Come Together As We’re Staying Apart

sven-brandsma-RUo6p124tRQ-unsplash

I was wrong.

I thought this pandemic would cause most people to unleash their inner hermit. I’ve seen that some, but I’ve also witnessed the opposite.

Neighbors who never speak are checking on each other (from a distance).

Couples and families are spending time together “at home.”

Senior adults are learning social media.

And leaders everywhere are asking people to pray.

The pandemic is terrible, but let’s become better people through the struggle. Let’s care for others, cherish our children, honor the elderly, and whatever else we do, let’s not forget to pray.

I once heard a wise man say that if two people work at getting closer to God, they naturally get closer together. I think that’s true for all of us during this time. If we all strive to grow closer to the Lord, we can come together as we’re staying apart.

Photo courtesy of Sven Brandsma and Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Passover, Communion, and Covid-19

neal-e-johnson-oQC81OHcl4Q-unsplash

Strangely, Covid-19 makes me think of Jesus at the Last Supper. 

Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, ate the Passover meal with His disciples. At that meal, He instituted the ordinance of Communion, still practiced by Christians worldwide today. We learn from Matthew 26:30, “Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”

In the Passover Celebration, a collection of Psalms, called the Hallel, is sung throughout various parts of the meal. The closing Psalm is often Psalm 118 beginning with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” 

This was possibly the last song of worship sung by Jesus before His crucifixion. And yet, He still chose to sing.

He sang knowing what was about to happen,

  • He knew He would be betrayed that very night.
  • He knew Peter would deny Him three times.
  • He knew He would go through a mockery of a trial.
  • He knew the crowds would cry out, “Crucify Him!”
  • He knew about the crown of thorns that would be placed on His head.
  • He knew He would be flogged, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified.
  • He knew He was going to die.

But He continued in faith, knowing and believing and demonstrating that the faithful love of the Lord endures forever.

No matter what.

I wish I had that kind of faith. 

I have to admit, my first thought regarding this pandemic is not the love of the Lord. Instead, it’s worry. I worry about whether or not I’m going to run out of toilet paper. I worry about whether or not we have enough food for two weeks, or four weeks, or eight weeks, or more. I worry about the health of my wife and I, about our parents and family, about my church family and friends, about my city and state and frankly, the whole world. 

I’m not alone. 

I see worry everywhere, on the faces of people, young and old. I see it in posts and tweets and newscasts and in articles. It’s everywhere.

How different would it be, though, if we tried to approach what’s happening with the faith demonstrated by Jesus as He sang the Hallel?

It’s going to stretch me, but today I choose to live by faith. 

I will give thanks to the Lord. I will remember that He is good. His love endures forever.

Care to join me?

Photo courtesy of Neil E. Johnson and Unsplash

Something I Hate

ben-white-9O1oQ9SzQZQ-unsplash

I hate being sick. 

I hate doctor’s visits, uncontrollable coughing, sickness fatigue, the inability to concentrate, and forced rest. But more than any of those, I hate the feeling that everything is not right with my body. It makes me feel incomplete, somehow lacking, and worthless.

I hate it when I cough and someone asks me if I have the Coronavirus. It’s not funny.

I really hate it when the sickness lingers. That’s when I get anxious and wonder to myself, “Maybe I’m never going to get better.”

This happened to me years ago when I was serving as a missionary in Central Asia. I’d lost my voice and felt like I would never get better. I began to envision my life without the ability to speak. I felt alone, lost, and scared. 

Then the Lord thrust the following scripture right in my face. I read it in the Bible, I heard it as a song, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

“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

Sometimes I find that scripture comforting. However, both then and now, I find it convicting. How is it that I can dedicate my life to God’s will, serve Him with all that I am, but then forget Him when sickness strikes and worry beds down in my house? How can I work to share the love of Jesus with people and help people grow in Him and then forget Him when I am in need? Do you ever have that problem? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

So, join me as I remember Him:

He is Almighty.

He is our Creator.

He is Beautiful.

He is our Savior.

He is Eternal.

He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He is our Peace.

He is Good.

He is our Healer.

He is Holy.

He is Love. 

He Knows all things.

He is Faithful. 

He is Kind. 

He is Lord. 

I’ve been reminded, once again, that me being sick doesn’t change His identity or His characteristics. He is God no matter what happens to me. I don’t have to worry. I can go to Him and ask for His help. But first, I must repent.

