Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 37 – From Pastor Joyce

Wednesday May 6, 2020

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

Philemon 1:4-7 (NLT)

It is always good to see a passage of scripture in context.  Philemon is a short book, only one chapter of 24 verses.  It is most likely the contents of a letter carried back to Philemon from Paul. It does not give us any help in understanding the setting for this letter. 

Here is some of the back story:

Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter to his friend and fellow believer, Philemon, who lived in Colossae in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. (Paul wrote another letter to all the believers in that city – Colossians.) Paul wrote to this friend to ask a favor, not for himself but for another. 

Philemon must have been fairly wealthy – he had a house large enough to host meetings of believers; he was known for his hospitality and care.  But he also owned slaves.  And one of those slaves, Onesimus, had run away from his master and had found his way to Rome.  Paul was in prison there at that time, but somehow he met Onesimus and led him to faith in Jesus.

It is unclear why Onesimus ran away from his master.  Philemon had the well-deserved reputation for being kind and fair, faithful to the teaching of Jesus.  He was a man whose faith was strong, and he showed that faith in how he dealt with his household and all those who knew him. He showed God’s love so well that when believers left his home, they felt rested and refreshed, like that had been at an oasis.  

Some of these accounts had reached Paul in Rome.  After meeting Paul Onesimus listened to his teachings and became a believer.  Not only a believer but one who wanted to work to spread God’s word.  That most likely meant that he would need to reconcile with his master Philemon and settle accounts with him.  Onesimus may have asked Paul to write the letter or Paul may have felt that it was his obligation to bring harmony back into the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.

So he wrote this letter in hopes that he could convince Philemon to take Onesimus back without punishment.  In fact, Paul later in the letter asks that Onesimus be allowed to return not as a slave but as a brother in the Lord, one who wanted to spread the faith.  

Paul asks this as a favor, asking Philemon to forgive and reconcile with his slave, and additionally to allow him to work spreading the gospel along with working in Philemon’s household. 

Philemon must have been in a difficult position. He was a believer, caring for fellow believers, encouraging others to become believers as well.  It can be said that, although it was not thought of as “Christian” at the time, Christian generosity was part of Philemon’s makeup.  Yet he was also a man who had standing within his household and within the community.  Allowing a slave to run away and then take him back, not only without punishment but with a freedom not previously known, was not the way to add to his reputation among non-believers.  Such a decision would not have been understood by those who had not been touched by the teachings of Jesus.

Paul was asking this generous man to be even more generous. Why would Philemon choose this path rather than the more traditional, safer path in dealing with his runaway slave? 

One of the lessons we see here is that we learn about Christ by giving to others.  By not thinking about ourselves and our reputations, by emptying ourselves and becoming filled with Christ is a way we learn more about Christ.  By giving of ourselves we can be filled with those things that are of God.  This is a case of a man knowing more about Christ than those who study to learn about Christ.  Instead, Philemon’s knowledge of Christ came from showing loving generosity toward Onesimus.

Belief and faith in Jesus and showing God’s love toward others should bring Christians closer to one another than any other outward relationships.  Doing God’s work among those around us, regardless of their behavior or belief would be showing love and forgiveness and care to all who need it. That doesn’t mean that we should not pray for our Christian friends often, remembering them with calls and cards as well, Paul certainly did this well. Yet we are to always be ready to share our faith with those who have no faith.  That does not mean preaching at them or giving them some tracts to read.  It means for us to step out of our comfort zone by putting the needs of others before our own fears of rejection or perhaps saying the wrong thing. It means befriending.  It means becoming involved.  It means feeling “out of our element” sometimes, times when we can only rely on God’s guidance and leadership.

Philemon was convinced by Paul’s good reasoning. What Philemon did showed that his love of God was more important to him than adding to his own reputation within his community.  We are not told this directly, but we can guess that Philemon was happy to welcome Onesimus back into his household.  Having this man return to him of his own accord must have brought joy and comfort to him – and to the others of his household.  Having this be the result of Paul’s interaction with Onesimus, his conversion, his desire to return to his master, and to repair their relationship, shows how God was acting in the lives of these three men from the very beginning.  The result was that all three were blessed by doing God’s will, and God was glorified. