Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 23 – From Jon Bauman

Thursday April 16, 2020

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

Matthew 8:23-27 (NRSV)

We have seen the movies and TV Shows about boats being stuck in the middle of the ocean during a storm, and have felt the tension of the scene as the crew attempts to keep the boat above water. But this scene from Matthew 8 is even more tense than those moments.

Do you remember the story of Jonah when he refused to go where God told him to go, he fell asleep on a boat going somewhere else, and a terrible storm hit? The men on the boat blamed him for the storm because it was a common belief that the gods controlled the seas and the weather, and that Jonah must have upset his God. The only way in which the storm would calm was if Jonah sacrificed himself for the good of the crew by throwing himself overboard. The story doesn’t end there for Jonah either. But the point is that the people saw the rough weather as an indication of the anger of their gods. And the Sea was a scary Abyss that had no bottom.

In this passage, Jesus is exhausted from all of the ministry that needed to be done on the mainland, and he instructed his disciples to get in a boat and to go to the other side of the sea of Galilee. The “other side” of the sea of Galilee was populated completely by Gentiles, whereas where they came from was primarily occupied by the Hebrew people. Therefore, this “other side” would have been seen as unclean, dangerous, unholy, and even evil.

Can you imagine the disciple’s apprehension before getting on that boat as they wondered why Jesus would take them to the other side? Now imagine their confusion, anger, and fear, as the winds and waves start to get wild, and their leader is asleep at the stern of the boat (as Mark 4 tells us) which gave direction to the boat.

They must have wondered, “are we being punished? Is this not who we thought? Is he not going to help us?”.

Jesus then wakes up, and REBUKES the winds and the sea. That is, he puts the winds and the sea into place by submitting them under his authority, and there was a “dead Calm”. That which was alive and thriving, scary and treacherous, is now dead.

“What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

In that one act, Jesus proved his authority over the sea, which was seen as a murky abyss, over the weather, which was seen as being controlled by the gods (showing his own divine authority), and over the situation by showing the disciples that they can have peace when they are with Him.

During this time of turmoil, as our world is being tossed in the winds of fear and on the waters of hopelessness, we can either resign ourselves to this fear and to this hopelessness, or we can seek a peace that comes from knowing that God is with us.

We do not know when this will all go away, and when things will begin to feel normal again, but we do know that God is with us when we are afraid, when we cry, and that we can have peace in knowing that.

In trusting in this, we continue to follow Jesus into the unknown, like the disciples followed Jesus onto that boat that was headed to the other side.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 22 – From Pastor Joyce

Wednesday April 15, 2020

I will say this: because these experiences I had were so tremendous, God was afraid I might be puffed up by them; so I was given a physical condition which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me and prick my pride. Three different times I begged God to make me well again.

Each time he said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities. 10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite happy about “the thorn,” and about insults and hardships, persecutions and difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong—the less I have, the more I depend on him.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – The Living Bible (TLB)

Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s going to scar him for life!” It’s usually said for comic relief about something that was dramatic in a person’s life.  It is true enough, that as we go through life, many things do affect us. And when those things are harmful, they can leave scars.

Many of us have actual scars from surgeries.  I have a silver-colored scar running down each of my knees – that’s where the surgeon performed knee replacement surgery.  Others have scars from heart surgeries or kidney-replacement surgery or even skin cancer surgeries. Although scars are often seen as something bad, they are really good.  Scars are the result of successful interventions to help a person live a healthier life. They can remind us of the pain and suffering that was a part of the original problem – or they can remind us of the healing the surgical intervention brought.

We all carry scars that are not physical, instead they are scars of the heart, things that have hurt us in the past, things that may not have healed even after many years.  People can carry hurts from childhood, things like being bullied or ostracized from a social group. There are scars from adulthood, things like losing friendships or being passed over for a promotion.    None of these scars show on the outside, but they are no less real. And they may not be scars at all. Scars result from a healing process. They show that infection is gone, a condition has been remedied, and healing can begin.  But if something is still wounding, that something is not part of the healing process. When past hurts continue to hurt us, they cannot heal.  

I once heard a therapist relate that when a client finally can talk about a past hurt, even one that may have happened as a child, the person’s voice changes to sound like that person at the age when the hurt happened.  The therapist suggested that this showed that the person was not able to move past the hurt. If the hurt happened as a ten-year-old, the person sounded like a ten year old. The client could only move past their hurt after it was talked about, discussed and new insights drawn.  It could be said that once it was opened up, cleaned out, and disinfected, it no longer was a hurt but was on its way to becoming a scar.  

