On September 10, 2001, I started a new job in Roanoke, Virginia. My wife and two young children were in Houston as our transition began. On September 11, 2001, all hell broke loose as terrorists attacked our nation in a most horrific fashion. We all remember where we were and what we were doing as those horrible events unfurled. Today, 20 years later, my memory of that day is as vivid as it was then.
Do you remember what it was like when we woke up on September 12? How we shed our stereotypical feelings about Democrats and Republicans, people of other races and creeds, and came together as Americans to mourn our collective loss and embark on recovery together? I do. And as I sit here this morning, September 11, 2021, I am sad for all who lost loved ones that day. I also ask myself, why does it take a disaster like 9/11 to bring us together?
A few days ago, during my morning Bible reading, God offered this reminder through the words of the Apostle Paul:
Today, our nation is more divided than at any time I can recall over my nearly sixty years of life. Hatred and vitriol permeate our media, and they seem to dominate social media as well. Indeed, the Evil One is wreaking havoc in our nation and world today. Which makes it incredibly important for God’s people to be in His Word and in prayer.
I cannot control what others think, feel or say. I cannot control others’ attitudes towards their neighbors. But I can seek to be light in this present darkness. And here, in this succinct little verse, God presents a sound foundational building block. Can you imagine the transition that would take place in our country if all who claim Christ as Savior sought to approach every aspect of life with this as our compass? I can. I carry this verse in my heart. And I challenge all Christians to do likewise.
Who would’ve thought, one year ago today, that 2020 would be the year that it’s been? Yet, here I sit this Christmas morning, thinking on the year we are about to close out and what a blessing this day remains despite the trials, tribulations and troubles this year has wrought. “Blessing, you say?” Yes, Blessing.
Today we come face-to-face with eternity in the Person of the Christ Child. His birth in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago was not His beginning. St. John opens his Gospel by declaring the eternal presence of Jesus, the Author of Life and Savior of the world (see John 1:1-5). When I consider the difficulties of 2020 in the context of knowing the One Eternal God, I am comforted, at peace, and excited for the future.
People like to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I have repeated this many times over the years. Recently, a pastor friend of mine turned the tables a bit when he posted this on Facebook:
YOU are the reason for the season.
This stopped me in my tracks. Indeed, this is true. Jesus was born for a purpose. His mission was to defeat sin and death so that all who believe in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life in God’s presence. No pandemic, no civil unrest, nothing that happens here on Earth will shake this truth. God, in the Person of Jesus was born for me and for you. Indeed, WE are the reason for the season! Knowing this, we can be at peace.
Dear friend, as you ponder the meaning of Jesus’ birth, remember the cross on which the one, perfect sacrifice was given for you and for me. With that Truth in mind we can say to one another, “Merry Christmas!” Yes, even in 2020.
God knows what each of us are going through and He goes through it with us. That, for one, is something for which to be thankful!
Happy Thanksgiving! Or is it? While this is the favorite holiday of many, including yours truly, I am sure there are many who would just as soon skip Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas this year and go straight to 2021. Indeed, 2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. And, as I write this, the long-promised November surge in COVID-19 cases seems to be well underway. Many are ill, too many have perished, healthcare providers are tired and stressed, and all of us likely suffer from pandemic fatigue to some extent. So, given all of this, what are we to do with Thanksgiving 2020?
This may be easier for some of us than for others this year. But, as believers, we know that God is in control. Jesus is Lord and reigns today. Even through COVID. Even through social unrest. Even through temporal death and sadness. Jesus reigns. He has not relinquished control. He will never leave us nor forsake us. This is true for all who believe, no matter what difficulties and challenges we have faced this year. Dear friends, we must cling to Him when times are rough. God knows what each of us are going through and He goes through it with us. That, for one, is something for which to be thankful!
As I look back on 2020, I am reminded that I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my faith in the One True God who loves me despite all my faults and shortcomings to the point of sending Jesus to die for my sins. I am thankful that God reveals Himself through His Word, the Bible, and through His creation. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my church and I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for the technology that allows us to connect with one another when social distancing is our temporary normal. I am thankful for a rewarding and satisfying career. I am thankful for good health. I am thankful for all who work diligently to keep us safe and for those who give selflessly to care for those suffering illness. I am thankful that I live in the great state of Texas and the greatest country on earth.
Have you had a rough year? Has 2020 dealt you more blows than you feel you can handle? If so, know that I care and I am praying for you. As Christians, we are to build each other up. We are to support and encourage one another in good times and bad. I hope you find some encouragement in this little piece. And I hope you can find a few things for which to give thanks. Even this year. Even in these trying times.
May God bless all who read this, and I pray that each of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.
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!
I have found it helpful to constantly remind myself that every person on this earth is loved by God — Every. Single. Person.
Based on what I see on the news and in social media, I perceive a significant absence of peace in our society these days. And that bothers me. Of course, we cannot control the thoughts, feelings or behavior of others. So what is the Christian to do?
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Romans 12:18 NASB
Well, for starters, we can seek to influence others for Christ. Each of us has our own sphere of influence – people we interact with by various means for a variety of reasons. Why not begin within that sphere? There are many ways we believers can strive to influence others for Christ. Seeking peace is one of those. Striving to be a peacekeeper is one way we, as Christians, can let our lights shine in this lost and dark world. Does this mean we allow others to trample, abuse or hurt us? I don’t think so. But some examples of seeking peace include sincere listening and contemplation, seeking reasoning over argument, and not allowing ourselves to be drawn into pointless exchanges or conflict.
The weight of the world is not placed on our shoulders here:
“If possible…” – As I said earlier, we cannot control the thoughts, feelings or behaviors of others. We cannot control others’ motives. Some seem to relish conflict, even thrive in it. Modern day social media has its trolls, “a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content” as defined by Merriam-Webster. Is it possible to seek peace with someone whose chief motive seems to be to stir the proverbial pot? Maybe. When I encounter such people online, I think of these two words, “If possible…” and scroll on by. It’s interesting, though – I used to block trolls until a pastor friend reminded me that, sometimes, the troll is very person who most needs to hear your message.
“As far as it depends on you…” I believe God wants us to engage our world. We cannot expect to let our lights shine for the Lord if we hide them. As hard as it may be at times, we are to rise above the fray, not allowing others to drag us into a pointless exchange of insults or one-upmanship. People notice when we behave differently from the world. I pray every morning that God will help me let my light shine as Jesus commanded (Matt 5:16). God is faithful; He will answer that prayer. But, at the end of the day, if my efforts bear no fruit because the person I’ve encountered is not interested in peace, it’s OK. I’ve done my part, and honored God by having done so.
I have found it helpful to constantly remind myself that every person on this earth is loved by God — Every. Single. Person. I find, when I try to view others through that lens, it becomes a bit easier to rise above the fray and be Jesus to my little sphere of influence.
Seek to be at peace with others, if possible, and as far as it depends on you. What a great way to honor our Great and Mighty God as we seek to be salt and light to this lost and fallen, but also big and beautiful, world!
Fast-forward to 2020. What in the world has happened? And what are we, as believers, to do?
Do you ever wonder what in the world has happened? We turned the calendar over to 2020 and find ourselves in a world that seems to have flipped upside down. All around the world, people are living through a pandemic called COVID-19. We are staying home, wearing masks when we venture out, watching national economies strained, and waiting anxiously for news that we have “flattened the curve”. We see civil unrest such that this nation has not experienced in a long time – civil unrest that seems to be gaining momentum rather than subsiding. We are in a strange election year with little campaigning and an uneasiness over the process. We wonder when, or if, things will return to normal. Indeed, what in the world has happened??
