RAINBOWS OF JOY (Part 3)

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

rainbow at sunrise

While Joshua thought his 48-hour day was long, for most of us, these last seven months have seemed like a year. Unlike Joshua, we’ll need more than another 24 hours before declaring victory on the enemy. Back in March, I naively thought life would be back to normal about now. By the time May rolled around, I realized that what first seemed like a marathon run had turned into an Ironman triathlon. I now see it more as a grueling trek along the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails. It’s been a long haul with steep hills and dark valleys; without the end in sight, we’re growing weary and morale is low.

Be that as it may, it’s not all bad and there’s been some “trail magic” along the way. Trail magic is a term long-distance hikers have for those unexpected experiences along the trail that inspire awe or lift their spirits. It can be nature’s gifts like a rainbow after a day of rain, a field of wildflowers, or seeing a doe with her fawn on the trail. It also can be a kindness like an encouraging note or a cache of soda or candy bars left beside the trail. Rather than trail magic, a friend who’s been working from home since last March calls these moments “little rainbows of joy.” For her, one such rainbow has been having the opportunity to finally teach her 12-year old how to ride a bike and being able to take a daily ride with him.

A pastor friend found a rainbow of joy in in her new normal because it’s meant having more time with her children than she’s had in years. Another pastor friend finally found the time to adopt a dog. A corporate attorney, whose busy schedule had her on the train by 6:50 AM, expressed her joy at being home and able to make breakfast for her family (they love her French toast). An accountant friend finally had time to share his love of woodworking with his children and show them how to use tools. My son has been teaching his daughter how to use the sewing machine (and admits that reading blueprints is easier than sewing patterns). His wife has discovered a love of baking; she and the children have made some fantastic cakes. People are again finding time to fish, hike, bake bread, play games with one another, and garden.

There are rainbows of joy in the technology that allows on-line church, concerts, Bible studies, doctor’s appointments, book clubs, and even virtual happy hours with colleagues. Grandparents are playing Yahtzee or reading bedtime stories to their grands courtesy of Zoom or FaceTime. We’ve been reconnecting with old friends via email, phone calls, or video chatting. There was even a bit of trail magic in the Celebration of Life I attended last week. Even without COVID, the distance would have meant I couldn’t be there but, because of Vimeo, I could. A family member who couldn’t attend had her own trail magic when two eagles landed on a tree outside the window while On Eagle’s Wings was sung during her mother’s memorial. There are sprinkles of joy scattered throughout even our hardest days.

We are told to be thankful in all circumstances but it’s hard to be thankful unless we find some joy hidden in those circumstances. Regardless of what you call these blessed moments, the key is to find them in the midst of the darkness and challenges surrounding us. They’re found by lowering our expectations from the impressive to the inconsequential but beautiful experiences found in our everyday lives. They’re found by celebrating our little successes—whether it’s making spring rolls or pizza dough from scratch, finishing a 500-piece puzzle or building a bird house, defeating your spouse in a game of Rummikub or seeing a rainbow on the morning’s walk. Let us open our eyes and find the joy that is hidden in this long journey through COVID-19.

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! [Henry Ward Beecher]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

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FOR THE CLERGY

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. And remember, no quarreling among yourselves. [1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (TLB)]

October brings Columbus Day sales, pumpkins, corn mazes, Halloween candy, jack-o-lanterns, and the first Christmas items in the stores. On the second Sunday of the month, it also brings us Clergy Appreciation Day. Although we should let our pastors know how much we appreciate them all year long, we probably don’t. We’re more likely to complain about a sermon, the choice of songs, the temperature of the sanctuary, or the sound system than we are to compliment, encourage or thank our ministers. If we haven’t expressed gratitude to our clergy men and women, this coming Sunday is the time to do so.

