We’re all a little stressed

I can write a blog titled “We’re all a little stressed” and there will undoubtedly be someone who thinks or says, “I’m not stressed!”  When I write that, I am talking about various groups I am affiliated with, including family.  I do not write this to gain sympathy or praise.  From the onset, my intent is to write it to remind myself, and remind you, to show grace and understand that everyone is fighting a battle that nobody else knows about.  I admit from the onset, my words will fall short.  Where I end up, God only knows.

On a personal level, my father in law…

And that is exactly as far as I got with today’s blog when the fire siren went off and I left to go on an ambulance call responding to a patient with a fever and shortness of breath.  (I am not sharing information that is not readily available to anyone who has a scanner.)  We all know fever and shortness of breath are two of the main factors in the current coronavirus chaos.  So we treat fever and shortness of breath as a positive, even though the odds are very small that it is: full personal protective equipment is required on the ambulance.  Upon returning, we spray down the ambulance with anti bacterial spray.  We move the ambulance that was in the back to the front and leave the one we just sanitized to the back opened up to air dry.

And now I return to my blog post nearly two hours later.  The Short Gap Volunteer Fire Company is one of the groups I am involved with that understandably might be a little stressed.  As a side note, my main partner on the ambulance is Brenda Long.  She has an upcoming surgery.  Should she be quarantined for 14 days because of exposure to the virus, she would not be able to have her surgery. (Shared with her permission).  You could understand she might be a little stressed on top of the normal stress of going on 911 calls.

Another group I am involved with that might be a little stressed is my employer – The UMC, and more specifically Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church.  It might sound bad to some to put it that way. I am definitely fulfilling a calling, but the church does pay me and by definition is my employer.  A month ago we decided to shoot for June 7 to open the building for indoor worship after having it shut down for the last 10 weeks.  Then it was reported this week that a church in the next county opened their building for worship and is now shut down with 9 positive cases.  I have to talk to church leadership and a decision needs to be made by Sunday so our plans can be announced at our drive-in worship. We have been having drive-in worship with people remaining in their vehicles for the last 9 weeks.  I would never be part of shutting down “church” because the government ordered it – never.  I would go to jail instead.  But I also would not be a part of keeping the church open if it would be a bad witness to the community.  Strangely, safety is not my priority.  Glorifying God is my priority.  Sometime to glorify God, He asks us to risk safety.  He always has and, in spite of how the American church gathers in safety and freedom, all around the world people still literally risk their lives every time the church gathers.  On top of that I am stressed about my sermon.  I know the Lord has given me one of the best Pentecost sermons I have given as a pastor.  I have been so excited for six weeks about this Sunday’s sermon.  I even talked to one of the people at the worship last week about having fire trucks with lights and sirens “blow in” this week.  Now, the lights and siren do not seem appropriate with the injustice and aftermath of what is going on in Minnesota.  How can this keep happening?  Do I change my sermon?  What would honor God?  I will be judged either way – in the sermon I give and whether we open the church.

Which leads me to the stress of this event.  I thank God that injustices like this are now caught on video.  The unjustified homicide of George Floyd must be addressed, especially as it was yet again a death perpetrated by one whom society has trusted to serve and protect people.  As a pastor and as a human, it truly breaks my heart.  I am stressed about it from a human standpoint, and even more as a pastor and follower of Jesus.  Time after time when something like this happens, I am reminded that evil still runs rampant upon the earth.  I cry out, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”  There is a price to be paid for taking a life, and my prayer is that justice is served and more lessons are learned and we are changed for the better.  On the other hand, it is not right to demonize police.  And if that line makes you mad, you have my prayers that you cannot see that lumping everyone of any group together is not beneficial or just.  I am a pastor and when another pastor embezzles, commits adultery, manipulates, or spews hate at funerals, I do not want to be lumped in with them.  Yet, we are all imperfect – in that we are all lumped together.  I serve a God who loves each person so much that He sent His son to die on the cross for our sins – everyone’s sins.  I call people to repent of their sin.  Given the opportunity, I would call the officers involved in the death to repent of their sin.  I am developing relationships with law enforcement in my county – primarily as a first responder myself, and partly as a pastor. They are mostly good guys doing their best.  They are under stress.  When they go to work and kiss their wives goodbye, they never know if they will make it home.  And, by saying that, I am in no way defending what happened to George Floyd.  It is inexcusable and those who did it must be punished.  Yet, it is not the fault of those from the Mineral County Sheriff’s department that others in their profession are taking lives unnecessarily and causing all this harm to our country once again.  I can tear up thinking about the family of George Floyd and their loss.  Their loss is society’s loss.  It is my loss as one who hopes for reconciliation with the One who created us and with each other through Him.  My mind wanders to the abuse my friends in Haiti take from many of the Haitian police there with no hope of justice.  Some police murdering and stealing as they please.   Evil runs rampant.

