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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Amid Covid – The Witness of Waiting

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Be strong and take heart, all you who wait on the Lord. (Psalm 31:24)

More than 3,000 years ago, after waiting 400 years to be delivered from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel found themselves camped at the base of the mountain of God. Moses went up on the mountain to meet with the Lord and receive His instructions. But after only forty days, God’s people—who had seen the Lord bring the mighty nation of Egypt to its knees and had passed through the Red Sea on dry groundgrew impatient with God and bowed down to worship a golden calf. Waiting can do that to you if you are not careful!

We have passed the forty-day mark in this global pandemic, and for many, the total shut-down, which so many complied with out of fear, is beginning to lead to outright frustration. “When will things open up again?” people are asking with increasing urgency. “When can I get back to my work? When can I go to the movies or out to dinner or enjoy a sporting event?” If you are feeling some of that frustration stirring in your own heart, it may help to look at two things that speak to the witness of waiting.

Waiting Witnesses to what You Worship

The Israelites grew weary in their waiting, so they exchanged their God for a golden calf. Instead of the One True Living God, they bowed down before an inanimate idol made by human hands. The question we must ask ourselves is this: With all this waiting around for things to get back to whatever “normal” may be when we emerge from the COVID crisis, what have we turned to? Are there any golden calves that we have created for ourselves? What has been the witness of our waiting?

Never forget that God knows exactly what He is doing with this pandemic. He ordained the exact number of days for this worldwide shutdown to accomplish His perfect purpose in history and in our own lives. And what is God’s purpose for us? It never wavers; it is to conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Christian, don’t waste a moment of this pandemic, regardless of how painful it is! God is with you in your pain, which means your pain has profound purpose. God did not bring you this far to leave you here alone.

Waiting Helps Us Witness God’s Faithfulness in Our Lives

Our loving Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He provided for us in the past and He will continue providing in the present. If you find yourself growing weary from all this waiting, here are two things to do: Look back at God’s past faithfulness in your life and look up to God’s present faithfulness in your life. If God did not withhold His only Son, but gave Him up for us so that we might have eternal life in Him, what good will He withhold from us today? And if you have even the slightest doubt as to the answer to that question, let sacred Scripture answer it for you:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

May that truth set us all free to wait on the Lord. You can be completely certain that He will lead us through this global pandemic . . . just as he led His people through the Red Sea.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – The Resilience of the Redeemed – Part 3

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We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned . . . (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

As we continue to move through this inspired, encouraging passage from the apostle Paul, we go from being hard pressed to perplexed and now to persecuted during this pandemic. What I mean by the word “persecuted” in this context is rooted in the Greek word dioko that Paul used, which means “to be pursued or followed,” rather than the common understanding of “persecuted” that you and I have, which is that of being mistreated.

Here is the question that is continually thrown at the people of God when anything bad happens in the world: “Where is your God?!” For our purposes today, I must be brief in explaining what the world is really asking with this question, which is this:

If God truly is all powerful and all good, He would have the power to stop this global pandemic . . . and His goodness would demand that He do so!

The unbeliever reasons that we see this virus continuing to spread, so either God is powerless to actually stop it, or He is not all good, since He has the power to remove COVID-19, but not the desire to do so. This faulty logic was succinctly expressed in the otherwise entirely forgettable Batman v Superman movie by the “Lex Luthor” character, who looked on the evil in the world and concluded, “If God is all-powerful He cannot be good; if God is good He cannot be all-powerful!”

The key to understanding this statement is to recognize that it comes from a limited human perspective. God is infinite and we are finite. Just because we cannot discern a valid reason for the continued existence of pain and suffering in this world, that does not mean that such a reason does not exist from God’s perspective.

A little more than 2000 years ago, on Good Friday, the most atrocious, vile, evil act ever committed caused the only perfectly innocent Man who ever walked this earth to die in one of the cruelest ways ever invented. Sinful man nailed the sinless Son of God to the cross, yet this unspeakable evil became the most marvelously merciful moment in the history of humanity, because it was through the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ that the door of salvation would be graciously opened to all those who believe. The death of Christ was the fulfillment of God’s unfolding plan of redemption that culminated in His bodily resurrection on that first Easter morning. Our all-powerful, all-good God sent His Son to die on a cross to save us from our sins.

Regardless of how many times the world sneers “Where is this God of yours?” in an effort to malign the Christian faith and convince us that our glorious God is a figment of our imagination, we have His promise that we will never be abandoned. The Bible makes it clear that because Jesus was forsaken on the cross for us, we will never be forsaken, no matter what. The next time you hear the world ask, “Where is your God?!” remember that He is not only in the middle of this pandemic, He ordained it and sent it for our ultimate good and His greatest glory.

As Charles Spurgeon said so beautifully, “God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken; and when you cannot trace His hand, you can trust His heart.” Trust His hand and His heart, Christian; He is working all things for the good of those who love Him, even during those times that don’t appear to be “good” in our eyes. You have His Word on that!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – The Resilience of the Redeemed – Part 2

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Perplexed, but not in despair . . . (2 Corinthians 4:8)

On Monday we began moving through this marvelous passage from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul; today we see that we go from being hard pressed to perplexed as we endure this time of global pandemic.

Just two short months ago, if someone had suggested that the entire nation would be shut down and we would be confined to our homes, we would have believed that person had lost their mind! Yet this is exactly where we find ourselves, and it is as difficult to receive as it is to respond to. In a word, our circumstances are perplexing.

The Greek word which is rendered “perplexed” in most English translations of Scripture can be literally translated as “to be at a loss.” To be sure, we are at a loss in many ways at this time. Through no fault of our own, we are all at a loss in both our professional lives and our personal lives. Our routines have been turned upside down and inside out. “Social distancing” has strained our relationships; people edge nervously past each other in the supermarket, and close friends studiously avoid hugs and handshakes. People who would warmly embrace just weeks ago now raise a cautionary hand and say, “Don’t get too close!” Yet in spite of all this, we are not in despair because of the living hope we have in our Lord.

In the 1985 “Anne of Green Gables” television mini-series, a perplexed young Anne cries out to her adoptive mother Marilla, “Can’t you even imagine you’re in the depths of despair?” To which Marilla replies, “No I cannot. To despair is to turn your back on God.” Christian, to despair is to depart from the holy hope we have in Christ Jesus. Paul went through some pretty perplexing times, yet he would not give in to despair, because he knew in whom he had trusted. He understood the glorious truth that if God the Father would not spare even His own Son to bring about Paul’s salvation, God can be trusted . . . even in the most perplexing times.

Can the same be said of you and me? Do we really believe that God can be totally trusted, even in the perplexing time of this pandemic? Inasmuch as it seems like COVID-19 has the upper hand, we must recognize that we would not be in this perplexing time if it had not first passed through the nail-scarred hands of our loving Savior. Nothing happens to us apart from the will of God. Yes, God’s will can seem quite perplexing at times, but that is because He is God and we are not. If we had a God we could fully understand, He would not be God! We would be, and I am quite sure that you will utter a hearty “Amen” when I say “Thank God that you and I are not God!”

To be perplexed is simply part of our pilgrimage through this world as we make our way toward our promised paradise. But because we have a hope that no circumstance can crush, we shall not despair.

Please come back on Friday to look at another portion of this powerful passage of Scripture.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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