Happy Thanksgiving 2020

Happy Thanksgiving! Or is it? While this is the favorite holiday of many, including yours truly, I am sure there are many who would just as soon skip Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas this year and go straight to 2021. Indeed, 2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. And, as I write this, the long-promised November surge in COVID-19 cases seems to be well underway. Many are ill, too many have perished, healthcare providers are tired and stressed, and all of us likely suffer from pandemic fatigue to some extent. So, given all of this, what are we to do with Thanksgiving 2020?

This may be easier for some of us than for others this year. But, as believers, we know that God is in control. Jesus is Lord and reigns today. Even through COVID. Even through social unrest. Even through temporal death and sadness. Jesus reigns. He has not relinquished control. He will never leave us nor forsake us. This is true for all who believe, no matter what difficulties and challenges we have faced this year. Dear friends, we must cling to Him when times are rough. God knows what each of us are going through and He goes through it with us. That, for one, is something for which to be thankful!

As I look back on 2020, I am reminded that I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my faith in the One True God who loves me despite all my faults and shortcomings to the point of sending Jesus to die for my sins. I am thankful that God reveals Himself through His Word, the Bible, and through His creation. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my church and I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for the technology that allows us to connect with one another when social distancing is our temporary normal. I am thankful for a rewarding and satisfying career. I am thankful for good health. I am thankful for all who work diligently to keep us safe and for those who give selflessly to care for those suffering illness. I am thankful that I live in the great state of Texas and the greatest country on earth.

Have you had a rough year? Has 2020 dealt you more blows than you feel you can handle? If so, know that I care and I am praying for you. As Christians, we are to build each other up. We are to support and encourage one another in good times and bad. I hope you find some encouragement in this little piece. And I hope you can find a few things for which to give thanks. Even this year. Even in these trying times.

May God bless all who read this, and I pray that each of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Soli DEO Gloria!

© workisministry 2020

I Am With Them…

Have you ever felt Jesus’ presence? I am a “people person” – one who thrives in the presence of others. To be sure, I enjoy my alone time. But there is an energy, a spirit of unity that I feel when I am gathered with other believers.

The earliest recollection I have of feeling Jesus’ presence in a very real way was in August, 1977, at fifteen years old. We moved from Minnesota to Katy, Texas that July. We visited what would become our home church, Memorial Lutheran Church of Katy, soon after moving in. After our very first visit, the church’s pastor came to our house to welcome us to town and to Memorial. Although we hadn’t yet joined the church, Pastor Loomis invited my sister and me to join the youth group on their annual beach retreat to Matagorda, TX the following weekend. With some degree of apprehension we accepted the invitation. The group welcomed us as if we had been with them for years. The fellowship we enjoyed over the weekend was like nothing I had experienced before. Sunday morning, we worshipped on the fishing pier overlooking the river on which the house was situated. There, for the first time, I knew Jesus is real.

Through my high school years, my church, and more specifically, my youth group and its adult leaders, were grounding elements in my life. I felt called into professional ministry, and enrolled at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin for pre-seminary studies. At Concordia, I received a top-flight education as I earned a Bachelors Degree in General Studies. More important, though, were the friendships I gained over those four years. Countless times, whether in class, in chapel, or in small groups, I felt Jesus’ presence with us. The unity among my Concordia friends is grounded in Christ, and that unity still flourishes today.

Now, here we are. 2020. COVID-19. I don’t have to recap the story here; we have all lived it. In March, when churches closed due to pandemic, the phenomenon we call online church emerged. It grew and developed into a major force in the church. At first I really enjoyed it. I have several friends who pastor churches all over the country and I enjoyed visiting their churches online and hearing them preach the Gospel. Over time, I found that I didn’t necessarily have to tune in at the exact time of worship; many were available on YouTube and other media (still are) and I could watch at my convenience. Yes, I could watch…. For me, online worship was not participatory; I felt that I was observing from the outside and I longed to gather together. In person. At my church.

I am not knocking online worship. It is an incredible blessing for those with high risk factors to COVID-19 and I thank God for the technology and expertise that makes online worship a high quality and blessed experience. But, it does not replace the in-person gathering of Christians to lift our voices in praise, hear the Word together and partake of the Sacraments. I am so thankful that many churches, including my church family at Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, are once again gathering in person while maintaining their online presence for those who cannot safely partake.

