Psalm 130:5 (NRSV) 
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

Is your soul waiting?

There is waiting, and there is waiting of the soul. There is a big difference. Sometimes we simply wait for something to happen. When the psalmist wrote, “my soul waits,” he wrote of the heartfelt trust and confidence he held for the one for whom he waits, the Lord. Nearly everyone who receives this note, nearly every eye that reads this TMTS, is waiting under the order to “shelter in place.” The threat of an overwhelming spread of COVID-19 illness, incapacitating medical facilities around the world, has brought about this order. The hope is that as we wait the cases of COVID-19 will increase at a manageable rate allowing hospitals to care for the very ill. It is said the peak of COVID-19 cases will hit the U.S. in three weeks, April 14. Our waiting may successfully blunt that peak. As we wait, we hope that one day we can return to a more social life. It can be tiring. The psalmist was writing to the people of God, and they were growing tired of waiting for redemption by the Lord. They had been waiting for years. Have you noticed the way waiting becomes more intense as time goes by? Every time the shelter in place order is extended, every time we are reminded to “keep our distance” and “wash our hands,” our hope is shaken. Thus, we are all encouraged by the psalmist, “Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love.” When you believe the greatest power in your life loves you, you can hold out, though your soul intensely waits. Is your soul waiting? The COVID-19 pandemic will subside and we will joyously flee our shelters. Until then, let us hope in the Lord’s great loving power to sustain us.

“Waiting is spelled, T-R-U-S-T.”  Tina & Dave Samples, from their book, Messed Up Men of the Bible

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See the Light

Ephesians 5:8 (NRSV) 
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”

Are you living in darkness?

“Social distancing,” is what we’re calling it. As the Covid-19 virus continues on its infectious path we are told to maintain a 6 foot distance from each other in public, also known as, “self-shielding.” That’s the easy to remember part. Social distancing goes much further: school closures; workplace closures; isolation; quarantine; cordon sanitaire; protective sequestration; cancellation of mass gatherings; shutting down mass transit; closure of recreation facilities; and “self-shielding.”[1] These precautions, trying to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 infections, throws many of us into darkness, isolation. Social distancing is not new, for it was often practiced in bible times: leper colonies, Gerasene demoniac. People were often exiled from the village to keep others from harm and becoming unclean. Those people were thrust into their own darkness. What did Jesus do? Jesus entered into their world.[2]Jesus not only entered into their world but brought light, love. In our days of social distancing we may find ourselves in darkness, lacking love, lacking the light of hope. It is a time to practice texting, emailing, calling, and video chats. It is a time to wave to each other, give more smiles, listen to someone. It is a time to exercise, move about, and stretch in our personal spaces. And most of all, it is a time to reconnect with the hopeful words of Jesus Christ, when he healed the eyes of the blind men, “According to your faith be it done to you.” Are you living in darkness? Remember the teaching of Paul, “Live as children of light.” Listen, and see the light!

“When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message.” Oswald Chambers

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_distancing

[2] Mark 5:1-20

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An Unrealized Thirst

John 4:14 (ESV) 
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.”

Are you thirsty?

Water is essential for human life. We can survive for weeks without food but typically only a few days without water. The ailments rising from a thirst for water come fast, the worst being organ failure. Of course, thirst can lead to death. I have a feeling the woman speaking with Jesus at the well in Sychar was familiar with death by thirst. Perhaps she did not understand what drove her to the well that day, an unrealized thirst.[1] Jesus got her attention with, “Give me a drink.” Jesus then engaged her in a discussion leading to a different thirst, a thirst of the soul. The thirst of the soul can lead to a lifeless existence, a dehydrated spirit. Like the woman at the well, we may not realize we too are thirsty. Think of the things we do to entertain ourselves, satisfy ourselves, distract ourselves. Then think of the times we could not get enough of it. We can be very thirsty, with water all around. Jesus offers us something that will satisfy our thirsty souls: acceptance, leading to satisfaction. We often seek “waters” trying to satisfy ourselves. Sadly, satisfying our thirst may be more elusive than curing ourselves of SARS-CoV-2 infection.[2] God offers Christ, the Living Word, the message of truth and hope, to a spiritually thirsty humanity. We are known to sing loud Mic Jaeger’s haunting lyric, “I can’t get no, satisfaction.” Are you thirsty? Can you survive a day without God in your life? The Good News, we can satisfy that thirst in Christ. Water may be essential to human life; Christ is essential to spiritual life.

