Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 2
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Reading: Exodus 3:1-12 

Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 
- Exodus 3: 
 
I have a keen interest in architecture, including church architecture and its history throughout the centuries. The early church first met in houses and then when Christianity became legalized by the Roman government the church met in larger buildings in which to gather. Throughout the ages we have referred the building in which the faithful gathered as a sanctuary. A sanctuary, by definition, is considered a place of refuge or a holy place. 
 
Here we have Moses meeting God in the middle of nowhere when suddenly he is confronted by a burning bush which is not consumed. A voice emanates from the bush telling Moses to take off his sandals because the ground on which he is standing is holy. What makes it holy? I think what makes it holy is God is present in that place and there is an encounter that ensues between God and someone whom God is calling. If that's the case, then most anyplace can be considered holy if it includes an encounter with God. That encounter could very well take place in your own home. God is not confined to a building or a sanctuary. Holy ground could be that place where you are now standing and encountering God.  
 
Let us pray: O God, as we encounter you this day wherever we find ourselves, may that time and place be sanctified in your name; through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.  
 
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 2
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Reading: Psalm 27
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!  - Psalm 27:14 
 
Waiting can be a hard thing. I learned a long time ago that patience is not one of my virtues. I was actually told that when I was much younger by my paternal grandmother. My Grandma Violet was a patient person and I think part of this came from her being a child of the Great Depression. People who went through the Depression had to be patient. They didn't get things right away like we do now. There certainly were not such things as fast food, microwaves and high-speed internet. They had to be patient, after all, the Great Depression lasted a decade. There was no easy fix, no government checks coming in the mail, no bail-outs. 
 
Whenever there is great adversity, as difficult as it is to go through, there comes a renewed strength. One of the things that we will gain from this when it is all said and done is to have been tested as we have learned to adapt to change and in the process  discovered new and creative ways of doing things. We will have learned to become more patient because we will have had to wait for things.
 
Part of the waiting will also involve our relationship with God. "Waiting upon the Lord," is part of the discipline of prayer. I don't know about you but when I pray I don't always get quick and easy answers to difficult problems. It takes time to sort things out, given all our emotions and organizing the barrage of thoughts that go through our heads. It isn't easy because all this takes time and it takes patience with ourselves and patience with God. 
 
Let us pray: God help us to be more patient with everything: with our circumstances, with ourselves, and with you. Amen.  
  
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 2
Monday, April 6, 2020
Reading: Psalm 118 
 
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  - Psalm 118:24
 
If our relationship with God depended upon how we felt then it would have ceased a long time ago. There are times in which we feel glad and other times in which we feel sad. Thank God that "he is good and his steadfast love endures forever," as the psalmist declares. Perhaps this is why so many relationships fall apart, we turn love into a feeling which can be fleeting, and not as a pervading presence.
 
The day is a gift, you see, that has been freely given to us. It's not earned or even something that we necessarily deserve. But God, in his extravagant love, has gifted us with the day. We can cherish it, the sacred time that we have, or we can squander it. In these uncertain times may we look to the one who is certain, whose steadfast love endures forever. 
 
Let us pray: Good God, even when we do not feel like rejoicing and being glad, instill in us such a sense of your immense love for us  that we become awestruck by your presence which remains steadfast. Amen. 
 
 
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Reading: John 9:1-41 
 
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  - John 9:2 
 
In this passage of Jesus' healing of the man born blind, we see how the Pharisees are so eager to place blame for the man's blindness on his sin. If any one of us would rise or fall according to our sin, none could stand. We are all sinners. The problem with religious extremism that it is quick to point the finger of fault at others as that it neglects the need of looking to one's self. Jesus is interested in bringing healing and wholeness to people's lives. We ought to be about this as well. Dedicating our energies toward helping others in time of need and not in fault-finding is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 
 
Each tragedy that occurs, including the one we are now experiencing, will bring all kinds of fanatics out of the woodwork. As Christians, we are called to reach out to all people in need. If we're going to be extreme about anything, let it be the love that we show others, especially now when the need is so great. 
 
Let us pray: O Great healer of every ill, guide us on the path of life to help others in need, led by our source of strength, Jesus Christ, who embodied your love for all people. Amen. 
 
 
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Reading: John 1:1-9 
 
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  - John 1:5 
 
Whenever I read this verse in John's gospel I am reminded of one of Gerhard Frost's meditations called, Grounds for Hope. In that meditation he says, "Suppose I have two rooms, one is dark and the other is light, and I have a door between the two rooms. If I open that door, the dark room becomes lighter without the light room becoming darker." Frost continues by saying, "I know that this is no headline, but its a wonderful footnote, and God comforts me in that."
 
Jesus, the Light of the World, shines in the darkest places in our lives, including the one we are now in. Jesus, the Light, reveals to us that there is a path to go if we but follow. It is a path that brightens our future with faith, hope, and love. If we dwell on our fear, and are despairing about our present condition, there is no room for love to enter.
 
