“…The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love Him…” Psalm 145:18-20 (NIV)
A few years ago I had the tremendous opportunity to serve on an emergency disaster team that went to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island and killed nearly 3000 residents. When I was asked to go, my original response was that I did not speak Spanish. I was reassured that I would be okay and that I was needed. So I went. My flight left in the early hours of the morning and by late afternoon following a couple of layovers, I arrived in Puerto Rico feeling completely unprepared, still I was excited. On the drive from San Juan to the barracks that we would be staying I immediately saw the physical toll Maria had caused on the island. Trees were parted like waves in the ocean as the fierce winds ravaged all in its path.
I recall having to aggressively drive through thick traffic without the aid of traffic lights and any kind of right of way laws. It was like driving in a third world country all over again. For the next two weeks I was deployed with my emergency disaster team distributing food and water as well as being the correspondence officer (Public Information Officer). I spent days down at the JFO (Joint Force Opperations) working with wonderful people who were equally committed to helping people in need. Through all of this experience I never felt more undeserving of being and serving in that capacity. I often thought that other, more capable people could do this job and serve better than I was serving.
Sometimes self-doubt can paralyze us and make us feel unadequate for the tasks we have been assigned. Still God provides everything that we need to serve him, all that we must do is put one foot forward and then the next and faithfully follow Him. Faith, especially when we cannot see what the next step looks like, is hard, and yet it is so rewarding.
I remember calling home and hearing my wife’s voice on the telephone. Sometimes we had limited cell phone reception because of the damage to the infrastructure, but when I did get through I experienced a real joy in hearing my wife’s familiar voice.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if God’s voice is not familiar to you, perhaps you need to spend a little more time listening and discerning as you pray to Him. He desires to hear your voice too. He wants you to call out to Him and trust Him as He leads you through life, sometimes through paths that are unknown to you.
Question: Are you near to God today? How is your relationship to Him? What needs to change so that you can have a closer relationship with Him on a daily, even moment by moment basis?
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” (James 4:8) Whatever you might be facing today, whether you feel inadequate for the tasks you have been assigned, know that God is watching over you and if we “trust in the Lord with all our might and lean not on our own understand…He will direct our paths” (Proverbs 3:5).
So…do you trust Him? Something more to ponder today.
I keep my foot on the accelerator peddle. I am impatient. I am anxious. I am agitated.
I want my prayers answered. Not an hour from now or a day from now or a month from now now. I want to go fast
My heart is racing I am out of the starting blocks without much thought only with the notion to move. I want to go fast.
But it is hard to go fast when you are broken torn and tattered. Limping isn’t the same in a sprint.
But I am constantly reminded to
two of the hardest words for me to accept.
how can I ‘be’ when my identity is threadbare and fragile? how can peace rule me when all I know is the storm?
I cry out to you oh God. please answer me. remove from me any evidence of sin restore me revive me deliver me from the enemy lay waste to the darkness, destroy the lies banish the liar forever and cast your all consuming light on us.
My grandfather called me the other day. Me at the gas station, getting ready to tackle a busy day at work, my mind on many, many things. Whenever my phone rings and I see his name on the caller ID, I answer the call no matter what. Now in his nineties, he still checks in and still has so much love to share with his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.
Years ago, stern-faced and marked with his signature mustache, Grandpa (or Grand-Stan as the kids now call him) looked down at me with a level of intensity that could peel paint off a wall and said, “I’m getting mad!” To an outsider, one would wonder what had happened to evoke anger, but in his own way, he was expressing this deep love that he has in an expression of “I’m getting mad,” which was code for “let’s go get some ice cream.” Memories are funny like that, one minute you’re a grown adult carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, the next you’re ten years old eating ice cream and heading to your first baseball game – the Chicago Cubs and Andre Dawson at Wrigley Field. I remember the smell of Gramma’s house, always warm and so inviting. The place I still long for when the days are longer than the hours I have to work with. Their home was safe and filled with Cherubs and delicate trinkets perfectly perched on mantels, coffee tables, and ornamental ledges.
