Amid Covid – Memorial Day Thank You

Memorial Day

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

Today is Memorial Day, a federal holiday in the United States, a day set apart for honoring and mourning the military personnel who died while serving in our Armed Forces. To be sure, as we are in the midst of this global pandemic and under gradually easing stay-at-home orders, Memorial Day 2020 will not look like any in our past. There will be no grand parades with throngs of people lining the streets or packed 5K runs to honor of the fallen. The traditional picnics and barbeques at parks and beaches will be confined to individual families at home. Even the public ceremonies of placing of flags at military gravesites will be done in a restrictive manner in order to comply with social distancing restrictions. This is indeed an unprecedented time for our generation!

Memorial Day weekend is also the official start to the summer. However, most beaches are still closed, as are many travel destinations. So with limited travel and few events to engage in, perhaps you and I can use this a time for deeper reflection on and thanksgiving for all the freedoms we do have in America, freedoms which have been secured by the sacrificial service of the brave men and women who protect our great nation.

Social distancing orders have not been easy on any of us, simply because we are social creatures. Remember, in all that God declared to be “good” in the creation narrative, the one thing He said was not good is for us to be alone. We were made for community, plain and simple. To be sure, we are saved individually, but we are saved to community, and only in community will we fully grow and mature in our faith.

This Memorial Day being so unusual because of this unprecedented time of social distancing should bring home to us a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our military personnel actually enlisted for. You and I are frustrated because we cannot be with our friends and family for fear of the virus; for the men and women of our Armed Services, being separated from friends and family is a daily fact of life.

First, our brave men and women gave up their comfortable lives at home, often travelling to the far side of the world to serve for months at a time. Second, they signed up to live in environments of dangerous isolation to defend our country. And finally, on this day, we remember that many of those men and women made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free by laying down their lives for us. As Jesus said, there is no greater love.

So when it comes to remembering our brave men and women who fought and died protecting our freedoms, know this: all paid some . . . some paid all . . . and they were all willing to endure extended, repeated absences from loved one to do so.

I’d like to conclude by borrowing from something former President Ronald Reagan said about the United States Marine Corps. In no way do I wish to minimize the exemplary history and service of the Marines, but I do believe that President Reagan’s words can be expanded to include all those who served in every branch:

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in this world. Those who served to protect our freedoms don’t have that problem.

May God bless our military personnel. You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Quarantine Question

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“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

During this unprecedented and unpredictable time of quarantine, where do we turn to find the comfort we so desperately need? Some turn to TV binge-watching. Others indulge in favorite foods. Still others engage in activities and hobbies. As I have been driving our South Florida streets in recent weeks, I would surmise that many people have turned to physical fitness. It’s certainly true that these and many other activities can provide some measure of comfort, but if we stop there, we will find ourselves devoid of the true comfort that we so desperately need.

Where have you been turning in search of comfort? If we turn to some form of activity in search of comfort, we will find that even the really positive ones serve as little more than a distraction from the stress and loneliness and uncertainty we are all experiencing to some degree during this pandemic. But when we turn to the Almighty, we discover rich deliverance from that stress, loneliness, and uncertainty. In our passage for today, we read that Jesus turned to His disciples after a number of people who had been following Him had turned away and asked them directly, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Why did so many desert Jesus? Because He was not leading them in the direction they wanted to go. The people wanted a military leader. They wanted a political personality. They wanted an earthly king who would reestablish the throne of David in Jerusalem. But this was not why Jesus came into this world. He came not to remove the power of Rome over Israel, but to remove the power of sin, Satan, and death over the whole world by dying on a cross. When the people realized that Jesus was not going to give them what they wanted, they turned away and no longer followed him (John 6:66).

To be sure, no one wants a global pandemic. No one wants to have their lives put on hold. At times like this, we are all confronted with two choices: we can walk away from Jesus or we can press even closer to Him, no matter where He is leading. Remember, Jesus promised that we will experience painful providences in this life (John 16:33), but He also promised to be with us in them and through them . . . and that includes this global pandemic.

