This past Sunday was "Christ the King Sunday," bringing to mind, as it usually does, a church from my growing up years called, "Christ the King."
It was located in a rough area of San Diego, and that was before city planners and highway builders bifurcated it, not too unlike what Highway 59 did to Akron neighborhoods when it first went in.
"This is my kind of church!" I told my dad. During the coffee hour you could get tamales and burritos and tacos. (Then if you wanted, I think you could go to Weight Watchers too.)
For adults - and for others who somehow were not thinking about their next enchilada during the pastor's sermon - this church was also a refuge and sanctuary in a turbulent place and time.
There was a statue of Jesus Christ on the front lawn. One day people noticed that the hands of the statue were missing. Vandals? Pranksters? No one knew.
They decided not to replace the hands, because it would help them remember that they themselves were the hands of Christ in that neighborhood, just as we are in our neighborhoods, even if we don't happen to have any handless statues around.
During this coronavirus pandemic I have missed singing many songs with you, including this one:
Take my hands Lord Jesus, let them work for you,
make them strong and gentle, kind in all I do,
Let me watch you Jesus, till I'm gentle too,
Till my hands are kind hands, quick to work for you
(Hymn 273, "Jesus' Hands Were Kind Hands")
God Bless and Be with you,
Nothing slows down a ship like a barnacle. A 2014 article reported that the Navy spends a half-billion dollars in extra fuel and maintenance costs because of barnacles and related organisms.
"Their collective mass is small compared to the overall ship," wrote the author Sara Zhang, "but their little bodies have an outsized effect creating drag around the ship's otherwise smooth hull." So, not only do they weigh you down, they also slow you down.
If you don't ever do anything about barnacles, you'll never need to worry about smooth sailing since before you know it, you'll be using all your energy just to plod along.
Spiritual barnacles have a similar effect: they can do to your faith what ocean barnacles can do to a ship: create a drag and weigh you down, both in quiet waters and in the storms of life.
If you have been nursing a grudge or cradling a beloved barnacle of bitterness that has attached itself to you, you cannot be truly free until it has been dislodged, just like the anti-barnacle song says, "Take away our bent to sinning, Alpha and Omega be, end of faith as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty" (Hymn 384, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling").
Advent: a time for hope, a time for peace, and a time for barnacles to be released; a time of quiet, a time apart, a time to find ourselves in God's hands, arms and heart.
p.s. the 2014 article is "The Navy's Huge, Hidden Problem: Barnacles on Ships" by Sarah Zhang, published on the GIZMODO website, May 7, 2014.
Much of what I learned about worship services I owe to my older brothers. In my childhood when I complained, “I never know what to say,” they took an interest in my plight. “For the prayers, just say this: ‘lettuce pray’,” instructed the one. “And when they tell you to stand up, shake hands and act friendly towards people, say ‘Peas be with you,’” said the other.
My brothers were quite pleased with themselves, as was I, with my newly acquired church language skills. But my parents were less than impressed. The lessons stopped, so I never got to hear their version of Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy”).
We live in difficult times, and in whatever language you use or borrow, “Lord have mercy,” will be a prayer suitable to any day. May a kind word, a gentle greeting, or a smile that can be seen and felt through your mask – may these be a part of your day. Likewise may a caring glance, a super-sized helping of patience and unexplained joy be yours to share wherever you may be. And if you can make someone groan when you say, “Lettuce pray” or “Peas be with you,” all the better.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy … and blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:3-12). May your errands of mercy and efforts at peace be a blessing to those around you.
I was at a local grocery store — I can’t reveal the name, but its slogan used to be “Fun for your money! — looking for a lot of fun for my money in the fresh produce department, and I think I found it when I came across the red peppers. At the checkout, the cashier rang up my five different items, smiled and said, “That will be $10,151.34.”
“Whoa,” I said. “Is this some kind of pandemic pricing?” She looked at me, shook her head, and gave me a “w-h-a-t-e-v-e-r” look. (Thanks to years of training from my children I recognized it immediately.)
“Will that be cash or credit?” she asked, look intact.
“I’m thinking mortgage” I said. She gave me more “w-h-a-t-e-v-e-r.”
Eventually the assistant manager came over, and after checking, deduced that actually red peppers were not selling for $14,000 per pound that day – phew! – and we got it sorted out.
