Archive for March, 2020

Stuck

Have you ever been stuck? Stranded and made to wait? As life is being reduced to house and home, many of us are feeling this. I remember trying to explain to my father, who was 92 at the time, that he would no longer be able to drive his car. He could not accept his new limitation. So much so that he took his car out to drive anyway. None of us want to feel stranded, either with a broken-down car beside the road or in the airport with a cancelled flight.

While reading the books of Acts, these words didn’t catch my attention. It was only later during the process of a deeper study that it all sunk in. Here are the words:

When two years had elapsed… Acts 24:26

Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem. False charges were leveled against him. He endured a plot to take his life and was shuffled around from prison to prison, and forced to stand before the authorities more than once. As his experience is being described to us, those words appear. Two years passed. Just like that. Time gone. Life missed. Talk about being stuck!

For Paul, this was not the first time. He’d been in prison more than once prior to this moment. How would he deal with this? How do we? That question is important for me this week because I was in Peru with my two sons on an adventure we have been talking about for years. We planned to hike the Inca trail together, that beautiful ancient path built by the Incas over 500 years ago. We did the training in preparation. At one point, the trail rises over 14,000ft. I wasn’t looking forward to that part but cherished the opportunity to be with my sons. We had the necessary gear. The night before we were to depart our guide explained the ins and outs, just what we should expect during the 4 day trek. We went to bed expectant and excited.

Where we were headed!

We woke up to find our trek cancelled and what was worse, the country would be closed later that day. No flights would be allowed. Everyone would be confined to their homes and quarters. The decision was made over night. During the last few hours of freedom, we took a taxi to the airport hoping to change our flights and get home before the lockdown. Everyone else had the same idea. It was hopeless. So, we returned to our hotel to receive the news that we might be able to leave on April 1st. Maybe. We were stranded. Completely stuck. (I wish I were making this up, but I’m afraid not!)

Cusco…where we are now!

How could Paul endure what seemed like a completely unnecessary confinement? He explains what he has learned. These words were written from prison in Rome.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13

First, he knows the support of dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Though he is in confinement he is loved and supported by many. This letter is one he is writing to a church that has reached out to him in love. None of us can live life alone. And, times of stress increase our need for each other. During these days stranded in Cusco, I have had the encouragement of many. I haven’t felt alone. I am so grateful to those that are praying, to those that have tried to help us get home, and most of all for loving friendship in Christ.

I hope this challenges all of us to pick up the phone. Make the call. Send the message. Remind people they are not alone in this. This moment will make us feel more isolated. Let’s seize the opportunity to make connections to let people know they are not alone. You also need to hear the voices of others (and see their faces, even from a distance).

Second, Paul has used these moments to grow his dependence on Christ. He has discovered his weakness and in the process found the strength that God provides. That is his secret. When he is weak, he is strong because then he is resting in Christ. How can we get there? It is not automatic. These times can frighten us or make us bitter or angry. Paul learned contentment by looking to Christ. In his letter, you will not smell even a whiff of complaint, but only gratitude to God. This is the most positive of all of his letters. The message is all joy.

Paul got to the joy of contentment through a deep trust in the love of God. That is what sustains me. It is there where circumstances matter less than the state of our communion with God. Don’t get me wrong. I want to be home, home yesterday. (Two years would be unthinkable! Even waiting until April is tough.) But, God is good and I trust him.

Are you feeling stuck, stranded where you are? How can you use this moment to deepen your trust in the God that has loved you in Christ? How can you learn the secret of being content in any and every situation?

Add Grace. Rinse. Repeat.

We are living in a unique moment. Likely, you are hearing a variety of responses to the Coronavirus. Some people are panicky and afraid, and are withdrawing for safety. Others are going on as if nothing is happening. Between those views there is a whole spectrum of belief and behavior. What are we to do with that? Where should we/you stand? Should you attend public events or visit the grocery store? Or, should you remain home? How should you view those that respond in a way different from you?

Paul, when he wrote the Christians in Rome, had the challenge of confronting an issue that divided Christians. The matter was debatable and not something scripture speaks to. Indeed, he explained that such matters are matters of faith. People are bound to disagree. The first thing we recognize in Paul’s letter is that that is okay. We are all at different places in our lives, our health, and our faith. How we respond will be different. The nature of grace is to allow for this. Rather than being critical of others and judging others for their perspective, he challenged the believers to make their decision based on faith and not on fear or pressure from others. This is more difficult than it sounds. It doesn’t mean disregarding science or the advice of others. It means asking God for wisdom, listening to others who can inform you, and then making a decision by faith. It means trusting God to work through that process, and taking the time to work and pray it through.

