Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What were those odds again?

Ok, I just had to get to this right away while the memory is still fresh in my mind.  If you've been following my posts, you will recall the Monday, April 20th blog entitled "What are the odds?" (You can review it here if you don't remember it.)  The short summary of that blog was that I really believed I was due to get a hole in one.  I wasn't arrogant about it (at least, I don't think I was).  It was just a matter-of-fact statistical look at the odds of any one golfer getting a hole in one.  At the end of the blog, I promised I would post when I got that hole in one to let you know it happened.

Well, today it happened!!  I was at #10 at Great Life Worthington Golf Course (which is the hole I had previously shown in that April 20th blog).  I was alone, but #10 is right next to the clubhouse - there is always someone nearby.  I had just played up #9 with Rick Dalrymple and another fellow, but they elected to stop for today after nine.  Rick said something about having to mow the lawn.  I told him he needed to get his priorities in line.

I will try to make this sound like a golf announcer: "#10 is a short par three that requires accuracy and a deft touch to a saddle style green.  Today, it's about 105 yards, very little wind - I see Daren is ready to hit his shot.  He has a nine iron.  The crowd is very silent - almost don't know that they are here.  The shot is on the way.  It is right on line with the pin.  Does he have enough?  Ohhh!  It hit the pin!  Dead straight!  But where did it go?  I didn't see it anywhere!  I heard the ball strike the pin - the only thing I can think of is that it's in!  It's in the hole!  Daren has a hole in one!  What a fantastic shot!  I believe that is Daren's first career hole in one!  And look at his response...the crowd is going wild..."

That's about how I might have imagined it had anyone been able to see it actually go into the hole.  I shouted "It went in!!  Did anyone see that?  It went in the hole!!"  I looked around and no one really heard me because there was no one there to hear me, except one guy who was preparing to go out on #1.  He came over and I told him what had happened.  He didn't see it, but he said that the golf pro was putting golf carts in the garage to recharge them.  Ben came out and I told him the same thing.  He said "Well go and get it"  and I said "Yeah, but someone has to verify it."  (After all, who is going to believe a pastor who is playing alone that he got a hole in one?)  Ben (the golf pro) said he'd watch me, but just don't have any golf balls in my pocket when I went to retrieve the ball.  Must have been golf pro humor.

I got into the cart and drove down to the green.  I cannot remember the last time excited and golf were used in the same sentence for me.  I walked over to the green and sure enough - there was my Titleist 3 wedged in the hole between the blue wrap that was installed for COVID 19 protection and the side of the hole.  I pulled the ball out and showed it triumphantly to Ben and the other guy.  I pumped my fist in the air and let out another shout "Yeah!!! Yes!!" I shouted.  It's not really polite to yell on the golf course, but who would care?  I drove back to the tee and Ben took my picture next to the tee box.  

It all happened so quickly.  But I was brought down to earth on the next hole with a triple bogey 7, but who cares?  Not me.  I didn't know what I was doing the rest of the round.  The odds of my getting a hole in one were 1 in 12,500 or something like that.  All I know is that it happened.

I was due!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Social Media Distancing

Since sometime in mid-March, the world as we understood it changed.  Almost overnight.  Life came to a standstill.  People and businesses and governments were paralyzed by a great unknown.  Everyone's lives were impacted - no one has been exempt from the shut down, stay at home, wear your masks in public, keep your distance to six feet, learn how to use your computer, device or smartphone better world we have discovered.

You've heard so many takes on this topic - trust me - I'm not sharing this blog with you to spin another frustration or perspective on any of the above items.  I'm wondering about one thing and one thing only... in the midst of making all of these changes, has the message I hope to bring to people been somehow circumvented by all of the technology I've had to use?

I think it is a fair question.  I'd love to say at first glance, no - not only no, but heavens no!  What choices did I have - did the church of today have?  Many of us had to learn how to use this technology and learn how to use it quickly.  I am so grateful that the leadership at First UMC embraced the move we made last fall to begin live streaming... I know that made our transition a whole lot easier.  I am so grateful that our leadership in Emmanuel and Adrian Church were willing to dabble in using video before we really needed to use video.  And I am ever so grateful for the many volunteers who have learned how to help with the media tech at First Church - running the projection program, adjusting the sound quality that is being sent out to various destinations (internet sites, monitors, nursery, and others), and being able to use the camera to project the worship service into the homes of many people.  In fact, if we were to center on numbers for a moment, we are reaching more persons now than ever through the various social media outlets we have available.

But numbers are not really the focal point.  I'm trying to imagine what we might have done differently if we still had only the rotary phone, pen and paper, radio and a megaphone to work with.  Those were the social media tools from the past.  They come from the age I grew up in and if we only had those things to go forward with, I'm convinced we would have made it work... somehow.

The point I'm trying to make is this: no matter what generational venue we are in, we still have to find a way to communicate.  This is especially true for the church in striving to convey the message of the grace of God and how it extends to all people, specifically when we are going through such difficult times.  My hope is that the technology we use never gets in the way of the message we bring.  I'm glad that the Lord has given us these tools to use and hopefully we will continue to use them to His glory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Small Things

One of the things I learned to pay attention to is that sometimes small things can make a big difference.  I'm certain I didn't pick this up right away, but over the years, I've discovered this statement to be so true.  I've seen it over and over again... a small gesture of appreciation, a small act of kindness, a small word of encouragement.  These and other small things go along way to making a huge difference in the lives of people.  Even small things like our dog Maisy.

