Embracing A New Normal

To say that we have been in a constant state of transition would be an understatement. We are approaching the one-year anniversary of when Mayor Andy Mack declared a shelter-in-place order. Soon after that, Gov. Greg Abbott suspended all public schools, canceled the STAAR test and implemented restrictions on gatherings, businesses and restaurants. For many of us, this was the first time we had ever been under such orders. Masks were becoming a part of our standard attire and hand sanitizer was flying off the shelves.

Those first few months were tense with cases and deaths increasing by the day with no apparent end in sight. As a minister, my congregation (along with many others) had to figure out how to be the church virtually; it’s hard to believe that we had to celebrate Easter over Facebook Live.

Like many of you, I long for the day where we do not have to wear masks or worry about close contact. It has been a struggle for millions of people who are immunocompromised or ill. People in nursing and rehab facilities due to shutdown orders lost all connection with their family or friends. Some of the most vulnerable in our society in one day lost all contact with people; a human connection that is so vital for life was severed.

A common refrain I hear from people is that they want things to go back to “normal.” They want things to be how it was in February 2020, not March 2020. While I understand their sentiment, I believe that the “normal” we experienced is not coming back ever. Whatever this “new normal” might be is uncertain. I do, however, know that the effects of this pandemic (which is still going on) will be with us for the rest of our lives. There are moments in our collective human history that bind us together; we have a joint mental imprint that connects one to another. For the greatest generation, it was the effects of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Next came the continued conflicts in the world from Korea to Vietnam, from the Cuban Missel Crisis and the assassination of JFK to the threat of nuclear war. Then it was the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic. I am aware that I am missing other vital events in our nation’s and world’s history. These events changed us as Americans and citizens of the world. In all these times, there was a reckoning, a reconnecting to humanity and, for many, their faith. I am hopeful that for a moment, if not longer, there was a sense of commonality and unity, something that we desperately need to put back into our American society.

As a Christian minister, I try to see the world through the lens of the New Testament and teachings of Jesus the Christ. In the letters contained in the New Testament, there is a common theme. The church was in its infancy and followers of Christ were trying to nail down and figure out how they were going to live in a world that was different than it had been in the past. The church universal pushed back on norms and traditions of the Roman world and now these new converts to the faith did not know what they would do next; going back to their old normal was not an option. 2 Corinthians 5 reminds us that “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”

The prospect of a “new normal” might be a scary thing. We have endured so much and we do not know how much longer we will be under a cloud of a pandemic. Instead of fretting about how the “good ol’ days” are no longer with us, let us look to how we can live fully into this new creation that is before us. What have we learned about ourselves, our community, our relationships that will be with us when we can have social gatherings again? Let us continue on this journey and view it not as something to get through but something to experience. When we move from a place of orientation to a place of disorientation, there is a learning potential found. In our faith, this disorientation can cause us to hold stronger to what we know to be true or we look for ways to connect with God differently. Eventually, we will be in a new place of orientation and we will have been changed. Upon reflection, we will see that God was present with us during times of hardship and times of jubilee. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our God when we sit in the unknown when we are comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is one of the great lessons of the pandemic: We can change even though we may not like it, but through it all, God will be with us.

For the families of the over 460,000 who have died from COVID-19, life will never be the same again. God, however, guides us and call us, moves us and molds us, so that we are reminded that the presence of God’s mercy and love were never absent from us.

Let us examine our lives and our faith and see where we are growing and learning and how that can make a positive impact on your community and world. Let’s embrace this “new normal” with open arms, open minds, and most importantly, open hearts ready to love, give and care for those in desperate need of some good news.

Politics and Faith Are Friends

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I, like many Americans, watched in horror as the capitol of the United States of America, the seat of American democracy, was overrun by rioters last week. In a wave of uncertainty, news reports were filtering in on social media about weapons being fired, offices being destroyed and people breaking into the Senate chamber. In the end, five people were killed because of this despicable act. As with many events, people turned to their faith to try to find an answer that would help them to fully understand and grasp what just took place. Within hours of the Capitol being cleared, Christian authors, theologians, ministers, and denominations condemned the violence and lawlessness that took place. They cited scripture and the teachings of the church universal as theological underpinnings for their arguments.

The National Council of Churches of Christ (NCC) drafted a letter calling for President Trump to resign and if he would not that all available democratic processes be used to remove him. Due to this letter and the calls for resignation that have come after it from members of Congress and religious leaders, a familiar refrain began to pop up in on social media and in conversations; religion and politics do not mix; there is no need to mix to two together.

It is a common belief that politics and religion should not come together. This is what we are taught as children when with company or around the Thanksgiving table. It’s a way to keep the peace and not to strained relationships. The thought is that “agree to disagree” is a more amenable position.

