Because it was summer vacation, I was allowed to stay up to watch as Astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. I heard him say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” At 9 years of age those words did not mean a whole lot to me. I was simply awe struck that what seemed crazy or at least implausible was actually happening. There truly was a man on the moon.
As the years rolled on from my childhood, I have often made it a point to watch that first walk on the moon as it is replayed on its anniversary each year. As time has passed, I have come to understand and appreciate what Armstrong was saying as he stepped onto the lunar surface for the first time.
I thought about that famous quote the other day as I received my 2nd vaccination against Covid-19. Please understand, I do not put myself anywhere near the level of that famed astronaut. But as I looked around the large room where the others who had just been vaccinated sat for their 15 minutes of observation, I clearly saw the connection to July 20th, 1969.
Each person in that room had personally taken the small step toward helping themselves and their fellow humans. Individually, my being vaccinated will not have a far reaching effect, as my circle of contacts is quite limited. But that is not the point, and it was not was Neil Armstrong was saying either. Together, as we each take the small step to be vaccinated, we are coming together to help make the ‘giant leap for mankind’ in the fight against this pandemic.
So please, Dear Friends, take that small step when the vaccine becomes available to you.
As it was with my first shot, I had zero side-effects from the second, not even a sore arm.
I write this two weeks after getting the first of two Moderna vaccinations against Covid 19 and am glad to report that none of my God-given appendages have fallen off nor have I sprouted a third eye (or anything else, for that matter).
Let me be clear at the outset, I am aware and understand that some people have heath issues that make getting vaccinated a risk to them. As always, I encourage folks to follow closely the instruction and direction of their medical care providers.
I write this today to those who may have a more general misgiving about this particular vaccination. As I stated in an earlier blog, I did some research and more importantly spent some time praying about this. My prayer was specific in that I asked God to reveal to me any reason I should hesitate to receive the shot. I have been blessed to be a person of prayer for some time now and have come to have a deep trust in the God I pray to. So when nothing negative was revealed to me, I gladly rolled up my sleeve.
Trusting in God was not only key in my decision to get vaccinated, but it is also my default setting whenever there are decisions to be made in my life. “That’s great for you, your a pastor guy,” you might be thinking. Believe me, my calling has no special bearing in getting heard from above. Really, the trust is built as it is in any relationship: Getting to know the other person in a deeper way.
I know of only one way in which to do this; that is to take the time needed to nurture it. With other people, it usually involves asking questions, listening to the responses and watching to see if what is said matches up with how they live their life. If I see inconsistencies, I will withhold the appropriate amount of trust.
But if their sincerity is matched with integrity, the door is wide open to walk through. I have applied this same approach with my relationship with God. I have found that He is who He says He is and His working in my life and the lives of countless others has backed up what He has promised.
I started writing this earlier in the day solely to encourage you to be thoughtful about getting vaccinated against Covid 19 when it becomes available to you. I firmly believe it is the next right thing to do, not only for yourself, but also those with whom you share life.
But as I wrote, I seem to have moved into another recommendation: to seek out the God of heaven. And not just to seek His guidance about getting the shot, but also to encourage you to step out in faith and develop your end of the relationship He offers you. He is there and patiently waiting, even if I should develop something untoward like an eyestalk.
Please note that the following is based solely on my personal experience. There is no scientific research involved.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I received the first vaccination against the Covid 19 virus on December 29th. Like I said then, this was not a decision I made lightly. I spent some time in prayer, seeking God’s leading and I did a fair amount of research into the safety of these shots. I came away convinced beyond any doubt that not only were the vaccinations safe, but also that by taking the shot I was living out God’s command to love others as I protect myself and them from spreading this illness.
Actually I was at the hospital where the vaccine is being dispensed twice last week. On Tuesday for my shot, and on Wednesday as I brought one of the residents from the halfway house where I work to get his.
They seem to have a good system going at the local hospital as I was there only about 25 minutes each time. It was during these two visits that gave me the inspiration to write today.
Over those two days I saw approximately 50 people who were either in the fast moving line to register or in the conference room where we waited our 15 minutes to make sure no one had any adverse reactions once inoculated (no one did when I was there).
It was the wide discrepancy in the ratio of women to men that really caught my attention. Counting myself, I saw only 3 males getting vaccinated over those two days I was there. I realize that a large percentage of health care workers are female, but if my total count was accurate, only 6% of those I saw get inoculated were men. Where were they all?
Hence the title, C’mon guys, man up! Roll up your sleeves and get it done. Whatever excuses you may have for not doing this, I am asking that you think again. I had zero side-effects, not even a sore arm. Nor have I sprouted a third eye or have any of my God-given appendages fallen off.
And seriously, during these times when so many have felt so helpless and vulnerable, I believe this is an extremely practical way to show care for your fellow humans. I spoke to a nurse I know earlier and told her I got the shot in part so that I would be one less person she would have to care for. Tears filled her eyes as she thanked me. So c’mon guys, lets do this. If not for yourself, do it for your family, friends and those frontline workers who have given so much of themselves over the previous 10 months combatting this pandemic.
There needs to be a lot of folks getting the Covid shot if we are going to put this issue to bed. I am encouraging everyone who has doubts to do as I did: pray and do research and then ultimately look past just yourself to the larger community around you.
Thank you. Be blessed. And be a blessing by getting vaccinated when it becomes available to you.
I often marvel, and sometimes even write about the command of Jesus given to his disciples just prior to His arrest, mock trial and crucifixion: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
I have tried to get my head around the fact that Jesus was telling His followers to love as He loved. But, I say to myself, Jesus loved perfectly. I am not capable of coming close to that. As I do these mental gymnastics, I usually come back to the fact that Jesus knows I can’t. He is not expecting perfection from me; but I do believe He wants me to consciously be doing the best I can at all times.
With this somewhat settled, for now, in my mind, I move on to how I can show this love. Jesus has left this part quite open: Love one another. Once again as I examine my track record with this, I find myself behavior overly self-serving. Far too many times I have allowed my wants to interfere with me seeing to the needs of others. I must admit I have missed opportunities to simply love others because I have been too caught up in my own stuff of the moment.
I am ever so grateful for the faithfulness and patience of God. He continues to give me/us opportunities to showcase His love through our actions. Those of us who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ have a wonderful opportunity to act in genuine love now and in the coming months: Get the Covid-19 vaccination!
As many of you know, I work part-time at a halfway house for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Because I do, I am eligible to get the vaccine. I did so just yesterday as I received the first of the two shots.
This was not a decision I made lightly. I did some research. I wanted, as best I could, to understand the process of development and testing. I also considered the possible adverse reactions that might happen. I concluded that I could trust the science that has gone into this. And I remembered to thank God for making this available.
Hence, Dear Cherished Reader, my suggestion to you is this: When it becomes available to you, please get vaccinated. It is a great way to display the love Jesus was talking about for our fellow humans. Jesus told His disciples then that people would recognize them as His followers by the way they loved people. His command (and my suggestion) is the same: Show others that you care enough about their well-being that you are willing to get vaccinated against this virus.
As always, thanks for reading, be blessed and be a blessing,
BTW: I write this 24 hours after receiving the first shot with zero side effects, not even a sore arm.
Thanksgiving in the United States is considered the traditional kick-off of the holiday season. How much of a season of good cheer it turns out to be is yet to be seen, however.
2020 has certainly been a year like no other. In this country we have seen civil unrest, Mother Nature at her worst, political upheaval and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amidst all the pain, suffering and uncertainty of the future, some might find it hard to be thankful at this time in history. I would not be one of them, however. My heart certainly goes out to those who have lost so much to wildfires and hurricanes. It breaks for those who have lost loved ones to sickness.