“How ya been?” my Grandpa asks over the phone, with a voice still stern yet filled with care and concern. I tell him about my day and the kids, but I know he wants to learn more. He has a deep love for God, and he has a passion for all “his kids” to know the Lord too. “What is God saying to you these days?” He asks out of the blue. For a moment, I am caught off guard and wasn’t ready to answer a question as probing as this. Ministry is still running in my veins despite a pastoral career change, though some days I still ask the Lord, “am I on the right track?” Life is like that sometimes; one minute you’re ninety-nine year old, childless Abram plodding along in life; the next, you’re Abraham moving to an unknown land and trusting (albeit some days less than others) God with your very next steps. I still question God about things that I don’t have the answers to. I still find myself stepping out into unknown territory, saying, “Lord, I don’t know what today holds, but please hold my hand.”
“You never really ever leave the ministry, you know?” my grandfather continues, “some people think ministry is just what you do at a pulpit on Sundays,” I tell him I know this, and I am drawn to the many faces I see daily. It is the “mission-field” of relationships in need of encouragement and love. It is a place I have been sent to minister within, and yet after years of focused service-based ministry, I am having difficulty with the tangible nature of “here and now.”
There are times where you miss what wasn’t healthy for you in the first place. Like God’s people, the ex-slaves of Egypt, wishing to go back instead of living free and waiting for a promised land. “I believe that God is blessing you, Scott,” my grandfather continues, “can I pray with you?” He asks over the phone. My heart is whole and overfilled with such love. The Lord is indeed blessing me, and I am so blessed to have such a loving, godly family and grandfather.
I will always pick up that phone when my Grandfather calls. Time is precious when we have so little of it to spend. The concerns of today always pale in comparison to the treasures that we possess in the wisdom and love of such people in our lives. Years from now, I will be old and coming to the end of my days. I, too, wish to pass that love of God and hope onto that next generation. I pray that when this happens, they will answer my call and know that they are loved…perhaps I’ll even “get mad.” I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for your relentless pursuit of God and me (and the rest “of us”). Keep calling, and I’ll keep answering just to hear your voice, and perhaps a “new” joke that you’ve already told me.
“…What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” Psalm 8:4.
Do you know that about God’s love? Most of you would answer, “why, yes of course I do!” But, what if I asked you, “do you personally know God’s love?” Does that change the dynamics of this conversation? I mean, do we really, truly, deeply know that God loves us?
What if I asked you, “Do you know and love Him in return?” Some of you might begin to think I am meddling. Others, when thinking about this particular question, might discover the answer is not that simple. We as humans tend to make things more complicated than it really should be, and our understanding of loving God, might be tainted or influenced by the current situations of our lives – for good or bad. When we respond to the question “Do you know and love God?”, some might consider the it but then offer the response, “well, do I really know God loves me? How can I know this when my life is so troubled right now?”
In spite of ourselves… God’s one and only Son entered into this world so that we might be saved from sin and death…in spite of ourselves. In spite of our over complications… In spite of our bad days, months or years… In spite of every bad decision we have made, or potentially will make – God introduced flesh and blood, holiness into our impure world.
Have you ever been blessed with a gift from someone that cares for you and it was completely and utterly unexpected? How did it make you feel? Did you find yourself at a loss for words of appreciation? Did you feel embarrassed because you didn’t have anything to give in return? With God it is like that, but He doesn’t want us to feel guilty or embarrassed because we couldn’t possibly match the gift that He has given to us. He wants us to know how much we mean to Him. He provided us with the ultimate gift of love and grace – His Son Jesus Christ, who came to be our blood sacrifice, so that in His death we might be free from sin and death. He was born. He lived. He died…all for you, me and for every person in our world.
God, who am I that you are mindful of me? How can I be so important to you – the Creator of the Universe? I don’t deserve such love and grace… I could never repay such a gift… I know I don’t deserve this… But here I am Lord. I accept and receive this gift once more. Create in me a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me. All I can give you in return…is me, faults and all…every shred, every blemish, all of me. Help me to receive this grace and love every day, and to offer the same to everyone around me both neighbor and stranger. I love you Lord. -Amen.