“Are we going to eat that red pepper?” my wife asked me when I told her about all the fun I almost got for my money. “Not a chance!” I declared, “that pepper is worth its weight in gold!”
“Well, what are you going to do with it if you’re not going to eat it?”
“I’m thinking of getting it bronzed.”
Whether it's red peppers, gold, fun for your money or anything else, be careful about what your heart treasures, Our Savior’s words are plain and clear: “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
– Pastor Tom
"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
“Have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus” - Philippians 2:5
“No shirt, no shoes, no service” was a standard non-controversial sign at beachside businesses in my growing up years, even at those restaurants with patio seating. No one forced you to wear shirt or shoes (or sandals) – that would have been way uncool, and being uncool is big no-no in beach culture. But neither did you get to demand businesses to wait on you if you weren’t wearing footwear or a top – that too was way uncool.
It is too early to hope that the controversy regarding the wearing of masks is behind us. Some militant non-mask wearers take umbrage at the requirement to don a mask. Perhaps, as they insist, they are well within their constitutional rights to endanger as many others as they wish.
They insist on this choice for themselves, but when they deny businesses the choice not to serve them, their hypocrisy is unmasked, on full display for all to see. “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service” is not something they want to see or hear.
You’ll be hard put to find any mention of mask-wearing in the Bible. But you won’t be hard put to find mention of being mindful of the needs of others.
Wearing masks and keeping social distance is not about convenience or comfort, it is about doing what’s helpful to keep others from getting ill, very much in line with God’s Word that teaches us, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Even when it comes to masks, we get to “have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus” Philippians 2:3-5)
There are exceptions, of course, but they need to be exceptions, not the willful refusal to abide by helpful practices that are effective for fighting the pandemic, and aid in keeping healthcare workers, first responders, the vulnerable and the healthy safe.
– Pastor Tom
Never underestimate the importance of hair – just ask Samson. (Samson’s life is chronicled for us in chapters 13 through 16 in the seventh book of the Bible, the book of Judges.)
Hair was numero uno in a conversation this past winter when I telephoned a friend to ask if I could visit. “I’m sorry, but you can’t come, Pastor Tom. My hair’s a mess, and I’m so sick I can’t even get to a barber.”
"Harpo,” I said, (not his real name) “I won’t even notice your hair; I just wanted to see how you’re doing with the shingles you’ve been fighting.”
“Oh, the shingles never let up. I have been in a lot of pain for some time now, but you know – my hair – I just can’t envision seeing anyone.”
“I was hoping we could have prayer before you go in for the MRI of your thoracic and lumbar spine that you’ve got scheduled.”
“That’s awfully nice of you Pastor Tom. But my hair is so unruly I might have to cancel that. You can pray for me from your home, Pastor Tom, can’t you?”
“I certainly can – do you want me to include your hair in my prayer?”
“Oh, Pastor Tom, it’s not like you to get testy, is it? But I appreciate the thought. My hair doesn’t need prayer as much as it needs obedience school. My urologist thinks I might have a touch of cancer, and the blood clot on my calf has been there four weeks with no sign of letting up.”
“So that’s no prayer for your hair, but prayer for the ‘touch of cancer,’ blood clots, MRI and shingles.”
“You got it Pastor Tom. I’m so thankful for our church, and what a saint my wife is to me through all this.”
Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Lord of my heart; Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me, never to part. (Prayer of St. Patrick)
Full disclosure: while I may have exaggerated how often hair was mentioned in this conversation, there is no exaggeration regarding the health challenges our friend is facing. Please take a moment today to lift up in prayer a friend, foe, neighbor or family member in need of your prayers today.
God Bless You this day.
“Every morning when it’s just us early birds on the streets of Cleveland, I begin my bus route the same way: I close the doors, turn off the lights, and pray. Sometimes my buddies stop and ask, ‘Are you praying in there?’ But they know I am because I’ve been doing it for over twenty years. Then I rev up the engine, turn on the lights, pull out of the garage and away I go ready for the day.