I whole-heartedly believe that true thanksgiving must spring from our hearts regardless of current circumstance. I can best accomplish this when I stay focused on the One who always deserves my humble gratitude, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I will be preaching a Thanksgiving sermon from Luke 17:11-19. I have given this message the title: Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World. This passage of Scriptures relates the account of Jesus healing 10 who were afflicted with leprosy. I hope that as you consider these verses, you too will be able to give proper thanks and praise more readily to our Lord.
I admit I had never used, thought of or even considered the term ‘social distancing’ before March of this year. Social distancing is now the norm. Keeping a minimum of 6 feet or more from others is considered the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 down. It is not a new idea, however. Those 10 lepers seeking healing from Jesus used it as well: They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12b-13 NIV)
Like us, you could say that the ten lepers were not having a good year either. Their condition was not only debilitating physically, but it made them outcasts from all people, family and friends included.
The lepers were living/existing away from their families. The family unit was very tight back then. Their absence would have been keenly felt, affecting the lives of the rest of that group. These 10 had an incurable disease and depending on its severity, a death sentence. Those family members would have had little to no hope of seeing their loved one again.
This certainly helps explain the joy they must have felt when they were cured. The desire to let their loved ones know they we healed and back with them would have been very strong; strong enough to prevent them from even thinking about going back to thank the One who had healed them.
However, in our currently socially distanced condition, we can learn the most about giving thanks from the one who came back to Jesus. Gratitude, in my opinion, is an action word. Merely saying I’m grateful without a heart and /or actions to back it up is a bit shallow. The man who went back to Jesus modeled the action of gratitude. He changed direction, putting the giving of thanks above anything else he may have initially wanted to do. He thanked the Lord before going off on his new lease on life.
Practically speaking, how might you and I display the action of gratitude in a socially distanced world? Here is one suggestion: Take the time today to call someone you know that is alone. Let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything they need and express a willingness to fulfill that need if you are able.
As I think of it, truly giving thanks in a socially distanced world depends little on our current circumstances. Rather, the driving force of daily thanksgiving is God Himself. Merely scanning the Scriptures reveals many things to be grateful on a daily basis because of who God is and what He does.
Think of it as a fill-in-the-blank exercise: God I thank you for: ______________
Here are a few examples:
God I thank you for: saving me through your Son Jesus Christ
God I thank you for: your faithful love
God I thank you for: the fact I can pray to you.
Please notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things or possessions. Rather it is all about who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do. I firmly believe that the more we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see what God is doing in and around us, the more grateful for Him we become.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be grateful for the material blessings in our lives. We should be grateful to God for the gifts He bestows on us. I merely remind you to not lose sight that the material things, as wonderful as they may be, will one day be gone. Only God is constant. He is forever loving us, leading us, calling us to Him. Let nothing separate you/me from giving thanks to Him!
The 10 lepers kept their distance, yet still called out to the Lord. You and I have no restrictions to God’s availability. The only barriers to us knowing Him more intimately are put there by ourselves.
God does not demand that we thank Him. We can assume the other 9 lepers remained healed even though they did not come back to say thanks to Jesus. But the one who did return received an even greater blessing. He got to look into the eyes of Jesus. The Lord then blessed him abundantly by revealing what faith in Him can do. I believe this man’s healing went beyond his surface condition and reached his heart with the peace that only God can give.
So run to His embrace. Know the depth of His love for you. As you do, you will find freedom to live a thanksgiving life every day that no social distance can keep you from.
Thomas Hobbes (image courtesy of famousbiographies.org)
On the surface of things, it appears that not much has changed over say, the last 4 centuries. It is as if it is in our DNA to not trust, respect or even get along with people who differ from us by skin color, nationality, or political bent. Recent events in this country have brought these latent feelings to a boiling point once again.
Listening to the car radio the other day, I heard a speaker reference Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher from the 17th century. I was struck by the similarities of his thoughts from 1651 to the current state of affairs.