This past Sunday, the message that was preached was meant for me. It is cliche I know, but nonetheless, that passage in Matthew chapter 6 when Jesus talks about worry was like an arrow striking its mark. And I was the intended target.
The Pastor could not have known. No one else around me, save for my wife, would know. But I have been worrying as of late… So much so that the worry has boiled over the pot, simmering on the stove…sizzling on the electric coils beneath and foaming all the way into full-on anxiety. It hasn’t been panic attacks per se, but there have been moments when I have awakened at times seized with disquietude and beseeching my quickening pulse to slow itself back into that desired slumbering pace once more.
In those sudden moments of unwanted wakefulness however, I have found myself conversing more and more with God. He and I haven’t spoken as much as we do now. Perhaps this is the ‘good’ that can come out of what was not meant to be so…I do not know. But we speak quite often about these sudden moments of alarm. He reminds me that this is small, unnecessary concern, and that He is, and will always be there.
His steady peace finds my heart once more, and yet it takes more seconds, perhaps even minutes to convince my storm-filled brain. Oh, how I wish I would step out of that boat like Peter, who was full of faith…yet I’m one of the others still in the boat, unwilling to move, frozen in my own silent attack of dread. We often internally chide Peter for not trusting Jesus as he finds his very soul taking on water, all-the-while looking up at Jesus Messiah who stands above that very tempest.
He stepped into onto that surface, which defied all sound logic (and physics).
Perhaps it is in the moving of one’s body, mind and soul that we begin to have a little faith… Perhaps it takes courage to still the very waves of emotions and the currents of anxiety. I have found that worry and the seconds it adds only fuels the panic and the untamed fright and flight.
The Preacher spoke on worry. That worry had made a home in my heart. Today…worry is homeless, and I find myself finally moving again…perhaps very soon, I will step out of my boat and finally walk with Jesus.
I am still a student of grace. My Father in Heaven still has much to teach me. I confess that there are times when it is easier to not forgive, to clench my teeth real tight, my face all flushed in anger and the world is filtered through the red that I see in my eyes. I am still a student of grace.
Far too often I await the wrongs others will do to me. It is almost a sick celebration of the “I told you so’s” and the laments of injustices inflicted on me or soon to be inflicted. It is far too easy to adopt the “woe is me” attitude, while in my heart I never even gave others a chance; I never allowed that much trust to take root and put down into the deep soil of REAL faith. One could make the leap that I have only trusted God a part of the way. That I still pick and choose with whom I will love…enemy or not. One could judge me based upon how shallow my grace really is…and it is rather slim.
I am still a student of grace. Especially on the highway, when THAT driver is behind me, practically in my backseat, impatiently driving fast and soon will overtake me and then proceed to weave in and out of traffic…And some how, I have become the judge, jury and executioner of the world of speeding drivers everywhere. There is no need to search for that judgy old church member in the creaking pew, because he’s sitting in the driver’s seat, seat-belt clasp and I just glimpsed him through the rear view mirror for a moment…meeting his shame-filled eyes. Ah, yes, I am still a lousy student of grace.
But you will see me in church every Sunday. I will be active in the “hey how are you’s” and the occasional “amen’s”…but how far does my grace really extend?
I know, dear Lord that you ask me to love even my enemies…especially my enemies and sometimes, from afar I can “get with the program”…but there are still those other times (we’ll call them the ‘Most of the times’) when my heart is far from your decree to love them. You have said it is easy to love those who love you, and how right you are. I desire reciprocation. I desire affirmation and declarations of care and concern…and I got nothing from enemies. But here I am, still a student of grace…using it as an excuse to overlook this demographic of your creation. And I am drawn to the very cross where you died and took upon the sins of your enemies. You took upon that cross my sin and the sins of everyone here BEFORE we reciprocated, and provided any affirmations and declarations of our understanding of love. You, yourself even asked God to forgive those who were killing you because they didn’t know what they were doing…
Could it be? Is this what you want to teach… me?