One of the things I love most about this promise from Jesus is the fact that it is not limited to gatherings in church. When believers gather to share a meal, when we gather for a simple visit, even when we gather for a Zoom happy hour as a few of us from Concordia did last Friday – this promise is true. Jesus is with us. We encourage each other, we support each other, and the unity in Christ that we share is fortified.

Indeed, I love this promise from Jesus, and I know it to be true. This evening, for the first time in about eight months, I will join with other choristers at my church in a rehearsal for this Sunday’s worship service. We will be a smaller number than usual. We will be socially distanced. We will wear masks. And… We will sing. We will be together. Jesus will be there, too. And I can hardly wait!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Ultimate Hope

2020 has been one heckuva year, has it not? I often see posts and memes on social media lamenting the awfulness of this year and looking ahead, longing for something better. As a believer in Christ, I know that the “something better” for which we all long has already been accomplished.

Amidst all the noise that is 2020, this assurance rings true:

God’s goodness and love have not left the building. God is just as present in 2020 as He has ever been. He speaks to us through His Word just as He always has. And, fellow believers, we have so much to look forward to, including the incredible promise that we will dwell with Him forever.

God has much good to say to us, but we must dial in. Be in the Word. Be in prayer. Be in worship, whether online or in person. God is our ultimate hope for our life’s future and for our eternal destiny. Indeed, we can take comfort in these words from one of the most quoted chapters in Scripture, remembering that even in the darkest of days and the toughest of times, God is in control. He’s got this. And He’s got you and me cradled in His loving arms – today and for all eternity.

With that reality in mind, let’s take on this day!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Solid Foundation

When our home was flooded after Hurricane Harvey and we had cleared out all of the ruined furniture and damaged drywall, we had a structural engineer check the integrity of our foundation. We were concerned that our house had marinaded in flood waters for almost two weeks. Was our foundation still solid? Could we safely rebuild?

“I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”

Psalms 119:11

Early morning is easily my favorite time of the day. I enjoy getting up while everyone else sleeps, brewing that first cup of coffee, and heading upstairs to read. That first cup is the “wake up” cup. As I enjoy it I check Facebook and Instagram for the status of family and friends. Then, when I pour that second cup it is time to go into God’s Word.

I have maintained a morning Bible reading discipline for a few years now. Mind you, I’m not perfect. I miss some mornings. Especially when traveling, it is easy to miss a few days in a row. When I miss a day or several days, life feels different. There is a void; a tangible, real void. I have grown to love God’s Word, and when I miss my morning time, I really miss it.

This year, 2020, has been a strange year, hasn’t it? In mid-March, like many Americans, my employer directed us to work from home to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. Until that time, I maintained the position that working remotely simply would not suit me. All of a sudden, I had no choice. Now, nearly five months later, I am grateful and in no hurry to return to the office.

For me, what was initially a disruptive notion has become a blessing. According to my YouVersion Bible app, today marks 139 days in a row in God’s Word – my longest streak since first launching the application some three years ago. I don’t reveal that as a brag, but to emphasize a point: My day is not the same when I neglect my time with God in His Word. God’s Word is edifying, strengthening, reassuring and grounding. It is a gift to be treasured.

Spending time each day with my Bible solidifies my life’s foundation. This morning time with God has been especially important in the midst of the craziness that is 2020. In the midst of a national dialogue fraught with fear, anger and disunity, I find myself at peace. I know that all of this will pass; that God is on His throne – always has been and always will be. Indeed, as I read His Word and learn more about His character and His nature I am, at the same time, comforted. I am at peace. I am not worried, nor am I afraid. Each morning in God’s Word strengthens the foundation on which I build my life, and for that I am truly thankful.

I have in my home office a document from a structural engineer that certifies the structural integrity of our home is intact and its foundation is solid. And I have in my heart the hope of eternity with God and the strength to take on yet another day.

Do you have a daily time with God?

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

Blessing Aug 2, 2020

Sunday morning. I haven’t been to church in months, thanks to COVID-19. It is easy to feel a bit disconnected from my church family. Of course, my church offers worship online and our production team does a stellar job of offering a quality and meaningful worship experience. But it is still not the same. And, sometimes, I let that get me down.