Maisy, our five month old dog, has been absolutely ruling the house over Ruby, our three year old cat.  She loves to "play" with Ruby... but there's one problem with that: Ruby doesn't want to play.  Maisy will latch on to Ruby (she's been practicing her biting techniques on Nancy and myself).  But Ruby doesn't really appreciate being that close to Maisy.  So after several meows and growls and howls, Ruby finally gives up and goes down the stairs because Maisy hasn't learned how to negotiate the stairs yet.  Our small dog Maisy has made a big difference in the life of Ruby.

Small things are adding up during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.  When people call to check up on people, it matters to those who have been hunkered down, protecting themselves from this rapidly spreading virus.  When someone does a kind deed like picking up groceries for someone, it matters to those who don't feel comfortable venturing out in public.  When a person prays for another person for whatever the request might be, it matters to the person being prayed for, knowing that not only others care for them, but God cares for them.  Small things make a big difference..

I came home from the office today and discovered this written in chalk on our driveway: "An awesome Pastor and his awesome wife live here!"  I can't even begin to tell you how this small thing matters in my life.  It's not that I believe for a moment that I am so deserving of an accolade like that.  I have my good moments, but I also have my bad ones too.  I'm just a ordinary guy with an extraordinary message.  What makes this huge is that somebody went out of their way to make my day special.  I have no idea who did it.  It only matters because I'd love for them to know how deeply Nancy and I appreciate the feelings behind it.

Only because we live in an awesome part of Minnesota - Worthington, Rushmore, Adrian, Bigelow, Brewster... Nancy and I are the ones who feel blessed.  

Because small things matter.  Don't underestimate them.  Just do it.  Do the small things for others.

Monday, April 20, 2020

What are the odds?

I came so close once.  I came this close (four inches) from getting a hole in one on the golf course.  It was at Pokegama Golf Course in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  I can't remember how old I was, but I know that it was such a long time ago.  It was on the old #8, a par three that went back toward the clubhouse.  Usually an eight or nine iron, depending on the wind.  I don't recall my swing or the shot specifically, but I remember was how close I was to the hole.  That picture is indelibly etched into my mind.  Four inches to the right.  Perfect distance, but my aim was four inches off.  Just four lousy inches.

You'd think that with all of the golf shots on par 3s that I have played in my lifetime one of them would have gone in.  But sadly, no.  No holes in one for this guy.  The odds for getting a hole in one in golf don't seem too bad.  For a professional golfer, the odds are that 1 shot in 2,500 shots is going to go in on a par three.  For an amateur (that would be me) the odds jump a bit - one shot in 12,500 shots is going to go in.

So let's figure this out... I usually play out at the Great Life Worthington Golf Course.  There are four par threes in eighteen holes - #2, #8, #10, and #14.  Hole #10 seems like the most likely candidate to get a hole in one.  The distance is about 110 yards, depending upon where the tee is located.  Hole #14 would be the most difficult being that it is 186 yards from tee to green.  The other two are reasonable - #2 is only 155 yards while #8 is 158 yards.  Chances would be better on those two than on #14.  So, I'm going to figure I have as good a chance as any to get my first hole in one on either #2, #8 or #10.  If I use those three as my base, and I am also using the 12,500 number for the odds, that means if I play 4,167 rounds of golf with those par threes the chances are that I should get a hole in one on one of those rounds.. 

Let's do that!

Why is this a thing for me right now?  That's a fair question.  I guess I just need a diversion from the constant barrage of COVID 19 updates that are everywhere.  Now that golf courses are open in Minnesota (with social distancing measures in place) persons can at least get out and play a round or two.  Whether a person likes to walk, bike, jog, run, golf or swim, it's nice to get some physical exercise in during the day. 

I will post when that hole in one happens.  It might take a while (4,167 rounds of golf is a lot of golf!) but the way I look at it, I'm due!  I'd better get started!

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Different Drummer

Growing up in the Greenway school system in Coleraine, Minnesota, I look back on some precious memories - I treasure the ones I can remember today.  You see, I was blessed to be in one school district in all of my thirteen years of elementary and secondary education.  I love remembering the teachers, the activities, the school buildings, the events, and the students I grew up with throughout those years.  

One of my thematic memories involves music.  Greenway had what I would consider a relatively strong music program.  From grade school to high school, learning to play in the band was a big deal.  As I finished my senior year, I was playing trombone in the high school band.  I also played in the local Mississippi Melodie Showboat Band, three local city bands, a local rock band (that played a lot of brass groups like Chicago), and even played in the Itasca Symphony Orchestra.  Our high school band instructor, Tom Patnaude, was a trombonist who played for the Air Force Band and he was an excellent trombonist - he still is.  

Mr. Patnaude was a bit ahead of his time.  We had students who were arranging music that our pep band played, putting it light years ahead of the Dirty Dozen (from Int'l Falls HS) or our rivals to the west, the Grand Rapids Indians Pep Band.  We made a record when I was a junior, something that in today's world would not be such a big deal.  Back then, it was huge.  I still have the 33 1/3 LP album packed away somewhere in the house.  A few years ago, my sister Laura had a cd made of the record.  It's awesome to be able to listen today to those sounds that were made by our high school band in the early 70's.

