An Unexpected Blessing

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Credit: MustangJoePixabay 

This past week I spoke with several fellow pastors, as I often do. One reoccurring question asked by almost every one of them was what I expected church to be like after the COVID-19 pandemic is slowed to the point that life might return to some semblance of normality.

My answer was a prediction that when people are allowed to gather in groups larger than 10, the return to public worship services will probably be gradual. Slow at first because of lingering anxiety about exposure to the virus. Then, over time, the number of worshipers might grow.

My further prognostication was that pastors and other worship leaders who have been live streaming or pre-recording worship services dare not stop that practice. Why? Simply but significantly because the audiences reached by the medium of video are proving to be much larger than the number of worshipers who used to sit in the pew on a regular basis.

Pastors tell me that the Easter Sunday online audience was twice as large as the typical Easter Sunday in person attendance. They also tell me that the online audiences include both active members, previously delinquent members, and non-members. It also includes strangers who call or email with words of appreciation for the music, the message, and the medium.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise. But it is. An unexpected blessing!

The Green Thing

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We’ve been hearing and reading lots of stuff about COVID-19 the past few weeks and I really have nothing new, insightful, or creative to add. So I decided instead to share a bit of subtle yet pointed history with a slight dash of humor. So here we go with The Green Thing, author unknown:

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags. Plastic bags are bad for the environment. The woman apologized to the young girl and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.” The older lady said that she was right. Our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. The older lady went on to explain:

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles, and beer bottles to the store, which sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day. 

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But you are right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

Back then we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But you’re right. We didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Back then we had one TV, or just one radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. But no “green thing” back then.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But you’re right. We didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost more than a whole house did before the “green thing.”

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

This brought a smile to my face and a nod to my head. I lived during the no “green thing” days. And so did many of you. At the risk of chastisement from some of my “green thing” friends, I must admit that I don’t yet bring my own grocery bags to the store. Guess I’m still stuck back in the day when I covered my books with grocery bags.

God bless your day!

COVID-19 and Resurrection

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Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Obviously the greatest impact of COVID-19 on life in the world today is the death of thousands of people. Lots of medical researchers and hypothesizers are trying to figure out the best ways to flatten the curve, to save the lives of those infected, and to create a vaccine that works.

Another notable result of this pandemic is that many events have had to be postponed, such as weddings planned for months in advance and funerals that allow little if any pre-planning. Brides and grooms can be flexible. But it’s painful to delay the grief process as the world waits for coronavirus to be brought to its knees.

In the midst of these new but hopefully temporary realities, Holy Week is upon us. The customary worship experiences of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are replicated online, from empty sanctuaries, by small choruses of disbursed voices, softly and remotely spoken words from Scripture of the life and death of Jesus.

Then, on Easter Sunday morning, the responsive greetings, this year also spoken remotely: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Especially at Easter, those of us who have lost loved ones from this life on earth cannot help but recall the joys and sorrows, difficulties and blessings that were fruits of the relationships we experienced with those dear people. That list includes beloved parents, grandparents, spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and dear friends.

They are gone but not forgotten. At this Eastertide, we give thanks for the love we shared with them, and they with us, during the times of our togetherness.

Even more importantly, we look forward to that day of reuniting with them, of seeing them again, of occupying that immortal, spiritual, imperishable body of which Paul in 1 Cor. 15 so intriguingly speaks. All because of our hope and God’s promise of resurrection.

Resurrection. I say that word with conviction when I speak The Apostles Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!” And I speak that belief when I conduct a funeral: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

COVID-19: Where is your sting? Where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Terry and I pray for each of you a blessed Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

The True Spirit of Giving

The impact of Coronavirus/COVID-19 is still foremost in the minds and lives of the world and our country these days. We’ve all read, heard, and seen reports and prognostications regarding the present and future impact of this virus on our lives. Today I have nothing new to add to what continues to be said about that topic. Life goes on.

So I’ll relive a true story from my past of a little girl I saw in church one Sunday, crying during the offering. I quickly determined that she had been distracted when the offering plate came down the pew where she was sitting with her mother. The distraction caused her to miss the opportunity to place her handful of coins in the plate. She was sorely dismayed as a result.

Across the aisle from where she sat, I observed her looking back at the ushers, who had passed her pew. They were by that time finished with their task, preparing to walk back down the aisle to return the now full offering plates to their proper place in the chancel near the altar.

I could see in the little girl’s eyes the anticipation of another opportunity to give her offering. She moved to the edge of the pew near the center aisle, with her coins ready to go into the offering plate when the ushers passed by on their way up to the altar. Alas. The usher was looking straight ahead at the altar, didn’t notice the young lass, and walked right past her.

She started crying again, which prompted me to stand up, cross the aisle, and ask her mother in a whisper whether it would be OK for me to walk with her young daughter up to the chancel where she could add her coins to the other offerings in the plate. Her mother readily agreed.

So that little girl and I walked together, hand in hand, down the aisle toward the altar. When we got to the plates, I bent down, picked her up, and helped her do what she had so fervently tried to do for several minutes. She placed her handful of coins into the offering plate. Then she smiled.

