A devotional I wrote for First Christian Church (DOC), Longview, TX
A devotional I wrote for First Christian Church (DOC), Longview, TX
A devotional I wrote for First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Longview, TX
One of the most memorized and recited passages in all the Bible is the 23rd Psalm. There is something about this particular scripture that is captivating, familiar, and constant. For many people, it is comforting and often read at funerals to remind those gathered that God is present with them. This text draws on the image of God being the Good Shepherd. The people of Israel have a difficult past; many times they turned against God by disregarding God’s laws and directives. The psalmist is trying to convey to the people that God is still with them.
While this is one of the most popular texts in the Bible, one key theme sticks out throughout the rest, a truth that is being spoken to the church today during this global pandemic.
God is with us!
God is pursuing us!
God is the only thing we need!
We, as the body of Christ, must rely on God every day, especially in these times of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear.
The psalmist reminds us that:
God is the only one who can bring us life.
God is the only one who can bring us hope.
God is the only one who can bring us peace.
God is the only one who can bring us still waters and green pastures.
God is the only one who can lead us down the right path.
The psalmist is yelling in the wilderness, “I am not going to rely on humanity anymore. I don’t care if I am mocked, laughed at, or scorned. There is more to life than what others think of me.”
The psalmist is calling out to the people of Israel reminding them that God is their protector, God is their Shepherd and God will be with them throughout life and even through death.
Think of the shift of thinking that is involved when we say, even though I walk…. Even though I walk… the psalmist is not complaining that he/she is walking down the path that he/she doesn’t know where it will end up. Rather, the trust is put in God; having faith and abiding in, turning to God, in times of sorrow, lament, joy, and frustration. I know this is easy to say, but hard to do.
We can use the words of the psalmist today. We are bombarded constantly with things pulling at our lives, our hearts, and minds.
The outside world can get so loud it can be deafening. What would our lives be like if we think of God’s presence and say:
Even though I walk with illness, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk with stress, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk in a world full of hate towards others, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk in a world of uncertain times, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk with Financial problems, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk with Death, or even near-death I will not be afraid.
May we know that God is here, God is present, God is ready, God is able to offer protection from the harsh winds of the world.
In Christianity, a lot of time and energy (for good reasons) is directed at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is the central story of the faith. Whether it is hymns or prayers, the focus of Christianity is that Jesus the Christ came to the world, taught the world about the Kingdom of God, was killed, and then was resurrected. For many people, the story stops there. After the resurrection, the triumph of death, what more is there? Isn’t that the entire point of the Gospels?
In the Gospel of Luke, we read an interesting story about the time after the resurrection. Two disciples are on their way to a town called Emmaus. They had just heard about how the body was Jesus was not in the tomb anymore. Jesus joins them on the road but the disciples are not able to recognize him. The disciples are discussing all that had happen and are flabbergasted that this new person joining them on the way did not know what had taken place in Jerusalem; it was a big deal to see Jesus who had made a name for himself be crucified and die.
Along the way, Jesus is giving them instructions and final teachings but it is only in the breaking of bread, a subtle reminder of the importance of holy communion, that the eyes of the disciples are open. They see that it is Jesus and they were overcome with joy. But just as quickly as they realized who was with them, Jesus disappeared.
Other gospels tell different stories about what the disciples and Jesus did after the resurrection. The Gospel of John has the disciples hiding for their lives. The disciples in the Gospel of Mark do not meet the risen Christ. In all the gospels, the stories of after the resurrection after a similar message: hope is still with us, even when the future looks bleak.
Theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote that “the worst isn’t the last thing about the world.” After the death of Jesus, the disciples and the followers of Christ must have felt as if they were punched in the gut. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah; they wanted the Davidic line to re-established. The people of Israel wanted their land back from the Roman occupiers. They didn’t want the Roman Empire to the superpower of the world, they wanted it for themselves. This is not the kind of kingdom that Jesus was trying to usher in. Many times in the Bible we are told that the disciples did not understand fully what was taking place while Jesus was with them. They would argue about who would the greatest in this new Kingdom. When Jesus spoke about having to die Peter scolded him.
The “Road to Emmaus” story is a story of hope for us. During a time when the disciples thought all was lost, that all they had been apart of was over, Jesus showed them that God is able to do the unexpected. For many of us, COVID19 is one of the worst things we could think of. Our lives have been altered and changed; we have moved from being interrupted to being disrupted. But the movement of God in our lives shows us that the worst things are not the last things. God is still in control; God is still present with us. God is walking beside us even when we do not see God.