(P.S. – There was a break in the middle of that last paragraph as the repairmen were here to fix the air conditioner at my home. Thank you Jesus, it is fixed now.)

I know this is long, and I hope you have hung in there with me.  Finally, to the stress in my family.  As I started to say, my father-in-law is 90 and likely in his final hours or at most days.  My wife, her brother, and her mother went to see him today.  Over the past couple of months, there has been stress about his deteriorating health.  This past Saturday we moved him to a nursing home to receive end of life care.  My son and his fiance have two cats they dearly love.  One of them had surgery this week and Diane and I have been earnestly in prayer about that.  We have a cat that Diane loves and is growing on me 😉 so we get it.  Employment has been an issue in our family.

Now, six hours after I began today’s post, I have reached the conclusion.  The fire siren just went off again, but two of my brothers are taking the call.  There is so much more I would like to write.  I know this is no different than you and your life and your stresses.  Homeschooling, depression, job losses, businesses closing, day cares being closed, social distancing, staying at home, anxiety, etc.  And we ask ourselves how long this can go on like this?

Throughout the Bible people are always asking, “How long, Lord?”  Habakkuk asks in 1:2, “How long, LORD, must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence and you do not save?”  Job 19:7 screams, “Though I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.”  The Psalmist in Psalm 94:3 asks, “LORD, how long shall the wicked triumph?”  And we have the same questions today.  The one thing that brings me a little peace is that I know none of this world’s evil, worry, stress, hate, surgeries, uncertainties, or even death have the final say.  I know that every person who asked those questions in the Bible has now come face to face with the God to whom they were crying out.  And they have realized this God they now know face to face is the same God who was willing to walk through the storms of this life with them.  Indeed, He was with them even when they were asking where He was.  And His same presence is available to you and me.  He is there for me and He is there for you.  I claim it.  I pray you would give Him a chance to minister to you, to comfort you, and to bind your wounds, even though the pain persists for a while longer.

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The God who stays

The other day Diane and I had been talking and texting about hospice.  My Pandora began to show me hospice ads.  I did not search anything about hospice – just talk and text.  I am sure you have had it happen as well.  We really have no idea what they are tracking.  It just occurred to me that is probably part of the reason they have cameras on both sides of the phones now.  But I digress.

This morning on the church Facebook page I posted chapter 14 of the book study we’ve been doing for about 8 weeks now on The Knowledge of the Holy.  It was God’s Omnipresence – that God is always with us.  I do not know what it says about me, but I always used to think about God knowing and seeing everything in my life as a little disturbing, let alone that He was right there with me!  As I have grown to know God better, I have found greater comfort in the fact He knows everything and that He is with me always.  Part of that peace comes from the fact that He knows me completely and never leaves me in spite of anything I ever do or any bad thoughts I ever think.  He will forgive me over and over.  He showed me His love for me on a hill called Mount Calvary.  On that hill when Jesus asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It would be the last time that question could ever legitimately be asked.  Once you say yes to Him, He continues to love you and is truly with you always, even on those days when you do not love yourself.

It is the point Matthew West is making when he sings his song, “The God Who Stays”.

Oh, but somehow You don’t see me like I do
Somehow You’re still here

You’re the God who stays
You’re the God who stays
You’re the one who runs in my direction
When the whole world walks away
You’re the God who stands
With wide open arms
And You tell me nothing I have ever done
can separate my heart
From the God who stays

 

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Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

On most of my blog posts I will spend an hour or more praying and getting the thoughts and wording just right.  Occasionally it will take a couple of hours.  This morning I started a blog post and within the first 10 minutes it was obvious to me that God was doing something more – – that He had bigger plans for today’s blog.  I have been looking for some clear direction for Sunday’s sermon and I think I got it.  We will see.

As for now, this morning I am going to Pennsylvania to help Diane at her parents’ for a little bit so this is a quick lesson to share, but I definitely feel like I am supposed to share it.  I titled today’s blog, “When God has bigger plans”.  Then I thought how silly that sounds.  God always has bigger plans.  The Scriptures tell us that He sees everything at once.  He already knows about vaccines, deaths, and miraculous recoveries relating to this pandemic.  He knew of this pandemic at the moment of creation when He said “Let there be light” and created the sun!

