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.

Holding Firm

Do we stay in Miami? Should we try to get as far away as possible? Will we have anything left when the storm hits? I’ve had scores of conversations like this in the last four days. Storms bring uncertainty, fear, and feelings of powerlessness. As human beings, we don’t like feeling vulnerable, or like we are losing control. We become anxious, unsettled. It is natural. Even our golden-doodle senses something is wrong. She’s been agitated for days.

In the ancient world, storms were signs of chaos, the fact that human beings ultimately are helpless. The wind and the waves were greatly feared. There was nothing that could be done in the face of the storm. We know this. That’s the explanation for the scores of times you’ve checked the weather forecast and looked at the storm track this week. Where is it going? How strong is it now?

This being true about storms, I am amazed at how often Jesus led his disciples into situations where they would encounter them. Why purposely put them in harm’s way? Why cause them to doubt your love? But, this is exactly what Jesus did. At one point, after He sent them across the Sea of Galilee during a gale that put their lives at risk, they said to him:

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Mark 4:38ESV

Perhaps, you have said something like this to Jesus: “Lord, do you care about us at all?” That is how we feel. What are we to do with these feelings?

Danforth anchor

Yesterday, Sandy and I found a restaurant that remained open. It was filled to capacity. We managed to get the last two seats in the house because a couple was willing to share their table.  The man was sunburned and tired. He’d been forced to remove their large boat from the slip they normally kept it in. Where could they take it? No spaces were available. He explained how he motored his boat into safe water. Then he set his anchor: one large Danforth (that’s a breed of anchor) weighing 90lbs with a run of 300 feet of heavy chain. The other end of the chain was fastened deep in the hull of the boat. Then he put out a second anchor almost as large as that one, to provide more security and added stability. He said, “Let the wind blow. I’m anchored. The boat might be pulled apart, but the anchor will be there, holding ground.” That really is our story.

Our lives will be as secure as the place where we are anchored.

That night as the storm threatened their boat and as they became afraid, Jesus was taking a nap. We are told:

…he [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. Mark 4:38ESV

Jesus slept while the storm raged because He is the Lord of the storm. He is our creator God. The wind and the waves are his. Think of an immense hurricane coming and Jesus using the time to catch up on sleep! When the disciples woke him up with their fears, we are told that he:

…rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Mark 4:39ESV

He spoke to the storm as a parent tells a child to calm down. The wind ceased blowing and there was great calm. What a moment this must have been for the disciples to see, to discover the identity of Jesus. He is Lord. What can they say at a moment like this?

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him.” Mark 4:41ESV

That is who Jesus is. The Master of all of this. It’s not chaos, or uncontrolable. Now, Jesus doesn’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen to them. He doesn’t tell them that this will be the last of the storms they will see. But now, they know him. They know they have a secure place to anchor their lives. A place to look when they feel afraid, uncertain, and out of control. They can look to Jesus. This is why Jesus came and what He came to do: to save us from perishing.

I want to go see that man’s boat after the storm. But even more, I rejoice to see people whose lives are anchored to Christ when the storms come, to see the security and peace that Jesus provides. That is something to behold. Perhaps, that is the gift in the feelings of vulnerability that we have experienced this week. It is an opportunity to admit that life ultimately is beyond us, and to turn to Jesus.

So, I’ve set my anchor. I may fall apart, but the anchor will still be there holding ground.

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Harvey – How to Help

Lester Holt doing an interview from the neighborhood of former Granada members.

I was so pleased to hear that people part of our Granada family (former members and friends) who live in the area affected by Hurricane Harvey are safe. Some were evacuated by boat from flooded neighborhoods.  Others found their way to high ground before the waters rose. Yes, search and rescue efforts continue. In some areas, the rain has not stopped. In others, the flood waters have not reached their peak.