Father, forgive me. I’ve forgotten Your goodness in the midst of serving You. I’ve misplaced Your love and mercy while focusing on my own need. I’ve forgotten Your grace. Forgive me for worrying and not coming straight to You. You are my God, my Healer, My Rock, and I will ever praise You. Amen.

*photo courtesy of Ben White of Unsplash.com

The Shepherds and the Savior – Interactive Christmas Sermon for Children

gareth-harper-dABKxsPTAEk-unsplash

(The following is an interactive children’s sermon for the Christmas season)

This year, I’m going to need some help in telling my Christmas story. Can I count on you all to help? Great…let’s practice first. When I say these words, I want you to follow my instructions. And every time you hear me say them in my story, you go ahead and respond…

SHEPHERD/S – Raise your hand and say (that’s me!)

ANGEL/S – Shake both hands back and forth over your head and say (Praise God!)

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

GOOD NEWS – Make a fist and pump it shouting (Hooray!)

Let’s practice one more time…

SHEPHERD/S – Raise your hand and say (that’s me!)

ANGEL/S – Shake both hands back and forth over your head and say (Praise God!)

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

GOOD NEWS – Make a fist and pump it shouting (Hooray!)

Ok – you think you have it?  Let’s begin:

I want to tell you a story – and YOU have a very important part to play.  Listen now as I share.

Many, many years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, there were some SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) guarding their SHEEP (Baaaah) at night in the field. 

It was like any other night. The sky was clear and full of stars. The SHEEP (Baaaaah) were quietly resting and the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) were quietly talking.

When suddenly, out of nowhere, right in front of the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) came an ANGEL (Praise God!)

“Ooooooooo!” said the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) looking so frightened!

“Don’t be afraid” said the ANGEL (Praise God!) I’m here with GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) for you; 

“GOOD NEWS (Hooray) which will make everyone very happy!”

“I’ve come to tell you that a Savior has been born. His name is Jesus. You’ll know who he is because you’ll find him wrapped up in blankets, lying in a manger!” said the ANGEL (Praise God!)

“The Savior has been born!” said the SHEPHERDS! (that’s me!) That was very GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) The whole world had been waiting for the Savior to be born!

And with that the whole sky was filled with ANGELS (Praise God!) They sang “Praise God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God!”

Then it was quiet again, and all that was left in the field were the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) and the SHEEP (Baaaaah).

“Let’s go and see if we can find this Savior named Jesus!’ the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) said to each other.

They hurried off, leaving their SHEEP (Baaaaah) who were now fast asleep.

The SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) found Mary and Joseph in the manger, just like the ANGEL (Praise God) had said. With them, lying in the manger, just like the ANGEL (Praise God!) said, was Jesus.  

Mary and Joseph were hardly expecting any visitors that night; they certainly weren’t expecting to see any SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) come to their stable.

But the SHEPHERDS (that’s me) knew they had to tell someone! They just couldn’t go back to their SHEEP (Baaaah). They couldn’t keep GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) like this to themselves…they had to tell EVERYONE!

This kind of GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) was too special to keep quiet about – the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) had to go and tell others. So off they went to Bethlehem, telling everyone about the birth of Jesus.  That was great!!! Thank you so much for helping me tell the Christmas Story – (give yourself a hand!)

But remember, when I told you that you had an important part to play in my story. The important part doesn’t stop here. It’s just beginning.  That first Christmas might have been over 2,000 years ago, but the GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) is something we still need to tell others about today, like the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) did that first Christmas.

That’s right – all of us have a part to play…we all need to tell others about our Savior, Jesus. 

If you would be willing to tell others about Jesus, like the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) did, raise your hand and say (“That’s me!).

Awesome! I knew I could count on you!

Merry Christmas.

(Photo courtesy of Gareth Harper of Unsplash)

Nativity Maturity

Nativity

A week or two ago, my wife invited a mom and her preschool daughter to our home, to decorate for the upcoming holiday and for Christmas cookies. She asked the young girl if she would place the Nativity scene pieces in a small stable that was sitting on an end table near the sofa. 

The girl looked carefully at the figures and at the stable, then began by placing the Baby Jesus figure, lying in a manger, in the center of the stable. Then, she placed Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, and finally, the angel.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Most adults would do the same thing.

Except… 

The little girl placed all of the figures facing inside the inside center of the stable instead of facing outward.

When I saw the Nativity scene, I thought, “What is this? No one can see the characters because they’re all looking at Jesus.”

Then, I realized that the little girl had it right. Jesus is the center of the story. It’s all about Him. Why would anyone look at anything or anyone else?