“May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13 NASB

I needed this passage this morning. To be sure, I cannot wait to go back to church. But, for now, I am thankful for the technology that exists and the talent God gave many for using the technology that allows us to worship, although remotely, together.

Christian friends, it is important that we keep our habits of worship, study and sacrament – in person or online. The JOY and PEACE we know through the Lord is not diminished just because we cannot gather together for a time. My prayer for you this morning is just that. Reread it. And read it again. And let the Holy Spirit work His power in your life.

God bless you all and may each of you have a blessed Lord’s Day.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

God’s Instruction Book

I often call the Bible “The Treasure of God’s Word”. This Treasure is available to each of us, and when we open it, God reveals His nature, His character and His plan for our eternal success.

Study this book of instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Joshua 1:8 NASB

This was one of God’s instructions to Joshua as he prepared to lead Israel into the Promised Land. The “book of instruction” was the Torah – the five books of Moses that comprise the first five books of the Bible. Pastor Allistair Begg of Truth for Life often reminds his listeners that we are to read and understand the Old Testament in the context of the New Testament. Specifically, we are to view the Old Testament writings through the revealing lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I want to call out a few words in this passage:

  • Instruction – The Torah reveals God’s Law under which all will be judged. It also lays out the covenant God made with Israel as He freed them from the bondage in Egypt. Succinctly stated, that covenant said God would free Israel if they would obey His laws. It also provided a system of confession and sacrifice to address violations of the Law (sin). For Joshua and for Israel, this system would preserve them in God’s eyes until the promised Messiah came. For us, the Book of Instruction is the complete Book of Scripture, the Bible. Not only does the Bible help us understand our condemnation under the Law, but it also assures us of redemption and salvation through faith in Jesus. The Bible instructively informs us of God’s eternal plan for our lives, already assured and secured through Jesus.
  • Continually – God did not give us Scripture with the intention that we only consider it when read to us in church on Sunday mornings. He did not intend for our Bibles to sit on a bookshelf gathering dust. No! God wants us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” His Word (1662 Book of Common Prayer). I have discovered over the years that my outlook and my life are in a much improved place when I read my Bible daily than when I let the book sit as the dust gathers. God speaks to us through His Word, and we gain the most benefit from His Word when we spend time in it.
  • Meditate – More than just reading the Bible, we are to ponder God’s message to His people. Often, after my morning reading, I use my morning walk as a time of solitude to pray and think about what I just read. Through prayer and meditation, we connect with God and He helps us discern His message. The Bible does not say different things to different people. Its message is singular, it is consistent, and through prayer and meditation God helps us understand what we have just read.
  • Day and night – I love this. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us, and it is also our instruction manual for living our lives. It is the foundation on which the Christian is to build her values, organize his priorities, conduct her daily activities, and approach his sphere of influence. It is the complete package. We are to carry God’s Word into our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and each of our human interactions.
  • Obey – Actually, I should highlight “obey everything”. In Old Testament times, obedience to the Law was the focus of the covenant. In New Testament context, we know that our obedience does not secure our place in Heaven. No, our place in Heaven has been secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our obedience to God is an outflow of the salvation we know. We obey God because we know Him, we love Him, and we want to glorify Him so others see and give Him glory as well. This obedience is not easy. In these modern times, much of what the world esteems as right and good is contrary to the instructions found in the Bible. The easy path is to align with the world’s values. The more difficult path is to remain in alignment with what the Bible teaches us, even when society says otherwise. I pray every day that God would give me the courage to obey Him completely.
  • Prosper and Succeed – This is not “name it and claim it” prosperity. This is not about a growing bank account, a nice home, or a fancy car. This is not about those things at all. Prosperity and success are eternal. That is not to say that God is not interested in our daily lives or that He does not provide for our needs – He is interested and He does provide. But this prosperity and success is most appropriately viewed through an eternal lens, extending far beyond anything we can achieve, accomplish or gain in this temporal life. When we surrender our lives to God, fully trusting in Him, we will prosper and we will succeed. For ever and ever.