But as much as I loved the trombone and patterned my playing (in a poor man's way) after the example that Mr. Patnaude taught me, the trombone wasn't my first choice of instrument.

Surprised?  Yeah, it's true.  It started in the sixth grade when Mr. Patnaude came to our grade school and invited any interested students to begin to learn how to play by taking lessons.  I was a drummer (or so I thought).  My oldest brother Curt was a drummer and we were always in competition with each other, so why not?  I can be a drummer - if Curt can be one, so could I.  It was a relatively inexpensive instrument to take on.  I only needed the practice book, a practice drum pad and a pair of sticks.  I tried my best to learn how to hold the sticks properly.  I tried my best to learn a simple drum roll.  I tried my best to learn how to count properly.  Sadly, I don't think my hands were as coordinated at that young age as I might have liked.  Mr. Patnaude was a pretty patient teacher, but I could tell he didn't believe I would make it as a drummer.  The next year, when I started band in seventh grade, he asked me if I would try to learn how to play the trombone.  

Changing something like learning to play a musical instrument at an early age might not be a very big deal.  It didn't happen overnight.  I wasn't certain I had the right stuff to play it.  But somewhere along the line, I started to practice a bit more and began to get better at it.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I was getting a pass from my homeroom class to go to the music room and practice for an hour.  Imagine that.  Yeah, I got better.  Practice will do that for a person.

So, now we are in a world that has changed.  We couldn't have ever envisioned how a virus could have altered our way of life so drastically.  Many of us are still wanting to play the drums when we need to take up a different instrument.  And trust me, we will need to be disciplined in order to get better at this new normal.  We will need to practice how to live in the new normal in order to thrive and live with joy and peace.  Paul writes about this in his letters to the many places that he has been because people in all ages need to amp up their practice all the time.  Here is what he wrote to the community in Philippi: "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." - Philippians 4:9.  

Keep practicing the things that you have learned about your faith.  If you need to learn more (which we all do) then find a way to learn more - because practice makes perfect.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Jeweler

I'm not even sure how things like this happen... I looked at my watch band the other day and realized that one of the links was unlinked (not sure if that is even a word).  I had this band replaced by a local jeweler several years ago.  It's a Speidel watch band, if that means anything.  I am not certain that this jewelry store is even open because of the order barring non-essential places from being open.  I was resigned to the idea that I would have to repair it myself.  I have no idea how the link broke (I'm not in a high energy, physically stressed filled job, after all).  So, I set about repairing the broken link.

I had all the tools I felt necessary: a large pair of pliers, a very small pair of tweezers, an equally small flat screwdriver, and my newest toy, a lighted magnifying glass with holder.  That last tool allows you to work hands free on something that is smaller than the naked eye can see.  Repairs on broken watch band links qualifies as smaller than the naked eye.  I did my best to remove one link from the watch band.  It wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done - I readily admit, I'm not a jeweler nor should I ever be a candidate to be one.  Usually, in matters like this, I can sometimes hold my own.  And sometimes, a broken link can get the best of me.

I think that's what this past month symbolizes for me - it's like a broken link in our lives.  The Stay at Home order, the face masks, social distancing, not to mention the disruption of our entire schedules can make us feel as though a link in our normal lives has been unlinked.  We are in a very different place than we have ever been before.

I wish I had an easy answer to how we can link back to the normality of life.  Many have suggested that we will never be able to go back - that our lives will be forever in a new normal.  I can see that.  Will our gatherings ever be the same as we wonder if this virus has lost its grip on our world?  I cannot envision that.  The authorities are talking about a three-phase process of restarting the economy and a return to some semblance of normal life.  We will need to exercise caution because this could backfire upon us and we'll have gained nothing.  What I really want to know is how can I - how can we - keep our lives linked to the important things we have always held dear?

The solution can never come from our own efforts or striving, but comes only from Him.  In other words, we need a jeweler who has the ability to put our broken links back together, make them stronger than they ever have been before and ensure that the connecting links have been repaired with expert ability.  For me, our Lord is that heavenly jeweler.  Personally, I've discovered that I cannot sustain the effort to try and do it myself.  I must submit or turn it over to God and allow God to put things back together.  I trust His ability to cement his promises with my life.  If I ever desire to experience a sense of wholeness, normality, or even unbrokenness again (whatever you'd like to call it), I have to put my time on this earth in the heavenly jeweler's hands.

Only then will life make sense and order will be restored at long last.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Discover the Resurrection - Believe the Resurrection!

There are things that you can accept as being true and then there are things that are just ridiculously false.  For instance, I was watching a television program the other night when a commercial for Skittles came on.  There's a guy who is shown milking a giraffe, who has taken a lick out of a rainbow.  But what comes out of the giraffe is Skittles.  The guy takes a handful of the Skittles and laughs while the voice over says "Discover the Rainbow - Taste the Rainbow".  Obviously this commercial is suggesting that a) giraffes can actually lick rainbows, and 2) a person can actually milk a giraffe, and d) a milked giraffe who licks a rainbow will produce a handful of Skittles that you can eat and laugh while doing so.  If that were true, I'd be the first one to laugh.  But it isn't true.  It's ridiculously false!