Hobbes, in his most famous work Leviathan, wrote the following:
“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Emphasis added)
The focus of this work by Hobbes was the plight of humankind living without a strong leader. I’ll leave that particular thought alone and instead focus on his description of society bound for chaos as noted in the bold print above.
Our news feeds are filled destruction and violence as years of oppression and struggle have been brought to a head by the thoughtless taking of lives by those paid to protect and preserve it. I am not here to argue one point versus the other; only to say that every life is precious in the eyes of our Creator and we should hold each other in that type of esteem as well.
What strikes me is how close Hobbes description of life in anarchy reflects ours today, some 450 years later! The more things stay the same, the more they stay the same. Many are living daily with the fear of violent death, which casts a pall over the lives of any thinking and caring person. It indeed can make the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.
I, for one, don’t want to have this dark description be true of my life, and in fact, it is not. Though I do not have much of a say as to the brevity of my life, I certainly do have when it comes to being solitary, poor, nasty or brutish. And please understand, on my own I have made no great strides with any of these. It is only through the grace of God, poured out on me through the Savior Jesus Christ that has raised me out of the mire.
As Edward Mote wrote in that great hymn, my hope too is in Jesus Christ. Only when we, that is all of us, embrace the righteousness that only comes from the Lord, can we live as a people not described by Hobbes.
Jesus left clear instructions: Love others as He loved all. When individuals can truthfully live out this command of Jesus is when we will see true cracks in the walls of hatred and judgment of others.
Let us begin today to be what history will record us as. With God’s help we can be remembered as people who loved others as themselves, who promoted forgiveness and kindness instead of division and strife.
I pray for a grassroots growth of many individuals coming to know the love of God, for He truly is humanity’s only true hope.
1 My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
2 When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev’ry high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil. [Refrain]
3 His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay. [Refrain]
4 When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. [Refrain]
Like so many, I am deeply troubled by the state of affairs in my country, the United States. Unlike others, however, I will not use this platform to simply re-hash the awful events of the past two weeks. I will state for the record that I have appreciation and respect for the brave men and women in law enforcement who serve all people with respect, dignity and understanding. I must also add that my heart breaks for all victims who have been mis-used, injured and even killed by those who have abused the power given to them in order that they can protect people.
I must also admit that a fair amount of defeatism has crept into my thinking this week. A focal point of the ministry God has given me is to be an encourager of others. I have found this most difficult to do when each idea in my head seems to be met with ‘What does it matter,’ or ‘what’s the use’ as one awful event after another comes to light.
Thankfully, God is infinitely more faithful than me! As I pondered these things this morning, He brought me to a familiar Scripture from which I have attempted to comfort others with through the years. It is John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)
As I looked into the original language in which Jesus spoke these words, I found again the peace that He promises. When Jesus referenced this world, John, one of the Lord’s closest disciples, was describing not just the physical world, but also according to Strong’s, “a system opposed to God.” It seems as if the prevalent world view then, much as it is today, had aligned itself in opposition to God.
But to get to that peace Jesus spoke of, I had to better understand the awful events of our recent past through the filter of God’s Word. As always, knowing the context in which these words were spoken is the best place to start. Jesus uttered this statement found in John 16:33 to His closest disciples just hours before He was arrested, tried and crucified. He certainly knew trouble was coming. Again using Strong’s concordance, I found that the trouble the Lord spoke of was not only what they were to face in their immediate circumstance, but it also speaks of tribulation and oppression to come. We certainly are living in times of oppression and tribulation.
After stating that His followers would face troubles, Jesus said what must have sounded as a peculiar thing: Take heart! Basically Jesus was telling them (and us) to cheer up, even in the face of current events. Not that He was telling them to grin and bear it; rather Jesus told His followers to put their full trust in God, the only One who is immeasurably greater than any world circumstance.
