There are long good-byes and there are short good-byes. One person lingers at the doorstep, another makes a bee line for the exit without looking back. The “goody-bye” part that is always there. The last Sunday for Susan and me will be June 12, and these weeks will be filled with gratitude and love and thankfulness for our years here. That will stay with us for years and we want to thank all of you for that.
The weeks ahead will fly by as we get ready for a new chapter in our lives, We are counting on you for your prayers as we get immersed in long and many “to do” lists between now and then. We will be praying for you too as preparations are made for a smooth transition and to welcome Pastor Merriman to Brunswick United Methodist Church.
There are various good-byes in the Bible. One that I often come across is the apostle Paul's good-bye to the church in Ephesus. There is a long and short to that good-bye. The long version is Acts 20:17-38. The short version is in verse 32 of that chapter, and I leave with that short verse for now:
“And now I commend you to God and to the message of God’s grace.”
There is no better place to be than in the hands and in the grace of God, and we look forward to those moments we’ll still have to be able to talk and see each other between now and June 12.
God Bless and Be with you,
~ Pastor Tom
(After July 1, 2022 Pastor Tom's blog will be available to read at pastortomshaw.wordpress.com.)
It was yet another dispute when all he was hoping for was a nice, quiet, peaceful meal – was that asking so much? It seems this time it was, and the dispute won out. The “disputers” and the “disputees” brought their dispute to him in order to set the record straight. And so, like a parent
arbitrating an argument between squabbling children, setting the record straight is what Jesus did.
The meal was the Passover – lots of food, lots of remembrance, and not a little bit of wine. The “disputers” and the “disputees” were Jesus’ followers, also known as the disciples.
And the dispute? It was over who was the greatest of among them—the Greatest of All Time— or as they refer to it in the world of professional sports, the GOAT. So they turned to Jesus, and who knows? Maybe when the dispute was settled one of them would get Jesus’ vote for being the greatest among the disciples.
But Jesus set the record straight with these words: “Among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the
table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27).
~ Pastor Tom
Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”
(hymn: "Jesu, Jesu")
Some years ago on Valentine’s Day, a young man came up to me, and said, "Dad, How do you spell Dummkopf?"
"Three years of high school German," I blurted out, "and the only word you remember is Dummkopf? And you don't know how to spell it? Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think you should be using it on other people when you can't even spell it yourself. We are trying to impress the admissions officers and get you into college, you know."
"Don't worry, Dad. It isn't not for college. It is part of a post I'm putting on a girl's Facebook page."
"A post? On a girl's Facebook page? On Valentine’s Day? A girl whom you would like to have like you? And you are going to do that with ‘Dummkopf’?“
"Relax, Dad. It is counter-intuitive. I don't expect you to get it because face it, you’re old. You just don't understand girls today. You don't know what makes them tick. She will know it's a joke. She'll laugh and think I'm a charming guy - believe me, this will add to my desirability in her eyes."
My son may have had a point on that age thing – in all the years of buying Candy Hearts, never once did I see one with "Dummkopf" on it.
So, since it was Valentine’s Day and since I could definitely use a boost in the charm and desirability department, when my son and I passed under the home-sweet-home lintel, I went straight to increasing my charm and desirability with my wife, employing my son’s specially crafted greeting of, "Happy Valentine's Day, Dummkopf!"
I'm not sure it worked out the way it was supposed to, unless you call a bump on the head in the shape of an iron skillet a sure sign of increased desirability.
Later, when the doctor asked why I had such a bad headache and I told him how it had happened, he just looked at me and said, "What are you, some kind of dumb head?" No, I answered, "I'm pretty sure 'Dummkopf' is the word you are looking for."
So, here’s the moral of the story: when it comes to Valentine’s Day, “love” might be a better choice for you than “Dummkopf,” ‘Love” as in “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection outdo one another in showing honor. Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:9-13).
Do that and you probably won’t end up with an iron skillet souvenir on Valentine’s Day.
– Pastor Tom
Many years back came the story of a New York City man who had been kidnapped. The kidnappers had contacted the man's wife with the demand for a $100,000 ransom.
The wife, however, was able to talk the kidnappers down to $30,000. Side question: Who knew that such ransom demands are negotiable? (Side note: Eventually the kidnappers were apprehended, the husband returned unharmed, and in general it was a happy ending.)
The columnist who reported the story, Calvin Trillin, went on to imagine what the negotiations must have been like between the wife and the kidnappers: "You want $100,000 for that old guy? He's practically worn out - you ought to be paying me to take him back! So, $30,000 is my top offer." The kidnappers must have thought she had a point, since they agreed to the discount bargain ransom.
In the gospels we read of a woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in lavish fashion with an expensive perfume. But nowhere are we told that she calculated the cost. She wasn't looking for a 70% discount bargain. And she wasn’t wondering if maybe she had a smaller jar of perfume lying around somewhere. Instead, she pours it all out.