I am still a student of grace…
but You are asking me to be much, much more than that. Lord, you are calling me to be an ambassador or Your grace. One who seeks out those who are still called enemy, stranger and outsider. And as I say those names, I am reminded that those labels were mine before I knew you…and still you loved me. Help me to become a professional dispenser of Your grace, without strings attached, or discrimination in my heart and mind. Grant me Your heart and Your eyes for those around me…until there are no more strangers, or enemies or outsiders.
-Just a thought and prayer today. Something more to ponder…
We are still in the throws of COVID-19 and obviously we all are hoping and praying for it to end very, very soon! Little did we know in 2019 that 2020 would be such a chaotic year filled with terms like “unprecedented” and “the new normal”…
The Church Unless you have been living under a rock recently (you know there are some who are) you would know that church has taken to streaming their services online, prerecording messages, and even staging drive-in style worship experiences. We have all endured the many state mandates, quarantine procedures and even threats of penalties or jail time to offenders. It certainly goes without saying that the Church has had to adapt and adjust to such extreme measures. Isn’t it ironic that we often make jokes about how non-progressive and un-moving church can be when it comes to change, yet when it is thrust into a pandemic such as this, we have seen drastic change like we have never seen the church take before. It is almost (and forgive me for saying this) as if the church needed something like this to take place in order for it to change.
With that being said, let us delve into 5 Opportunities the Post-Pandemic Church should capitalize on. This is merely a projection and speculation, but I believe this could drastically change the landscape of what we consider to be “the Church” in the future. So here goes…
1) Embrace The Technology Platform
Online streaming of worship services isn’t reserved just for those cliche televangelists who market their books and preach flowery sermons that only make you feel good. The Church has a tremendous opportunity to tap into the technology platform through the streaming of their worship content to social media sites with the touch of a cell phone screen or tablet device. This platform has been here for many years now, but churches, out of necessity, have finally begun to tap into its vast audience potential.
I believe that the Post-Pandemic Church would be foolish to abandon this opportunity in the future and that many churches will continue to experiment and utilize technology to enhance their reach of the Good News. Of course there is always the danger of becoming too dependent on technology, but by and large if used correctly and carefully measured, it could be a tremendous opportunity both now and the future.
2) Get Out of the Four Walls (Where we worship)
As with the technology platform and even the drive-in style worship settings popping up around the world, the Church and the Body of Christ as a whole (that’s you and me btw) have begun to see that we have protectively been meeting inside a church for years… Of course there are churches out there that pride themselves in doing this already, but by and large how we think of “Church” within this COVID-19 world has drastically changed. We no longer view Sunday mornings or midweek bible studies like we used to. There is more opportunity to adapt and change our approaches to how we worship and what that looks like. Perhaps the Church has grown comfortable within its respective four walls, and maybe even complacent in the Great Commission that we have all been tasked with.
I foresee the Church becoming more relaxed in how they approach worship and the mode of that worship. There will always be some churches who will slip back into comfortable patterns when this is all said and done, but I pray others will step out and get outside to do relatable, authentic ministry. Understandably, there are already churches who have been doing this, and perhaps to the churches who haven’t, it’s not a bad idea to observe, modify and emulate practices which relay the relevancy of Christ in our world today. The world needs Him more than ever before!
3) Eliminating Redundant Rituals and Practice for Practicality
Tapping into what was just discussed, is the notion that certain practices within the ‘order of service’ a church might traditionally roll out week to week are now observed to be unnecessary within the context of the pandemic. Perhaps some of these unnecessary practices like the taking of tithes and offering (which has been replaced with a tithe box in the back of the sanctuary by some churches currently) will no longer be used in future services, but rather the new (to us, but church traditionally ancient) practice will remain. Coupled with that one could insert a number of practices such as the printing of bulletins, the morning “meet and greet” (introverts everywhere are now jumping for joy…internally that is).
Of course the danger of eliminating any practice could be a loss of observation or even honoring the sacred spaces. One must always be careful when deciding what should stay and what should go.
4) Exercising Flexibility and Creativity Like Never Before! Along with the elimination of “worship bloat” the post-pandemic church will have the opportunity to tap into a far more flexible congregation and audience that it has ever had before. With this comes the need of more creativity when considering how “ministry” or “worship” should look and feel like. There will be a loosening of constraints within stodgy traditional molds and an opportunity to experiment with modern worship platforms. That being said, the danger with experimentation could be either the over simplification of the gospel or even the stripping away of biblical truths altogether.