A number of sister churches have had their buildings flooded. Many of the members of these congregations have homes under water. The situation remains dire.  But, the good news is that many people are rallying to help. Even before Harvey made landfall we had a disaster relief team on site.  Provisions and resources were being moved into position to resource the team and aid in the recovery.

In Miami, we live with the legacy of destruction from hurricanes. We know the danger. We also understand the long-term process of rebuilding a house and rebuilding lives. That’s why we want to get involved. We want to help in practical ways. How can you help?

Right now. 1.  Pray.  Pray for the safety of the people in harm’s way. Pray for the team on site. Pray for the affected churches and people in those communities.  Pray for the needed resources to help them begin to respond.  2. Give.  Use the link below to give directly to the work we and our sister churches are doing in those communities.  We know the people leading the effort and have confidence in them. They are there for no other reason than to love and serve the people that have been affected and to honor Christ in all their efforts. Any resources given will be used well.  3. Reach out. If you know someone in the disaster area, check on them.  Find out how you can help them in practical ways.

Later. 1. Keep doing the above, and also consider participating in or supporting a team that assists in the long-term effort of rebuilding and restoration.  We’ll do our best to keep you informed about these opportunities going forward. Remember, help will be needed for years!  2. Don’t stop praying.  We trust God who works through world-changing situations to bring about moments of grace.  Let’s continue to call upon him.

Link to site:

https://pcamna.org/disaster-response/storms/resuce

Direct link to give:

https://www.egsnetwork.com/gift2/?giftid=44CE593586F5494

Link to Facebook site of the team coordinators:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/114355750787/?fref=ts%2F

Grateful

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.  IN CHRIST ALONE” WORDS AND MUSIC BY KEITH GETTY & STUART TOWNEND

 

It’s been a tough week for all of us.  As a pastor, outside of election week, I’m not sure I’ve heard more political discussion and seen more political intensity than I have this week. I’m reluctant to speak when so many other voices fill the room. This is a meditation more than a statement or prophetic word. First, I feel grateful, no, deeply grateful.  Over the complete course of my life, Jesus has been lovingly leading my heart to see my need for grace—that I am a great sinner needing a great savior.  You see, my sin detector works really well for other people, but has never really worked well in exposing my heart.  Jesus has persistently and lovingly held up a spiritual mirror to reveal the depths of my soul. I say lovingly because he reveals that he might apply his love (while the sin I detect in others often provides me the vantage point from which to judge harshly and without mercy). This week Jesus gently revealed my heart showing me that I might not hate people of different ethnic backgrounds, but that I might be tempted to hate the haters and to judge them as beyond the reach of God’s grace. I’m grateful for grace, for the persistent love of Jesus.

Second, Jesus exposed the foundations I’ve built on. The events of the week left me feeling discouraged and afraid for the country. It was more than concern over division and racism. It was a feeling that the foundations were being shaken.  I was left wondering, “What have I built my security on?”  I remember the time when King David’s advisors told him he was in danger and he had better run for his life.  He asked the question: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) David tells us that at that time he could see God in his temple and on his heavenly throne completely unshaken by what was happening.  This is where our hearts should be, where I want my foundation to rest. Are the events that are unfolding driving me to Jesus, to a deeper trust and dependence on him? I am grateful for a security in Christ more than sufficient for the day.

Finally, do I see the beauty of the gospel and how much our world needs grace? From the beginning of Jesus’ movement of grace, people have been brought together humbled by their sin and equipped with Jesus’ love. There has been nothing like it in the world.  Jewish people and gentiles and people of every nation have found a new identity as children of God and members together of Jesus’ body. He has brought a peace that will never come by shifting the balance of power from one group to another. We do not know the way of peace. This is why Jesus came and what he came to do.