Jesus then said something that must have seemed even more incredible at the time: I have overcome the world. To his original audience, it certainly did not look like anything but what they were trying to accomplish had been overcome. Yet, a little over twenty-four hours later, the full depth of this momentous truth would begin to play out as God’s plan for the salvation of the world began with the crucifixion of Jesus. Three days later, as He arose victorious from the grave, the fullness of what Jesus had overcome came to light. Death had been conquered; eternal life was now possible for all those who would put their faith in Christ.
Having reviewed and renewed my faith in this awesome God who loves us all, I re-discovered the peace that Jesus said was to be found in Him alone. Here too a better understanding of the original word used is extremely helpful. This peace, as Jesus described it to be, went far beyond a conventional meaning of the word. Peace for most means the absent of strife. True as this is, the peace Jesus speaks of goes much further as it tells of having a reconciled relationship, as one has through faith in the Lord with God the Father.
As I said, God is faithful! He has seen me through this low time by bringing me back to a place where He is the focus and motivation of my life. For me, this means to be not only the encourager I have tried to be in the past, but to increase my efforts in these troubled times. As I have found (again), God is the only true source of hope that there is.
In practical terms, going forward I will make myself more readily available to those who are hurting while promoting the cause of justice for all people. God has more than enough of His peace to go around. We as followers of Christ must walk boldly in this peace as we make His love known to all; both the oppressed and the oppressor. Only when all sides are confronted with the universal love of God for all (and the call of everyone to respond to this love by loving each other), can the true peace of God be known. Jesus has in fact overcome this world; may we all live as if we believe it to be true!
“Who was that masked man?” I was not a big fan of the Lone Ranger television show as a kid. I remember watching some episodes with my older brother, who was. I also recall hearing at the end of some of them the question asked by someone the Lone Ranger had just helped, “Who was that masked man?”
This all came to mind the other day as I was out doing our weekly grocery shopping. Among the many shoppers, the vast majority of whom were wearing masks, a familiar, if partial face approached me. We each tentatively spoke the other’s name and to our mutual joy, got it right. This person is a member of one of the churches Betsy and I regularly minister at. With most of the State of New York on shutdown, we hadn’t seen each other in nearly two months.
We exchanged pleasantries and inquired as to loved ones health and well-being, then went of our respective shopping chores. I had another encounter like this a little later as I approached the checkout line. This one played out exactly like the first because our identities were somewhat hidden behind the masks we wore.
As I contemplated the changes this entire Covid-19 experience has brought about, I got to thinking about masks. I think it safe to say we have all worn them, even before the pandemic. With varying amounts of guardedness we don masks to hide true feelings, for many reasons. Some of these are for our own protection or possibly the protection of others. I am not using my blog to chide anyone about this.
But I will comment about the wearing of masks for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, with myself at the top of the list. To be clear, I totally support the wearing of PPE and following the recommendations for sanitizing surfaces and physical distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of this virus.
(image courtesy of fedit.ukneeq.com)
The masks on my mind today are the hidden ones, or at the least the ones that hide our true identity. A devoted follower of the Lord Jesus is to be growing in His likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks that obscure the living God within me.
One of the many of these is: the mask of indifference. Wearing this one prevents me from being able to empathize with the hurting world and worse yet, can keep me from trying to help.
Another ugly mask I slip on from time to time is one of self-satisfaction. This mask keeps me satisfied in my little world, not wanting anything or anyone to change the status quo I have worked so hard to establish. This mask can easily be turned inside out to be worn as a mask of judgment. Behind this covering I can easily judge folks as being unworthy of my time or stuff. An ugly mask indeed.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides much of our face, so these less obvious ones often hide our true heart and intentions. Wearing these less visible masks is in no way proper for the disciple of Christ.