Where are those places where we are missing God? How will God open our eyes to see the glory of God and the power of the Spirit? Let us not focus on things that remind us pain and sorrow; rather let us remember that God is God and we are not. Let us remember that even though things may rough, even though things may not be how we wished they were, God is still walking with us, present with us.
This is what we must hold on to as we continue to journey through the Easter season, even during a pandemic.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
We have all experienced a unique Easter Sunday. We celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ without the pomp and joyous celebration that we have been accustomed to. We might have dressed up in our Easter suits and dresses to watch a live stream of our congregation online or stayed in our pajamas. We were not able to hunt eggs with our church families or even our neighborhood friends. Singing “Up From The Grave” sounds different in a living room instead of being in a sanctuary. I know for many people Easter was not as joyous has it had been in years past. The holiest day of the year was changed due to shelter in place orders and social distancing. Many people have grieved the loss of their worship experience. They have grieved the loss of connections. We are slowly finding out that a church community was much more critical and vital to our lives than we once thought. In the midst of a global pandemic where we are ensuring to do our part to slow the spread of this disease, we are finding that human relationships, human connections, and community are essential to our lives. Recently I was on a Zoom conference call with some high school and college students. Many of the students told me that they were tired of the virtual connection and wanted to see their friends face to face again. Something is lost when we move only to online worship or online bible studies. I found it interesting that a generation that is often wrongly labeled as being “addicted” to their phones was yearning for more personal connections. If we are honest, we are all yearning for the same thing. Our hearts break when we have to think about summer without traveling for a vacation or visiting family and friends. Churches are having to consider what to do about Vacation Bible Schools or summer camps. This is not the Easter season we thought we would find ourselves in.
We do not know what the future will be like. We have been traveling down this road of COVID19, and there is no end in sight. We are fearful that this uncertainty will be the new normal. Projections are all over the place when it comes to reestablishing some sort of normalcy, but no one can know for sure.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 20, we find a story about the disciples after the death and burial of Jesus.
This story is one that we might forget even takes place after the Resurrection. There no parties, no celebration, no trumpets or angels singing. Instead, we find the disciples hiding. They were in a room with the door locked, maybe the lights were low, and everyone was trying to keep quiet. Tensions were high, and the disciples do not know what to do, where to go, or how they will ever get through this phase of life. They were wanted men, and this is not what they thought would happen when they decided to follow Jesus.
They were afraid and were hoping all of it would just go away. I imagine that in that room, there were some interesting conversations or internal dialogue: “Can’t things just go back to normal? When will it all be back to how it once was?
Christ was dead; his body was gone. Mary said she saw him but I’m not sure. Did we really see those things? What have we gotten ourselves into? I should have just stayed in the boat when he called out to me. This Jesus guy has been more trouble than I thought he would be… my anxiety is through the roof,” and so on.
The disciples had devoted their lives to Jesus and traveled with him as he was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and now he is dead and the disciples, the ones who the faith was entrusted to, are all now hiding for their lives. In this moment of uncertainty and dread, of confusion and sadness, Christ just shows up in the room, just pops in a like magician. He offers them peace and the Holy Spirit.
At that moment, Jesus is meeting them where they are. He is finding a way to break through the walls and structures that they have erected around their hearts and minds. This is how Christ operates today. Jesus is breaking through in the places where we least expect it. We are missing the Resurrection around us! In our search for something familiar, we are missing that God is present with us all the time! Don’t get me wrong I am ready to have some face to face interaction. I am ready not to have to wear a mask when I go in public. However, I do not want to miss the new life that is happening. We do not want to miss the moments when Jesus comes into our lives. Throughout this pandemic and shelter in place time, I have witnessed the movement of the people of God in exciting and powerful ways. People’s hearts are opening; they are finding ways even in our isolation to extend the love of God. My prayer is that this does not stop when we return to “normal” living (whatever that means). We need to see the power of the Resurrection around us. We need to understand that God’s love and power cannot be contained to a worship service or even a day. Just like the disciples, we too are looking for Jesus to pop in and make himself known. We just have to open our eyes and look, and I am confident that God will be there.