Sharing this grace is a desperate need today. Of course, it always has been, but God has been pushing me to see this more clearly.  This means loving our neighbors and thereby showing them Jesus. It means laying aside the empty and divisive promises of power and taking up the towel to wash feet. It means refusing to join the angry refrain and instead mingling our voices in the beautiful chorus announcing freedom for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and the day of the Lord’s favor.  We have the privilege of doing this in a unique city where division can be dissolved by the love of Jesus! He has made the way for us to love and extend our hands to those most hurting, most feeling outside, and most in need, to show that the Lord does not show favoritism, and that everyone needs grace. Everyone. I’m grateful that Jesus has invited us to share in his mission.

So that is the journey my heart has been on this week. Humility. Dependence. Trusting the loving way of Jesus as the hope for our world.  Lord, teach us how to love one another, how to love our enemies. To do good to those who hurt us. To trust in You. Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day! and…

This weekend in many if not most churches in America there will be the celebration of Mother’s Day. It sounds like a Hallmark holiday, but it arose from a service of thanks and remembrance in a Methodist church in West Virginia back in the early 1900s.  Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother who had cared for wounded on both sides of the American Civil War.  The remembrance was not only about mothers but also about the beauty of sacrificial service. From there quickly the celebration took off and became a national holiday.

Origin of modern Mother’s Day

But, here’s the thing.  This celebration presents a conflict for the church. First, we want to thank God for mothers, those who have been faithful servants of God by raising children, by being God’s ambassadors in the lives of the next generation.  Serving in this way is a high and holy calling, reflecting the love, patience, and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Mothers bear the realities of life, and they need support and care themselves that often is in short supply.  Our church has been blessed by gracious servant-moms that reflect the nurturing love of the Lord. We want to stand with the mothers of our community of faith.  We thank God for them.

Additionally, because the church of Jesus is an extended family, all of our women become surrogate mothers.  Often Sandy and I have remarked at how our children have been loved and encouraged by other women and men in our church.  In a Sunday School class or through friendship or simply through modeling, every woman is called to be a mother and every man a spiritual father.  We thank God that as parents we are not alone in the nurturing of our children, but we have a whole congregation alongside us.

Two moms I love the most: Sandy and my mother…

This past year, not long after Mother’s Day, my mom passed away. As a result, I find that Mother’s Day holds a poignancy this year that it has not in the past.  Yes, I miss her. How she brought out the spirit of adventure in my brothers and me. How she helped anchor my life in Christ and fulfilled her mission to love and nurture me. My response this year is to walk in gratitude and to remember.  Many of us will be doing this this year as we miss our moms.

But, second, I also feel a deep concern over Mother’s Day.  For some of us, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of an abusive mother or a mother that was not in the picture or not supportive. You may not want to remember your mother.  So, we must always be sensitive and desire that this time not wound anyone but instead bring peace and healing.

Here is an even deeper concern I have. Through God’s grace, I am repeatedly reminded that my identity is in Christ, as a child of the living God.  This means that every aspect of my life, as a husband, a father, a pastor, a friend, a son, and so on has to be seen in the light of who I am. I am not first any of those.  I am God’s child bonded to Jesus.

The danger is that I can find my identity anywhere else, in being a husband and father, or for you being a wife or mother.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not any less grateful for my mother, or for my wife who is also a great mother. It means that your value, your identity, your worth is not derived there. There are women that have remained single that have lost children or are infertile. For them, Mother’s Day may magnify their pain.  Here is the good news: Your value and significance are found in Jesus.  Whether you are a mother or not has absolutely no bearing on your intrinsic value as beloved of God, and found in Jesus.

This is such good news. How many of us have staked our own identity, our own sense of value on how well our children were doing at some given moment? (Or, how well we felt we were doing in our calling, whatever it was?) The results can be devastating if we feel we have failed or if we feel we have succeeded because it is always unhealthy for us to build our identity on anything so unstable. Instead, God wants us to build our lives, whether in mothering or fathering or whatever our calling may be, on the foundation of our identity in him. 

(This is why on Mother’s Day, we’ll be celebrating with all the women of our church! I hope you will join us for worship!)