“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
For historical context, the prophet Zephaniah saw that Babylon was about to take Israel into captivity. These were unsettled times in Israel’s history and the people’s world was about to be rocked. Zephaniah reminded Israel to keep focused on the Lord, even as the world around them sank into turmoil. He reminded them to do the right thing and to stay humble. While these actions would not preserve them from exile in Babylon, the Lord would see them trough the trouble.
Fast-forward to 2020. What in the world has happened? And what are we, as believers, to do? I suggest we heed the same guidance that Zephaniah offered Israel so many centuries ago:
Seek the Lord – I find peace in God’s Word. I have learned that if I watch too much news I become stressed. The media is often accused of fear mongering, and while there may be some of that, we must remain informed. But, on what or on Whom should we focus? When we seek God through His Word and through prayer, He allows us to view current events through the lens of eternity. Current events, from an eternal perspective, are like grains of sand on a vast seashore. Through communing with God in His Word and in prayer, He reminds me that, although the times in which we are living may be difficult, He is in control. And although He will allow this to play out, He will not abandon His children. I trust Him completely. I know that my eternity in Heaven is secured through Jesus. I take great comfort in this, and I know that I will be fine. No matter what. Indeed, I find peace in God’s Word. And that peace is available to you, too.
Seek righteousness – Do the right thing. Seek to be God’s light in this dark world. Seek to stand out from the crowd so the world takes notice and gives glory to our Father in Heaven (see Matthew 5:16). What is the right thing? For starters, we should follow the guidance of our elected officials. Trust me, I hate wearing a mask when I venture out of the house; but I do. We are part of a larger community, and God wants us to honor that. Second, we should stand firmly on God’s Word as we address the issues of our day. We should seek to be peace makers and peace keepers. We are to be voices of reason, calm and confidence in the face of turmoil, whether we are interacting in person or online. Doing the right thing in these difficult times may often be contrary to what the world believes we should do, but we must do it anyway.
Seek humility – Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Do you see much of this in the media, in our politicians, in our streets or on social media? One great way we believers can let our lights shine is to seek humility. In this, we have a great example to follow in the Lord Jesus, who being Himself God, humbled Himself to take the burdens of our sins to the cross winning, once and for all time, salvation for all who believe. If every Christian sought to view those around us, no matter who they are or what their political views, as greater than ourselves, we will stand out from the world and we will change the world.
There you have it. This isn’t easy; we are human, after all. But by beginning in God’s Word and striving to live our lives accordingly by seeking righteousness and humility we will become agents of change – good and positive change – in our nation and in our world.
Thanks be to God, I can see past all this. These afflictions will pass. I know they will.
I woke up, wide awake, thinking it had to be close to my 4:45 alarm time. It was 1:40. After drifting in and out of sleep, I decided at 3:15 to make a cup of coffee and head upstairs. I was not in the greatest of moods.
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
2 Corinthians 4:16 NASB
Coffee in hand, I headed upstairs and opened God’s Word. As I read my daily devotional it crossed my mind that maybe God knew I needed some more time this morning. So, rather than be angry that I couldn’t sleep, I decided to give thanks to the Lord for some extra time with Him in His Word.
The Apostle Paul was a great encourager. Here, he offers reassurance to the Corinthians and to us today that we can face the afflictions the world tosses our way knowing that there is a bigger plan in place. I am tired this morning. But more than fatigue from a short night’s sleep, I am tired of the strife. I am tired of COVID-19 and the restrictions it has placed upon my life. I am tired of the lawlessness playing out in our nation today. I am tired of the divisiveness and disunity. With all that is going on, it is easy to become discouraged, to want to throw in the proverbial towel. After all, I am just one man. What can I do to effect change? What can I do to be a part of the solution? And from where will the strength to do so come?