Okay, before you think that I'm off a bit and been sequestered apart from being around normal people, I know it's only a commercial.  I get it that it's not supposed to be true.  It's just supposed to help you remember that Skittles are fun.  I guess it worked because I remember that much.

I share this as an example because I wonder if the resurrection of Jesus didn't take a while for people to really come to believe.  We've been exposed to this amazing story and we believe it - hands down.  But to those first persons who heard it, it could have sounded like an amazing story, but how to believe it?  Were it not for the firsthand eyewitness testimony of the disciples, I can only imagine it might have sounded dubious to some (see Thomas' story).  They believed because Jesus has appeared to them - more than once or twice.  They knew it to be true.  They believed in His resurrection because they had seen him.

So, my friends, how do we believe in something we cannot see?  If that is ever our question, let's stop for a moment and pay attention to this lesson: we cannot see (for example) a coronavirus without the help of some microscope of some sort.  For argument's sake, let's agree that we cannot see it.  But we cannot deny it is there because of the effect it has had upon our world.  It's presence has changed people's lives, altered our current norms, and given us a surreal sense of life right now.  Further, we are not even certain when we will get back to the new normal.  All because of something many of us cannot see, but we know it is there.

When it comes to faith and believing, we choose to believe for many personal reasons.  They are all valid.  They are all important to each person.  There is one undeniable fact that has always been the constant since Jesus appeared before the disciples one last time and ascended into heaven: the impact Jesus' resurrection has made on the world since it happened is unparalleled.  His victory over death has made all the difference in the lives of millions of people over the past nearly two thousand years.

We grow to trust in the stories that have been handed down from the generations of believers from years and years past.  We grow to trust in the promises of God because we've seen the evidence of them in our lives.  Our belief in God, in Jesus, in His resurrection, the presence of His Spirit and countless other things that have impacted our lives continues to be strengthened all along our journey.

I'm telling you, if there was ever a story where Jesus made giraffes milk Skittles, I'd believe it!

Discover the resurrection!  Believe the resurrection!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

It's a New Day!

I have a few moments before I need to get things moving for Easter Sunday.  I am so grateful to our volunteer staff for their assistance.  We are blessed to be able to share our live streaming worship in real time, but it is only possible through the help of our media and sound tech volunteers, our organists and accompanists, our instrumentalists, our choir directors and our vocalists - from all three church congregations.  We are one of the few churches in our area who were prepared to live stream, only because the leadership at First Church made a decision last fall to begin live stream during normal times.  That choice has made our transition from no in-person worship to live stream almost seamless.  In other words, in this new day of worship (temporarily) we were ready for it.

So here we are on Resurrection Sunday!  It's finally here!  The Lenten season has lasted what has seemed to be a lifetime and there's no need for me to rehash why.  Everyone knows why.  Today is a new day!  Quite frankly, when Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to Mary and then the disciples, we've all been given the gift of every day being a new day.  

It's a new day to move beyond the failures of yesterday.  It's a new day to live in the precious moments we've been blessed with right now.  It's a new day because we have always a new opportunity, another chance to get it right, and another day to walk with the Lord while we have breath.

So, my dear friends, as we move from the angst and uncertainty that life sometimes presents to us, we can do so with a calm, resolute spirit.  God has everything under control.  We can concentrate on growing in God's Word and living after the example that Jesus gave to us.  

I'm purposely making this short, but am looking forward to what each new day brings.  I do plan to select a theme for the next short term series and to continue to blog thoughts and reflections based on God's Word.  I invite your ideas and always, your comments.  

Remember, it's a new day!  

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!   

Saturday, April 11, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 40 (for Holy Saturday, April 11)

So, pause and reflect on the entire Lenten journey that has brought us to this moment.  That's the "Embrace the Uncertain" devotional book's author says that is all we can do.  The body of Jesus has been buried.  Resurrection celebration is tomorrow.  So, yeah, I guess that makes sense.  Pause and reflect on the entire Lenten journey.

I cannot even think about doing that without first expressing a measure of gratitude for the devotional book and the study guide (which we actually suspended reading due to the disruption of the pandemic COVID 19). I've included a thank you to the author Rev. Magrey deVega for providing such a timely resource to help us walk through this epic Lenten journey of faith.  Both his study guide and the devotional were exceptional resources for all of us during this Lenten season.

So what's my reflection on this journey?  That might be a challenge to distill it down to one primary sentence.  But I'll give it a whirl.  All of life will always present uncertainties that will challenge us to discover God's calming and guiding touch.  There isn't any secret message to that truth.  And hopefully, we are seeking to give God our undivided attention in all things, good or bad.  That's my reflection.  Short and sweet.  It is good for us to rest and take a pause.  We need it.

As I close this session of blogging, I reprint this short descriptive phrase which talks about the rests we experience in music.  Thanks to my brother, Rev. Dr. Cary Flinck of Berean Baptist Church, for this submission:

There is no music during a musical rest,
but the rest is part of the making of the music!

In the melody of life, the music is separated here and there by rests.

God sends us times of forced leisure
by allowing sickness, disappointed plans, and frustrated efforts.   

He brings a sudden pause in the hymn of our lives,
and we grieve that our part is missing in the music and must be silent.

Yet how does a musician read the rest? 
[Counting] the break with unwavering precision
and [playing the] next note with confidence, as if no pause were ever there.

God does not write the music of our lives without a plan.

Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged during the rests.
They are not to be slurred over or omitted,
nor used to destroy the melody or to change the key.

If we will only look up, God Himself will count the time for us.
With our eyes on Him, our next note will be full and clear.

Let’s not forget that the rest is part of the making of the music.

The process is often slow and painful in this life,
yet how patiently God works to teach us!  

And how long He waits for us to learn the lesson!

Blessings to all of you this Resurrection Day!
Postscript: it occurred to me that I had not really ever given the proper credit to The Rev. Magrey deVega who is the Senior Pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida and the author of our books we used during Lent.  I am eternally grateful to Rev. deVega for his insights and his unwavering commitment to God's Word.

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 39 (for Good Friday, April 10)

Oh my goodness!  I was sitting in my chair at the office and suddenly realized I had two more devotional blogs to enter before the night ends!  I did sit down yesterday (Good Friday) to enter my Day 39 blog, but I really didn't feel like talking about the primary focus of "Embracing the Uncertain" devotional book: Pontius Pilate.  It's not that I really disagreed with anything the author of the devotional was suggesting.  I was just having a moment, not wanting to write something against the Roman Governor of Jerusalem.  So I cast it aside, thinking I would come up with something sooner or later.  

Well, it's later than sooner.

I'm telling you it was a busy day today.  The office staff (okay, Susan and I) decided to purchase ten Easter Lilies for the sanctuary.  The paraments had to be changed to white, so I did that.  Jolene Kuhl was in practicing the organ for Easter Sunday and helped arrange the lilies in the sanctuary (keeping proper social distancing restrictions in effect).  I was working on tonight's Saturday Reflections (which starts in 30 minutes - just enough time to finish this blog).  And I have tomorrow's Zoom for Kids at 9:00 a.m. and of course, the Sunday message.  Easter Sunday - most important message of the year.

So all of these things going on and I was supposed to stop and write about Pilate.  I really don't have any time for him.  He could have gone a different route than he did - he was the Governor after all.  But his pride for keeping his politics in place really got in the way of making a different judgment against Jesus.  

So, no, I don't have any time for this guy... wait.  Wait a minute.

I sitting here thinking that I am acting very similarly to Pilate as he responded to Jesus.  He didn't have time to spend on this rebellion.  He cared little for the religious elite - it was his job to keep the order and not let things get out of hand.  More than likely, the request that came from the scribes and Pharisees was one that made him think "I don''t have time for this!  I've got other things more pressing going on.  Handle it yourself.  I can't be bothered with this Jesus of Nazareth who says he is a king."

Okay, I get it.  There are times when I can act similarly to Pilate.  I may not want to nor try to, but my stubborn humanness gets in the way.  My own agenda always seems to muddy up the waters.  So, okay, I ended up writing about Pilate after all.

Funny how that worked out. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 38 (for Holy Thursday, April 9)

We are nearing the completion of this 40 days of embracing uncertainty... these 40 days of Lent.  Hasn't it seemed like forever?  I know, right?  Here we are for one of the most important moments of Lent - Holy Thursday (or some like to call it Maundy Thursday - Maundy means a ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, especially commemorating Jesus' washing of His disciples' feet on Maundy Thursday).  It's an interesting term that isn't used all that often - I actually prefer Holy Thursday because the actions and words of what Jesus did and said speak to His holiness.  Our attempts to model them are also attempts to be holy.

I am a bit apprehensive about this day because we are live streaming the Holy Thursday service from the sanctuary at First UMC in Worthington.  The live stream isn't the part that I am a bit anxious about. I'm concerned about the Lord's Supper part, because even though we've tried to prepare people to be ready for it in their own homes, Holy Communion has always been done in community with certain persons presiding over the sacrament.  Those certain persons are usually ordained or specially trained persons who have been made aware of the meaning of Holy Communion.  They have been granted the authority to lead and serve Holy Communion in the church setting.  

The question is: does the same authority work as it's conveyed over the internet?  What actually happens to the bread and wine in each person's home or office as they gather for this special service tonight?

Let's talk about that - our United Methodist Bishop Bruce Ough has given each church permission to perform Communion online.  Here is his response to the questions I posed above:
Online Communion
Question: Can communion be consecrated online?
Answer: Yes. Bishop Ough grants permission for pastors to do online communion, which typically consists of clergy offering the words of consecration remotely, and people using elements in their homes to take communion (here is a sample liturgy for online communion).  
That said, he strongly encourages clergy to be intentional about how they do this and to do it well by explaining or using scripture to interpret the meaning of communion and using the words of institution. 

in some ways, it actually seems natural that persons, families and friends would gather in their homes to celebrate Holy Communion.  It does seem like a natural extension of what Jesus and His disciples did on that night so long ago.  They gathered in a room with a table.  Jesus washed the feet of each person there, performing the actions of a servant.  Then He took the staples of bread and wine and connected them forever to his saving actions on Good Friday.  The body was broken, much like Jesus' body would be broken.  The blood was poured out, much like Jesus' blood was poured out as He was crucified.  So to remember this sacrament in our homes makes sense because of the relational nature of it.  

It reminds us of what Jesus did for us.

