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

Persevering in Troubled Times

Do you ever wonder what in the world has happened? We turned the calendar over to 2020 and find ourselves in a world that seems to have flipped upside down. All around the world, people are living through a pandemic called COVID-19. We are staying home, wearing masks when we venture out, watching national economies strained, and waiting anxiously for news that we have “flattened the curve”. We see civil unrest such that this nation has not experienced in a long time – civil unrest that seems to be gaining momentum rather than subsiding. We are in a strange election year with little campaigning and an uneasiness over the process. We wonder when, or if, things will return to normal. Indeed, what in the world has happened??

“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”

Zephaniah 2:3

For historical context, the prophet Zephaniah saw that Babylon was about to take Israel into captivity. These were unsettled times in Israel’s history and the people’s world was about to be rocked. Zephaniah reminded Israel to keep focused on the Lord, even as the world around them sank into turmoil. He reminded them to do the right thing and to stay humble. While these actions would not preserve them from exile in Babylon, the Lord would see them trough the trouble.

Fast-forward to 2020. What in the world has happened? And what are we, as believers, to do? I suggest we heed the same guidance that Zephaniah offered Israel so many centuries ago:

  • Seek the Lord – I find peace in God’s Word. I have learned that if I watch too much news I become stressed. The media is often accused of fear mongering, and while there may be some of that, we must remain informed. But, on what or on Whom should we focus? When we seek God through His Word and through prayer, He allows us to view current events through the lens of eternity. Current events, from an eternal perspective, are like grains of sand on a vast seashore. Through communing with God in His Word and in prayer, He reminds me that, although the times in which we are living may be difficult, He is in control. And although He will allow this to play out, He will not abandon His children. I trust Him completely. I know that my eternity in Heaven is secured through Jesus. I take great comfort in this, and I know that I will be fine. No matter what. Indeed, I find peace in God’s Word. And that peace is available to you, too.
  • Seek righteousness – Do the right thing. Seek to be God’s light in this dark world. Seek to stand out from the crowd so the world takes notice and gives glory to our Father in Heaven (see Matthew 5:16). What is the right thing? For starters, we should follow the guidance of our elected officials. Trust me, I hate wearing a mask when I venture out of the house; but I do. We are part of a larger community, and God wants us to honor that. Second, we should stand firmly on God’s Word as we address the issues of our day. We should seek to be peace makers and peace keepers. We are to be voices of reason, calm and confidence in the face of turmoil, whether we are interacting in person or online. Doing the right thing in these difficult times may often be contrary to what the world believes we should do, but we must do it anyway.
  • Seek humility – Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Do you see much of this in the media, in our politicians, in our streets or on social media? One great way we believers can let our lights shine is to seek humility. In this, we have a great example to follow in the Lord Jesus, who being Himself God, humbled Himself to take the burdens of our sins to the cross winning, once and for all time, salvation for all who believe. If every Christian sought to view those around us, no matter who they are or what their political views, as greater than ourselves, we will stand out from the world and we will change the world.

There you have it. This isn’t easy; we are human, after all. But by beginning in God’s Word and striving to live our lives accordingly by seeking righteousness and humility we will become agents of change – good and positive change – in our nation and in our world.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(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

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

I Shook His Hand

I shook a neighbor’s hand yesterday. That’s right. In this era of social distancing and sideways glances, my neighbor offered his hand and I shook it. And, after shaking his hand, I threw my hands into the air and shouted, “Thank you, Jesus!” All who were with us laughed. And everybody understood.

So here is the story. After dinner, my wife and I took a walk in our neighborhood. As with most evenings, there were many neighbors outside enjoying the relative cool of the evening. One street over from us is a house with living space over the garage similar to ours. The homeowners happened to be outside and we asked them about the french doors and balcony on the front of their garage space, as we have been considering doing something similar. A conversation about living upstairs during post-Harvey home repairs ensued. At the end of the conversation, as we prepared to continue our walk, our neighbor extended his hand to me and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is George.”

