Messages from our Pastor
March 30, 2020
“…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth…and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:10-11
“…all the families of the earth….” —Genesis 12:3
“Everywhere the world is going to pieces. It is crumbling and rotting away. It is going through a process of disintegration. It is dying. And in these fearsome times, through the Holy Spirit Christ places the…church with its unconditional unity right into the world. The only help left for the world is to have a place of gathering, to have people whose will, undivided and free of doubt, is bent on gathering with others in unity.” — Eberhard Arnold, 1930s Germany
In 1519, the conquistador Hernan Cortes faced a problem: How could he confront the hundreds of thousands of Aztec warriors he would face with 160 men? They were experienced and tough, but the challenge was overwhelming. Leaving aside the ethical problems that followed the subjugation of Mexico, focus on his solution, which was this: On the beach where he landed, he burned the boats. The message was that there was no going back—the only way was available was forward.
We all have been handed a similar “choice,” clearly not of our choosing, but the only one available for us. We have plowed into unfamiliar waters and bent our own wills to the common good. We have essentially burned the boats behind us. The Bible itself leads us to build community, but familiarity also builds contempt. An all-inclusive community has been held at bay throughout time by the forces of tribalism, fear, covetousness, reckless ambition, or a combination of them all.
Perhaps if nothing else comes out of this time, we will sense more than ever before the need for community. Look forward during this time to a better one where we can soon have a gathering, as Eberhard Arnold describes it, a place of unity that is undoubted in its seriousness, and the need for which is clear.
Lord, grant us the clarity to recognize in the world that seems to be spinning out of control all around us a sense that you still offer an opportunity for something much better, a life centered, for ‘all the families of the earth,’ in you. We pray you will help us recognize there is no going back to the way we were.
- Pastor Mickey
March 25, 2020
“Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.” — Psalm 91:14-16
Only the bad news is coming down harder and more often than the rainfall. The spread of disease, famous people infected, or somebody we know perhaps sick, and the death toll mounts. The worst things are not knowing where it all goes next, and when it will end. And no matter what scientists devise, or no matter what nature offers in the form of resistance, it will never be a foolproof guarantee.
There is no guarantee bad things won’t happen to us. Nothing in the Bible makes that claim. When trouble comes, in whatever form, we still have to face peril. But what the scriptures make clear is that you never have to face those fears alone.
The Lord waits only on you to call him, and his voice, he tells us, will reassure us. Viruses and other plagues and evils are built into creation, usually by us in one way or another. The only foolproof antidote is he who reassures you through his word.
Love of God and calling on him assures a return call, and the knowledge that no matter what comes we don’t face it alone. And life, a long, long life, along with salvation, includes life lived with God.
It’s not fully satisfying. Young people get ill, the innocent are victims of crime, hunger strikes without asking your background, your race, or how you pray. Show me something in life that truly is fully satisfying, and God will finally have a rival.
Let’s seek the word of reassurance together:
Father, hear us, and all the others across our world, who are calling upon you in this time. Hear their cries, as you do ours, and bring your healing, a healing that lasts a thousand lifetimes, and your salvation, a salvation that washes us beyond anything we have in our cabinets. Through your voice, bring us calm, and a respite from the unease that grips us all. Amen.
- Pastor Mickey
March 23, 2020
A THRIVING CHURCH
“They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, O my people….I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live….’” - Ezekiel 37:11b, 14a
I was in the church the other day, and it seemed empty. Mike Bridges was there, and he’s great company, but otherwise it seemed…dead. Not like a typical Sunday, but it is where we are, right now. It’s a common sight around us as people stay at home.
But the church is, and never was, about buildings. It isn’t, and wasn’t, about budgets, committees, or programs, either. The church is a point of unity where even in the darkest times—like world wars, or natural disasters—people could gain strength and rally to the “the better angels” of their nature of forgiveness, mercy, and peace. During times like the present the natural supplies of those qualities might run a little low. In a way, though, being spread out is a gain, not a loss. We’re better seemingly alone because of what we gain from the church. It’s only when we imitate the world around us that we are not popular. It’s a source of strength, and I think in the end we will realize that. “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it,” wrote D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British minister, in comments on the Sermon on the Mount. “It is then the world is made to listen to her message.…”
All our striving to be like everyone and everything else fails. It’s only when the church works not like an institution, but in the hearts of those that take part in its work, that the work of the church will truly be heard, and seen. Only then will the dried bones take on flesh, and live.
Gracious God, bring us and others through the present affliction so that we might take on sinew and flesh and live again, glorifying your name wherever we may go. Amen.
- Pastor Mickey
March 20, 2020
LOVE IN THE FACE OF A CRISIS
"For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another….Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” - 1 John 3:11, 18
A man went to a therapist for a problem: He lived with the overwhelming fear that monsters lived under his bed. For months, they talked over his problem, tried different therapies and techniques, but the monsters remained. One day he decided to try a different therapist. Soon after, he ran into his first therapist, who asked if he had had any luck with the monsters. The man told him of the second therapist, adding, “and in one session they went away.” The first therapist was startled, and said, “What did he have you do?” He was sure one session could not possibly have such a positive result.
The man replied, “He told me to cut the legs off my bed.”
I wish I could tell you that such an easy solution will remove the present crisis we are in, but I cannot. Cases of infection continue to grow, businesses suffer, many are out of work, far more than normal are largely restricted to home, and just about all are filled with worry. So how do we love in the face of it all?
