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Pastor Mows

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I just finished mowing the lawn.

The church’s lawn.

It’s not a huge lawn, but it’s certainly bigger than my house’s. I’m a little tired out. My son was there, and our member in charge of grounds and properties was also there. We were a three-person strike force, smiting weeds and cutting down grass that had gotten too big for itself!

It’s the first time I’ve ever mowed a church lawn, even though I’ve been a pastor for about a decade. And… that’s kinda dumb. See, I’ve got a philosophy when it comes to manual projects at church:

If only pastor is doing it, there’s probably something wrong.

If pastor never does it, there’s probably something wrong. (more…)

Fearing Lament

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So, I’ve been feeling a bit down. I thought I would find something to give voice to the emptiness of my heart. In the past, the Psalms of Lament have comforted me and helped me phrase my sorrow. (Psalm 13 continues to be my favorite of those.)

In my devotion collection was a book I hadn’t read yet: Blessed is the Man: A Man’s Journey through the Psalms: Psalms of Lament. Blessed is the Man is a devotional series for men (as you might guess). Each book looks at a different variety of psalms; psalms of praise, Messianic psalms, and this one… psalms of lament. I thought it might be good to check out, given the state of my heart.

I read the entire book this last week. It investigates six psalms over six weeks, with a devotion for each weekday. It’s a good format. Each devotion examines a portion of a given psalm, until at the end of the week you’ve journeyed through the whole thing. Most of the devotions were well-written and properly talked about each section of verses.

By the end, though, something was clear: The authors did a great job examining trees, but they never discussed the forest. (more…)

Gathered Together

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So, yesterday I was grieved by our decision to keep the church’s doors closed for almost another month.

Today… I was not better. I woke feeling very down. I drove to church to memorize the sermon and record this week’s digital worship. And when I got to church… I couldn’t work. I couldn’t concentrate. There was only the desire to weep.

I stalled. I did some other things. Eventually I got to revise the sermon and then memorize it. I felt a little better. Being able to speak about Jesus and his forgiveness and love helps. But… I was speaking to a camera, not to my people.

But by the late afternoon, I was again in a funk. Just… done. My wife kicked me out of the house to just drive for a while, which usually helps at least a little. And it did. A little. (more…)

You can’t come in.

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I nearly wept tonight at a church council meeting.

This. Hurts.

And I am not angry at my council. These men, I think, made a prayerful and wise decision. I agree with them.

I still hurt.

Most of the meeting addressed one thing: When and how will we reopen the church? The virus has had us locked down for about two months. We miss each other. We miss worshiping together. We long to be together.

Legally, as of May 24th – about a week and a half away as I write this – we can gather again. Should we? If so, what precautions should we take?

And we wrestled. How do we best show love for God and each other? How do we care for each other in this time? (more…)

Extroversionally Flabby

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A tree sundered in a recent windstorm. Cracked right down the middle, right next to the church building. Could cause a lot of damage if it fell the wrong direction. This morning, we had a workday of sorts, with my family and two other families coming together to take it down, chop it up, and take care of all the various pieces.

We observed distance rules, but we all chatted as we worked. Let me tell you, it was glorious. My kids worked hard. It’s good to see them serve like that! And to have adult conversation in person with someone besides my wife? Look, I love my wife so much, but it’s good to talk to other people, too! It wasn’t ministry-heavy at all; just a chance to chat with friends.

We labored for about four hours, hauling branches. It was hard work, but well worth it. I knew I’d be wiped out when I got home. And what a surprise: I was tired! After lunch and a shower, I took a nap.

I wasn’t expecting the social whiplash, though. (more…)

Really Easter

Stone Rolled Away

The stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.

It doesn’t feel like Holy Week.

On a usual Holy Week, I’ve worked my butt off to get three (at a minimum) services ready. All the sermons memorized. Making sure the screens, the bulletins, the musicians are all ready to go. It means I get to journey from the upper room to the cross to the empty tomb with the Christian family I am a part of. It means lots of special music and special food.

Not this year. (more…)

Separate Yet Together

The congregation is Mr. Potatohead.

OK. So, stick with me here. In the Toy Story movies, Mr. Potatohead’s various pieces are all alive and form one character. If you take his eyes off his, um, potato head, the eyes can still see for him. Though separated, his various pieces all form one character, one person. Obviously he prefers to be together in one place, but he’s functional when apart, too.

So right now, the congregation can’t come together. We are denied our weekly worship. We cannot commune together as we normally would. And potlucks? Right out!

But we are still one body in Christ.

We’ve been finding unique ways to exercise that oneness. Every week I prepare worship and post it on Youtube for the congregation to watch. But Sunday morning, I also host fellowship and Bible study time, three times every Sunday morning. The congregation lets me know which one they want to come to. I send invitations to those who want them, and we video conference for about an hour at a time.

Why divide it up into three and not do it all at once? This way, the group is small enough that we can actually talk to each other. It’s not just me talking at a bunch of faces; it’s actually seeing and talking with each other.