When preparing to write this week’s article, that story popped up again into my mind. I can talk all day about the different ways people like you and like me can make a significant charitable gift to our church or other favorite charity. We call that legacy giving.

But at the end of the day, if the burning desire to give is not present, I’d be talking to the wind.

So remember these words as you contemplate your life and possessions in the face of COVID-19:

  • God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7
  • Freely you have received; freely give. 10:8
  • It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35
  • Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 6:21

Heeding these words will help enhance within your heart the true spirit of giving.

Pandemic or Plague?

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Credit: Wikipedia

COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic. Could it also be a plague?

A few Facebook friends expressed it this way:

In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “You want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.”

In Exodus 7-12, God sent plagues upon the Egyptian people who were holding the nation of Israel captive, beginning with turning the Nile River from water into blood. Then came plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn children throughout Egypt. Finally, the Egyptian Pharaoh let the people go.

Could COVID-19 be God’s way of dealing with a wayward world? “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chron. 7:14

While the idea of the God of the universe being the cause and source of destructive, disrupting, and deadly disease is frightening at worst and distasteful at best, it’s surely a question for pondering: Is coronavirus a pandemic disease or a divinely initiated plague?

Be that as it may, consider this prayer of Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm, pastor of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Seattle, Wash., sent to me by longtime friend Bill Siegrist:

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have had to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.

Nothing

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Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Nothing on grocery store shelves. Especially in toilet tissue and hand sanitizer departments. But things have improved in the past few days.

Nothing going on in schools. They’re closed for at least the next two weeks. Some longer. Parents juggle regular chores, work, and other duties with unexpected home schooling.

Nothing happening in churches? Gatherings of 10 people or more are discouraged. Crowds of 50 or more are outlawed. Public worship services have been shut down. Live streaming is in. Christian love is being shown in many ways every day. By pastors. And by other godly people.

Nothing in the offering plate? Maybe not nothing. Just not enough. Now’s the time to start electronic giving. Try it. You’ll like it.

Nothing on TV really worth watching? At least for sports enthusiasts. Sports events cancelled. Netflix and Amazon movies abound.

Nothing to hope for as high school and college athletes look forward to being recruited or hired? Won’t have the exposure needed to get recruiters’ attention. Life goes on.

Nothing to look forward to as a senior in high school or college? Commencements probably won’t take place. At least not on time. These memories will last.

Nothing to alleviate the sadness of brides and grooms whose weddings have been in the planning stages for months if not years? Private ceremony? Honeymoon postponed? What to do with the cake? And the flowers? And the tuxedos? And the mothers’ dresses?

Nothing to take the place of spoiled vacations? Cruises. Flights. All cancelled. Staycations are in.

Nothing going on in thousands of businesses shut down for the foreseeable future? Will they be able to bounce back when COVID-19 is gone? Time will tell.

Nothing in the bank account? Stock market debacle. Businesses closed. Employees laid off. No paycheck. Unemployed workers left to fend for themselves. Facing real financial challenges

Nothing.

Oops. Almost nothing: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35, 37-39)

Nothing. But hope and confidence in Christ!

It’s Not What You Know

This Saturday is the birthday of one of my sisters, Carol. I’ve always known her as Carol Ann but these days she seems to prefer Carol. So I’ll stick with that. At least for today.

The number of years she’ll be celebrating this week will be left to your imagination. My parents taught me never to ask or reveal the age of a woman. So if I need to know a woman’s age, I simply ask for her date of birth. Sometimes that works just fine. Other times, not so much.

This particular lady has been my sister all my life. Contrast that with the observation that I have been the brother of my other two sisters all of their lives and you’ll come to the conclusion that the birthday girl is my senior. But not by much.

In our earlier years I might have been a bet reticent about affirming this particular sibling. When we were kids there seemed to have been a fair amount of sibling rivalry. Not so anymore.

This lady is very smart. Always has been. Always will be.

One of the nuggets of wisdom Carol shared with me a few years ago is an expanded and improved rendition of the familiar saying: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”

The meaning of that statement is simple. The premise is that if you know the right people, they will contribute to your advancement in life. As a personal favor. Whether or not your knowledge and experience are sufficient for such advancement.

Carol’s revised version of the “It’s not what you know” statement goes like this: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know who knows you and knows you know what you know.”

It took me a few minutes to commit that saying to memory. But since I learned it, I’ve never forgotten it. And it’s so very true.

Advancement in life is connected to relationships. But relationships alone are not sufficient for advancement that’s truly earned and intrinsically valuable. Yet relationships are often the link that connect a person’s knowledge and experience with people who can offer opportunity.

In my ministerial leadership career, I’ve often been guided by inherent perception when “hiring” folks to work with me. I’m a fairly good judge of character, trustworthiness, and integrity. In my mind, those are critical qualities for a potential colleague to possess.

Happy Birthday dear sister Carol! And thank you for a memorable and helpful cliché: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know who knows you and knows you know what you know.”