George and I stood there a moment and looked at each other. I could tell he had somewhat reflexively offered his hand and wondered if perhaps he did so out of habit, not really intending to shake my hand. After meeting his gaze for just a few seconds I said, “I’ll shake your hand,” and I shook it. We exchanged a good, firm handshake. Just like I do routinely before and after business meetings. Just like I do routinely upon meeting a new acquaintance. And I can tell you that that good, firm handshake was therapeutic.

A business colleague recently posted this on LinkedIn:

“With the “new normal”, handshakes may become a thing of the past. We will each need a new way to greet-elbow bump, foot touch etc.”

Upon reading this post, I had to pause and think about that. Is this what COVID is doing to our society? Are we destined to live lives in which we view others as a cesspool of germs, afraid to interact and afraid to have contact? While I understand and generally support the social distancing measures currently in place, I reject the notion that social distancing must somehow become a permanent fixture of human life. Having said that, my intention here is not to stir up controversy, but simply to offer a more hopeful view of our post-COVID future. All inspired by the handshake I exchanged with my neighbor yesterday evening. That wonderful, therapeutic handshake.

Friends, I believe that God is doing some amazing work amid these strange and crazy times, and that He will reveal it in His good and perfect timing. For me, I have already gained a strengthened appreciation for my friendships and for human interaction in general. And, while I am thankful for the technology that allows us to remain connected remotely, I look forward to someday shaking your hand once again. If you choose not to reciprocate, that’s OK; I will respect your choice and take no offense. If you choose to accept, be ready to accept a good, hearty firm handshake in the spirit of human connection.

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

Unity over Division

A few days ago, our local news channels posted various questions to Twitter asking whether or not people planned to visit Texas businesses that reopened May 1. Many of the comments posted in response to the question were quite disturbing. Rather than simply answering the question, several people spewed vitriol at people whose positions differed from theirs. People who look forward to a safe reopening and who plan to patronize businesses were called greedy, money-hungry, uncaring and worse. People who said they will stay home a while longer to ensure their safety were accused of living in fear and giving in to the virus. Just that morning, these words of Jesus were part of my daily Bible reading:

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”

Mark 3:24 NASB

To be perfectly honest, I am more concerned for the long-term survival of American society than I am about Coronavirus or the ramifications of reopening the economy too quickly. When peoples’ first reaction to a statement with which they disagree is to attack the person making the statement, something is horribly wrong.

I am a frequent visitor to various social media sites. I probably spend more time there than I should. But I enjoy it. Through Facebook, I enjoy keeping up with friends from high school and college. I enjoy seeing what is happening in their lives and wishing them a happy birthday when the app reminds me it is their big day. On Twitter, I follow various pastors, news outlets, and bloggers and this has become one of my primary means of accessing news and information from various sources. I have two Instagram accounts – one @workisministry where I offer content similar to what is available here, and the other @jeffstrege where I share more personal content. Both are publicly viewable. Until recently, I had no idea there are Instagram bloggers and I now follow several while offering content of my own. And, lastly, I recently set up a channel on You Tube called “My Morning Walk”. I’ve been encouraged to explore something called Tik Tok, but I think what I have currently is enough. Let me know if you disagree.

Indeed, social media is a great tool, but it is rife with abuse. From the relative safety of an anonymous presence, some people post harmful, derisive, divisive – crap. And, for many, this appears to be the level of discourse they prefer. Speaking from uninformed, simplistic and naive positions, many of these people gain followers who hang on every word. And, through them, the seeds of divisiveness and anger are sown.

Jesus’ words here are most certainly true. A kingdom, or in our case a nation, divided against itself will not stand. As we deal with the serious issues presented by the Coronavirus, let us do so with empathy, kindness and thoughtfulness. Let us not allow those who seek division over unity to succeed. And, more than anything, let us all strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That is my pledge.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020