What happens when the lines of politics and faith meet?  In other words, is there a space within the local church for conversations to take place at the intersection of politics and religion? For some, this is a frightening question to consider. Ministers often hear from congregants that a sermon, prayer, communion table mediation, or newsletter article was “too political” or “not political enough,” even if this was not the minister’s intent. I have been caught between these two ends many times. How are followers of Christ especially ministers supposed to live into their call to serve the least of these or stand up for marginalized when their proclamation of the faith is seen as being divisive?

While this might be good table manners, I disagree with this sentiment of separating faith and politics; it’s not practical and it is not true. How many candidates run on the platform for being religious? We cannot keep faith in the church only on Sunday mornings at 10am.

Faith is a powerful tool and is something that should permeate all of our lives and being. It is that we turn to in our times of joy and in your times of sorrow and pain. Faith guides us in our relationship with God and in that relationship, Christians are asked to examine whether the life they are living is in line with the commands and teachings of Jesus the Christ.

Politics is not a dirty word, but we have made it one. Many people unfortunately enter conversations about politics and faith ready to win a battle and not listen to others. We cast wide nets about “those people” or subjugate entire groups based caricatures. In their book, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers contend that the process of learning and discussing politics (even in a religious setting) has the potential to make our communities better. I’m not advocating that ministers regurgitate talking points or party platform statements. I am, however, stating that sometimes events in our society and nation need a Christian response, they need a Christian witness.

If the faithful of God are silent when people are in pain or suffering, then what good is our faith?

I believe that many people want faith and politics separated because it might cause them to change their view on an issue or shift their frame of thinking. By hearing another person’s view, it might have its intended effect, changing of one’s thinking and mode of contemplation. Change is a scary thing. But reevaluating our faith in light of actions from our leaders in society or the actions of others is the bedrock of growing and sustaining faith.

The gospel is political, but it is not partisan. The gospel is political in the sense that it calls for a reordering of the world, our society, our communities, and our relationships. Jesus was a political person in his time; he spoke against the practices of not just the righteous but of society as well. He called for the betterment of all people especially those who had no status in first century Israeli society, like women, children, and orphans. He spoke truth to power.

His teachings are not stuck in the past; they inform how our life as followers of Christ should be and can be. Too often I see politicians or religious persons trying to fit the platform of the party they support on to the Biblical text; this is a backwards way to approaching faith. We must allow our faith to change our views and our ways and then seek our how those actions and beliefs can be lived out. I am not asking that hold a debate during worship, but I invite you to begin the process of exploring how our faith calls us to action to seek out those who are in need, who are hurting, and who need God’s grace and care. Politics is about divining, the gospel is about recognizing that all of God’s people must be cared for and loved. Love has no party; grace has no party. Instead of fighting lets listen, learn, and find ways to bring the wholeness of God’s peace and mercy to all people.

The Longest Night

December 21 is the Winter Solstice; it marks the beginning of the season of Winter (in the northern hemisphere). It is also the day that has the longest period of darkness.

2020 has been quite the year and a lot of people have been affected by the pandemic and its affects on families, relationships, employment, and housing. It might be hard to be joyful or happy during this time… and that’s ok.

For some, this Christmas will not be as “merry and bright” as it was in year’s past. But the light of Advent will guide our way. It will begin to push back the darkness and allow the light of God’s love and mercy to come in.

Below is a picture of my family’s advent candles and a simple prayer.

May you feel God’s presence this longest night.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Hope Is Here

This is my latest article for the Longview News-Journal.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

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Recently, dictionary.com and Miriam-Webster Dictionary announced that the word of the year for 2020 was “pandemic.” I cannot imagine trying to sum up all that is happened in 2020 into one word. There are so many to chose from: “social distancing,” “masks,” “unprecedented,” “new normal,” or even “unknown.”

It’s no secret that this year has been one for the record books. We are currently amid a pandemic the likes we have not seen in this country for over a century; we have endured shelter in place orders and restrictions on gatherings and meetings. People have lost their jobs, sources of income, businesses and livelihood. Almost 300,000 people have died from the Corona Virus. On top of all this, we suffered through a continuous Presidential election. Now, we are having conversations about how Christmas gatherings, parties, and worship services will be like during this unique time. How does someone summarize all the feelings we have had in 2020?

I think an appropriate word for 2020 would be “uncertain.” We just don’t know what the future will bring. Maybe uncertain is too passive or too negative for some, and I understand that. However, uncertain might be just right for many of us. There is so much uncertainty, so much we do not know.

We don’t know when this pandemic will end.

We don’t know when we will all be together again.

We don’t know when a vaccine will be available or who will get it, or how effective it will be.