And I gotta tell you: It’s awesome.

The congregation is asking about one another, calling one another, supporting each other. I’ve got a few people coming to every single video conference so they can see everyone and encourage more people.

We are apart. But we are still together. And it is Jesus that unites us. He’s our head.

You can separate the body of Christ, but you cannot separate us from Christ. He holds us fast. And as long as he’s got us, well, we’ve got each other too, don’t we?

And as Jesus longs to be with us, as his love moved him to leave heaven to rescue us, we long for each other. We can’t be together now, but we still long to be together.

And until that day when we’ll be reunited, we shall continue to long for each other. For now that means video conferences. For now that means being separate. And that’s ok.

We’ll be together again.

Maybe not in this world, and that’s ok, too. It means we get to party together before the Throne.

And there, nothing will ever separate us again.

Essential

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In the wake of so many people now staying at home, there’s been an outpouring of artists providing free services on streaming. Andrew Peterson is reading his great children’s book On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness a half an hour a night. Two different groups of friends are providing near-daily live streaming concerts. There’s artists like Mo Willems giving drawing lessons.

It’s an amazing blessing that we’re living in an age where we can share so much digitally. I’m so very thankful the pandemic is striking now instead of ten years ago. I’m able to keep in touch with my congregation and even see many of their faces!

But I do have to laugh. Some people are going nutty because they suddenly have all this free time that they never had before. They don’t know what to do with it.

Me? I’m busier than ever. (more…)

Reunion

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I didn’t cry when I saw their faces. I didn’t.

But I wanted to.

This past Monday my church leadership made the difficult decision to close the church to group worship. We continue online, and I’ve been pumping out the content – two video devotions a day. I’ve been calling and texting members far more than I would in a normal week. I’ve probably had more constant contact with my members than ever.

But I miss them. (more…)

How do we respond to pandemic?

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Sunday we were still able to hold worship service at our church. This is what I preached:

How do we respond to pandemic?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) It sounds so good. Maybe you have it on your wall somewhere. Maybe you’ve posted it to social media. But the people who heard it first hated it. 

God’s own chosen people, the people he had set aside to be his own, had rejected him. Can you imagine how much that hurts? To be rejected by an entire nation? And God had sent warning after warning. “This is what will happen if you don’t turn back to me!” And the people hadn’t listened. So God drew back his protection, and the nation of Babylon conquered Israel. And God’s chosen people were taken into exile. And while they were there, false prophets were saying, “We’re God’s favorite! He’ll take us back! Don’t get comfortable here in exile!” 

And that’s when Jeremiah steps in and says, “No, you pray for the good of the city you’re staying in. God wants to prosper you… here. He wants what is best for you… here. It’s not where you want to be, but he’s giving you hope and a future here.” 

And that’s why the message isn’t nearly as comforting as you might have expected! But despite the fact they weren’t where they wanted to be, despite the fact they were torn away from what they wanted, God was working for their good. He used the exile to bring his people back to his side. 

And he’s working for our good, too. It doesn’t always look that way, though, does it? “I have plans for you.” Except there’s a pandemic. Except there’s shortages. We went to Aldi. Yep. The toilet paper was totally gone. I’m glad we have enough at our house! “I have plans for you. Plans to prosper you.” But we look around this world… this pandemic? The world is broken, isn’t it? But this wakeup call is good. It reminds us we have a home, and it’s not here. Our home is in heaven. So let’s not get too comfortable here, even as we’re confident God has good plans for us. 

So… how should we react to pandemic? 

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Don’t panic. Pray. 

Maybe you’ve seen some panic. Maybe you’ve felt it. There’s this pressure on your chest. Start hoarding. Are we going to have enough? What’s going to happen to us? Panic focuses on me. It focuses on mine. And maybe you hear that and go, “Well, good. I’m just thinking of my family!” Again — focusing on me and mine. My family? It focuses on what I need to do, or on what I can’t do. And panic brings out this terrifying truth: I can’t do what I think I need to. Panic makes us so, so small. Panic doesn’t help. 

I want to encourage you to do something different. I want you to pour out your fears. Be honest with them. But don’t turn them over and over in your mind. Instead, be honest with your fears and pour them out to God. 

A little bit ago we sang Psalm 65. What does that say? Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Do you hear that honesty? God, listen to me! I’m crying out to you! 

How about Psalm 13? How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. Notice how honest he is. “This is what’s going on!” And he struggles with his own thoughts. That sound a bit like panic? Like someone who knows he shouldn’t panic, but does anyway? But in the end he says that he will still rejoice because of God’s unfailing love. He knows that despite what it looks like, despite what he feels, God still loves him. 

Just speak what’s in your heart to God. Pour it out. He can handle it. So instead of keeping it all inside, instead of running that impossible emotional treadmill, let it all out to God. And God’s listening. Our second lesson said it bluntly: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. (I Peter 3:12) He’s listening. He’s paying attention to you. You’re not shouting into the void. 