She gives it all and holds nothing back. And in so doing, she gives us a prophetic picture of what Jesus would do on the cross: hold nothing back. A few days after this hold-nothing-back anointing, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior would go to the cross, holding nothing back and pouring out everything for us and for this world.
Madeleine L’Engle, author of Wrinkle in Time, put it this way: “To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason” (source: Plough Publishing).
It certainly defies reason, but it cannot defy love, and most certainly not the love of our God. Your salvation and mine and that of the world has never been a sale item. It has never come out of a bargain bin. It has never been offered at 70% off. Instead our salvation has always been and always will be nothing short of the full, immeasurable, fathomless love of God for the world, for you, and for me. Amen.
May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith. And together with all God’s people, may you have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (from Ephesians 3:17-19).
In 1993 the film “Groundhog Day” played in movie theaters around the nation. If you know the story, then you know that Phil the weatherman is dispatched to Punxsutawney, PA to broadcast the weather report from the center of Groundhog Day celebrations.
But Phil the weatherman gets caught in a time loop, endlessly repeating Groundhog Day over and over and over again with the same things happening over and over and – you guessed it – over again. At first he thinks only of himself and rearranges his routine for his own benefit. But then something unexpected happens: he is awakened to the fruitlessness of a self-centered life, and a transformation takes place. He begins thinking of others and serving others.
Whether they knew it or not, those filmmakers took a page right out of the Bible. Actually they helped themselves to many pages (but the Lord doesn’t mind). They took that Bible page that tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
They borrowed that Bible page that teaches us to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). They helped themselves to that page of the Bible that speaks to us of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
And they took seconds on that Bible page that calls us to love another: “God sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins; since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God’s love is made perfect in us” (I John 4:7-10).
So, for Groundhog Day this year, take a page from the movie “Groundhog Day,” and help yourself to as many Bible pages as you can. God Bless and Be with you this Groundhog Day and all the other February days too,
Maybe you have heard the old joke, "I finally got a full eight hours of sleep! It took me three nights to do it, but I got it."
A penny for your thoughts: Was Jesus a heavy sleeper? A tabloid headline back in the day might have read: “Savior Slumbers While Storm Surges – Disciples in Disbelief and Distress.”
The Good Book puts it this way: “The waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ Jesus got us, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Be still’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:37-39).
When storms of life are raging, Jesus is our calm. When attacks of panic descend, Christ is our refuge. When anxiety wants to drown you, Jesus is the lifeline who holds us. Even when you can't hold on, Christ doesn't lose his grip. Jesus will still hold on to you. Take courage and let him who is the strength of us all be your strength too.
Lenten Prayer focus: People in the storms of life
“When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me”
(“Stand by Me” by C.A. Tindley)
Although Cleveland baseball fans—on the premise that they suffered long enough on earth—might think that all Cleveland baseball fans will go to heaven, that isn't always the case:
One day, when one fan's last out came, that fan ended up with a reserved seat in the other, warmer section of the eternal baseball diamond, which for the fan was okay: "too many winters" was the response, no matter how high the devil cranked the flames.
Finally the devil decided, "Well, if I can't toast the fan, I'll freeze the fan." And he brought on the deep freeze. But, to the devil's horror, first the fan started to dance and then to shout, "Cleveland won the World Series! Cleveland won the World Series!"
A quick disclaimer (case you're wondering) I've not found any biblical support for the sports fan's lament of "hell freezing over."
However, the "Hymn of Promise" offers us this encouragement: "In the cold and snow of winter, there's a spring" - (and spring training too, say the baseball fans) - "that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see" (words by Natalie Sleeth).
As the Good Book says, when all else fails, still "these three remain: faith, hope and love" (I Corinthians 13;13).
Today's Lenten Prayer Focus: someone you know in need of hope
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.
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).
“Hey, are you able to live-stream the Sunday services?” I asked the kind sir who was born before before phones without cords and even before tv dinners in aluminum foil and also before left arrow traffic lights, but still born in time to be around when the Browns won the NFL championship game in 1964, and even when the Indians won the World Series in 1948.
And there I was, asking him about Sunday morning live-stream worship services.
“Not a problem, Pastor Tom. I can live-stream with the youngest of them. I have seen every live-stream service since the pandemic hit. Usually I’m just in my pajamas but for Easter morning I put on my fancy pants.”
Fancy pants on Easter morning - pretty impressive. His comments got me thinking about the wardrobe so greatly needed in these pandemic days. You could call it a wardrobe of Easter finery, even if fancy pants aren’t in the collection:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:12-14
Go ahead, try the wardrobe on! It’s not heavy, though at times you might wonder how on earth you will ever fit into some of it. Don’t worry - leave that to the Lord, our Master Tailor, and let the wardrobe become a blessing to you and to those around you.
United Methodist Pastor, Child of God, Follower of Jesus Christ.