The post-pandemic church might have new found freedom, but should be sober in how it uses that new-found flexibility, all the while never forgetting or losing the primary purpose of the church in the first place. I would not be surprised to see an increase in ‘house church ministries’ as people are drawn once again to the need for intensive fellowship, prayer and praise all centralized around the simplicity of home.
5) Fearlessly Taking Risks for Evangelism
Lastly, in a world so distraught and fearful all due to COVID-19, there will be an increase in people genuinely seeking hope and this notion of a ‘Higher Power’. The post-pandemic church should be spurred on into caring and loving evangelism. Make no mistake, this isn’t the “bullhorn, I’m going to thrust gospel tracts in your face” kind of evangelism. No, instead if the post-pandemic church wishes to truly reach new lives for Christ they need to be fearless and take risks like never before with a new found vigor for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. This will not come by just remaining in a para-house church, or stay in the parking lot of the new drive-in church, but rather get out (within our new understanding of social distancing) and love people right where they are at in life.
With so much in our world that has caused division, hurt and even hate, the world needs this post-pandemic church to step up and take risks for Christ and because they genuinely care about people and want to see people’s lives wondrously transformed.
So How About It? This is really the end of my pondering today and where the proverbial “rubber meets the road”. It is up Christ-followers like you and me to not only hear what God is saying to us, but to actually do it.
We, as The Church (big C) cannot simply revert into what we were prior to this pandemic…we have to move forward and in so doing, live this transformation so that others will see Christ through us.
Something more for this current and the future Church to ponder today.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” –1 John 3:1
What a gift this is! What a relief to be known as children on God! We have this amazing title, this identity and belonging. Can you even begin to imagine the depths of love this gift of being called a child of God truly is?
All of humanity was separated from God by sin and death, but God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him – through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of this blood sacrifice, which was impossible for us to atone for, we have been given this new life. We might have once been called “Dead man/woman walking”, but now it is possible for us to sit at the family table with Jehovah Jireh, our provider and Savior. Not only are we invited guests…because that in and of itself is a special thing, but we are more than just guests at His table, we are FAMILY! He calls us Son and Daughter. We are included in this illustrious inheritance of eternity with Him.
For some, this might sound like hyperbole…and nothing more, so it is dismissed and rejected. For others, doubts overshadow this good news, for surely we are unworthy of such a designation and title, and in part these rational thinkers are correct. None of us deserves this. None of us are ever worthy of such a blessing, and yet because of God’s grace and love, we are given this priceless opportunity to be grafted back into the Family of God. We never can earn this. We never can do enough good to receive the title. There isn’t enough good works to atone for our sinfulness. But Jesus, in the shedding of His blood, washes our sins away and makes it right.
Ah, but there’s a catch. (and some skeptics would say, “I knew it! There’s always a catch”) The catch is really this: It is our choice. That’s right, it is up to you and me. We decide if we wish to accept this offer, which is freely given to us. But in the giving, there has been real sacrifice, pain and labor…it may be given freely to us, but the cost, when we consider it, is unconscionably steep.
This catch is…our belief. We must accept the gift that has been given to us. We must receive it with an open heart and mind. Our joy of being called a Son and Daughter, a child of God, is received at the moment of our belief in His sacrifice and resurrection.
Questions: Will you claim your title of Son or Daughter of God through your belief in Jesus? How does this change the way you view yourself and others? What does being identified as a Son or Daughter of God truly mean? Are you willing to embrace this heritage and share it with others that you know who might not know about Jesus? What can you do today that will reflect this rich gift of being call children of God?
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to fully accept this gift of being called Your Son or Daughter. Help me to share this great gift with those around me today. May Your light shine on me and light this path that You would have me walk. Thank You for loving me and for lavishly pouring Your grace on me in this way. I love You Father! -Amen.
It has been a while since I have written or updated. Sorry. A lot has kept me from writing. A lot has happened in the office and out of the office too.