Another important thing to remember is that nothing goes to waste.  Just as He told the disciples to gather up the leftover fishes and loaves so that none went to waste, nothing He allows during this pandemic is just by chance.  No pain is pointless.  No illness is inconsequential. No loss or loneliness is senseless. He is doing something.  He is always doing something.  Whatever your prayer, whatever your need, whatever your suffering, God has great and big plans to teach you, mold you, and draw you close enough to hold you.  Knowing this, I pray you can bring yourself to proclaim, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” today.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name ~ Matt Redman

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Posted in depression, Hard times, Obstacles, Opportunity, peace | Leave a comment

Soon and very soon…

Diane and I recently bought a small place at Lakewoods Camping Resort along the ocean in Myrtle Beach.  God willing, we will perhaps retire there one day. Until then, we will rent it out to help pay the HOA and insurance and we will retreat there when we can when it is not rented. Diane can retreat there a lot more than I can! The rental history shows it stays booked June-August and that is where it rents for the most. This year they had a couple of cancellations in June, so there are a couple of weeks open that we hope still book. So we will be going down primarily in the MB “off season” in great months like April and May and September and October, or even short winter escapes. I hope Diane does not move there for the winters! We have a rental company who does the renting for us and cleans it between rentals, and for the record, we cannot rent it out on our own (which is probably good because we would be cutting all our friends such good deals that we would not be able to pay our HOA.) We are like a “silent partner” letting them do their thing – they also take care of problems and send us checks for our percentage of the rental.  Many of the renters rent it over and over year after year.

We are excited that tomorrow the first renting guests will be staying there since it became ours. They are coming in for memorial day weekend staying Thursday through Monday. We hope they have great weather. We hope they have a wonderful time. We hope they love the place. We hope they sign the new guest book that we left for guests.  And we hope they come back.

We will only be a little jealous that they are there enjoying the view of the ocean on the one side and the lake on the other and we are back in WV.  We are genuinely happy for them, even as we (especially Diane) would love to be there this weekend.  I say especially Diane because she is with her parents, helping them get adjusted to life with hospice for her dad.  He is not well and will, before too long be going on to heaven thanks to the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.  In much the same way as we are a little envious of the folks staying at our place in Myrtle Beach tomorrow, I almost envy Joe.  I do not envy what he is going through right at this moment, but soon and very soon he is going to see the King.  Soon and very soon Joe will be enjoying a view that “I can only imagine” (shout out to Trent).  He will meet His Savior (and mine) face to face.  He will meet Mary, mother of Jesus.  He will see my grandmother, Virginia.  The messy ending he is experiencing in this life will be in the past.  We will be left to miss him, but he will not have a care. And I will be happy for him. I am sure he will have a wonderful time there. And I look forward to the day I get to go.

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You can see our Myrtle Beach home by clicking here.

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Posted in Hard times, Opportunity | Leave a comment

You’re right. I need to wear a mask.

If you are like me, you are growing weary of people posting about masks on social media.  I wrote “growing weary” because it sounded more Jesus-like than “sick of” – – and this is a blog to honor Him, even when I fail to do that, which I do at times.  I cannot imagine that we do not have all the information we need.  I do not believe we need more information about masks.  My mind is made up.  Your mind is made up.

The “mask everywhere” people are convinced they need to be worn while biking in the park, shopping for groceries, and walking the beach.  There is a more moderate approach where people believe they should be worn by both parties when you are interacting directly with others.  On the polar opposite end of the spectrum there is the “no masks for me under any circumstances” crowd.  The one thing I have not seen about masks is anyone respond, “You are right. I was a non-believer, but you have convinced me that I need to wear a mask.”  I would like to use the guy in the “that would be great” meme to write, “If everyone would quit posting about masks, that would be great.” I do not say this to promote one side or the other.  I am just telling you that I believe peoples’ minds are made up.  I say this even as I believe everyone is free to post whatever they want and this blog post is not really to convince anyone to quit posting about masks.  In the same way, everyone is free to wear one or free to go mask-less when not mandated by the CDC, local municipalities, or individual businesses.  People are free to comply and shop in stores and states that require them or free to avoid those states and stores if they refuse to wear one.  We live in the land of the free and there is a cost to that.