See what I mean? This, my friend, is Treasure! There is so much negativity and strife in the world today. Indeed, 2020 is shaping up to be quite the strange year. The world faces a pandemic. We have rioting in our streets as some seek to unravel the threads of American Democracy in exchange for something else. We live in a society that considers the killing of children in the womb to be healthcare and of supreme importance. Law and order seem to be diminishing in importance as many with power and influence support these movements. These are scary times. But, thanks be to God, He reminds us in His Word that He is Almighty. God is sovereign. God has a plan for us that will not be derailed. In fact, that plan is already achieved through the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

When is the last time you picked up your Bible, found a quiet place, and read God’s Word? If it has been a while, why not dust it off and start anew today? There are a plethora of Bible reading plans on the You Version Bible App. I am in my third “Bible in One Year” reading plan, and I can tell you, the Treasure is real, it is tangible, and it awaits you.

Soli DEO Gloria! To God alone be all honor, glory and praise! Amen!

(c) workisministry 2020

Don’t Give Up

I woke up, wide awake, thinking it had to be close to my 4:45 alarm time. It was 1:40. After drifting in and out of sleep, I decided at 3:15 to make a cup of coffee and head upstairs. I was not in the greatest of moods.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

2 Corinthians 4:16 NASB

Coffee in hand, I headed upstairs and opened God’s Word. As I read my daily devotional it crossed my mind that maybe God knew I needed some more time this morning. So, rather than be angry that I couldn’t sleep, I decided to give thanks to the Lord for some extra time with Him in His Word.

The Apostle Paul was a great encourager. Here, he offers reassurance to the Corinthians and to us today that we can face the afflictions the world tosses our way knowing that there is a bigger plan in place. I am tired this morning. But more than fatigue from a short night’s sleep, I am tired of the strife. I am tired of COVID-19 and the restrictions it has placed upon my life. I am tired of the lawlessness playing out in our nation today. I am tired of the divisiveness and disunity. With all that is going on, it is easy to become discouraged, to want to throw in the proverbial towel. After all, I am just one man. What can I do to effect change? What can I do to be a part of the solution? And from where will the strength to do so come?

2 Corinthians 4:16 was the verse of the day on You Version Bible App. Do you see what it says? Here, Paul reminds us that even though we grow older, and although we may feel tired, frustrated or dismayed by the world’s afflictions, our spirits are being renewed each day! Renewed! Indeed, this spiritual food I have enjoyed this morning is rejuvenating. It is essential. And, even as I type this, a smile is on my face.

Paul goes on to say this:

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NASB

Thanks be to God, I can see past all this. These afflictions will pass. I know they will. Through Jesus, the score is already settled. Through His death and resurrection, all who believe in Him are saved. Those eternal things which are not seen are very, very real. I know they are. And through that knowledge, through that hope, through the nurturing God offers through His Word, through prayer and through sacrament, my inner man is renewed. And I realize that the weight of the world does not rest upon my shoulders. God is in control. He is sovereign. My job is to let my light shine, that others would see my deeds and give glory to my Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Thank You, Lord, for this time this morning. Thank You for feeding me. Thank You for renewing me. Lord, I am ready to serve.

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

That Strong Tower

I earned my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts college in Austin, Texas. Part of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod education network, it was known as Concordia Lutheran College when I was there; today it is Concordia University Texas. One of the aspects of attending Concordia that I appreciated the most was the daily chapel service. Lasting about 20 minutes, it offered a daily grounding in worship and Word as students and faculty gathered together each morning. I miss that.

“The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

Proverbs 18:10 NASB

Do you sometimes feel stressed or overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world? COVID-19. Civil unrest. Divisiveness. Disunity. Joblessness. Dysfunction. Oh, and on top of all of that, it is an election year. I’m reminded of the old TV commercial, “Calgon, take me away!” Ha! (For you younger readers, the Calgon of years past is the Lush bath bomb of today.)

I have learned over the years that the things on which I focus tend to take center stage in my life. For good or for harm, they have influence. Focus on the turmoil in the world and life feels tumultuous. But, shifting that focus to God’s Word has an amazingly calming effect. Much more so than any bath bomb can offer.

What does this have to do with chapel at Concordia or the proverb quoted above? College life offers its own set of pressures and stress. As I walked into Concordia’s chapel each morning, I was entering that strong tower. That place of peace and calm. The place where we were reminded each morning, through worship and Word, of Who it is that we serve and the fact that He has a grand purpose for our lives. It was in chapel that students and faculty worshipped together, unified by the Word of God and uplifted by the examples of Christian faith all around us. And, as I departed the morning service, everything I faced, no matter what it was, took on a completely different perspective and priority.

