This Is Not The End Of The World

With Virginia now under a stay-home order by the Governor, we have had to move to entirely online worship, and to staying connected with one another through newer means. At church, Pastor Don and I have undertaken a series of video devotionals, meant to help and to uplift in these difficult times.

This one that I’m sharing with you is one based on an interaction I had with a cashier at a store the previous weekend, who asked if this coronavirus outbreak represented God’s judgment–whether we are in the End Times, in other words. Here’s what I had to say, and I hope it brings you some peace. Because despite all this, God’s love reigns!

And let me know what you think, and how we can be praying for you!

Coronavirus: Coming Closer

This coronavirus pandemic is beginning to inch closer to home.

This past week one of my friends was told he should consider himself to have it, after spending a day at the ER the weekend before with pneumonia. (He had that pneumonia treated, but apparently picked up the virus as a bonus while he was there.) About five days later, he said, he just fell off a cliff: suddenly felt terrible, with shortness of breath. Then this weekend he was back in the ER because of that shortness of breath. A very scary time for him and his young family.

Last week we began full-scale telework at the office, and my wife did as well for hers. David’s spring break got extended so his professors could turn the rest of the term into online-only classes, and Sarah was laid off because there won’t be any more performances in her theatres, and the kind of work she does can’t be done remotely.

But even with those discomforts, whatever anxiety they may bring pales beside not being able to breathe, and not knowing what is going to happen next. Fortunately, they were able to get my friend stable and send him home with a nebulizer that he can use to help breathe better.

Yet what had been a major news story, what had been a source of some annoyance at disruptions in our daily lives, became a whole lot more real for us this weekend. It’s a reminder of how blessed we really are, and how this illness has the ability to turn our world upside down in an instant–and that even our friends aren’t immune: this isn’t something happening overseas, or to others, but right down the road.

It’s also a reminder, as if we needed it again, that our faith has to be in Jesus. The One who said He was the light of the world, is bringing light to us in these dark days. When we put our faith in Christ, we turn away from the negativity that threatens to drag us down. And in the midst of bad news like this, it’s what we need most: the stability of Jesus, knowing He will never abandon us.

Be Not Afraid: Scarcity

Pastor Don suffered the loss of a good friend and mentor in late February; his funeral was this past weekend, so we hurriedly switches places in the calendar. This is one of those times I think he’s glad to have someone like me around, because it’s Communion weekend, and that would’ve been a difficult thing to handle without a licensed pastor around!

It also meant that I got to kick off our Lenten sermon series, “Be Not Afraid,” which will look at all the ways the world wants us to be afraid–and the singular response God has every time. This particular weekend I talked about a fear of scarcity, and how to live into an abundance mentality instead. We have some challenges at Sydenstricker–we have a new building we want to build, and ministries to grow for the community. But we also have passionate people who are putting God in charge, like the young Hawthorn sisters whose story I tell. And in that I see a lot of hope.

Here’s the link to the livestream page, click on the 11am service for March 1 and go from there. Or if you prefer just the audio, click here. And let me know what you think!

Amazing Grace

Last weekend I had the second of my “graded” sermons–ones in which the Senior Pastor has to take notes and let me know if my theology is sufficiently correct as a United Methodist. This time, the topic was on God’s grace, and our distinctly Wesleyan understanding of it.

I’m really enjoying our livestream option; click here and look for the February 2 11am service. Let me know what you think!

Remember Your Baptism

Last weekend I had the first of my “graded” sermons, where our Senior Pastor reviews my theology against a checklist he has of points I was supposed to hit. We do this so I can be prepared for my papers and oral boards that I will need to do down the line for provisional and ordained elder status, so I can get a preview of what’s likely to come up.

The topic for this one was baptism, as we remember the Baptism of the Lord on the second Sunday this month. I talked about how we can remember our baptism, but we can’t be rebaptized…and it has to do with the fact that God is the one acting in baptism, and we believe God doesn’t make mistakes, so there’s no need for a do-over.

If you’re curious: I didn’t have the full checklist ahead of time, so I was flying a little blind, and it turns out I hit each of the pieces. But I also did make a couple of statements that, misheard, could have opened me to cross-examination by the board. But that’s why we do these, to practice and to get ready for the real thing!

Click here for the Livestream page, and select January 12; or click here for the audio-only version of it. And let me know what you think!

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Sabbath

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

My senior pastor asked me a very, very difficult question last week.

“So, what day are you picking for your sabbath?”

He’s right to ask it: he has Fridays as his day off, and I’m trying to make sure to not disturb him then. He wants to return the favor, and know when I’m off as well. Pastoral ministry is hard work, I’m coming to learn, and it’s essential that a pastor not burn out. Especially, perhaps, ahem, one known to always be on the go and doing something, like I am. And I know he’s asking in love: “I don’t want you to burn out, I need you here!”

The trick is, I don’t have a very good answer for that. If–and correctly so, I believe–the purpose of a sabbath is to be at rest, so as to reconnect and recharge in God for what’s in store next, then a day at rest is certainly called for.

But remember, I still work a full-time Federal job, one that (this month especially) is not known for being reliably only a 40-hours-a-week commitment. So that rules out Monday through Friday. Sunday, of course, is a workday as a pastor, and while I lead services once a month, it would look very, very “off” to declare Sunday as my Sabbath. That leaves Saturday–but Saturday is my day for doing all the stuff around the house, the errands, the things that don’t get done during the week.

Somewhere around now in my chain of reasoning I start rationalizing…maybe what I need is just a sabbath from church work, and I could pick that almost any weekday.  Or, that a sabbath is just a rest from paid work, and so Saturdays could still count because only rarely do I need to work a Saturday.

But somewhere around then the Spirit reminds me that that’s not the point at all. The point is to find rest, to not burn out–and to find that rest, as Augustine memorably wrote, in God. And yes, that includes Type-A people like me who are always on the go and doing something. Rest, God says.

So the search for a meaningful sabbath continues. It’d be easy if they’d just add an eighth day to the calendar…

Love’s Beachhead

We all know what Christmas is “supposed” to look like, right? We’re surrounded by the Currier and Ives images of Christmas, the Thomas Kinkade scenes of snowy countryside and greenery. But if we’re honest, that’s just what we in northern North America think of Christmas–it doesn’t describe Christmas in Hawaii, let alone other parts of the world.

If we can admit of a different perspective on Christmas, then perhaps we can consider what Christmas might have looked like from heaven’s side–and whether that perspective is captured in Revelation 12. That was the challenge I posed in this weekend’s sermon, “Love’s Beachhead,” which was the first one that Sydenstricker UMC began live-streaming. Here is the link to our livestreaming page; for my service this weekend, I suggest you view the 8:30 service. You can start from the beginning and join in the worship, or skip to 33:10 where Don begins reading the scripture lesson. Either way, please let me know what you think–and please bookmark this page to find our livestreams each week!

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