This year has been especially difficult for our pastors. Their biggest challenge was maintaining unity while addressing their congregation’s concerns and complaints regarding opening. Since March, they’ve continually fielded questions as to when or how their church would open while knowing that half the congregation wouldn’t like the answer. Deciding to close the church was a whole lot easier than figuring out how and when to reopen! They’ve had to cope with the technology required for on-line services and think outside the box as they offered drive-by blessings, drive-in church, Zoom Bible study, or Skype counseling. Preaching to a camera from their living room or an empty church presented its own set of challenges as did offering virtual communion. The isolation of sheltering in place was heartbreaking for the people who regularly visited households, nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice rooms. They could no longer lay hands on the sick or embrace those who grieved. As they’ve ministered to people with financial, health, and family concerns, they’ve struggled with those same issues themselves.

Our pastors have a huge responsibility and we have huge (and often unrealistic) expectations of them. They work far more than a few hours on Sunday morning. Along with writing sermons and prayers, planning services, teaching Bible studies, counseling the troubled, visiting the sick, supervising a staff, marrying, burying, baptizing, and blessing, they manage to unite a disparate group of people into a church family and lead them on their faith journey. We may not always like what they say or do but their job is not to please us; it is to lead us. Consider Moses and the Israelites—if they’d had their way, the Israelites would have ended up back in Egypt as slaves. In spite of their grumbling and complaints, however, Moses led them where God wanted them to go—to the Promised Land. Without a doubt, shepherding a church today is no easier than leading a bunch of disgruntled Israelites through the desert.

Appreciating our pastors shouldn’t be limited to just to one day; we should show our appreciation all year long. While a thank you note is nice, perhaps a better way of communicating our gratitude is by providing support with our time, talents, and treasures; avoiding church politics; and offering encouragement rather than complaints. The best thing we can do for our pastors, however, is to pray for them every day.

Father, we thank you for our clergy—the people you have called to shepherd your church. Let your Holy Spirit fill them so that they shine your light, share your love, and shape your people.

If a church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has. [Anonymous]

Pastors need your grace, not your gripes. [Woodrow Kroll]

Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. For their work is to watch over your souls, and God will judge them on how well they do this. Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow, for then you will suffer for it too. [Hebrews 3:17 (TLB)]

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EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? [Luke 17:15-17 (NLT)]

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. [William Arthur Ward]

roseWhen writing yesterday’s message (“Jehovah Rapha”) about my ski accident, I thought about the ten lepers healed by Jesus. Only one returned to thank Him. Did the others assume they would see Jesus some other day and could express their gratitude then? Jesus, however, was on His way to Jerusalem. The lepers had a week’s worth of purification ceremonies, cleansing, isolation, and offerings ahead of them and that “other day” would not come. By not returning immediately, they missed a precious opportunity to thank Jesus.

We were seasonal residents of our Colorado mountain town so, after my accident, we didn’t return to the Rockies until winter. At our first church service back, I found myself behind the woman with the healing hands. During greetings, she turned back, looked at me intently, held my hands in hers, and asked, “How are you!” Hers wasn’t just a cursory church greeting and her question peered deep into my soul. I looked at her with a smile, squeezed her hands and, thinking we’d talk later, simply said, “I am well.” Although the previous months had been challenging in many ways, I finally was physically, emotionally and spiritually well. The music resumed and she turned back to face the pastor and worship leader. When the service ended, she immediately was surrounded by others. Not wanting to interrupt and anxious to get home, I decided to wait until the following week to thank her. I didn’t see her the next week and, one week later, our pastor told the congregation that she’d been killed instantly in a car accident in Denver.