I often wish there was a daily chapel service I could attend today. Thankfully, God comes to us through His Word no matter where we might be when we seek Him. God meets us where we are. For me it is in the quiet of the early morning, when I read and consider God’s Word, that I am most at peace. The act of posting here and on Instagram inspires me. Even if nobody ever reads this, I am reassured, regrounded and rejuvenated by having taken the time to write.

I do miss Concordia’s morning chapel. I miss gathering with other Christians to worship, receive the Sacraments, hear God’s Word proclaimed, and offer mutual encouragement. And I am thankful that He is here, with me now, in the quiet of this early morning. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App with (c) Roger Coles

(c) workisministry 2020

Let Your Light Shine…

I have read these words of Jesus many times. I read them again just a few days ago, and they resonated with me in a big and wonderful way.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

I have written before about what I call my “walking witness”. Everything I say and do points to something or someone. My words and my actions reveal my heart. When people look upon one another and observe the way we conduct ourselves, they draw conclusions about the base motivations that drive the behaviors. What message am I conveying to those around me when I speak or when I act? To whom do my words and actions point? Are my words and actions helpful or are they a hindrance? Most importantly, does my conduct point others to Jesus, or does it point them elsewhere?

2020 has been a very trying year so far. The world has been impacted heavily, in so many ways, by COVID-19. As we began to see improvement in disease spread and reducing death counts, the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis occurred. Following that, peaceful protests descended into violent riots, with the livelihoods of innocent citizens destroyed as large swaths of many of America’s greatest cities descended into chaos. The lawlessness and disorder continues in several cities today as the level of anger across our nation seems to be increasing exponentially.

If there was ever a time when God’s people need to let our lights shine, that time is now.

As the events of 2020 unfolded, I found myself sucked into the anger and divisiveness in ample display on Facebook and Twitter. News feeds that were once dominated by life events and useful information have become platforms for sowing divisiveness and disunity. Well-intended expressions of position are attacked by those in opposition, sometimes in ugly and threatening ways. I found myself drawn into this. As I review my own posts and comments to posts of others, I am dismayed and even disturbed by several of them. Indeed, these social media platforms I once enjoyed became snares. How does one deal with a snare? Snares and traps are best avoided by staying away or removing them altogether. So I decided to exit. I logged off of both platforms and deleted their applications from my devices. In the 12 days since I began my hiatus from Facebook and Twitter, the anger and frustration I felt have quickly disappeared. I decided I would not return.

Then, just a few days ago, I read these words of Jesus. I quickly realized that I had allowed the world to extinguish my light, at least on these huge platforms that reach millions of people. I realized that the world needs the light of the Gospel to pierce the darkness of sin, despair and chaos. I realized that the easy way out is to stay away and keep quiet. But God doesn’t call us to take the easy way out. He doesn’t call us to stay away and keep quiet. He calls us to be the light of the world, shining brightly from the lampstand of the Gospel so that the world, through me and through you, can see Jesus.

At some point, I will return to Facebook and Twitter. But before I do, I am prayerfully considering how I will reconstruct and recraft my experiences to avoid the snares of anger and divisiveness while being the light my Lord calls me to be. I will let my light shine in such a way that those on Facebook and Twitter see my posts and glorify my Father who is in heaven. In so doing, I hope to be a witness to my Lord while once again enjoying the personal connections of so many friends and loved ones.

If there was ever a time when God’s people need to let our lights shine, that time is now. May God direct my words and actions as I prepare to relight my lamp.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit; YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Kindness

How are you doing? Are you worried about, or frightened of, COVID-19? Are you frustrated at having been locked down for a long period of time? Are you out of work? Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one? How are you doing?

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”

Proverbs 12:25 NASB

I know people in each of the situations I asked about. Some are more anxious and worried than others. Some are frustrated while others are downright angry. There is much disagreement over how we as individuals and as a society should conduct ourselves in this COVID-19 era. All too often, these differing positions yield resentment and division among smart people; even people with family ties or otherwise strong friendships. And this does none of us any good.

This succinct little proverb reminds us that, when others are experiencing difficulty, kindness is king. Even when we disagree, it is vitally important that we seek to understand and seek to be kind.

Let each of us pledge to take this into our day – today and every day.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020