying Attention, minding your miracles

Aedes_mosquito

By Joe LaGuardia

God is still in the business of miracles, but we are so busy with work, school, and raising families, we forget to stop and pay attention to the many ways that God provides for us.

When unemployment figures were high and jobs scarce, many people turned to God for help–seeking him with passion.  Now, with an improving economy, many people have gotten back to work; but they haven’t gotten back on their knees to pray.  We forget God in times of feast and fat.

Some of us just have dry spells.  Those are times when God’s presence seems dim, our hearts hardened, and conviction of sin dulled.  Even we pastors can go through the motions of life without taking a few minutes to affirm God’s presence in the moment.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when conviction visited me one day when I was leafing through a book to find a sermon illustration for church.

The book was Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World.  The chapter was, “The Practice of Paying Attention.”

One minute, I was reading it to find an illustration.  The next minute, I was on my knees in prayer, drawn in humble repose by the very Holy Ghost of God.

There, I realized that I do not do a good job of paying attention to God and others.  I overlook far too many blessings He has placed in my life.

But I also know I am not alone: Many of us are guilty of that.

There has to be some time in our day to stop and pay attention to God.  Our prayers do not have to be long or lofty; nor does our time with Him need to be explicitly religious.  We just have to learn how to pay attention again.

When God’s Spirit convicted me of this, I thought of my family.  I take them for granted.  My children are always doing something I fail to cherish.  Time flies.  My wife and I are aging quickly, but we don’t sit and look into each other’s eyes like we did earlier in our marriage.

If we don’t pay attention, we lose a sense of reverence and awe of our place in God’s creation and God’s care for us.  We think ourselves bigger and more important than we really are, and fail to see ourselves as a part of a larger human family in which the details and the small things in life–like kisses and smiles–matter.

Barbara Brown Taylor encourages us to start small and see God in everyday life:

“Reverence may take all kinds of forms, depending on what it is that awakens awe in you by reminding you of your true size . . . Nature is full of things bigger and more powerful than human beings, including but not limited to night skies, oceans, thunderstorms, deserts, grizzly bears, earthquakes, and rain-swollen rivers.

“But size is not everything.  Properly attended to, even a saltmarsh mosquito is capable of evoking reverence.  See those white and black striped stockings on legs thinner than a needle?  Where in those legs is there room for knees?  And yet see how they bend, as the bug lowers herself to your flesh.

“Soon you and she will be blood kin.  Your itch is the price of her life.  Swat her if you must, but not without telling her she is beautiful first.

“The easiest practice of reverence is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes” (p. 22).

It’s good advice from a sage of a priest, and we should consider our own need to repent of our lack of reverence.

Psalm 139 is a prayer that acknowledges God’s close intimacy with us: “You have searched me, O God, and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise…my going out and my coming in; you are familiar with all of my ways” (vv. 1-3).

Its time for us to know God like that too, to pay attention and stop letting life fly by unnoticed.

Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  His book of articles and homilies, Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey, is now available online.