One of the notable qualities of the Psalms is their raw honesty. They aren’t neat and clean; they aren’t whitewashed. So often they put into words what my heart feels, but my head cannot comprehend. This morning, Psalm 56:8 caught my attention. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
Maybe “suffering” is on my mind after hearing Keith Weaver’s message this past Sunday. Or perhaps it is because my prayers in the midst of the Coronavirus contain the words, “Do not forget us” or “It seems like you’re not paying attention to our troubles, God.”
Many Psalms, including others by King David, often complain that God is absent or that He fails to notice their suffering. Here in Psalm 56:8, the psalmist expresses confidence that God watches over him, even amid his suffering. The psalmist is unsettled—tossing about in his time of trouble. Yet, he recognized that God did not abandon him.
What a beautiful word picture; He “put my tears in [His] bottle.” God does not miss my anguish or fear. He is the Rock on which I stand! A global pandemic might shake my confidence in myself, the scientific world, the economy, the leaders over me, but God is powerful, righteous, and my Rock in this storm. Not only does He have control of all things, but He keeps track of what causes me troubles.
So, I can walk through this time, not shaken by what I cannot control. I can be honest with what I feel, and then fully rest my concerns on the Rock that supports me.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
The morning started out damp and dreary only to develop into downpours of rain throughout the day. Didn’t God know we were trying to do something good for Him? Didn’t He understand all the planning, negotiations, and downright hard work that went into this event? Now, what if no one shows up?
Those feelings and questions quickly dissolved in the mud puddles as car after car of Blainsport church family members and friends arrived for a time of prayer and blessing. Those involved in the event ignored the rain, only concentrating on the sorely missed faces of the church family.
“Showers of blessings” flowed from beaming, joy-filled faces. Everyone seemed to express a desire to come back together to be the church—a worshipping community of believers. Sure, the time away was a positive experience of personal reflection and prayer. Still, the reality of navigating life alone was unacceptable for them.
Twenty-eight cars, some with individuals, most with passengers, were greeted at the carport by the leadership team. The fact of the matter is that the leadership team came away from the morning more encouraged and blessed than words can describe. Some people shared how they feel so helpless without work or school. Waking up in the morning feels purposeless without performing the work they love, and being with the people, they know so well. Those who kept their jobs find everyday, unlike the previous day. There are new regulations or demands placed on them now.
Interestingly, amid the changes thrust upon them, people were happy and confident. The nightly news reports appear inaccurate after talking with these individuals. Everyone was making the best of these difficult days, and they all pointed to God for their strength and hope.
Let’s keep praying that God will not delay His compassion. Pray that He will remember us, His weak and needy people, according to His mercy. Ask Him not to forget the cry of the afflicted. Instead, granting us recovery and ultimately a cure for this disease. Pray that God will purify His people from our craving for prosperity and endless entertainment. Pray that God will stretch out His hand and awaken this perishing world to our great need for a Savior. And pray that God will receive much honor and glory through this unprecedented time, in Christ’s name.
This was a full week so far. While my schedule is not typical, it remains packed with activity. Sometimes I feel like the man who said to his friend in the passenger seat as they were traveling to their meeting destination, “I have no idea where we are, but I’m making great time.” Maybe you feel that way right now; lots of commotion, but you’re not sure if you are making any progress.
Today, I feel as though I am finally at a place that I can tell you about a special activity planned for this Sunday at Blainsport. Yes, you read that sentence right, “at Blainsport.” After making some arrangements this week, and finally running through the plan with our police department, we are set to have a “drive-thru” prayer and blessing time at our church building. This Sunday, from 10:00 AM—11:30 AM, Jon and Anita, Cheryl, and I will spend some time praying with you. Everyone will need to remain in their vehicles as they form a line to the carport where we will pray with and for you.
Ed and Janet will plan to welcome you and give some instructions when you enter the driveway (closest to the pavilion). You will circle around the back of the building to join us at the carport. You must remain in your vehicle to honor the “social distancing” and guidelines in place by the State of Pennsylvania. The building will remain closed, but it gives us a chance to “be together.” Be sure to greet others with a wave. Also remain patient in line—no horn honking (I guess this is where I insert “LOL” – if you don’t get the initialism, ask your kids or grandkids).
Similar to the government offering phases to reopen the economy, this is phase one of returning to church. If you do not feel comfortable joining us in this way, please do not feel bad about it. We understand that some of us must remain on guard during this time; know your limits, and we will respect you for your choice.
Hopefully, we will see you on Sunday morning, albeit for a few minutes.
This morning I received a wonderful gift from the Miller family. During this time of stay-at-home orders, they decided to try their hand at sourdough donut making. Pretty cool idea if you ask me—especially since I get to eat these. I think that I am supposed to share these with Cheryl, but we’ll see. When we can finally meet again at our church building, I’m sure I will see people a little heavier than they were the last time we were together, and I might get to see their real hair color too!
Have you tried anything new during the isolation period?
It was in April of 1945 that Dietrich Bonhoeffer paid the ultimate price for his faith in Christ. At the Flossenbürg concentration camp, Bonhoeffer became one of the great martyrs of the twentieth century. This year marks the 75th anniversary of his untimely and tragic death.