2 Corinthians 4:16 was the verse of the day on You Version Bible App. Do you see what it says? Here, Paul reminds us that even though we grow older, and although we may feel tired, frustrated or dismayed by the world’s afflictions, our spirits are being renewed each day! Renewed! Indeed, this spiritual food I have enjoyed this morning is rejuvenating. It is essential. And, even as I type this, a smile is on my face.
Paul goes on to say this:
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.“
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NASB
Thanks be to God, I can see past all this. These afflictions will pass. I know they will. Through Jesus, the score is already settled. Through His death and resurrection, all who believe in Him are saved. Those eternal things which are not seen are very, very real. I know they are. And through that knowledge, through that hope, through the nurturing God offers through His Word, through prayer and through sacrament, my inner man is renewed. And I realize that the weight of the world does not rest upon my shoulders. God is in control. He is sovereign. My job is to let my light shine, that others would see my deeds and give glory to my Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Thank You, Lord, for this time this morning. Thank You for feeding me. Thank You for renewing me. Lord, I am ready to serve.
We live in a very competitive society. Our competitiveness plays out in sports, business, on the road… really in virtually every aspect of our lives. Recently, I’ve noticed an ugly competitiveness becoming more prevalent in our society. It is on full display in the news and on social media; so much so that I have taken a hiatus from most of the major news networks and two of the most popular social media platforms. Competition can be healthy. But taken too far, it can do great harm.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2 NLT
In his sermon on gentleness last Sunday, pastor Trey Little of Grace Presbyterian Church here in Houston described gentleness as a strength. Indeed, in a society that often interprets gentleness as a weakness, it is a strength wrapped in peace. I couldn’t agree more.
Considering recent events in our country, it appears that gentleness and humility, to a large extent, have been thrown out the proverbial window. We see anger and violence playing out in the streets of many cities across the country. We see friendships destroyed as polarized views become insurmountable walls. And, as I stated earlier, we see people lashing out at one another on social media as anger increasingly becomes the rule of the day. This is not good, and it certainly isn’t healthy – not for our society and not for us individually.
I, for one, feel that we need more gentleness and humility in our society. As pastor Little said, we are to handle people, all people, with care. Isn’t this a much more positive approach to life and its challenges?
As I consider my reentry onto Facebook and Twitter, I am thinking about how I will reconstruct my experience so the anger and divisiveness is in the background as attitudes of gentleness, humility, love and patience take center stage. We Christians are to be Jesus to our world. We are to let our lights shine so that the world looks upon us and gives glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16 and Sunday’s post here). That is my mission in business. It is my mission on social media. It is my mission here. Indeed, it is my mission in life.
If you could have a conversation with a famous person, whom would you choose, and why?”
People sometimes ask the hypothetical question, “If you could have a conversation with a famous person, whom would you choose, and why?” Answers to this question vary greatly. Some identify a major politician, some a sports star, some a famous actor or actress. Who would you choose?
“Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.'”
John 4:26 NASB
I love this account of Jesus’ conversation with the woman from Samaria. His disciples had left him to go and purchase food. This woman came alone to the well in the heat of the day, as she was of such ill repute that she could not go with the other women of the city in the cool of the morning. Jesus asks her for a drink of water, and a conversation ensues (John 4:7-30).
The woman is surprised that Jesus spoke to her, for Jews did not associate with Samaritans, and she said such to Jesus. Jesus turns this conversation about a simple sip of water into something much more important. He tells her that if she knew who she was talking with, she would ask Him for “living water” and that all who drink of this “living water” will never thirst again. The woman, of course, still has the water deep down in the well in mind. But Jesus is not talking about a dipper full of water from the well. He is talking about eternity. He is talking about salvation. When the woman asks Jesus to give her the life-giving water He described, He tells her to go, get her husband, and come back.
One thing that strikes me the about this encounter is the fact that this woman was outcast from her society, and Jesus knew that. When the woman responds that she has no husband, Jesus recounts to her that she has had five husbands and was living with another man out of wedlock. She discerns that He is special, a prophet, and ultimately states that the Messiah, when He comes, will “declare all things to us.” Jesus answers that statement with this profound declaration, “I who speak to you am He.”