Lord, this year, help us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Help us make the Christmas season all about Him. 

A Big Liar

tajmia-loiacono-jvC_OVe97TA-unsplash

I’ve never really thought of myself as a liar, but maybe I am.

Many years ago, I was living in post Soviet Central Asia. I walked into a department store of sorts and was suddenly greeted by the familiar voice of Whitney Houston.  

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.” 

The music echoed down the aisles and drew me into a time of worship. At the time, I wasn’t attending a corporate worship service in English, so the music ministered to me deeply. My eyes teared up as I mouthed the words and wished it would last forever. 

There was a brief break between songs. I expected another familiar praise song or hymn of worship. Instead, she belted out another song.

“I got the stuff that you want, I got the thing that you need”

Yes, Jesus is all we need, but that wasn’t what she was implying.

My personal worship time ended and I felt myself, with self righteous indignation, thinking “Whitney Houston is a big liar. She didn’t mean what she was singing.”

I’ve come to understand two things about that day:

First, I had no reason to judge. I don’t know what’s in her heart.

Second, I’m the one who’s the big liar. I lie every week, sometimes multiple times a week, especially when I’m gathered together with the people of God. 

But I’m not alone.

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Christians don’t tell lies. They just go to church and sing them.”

When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Surely that doesn’t mean me. How can it when I’ve given my life to serve the Lord, to praise Him, to make His name glorious and bring people into His kingdom.”

But have I really done that? I’m not sure. 

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Have I honestly given up my own way? Have I taken up my cross and followed Jesus completely? 

I’ve sang “All to Jesus, I Surrender. All to Him I freely give” while never really surrendering everything. Sometimes, I’ve hardly surrendered anything.

I’ve sang “Jesus, be the center of my life” while making myself the center of attention.

I’ve sang “I will build my life upon Your love” while never showing love to anyone but myself.

Augustine of Hippo once said, “Christ is not valued at all unless He is valued above all.” 

Do I really value Jesus above all? Is He really the Lord of my life or is it just something I say and sing because it makes me sound spiritually important? When all is said and done, would I really choose Jesus over myself? I hope so, but my track record does give me reason to doubt.

Photo courtesy of Tajmia Loiacono of Unsplash

 

Dear Propresenter Technician

alvaro-uribe-P6ZWe1NjoC8-unsplash

Dear Propresenter Technician,

We have three things to say to you.

First, you are important.

  • You are vital to the success of every portion of the worship service or event. 
  • You serve as a technical worship leader throughout the musical and sermon portions of the worship service.
  • You are proclaiming scripture and solid theology to scores of people who desperately need it. 
  • You are actively participating in worship, discipleship, edification, and evangelism without leaving your seat.

Second, we’re sorry.

  • We’re sorry for everyone who’s ever reduced your role to running lyrics. Thank you for helping them even when they unknowingly downgrade your position.
  • We’re sorry for the weird stares from congregation members when things go wrong. For the record, most of them have no idea what’s happening.
  • We’re sorry for every speaker who’s asked you to display something to hundreds (or thousands of people) that wasn’t in the playlist. 
  • We’re sorry for every worship song when the leader was feeling it and repeated the bridge 37 times, hoping you would be feeling it as well.
  • We’re sorry when unusual people mistake you for the sound technician and ask you to adjust the volume.

Third, please don’t forget.

  • Please don’t forget to prepare. Listening through unfamiliar songs, reviewing the sermon presentation, and rehearsing with the team goes a long way toward service excellence which in turn helps to accomplish the purpose of the service in worship, discipleship, and evangelism.
  • Please don’t forget to ask questions. When you’re uncertain as to the purpose of a picture, the sequence of a song, or the translation of a scripture passage, please ask questions of the worship leader or preaching pastor or service producer for clarification. It shows that you care enough to ask.
  • Please remember to fire the next lyrics slide when the congregation is singing the last (or next to last) word on the current slide. Not doing so can cause worshipers to disconnect from the worship song and possibly from the entire worship service.
  • Please don’t forget that you are appreciated. Much of what happens within the worship service wouldn’t happen smoothly without you. Thank you for serving.

Sincerely,

All of Us

P.S. Thanks for confirming on planning center.

Photo courtesy of Alvaro Uribe and Unsplash.com

 

I’ve Had It With This Guy

fares-hamouche-Xe9vkCD7_5g-unsplash

I’ve had it with this guy.

Yesterday, when I had work to finish, he distracted me.