Even then, we will come out in different places. That is okay. It is more than okay. This is what it means to live in a community of grace. It means that we love one another even when we disagree. It means we trust that God is working in the lives of others and not only in our lives. It means we support and encourage each other the whole way through. There are no “I told you sos” or “I was right all along.” There is only grace. Why? All of us are fallible. None of us can see everything. We all see through a glass dimly. Each of us needs grace.

This is why we pray and rest in Jesus. Years ago while pastoring in New Jersey, I became involved in a ministry to serve patients with HIV. Today, we know a lot about HIV, but in the late 1980s it was surrounded by fear and suspicion. The state I was living in had moved nearly all patients with HIV into one hospital. People were so frightened at this point and so little was known about transmission that family members refused to visit their loved-ones. In the middle of this crisis, a grace-filled Christian woman began to invite people to visit this hospital, to befriend the patients and to provide spiritual care. I signed up and began to visit weekly with a small team of others. Each week we would bring in birthday cakes and make a circuit of the patient rooms to sing to them and pray for them.

I tell you this not so that you might think I am a hero. I’m not. Everyone on the team had fears. I remember one night taking some of the patients outside in wheelchairs just so they could get out of their rooms. We gathered in a circle and talked about life, about what they were afraid of (they were desperately afraid of infecting us) and about what it means to trust God in the midst of such deep uncertainty. As we were talking, mosquitoes descended on us all. We had no idea if mosquitos could be carriers of the disease. Everyone expressed their fears of what was at that time unknown, me included. So, why was I there?

When asked to be part of the team, I knew I needed to pray it through. Not to disregard the science, but to make a decision, whatever it was, based on faith. Is this a place God was calling me to be? If so, how can I be wise and also be faithful in it? Working that through with God was much more difficult than making a knee-jerk reaction in that moment.

And, this is where we are today. We are at the place were we need to continually add grace, to love others with different opinions and at the same time make our decisions by faith. We are also at the place where we need to pray through everything, to take nothing for granted. The good news is that God promises to give us wisdom when we seek him!

Shaken But Not Forsaken

Dear Granada family,

When the world felt like it was coming apart at the seams, Martin Luther found refuge in the Lord.  The words of Psalm 46 seemed particularly comforting to him:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea… Psalm 46:1-2

Indeed, each day seemed to bring unprecedented changes. In the process, his own life was put in danger. He had every reason to be afraid, but far larger than his fears was the Lord’s presence. Even when the earth trembled and life felt uncertain, God’s power and presence gave him peace and joy.

Luther had this experience more than 500 years ago and his moment gave birth to a renewed faith in God that swept the world. Israel also experienced the faithfulness of God, when Psalm 46 was recorded, more than 1,500 years before Luther.  This is our moment to rest in our sovereign God. How can we do that?

First, we can, by reading scripture and turning to the Lord, join the long train of believers that rediscovered God’s faithful love.  This is an opportunity for prayer and worship. As the days seem to grow darker, even more we need the light of Jesus, a light that cannot be extinguished.  His light drives out fear and gives us a place to stand. We have always been vulnerable but now we feel it more acutely. Let this time be one of spiritual renewal. Let us pray for one another and for those most affected medically and economically.

Second, let’s find ways to serve and love. From the beginning, Christians have responded to crises by stepping toward people with acts of mercy. They have cared for the sick, comforted the hurting, and supported the most vulnerable. One great hymn reminds us that “with deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.” In the process, God will call a few of us to make huge sacrifices.  Our medical professionals are on the front lines as well as many of those in the service sector. Let’s pray for them and their safety. 

Jesus stepped toward those that were hurting and sick. All of us can find ways to serve. Social distancing will create loneliness and a sense of isolation for many. We can work to provide connection by spending time on the phone, letting others know they are not alone in this.  Praying over the phone with someone else is more than a comfort.  It helps to bridge the distance between you and also invites the Spirit of God to join you in your prayers.  Let’s reach out to those in our small groups and classes for prayer.

We can also deliver food and supplies to those that need to be in isolation. Care packages of groceries accompanied by notes of encouragement provide a lifeline to those worried about having what they will need. We’d love to know if you are willing to assist in this way so that Granada can have a team of helpers available.

Our diaconal resources will be available to those overwhelmed by the changes in the economy. I hope you will not be afraid to ask for help if you need it and to offer help if you have to share.  In this way, you show forth the mercy and grace of Jesus.

Martin Luther found hope in God. He found God faithful to his promises. He documented his experience in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” One stanza reminds us:

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth is his name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

Luther learned that what was happening to him was also a spiritual battle. It was a time when he knew he had to lean deeply on the Lord’s power and seek the Lord’s presence. That is our moment as well. 

With love in Christ,

Worth

PS Yes, we will be meeting for worship this weekend. We will keep you abreast of our schedule as things progress.  Do reach out to us if we can support you in any way. Our hotline number is: 305.444.5376.  One of our elders, pastors or deacons will be available and will take your call. Do reach out to us.