Paul had some sort of hurt, a thorn in the flesh.  Paul calls it a physical condition, but it could also be something internal that affected him physically. Paul doesn’t tell us whether this thorn in the flesh was physical, spiritual, or emotional.  There has been much discussion as to exactly what this “thorn” was. Some of the more popular theories of the thorn’s interpretation include temptation, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, or a speech disability. Others have suggested that he could be referring to the Jews’ rejection of the gospel or other persecution.  The phrase “thorn in the flesh” continues to be used as a metaphor for “a source of continual annoyance or trouble.” Paul had no relief from this “thorn.”

Whatever it was, it kept him from being as effective as he felt he could without it.  Because Paul was doing God’s work, it seemed only natural for him to ask God to take this condition or situation away.  He didn’t ask just once, he asked three times.

But God did not answer Paul’s plea, and Paul wanted to know why this was the case.  Paul was not asking for something for himself; instead he was asking for something that would allow him to be more effective in spreading the gospel.  Why wasn’t God giving Paul what he asked for? Paul did get this answer – God’s power is most noticeable in weak people, people who nevertheless continue to rely on God.  Instead of feeling weak by relying his own strength, Paul felt strong because he relied on God’s power.

The exact nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is uncertain. There is probably a good reason that we don’t know. God likely wanted Paul’s difficulty to be described in general enough terms to apply to any difficulty we may face now. Whether the “thorn” we struggle with today is physical, emotional, or spiritual, we can know that God has a purpose and that His grace is all-sufficient.  There are two types of things that we deal with – things that we can change, sometimes with help from professionals or friends or through prayer, and things that we can’t change no matter what.  

We all have had or will experience chronic illnesses, aging, diminished abilities, and other ailments.  We all have had or will experience emotional hurts, things in our pasts that we cannot change. Some of these things we cannot change because they are part of the aging process.  These we will continue to live with – just a Paul learned to live with his “thorn in the flesh.” Other things that we may want changed are not in our ability to change. We cannot bring back a loved one.  We can’t go back and fix something hurtful that we did in the past. Some things just can’t be changed. Some things we just have to live with. Paul’s reaction to not having his prayer answered in the way that he wanted helps us all accept that not all of the things we pray for, no matter how good they might be, will be answered in the way we would like.

There have been millions, even hundreds of millions, of prayers prayed for an end to this coronavirus pandemic.  God so far has not answered those prayers. One of the lessons to be learned from this unusual time is that we humans don’t have all the answers.  In time, we pray that we humans will find a vaccine that will tame this virus. In time, our lives will get back to some kind of normalcy. But while we are in the midst of this pandemic, we can continue to pray to God for strength, strength that comes from our most powerful God.  For that we can give thanks every day. God is with us. That is all we need. Amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 21 – From Pastor Doug

Tuesday April 14, 2020

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NLT)

When we were growing up, my family and Pastor Joyce’s family were next door neighbors.  We lived in two company houses just outside the factory fence.  We each paid rent, but we were responsible for all the outside upkeep.  There was about an acre of grass to cut.  One side of this lawn was bounded by an open field (which was cut each fall for hay).

Our fathers assigned grass cutting to me and pastor Joyce’s brother, Jerry, who was my age.  I would cut one week and Jerry the next.  It was about a two-hour job.

My attitude toward this job was poor.  It was hot, boring, ear splitting work in my view, made worse by my hay fever allergy.  The lawn mower was balky to start.  Worse, the clutch knob slipped.  In theory, pulling out the knob stopped the wheels; pushing it in started the wheels.  But it wouldn’t stay in.  It had to be held in with considerable pressure or every minute or so and the mower would stop.  And this knob was not conveniently located; it was in the center of the handlebar, not out by the hand grips.

When it was my turn to cut, I would eye the boundary between the grass and the open field.  I would always cut about a half-width in from the boundary, making the grass area smaller and the field bigger.  Jerry’s attitude was much better about cutting.  When it was his turn to cut, he would cut an extra half-width out into the field, making the field smaller and the grass area bigger.  So, the boundary would move back and forth all summer.

Our scripture today talks about Christian behavior, especially attitude toward work.  It talks about singing in gratitude for work.  When Paul wrote this letter, many of the early Christians were slaves or day laborers.  They had to do whatever their owners or employers demanded, often seven days a week.  It would be very easy for them to resent their work.  Yet Paul taught that Christians, including himself, should see work positively.  And when Christians did work, they should do it in the name of Jesus and give thanks to God the Father.

Looking back, I was my own worst enemy.  I acted like I was a victim.  Grass cutting would have been so much better for me if my attitude had been better.

I wonder if shelter-at-home falls into that category.  We could look at it as lonely and confining.  For others, working from home with children at home, it means less efficient work and added responsibility for home schooling.  It also adds having to parent children who cannot get out to use up energy.  And it may mean uncertainty about whether they will catch the virus and whether pay checks will still come.  We could decide shelter-in-place is the pits.  We could stew about each difficulty like I did about cutting grass.  

But we don’t have to.  We are Christians.  Paul advises us to see even this as a time to be grateful and positive.  As a time to sing.  If we turn our attitudes over to God, we will feel much better and make our time into a living testimony of our faith.   Thanks be to God.

– Pastor Doug, a former mowing complainer who (with a particle mask) now enjoys it.      

Stay in touch.  Share your needs.  Let us help.  Amen.   

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 20 – From Pastor Joyce

Verse of the Day - Psalms 16:5-11 | The Bible App |

Monday April 13, 2020

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
    You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
    What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
10 For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
11 You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. 

Psalm 16:5-11 (NLT)

One of my childhood memories of my father is that he loved to drive. And his preferred model of car was a Studebaker since that was the make of car his father drove. My father loved to be behind the wheel. Because of this love of driving and because our family had very little money, one of our favorite things to do was to get in the car and take a ride.

Sometimes we would visit relatives or run errands, but what my father, and my mother as well, truly loved was to explore – just get in the car and drive somewhere. We lived in rural western Pennsylvania so there were plenty of roads to travel, small roads, that weren’t even marked on any map. My father might see a road veering off the one we were traveling, and he would turn up this unknown road just to see where it went. Often, we had no idea exactly where we were but thought it might be interesting to see new territory. Just as an aside, my father was an avid trout fisherman, and so I think he was also scoping out possible new and undiscovered streams for future fishing expeditions.

Even though my brother and I usually had absolutely no idea where we were or where we were headed, neither of us ever felt we were lost. We had faith and confidence in our father that he would be able to get us back home. Since we had no fears, we were able to enjoy the trip.

Thanks to COVID-19 we are all on a trip into the unknown. We don’t really know exactly where we are or when we will get back to the familiar. We have good reason to be anxious, worried, and concerned. Are we going to get sick? Will the stores continue to be stocked? What about our jobs? Our paychecks? Our kids and school? When can we once again go out to dinner/a movie/a sports game? When can we once again gather for worship? When? When? When?

We like to know where we are going, when we will get there, who we will meet, what we will experience, and how we should prepare. We like to be “in the know.” When we don’t have answers to these questions, we can feel lost and maybe even frustrated.

However, just as my brother and I had faith in our father’s knowledge of where we would eventually find something familiar and get us home again, we as Christians have the wonderful gift of faith in our Father God. We are traveling unfamiliar roads because of this virus. We don’t really know where we are going or when the trip will bring us back to the familiar.

We do know that the writer of Psalm 16, King David, was confident that God will show “the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.”

In the gospel of Matthew 19:14, Jesus reminded the adults who had gathered to listen to him that the faith of children was not to be ignored. Instead he said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

Let us all be able to give our concerns and worries over to God and focus on God’s care for us, never leaving us, always being with us, available to us in all circumstances, even our current pandemic difficulties.

Blessings to all who remain safe and well. Blessings to those who are suffering symptoms of this horrid virus. Blessings to those who have lost friends and loved ones in this pandemic. Bless mightily all the doctors and nurses who risk their lives every day and night caring for the sick and those who play support roles – the techs, the transport staff, even those who clean the rooms – all play such an important and vital role in helping all of us get through this time. Bless the EMTs, the fire companies, the police, and our government officials who are trying to keep is all safe. Bless all those who keep our grocery stores stocked, our home centers open for business and all others who are helping to keep our lives as normal as possible in this abnormal time. Blessings to us all. Amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 19 – From Pastor Doug

Friday April 10, 2020

28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

John 19:28-30 (NLT)

Jesus had completed his mission to spread good news, teach us how to live, reveal God’s nature and plan, and prepare us for the Holy Spirit.  He had suffered ridicule and abuse to pay for our sins.  All that was left for him to do was to give up his spirit.  It was finished.

His mission on earth was finished but people’s mission on earth had only begun.  We need to accept his good news and tell it to others.  To live as Jesus taught, we need to change the selfishness, pride, and indifference that otherwise dominate us.

Let’s go back to the people whose mission began when Jesus’ life was finished, the disciples he left behind.

They were thrown into a time of distress.  What they did could make or break them.  Their fate hung in the balance.  They needed help and a lot of it.  In fact, although Jesus had done all he could to prepare and launch them, they weren’t ready.  Therefore, Jesus did not just ascend into heaven when he died.  He stayed here to guide, comfort, and encourage them long after he said, “It is finished.” 

What was the first reaction of his disciples?  They had become doubtful and confused and frightened.  They went into hiding from the authorities.  They did none of the work to spread the faith that Jesus left for them.  After Jesus ascended into heaven, they still had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and help them.  It was (traditionally) fifty days, over seven weeks after Jesus arose from the grave, until the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost.  Only then, Peter led the disciples out of hiding and into the wonderful work of spreading faith.

When the Coronavirus first hit, we first responded with doubt and confusion and fright.  Our response has been to hide from the virus, shelter-in-place.  For many our work has stopped or been restricted.  We may remain in this mode for fifty days.  Does this sound familiar?

The disciples withdrew for a time, but that time passed and they burst forth with new spirit and direction.  Their doubts, confusion, and fear were replaced by faith, direction, and determination.  When we emerge from shelter-at-home, I believe we too will have a new sense of appreciation of life.  With God’s help our doubts, confusion, and fear will be reduced.  Death and danger will still be threats, but hopefully we will have learned how to fight this virus.  We can look forward to faith, direction, and determination.

Let us pray that this time is a maker, not a breaker, of us.  Let us pray that we do not succumb to the virus.  May we find the return of freedom as an opportunity to do more for one another, in Jesus’ name.    

Stay in touch.  Share your needs.  Let us help.  Amen.   

-Pastor Doug Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 18 – From Pastor Doug

Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?  Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”  When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT)

I think Jesus praying in the garden this is one of the most harrowing passages in the Bible.  His emotional turmoil is so visible.  It is like watching an accident in slow motion.  Until this time he knew in the abstract that his mission was to accept ridicule, abuse, and death as a ransom for us.  But in the garden the abstract became real.  

Peter also would go through a harrowing time in the courtyard while Jesus was being questioned by the Sanhedrim.  He was repeatedly accused of being one of Jesus’ followers.  Emotionally, he was clearly torn.  He wanted to be close to Jesus, but he did not want to get arrested.   His plan was to watch from a place of safety.  But the courtyard was not safe.  Suddenly the danger became real. 

Both men confronted peril.  One faced his.  The other did not.  

One theory about Jesus was that he had no personal fear.  Rather, his distress was due to his taking on himself the tremendous burden of human sin.  In part, yes.  But I think the account is better explained as that of a person confronting a nightmare and going forward regardless.  I think the power of Jesus’ example comes from the fact that he had a choice.  He could easily have slipped away before Judas came with a crowd.  But he did not.  A choice.  Driven by love.

Peter also had a choice.  A get out of jail free card.  Just deny that he knew Jesus.  Deny it with an oath.  What follower denies his leader with an oath?  He made that choice and it worked.  Peter walked away from the courtyard free.   A choice.  Driven by fear.

Fortunately for us, Peter grew beyond his fear and led the start of the Christianity.

We also are facing danger.  We also have choices.  We can deny the danger and move about like there is no viral threat.  Or we can face it head-on and do the one thing that works, shelter-in-place.  We can be selfish and have no regard for others.  Or we can embrace the time at home and reach out to others.  We can call one another and pray for one another and sew masks and wear them.  This is a harrowing time for us.  But as a church, we are facing this time and finding ways to make the best of it.  We have an example.  Jesus, our Lord.

Stay in touch.  Share your needs.  Let us help.  Amen.   

-Pastor Doug

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 17 – From Jon

Wednesday April 8, 2020

Rescue me from my enemies, Lord;
    I run to you to hide me.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
    on a firm footing.

Psalm 143:9-10 (NLT)

Children will often run to trusted adults like parents, grandparents, relatives, or guardians, in their life in times where they are troubled and scared. When they reach the one they trust, they either need to cling to them, or they try to hide behind them. They do this because they are scared or upset, and the adult that they run to is meant to protect them.

As we grow older from childhood to adulthood, there are still times in our lives when we call our parents, or others that we trust, because we just can’t figure out how to handle the situation we are in.

Maybe we need to call them if we are trying to figure out how to fix some leaky pipes, maybe its how to change brakes and rotors, maybe its to ask what a good substitute for eggs would be, and maybe its to ask them what to do when something bad happens, and we feel like a wreck, or we feel scared.

The person on the other end of the line will gladly listen to the questions, and they will attempt to help you as much as they can; for in this moment, they are reminded that they are loved and valued, and that they are needed.

When we are faced with things that we don’t know how to handle, we need to be reminded that God is always there for us, and is always ready to listen. No matter how old we become, no matter what we have done, or how far we have ran away in the past, God is always waiting to listen to our troubles, and to provide guidance and help.

When we receive comfort from a parental figure, we are reminded of the kind of love that God has for us.

When we are that parental figure, and we are asked advice from those who seek it, we are reminded that we have an opportunity to show God’s love to them.

Take some time today to thank your family for all that they do for you, and to pray to your heavenly Father to ask Him for his help, protection, and guidance.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 16 – From Pastor Joyce

Tuesday April 7, 2020

Psalm 40:6-8 New Living Translation (NLT)

6 You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
    Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
    you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
7 Then I said, “Look, I have come.
    As is written about me in the Scriptures:
8 I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.”

These verses may sound familiar to you since they were a part of yesterday’s devotional reading.  Yesterday the focus was on the importance of sacrifice in Jewish religious practice. Animal sacrifice had been the way the Jews atoned for their sins, but Jesus changed all that.  Instead of having to make regular and continuous sacrifices, sacrifices that atoned for sins only for a little while, Jesus’ death and resurrection atoned for all of our sins for all of us for all of the time.

Jesus knew that this was the role he was to fill. Jesus understood that God no longer found animal sacrifice pleasing.  Jesus understood that he was the Messiah, the one God was sending to God’s people because of God’s immeasurable love for them.  

Jesus also must have known that this would not be an easy role to play, that it would require him to suffer and to die.  Yet Jesus quotes this psalm – including the words “I take joy in doing your will, my God for your instructions are written on my heart.”  This psalm, written by David, was to be fulfilled by the Messiah.  

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday, he must have known that the culmination of all that he was sent to do would happen very soon.  Jesus, fully human and fully divine, must have felt conflicted within himself concerning what was to come next. We know from scripture that he continued to follow God’s will – he chased the money changers out of the Temple, he continued to preach within the Temple grounds, he told his disciples what was to come, he brought them together for a final meal – the Last Supper.  He knew Judas was going to betray him and he willingly went to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives to wait for his betrayer and those who accompanied him.

But he did have doubts.  That was his human side. Before Jesus met his betrayer, he went away from the others to pray.  Luke 22:39-46 tells us the story:

39 Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. 40 There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”

41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 

45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”

We are now being asked to make sacrifices: no more school days, work from home or no work at all coupled with the loss of income, no church services, no vacations, no travel, no movies, no dining out, possibly no senior proms or senior trips, no play dates, no birthday parties.  Weddings are being postponed and funerals are either being postponed, or attendance is being severely limited. The list could go on and on. 

How then, can we take joy in following these social distancing regulations?  Can we see these actions as following God? One scripture can shed light on these questions. John 15:13: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

When seen from this perspective, we are laying down the lives we once enjoyed in order to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy.  This shows in obvious ways: that God’s love in our responses to our situations is part of this experience. By giving up, even temporarily, those things that we love to do in order to shield ourselves and others from this COVID-19 virus, is truly an act of love.

We may feel anxiety, fear, apprehension, and concern about our future, and that is natural.  That is human. Jesus felt similar feelings. An angel came and ministered to Jesus and strengthened him.  We probably will not have a similar angel come and minister to us, but we have the knowledge that God loves us abundantly and we can show God’s love by experiencing social distancing and sacrifice so that we and others might stay healthy.  There is joy in doing God’s will, even though this means difficulty and hardship. We, like Jesus, carry God’s instructions in our hearts. That is why we can stay strong throughout this challenging time. May God bless and keep you. Stay Strong.  Stay healthy. Stay home. Amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 15 – From Pastor Joyce

Monday April 6, 2020

That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.”
  (Psalm 40:6-8)

First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.

Hebrews 10:5-10 (NLT)

The writer of Hebrews wants to make it very clear to us that Jesus was clear about the reason God sent Him to earth. For hundreds of years of Jewish history, making an animal sacrifice was required in order to achieve forgiveness of sins. However, this sacrifice of an animal brought only limited atonement for sin – the sacrifice needed to be done again and again. That kind of forgiveness was inadequate since it did not make the sinner “holy.” Holy, in the Greek, characterized an act that had lasting effect.

This sort of sacrifice had been part of Jewish worship from the very beginning. The book of Leviticus gives instructions how to make this way of worship meaningful to the people and to God. The whole animal was burned in the altar fire. This was the most extravagant sacrifice that could be made because the entire animal was given to God. This burning of a sacrificial animal transformed the offering into smoke or a “pleasing odor” that God could enjoy. After the sacrifice, an offering of incense, seen as communion with God, was offered. This communion with God came after the sacrifice was made as an atonement for sin.

But as often happens with rituals that are conducted over many years, they lost more and more of their meaning. God was aware of this lessening of devotion to this sort of sacrifice.

The prophet Hosea delivered this message from God: “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.” Hosea 6:6.

And King David in one of his psalms reinforces Hosea’s words: “16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.” Psalm 51:16-17

Because of this breakdown in worship and sacrifice, God sent Jesus, His one and only Son to live among us, teach us, and then become the ultimate sacrifice for us. No longer were sacrifices of animals needed. The sacrifice of Jesus was a once and for all time sacrifice. Jesus followed the will of God, coming down from heaven to live among us and to finally offer His own life as a sacrifice for us all.

In this season of Lent, in this week between Palm Sunday and Easter – Holy Week – we are being kept apart by the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot gather together to celebrate this amazing gift God has given us. We cannot together experience communion together or enjoy an Easter breakfast together; we cannot enjoy Easter lilies together or Easter egg hunts or even Easter candy together. This is indeed a different time, a time of sacrifice for all of us, in order to keep as many of us as healthy as possible. This time surely feels like sacrifice.

Although the Bible does not deal with pandemics and how to stay healthy, we can know that God would want us all to do what we are doing now. It may not feel much like God’s will, but it can be seen in this way. We are making a sacrifice so that we can once again worship in our familiar ways. This may a time of feeling that our spirit has been broken. But this brokenness is like what happens when a horse is first ridden. That horse resists the constraints that the rider can put on it. But it does learn; it does the will of the rider. In a similar way, we are broken by God – in order to do the will of God. Doing the will of God also brings us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, the gifts from the Holy Spirit.

During this holy season, know that you are doing the will of God by keeping a safe distance between you and all those around you. Let us be in community, although distant from one another, during this time of sacrifice. May this Holy Week be filled with holy times for you. Amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 14 – From Pastor Doug

Friday April 3, 2020

12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15 Remember what it says: 

“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”

Hebrews 3:12-15 (NLT)

Jackie Pullinger was a Christian missionary who spent her life working with prostitutes, heroin addicts and gang members in the worst neighborhood in Hong Cong.  She spoke about her motivation saying, “God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet.”  In other words, love and compassion (soft hearts) should get us walking (hard feet) to where we can help those in need.

How do we get hard hearts?  

It’s basically selfishness that pushes out concern for others.  The Bible talks a lot about Pharaoh in Egypt having a hard heart when Moses asked him to free the Jewish slaves.  Pharaoh cared more about holding on to his power than about the suffering of the slaves.  

I think a root cause of selfishness is often fear.  We so fear losing something that we focus on keeping it with no thought about others.  We are so afraid of something, like not enough money or lack of respect or physical danger, that we won’t stop avoiding it, even if we ignore everyone else in the process.

Jesus and God’s angels knew well what fear can do to us.  Again and again they told people in sermons and visions, “Do not be afraid!”  Especially don’t be afraid to do something unselfish and good.  

Our hospital staffs are a wonderful example of this.  They are keeping their hearts soft and their feet hard as they care for Covid19 sufferers.  And we are doing our part.   Yes, we are taking precautions seriously.  But we are doing it as much to protect others as to protect ourselves.  And in many ways we are walking the extra mile to keep people from feeling forgotten and alone.  As we all do this, we also are keeping our hearts from becoming hard.   Thanks be to God. 

-Pastor Doug Donigian