But then don’t just pray.

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Ponder the Passion. 

When God created this world, he looked at all he had made and said it was very good. There were no diseases. Every body of every animal and human worked perfectly. Nothing went wrong. But when Adam and Eve rejected God, all creation fell under the curse. Now there was disease as a direct result of sin. Creation is broken. 

Can you imagine leaving a perfect place like heaven to come to a broken place where there’s not just sin, but disease too? Where you’re personally threatened by disease? Jesus did. Jesus was capable of getting sick. He felt the effects of sin. 

We don’t know if Jesus ever got sick, but we know he confronted sickness. You heard it in our Gospel: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (Matthew 9:35) Not just some of them. All of them. Every disease. Every sickness. And that was the beginning. See, Jesus came not just to take care of the problem of sin, but every symptom as well. And here he began doing that. He began wiping out disease. And no disease was too much for him. He wasn’t a specialist that said, “Yes, well, I can fix your cancer, but not your depression.” He could handle any of it. 

But at the cross, he dealt with what caused all of it. He took your sin on himself. And when he died, he really died. And when he rose from the dead, he conquered death itself. Sickness is not as powerful as death. If death itself couldn’t stand up to Jesus, sickness can’t do a thing. 

Now, you may have noticed. Jesus defeated sin, but there’s still sin here. Jesus defeated death, but death is still around. We will have sin until we see Jesus face-to-face. Unless Jesus comes back first, that’ll be after we die. And because of that, until we see Jesus face-to-face, we still have the symptoms of sin. We’ll still face death. And we’ll still face sickness. But they don’t have any power over us anymore. Sin is nailed to the cross. Now the worst thing that will happen to you is going to heaven. That… that’s something we can handle. 

It’s kind of like we’re in Babylon with Israel. God says he’s going to prosper us. Maybe it’s not the way we wanted, but he does have our good in mind. We’re not where we want to be. We want to be home with Jesus. But in the meantime, Jesus is still watching out for us. He hasn’t forgotten us! So when panic sets in, ponder the Passion. Think about what Jesus has done. How he has already defeated what’s scaring you. How Jesus is on your side. No reason to panic. You got Jesus. 

And when you ponder the passion, you’re free. You’re not thinking about what you have to do or what you can’t do. You’re thinking about what Jesus already did. What’s already done. And you see how far God goes for you. No reason to panic. You got Jesus. 

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Provide Peace.

So, Jesus heals every disease. And then he looks around and says, “More people need to know about this. So pray that God sends more people out.” And if we kept reading, you know what the next thing Jesus does is? He sends out the people that are praying. 

You can be confident in Jesus. He loves you. He has defeated death. And that means just like Jesus showed mercy on you, you can show mercy to those around you. You can provide peace to them. First, it means you don’t panic. You don’t have to. Jesus has it under control. The God who died for you still loves you and still holds you in the palm of his hand. No need to panic. If you find yourself panicking, go back. Pray. And ponder the passion. Second, it means you’re not going to look down on those who are scared. Why? You can totally identify with them, can’t you? If not over this event, then over something else! Instead of judging, show mercy on those who fear. That includes showing mercy on yourself. Again, pray. Ponder the passion. 

And then? You can provide peace. You provide peace by going through the proper protocols. You know what? God gave us soap as a blessing. And he gave us reason as a blessing. So if it means keeping from shaking hands for a while, then don’t shake hands for a while! If it means stepping back from seeing other people for a bit, what a blessing that in this era we have this digital way to be able to talk to each other. No, it’s not the same as being in person, but how much better than being totally alone! 

Provide Peace by seeing how we can love one another. 

First, here, among the family of believers. If you have needs during this pandemic, please share. Text or email or call me, so we can help each other. God gave us brothers and sisters in Christ not just so we can help each other, but so we can also be helped. Encourage one another. Text. Call. Let’s see how we’re all doing. We’re not alone. Christ has put us in a body to be able to lift each other up! 

And then we can also be equipped to reach out to those outside the church as well. Do you know that’s one of the reasons why Christianity grew? In ancient Rome, plagues ripped through the cities. Those who were able to flee got out of any city with a plague. But the Christians stayed behind. They cared for those who were left behind. And that love was noticed. 

Martin Luther did the same thing. The black plague went through Wittenburg. Luther chose to stay home. He opened his home to the sick. He and his wife took care of them. Luther wrote that if a Christian saw it as his duty to flee, as long as that person wasn’t abandoning responsibility, say, that person was a doctor, the Christian was free to do so. But he stayed behind to show love. 

Guys, in this pandemic, we get the chance to shine Christ’s love. We get to keep panic at bay by showing love to one another. So invite others in so they can know the reason for your hope, even as you support them. 

Jesus has this. He is with you even now. Even right now as this pandemic is ripping across the globe. The God who has holes in his hands from loving you so much isn’t going to drop you now. Don’t panic. Pray. Ponder the Passion. Provide Peace. 

Amen.