April 24 – A Small God Always Fails

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, is a public figure, and it is Andrew Cuomo the public figure I’ve been thinking about.  Of course, public figures have personal lives. There is no reason for me to think anything other than that those who know Andrew Cuomo personally, his friends and his family members, like him very much. No reason to think he is not a nice man.

But there is something about the public figure Andrew Cuomo that’s been bothering me. It’s what he has been saying publicly.  So, please, this is not a personal attack. It is,however, an expression of concern, a deep worry, about what Andrew Cuomo, the public figure, has said and what it represents.

About ten days ago Cuomo was interviewed on CNN. The interview had to do with his handling of the coronavirus crisis in New York. He has been commended for the job he is doing. The governor pointed out that they were just beginning to see a flattening of the curve, and that is a good thing. He commended New Yorkers for their diligence in social distancing and other measures. That’s the kind of thing good governors ought to say.

But then, out of the blue, no other context, he went on to say, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus.” Continue reading

April 17 – A New Always

We hear the phrase all the time, maybe too often. “The new normal.” We’re five weeks into a new normal. And when this normal ends, whenever it ends, there will be a new “new normal.”

In this time of pandemic we at once grieve death and loss, feel pain and sorrow – and find ourselves disturbed by the changes in our daily routine.  The profound and the petty confront us with equal force, it seems.

After a lot of profound, I have been thinking about the petty.

I had my work routine down. It was normal. I knew what to expect. It was comfortable and predictable. Mondays were bulletin and sermon preparation days.  Always a Monday night meeting. Tuesday continued sermon prep and then getting ready for Wednesday morning Bible study and Thursday night Faith Acts.  Wednesday was staff day. And so on and so on. Oh, there were hospital calls, lunch meetings and phone calls and drop-ins.  But it was all so predictable. And so comfortable.  I liked my old normal.

The new normal is nothing like that and I can’t say much more because it’s not yet normal and seems to want to defy normal.

We like normal.

Normal is not a biblical word, but I the Bible knows about it.  In the New Testament we hear the word “always” fairly often, and, not always, but frequently it has to do with those things we normally do.  The Greek work is pantote – all the time.

Occasionally Scripture uses always to describe our old normal.  Paul reminds Timothy of those who are always, normally, learning new things but never gaining any wisdom (2 Timothy 3:7).  He reminds Titus that the Cretans he serves are always, normally, untrustworthy and lazy (Titus 1:12).  Our old normal is not so good.

But mostly always refers to a new normal to which the life in Christ calls us – always praying, always rejoicing, always showing concern for one another, always hoping, always being patient, always forbearing, always encouraging.

They say there’s no going back to the old normal.  The new normal will be different, maybe not so comfortable.

Whether it’s a month or two or more away, maybe it’s time to get ready for the new normal. Looking back to the words of Scripture, allows us to look forward to a new normal – to some old “always behaviors” – that just may make for a new normal so much better than that old normal with which we had grown way too comfortable.

April 3 – Prayer Doesn’t Work

Social distancing regulations will forestall anything but a virtual mob doing me harm for uttering such a heresy.  But I will say it again.  Prayer doesn’t work.

The week ends with many of us exhausted from prayer, spent by prayer.  We startle awake in the morning – and in the middle of the night – called to prayer for our friends, our good and faithful friends.  “Heal, O Lord. Comfort, O Lord.”

One of the morning psalms for today is 22. The words of the first two verses are familiar:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

To be sure, the words are messianic and borrowed by Jesus as the words he needed as he suffered there for us.  But the words were not written just so Jesus would have them that awful day on Calvary.  They are David’s words spoken from his anguished heart.  Given by the Holy Spirit, they are my words and your words this long week. Continue reading

March 27 – The Longest Flight

July, 2007.

I had made the trip fifteen or more times already. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  With good connections you could make it in around 24  hours: leave the church and arrive at the airport two or three hours early; an hour and a half from Pittsburgh to JFK; two-hour lay-over at JFK; ten hours to Sao Paulo; another two or three hour layover; and then  the hour plus flight into Belo Horizonte; immigration, customs, and Belo Horizonte traffic – finally to IPJA.

The unexpected happened early.  Oh, we boarded the flight from Pittsburgh to New York just fine, but then we sat on the tarmac in Pittsburgh for well over an hour as we waited for thunderstorms to pass over JFK.  By the time we made it to the American Airlines international check-in counter at JFK, the flight had boarded and our seats had been given to standby passengers.

Add 24 hours.

At least they gave us hotel vouchers. Continue reading

March 20 – Our Life-Sustaining Business

For reasons of his own, the governor has deemed the church a life-sustaining business. I have no idea what he had in mind, but I think he got this one right. So, we are allowed to keep the building open, which we will on a very limited basis.  Office hours will be random, but we’ll be around to accept food donations for the Deacons’ Pantry and baby supplies for ChoiceOne. Oh, and offering envelopes filled with your tithes and gifts.

In fact, of course, while the building will be mostly closed and the calendar has been cleared, the life-sustaining business of the church continues.  But not very much at the building.

It has been a week like no other. Still sermons to write and lessons to plan (see you online!). Still people to contact by phone and text and email.  But more than that, it has been such a good week to see the life-sustaining work of LPC as we reach out to one another and share the hope and the faith and the love that is ours in Christ.  Frankly, at this point we have more people willing to offer practical help – running an errand, providing a ride, that kind of thing – than we have people asking for help. That may change. Continue reading