“’Pray for us,’ they tell me, or if it just one of them, ‘Pray for me.’ And I do. I pray for everybody: the regular riders I’ll see and the ones I won’t, pedestrians and police, people in trouble and those staying out of trouble, family, neighbors and enemies too, just like Savior Jesus tells us: love your neighbor and pray for your enemies. I heard someone say once that Jesus teaches us this because neighbor and enemy sometimes are one and the same. I don’t know about that, but I know the Lord wants me to pray for both.
“You see a lot of different people on the bus, each with their own story, not that I get to hear those stories since they’ve got to stay behind the yellow line and all. Still it’s plain to see that the COVID-19 has been hard on lots of folks. We all need prayer these days.”
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
God Bless and Be with you today.
Every headline screams for attention, but still Monday’s headline from the NY Times caused me to do a double take: “Bars, Strip Clubs and Churches: U.S. Virus Outbreaks Enter Unwieldy Phase”
“Ah,” I thought, “look at the company churches are keeping these days,” since people don’t usually group bars, strip clubs and churches together. It brought to mind the old Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” The coronavirus certainly makes for strange bedfellows.
The next thought that came was the once-famous “WWJD” as in “What Would Jesus Do?” Fortunately, we know what Jesus would do because the gospels tell us: Jesus was slandered as a drunkard and glutton, Jesus hung out with low-life tax collectors and sinners of all types, and allowed women of ill-repute to come too close.
Criticism rained down. Accusations flew of being in league with the devil. But that didn’t keep our Savior from proclaiming "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).
Question: Is it the presence of sinners that links these three places together: sinners all standing in need of the grace of God, some who know it and some who don’t, the kind you sing about when you sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found”?
In each of the three places, people are thirsty. It’s just that some have yet to figure out who it is who will truly quench their thirst, heal their soul, and bring them peace unlike any this world can offer: Jesus.
Please pray today for someone you know whose thirst can only be quenched by the Savior. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
It was totally unsolicited, the voice kind if insistent: “I’m calling you, Pastor Tom, because I’ve got one for you. Your next email needs to be on Romans 12:21, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Overwhelmed by recent news and worried about family who have battled COVID-19, this verse had been her book of daily devotions. And it stuck with her. “This is what we need to hear and remember: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Details followed as the conversation continued. A niece and nephew-in-law, health care workers, had both been struck by the coronavirus and had only lately recovered. “I hear people say that we’re in a bubble here in Brunswick, but we’re not. People are getting sick and the news reported that one of the nursing homes had over 70 cases of the virus.
“And a couple of weeks ago George Floyd was choked to death, 9 minutes long or almost, and all of it on a cell phone. It just feels like everything is coming apart. And that is when I remembered ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Evil can’t get rid of evil, only good can do that.’”
She paused to take a breath. In that pause I remembered that someone once said the same thing about hate, love, darkness and light: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“So, Pastor Tom, will you do the next email on Romans 12:21?”
“No need,” I said. “I’ve been typing the whole time you’ve been talking. Do you want me to include your name?”
“Only if you’re hungry for a knuckle sandwich, which would totally undo the whole point of Romans 12:21 that tells us we need fewer knuckle sandwiches and more good. So be good and leave my name off of it.”
May we all join in her prayer this day to overcome evil with good.
Recently I was talking with one of our not-anywhere-near-ninety church members who told me that the times today “put me in mind of the war when everything was rationed.
“We needed a ration stamp for sugar and a ration stamp for meat. Then when the stores would get these things, there would be long lines and the people would just keep pushing me back because I was small. We even had to have rations stamps to get a pair of shoes, which we got only once a year on account of the war.
“And we were quarantined too because they were afraid that we would get bombed. I lived in a coal mine town, and the whistle would blow, and then we had to put blankets over the windows.
“Main thing is you got to hang in there and do what they tell you, they are trying to save your life! All these things happening today put me in mind of that.
“When my mom couldn’t take us to church, then her brother always took us. The preacher was from out of town and he would eat with us. My father eventually joined the church and even became a pastor too, though he still worked in the coal mines. So don’t take it wrong if people don’t invite you to eat, Pastor Tom. They’re just afraid it could happen to them too.”
It most certainly could! But whether or not it does, let your joy and hope be in the Lord. Offer your strength and encouragement to bolster each other in these hard times.
Remember to laugh and to smile, and to not take yourself so seriously all the time, for our risen Lord is “standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).
May God’s comfort and joy be with you today.