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.
Last night I snuck outside for a walk. Cloud cover was minimal, stars could be seen in abundance, and the moon was nearly full. (In case you’re wondering, the “Full Strawberry Moon” will be here on June 5.) Even the westerly wind was in my favor: I could feel its gentle breeze and hear the frogs rather than the humming of cars buzzing by on I -71.
As I looked up at the moon, the opening words of “How Great Thou Art” came to mind: “O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made …” All I was looking at was one moon, yet what a springboard it was to imagine all the worlds God has made and marvel at God’s power through the universe displayed.
Quiet moments are good balm for the soul – don’t cheat yourself of them! Ten minutes here or five minutes there will give you a break from the concerns and worries of the day. And no need to worry about them while you’re on break – they’ll still be there when you come back since they don’t usually go away on their own.
A moment of quiet will help you get your bearings back. A time to ponder anew what the Almighty can do will do wonders for you too, and also give you a chance to let your soul sing “How great thou art!” (Best part is, your soul doesn’t even have to put a mask on to sing.) “Then sings my soul, may Savior God to thee, how great thou art: how great Thou art!”
These are difficult times that compel us to keep our focus on the Savior, and to rely God’s amazing grace and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives: “He has shown you what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). God Bless and Be with you today,
“Pastor Tom, this is an i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y long psalm!” No argument there.
Plus, it had been awhile since someone spelled out the word “incredibly” for me. True confession: that was actually quite helpful since I had been thinking about using that word in an upcoming sermon, and now I wouldn’t need to look it up in my spelling dictionary.
“It’s not even the entire psalm!” True enough, and next thing I knew my interlocutor was in full stride: “You don’t really expect anyone to pay attention all the way through, do you?”
I really hadn’t thought about what I was expecting. And just what is God expecting when you read a Psalm?
If poetry isn’t your thing, Psalms probably aren’t either. And if poetry is your thing, Psalms still can be tough. But read enough of them and you will uncover most everything: joy, desperation, anger and jubilation; prayers for mercy, smiting, forgiveness and deliverance; prayers of grief, gratitude, helplessness, confidence, peace, panic, hope, fear, and so much more, covering the full range of our emotions.
The psalm that prompted such incredulousness at the prospect of reading it was the water park Psalm (Psalm 104, although I haven’t met anyone else who’s willing to call it the water park psalm). Even on a cold winter’s day it’s a long psalm, never mind on a hot day that is daring you to go jump in Lake Erie just for the pure joy of it.
Could you imagine our Lord God wanting you to do something just for the pure j-o-y of it? That would be i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e. Some would even all it b-i-b-l-i-c-a-l.
Chances are there will be a lot of depressing news today, so here’s the question: what will give you pure joy today? What will let you rejoice in the Lord’s creation and also rejoice in the Lord? You might or might not be able to do it, but this might be a day when you can come close and let your joy be a delight to the Lord, to yourself and to others around you.
Let the glory of the Lord endure forever, let the Lord rejoice in his works …
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live and I will glorify his name while I have my being.
May the joy of the Lord be with you today,
“You know, Pastor Tom, when you’re used to there being two of you, you miss the sound of laughter when it’s just one of you in the house.” As my friend and I hung up, what she said stayed with me the rest of the evening. Her husband is in a nursing facility, visitors are not allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and laughter is hard to come by.
It’s like this: smiles and tears are abundant, but laughter can be mighty scarce sometimes when you are limited to a few minutes of visiting through the window: no touching, no hugging, no embracing, just a hand from each held up to the window and that whispered “I love you,” before the one visiting tromps through the grass back to the parking lot and the one in residence waits for the nursing staff to come back and get him back into bed.
“When you’re used to there being two of you, you miss the sound of laughter when it’s just one of you in the house.” Maybe you know someone in need of a good belly laugh today to shake off the blues. Might you also know how to make that happen?
Today our Lord might lead you to pray for health care workers in hospitals and care facilities, or to pray for families separated from a loved one, and for loved ones separated from the families.
It might be you know someone in need of laughter or joy or happiness, the genuine kind that doesn’t depend on circumstances but is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Or maybe you will be led to pray for someone or something that has weighed heavily upon your heart during these pandemic days. But how will you ever know until you pray?
God Bless and Be with you today,
Marie Kondo has made famous the question “Does it spark joy?” But no matter how hard I try, my skill at folding clothes has yet to spark joy. It does cause uproarious laughter among family members, but I don’t think that is the joy Marie Kondo was getting at.
To admit the obvious, sparking joy has been harder during these days of the pandemic. Routines are topsy-turvy. Mental and physical exhaustion creep in without warning. Patience - like yeast, flour and bread – is in short supply at times, and favorite restaurants are closed. Even the nerves of friends and family whom you knew to be fray-proof and frazzle-proof are now showing signs of being frazzled and frayed.
