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.
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,