By following the wise words of John, who told us love is not (or not just) words or emotions, but “truth and action.” In other words, a verb, not just a noun. A word of action. It can be as simple as staying away from crowds for a while. It’s frustrating, but it’s a deed that protects others. It seems that with this virus, studies are showing that a seemingly healthy but contagious person is more likely to infect someone else than someone who is known to be infected, so staying away may protect someone even if you are among seemingly healthy people. Someone I know noticed that a neighbor she had never met always went to work with hospital scrubs on, so he must work in a hospital and is on the front lines right now. So she baked extra muffins and with a note left them outside his apartment door just before she knew he would leave in the morning.
These are the types of acts of love that right now can show we care about what is going on around us, and can even help to keep everyone healthy. These are the kinds of deeds that help us to reflect how God loves us as we “have heard from the beginning.”
Lord, help us to see how the things we do, or even don’t do, reflect your love in this present time of crisis. Amen.
- Pastor Mickey
March 18, 2020
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” - Romans 12:12-13
Noted historian Erik Larson’s new book could not have arrived at a more perfect time. The Splendid and the Vile is the story of Winston Churchill, his family, and others during the Battle of Britain, fought in the skies over England in 1940-41. As the world teetered on the edge of destruction and surrendering to tyranny, planes fought overhead and citizens watched. In the bombing of London, 43,000 civilians died. They were not spared, their deaths came without warning, and they could do little to protect themselves. They endured blackouts, raids in terribly unhealthy subways and shelters, shortages of everything, and devastation all around them. One young boy was interviewed by a ministry set up to measure civilian morale and was asked if he wanted to be a firefighter, policeman, or military pilot, the heroes of the day. To the question every little boy is asked at one time in his life, his reply to what he wanted to be was “Alive.”
Yet Churchill was prophetic. He predicted in one of his most famous speeches, at a time when all seemed lost and the Germans could invade any minute, that Britain would fight with growing strength and confidence in the air, at sea, and on land. He led knowing the truth, that they likely could not hold up, but in ever greater confidence in his peoples’ resiliency. They would persevere and be patient in their suffering, while continuing to pray and to have hope. Once, giving a speech at the university in the port city of Bristol that had been attacked just the previous night, while a building next door was still in flames and dignitaries arrived with soot-smudged faces and gowns over soaked clothing, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, he said, “I see the damage done by the enemy attacks; but I also see side by side with the devastation and amid the ruins quiet, confident, bright, and smiling eyes, beaming with a consciousness of being associated with a cause far higher than any human or personal issue. I see the spirit of an unconquerable people.”
We have been struck by a plague too. The harm to body and life is great. The depth of the suffering is still not known. But our spiritual strength can be great and indeed grow, knowing that the cause we are a part of is greater than our personal, very human limits. Paul is speaking to us here, personally, to seek our place in that great cause.
Lord, at this point in our lives, we live in an unknown. Help us to find you in not just our joys, but in our suffering, too. As the days of remaining apart grow in number, remind us of the depth of resilience that lies in us all. Bring it to the fore, so that it not only strengthens me, but others in my community also. Watch over those that continue to make sure we are healthy and safe, and who care for us when we are not. They are doing your work, which, once this plague is gone, we will carry on, too. Amen.
- Pastor Mickey
March 16, 2020
“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread…because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you." - Deuteronomy 31:6
She came to me to serve breakfast, not unlike a true disciple. This was this past Saturday in a hotel in Lynchburg, where Pam and I traveled for a wedding I was performing. When she learned I was a minister, our friendly banter was put on pause. Instantly she looked quite serious—and a bit fearful. She asked me, “Is it going to be all right?” That was exactly the way she put it.
She was referring to what all of us are responding to right now, the pandemic that is circling our globe and the unknown that affects us all. I tried to put on a bit of a smile to be encouraging. I hope it was successful. Then I told her that indeed it would be all right. At this time, we don’t have all the answers, and that’s what provokes the most anxiety. For all the wrong reasons, people have compared this illness to the flu, and the flu does indeed kill more people. But the reason this virus grips us is so consuming is because we cannot know where it will end; in other words, its potential for harm is much greater because so little is known. Then she mentioned her kids were at home because schools were closed (they couldn’t have been that old because she was only in her late 20s). They were scared, she said.
So my hope was to restore a sense of balance to her life. This would pass, I said, I just couldn’t say when, and of course neither can anybody else. I suggested she share the truth with her kids, and tell them that while she didn’t have all the answers, she and they will be careful for a while and get through it together. That’s what kids’ lives are about, asking questions, and they can handle the truth that they know, because they are resilient and can handle it if we share it with them. In addition, her hours were being cut because bookings are down. There was no longer a buffet-style breakfast and she had to wait on people in this new way (Saturday was the first day, so she was learning as she went). And she was a little concerned about exposure herself in her job. I added personal words of encouragement, we talked about it for about five more minutes, and she went on. A few minutes later Pam came down and when our waitress returned, the smile was back and she thanked me, effusively, for what I had said. Pam’s questioning turn in my direction told me that maybe it had all been effective. I hope so.
I have learned by now that at a few such times, people can come up to me unbidden—like after September 11th—looking for answers that others cannot offer. You and I are equipped for it though, as we know a God that asks us to have courage again and again. The Israelites in the wilderness, the same people when their enemies destroyed their homes, Jesus to his followers in a boat in a storm, time and again it’s the same message.
When I was loading the car to check out, she walked out, the smile was back, and she stopped to thank me one more time. I said to give her kids a hug and remind them it would be all right. After all, there are even limits to that six foot rule, too.
Lord, watch over all of us during this time of unknowing. When we lose course and let the fear consume us, allow your strength to wash over us instead, washing fear away and leaving us renewed like sheets fresh from the dryer. Help us to remember the concerns of our friends and neighbors, and give us the words to help them during a time of crisis. Amen.
- Pastor Mickey