Let us pray: You, O God, lighten our way by your Son in which no darkness can overcome. Illuminate our lives with your life-giving presence, both now and forever. Amen.  
  
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Friday, April 3, 2020
Reading: Matthew 6:5-15 
 
 
But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  - Matthew 6:6 
 
There's been a lot of praying going on behind closed doors these days. This verse comforts us with the assurance that our Father sees us behind these closed doors. God hears our prayers. I'm thinking that there is a lot of praying going on these days, even more than before. It reminds me of a statement, "There are no atheists in foxholes." This aphorism is used to argue that in times of stress or fear, such as in war, hence the reference to "foxholes", all people will believe in God. 
 
In the reading for today, Jesus offers the prayer that has come to be known as the Lord's Prayer. It is a model prayer that is used almost every time we worship. When we are feeling so stressed, so filled with anxiety that we are at a loss to put into words our deepest needs we know that we yet have the gift of the Lord's Prayer. 
 
Let us pray: Our Father, you know our needs even before we can express them in prayer to you. Help us to remember that we can turn to you at all times in prayer. Amen. 
 
 
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Reading: Psalm 23
 
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.  - Psalm 23:2 
 
There is such a stark contrast between "green pastures and still waters" and "walking through the darkest valley." I think that this replicates to some extent the sense we have had when the pandemic began and to where we are now and where it may yet lead us. All along, however, the Lord is shepherd who is with us at all times. 
 
At noon today I was part of a online chat session with our Heartland Conference pastors checking in with each other on how things are going with each of us and the congregations we serve. As I was listening to each of the pastors speak, including myself, the common denominator was the fact that we were all feeling anxious.  It reminded me of  our own human limitations in the face of great change and conflict. It also reminded me about the one in whom we all look to and count on in such times as this, the Lord. God is our shepherd to lead us, guide us, calm us, and assure us when we are are walking through the darkest valleys of life. Surely, God's goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life. 
 
Let us pray: Lord, our shepherd, as we walk through the darkest valley of this pandemic may we be filled with the assurance that your goodness and mercy can follow us all the days of our lives. Amen. 
 
 Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Reading: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18 
 
And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in. - Genesis 7:16 
 
I've read this passage from Genesis about Noah and the ark numerous times but I'd never noticed before the words, "and the Lord shut him in." In my imagination I see the big hand of God reaching down  from the heavens and closing Noah, his family, and all the animals into the ark. But I understand the language here about the Lord shutting them is as figurative language. I take it to mean that God had preserved them from danger as the earth was flooded. 
 
I was reminded by my wife, Brenda, last Sunday as we were preparing for livestreaming our worship that I should say in my opening remarks that we are not "confined" to our homes but we are kept "safe" in our homes. She was right. It's difficult, however, to not think of the governor's executive order of "shelter in place" as some form of punishment that we have to endure, but rather a means by which we are kept safe. We are being shut in for our protection, for our preservation as the flood of the virus sweeps across the country. 
 
I'm sure that there were some days for Noah and his family and all of those animals that were trying. This time in our homes during the pandemic can be trying for us as well. It's not easy to have to relate to each other in a way we have not had to experience before as we are kept behind the closed doors of our homes. It can be a time, however, in which we can practice listening and caring for one another in unique ways. 
 
Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we are kept safe behind the closed doors of our homes, fill our hearts with gratitude for all that we have - each other. Amen.  
 
 
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Reading: Psalm 100 
 
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. - Psalm 100:2 
 
Whenever I read the words, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord," I am reminded of those in worship that claim they cannot sing. I tell those who say that they don't have a good singing voice of what the psalmist declares about making a "joyful noise." I am also reminded of the babies that cry during worship or the children in church that make a noise. As we find ourselves confined but are safe in our homes these days, we perhaps would now welcome hearing these "noises" once again in church. We cannot all make melody or do harmony but we are all called to worship and lift up our praises to God. 
 
The church is a people and not a building. No matter how beautiful or hallowed a sanctuary may be we should know that God cannot be contained there. As the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness, the presence of God went with them, and they set up the tabernacle, a tent of meeting along the way to the Promised Land. So also, the presence of God goes with us wherever we find ourselves. Inasmuch as we "make a joyful noise" as we worship God in a sanctuary, we can do so in our homes as well. As you continue worship in your homes, which incidentally was where the earliest Christians worshiped, know that God is with you. 
 
Let us pray: O God to whom we lift up our praises, sustain us this day and coming days by your very presence; through Christ our Lord. Amen.  
  