“If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.”[3] Baylor School of Medicine website

[1] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, © 1871, John 4:15-19

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html

[3] https://www.bcm.edu/news/sports-medicine/thirsty-you-are-already-dehydrated

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We Can’t Do It Alone

Matthew 18:20 (ESV) 
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

What do we do?

“I Can’t Do It Alone,” is the title of a memorable song from the 1975 musical, Chicago.[1]The song is sung by Velma following the suspicious death of her sister, Veronica. You see, Velma and Veronica were a vaudeville acrobatic duo. It appeared as if Velma murdered Veronica in a jealous rage, though later acquitted off-stage. Reasonably, Velma came to sing of her sister act, “But I simply cannot do it alone.” Now, you may wonder where this is leading. In today’s struggle to respond to the growing pandemic of COVID-19,[2] a coronavirus, the church is centerstage. There may be pastors on near-future Sunday mornings left alone in the sanctuary. They too may lament, “But I simply cannot do it alone.” So true, we don’t do Christianity alone. The Rev. Dr. Sheldon Sorge, General Minister, Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote in his March 5th letter on the church’s response to the pandemic, “Being together with each other is essential to Christian identity.”[3] To this point, it is critical that we Christians move forward with care. Throughout human history cultures have been permanently changed by lengthy pandemics, considering the History Channels article, “Pandemics That Changed History.” The Christian Church is not isolated from such change. Christians let’s be responsible. The following describes the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance response to any pandemic: https://mcusercontent.com/1721a6b9451a1567ee53b00fc/files/16082c31-cd73-4afb-bd8e-ba60c50f2271/Preparedness_for_Pandemics.pdf

I share this in response to one simple question: What do we do? Jesus set the expectation: we Christians are to gather as two or more. Because, a lot like Velma, “We can’t do it alone.”

“To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.”  Martin Luther

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_(musical)

[2] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200306-sitrep-46-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=96b04adf_2

[3] http://www.pghpresbytery.org/news/sheldon_shares/2020/ss_030520.htm

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Both Good and True

Romans 4:13 (ESV) 
“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”

What is God’s promise for you?

God made a promise to Abraham; essentially, God promised Abraham his descendants would become a great nation. This is a very special promise. Why? At the time Abraham had no hope of descendants because he had no children. The greatest reason this promise is so special is that it comes from God. It is a gratuitous promise from God. Here’s an important point: gratuitous promises are unenforceable. No one, I repeat, no one, can make God keep this promise. Abraham had to accept it on faith. The promise came to Abraham through faith. I bring this to you because some may wonder if God still makes such promises to us. We understand Abraham to have lived long ago, three to four millennia. A lot of bad human behavior has passed since those days. I’ve got a feeling God has had ample reason to stop promising us anything. But this is the reason we got the last great promise through Jesus Christ: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” Once again, this is a gratuitous promise, unenforceable; yet, it is ours to have. What is God’s promise for you? You are forgiven. Relax! Nothing you do or say will earn you forgiveness. The same can be said of your future. Nothing you will do or say will undo your forgiveness. The Good News is that God’s promise of forgiveness comes through faith in Christ. This is both good and true.  

“God never made a promise that was too good to be true.”  Dwight L. Moody, 19th century American evangelist

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With Open Hands

Romans 5:15a (ESV) 
But the free gift is not like the trespass.

Where’s my free gift?

The text read: “From: Jane Doe – Happy Birthday to you! Followed by a link with the offer, “Free Amazon Gift Card.” Got my attention! Free gift! And I did just have a birthday (last month). Thankfully, I knew of the scam using the bait “Amazon Gift Card” and did not click on the link. The thought of an unexpected gift stirs my interest. I’m thinking I’m not alone since this particular scam is so prevalent that Amazon warns of it on their website. So, in response, we can become suspicious of any unexpected gift. This may be the case of the “free gift” referenced by the Apostle Paul in today’s passage. In the Roman’s passage, Paul is contrasting the ravages of sin resulting from one man’s trespass, Adam’s, and the free gift of justification resulting from one man’s righteousness, Jesus Christ, giving life to us all. There is a catch. To receive God’s free gift of life in Christ we must receive it, with open hands. Though it comes to us as undeserved as a free gift card, we can only receive the free gift when we ask for it: Where is my free gift?   

“Grace is a free gift of God, but to receive a gift you must have open hands.” Philip Yancey, American author

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Spend the Time

2 Peter 1:18 (ESV) 
We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

How important is quality time in your relationships?