We don’t know what 2021 will look like.

We don’t know how many more people will get COVID-19 or die from it.

We don’t know how educators will continue to educate in a pandemic with online learning, masks, and restrictions.

We don’t know what will happen from one day to the next.

We don’t know what to do; we can feel lost.

We don’t know… We don’t know… We don’t know…

The prophet Isaiah echoes these stirrings of our hearts during this time when he wrote, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Is. 64:1). This cry to God is one of lament and struggle, of grief and sadness. The prophet is calling on God to bring God’s mercy and goodness to the people of Israel. They are calling on God not to forget them. They are looking for a cosmic, radical shift in how things have been and where they hope to be.

For Christians, we are in a holy and unique time of the Christian calendar, the Advent season. (No, it is not the Christmas season despite what the retail stores like the tell you.)

Advent, the season of intentional waiting for the Messiah, teaches us a great lesson; it gives us something to hold on to as we leave 2020 behind and look ahead to 2021.

Each week of Advent, Christians light candles representing the four pillars of the journey to the manger: hope, peace, joy, and love. As the light grows each week, we grow closer to the arrival of Jesus again in our midst. While we sit in uncertainty, there is a beacon of hope on the horizon; there is a point of light guiding us home. There is hope in the uncertainty.

We may not know when we will be free of masks and social distancing, but we know that hope will forever remain, love will guide us, peace will fill our hearts, and joy will spring forth as we expectantly wait for the birth of the Messiah, the savior of the world, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Hope has not left us; hope is not gone, it is here, and we must recognize it.

The light of hope pushes back the uncertainty and shows us how God has been with us through it all. Yes, we might not know what tomorrow will bring, but if the hope of God dwells in our hearts, if the gospel’s call of love will be heard, if the light of Advent will show us the way to the manger, then we will not be afraid. Advent, a time of waiting and reflection, calls us to hold on to hope as we wait for the coming of our savior when God comes down.

Hope is all around us. There is hope in the laughter of children. Hope is found in the community coming together for the bettering of people’s lives.  Hope is in the food boxes given at Longview Community Ministries. Hope is more than wishful thinking. Hope is about trusting that a better day is coming.

There is hope that God will be with us through the ups and the downs, the joys, and the sorrows, in the hurt, and in the healing. God hears us when we cry out; God cares for us when we are in pain. Hope is all around us. Let us keep our eyes open as we journey to the manger with Mary & Joseph, as we seek the savior of the world in this uncertain time.

Sermon: Prepare the Way!

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I recently preached a sermon entitled “Prepare the Way!” based on Isaiah 40:1-11. You can listen to the audio below.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Journey To Advent: Part 1

My wife and I have started a new video series about Advent and making sacred moments at home. You can watch it below.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Election Day 2020 Prayer

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Today in the United States is Election Day. As of the writing of this post, over 90 million people had already cast their vote. It is no secret that 2020 has been a year that many of will not soon forget. Bundled into 2020 has been this election. It seems every election has its moments of mud-slinging and name calling. For some reason we do not accept this from children but think it is commonplace for politicians to do so.

Election Day 2020 has captured the attention of so many people. Nerves and tensions are high.

It is my prayer that the healing of the nation will come soon and that tenure of the next President of the United States will be on that focuses on the people, justice, mercy and grace.

No matter the outcome of today (if an answer will be known) we must remember that our alligence is to God and to God’s son Jesus the Christ.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan


Prayer for Election Day 2020

Settle our hearts, O God. Send your Spirit to give us a peace which passes all understanding.
We are thankful for the opportunity to have our voice heard through the act of voting.
Remind us that our allegiance is not a party or a political candidate but you and your son Jesus the Christ.
You have called us to a new way of life, one filled with love and mercy, grace, and peace.
You have called us to serve the needy, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and love those who are deemed unlovable.
Remind us that you O God are bigger than one candidate, bigger than one party, bigger than one state, one nation.
May we be able to come together as followers of Christ around your table of love despite the outcome of Tuesday.
No matter who occupies the White House, you are the ruler of the universe, our guiding light in times of struggle, and the giver of love.
Settle our hearts, O God. Send your Spirit to give us a peace which passes all understanding.
May your justice and love reign now and forevermore.

We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus the Christ, the holy one of God.
Amen.

Sermon: What Will We Chose?

I recently preached a sermon entitled “What Will We Choose?” based on Matthew 22:34-40. The audio link is below.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Theology on Tap (Longview, TX)– Arguing

I am part of a great group of ministers that monthly discuss theological topics at a local brewery. COVID19 has made this impossible lately but we decided to have this discussion via Facebook. Enjoy the video below and stay safe!

In Christ,

Rev. Evan