His life and death drew me into a greater understanding of grace and the necessity of community within the Church. Perhaps you are not familiar with Bonhoeffer; let me take a moment to introduce you to this man who died 75 years ago.
Bonhoeffer’s family lived a life of distinction and prestige in Berlin, Germany, before the First World War. They were Christians, but like so many Christians then and now, they were not very close to God. Young Dietrich, however, became serious about his faith in Christ and set out to serve Him in the Church.
After his seminary studies at Berlin University, Bonhoeffer spent a year as an assistant pastor at a church in Barcelona. Then in 1929, he returned to Berlin for postdoctoral work. Bonhoeffer traveled to Union Theological Seminary in New York as an exchange student. There he learned firsthand about the injustices African Americans faced and began fighting for their cause.
Meanwhile, back in Germany, Adolf Hitler was fighting for a different cause, one that would form the Nazi party and eventually Nazi Germany. The Nazi influence among German Christians was growing. The church leaders were turning a blind eye toward the injustices; even worse, they were participating in this deranged leader’s plans. The Nazis went on to gain government control over the churches in Germany. They placed restrictions on the Jewish people living in their country. As we know today, they began the extermination of an entire people group.
Bonhoeffer learned to value different Christian faith expressions and denominations, especially during his short time in London, England. Known as Ecumenism, Bonhoeffer promoted the idea that Christian denominations should learn from each other and work together in society. This worldview fell far short of reality in Nazi Germany.
Knowing that the Church must resist Hitler instead of giving into Nazism, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to lead the new preacher’s program at Confessing Church’s seminary. He looked to the Bible passages in the Sermon on the Mount to form his curriculum. Christian community became a focal point for him as he wrote such books as Life Together (1939) and Discipleship (1937). In a short time, the Nazi government closed the seminary. Still, Bonhoeffer continued teaching in secret locations until World War II started in Germany on September 1, 1939.
In time, the German government would admonish Bonhoeffer and stop him from teaching, preaching, and publishing his books and materials. Not fully complying with the government’s orders and under suspicion of mounting resistance against Nazi Germany, he was arrested and imprisoned for the rest of his life. Bonhoeffer was eventually found guilty of being part of the Resistance’s attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944. This verdict rendered a death sentence. So, on April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death for his crimes against Nazi Germany, just three weeks before Hitler’s suicide and four weeks before Allied Victory in Europe.
This theologian, pastor, activist, and martyr counted it a joy to suffer for the cause of Christ. He would not remain silent in the face of Nazi oppression. His life motivated and still motivates Christians around the world to stand firm against the evils they face. His life challenges me, and I hope with this short essay, he will challenge you too. We must take a stand for what is right—even if we must stand alone sometimes. Whether in the workplace, at school, or within your family, do not turn away from biblical truths. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye toward those who are suffering. Let us be willing to use this one-and-only life that God gives us to make a difference in our communities.
Every day we experience a “new normal.” Channel 27 reports, “Some businesses have had a tough time adjusting as social distancing, and stay-at-home orders become the new normal.” What in the world is a new normal? Everything I do anymore is far from normal. Oddly enough, the “new normal” today will be outdated tomorrow; I usually do not repeat my “new normal” in tomorrow’s daily routines. One day I am laughing at the idea of wearing a homemade mask, and the next day I’m wearing one.
One of the “new normal” activities that I am trying nowadays is attending meetings online through “Zoom.” There, small and large groups can gather to conduct their business. Different internet speeds make conversations interesting at best and frustrating for sure. Still, it is one way of making the best of a bad situation. I hope no one gets too attached to Zoom. After this time of separation, I want to see people face to face. I want to read their body language and see their expressions.
One “new normal” that I can do without is making and watching videos of church services. I want to be with others when I worship the LORD. Yes, I have wonderful times with God by myself, but there is something really missing when I cannot gather with others. And believe it or not, it is not just about me—how I feel, the energy of the crowd, the ability to blend in. No, it is about God not receiving the unity of praise that his people bring him when they are together. Some Sundays, I feel like I am robbing God when we are not together.
In this “new normal,” I will do the best I can to provide content to my church family that can keep us somewhat on the same page. This, however, is far from what the church should be. I pray that we will not be “locked down” much longer. Instead, I pray that we will be free to gather together again, free to serve people face-to-face, and free to be the church once more. Until then, I will allow God to shape me during this “new normal.” I hope you will do the same.
I find it interesting that for some people, church is just a big crowd that meets on Sunday, a thing “done” once a week to recharge their batteries for another week. Others see church as a weekly obligation that they need to fulfill, and after it’s over, they disperse, and no additional consideration of God is given until the next Sunday morning. Sadly, they have been hit pretty hard during these days as we must avoid getting together in the church building.
Hopefully, for many other people, church is so much more than just a worship service. The church is a people who are in a relationship with God and fellowship with each other. During these days of isolation, we need to lean into God and one another like never before. It is crazy to think about how the dam finally broke on the coronavirus, and the world is flooded with frightening news. Right here in Berks, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties, the number of COVID-19 cases is skyrocketing, and deaths are occurring in retirement communities where we have visited loved ones and friends. All the dominoes seem to be falling.