What is a person to do? Increase your joy spark by answering these questions:
Is there more joy in being selfish or being unselfish? The “right” answer is easy for this one, but it is still true that unselfish attitudes and actions have tremendous power to spark joy in others as well as yourself.
What does the acronym JOY stand for? Long ago someone turned the word “joy” into the acronym JOY: Jesus – Others – You. When joy isn’t all about me (or you), there is more joy to go around. Of course you attend to those habits and hobbies and people that bring you joy, but it doesn’t have to stop there. And sometimes it doesn’t even have to start there either. Joy that spreads is joy that sparks and is mindful of others as well as oneself.
What company does your joy keep? Joy is easier to spark when surrounded by love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-discipline. Want more sparks of joy? Focus also on one of these other areas that are named for us in Galatians 5:22-23, and see what happens.
In the Good Book the apostle Paul wrote: “Spark my joy again and again” (oops! That’s Marie Kondo sneaking in there again) “by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose …Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others. Have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Amen. (Philippians 2:2-5)
Jesus – Others – You. Three key ingredients to sparking joy.
God Bless and Be with you,
“My daughter asked for prayers for her neighbor in the apartment building. He had started drinking heavily after he had been told his lease would not be renewed, about the same time that he got laid off since his work place shut down. My daughter and her husband don’t know the whole story, but he was a good neighbor and they had gotten along; they are troubled for him and praying for him. The police stopped by just a couple of nights ago. It wasn’t confrontational, just trying to get him out of the apartment and to a place where he could get some help.”
The scene described above is being played out repeatedly across the country: neighbors in turmoil, jobs disappearing, housing that once could be counted on suddenly can’t be any longer. People’s lives are affected, and there is no thought of tomorrow for them because getting through today will be challenge enough. Please take a moment to pray for someone you know who is facing an overwhelming challenge.
Last week our Bishop (Bishop Tracy Malone) shared these words of encouragement for times such as these:
“God has not brought us this far to leave us now. We are being called and prepared to be the church at such a time as this. We are called to be God’s witnesses in this world that so desperately needs to know the love, the joy and the hope of Jesus. As Psalm 27 reminds us, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation. So why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger. So why should I tremble?’ Let us hold fast to these words and to these promises. And remember that with the Lord on our side, and with us praying together and uniting together in being the hands of feet of Christ together, we will come through this together.”
We will come through this together—both for our sakes and for the sakes of others too, for the deserving and the undeserving, for those who are sore afflicted and those able to offer succor to their neighbor in need. Through Christ all things are possible, and together we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. May you be blessed to be a blessing this day,
From a telephone conversation in mid-March--
Pastor Tom, I think my dogs got saved last Sunday. We were on the couch, coffee in hand, staying at home and getting ready to tune into the online service. By the way, in case you are wondering, Pastor Tom, this is a pretty good way to go to church. You ought to try it some time.
When the service came on, our dogs nestled on the floor in front of us. And then when you started to preach, they perked up their ears and took in every word – seriously! When you came to the closing prayer, our one dog Buddy - Buddy is the name we gave him, but we have no idea what names he has given us - Buddy had his front legs crossed, then put his head on top of them and closed his eyes.
It was very touching, until I realized he was falling asleep. "You can't sleep during Pastor Tom's sermon," I said to Buddy, "that's what the two-leggeds do!" So I gave him a nudge to wake him up.
"Leave poor Buddy alone," came the angelic voice across her cup of steaming coffee. "Can't you tell he's praying? He's got his paws crossed, head bowed and eyes closed." I had to admit that she had a point I couldn't argue with.
Sleeping or praying, you are invited to online worship Sundays at 10 am. I won't be able to see you with a cup of your morning brew, but hope you'll be there all the same.
In these days of social distancing, non-listeners have been bailed out with a built-in excuse. When they are asked, "Have you even heard a single thing I have said?" they can say, “How can I? You’re six feet away!” Truth is, whether it’s an art, a gift or a skill, listening is still more of a attitude thing than a distance thing. As the Good Book says when giving us two slows and a quick: “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19).
It is said that Mother Theresa was once asked by Dan Rather of CBS News what she said during her prayers. She answered, "I listen." Then Dan Rather turned the question around and asked, "Well, if you’re listening, then what does God say?" Mother Theresa smiled and said, "God listens." The reliably unflappable Dan Rather flapped for a moment, so Mother Theresa helped him out: "If you don't understand that," she added, "then I can't explain it to you."
How much that story has changed over the years is difficult to say. (Mother Theresa passed away in 1997.) But it still rings true and sounds like a lot of listening. When it’s noisy or when it’s quiet, at home or out for a walk, sitting still or battling with garden weeds, what will listening sound like today for you? As the Good Book says, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:10).