Sometimes it is merely faith that keeps us going; we will never have all the answers or a perfect rationale for everything wrong in the world or even an exact timeline when things will ease up. Still, we will always have Christ; we will always have the connection of God wherever we might be. We must choose to have faith and journey with each other down this road in this thing called life. So take a moment this week and look for Jesus where ever you might found yourself.
Below is my latest episode from my podcast “And Also With Y’All” entitled ‘Resurrection is Happening!”
Enjoy and be sure to follow the podcast where ever you listen!
You can find all the places that the podcast is hosted by clicking here.
During this past month, I (like many of you) have experienced a lot of firsts. This is the first time I have ever been ordered to shelter in place. I never knew what essential businesses were before COVID-19. I cannot recall a time going to a grocery store and seeing bare shelves where the rice and beans were or seeing empty refrigerated cases were the eggs, milk, and butter once were. This is the first time that school was canceled due to mass illness or the threat of community spread. I have never had to be the teacher for my children at home. The congregation I serve offered our first online-only worship services; it was an odd feeling having to offer prayers and even a communion meditation to an empty sanctuary. We tried to rectify this problem the following Sunday by taping pictures of our congregation to the pews. I joked with some of my minister friends that seminary did not prepare me for having church with no congregation. We are learning to use new technology and resources to cultivate community and connection. I recently led a Bible study via zoom. The dynamic was different, but the people gathered shared that it was good to see one another again, even if that it meant it was on a computer or tablet screen.
This is the first time in a long time that I can recall feeling communal, collective anxiety about the future. As a community, we are frightened when we see the news coverage of thousands and thousands of people contracting COVID-19. It seems as if every day the warnings are the same: stay home, wash your hands, the worst is yet to come. Our fears are real, and our uncertainty is growing. We fear the loss of jobs and incomes as the bills continue to pile up. We fear for our health and safety and the health and safety of loved ones. We fear what the future may bring. We fear for how long separation will be the new normal.
Now we have a new challenge ahead of us, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and even Easter will now have to be celebrated in a COVID-19, social distancing, shelter-in-place world.
I have said for many years that people are not afraid of change; they are, however, afraid of loss. Change happens to us all the time, and generally, we are flexible enough to go with the flow. Sure, it might be annoying when the grocery store moves your favorite items to a new aisle without asking, but we adapt and move on. The type of change that we are experiencing with regards to worship and Holy Week is something completely different. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are some of the holiest days of the year. For many people, this will be the first time in a very long time that they will not participate in worship in their church’s sanctuary. There is a sense of profound loss and sadness. We might justify missing service together in the summer or fall but not during Holy Week; this week is much too important to be apart. Alas, this is our reality. Throughout the Bible, we find stories of humanity struggling to connect and reconnect to God. The Israelites understood this sense of struggle and loss. Around 597 BCE, the Babylonians attacked and conquered, and the people were removed from their homeland and sent into exile. In a blink of an eye, the world as they knew it was turned upside down. They were away from their homes, their families, friends, shops, business, and, most importantly, their God. The times had changed, and the people of Israel did not approve. The exile had no end date. There was nothing that they could do; they were helpless and sorrowful.
Throughout the Old Testament, we find writings that were composed during this exile time. They speak to the struggle and heartache that the community was feeling. For example, Psalm 137:1 reads, “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down, and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” They wanted to be home; they wanted to return to a sense of normalcy.
But all was not lost. The prophet Ezekiel spoke a word to the people. His visions and pronouncements in the first chapter of Ezekiel tell of a unique encounter. Ezekiel sees creatures with multiple faces and wings, and they are moving in all directions. At the end of the chapter, Ezekiel realizes that this is no ordinary vision; instead, he is in the presence of God in the middle of Babylon.
This is a substantial theological statement to the people in exile. God did not forget them; God did not stop at the border of their home country and stay behind. No, the prophet tells them that God is with them even amid struggle, pain, uncertainty, and strife. He is declaring to them, “God is here!”
This is a message for us today. While we may not be able to wave palm branches, share in holy communion or hear live “Were You There?”, God is still here. God has not left us, and God will be in the midst of our worship in our new sanctuary of living rooms and on laptops. God is not bound by the four walls of a stained-glass building. God is not bound by the borders of our county, state, or country. God is here. God is with you and me wherever we find ourselves.