This is unprecedented in our lifetime. We’ve never had a crisis of this magnitude. Even our media sources and news outlets keep adding fuel to the fire and fan the flames of fear in even the most courageous.
During the past week, I’ve found comfort in God’s Word and a song. I’m not terribly shaken during these days, but when I let my thoughts run wild, they go to some pretty extreme and frightening ends. But I find in Psalm 121:1–2 reassuring words from the psalmist, “I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!” For the pilgrim traveling to Jerusalem during the day of the psalmist, he would find that the mountains along the road to Jerusalem were littered with temples and idols. These little gods supposedly offered protection from bandits and thieves on the journey. Just the threat of being attacked, the fear of the possibility would tempt the weary travelers to go to the mountains, worship one of these lesser gods, and trust in it to save him, but the psalmist refuses to do it. He found his help in the LORD! When we gather together as a church, we make those same proclamations, and during these days of fear and doubt, we must stand on those things we’ve affirmed when we gathered as a church. My help comes from the LORD, and I will trust him even when everything seems to be against me.
The song that I’ve been listening to and singing is by King and Country. I hope that you will take a moment just to let the words of the song, “Shoulders,” wash over you and remind you again from where your help comes. Be blessed in this day, and keep your eyes on Jesus. He won’t let you down, no matter what comes your way.
As we continue in this Holy Week, I want to focus on Mark 8:31–38. In Mark, this is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. He now turns his face toward the cross as he proclaims the first of three passion predictions in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34).
Every person of Jewish descent living in Israel under the rule of the Romans had a particular understanding of the Messiah. They all expected that the Messiah would free God’s people from Roman oppression, rule over the people with great authority, reinstitute the Law of Moses for the land of Israel, and reestablish the temple. When Jesus finally speaks of his messianic position it is not to claim the common understanding but to redefine it beyond the people’s expectations. He taught in perplexing and penetrating parables about the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. God was nearer than they realized, and He loved and forgave sinners. Jesus reinterprets God’s commandments (2:27–28), forgives sins (2:10), has power over nature (4:39; 6:48), and speaks the very words of God.
Can you imagine the surprise of the Jewish people when they discovered his scandalous mission? He came to experience rejection, suffering, death, and finally, resurrection. Any self-respecting Jew would resent the thought of a suffering Messiah just like Peter did! It was understandable that Peter should feel compelled to correct Jesus, given the fact that the Jewish people hoped for a triumphant Messiah.
By trying to prevent Jesus from suffering, Peter opposed the mysterious plan of God. It was only by suffering that God could destroy Satan’s stronghold as Jesus made clear earlier in the Gospel of Mark (1:24; 3:27). For Jesus, Peter’s rebuke conflicted with his whole purpose for coming to earth. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples, yet Jesus identifies him as a servant of Satan. If today, you are a follower of Christ, but your actions conflict with the things of God, you are acting as a disciple of Satan instead of a disciple of Jesus. That’s sobering, isn’t it!
Just like with Peter, a wrong view of Messiahship leads to a wrong view of discipleship. That’s the point of verse 34, where the subject turns from Jesus to his followers. Mark abruptly reintroduces “the crowd,” by which he implies that what Jesus now says he says to all disciples, and not only to the Twelve. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Disciples of Jesus follow him by denying themselves, and even suffering if necessary. A person cannot follow Jesus except that he or she “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
As we take a long, hard look at Holy Week, we must begin the journey with Jesus, not just as spectators. Yes, he ultimately took our sins upon himself, paying the price for our sins on the cross. But we have a cross to bear as we live as his disciples. The image of the cross signifies a total claim on the disciple’s life. By taking up a cross and following Jesus, a disciple acknowledges that he or she is submitting to Jesus’ authority. So basic to the Christian life is the dual act of selflessness and trust in God, that if need be, even life itself must be let go.
I pray that we will actively pursue Christ on this journey. And the journey is not just for one week out of the year, but it is a daily, life-long following in all seasons. Today, admit where you might have failed like Peter, wanting Christ to fit your plans. Acknowledge your selfishness. And now repurpose yourself as his disciple, taking up your cross and following him wherever he leads.
This week is the conclusion of the series from the Book of Hebrews. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Hebrews has always been a more difficult book to study. It requires the reader to turn his or her Bible pages back to the Old Testament, particularly the first five books called the Torah. The writer of Hebrews does a masterful job forming his argument for our need to keep “our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT). If you missed any of the messages, please look on the “Message” page.
Next, we will take some time reflecting on the week leading up to Easter. Often referred to as Holy Week, we are reminded of the actions and teachings of Jesus that ultimately led to the cross. As we see in this week’s message, Jesus willingly came to take our place on the cross. He died to be our Savior. I believe it is the most important week of the year on the Christian calendar. So I encourage you to keep checking back throughout the week as we look at the different events that happened during that week.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Eric grew up in the little town of Gibraltar, PA with his grandparents. He met his wife Cheryl while working at Good’s Greenhouse in Bowmansville, PA. He has three adult children and values watching them grow into the people God wants them to be.