So as we gather, the words might be a little different, but the intention will be the same... to remember Jesus and what He has done for us.  May this time be a blessing to us and to our families as we remember our Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 37 (for Wednesday, April 8)

I was doing the dishes the other night.  Nancy will usually make supper and I will usually clean up after we've eaten.  It's taken a number of years for me to be trained to help out like that.  Actually, I have helped out a lot, but secretly never really enjoyed it (don't tell!).  Now, I take a bit of pride in making sure I leave it nice and clean for the next day.  How's that for vanity?

Anyway, one of the things I've discovered in washing dishes is that a person needs to be careful about putting their hands into the water without knowing what is in there.  I usually take particular note of the things that are sharp - things that can do harm to my delicate fingers.  It has happened - on occasion - when I've cut a finger with a knife, or a sharp edge on a utensil or on the edge of an opened tin can (the worst).  I try to pay attention because there is nothing more annoying than slicing a cut into your finger and trying to stop the bleeding.  

That happened the other night.  I'm not even certain I know what I cut my finger on, but there is the paper cut as proof (and here's a hint that doesn't cost you anything - if you are trying to keep your hands clean by using hand sanitizer, stay away from the area where you have a paper cut - man, does that sting!).

Today's devotion talks about a dynamic in the passion narrative that cuts like a knife: the betrayal of Judas.  Judas' actions against Jesus slices though the community that Jesus had invited to walk together.  He gave Jesus up.  Rather than try and speculate on his rationale (ultimately, who can really know?), I'd rather focus on the interesting piece of the story that we sometimes miss: Did someone have to give up Jesus and betray Him in order for Jesus to go to the cross for the sins of humankind?  Could there have been another way?  The short answer to that is perhaps there might have been another way, but ultimately, someone needed to do it.  Judas fulfilled that role by selling the knowledge of Jesus' whereabouts for thirty pieces of silver.  

John's report of this interchange that Jesus had with Judas is more interesting than Matthew and Mark.  Read all three of them here to see the difference.  All three name Judas as the one who makes plans to betray Jesus, but only John's Gospel tells us that it was Judas who made a big deal over the use of oil to anoint Jesus.  Here is what was reported:
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
John's Gospel alone gives us Judas' motive: he was greedy.  He was the keeper of the money bag and used to skim off the fund for himself.  It does seem obvious that he was concerned for spending money on wasting oil when it could have been used for food for the poor.  yet, there is no indication that Judas was all that concerned for the poor.  Had he been, why not turn the thirty pieces of silver over to the poor people?  No doubt they could have used it.  Instead he threw it away.  Greed turned to betrayal turned to remorse turned to despair. 

I don't believe Judas had a choice.  He was doomed.  He betrayed Jesus - yes, it needed to be done bu someone and that someone was Judas.   It really doesn't matter that much because Jesus glorified God and gave us the best gift ever - eternal life.  

That is the gift that cuts through death like a knife!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 36 (for Tuesday, April 7)

The beginning part of the devotional series "Embracing the Uncertain" really started with a connection of what was happening in the world at that time.  It was the last week of February.  The coronavirus pandemic was in the earlier stages in the United States.  Everyone was moving freely about the country.  Schools were preparing for spring break.  The financial picture of the nation was in good shape.  Churches were starting their 40 days of Lent, looking forward to that glorious Easter Sunday celebration. 

Almost overnight life changed.  An authentic fear and uncertainty has since gripped the nation.  Reports of the progress of the virus has permeated daily conversation.  Those news reports have been focused solely on how America and the world are fighting against this devastating illness.  Our personal lives have been thrust into a strange, new era.  We've been at home with our families, not encouraged to venture out to where others are - to maintain a safe distance.  Many are able to work from home, getting their work done via computer or cell phone.  

Our school student's lives have changed dramatically - spring events have been postponed or cancelled.  School has moved to online based learning.  Our seniors will have memories of their final year of high school (and college) being altered from their hopes and dreams.  Our churches have scrambled to offer live stream worship, connecting through virtual and video chat rooms and calling those who may be at risk to see if there is anything that they need.

If there were any days that we could embrace as being uncertain, these days are it.

It took me a while to get to this point: we absolutely needed a devotion like Embracing the Uncertainto help us see more clearly what God has in mind for us when we come across uncertain days.  Today's devotion, Day 36, brings us closer to the end of Holy Week - Holy Thursday and Good Friday - moments which were fraught with uncertainty for Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus is prepared for the ordeal which lies just ahead of Him, but He takes a rare moment to offer a lament for the people He loves so dearly.  They just don't get Him or His message.

The author of the devotion asks a very important question... 
"If God is 1) all loving and 2) all powerful, then 3) why are there suffering and evil in the world?"
The answer to this question is one of the greatest mysteries we will ever come across.  I do believe a part of that answer is found in the delicate balance of God's love and power stacked against the free will He has given us as humans.  We have the ability to make choices.  We can decide outcomes.  We can change the world one way or another.  In making those choices, this all loving and all powerful God has given us every piece of information that we need to make a good choice.  He has made promises that ought to be considered when making any decision.  

God has done everything He can to give us the knowledge that we need to make those decisions so that we may live with honor and integrity according to His Word.

It's really up to us.  In these uncertain days, our choices can make all the difference.  Hopefully, we will choose to trust, to listen, and to follow.