“Spending time together is very important and valuable.”[1] In today’s passage, Peter and James, and John his brother, were invited by Jesus to go up on the mountain with Jesus, to spend time with Jesus. During this particular hike the three disciples would experience the transfiguration of Jesus, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Imagine if they did not take the time to be with Jesus; imagine the loss. That they did spend time with Jesus created the opportunity for them to get closer to Jesus. “It is also very important to consider how the other person you are wanting to spend time with feels about what you have set aside for them.”[2] Notice when the disciples offered to build tents, God’s response to them was, “Listen to him.” It is good advice to anyone hoping to be in a relationship, listen. Listening to each other is also very important and valuable. We best know another’s feelings when we listen to them. By the way, there is a marked difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is collecting data; Listening is responding to the data.  Listening improves mutual understanding.[3] Are you spending time in your relationships? Christ wants to spend time with you. Imagine what you may experience.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Anonymous

[1] https://christquestministries.com/how-important-is-quality-time-in-your-relationship/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Healthline.com

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Let It Shine

Matthew 5:14 (ESV)

[Jesus taught his disciples] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

My father was a “shade-tree” mechanic. When I was a child he kept running every car in our driveway. I fondly recall the sight of him leaning over the fender as he peered into the cavernous engine compartment of the Chrysler and Plymouth muscle cars he loved to drive. There were those wonderful opportunities when he needed someone to hold the flashlight. His flashlight was smeared black with the lubricants from recent work. I was his flashlight man and I can remember even holding the flashlight with two hands. I’d stand on the front bumper to shine the light just right. Dad never thanked me but I believe he appreciated my help shining the “light.” Why? He’d call on me over and over. I believe God has tasks in this world that need us to shine the light just right. Rather than powered by batteries like dad’s flashlight, God’s light, the light given to us is powered by love. Where I had to stand tall and stretch to reach the engine of that Plymouth Sport Fury, our task for God is well within our ability. Our light shines upon the people around us with love. We help others with love. And not one of us may ever hear God say, “Thank you,” but I believe God appreciates our help. Just like my late father, I feel God often needs the light to shine in someone’s darkness. And God may be calling on you right now. Therefore, inspired by the children’s hymn, “This little light of mine … Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine!”

“The light of God’s love will pierce even the darkest night.” Anonymous

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Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

[Jesus said to his disciples] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus saw the crowds, went up on the mountain, sat down, only to be surrounded by his disciples. I do not know what Jesus was feeling, but having just begun his Galilean ministry, if I were in his place the crowds would have been a bit overwhelming. So, I’m going to give Jesus a lot more credit because of today’s Matthean passage and highlight his sympathy for those in the crowd. I can almost hear Jesus direct his disciples to look at the crowd, consider their condition. Jesus then lists a number of significant human conditions: poverty; grieving; weakness; mistreatment; selfless; vulnerable; peace-seeking; and persecuted. Jesus named the people who may well feel as outcasts in many institutional settings, including the Temple. Then Jesus said, “Blessed are those” who feel this way. And where was this leading? They were all invited into the kingdom of heaven, they shall see God. I’ve sometimes modified this passage and replaced “blessed” with “invited.” For example, “Invited are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” “Do you feel isolated by your human condition?” By the authority of scripture, I can assure you that you are invited into the kingdom of heaven. 

“Our weakness is an invitation to discover God’s strength.” Anonymous

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It Depends

John 1:38 (NRSV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – January 19, 2020

“When Jesus turned and saw [the two disciples] following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

The car’s GPS is not much help if the driver has no idea where he wants to go. Think about it. Yes, the GPS can clearly tell us where we are, but it cannot tell us where we want to go. We must declare to the GPS our intended destination. I’ve noticed that the directions suffer if I’m the least bit vague about my destination. In fact, the clearer I am at stating my destination the more likely I will reach my destination. This leads me to consider Jesus’ question directed toward the two disciples, two of John the Baptist’s disciples, “What are you looking for?” Jesus knew they followed John; so, it is a fair question. The two men responded clearly, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” From my perspective, the two disciples were looking for Jesus, the Messiah, and they wanted to be with him. In other words, the two disciples expressed their desired and the divine GPS led them. If Jesus were to ask you the same question, what would be your response? We sometimes treat God as if the Holy Spirit will know where we need to be with little input from us. We sometimes lean on the Spirit with the sentiment of the popular song, “Jesus take the wheel.” I’ve got a good feeling that before Jesus takes any steering wheel, Christ first wants to know, “What are you looking for?” 

“What you see depends on what you are looking for.” Anonymous

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