I’d missed the opportunity to speak with this woman, share my testimony, and thank her. Making the mistake of thinking there always was time, like those nine lepers, I’d let life get in the way of my gratitude. Instead of personally telling this beautiful woman how much her compassion, touch, and prayers had meant, not just to my body, but to my soul, I ended up telling her husband in a letter of sympathy. I hope my words gave him some comfort in the depth of his sorrow. His wife was loved by all who knew her and her departure left a huge gap in our church family.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for our unspoken words of thanks, both to you and to those acting on your behalf. Thank you for your servants: the life lines, rescuers, spiritual first responders, and healers that you send into our lives. As your emissaries, they offer their prayers, hands, compassion, and encouraging words. They inspire, comfort, lead, teach, and lift us. Let us never delay expressing our gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon us.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. [1 Chronicles 16:8-9 (NLT)]

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BLOWING KISSES

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. [Hebrews 12:28 (NLT)]

hibiscusIn the New Testament, the Greek word commonly translated as “worship” is proskyneō. While it came to mean kneeling down, prostrating oneself, showing reverence toward, and worshiping, its roots are thought-provoking. Coming from the Greek pro (to or toward) and kyneō (to kiss), its literal meaning is “to kiss towards!” Knowing his Greek, a pastor said of proskyneō: ”I like to think of our worship in church as being sons and daughters of God blowing kisses to our Father.” I thought of his words when I welcomed the kisses my children and grands blew to me on our recent Zoom call.

The way we worship has changed drastically since March. For some people, it involves sitting in their cars in the church parking lot, tuning their radios to a specific station, and drive-by communion. For others, worship requires reservations, temperature checks, face masks, assigned seats, roped off pews, and restrictions on singing. Many of us, however, find church on the screen of our computers, tablets, smart phones, or TV. Our worship is virtual.

The live streaming from most churches really isn’t “live.” Having found that wide shots of the sanctuary and recreating the traditional Sunday service doesn’t transfer well to a small screen, many churches now pre-record. Early in the week, the pastor videos his part at home or in the empty church. At a different time, the worship leader and musicians video their parts, often from different locations. The tech team then pieces together the separate recordings and adds words for the songs and relevant Bible verses before posting the now cohesive video to their chosen platform. There’s a good chance that, even though the pastor “led” the worship service, even he doesn’t know what the finished product looks like until it is streamed on Sunday. That’s the case for a pastor I know who watches worship service with the rest of his congregation when it goes live on Sunday mornings.

This pastor mentioned getting an email from one of his parishioners thanking him for the inspiring on-line services. After telling her pastor that she still rises early Sunday mornings so she can get dressed and do her make-up and hair, the woman said she sets up her home “pew” with a lit candle and a Bible (so she can follow along during the lessons). Adding that she always stands for the Creed, Gospel and hymns, the woman said it almost feels like she’s worshiping inside the church! Hers were words of conviction for the pastor who reluctantly admitted to being unshaven and still in his pj’s while sitting on the sofa, feet resting on the coffee table, drinking coffee and eating a Danish as he views the service on his television. After confessing that the only time he stands is to get another cup of coffee from the kitchen, he realized he was watching rather than worshiping.

It’s not easy to stay engaged while worshiping on-line. People who normally wouldn’t talk during music now chat on-line during worship songs. I wouldn’t think of checking my phone, texting, or getting up for coffee during the sermon, but I did it during last week’s virtual worship! We don’t have to put on make-up or wear our Sunday best to worship in this COVID world but we might want to examine our worship behavior. The Essential Bible Dictionary defines worship as, “The honor, reverence, and homage that we should pay to God for his perfection, greatness, and goodness.” Does our worship reflect our love, respect, gratitude, dedication, and deference to God? Whether we’re worshiping in a kitchen, car, park, or pew, may our worship be so reverent, single-minded, and heartfelt that God receives it with the same joy a grandma would when her children and grands blow her kisses!

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. [Romans 12:1 (NLT)]

For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. [John 4:24 (NLT)]

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THE ONE HE LOVED

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. [John 13:23 (NIV)]

blue jayWhile Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention the Apostle John several times in their gospels, the gospel that bears John’s name doesn’t mention his name once. Instead, the author refers to an unnamed witness and a disciple described only as the one “whom Jesus loved.” Since John is conspicuously absent from his gospel, it would seem that he was both the witness and this much loved disciple.