Pandemic Hope Devotional - Week 1
Monday, March 30, 2020 
Reading: Psalm 46
 
"Be still, and know that I am God!"  - Psalm 46:10a
 
You who are members of Immanuel Church should have received a devotional in the mail with your April Epistle Newsletter. The devotional is called, Pandemic Hope: A Family Devotional For Life During Covid-19. The daily devotional goes out eight weeks and is divided into two parts: Reading and Faith Practice. This blog will be dedicated to the reading portion which will include the biblical reference and a brief meditation. The other part, Faith Practice, includes an activity which will be addressed by our Director of Youth and Family Ministry, Sue VanHooser in daily emails. 
 
It's difficult for us to be still. We want our time to be filled with activities. But now that we are safe at home, doing our part in social distancing, we're going a little stir-crazy. Even now we are trying to find things to do to fill up our time with activity, even though we are somewhat limited in this being at home. I think that we can use this time to do some things together as families and as couples. But I think we can also use the time that we have to "be still." We can only do that if we pull ourselves away from having to do something. 
 
What would it look life for us to sit in silence? It's a scary thought, I know, because we're not used to sitting in silence. But I would like to challenge you to try to sit in silence for a couple of minutes to see what that would be like for you.(Try it!)  What did you hear? A clock ticking? The low hum of a refrigerator? Your own heartbeat? Or did you hear an inner-voice that you haven't listened to for a while? In that moment of silence were you able to step aside from the chaos in the world in which you now find yourselves and discover a sense of peace and assurance? 
 
Let us pray: Dear God, help me to listen to your voice in a troubled world. Help me to quiet my soul, away from noise and activity, to find peace and contentment that only you can give. Amen. 
  
March 25, 2020 
 
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. - Psalm 32:7 
 
The psalms are mostly composed of laments, songs of passionate grief or deep sorrow asking for God's blessing or intervention. These psalms can be helpful in times like we are now experiencing. They express a myriad of emotions in which the writers pour out their hearts to God in an attempt to reach out to God for help in time of trouble. 
 
When Jesus was on the cross he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He was quoting a line from a lament psalm (Psalm 22:1). This psalm is often read in what is referred to as "the stripping of the altar" at the end of the Maundy Thursday worship in which the worship space is laid bare as worshipers enter Good Friday, a time of reflection on the cross and contemplation of our sin.  
 
As we are in "lock down" mode, many confined to our homes we are perhaps feeling a sense of loneliness or abandonment. Fear certainly strikes as we face an uncertain future. But we are a people not without hope. We have a God who hears our cries. The psalmists have shown us this. And we have a God who became as one of us and revealed his love for us, to the extent of dying on the cross, crying the psalmist cry of being forsaken. 
 
I invite you to explore the psalms during this troubling time in which we live. in them you will uncover the depth of feelings that gives sorrow words. 
 
Paul  
 
 
March 21, 2020
 
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.  - Psalm 46:1-2 
 
I have often used these verses when meeting with families who has lost a loved ones. Their lives are shaken. They are looking for a glimmer of hope in the midst of their sadness, knowing that things will never be the same. I think that these verses are apropos to our situation in which are lives have been shaken by the Coronavirus. We are in effect grieving. Each morning I wake up hoping that it has all been a horrible nightmare, but I am jolted to realize that the reality in which we now live is different.
 
I've been thinking about my children a lot through all of this. Whatever dreams that they may have had for the future have changed or have been dimmed by what has happened and what continues to unfold in the unforseeable future. I spoke with a father from our congregation today who has a son who is a high school senior. I cannot begin to imagine what disappointments that he has had to face. I'm thinking about some of the elderly who are isolated and have limited means to get groceries and other necessities such as prescriptions and needed visits to the doctors' office that have been cancelled. Their lives have been shaken. 
 
I welcome your response to these blogs. Share your thoughts and feelings during this difficult time.
 
Keep the faith!
Paul 
 
 March 19, 2020
  
"O God, Our Help in Ages Past"
 
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home. - Isaac Watts
 
The first line of the old hymn has been going through my mind all day today as I've been thinking about all that has transpired in the past couple of weeks and continues yet to unfold. The world we live in is not the same as it was, and will most likely not be the same again, at least not in our life time. As the Coronavirus continues to spread, ravaging our lives, we have been and continued to be tested to the core. 
 
The reality of it all hit me hard when I went to the grocery store after church on Sunday. It was the sight of the empty shelves of bread, cleaned out, every last morsel, it sunk in for me that avoiding shaking hands, some social distancing, and some hand sanitizer was not going to be enough. We weren't going to be able to congregate again for worship for a while. We'd have to find a new way or ways to do worship, something I never had to encounter before in my 34 years of ministry. 
 
The old hymn tune marches on in my mind. The stormy blast that has shattered our lives has left fragments for us to pick up here and there. But God is there as God has been present for us in the past to help bring semblance to our lives. It will take time. It will try our patience at times. It will test the metal of our faith. I pray that as you, too, face and continue to face the challenges of our present age that this old hymn will ring true for you. 
 
I welcome your feedback. Your thoughts and your concerns are welcomed as I continue the journey of this blog.
 
Paul