God is in the emergency department. God is in line with us when we go grocery shopping. God is with those who are lonely. God is with those who have lost their job. God is with the teachers struggling to educate in a new way. God has not and will not forget anyone of us.
So, this Sunday, however, you worship and celebrate Palm Sunday, know that God is there with you. Keep the faith. God is here.
Today was a first for me as a minister; the church I serve has an entirely online service. It was different but also refreshing to see so many people logging on to worship virtually. Below is a prayer that I gave this morning. I hope you enjoy it.
Feel free to share it or use it.
Keep the faith.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Here is my latest for the Longview News-Journal
It is hard to miss the news coverage of the spread of COVID-19, aka “the Coronavirus.” It has been dominating the news, social media, and conversations with our family and friends for weeks.
News organizations such as the New York Times and Washington Post have made all their news articles and coverage regarding COVID-19 free for all readers. This is great because all people need to know what is happening in our own country and around the world. On the other hand, it is quite anxiety-producing. One minute there is a report of new cases in one part of the country, the next minute schools are closed for weeks at a time, and then restaurants are changing their procedures or some closing indefinitely.
Life as we once knew it is gone, and it might be a while before we return to homeostasis.
Nursing facilities, schools, churches, and civic organizations are having to make decisions regarding programs, festivals, and worship services. We are now trying to answer questions that have never been asked before. How do we ensure the safety of our loved ones during a pandemic? How do churches offer words of comfort, hope, peace, and blessings when we can not meet physically? What does worship look like if we are not all in one place together? How do we create worshipful communities in our homes in front of phone or computer screen?
In my congregation, we have wrestled with many of these questions. Finding an answer to them is not easy. Our congregation decided to cancel physical services for two weeks. It is the right thing to do given the recommendations of the CDC and other health officials. However, for many people church is a place to escape the ills of the world, to connect with God again, and to be refreshed for the week to come. We did not take these decisions lightly, rather we knew that our clergy had to do what was best for the entire community. For many people, this type of change in routine will not be an easy one.
People are unclear about what to do next, and that is scary. We find ourselves asking questions such as “How long will this go on? When will things get back to normal?”
If you have ever seen a snow globe you know that it contains some basic parts: a glass sphere, water, glitter, fake snow, and a house or figure at the bottom of the globe. When you shake a snow globe, the watery, glitter snow mixture swirls around in erratic patterns. The water pushes the glitter and the snow into spins and vortexes and it seems as if there is no stopping the power that is contained inside the glass sphere. However, inside the watery chaos, there is the house or the figure that is anchored to the bottom and it is immovable. It is being pelted by the glitter and the snow and is unphased.
Friends, we are in the swirling snow and glitter. We are being tossed around to the point where we do not know which way is up. There is no end in sight to this turmoil that we are experiencing, and we do not like that at all. We want our waters to be calm and if there is a bump in our journey then we will do what we can do to get things back to normal. Unfortunately, it is hard to see the end of this journey right now. It does not mean that we will be in this situation forever, but as of now, there are more unknowns than known.
In our snow globe of life, the house that is weathering this storm is our faith in God and the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
Our faith needs to hold strong during this new season of life. During the holy season of Lent, we are called to reorient our lives to a life centered on Christ’s journey to the cross. We are asked to examine our priorities and as a spiritual discipline focus on how our faith can be strengthened through the life, ministries, death and glorious resurrection of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. The Bible offers us messages of hope and comfort reminding us that God is in control and we are not and that God is always with us no matter where we may be.
As followers of Christ, I believe we are called to be the shining light of hope in a time that seems perilous. We need to cling to the words of the Psalmist who wrote: “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.”
During this time of isolation let us be in prayer for the doctors and nurses who are on the front lines of this outbreak. They are working long hours with little break time. On top of that like many working parents, they are struggling with finding care for their children while school is out of session. Let us pray for the school administrators and teachers who are having to make vital decisions about school closings and how to adapt to learning from face to face to online and at home. Let us pray for our state and national leaders that they will continue to heed the advice of the medical community and place the good of the citizens over partisan politics.
Let us pray for our community that we will weather this snow globe like storm; putting others before ourselves is the calling of a follower of Christ.
May we keep the faith and hold on to what is true. If we do then we will weather this snow globe storm.
Check out is my latest episode from my podcast “And Also With Y’All” regarding COVID-19, snow globes, and faith.
Hope you enjoy it.