This brings me back to the words Jesus shared with His original group of followers on the night He was betrayed:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
It is clear that in order to follow this command of the Lord (a command, not a suggestion), we must be rid of the hidden types of masks I mentioned above. How you and I demonstrate this love of others will vary with each of us. But one thing will be clear, our motivation will be to love others as the Lord has loved us.
Though the PPE mask I wear today will still partially obscure who I am to the folks I meet, God’s loving heart ought to shine through in all other ways. This makes my goal not to be acknowledged as the answer to the question, “Who was that masked man,” but rather that our all-loving God is revealed in my words and actions.
As difficult as it is for me, a pastor, to stick that title on this entry, it is unfortunately accurate. And, I refer to churches right here in the United States, where the enemy of the church is far more active on the inside than the out. The excellent blog, A Fractured Faith, written by Irish author Stephen Black (I highly recommend his blog and books), wrote a compelling piece on this topic on February 20th, 2020. He stated, as many have felt, that the pain caused him by a local church has driven him from it. Sadly, I know many who have experienced the same.
The church was once a safe place. That is no longer the case. The one place where folks should be able to simply be themselves, good and bad, healthy or hurting, has dropped the ball for the most part. If you are reading this and attend/belong to a church that is carrying out the call of Jesus to be His hands and feet in the world, I praise God for it and thank you for all you do!
Yet, the vast majority of churches I visit in my various ministry roles seem to support, by the predominance of empty pews and chairs, the fact that the church is indeed missing its calling.
Both the cause and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the church itself. As I listened to a preacher on the radio the other day, his point made this clear to me. I didn’t catch his name, as I was driving at the time, but his message has quickly taken root in my heart.
His premise was this: that the Christian Church has spent the majority of its time since the late 1940’s teaching their flocks the importance of being obedient to God and the teachings of the bible. He concluded that although the need for followers of Christ to be obedient is very important, if it is not taught/presented in a way that fosters love for God, it can also be quite dangerous.
This caused me to think: How could being obedient to God be dangerous in any way? After all, if I’m doing what I’m told I am to do, shouldn’t that be good enough?
Here’s the thorn in that thinking. Obedience, without a corresponding love that causes the believer to desire to please God, can (and has) led people to become the type ‘Christian’ that has caused such deep pain to my friend Stephen and countless others like him. For example, a church that teaches its people that there are a set of rules that must be obeyed opens itself up to hard-heartedness. It is far too easy to quantify obedience when you can check off the boxes of the things you have completed. The next step in this downward progression is to assume that others who aren’t doing things the ‘right’ way, must shunned. This type of obedience without feeling leads to judgment, which encourages the ‘us v. them’ mentality.
How heart breaking that becomes when those who come to a place of worship seeking care are instead treated as outcasts. Their very brokenness prevents the established membership from helping them because their hearts have been calloused by the narrow perspective many churches have taught them to have. This is what is spawned, in my opinion, when strict obedience is placed above (or instead of) having a loving heart.
Now Jesus was clear that He wanted His followers to be obedient to his teaching. Check out Matthew 28:19-20 or John 13:34-35 for proof of this. But the Lord desires so much more than out rote following of a list of do’s and don’ts. Yes, He wants our obedience, but He wants it because we love Him. A heart that loves the Lord chooses to be obedient as a result of this love, not as a way to earn it or worse, so that we can show the world we deserve it because we have finished the checklist.
In conclusion, my travels have not as of yet brought me to the perfect church and as long as churches are populated by imperfect beings like me, I probably won’t find one this side of heaven. In spite of all I’ve written here today, I end on a hopeful note. You see, the hope I speak of is found in Christ, not the church. Only He is perfect, nothing we put our hands to will ever be. But if we will search our hearts to find those places of judgment and short-sightedness that lurk there, asking forgiveness for them, we can begin the journey of improving the care and support the local church ought to be providing.
May our hearts be motivated by love for God which will then in turn cause us to desire to be truly obedient to Him, in all things.
Blessings and thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic.