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

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