There is much for us to learn in reading this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. One thing I notice every time I read it is Jesus’ approach to this known sinner. Jesus acknowledges her sins and reveals to her the path to freedom from sin. He doesn’t condone her sin (contrary to popular modern thought, Jesus never condones sin) but He doesn’t lecture her, either. He simply states the facts in a gentle, loving and kind manner. There is a takeaway here for each of us.
Jesus’ disciples return from buying food and are surprised to see Jesus talking with this woman. Meanwhile, the woman, the outcast from society, runs into town and tells people what had happened and Whom she had encountered. Many return to the well with her to see Jesus. They asked Him to remain with them, and John tells us that he stayed there, in Samaria, for two days and that many came to believe in Him.
So, there you have it. Jesus takes the time to invest Himself in a lowly, sinful woman from Samaria. And, through that encounter, she comes into faith and shares the good news with her community. And with that introduction, many in her community come to faith in Jesus.
As I read this beautiful account, I am reminded that I am in no better state than she. I am a sinner; different sins perhaps, but a sinner nonetheless. I am a sinner who knows Jesus and partakes of His life-giving water. And, just as He worked through this lowly Samaritan woman, He can work through me, too.
If I could have a conversation with a famous person, whom would I choose, and why? I think you know my choice.
But I have quickly fallen into the work from home habit of firing up my laptop first thing in the morning to make sure something hasn’t happened overnight that needs my immediate attention and, Viola!, my work day begins as my Bible time fades into the background.
Like so many working professionals, I’ve been ordered to work from home to help “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of Coronavirus. I’ve never worked from home full time before, and I’ve always said that I prefer to go into the office; I feel I’m more productive there. After last last week, however, I am quite pleased with the productivity I have delivered, but I also find it difficult to shut down the computer and walk away from work for a while. Indeed, my normal routine is way out of whack!
One of the areas that has suffered most is my treasured morning time. In “normal” times – is there any such thing? – my day begins in Scripture and prayer. But I have quickly fallen into the work from home habit of firing up my laptop first thing in the morning to make sure something hasn’t happened overnight that needs my immediate attention and, Viola!, my work day begins as my Bible time fades into the background.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
Yesterday, I read this account in Luke about Jesus’ ministry. It seems that, everywhere He went, there were crowds. Crowds demanding His time. Crowds seeking a miracle. Sick people in need of healing and demon-possessed people needing release. As I read about this, I could relate. If I let it, my work will take up all of my time and energy, especially in these trying times. If I’m not careful, I could work myself into a state of exhaustion and ineffectiveness.
But then along comes this little verse. Jesus needed a break. Jesus needed to refresh and reenergize. Jesus needed to talk with His Father. Indeed, Jesus – the Son of God – needed to pray. And to meet that need, He removed Himself from crowd to seek solitude with His Heavenly Father. Yes. Jesus needed to pray.
If the Son of God needed to take time by Himself to pray, what about me? And what about you?
I love it when God speaks to me through His Word. Upon completing my daily reading yesterday, I opened my Christian Planner and I updated my prayer list. Then, I prayed through it.
I have many good friends who work from home full time. They offer some good advice that I am applying, beginning today (second Monday working from home):
Go to bed at your normal time
Set your alarm and get up at your normal time
Take a shower
Brush your teeth
Dress for work
Take your breaks
Walk away when you need to
Leave your work in your home office at the end of the workday
In other words, establish your routine and stick with it. Of course, these days, there are interruptions. These are strange and trying times. Duty may call at odd hours as I do my part to help my employer manage through this. But, this morning, I set my alarm, brewed my coffee, read my Bible, said my prayers and wrote this post. This feels good. This feels right. And, who knows, I may come to love this working from home gig. Just maybe.