“Excuse me,” I said, “But I really need to finish this.”

He didn’t catch the hint. He just kept right on diverting my attention.

In the end, I finished the project, but it took me twice as long, all because of his insensitivity.

I have to tell him he’s being a nuisance. 

It’s going to crush him, but he has to know.

As I look back, I realize that he’s been doing this to me for years.

And not just at work. 

Yeah, you read that right, he follows me home. 

I have a plan to exercise everyday. 

He always finds something else for me to do. 

He prevents me from going to bed at night so I can be well rested.

The dude even has the audacity to interrupt me when I’m reading the Bible.

He thinks his whims are more important.

He blocks solid communication between my wife and I, causing strife between us.

This guy is my greatest resistance.

I’ve had it with him.

He must be dealt with.

I have to tell him.

Somehow.

 

*Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Intruder In My House

fear

I woke early this morning and decided to go for a walk. As I reached for my keys, I sensed something strange and suddenly realized I was not alone. 

Then I saw him. An intruder had entered my home.

He shook his long pointed finger in my face. Surprisingly, I recognized him. How could I possibly forget that face?

We first met when as a child a bully threatened to beat me up after school. Later, he sat beside me in college while I took my exams, causing me unfounded anxiety. He visited me as an adult, right before I made a bold career move.  Sometimes, he stops by and I don’t see him, but I see what he’s left behind: broken dreams, forsaken promises, hopelessness, and even despair.

He showed up again this morning in my home unannounced.

I looked him right in the eye and said, “Hello, Fear.”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “Just where do you think you are going?”

“For a walk.”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you right now, if you walk out that door, you’ll never come back alive.”

“What do you mean?”

“You step outside, you die. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It doesn’t matter if you believe me. I said it and that settles it. It’s going to happen.”

“You can’t frighten me.”

“I’ve been paralyzing people for thousands of years. You think you can avoid me?”

I looked down at the floor and held my keys tightly. For a moment, I thought I should just wait until tomorrow to walk.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve kept you in my power since you were a child. I made you lie to keep from getting in trouble. I’ve caused you to run from family and friends and opportunities and experiences. You have no choice but to do what I say.”

I paused. He had manipulated me in the past and even now I was frozen. 

He watched me suffer in silence.

“What did I tell you?” he said. “You’re my servant.”

“No,” I said faintly.

“Silly man, I have you under my control even now.”

“I’m not your slave,” I said in a stronger tone.

“You must serve me,” he said, “I will be like God to you.”

“No, you won’t,” I replied, suddenly defiant. “I already have a God and His grace is sufficient. He doesn’t give me a spirit of fear. He gives me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Fear raised an eyebrow.

“You are weak” he said. “You will fail and come running back to me.”

“I may be weak,” I answered. “But He is strong and He loves me. The Bible tells me so. Get out of my house and stay away from me. I’m going for a walk. You can’t stay here and you’re not welcome to join me.”

What If This Is It?

eric-parks-_sSYhR2yHq4-unsplash

Everywhere you look, people are searching for what’s next. 

What’s the next career for them where people will pay and respect them like they deserve? Where’s the next place for them to live that will suit them perfectly? Who might they meet next who will become their perfect mate for life? What next step might they take personally that will equal God’s will for them in the future?  What person, place, or career might be next for them and be the ultimate thing that will finally give them the fulfillment they are looking for?

People everywhere want to know what’s next. But what if it doesn’t work that way. 

What if what’s next is right in front of you? What if the next step for you is not found in searching the world to see what it might hold for you? What if the secret for your success and contentment is found in what you can bring to the world right where you are? 

What if this is it? 

What if the perfect job for you right now is the one you currently have? What if the home you’re living in is the one that can be perfect for you? What if you’re already serving the organization that will propel you to greater heights of success? What if you’re currently married to the person who is right for you now and will still be right for you in 50 years? What if God’s will for you is to be right where you are?

Think about it. If you knew for sure that where you are right now is exactly where you should be and is the catalyst that will launch you to greater things in your relationships, career, happiness, satisfaction, heck, your whole life… If you knew this for sure, what would you do differently? How would you treat people? How would you invest in yourself and others around you? How would your habits and attitudes change?

What if this it – your shot, your chance, your destiny, your opportunity to do and be something in this world? Whether you believe it or not, acting as if this IS it will move you forward in all of these areas because it will change your actions, your behaviors, and your results.

It’s your move. It’s your turn. You’re up to bat. It’s your big break. 

What are you going to do about it?