There is nothing wrong with turning to some healthy activities that will distract us for a time and provide us a measure of comfort. But to experience the kind of comfort we need to actually flourish during these uncertain days, we must turn to the Almighty, who will provide us lasting comfort in this life and eternal joy in the next.

Peter really said it all: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Perhaps he was recalling the words of the psalmist –

I lift up my eyes to the hills —

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Pandemic Pressure

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Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Scripture tells us and personal experience confirms that there are some blessings that will only be found on the other side of pressure . . . because pressure in the hands of God results in our ultimate good and His eternal glory. Read on and be encouraged today!

It is the squeezed fruit that produces the juice . . . the crushed flower that produces the perfume . . . and the highly sought-after diamond is formed under a combination of high temperatures and extreme pressure in the earth’s mantle. So here is the question we all must ask ourselves:

What is produced when we are squeezed, crushed, and put under a combination of high temperatures and extreme pressure?

To be sure, the coronavirus pandemic has created profound pressure on us all, from social distancing to living under virtual house arrest to disruptions in both our work and our play. The question is not whether we are all feeling this pandemic pressure; the question is what we are choosing to do with it. Charles Swindoll, whose Insight for Living radio program is heard all over the world, once aptly said that “Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent what I make of it.” Remember, it’s not what happens to you that makes the greatest difference in your life; it’s what you do with what happens that does.

Here are three things to remember about this pandemic pressure:

  • Pandemic pressure is experienced by everyone.
  • Pandemic pressure is only temporary.
  • Pandemic pressure is being used by God for our good and His glory.

Being hammered on the anvil of the Almighty is indeed painful, but God has a purpose for our pain, and He will not expose us to more than we need or we can handle. God is at work maturing us, making us complete, and conforming us to the image and likeness of Jesus. This pandemic pressure has not been delivered to destroy us, but rather to demonstrate God’s ability to work through us to achieve His highest good in our lives: Christlikeness.

So . . . what has this pandemic pressure been producing in you lately?

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid-Treasure Hunters

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Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

In just two short months, the coronavirus pandemic has helped many to uncover what their true treasures are in this life. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it crystal clear that everyone is a treasure hunter. The question is, What treasures are we hunting for?

Jesus is telling us that we have only two choices with it comes to treasure hunting: we can seek earth-bound treasures or heaven-bound treasures. For many, this COVID-19 pandemic, which caught us all by complete surprise, has exposed those earthbound treasures we have been hunting for. Think about it this way; most people do not set out to allow the goal of their profession to dominate their lives and become their most important treasure. But sadly, this happens for many. Others never intentionally set a course for finding happiness through the acquisition of material things. But again, sadly, this happens for many.

What treasures have you been hunting lately? Saul of Tarsus discovered his true treasure on the road to Damascus. In a single, defining pandemic moment in his life, Saul went from persecuting Jesus as the Pharisee of Pharisees to praising His mighty name as the apostle Paul. Later he was moved by the Spirit of God to write —

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

This coronavirus has caused many to reevaluate the treasures they had been pursuing. Storing up treasures on earth shrinks the size of our lives down to the size of our lives. And living for the self is suffocating. For many, this time of sequestered living has caused them to see what true treasure is—faith, family, and friends—and to make these relationships the object of their treasure hunting. They have begun storing up for themselves treasures in heaven. How is it with you? Has this pandemic impacted your treasure hunting in any way? To be sure, this could be one of God’s purposes in sending it.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Serenity Prayer

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The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

In the 1930’s, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr penned one of the most popular prayers ever written, the Serenity Prayer. It is likely that you are familiar with the portion most commonly quoted: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. You may not be as familiar with Niebuhr’s original prayer and the phrases that are less often quoted. Let’s take a look.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Serenity from a biblical perspective is living in a state of submission and surrender to God. It is trusting God’s heart even when we cannot trace His hand. It is being calm in crisis, settled in storms, and at peace—even during painful pandemics like the one we are experiencing today.

Here is something that I believe will prove profitable as we make our way forward through this pandemic. Take this prayer and pray all the way through it. Don’t just stop at the beginning. Meditate on and marinate in each line that follows the opening line.

