I Am With Them…

Have you ever felt Jesus’ presence? I am a “people person” – one who thrives in the presence of others. To be sure, I enjoy my alone time. But there is an energy, a spirit of unity that I feel when I am gathered with other believers.

The earliest recollection I have of feeling Jesus’ presence in a very real way was in August, 1977, at fifteen years old. We moved from Minnesota to Katy, Texas that July. We visited what would become our home church, Memorial Lutheran Church of Katy, soon after moving in. After our very first visit, the church’s pastor came to our house to welcome us to town and to Memorial. Although we hadn’t yet joined the church, Pastor Loomis invited my sister and me to join the youth group on their annual beach retreat to Matagorda, TX the following weekend. With some degree of apprehension we accepted the invitation. The group welcomed us as if we had been with them for years. The fellowship we enjoyed over the weekend was like nothing I had experienced before. Sunday morning, we worshipped on the fishing pier overlooking the river on which the house was situated. There, for the first time, I knew Jesus is real.

Through my high school years, my church, and more specifically, my youth group and its adult leaders, were grounding elements in my life. I felt called into professional ministry, and enrolled at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin for pre-seminary studies. At Concordia, I received a top-flight education as I earned a Bachelors Degree in General Studies. More important, though, were the friendships I gained over those four years. Countless times, whether in class, in chapel, or in small groups, I felt Jesus’ presence with us. The unity among my Concordia friends is grounded in Christ, and that unity still flourishes today.

Now, here we are. 2020. COVID-19. I don’t have to recap the story here; we have all lived it. In March, when churches closed due to pandemic, the phenomenon we call online church emerged. It grew and developed into a major force in the church. At first I really enjoyed it. I have several friends who pastor churches all over the country and I enjoyed visiting their churches online and hearing them preach the Gospel. Over time, I found that I didn’t necessarily have to tune in at the exact time of worship; many were available on YouTube and other media (still are) and I could watch at my convenience. Yes, I could watch…. For me, online worship was not participatory; I felt that I was observing from the outside and I longed to gather together. In person. At my church.

I am not knocking online worship. It is an incredible blessing for those with high risk factors to COVID-19 and I thank God for the technology and expertise that makes online worship a high quality and blessed experience. But, it does not replace the in-person gathering of Christians to lift our voices in praise, hear the Word together and partake of the Sacraments. I am so thankful that many churches, including my church family at Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, are once again gathering in person while maintaining their online presence for those who cannot safely partake.

One of the things I love most about this promise from Jesus is the fact that it is not limited to gatherings in church. When believers gather to share a meal, when we gather for a simple visit, even when we gather for a Zoom happy hour as a few of us from Concordia did last Friday – this promise is true. Jesus is with us. We encourage each other, we support each other, and the unity in Christ that we share is fortified.

Indeed, I love this promise from Jesus, and I know it to be true. This evening, for the first time in about eight months, I will join with other choristers at my church in a rehearsal for this Sunday’s worship service. We will be a smaller number than usual. We will be socially distanced. We will wear masks. And… We will sing. We will be together. Jesus will be there, too. And I can hardly wait!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Hectic Morning and Liturgy…

I sometimes miss the Order of Worship with which I grew up.

Oh, come on, dogs! It is 3AM! What in the world are you barking at? Indeed, awakened well before dawn serenaded by barking dogs, I got up to see what the heck was going on. Lightening. Thunder. Rain. They usually don’t bark at these things. I never did figure out what the fuss was all about. But I was up.

I brewed some coffee and came upstairs to do my morning reading. I was distracted, my mind racing between various things I need to accomplish today and still wondering why I was up so darn early. As I closed my eyes, trying to settle down to pray, this Scripture came to mind:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 KJV)

Over and over I prayed this Scripture, eyes closed, asking God to calm my heart, ease my mind and give me the sense of peace that seemed so elusive. And, you know what? God answered that prayer.

I grew up in a liturgical church. Every Sunday we sang, chanted or spoke the liturgy. What I didn’t realize then was, as we worshipped I was memorizing Scripture! Indeed, the various Orders of Worship laid out for us in the front pages of the hymnal were taken right from Scripture, much of it from the Psalms.

At the time I didn’t appreciate it; I sometimes thought it was boring. But recently, as I’ve read through my Bible and come across familiar passages I recognize from the liturgies of my youth, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the liturgy and how thoughtfully it is presented. And I realize I miss it.

In many churches today, the liturgy is a relic of the past. Worship styles vary greatly, and that’s OK. However, I wonder if abandoning the liturgy in favor of a series of worship songs and forgoing readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels in favor of a single reading from “today’s text” may reduce Bible literacy amongst believers. I am concerned that the tendency in some churches to exclude corporate Confession and Absolution except during Lent and possibly Advent may be creating a generation of Christians that do not fully grasp the nature and prevalence of sin and therefore do not fully appreciate the magnificent message of the Gospel.

I pray each morning for Christ’s Church. I pray for unity firmly grounded in the Truth of God’s Word. I pray for bold preachers and teachers to deliver the Word in fullness of truth out of genuine love for God and His people. Indeed, as I said earlier worship styles can be different, and that’s OK. But, sometimes, I miss the Order of Worship with which I grew up.

What a crazy morning it’s been. From a chorus of barking dogs at 3AM to a sense of peace at 6 I am ready to take on the day. Perhaps with a nap inserted somewhere…

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

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