Life in Central Alabama is interesting. This is a new life for me. A new experience. A new place to call home. Our kids are adjusting and coping with a new normal that includes limited connection with possible new friends because of this pandemic. Some days it is rather pleasant to have our kids engaged and around us. Other days it can feel claustrophobic and prison like.
I have worked throughout the pandemic in my office at Christian Services for Children in Alabama, located in Selma Alabama. Our staff are considered essential and we serve foster kids and families in crisis. I find it interesting that when you work within such a constant flow of crisis, living through a pandemic is almost like every other day. (That does sound a bit callous, but our staff regularly require some respite of their own and some self-care through various situations of compassion fatigue)
The families we serve and the foster children who come to us all have stories. Some stories would truly make you weep and mourn because of the trauma that these children have been through. Some are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with the visible scars of abuse and/or the emotional scars that are evidenced in their current mental state which varies from barely discernible to hospitalization. It breaks my heart to hear these stories. To hear how some parents, who never should have been parents in the first place, seemingly throw their children away or are just seen as collateral damage from a life time of drug and alcohol abuse.
We had a foster child just the other day who was found hoarding food in their bedroom, because as a survivor that’s what you do to stay fed and alive. This foster child is in a safe foster home now, but traumatic history often encompasses reason and current reality and the primal survivalist takes over. Children like this will require intensive counseling and support which will last for years…sometimes even their entire lifetime. That prognosis truly break my heart.
On Racism and Healing… Aside from living in Florida, if that counts, this is the first time that I have lived in “the South”. I watched in horror, like everyone else, as George Floyd was murdered on the streets of Minneapolis by police officers. I too decried the injustice and the nature of how wrong it was/is. I have stood in solidarity with my African America brothers and sisters, and I will continue to do so. I can only fathom the fear and anger a black man or black woman has when they are times targeted by police or pulled over on the side of the road for doing nothing except for having a darker skin color. I abhor the fact that such racism and inequality still exists in our world, and I acknowledge it. But none of us should just stop at acknowledgment…we must combat it at every turn. I must live and strive to be the change. I must strive to love and serve all people until such acts and prejudices are extinct. I truly pray that day will come in my lifetime. I have ruminated on what I might say about this vital topic in our country. And I have said it from the beginning that I don’t want to just say something, but I AM living something to help unite and bring peace, hope and equality to my African American friends and family. Living for just a short time in the South I can catch just a glimpse of how racism still runs deep down here. It is still living and breathing. I minister in a very poor community that has seen more than its fair share of extreme prejudice and pain. Selma is so much more than just a catalyst within the civil rights movement…it has survived, but it is still in need of healing because its wounds run deep and time has not been kind to this city.
I am wearing a button on my blue polo shirt to commemorate Juneteenth which is tomorrow. This is a day that celebrates the freedom of slavery. Isn’t it interesting that even after the famous Emancipation Proclamation slave owners in the South held onto their slaves for up to 2 1/2 years longer. In part because the news was not instantaneous back then like it is now, and another part because the present would be forever changed by the freeing of so many enslaved on plantations and beyond.
Isn’t it interesting how sometimes we need to relearn things over and over again in order for us to overcome the tragedies and injustices of our past?
I don’t know all of the right words to say in situations like we are seeing today, except that we can do much, much better than we have in the past. In order for true healing and reconciliation to take place in our country and in our communities we have to be willing to let go of our prejudices, our hatred, our need for vengeance, rage and above all our complacency. Reform ought to take place, but with it comes our responsibility to be better and to love better. We have to address the wrongness of racism including the racism that isn’t seen outwardly but perhaps lives in our hearts.
I want to live the change and speak the change, I MUST THINK the change and be the change in my community and in my home. I am praying for our country, our communities and for you.
I did not
know his name.
I had been invited,
just a guest
at the funeral.
losing a child at such
a young age…
Some were angry
Some beside themselves
drowning in grief.
Photos hung on a pin-up board
a life that had just begun
it hung there to declare
the cavern of sorrow
and the hollowed out eyes
of a mother and father:
I sat on the back row,
longing to bring
knowing there was
in this space.
thick and dreadful
I was here
in the mourning.