Monday, April 6, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 35 (for Monday, April 6)

To "Stay at Home" or not to "Stay at Home" - that is the question.  Ever since Minnesota State Governor Walz announced the "Stay at Home" order, many persons have done exactly that - stayed home.  Others have ventured out, whether properly because of their job status qualifies as essential or because they are in need of the bare necessities of life or because they have cabin fever and just need to get out of the house.  I understand that there is a section of that order that says you need to get out of the house for leisure time and we can see that in the community of the nicer days.  People are out walking with their families, with their dogs (interesting... I never see them walking with their cats), or pushing the infant strollers to get the kids some fresh air. 

I want to believe that obedience to the Governor's order is the norm for most people.  Obedience is a common denominator for peace in the midst of chaos.  Jesus tells three parables that speak to the issue of obedience to God's pathway.  From Matthew 21:28-22:14, three stories point out the importance of being obedient to God.  They are the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants, and the parable of the wedding banquet.  Each story is a bit different than the other, but the primary focus is clear: we can try to live life on our own terms, but God won't have it.  We must be obedient to His way.

Here is why I think that is so hard for us - and when I say us, let me change that to me.  I don't want to impose my shortcomings upon anyone.  I will own my personal stuff here.  It's hard for me because I have a free will that often wants to do what I want to do.  For example, if I deem it necessary that I need to go to the grocery store for something that is not necessary for living, then I am violating the order or at least the intention of the order that Governor Walz gave us.  I might experience a fleeting moment of joy depending upon what I purchased, but it won't last.  In fact, it may inflict some damages upon others if I'm not being obedient - I may not even be aware that I'm doing it.  

I need to be mindful of my own disobedience.  Like I said, I will own that.  Most times I do fairly well at being aware of the moments when my desire leads me to want to go off the grid.  Most times, I can pause and decide to go another route - or not go that route at any rate.  

In these days, our self discipline of staying at home means a great deal to slowing the advance of this virus.  Our self discipline of staying at home with our obedience of heart and mind also means a great deal to the advance of our spiritual growth.  

There's nothing wrong with "staying home"... 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 34 (for Saturday, April 4)

In July of this year, I will have been in the ministry for 30 years.  That seems like a long time.  Three decades ago my family and I left our hometown and forged out to where God had set before us.  I can't say enough about my family's support all this time.  I know there were tough times.  It couldn't have been the easiest thing, being in a family of a United Methodist pastor.  But Nancy, Erik, Erin, and LIz walked with me every step of the way.  Their loving support and unwavering devotion were so important to me.  

Sounds like I am making some kind of retirement speech.  Relax.  Not just yet.  

True, my family has been supportive, but so have the churches that I have been blessed to be in ministry with throughout those years.  Each congregation helped me grow even further in my faith.  In each community I served I met wonderful people who taught me their faith and values.  I've learned from my clergy colleagues and my seminary and doctorate instructors.  I've been places like Israel (twice) where I've learned that I still have so much to learn.  For the past seven years, the people of Emmanuel Church, First Church and Adrian Church have also walked with me and helped me to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  

Yet, in all of this growth, I have never perceived my faith to be strong enough to move a mountain and throw it into the sea.  The interchange between Jesus and his disciples causes me to wonder about that statement.  Does it mean that I am faithless?  Do I still have more to learn?  More to grow?  How do I interpret this section of Matthew's gospel, after nearly thirty years of learning, growing, and serving?

It's important to remember this story comes right after the cleansing of the temple.  Jesus was upset over the practices being employed by the religious leadership.  On his way back to where they were staying, his encounter with the unfruitful fig tree seems to be an example of how faith and fruitfulness go together.  The religious authorities were missing the point.  Their efforts were just as empty as the fruitless fig tree.  

I have no aspirations to be a dynamic super pastor or anything like that.  But that doesn't mean I don't want to be effective.  I do - I do want to be able to point to the One who makes a difference in our lives and hope that others will be motivated to increase their understanding of what that means for each one of them.  I could care less about any personal agenda.  I only want to serve the Lord in what and where he has called me to do that.  Truly, it has been God's leading and amazing grace that has given me the foundational support for anything that I have done in ministry.  Certainly I have made mistakes along the way - are you kiddin' me?  Of course I have not been perfect.  Many of you know that already.

But for as long as I can, with God's guiding and loving hand, I will do my level best but for God's love.  Perhaps one day, I might realize that the mountains are barriers and obstacles we experience will be leveled and flattened because we believe.  Because we have faith.  Perhaps one day, I will understand that is what Jesus was talking about with his disciples.

Does that work for you?

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 33 (for Friday, April 3)

I can't help but reflect upon what worship will be like during this upcoming week.  Normally, this is the most important worship week of the entire year.  It starts with Palm Sunday, moves through Holy Thursday and Good Friday and ends (or begins) with Easter Sunday.  It can be a very moving time for the follower of Jesus.  We experience the euphoria around the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the roller coaster of emotions begins.  Holy Week will do that for you.  

But in these pandemic times, what might we expect our worship experience to be like?  Some churches are thinking about doing a drive in worship service on Easter Sunday.  It doesn't sound like a bad idea - have people drive up in their cars, pipe the music in let everyone sing Easter songs and the like.  All from your motor vehicle.  I don't believe that idea would work at First, Emmanuel or Adrian because we don't have a parking lot.  People would be scattered up and down the street.  It might be a tough thing to pull off.  

