Pandemic Promises

Think back to everything you know about God’s promises. Perhaps you can even claim a time in your life when you were the beneficiary of one of his promises. The list is endless.

For me, the biggest promise made in the Bible is when Jesus told us that he would never leave us. He explained to his disciples that he was simply going ahead to prepare a place in heaven for us and then reminded them (and us) at his departure that he is always with us “even unto the ends of the earth.”

This morning’s Psalm is a great reminder of an Old Testament promise that God made to us after the Great Flood. You may remember from your Sunday School lessons that when the flood waters receded, Noah saw a rainbow in the sky. God explained that he put it there as a reminder of his promise that he would never again destroy the earth.

Hold that thought in your heart as we read Psalm 105. This Psalm recounts the miraculous delivery of the Hebrew nation through the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army close at their heels. God delivered them from slavery and deposited them in the Promised Land. He lived up to his earlier promise that they would not be destroyed.

What promise can we claim from this in regard to the pandemic?

Psalm 105 (New Revised Standard Version)

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.

I hope that the pandemic has brought us enough of a “pause” as we’ve followed stay-at-home orders to seek the Lord and his strength. This has been something I have tried to do in my personal discipleship….to seek his presence continually. How are you doing with that?

Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
    and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad when they departed,
    for dread of them had fallen upon it.

Egypt was GLAD when they left! The might of the Lord was so great, they were relieved to be rid of Israel from their land. God provided light, food, and water for his people in the desert.

39 He spread a cloud for a covering,
    and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quails,
    and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
    it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

43 So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing
.

What does this say to us, a pandemic people? It tells us that this time of sickness WILL END. It reminds us of God’s mighty power to deliver US, his people. It reassures us that at the appointed time the virus will be wiped clean from the earth and the pandemic will be over. Thanks be to God!

God always remembers his holy promises. Let us come out with joy and sing to the Lord.

God Keeps His Promises

Secret Decoders

There is a fun scene in the movie A Christmas Story where young Ralphie has finally received his secret decoder wheel after sending in the required amount of Ovaltine labels. This will help him decipher an important message from Little Orphan Annie that just might save the world! He works the decoder feverishly while locked in the bathroom. As the letters and words emerge, his sense of purpose grows with each turn of the dial. Finally the message appears!

“Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”

It is a sadder and wiser Ralphie that slowly re-enters the world, having experienced his first bait-and-switch “crummy commercial.” How disappointing!

I must confess I feel this way every time I click onto what looks to be a good article and discover that it is flooded with advertisements that blink on and off like the Vegas strip at midnight. I clicked on a news article on the west coast wildfires and was instantly inundated with ads for Zulilly, Wayfair, and something called Bud Light Seltzer. Is that even a thing?

The neat thing about today’s Psalm is that it takes a kind of decoder ring to get the full message. It is one of eight alphabetic acrostic psalms in the Bible and there is possibly some hidden meaning not only in its content, but in its form.

Alphabetic acrostics go through the Hebrew alphabet with the first letter of the first word of each line in alphabetical order. The “secret message” of a psalm that goes from A to Z (or more correctly, Aleph to Taw) suggests a completeness and wholeness that points to our relationship with God. The secret message in its form says that with God we are UNBROKEN.

In more practical terms, a psalm written in alphabetic acrostic is also easier to memorize.

Keeping in mind that the decoded message is “You are complete and unbroken,” read this psalm and think about what is missing in your walk today that needs to be filled in so that you might feel whole.

Psalm 145 (Common English Bible)

I will lift you up high, my God, the true king.
    I will bless your name forever and always.
I will bless you every day.
    I will praise your name forever and always.
The Lord is great and so worthy of praise!
    God’s greatness can’t be grasped.

Do you bless and praise God forever and always, or only on the good days?

One generation will praise your works to the next one,
    proclaiming your mighty acts.
They will talk all about the glorious splendor of your majesty;
    I will contemplate your wondrous works.
They will speak of the power of your awesome deeds;
    I will declare your great accomplishments
.

They will rave in celebration of your abundant goodness;
    they will shout joyfully about your righteousness
.

    The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
    very patient, and full of faithful love.

Remind yourself of this truth if you are feeling broken this morning.

9 The Lord is good to everyone and everything;
    God’s compassion extends to all his handiwork!”
10 All that you have made gives thanks to you, Lord;
    all your faithful ones bless you!
11 They speak of the glory of your kingdom;
    they talk all about your power,
12     to inform all human beings about God’s power
    and the majestic glory of God’s kingdom.

When you got up this morning, did you remember God’s compassion?

13 Your kingdom is a kingship that lasts forever;
    your rule endures for all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all that he says,
    faithful in all that he does.
14 The Lord supports all who fall down,
    straightens up all who are bent low.
15 All eyes look to you, hoping,
    and you give them their food right on time,
16     opening your hand
    and satisfying the desire of every living thing.

And let us not forget that God provides!

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
    faithful in all his deeds.
18 The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him,
    to all who call out to him sincerely.
19 God shows favor to those who honor him,
    listening to their cries for help and saving them.
20 The Lord protects all who love him,
    but he destroys every wicked person.
21 My mouth will proclaim the Lord’s praise,
    and every living thing will bless God’s holy name
        forever and always.

Make your day complete by contemplating these things. I know it’s long (all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet-long) but read it again. God will fill in your empty spaces with his presence and the glorious splendor of his majesty. From A to Z, God’s goodness is everlasting, and with him you are unbroken.

Unbroken by Wende Pritchard

Dwelling

What is your mind dwelling on right now? Are you overcome with politics and campaigns? Are the pandemic’s daily death numbers, unemployment, quarantine, and imposing restrictions plaguing your thoughts? Perhaps it is your financial situation, or the daily struggle of remote learning, or maybe the hurricane season that has you preoccupied.

One of the challenges we all face in our discipleship is setting aside our day-to-day worries and aggravations so that we can allow space for God’s word to filter in. It is a struggle. It takes perseverance, discipline, and a plan.

A friend stopped me the other day and told me that she saves these devotionals to read on Sunday mornings. She gets up at sunrise, makes coffee, and walks to a sand dune where she can watch the sun come up over the ocean. She reads and worships in that setting. I was extremely blessed to know this. It occurs to me that she is able to spend time dwelling on God’s presence because she puts herself in a “dwelling” that is conducive to focusing.

Where are you right now? Are you in a quiet place that allows contemplation? Or are you surrounded by distraction? Changing our locale when we are studying scripture may just be the thing we need to really take it all in.

Psalm 105 (Common English Bible)

Give thanks to the Lord;
    call upon his name;
    make his deeds known to all people!
Sing to God;
    sing praises to the Lord;
    dwell on all his wondrous works!

Being able to dwell on God’s wonderful works makes a huge difference in how the rest of the day goes. Putting his mercy and grace foremost in our thoughts can change our perspective and attitude.

Give praise to God’s holy name!
    Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
Pursue the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always!

A day that starts with pursuing God and his strength is a day that moves in the right direction. When we remember his wondrous works and seek his face we find ourselves not looking to the world for direction and comfort. And that is a very good thing indeed.

Remember the wondrous works he has done,
    all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—
    you who are the offspring of Abraham, his servant,
        and the children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

God is a just God, a loving God, a GIVING God, and a powerful God. Dwell on that today and you will be blessed by the hour.

Dwelling in God’s Beauty by Michelle Robertson

Doxology

A doxology is a “lyrical expression of praise to God” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In a worship service it provides a liturgical response to the presentation of the offering. Various forms of “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” have been sung in churches since the late 1600’s.

I once had a profound moment singing the doxology at a women’s retreat. We had gathered in the dining room and our music leader suggested we sing it a cappella as our grace before the meal. The harmonies blended beautifully in the room and it was a stunning offering to the Lord.

Psalm 67 is introduced as a doxology in one bible translation. That is fitting, as this brief psalm is a beautiful and lyrical praise chorus. It was written to the director of music “to be performed with string instruments.” We’ll get right on that as soon as we’re back in church!

Psalm 67 (New Revised Standard Version)

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

This may sound familiar to you. It is part of the Aaronic blessing that appears in Numbers 6. The lovely phrase “make his face to shine upon us” is a word-picture that invokes an image of God’s joy in giving his blessing and his grace to a happy, responsive people.

that your way may be known upon earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

The psalmist cleverly offers God a small incentive. If God will bestow his blessing on us, then the world will see and thus his way will be known on all the earth. That is kind of like promising to tithe if God would just make you win the lottery.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth.Selah

God will judge the people with equity. That is an amazing thought. There is no hierarchy of sin according to this. There is no privilege, status, religious preference, or condition that will get you off easy. Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, atheists, etc. will be judged equally with all the people of the earth. Humbling, isn’t it?

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

Praise is the appropriate response to all of God’s blessings. As the harvest of provision comes in the form of daily bread to us, let us join in singing our praises with all the creatures here below! For God indeed is worthy of our praise.

The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Amen.

Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow by Becca Ziegler

When Songs are Silent

A few weeks ago I attended my conference’s Clergy Executive Session via ZOOM. This is an annual meeting where we affirm the commissioning and ordaining of new pastors, remember pastors who have died in the past year, receive reports of those who have chosen to go on leave or exit the denomination, etc. I logged in as I was finishing an outdoor class at my YMCA and the opening session began as I was driving home.

This was not a good plan. I was traveling on our busy bypass when all of a sudden a gorgeous baritone voice came through my phone. He began to sing “Be Thou My Vision.”

My favorite hymn.

When the bishop introduced him, she invited us to sing along from our multiple locations across Georgia and beyond.

I began to sing and immediately started to cry. It wasn’t just a finger-dabbing kind of crying; it was a full blown shoulder-shuddering, snot-flowing sob. This is not a good thing to do while driving on a busy summer day of beach traffic.

Singing is a beautiful, cathartic, uplifting, soul-stirring way to connect with the Holy Spirit. Somehow songs poke us in a place where we don’t usually get poked. Music resonates deep in our core, where we remember our mothers gently rocking and humming us to sleep and our daddies singing silly songs with us on long car rides.

Psalms are both painful and healing to me right now. They are painful in that they were written to be sung out loud on a journey with other pilgrims, which of course we can’t do right now. But they are also healing because I know that there WILL come a time when we can sing together again in large groups. Lord, hasten that day!

But for today, we sing silently with our eyes.

Psalm 105 (Common English Bible)

Give thanks to the Lord;
    call upon his name;
    make his deeds known to all people!
Sing to God;
    sing praises to the Lord;
    dwell on all his wondrous works!

Everyone I know, myself included, is hitting a wall right now. The mask wars, the number of COVID cases continuing to rise, remote learning gearing up to start (causing great stress for teachers, parents, and kids), waiting for days on end for COVID test results to come back, cabin fever, fears for our livelihood, sorrow over the 700,000 deaths worldwide, the lack of healthy social interaction…it is all getting to us. Tempers are fragile, friendships are frayed, families are not speaking to each other, and we need help. We need hope. We especially need to remind each other of the wondrous works God has done, is doing, and will do again.

Give praise to God’s holy name!
    Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
Pursue the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always!
Remember the wondrous works he has done,
    all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—
    you who are the offspring of Abraham, his servant,
        and the children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

When singing brings only tears, it is time to give silent praise. When a simple conversation provokes an angry response, it is time to seek the Lord. When everything you are doing feels overwhelming, remember God’s marvelous works, and let your heart rejoice.

Pursue the Lord and his strength when yours has run out. He will never run out on you.

Sing Songs of Silence by Michelle Robertson

The Shields of the Earth

Everything is hard right now, and for this pastor, not being able to do corporate singing is one of the harder things the pandemic has brought. That is one piece that we are struggling with as we consider when to re-gather for worship. Notice I didn’t say re-open. The church never closed, we just moved online. Many churches have seen an uptick in the number of people they can effectively reach because of this.

I call that the “Romans 8:28 factor.” In Romans 8:28, we are assured that God can use ALL things for the good of those who love him. So even in a pandemic, creative use of technology has enabled the church to not only remain open, but expand its witness.

But we can’t figure out a way to safely sing together. The droplets expelled from the mouth when singing are apparently significantly increased when the gathered people sing, so we have been discouraged from singing together once we re-gather.

Church without singing is like a day without sunshine for me. And I miss it to the point of tears.

Today’s Psalm makes many references to singing praises. In fact, “sing praise” is repeated five times. Way to rub it in, psalmist! In defense of the writer, one could hardly have ever imagined a time when singing praises was impossible, but here we are.

In concert with that instruction, we also are given an image of God as our most high King, who reigns over all the nations from his holy throne. Surely we can take comfort in that imagery. When Christ returns to establish his kingdom on earth, singing will not only be possible, but irresistible. Even the very rocks and stones will sing for joy.

Psalm 47 New King James Version

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.
He will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
He will choose our inheritance for us,
The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.

So while we wait, know this: the shields of the earth belong to God. In this context, shields is synonymous with princes. In a prophetic way, the psalmist is pointing to a time when the people of the God of Abraham recognize their messiah has come, and have gathered with the kings of every tribe on the earth and submit to the authority of God.

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.

So today our song is, “E’en So Lord Jesus! Quickly come.”

Until we sing again…

Nothing Stops a Lab from Singing

Songs of the Pandemic

The Psalms were originally written to be sung as songs. They provide a glimpse of ancient Hebrew life when we read them and hear what the people were experiencing. Music has always been a way to record the joys, sorrows, angst, and fears of a generation. In the Psalms, we experience the hope and sadness of that generation, and surprisingly, they translate into songs for our current circumstance as well.

As you read this, think of those who have lost a loved one to COVID 19. Think of the exhaustion of the front line workers who are taking care of us, feeding us, providing services for us, and putting their own lives at risk for us.

Psalm 116 (New King James Version)

I love the Lord, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

In every circumstance, God’s people have called upon the name of the Lord, and in every circumstance, God has inclined his ear. Wherever we find trouble and sorrow, we also find God, right there in the midst of it.

What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me?
13 I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all His people.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.

Many have died. Many more will die. All are precious in the sight of the Lord. We are one day closer to the end of this thing, but we aren’t finished yet. How can we continue to sing in the middle of this pandemic? What should our lyrics be?

I think we should join the chorus of the original Psalmists, and sing praises. We should lift our voices high in harmonies of thanksgiving. Let us simply praise the Lord. Praising God in the storm reminds us of who he is, and whose we are. God loosed our bonds so that we might be free of all fear and sadness. Yes, there is death, but death has no sting. Praise the Lord!

16 O Lord, truly I am Your servant;
I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant;
You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the Lord.

18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all His people,
19 In the courts of the Lord’s house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!

Singing Alone in the Pandemic by Wende Pritchard

Call to Worship

It’s worse in the morning.

Before you’re fully awake, before the first cup of coffee has had a chance to take root in your soul and your system, before the cobwebs fall from your brain, the worst moment of the day is when you wake up but you aren’t quite fully awake. Because some how overnight, you forgot. You forgot that something very bad happened. Then as waking-awareness comes, you suddenly remember.

This was my painful reality when my father and mother died. This was how I woke up every morning when my kids left for college. This happened to me every day when my daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer. If you have experienced loss of any kind, you know what I am talking about.

It goes like this: You wake up in your normal fog and immediately your brain goes through its usual check-list: I need coffee…what day is it…must get coffee…what do I have to do today…where is the coffee…is it really time to get up already…why am I not drinking coffee…can I hit the snooze button for another 10 minutes…then BAM. Oh, yes. I remember now. The Pandemic.

The scale and scope of this thing are still building toward some unknown peak. The economic trickle-down will be devastating.

Here on the Outer Banks we are spinning with angst. Will we have visitors this season? What if they bring the virus with them? Will we lose our foreign students who come every spring and fill important jobs that help our economy survive? Will our tiny little hospital be able to handle what’s about to happen?

Churches are closed. Financially, we will never recover. If we have just one snow day a year, we don’t make our budget for that year. This…well, this is something else entirely. What will we do?

ENOUGH. We can only take so much of this endless speculation and worry. It is grinding us down, and the truth is, we can’t control what comes next. So why let it control us?

Psalm 95 (New King James Version)

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.


For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.

Whenever the people of God have struggled, they have always known the remedy…to sing. Sing of God’s greatness, sing of his provision, sing choruses that remind us that he holds the deep places of the earth and the heights of the hills are in his hand. Just sing!

When we enter into worship, our minds are focused on God. Maybe this can be a time of perpetual worship, and that may be the one thing that gets us through it. On a normal day, our minds would be focused on getting tasks done, going to work, figuring out the kid’s schedules, making dinner, and getting the laundry and shopping done. Much of that is altered now. God is not.

The unchangeable nature of God is where we need to focus right now. Worship has to become a daily (hourly) thing, rather than once a week on Sunday. We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control our reactions and responses. When we worship, we hasten the joy. Now is the time to worship.

So when you wake up tomorrow and remember, do this. Sing in your mind. Enter into a moment of thanksgiving that WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS. Consider the ways that God is the King of all creation. Give praise to the Rock of our salvation. Bow down your fears and kneel before our Maker. REMEMBER WHO GOD IS. And pray through your tears.

Then get up, and realize that you are now one day closer to the end of this. Thanks be to God.

This reminder was brought to you by the Dunwoody Police, Dunwoody, Georgia..