While the gospel of John may have been written any time between 55 and 95 AD (with 80 to 85 AD most likely), there isn’t much dispute about its author. We might wonder why the Apostle hid himself in the gospel by referring to himself simply as another unnamed disciple or as that specially loved one. John may have chosen to remain incognito simply because he knew the good news wasn’t about him and his relationship with a man named Jesus. It was about the Messiah Jesus and His relationship with mankind. By remaining nameless, the story stayed centered on Jesus as opposed to its author.

But why would John choose to designate this unnamed disciple as especially beloved by Jesus? Did he want to point out (possibly even flaunt) the special relationship he enjoyed with Christ—a relationship not enjoyed by the other disciples? In a gospel filled with examples of Christ’s love, integrity, righteousness, humility, and sacrifice, a Messiah who blatantly favored one over others seems unlikely and a disciple who would boast of his special status seems equally implausible.

Perhaps John was simply engaging some word play. In Hebrew, the disciple’s name was Johanan. The first part of his name was Yah, a shortened version of YHWH, the name of the Lord. The last part was from the verb hanan which meant to be gracious. John’s name literally meant Yahweh is Gracious (or the one whom Jehovah loves)!

The five times this nameless disciple is mentioned as being so loved by Jesus all occur during the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection—a time it became abundantly clear to all of the disciples just how much Jesus loved not just them but all of mankind! Perhaps John used this designation because it represented what is true of all of Christ’s disciples: each person who follows Jesus is a disciple loved by Jesus!

If you were asked, “Who are you?” how would you answer? While you might provide your name, marital status, profession, or background, any one of those could be changed and you would still be you (slightly different but still you). Regardless of circumstances, or even whether you’re alive or dead, the one thing about you that won’t change is your identity as a child of God and, if you are a believer, that you are a disciple of Christ. The highest honor John could claim was that Jesus loved him and yet it is an honor to which we all can lay claim! Who are you? As for me, I am the disciple Jesus loves!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NIV)]

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RECIPE BASICS

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. [Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)]

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. [1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT)]

While creativity is encouraged in both cooking and prayer, there are certain procedures for both that should be followed to ensure good results. For example, before a cook even begins, his work surface, utensils, and hands should be clean. In prayer, instead of starting with clean bowls and spoons, we should wash ourselves of any resentment or anger and start with a forgiving heart.

Even the most creative chef knows there are some cooking rules that simply can’t be broken: egg yolks can’t get mixed in with whites in a meringue, fudge needs to be cooked only to the soft ball stage, and poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. Prayer has rules, too. For example, a willing, obedient and thankful heart is a necessity. In addition, just as leavening of some kind must be added to any bread recipe, we must have faith in God and the power of our prayers. Without leavening, no matter how delicious the rest of the ingredients, the bread won’t rise. Without faith, no matter what we’ve said or how nicely we’ve said it, our prayers won’t rise to God’s ears!

Some recipes, like risotto, require patience and persistence in preparation and others, like a 20-pound turkey, take a long time to bake. We have to be patient and persistent in prayer as well. The answers to our petitions aren’t like instant potatoes—they often take time. Just as pans should be greased so baked goods won’t stick, we need to lubricate our prayers with a large amount of humility if we want them to come out easily. Any good chef knows to use only fresh wholesome ingredients. Self-righteousness and pride will spoil any prayer and are as vile to God as rancid nuts in granola.

Anyone who watches cooking competitions knows that presentation is judged. God however, doesn’t score our prayers on their aesthetic appeal and extra points aren’t awarded for fancy words as they might be for fondant flowers or a strawberry fan. If God judges our prayers at all, it would be on things like sincerity, motives, repentance, obedience and willingness to submit to His will!

Finally, a good chef doesn’t offend a gastronome with bland or tasteless food; he honors him with bold flavors. A true connoisseur of prayers, our God is awesome and capable of anything and everything. Let’s never insult Him with insipid or weak petitions. Like a gourmet chef, we must be bold with our offerings. When cooking in God’s kitchen, let’s give Him everything we’ve got!

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. [Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)]

He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” [Luke 18:27 (NLT)]

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