Others are thinking about what they might do to make their recorded message or live stream service to be more special.  I'm not certain what that might mean.  We are limited with respect to providing special effects and the like (it's important to remember that our video production budget is the same as when we started this live stream worship - zero dollars!)  

Maybe the point is this: we don't need to be entertained when we gather to worship - whether we congregate in our homes, our churches (eventually) or out in God's creation.  Perhaps that was the issue for Jesus' anger in the temple.  It seemed as through the money-changers and the people were not plugged in to the reason for the temple's existence: to glorify God.  It wasn't to purchase animal sacrifices at over-inflated prices so the vendors could profit at the expense of the people.  It wasn't a place where people's primary focus was on making sure they were seen at the temple.  It was simply a place to come and offer heartfelt praise to God.

It isn't going to make any difference where you are on Palm Sunday or any day this week.  It only matters what is in your heart.  Friends, this is still a very important time of year for worship.  But, frankly speaking, our true worship isn't really found in the live stream message or drive up piped in music or even in gimmicky entertaining videos.  It will always be what is found in our heart, no matter where we are.  

A heart that was meant to glorify and praise God.  Period.

Friday, April 3, 2020

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 32 (for Thursday, April 2)

There isn’t any possible way that the author of this devotional book that we have been reading for the past month could have foreseen the changes our nation has seen.  The author speaks about Palm Sunday and the pageantry in our church settings.  There is praise and rejoicing as we shout our “Hosannas” and wave our palm branches in our sanctuaries.  

But as we all know, not this year.  Not this Palm Sunday.  I think the challenge we face, however, is every bit before us as it was before the people who cheered Jesus’ entry into the city.

Here’s why I say that: we are looking for deliverance from this potentially deadly virus.  We might be unsure of exactly how that is supposed to happen, but we know a few things about it.  We know that if we stay at home, it will slow the spread of the virus down.  We are being told that some kind of vaccine for the virus is 18 months or so away. 

We cannot wait that long to be saved.  As a result, we have to make decisions and choices on how we live today in order to receive that deliverance we are desperately seeking.  We would love nothing better than to return to normal living.

This is not unlike the situation for the people who waved the palms on the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt.  They were not really certain how Jesus was going to save them, but they knew he had the power to do so – they had seen it.  He had shown them miracles of healing, raising persons from the dead, healing the blind and the lame.  They heard stories of his mastery over the creation as he walked on water, multiplied a small amount of food to feed a host of many, and turned water into wine. 

The people sensed he had the power of God behind him.  They were anxious for him to save them from the Roman oppression, which would allow them to return to normal living.

The author asks us what risks are we willing to take for the benefit of others?  Our response to that question in today’s chaotic environment is related to our very physical survival.  We already know that Jesus answered the question of our spiritual survival.  Hopefully, our actions are centered upon staying safe and secure from the spread of this virus, but also taking a few moments to draw closer to God. 

Stay the course.  It’s the only way to relieve our anxiousness and provide peace for these difficult days.

40 Days of Embracing Uncertainty - Day 31 (for Wednesday, April 1)

I’ve been watching this national news story of the pandemic situation our world is facing with great interest.  We are really getting down to the essence of what is important – survival.  The political rhetoric has toned down dramatically as the government, the health organizations, the state entities, the news media all seem to be focused on one primary goal: to tell the story of how we are going to get through this dangerous spread of the coronavirus. 

I’m not writing this to suggest anything other than this is positive news.  Everyone seems to be on the same page and are working for the same things – people’s lives are at stake.  Whether the headlines are talking about “Stay at Home” or obtaining masks or ventilators or providing economic stimulus efforts for the people of this nation, it all points to one central theme… we are all trying to survive this dreaded virus attack.

The same dynamic was present in the story of Jesus at Bethany, just before he made his way to Jerusalem and the triumphant entry into the city on what we know as Palm Sunday.  In today’s devotion, the author compares the motivations of Mary against those of Judas.  He says one side (Mary) gets it while the other side (Judas) doesn’t get it.  Ultimately, just like we are experiencing today, only one story can emerge that will save the people. 

It’s not the story about saving money to purchase food for the needy (albeit a noble thing to do).  In this case, it’s about the Messiah preparing the people around him about what was to come.  It all points to one central theme… Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the people.  He was going there so that we would survive the dreaded attack of sin upon our lives.

In the story, Jesus tells Mary and Judas that the perfume would be used for his burial.  It’s more than a hint of what was to come.  Jesus knew.  Of course, he knew.  And not only did he know, he was ready as well.  It’s such an amazing story – that Jesus knew what was going to happen and he still went into the hornet’s nest of Jerusalem and the world of the Pharisees and the Roman rulers.  Like Max Lucado wrote “He chose the nails” and we have been blessed since that day. 

I admit that I’d fallen behind this past week in my efforts to blog throughout these 40 days of Lent.  You noticed, didn’t you?  In all honesty, it seems a lot longer than only 31 days (it is actually been longer than that because you would need to add in all of the Sundays since Ash Wednesday).  It feels like I’ve been writing about coronavirus and pandemic situations and keeping safe in our homes for the longest time.   

We’re getting closer though.  We can sense it.  Holy Week is right around the bend.  We are closer to the days of uncertainty being replaced by the days of the certainty of God’s grace. 

Jesus knows it and he is ready to go there for you and for me.  He is ready to die so that we may survive.