In my own opinion, one of the major traits of our society is that once people are convinced of something, they are rarely convinced of something different, especially on an individual basis.  Of course, there are gradual changes that occur within our society and many people eventually go along.  The acceptance of divorce, abortion, gay marriage, and country music are issues in which much of our society has evolved in my lifetime.  You may see things differently, but I just feel that on an individual basis it is rare that people are ever converted to or from anything.

It is what makes someone being converted to Jesus so rare and miraculous.  Yesterday I preached about leaven from Matthew 13:33.  I talked about the Holy Ghost placing “yeast” in our hearts and that a decision for Jesus is instant salvation, then the changes in our desires and lives begin.  Salvation takes an act of God, for sure.  And God does act and is acting.  I wish I had thought to say yesterday that the Holy Ghost uses “active yeast”!  He proclaims Himself and gives us all the evidence we need to turn to Jesus.  Because we are free to choose Him, we are also free to turn Him down or not to choose at all, which is in itself a vote against.  The signers of the Declaration of Independence had it right when they wrote in the preamble:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

God offers us freedom.  Yet, too often we choose to live enslaved to God’s enemy.  The enemy is famous for giving us just enough comfort, security, and safety to keep us from risking freedom.  I know today’s blog is a little longer than usual and I appreciate that you are still reading.  I hope you are not mad that I used the mask argument to bring you to this point.  Against all odds, if you have not done so, I hope you will consider the freedom that comes from having your sins forgiven.

A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.~ John 8:35-36

Romans 10:9 – “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

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Where’s the Beef?

In the 1980’s, Wendy’s had a commercial that us older folks remember that had an old woman screaming, “Where’s the Beef?”  The lady was not at Wendy’s asking that. We were to assume she was at McDonald’s looking for the meat on the bun.  As a former McDonald’s employee, I remember their burgers were 10 patties to a pound of beef.   Wendy’s was bragging on their big burgers, and that they had the beef.  Fast forward 35 years and we are hearing that there are some Wendy’s out of beef for their hamburgers. They are out in some places because they have always used fresh ground beef, never frozen.

In thinking about this, I like to think of God 35 years ago seeing Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” advertising campaign and thinking to Himself, “Oh, this is going to be priceless in 35 years when Wendy’s does not have the beef.”  I am not making fun of Wendy’s.  I appreciate that they use fresh beef.  I love that they are famous for promoting adoption.

I am just reminded myself and reminding you that God knows everything from the beginning to the end of time.  He knows how the pandemic turns out.  He knew it was coming.  He knows if and when there there will be an immunization.  He knows what He wants to teach you in this season.  Trust in Him and draw near to Him.  He is doing something.  And just as He knew how ironic the “Where’s the Beef” commercials would be 35 years later, He knows what good things He is going to bring from this chaotic time.  So do not fear.  One day you will look back on this.  May you remember this as a time that your faith grew stronger.

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Posted in depression, Hard times, Obstacles, Opportunity, peace | Leave a comment

Stress less

I have an iPhone. If I swipe one way on it I see page after page of apps. If I swipe the other way there is sort of a cover page that is supposed to be helpful. I can place widgets on it. Widgets are an accumulation of helpful items on one screen on my phone. For example, the next item on my calendar is there. The apps I use the most are there. iPhone tells me there are 10 additional widgets that I can I add. This morning I noticed that two of my most popular apps over the last few days have been the camera and the weather. You know how it is when you are on vacation- – you check the weather where you are, but you also check the weather at home. I am sorry for the folks at home that it is another week of depressing weather. I had to pull the plants in at our house because of freezing overnight temperatures forecast for later this week.

What was so obviously missing was the app that had been near the top over the last six weeks was no longer in my top four. Can you take a guess what it was? It was a news app. I have no news apps in my top four right now. I should have brought my blood pressure cuff with me this week!

I often think about the apostle Paul who asked himself why he kept doing what he did not want to do. I do not like to be stressed, yet I keep doing things and reading things that stressed me out. I tell myself I want to stay informed, and I really do. The problem is, there is always something to worry about. If it weren’t the coronavirus, it would be the United Methodist Church. Were the meeting not canceled by the coronavirus, the UMC would have been making a decision about a church split right about now, and I would have been consumed by that. I am so easily consumed by things I have no control over. I want to remind you of this today. I know me telling you this from the beach is a little like a celebrity giving us a stay at home, we’re all in this together message. But I will be home Saturday. I am not making an argument to be ignorant of information, but I am making an argument to be aware of our mental health. And maybe, just maybe for a couple of days after I get home I will remember to check my most used apps to see how my mental health is doing.

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