COVID-19 has reminded us all that life is fragile, and we are not in control of any portion of it. Every moment is a gift from God, including each painful providence, which Niebuhr said offers a pathway to peace—perhaps because he knew that the pain in this life is conforming us to the likeness of our Savior, who was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). And we can be absolutely certain that our God will indeed make all things right when Jesus returns to consummate His Kingdom. We have His Word on that! So until that glorious day, let us surrender to His will, knowing that happiness is not God’s greatest goal for us in this life; His goal for us is holiness, and we will have more happiness than we know what to do with when we cross the Jordan and enter into His presence. Amen.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy 

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Amid Covid – Staying Connected

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It is not good for man to be alone. (Genesis 2:18)

Recent studies have shown that more than one in five adults in the United States report feelings of significant loneliness or isolation, and that was before COVID-19 became a part of our lives. Can you imagine what that isolation index must be today? So what is the best way forward while we are isolated from each other . . . and even when we are not? Let’s take a look.

All the way back in the Garden of Eden, when God said that it was not good for man to be alone, we must remember that the man was not alone. Adam had God. But God, who had formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him, knew that Adam would not only need his vertical relationship with God, but a horizontal relationship as well. We all have been made for community, and we need to stay connected to the community that God has given us, especially during such a time as this.

Here are two ways we all can stay connected:

Pray . . . for others. Yes, we are isolated from each other right now, but we do not have to be insulated from each other. Do you have a list of people whom you are praying for by name each day? Praying for others is a powerful community connector, even when we are disconnected from one another physically.

Here is something that has worked quite well for me over the years: Pick up the phone, call someone you know, and ask that person, “How can I pray for you today?” And then do it! Pray right there on the phone with the other person, and then continue to pray in the days ahead. This “other-orientation” opens doors of connection that will help you rise above any feelings of loneliness and isolation that you may be experiencing in your current shut-in condition.

Participate . . . in their lives. Serving others is a surefire way to snuff out smoldering embers of loneliness and isolation. You may be wondering, “How can I serve others with these social distancing orders in place?” Actually, there are more ways than you could imagine! Community charities, churches, and food banks are busier than ever in the middle of this pandemic. Some people have joined food delivery services at local restaurants. Others have volunteered to go to the grocery store and shop for those who cannot or should not go. You can look for opportunities you are comfortable with, keeping in mind sound social distancing and sanitizing policies. There are also online opportunities to serve others.

At Cross Community Church, our quilting ministry shifted from making quilts to making face masks. Under the leadership of Carolyn Miller, the team has made more than one thousand masks for people on the front lines and members of our church. Where there is a will to serve, there is always a way.

Find a need and fill it, and you will be filled up yourself!

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Note to Self

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . .(Hebrews 12:2)

We have come to expect fighting between the political parties in this country, with acrimony being generated by both the Republican right and the Democratic left. But it can be extremely disheartening to see our so-called “leaders” politicizing of this global pandemic, which has impacted the lives of virtually everyone on the planet to varying degrees.

Let’s take a brief look at Moses to find our best way forward. Moses was in the court of Pharaoh, but his heart was in the corner with God’s people. Moses had witnessed the Israelites’ harsh bondage and daily beatings. Finally, he decided to take matters into his own hands:

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that way and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:10-12)

When we read that Moses was “looking this way and that way,” we are to understand that he certainly was not looking the right way. Instead of looking at man, Moses should have been looking to God. The same is true for you and me today. If we become preoccupied with looking to the right or to the left for deliverance, we will miss the most important look in our lives. You see, it was only when Moses was ready to look one way—which was to look directly at God—that he was he finally ready to be used by God. If we are like the young Moses, looking to the right or to the left, we will be unable listen to our God and love our neighbors.

As we experience the unprecedented events of COVID-19, we must remember what Job knew by way of his own painful, personal pandemic: “He [God] makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them” (Job 12:23). The Kingdom of God is the only unshakable, unwavering, and undivided Kingdom in the world. Only when we stop looking to the right and to the left and start looking to God will we be ready for Him to use us to advance the cause of His Kingdom in this world—and we must advance in His strength, not our own.

Note-to-Self: Looking one way—the right way—is the only way forward this day and every day, as we advance through this global pandemic until we finally cross the Jordan. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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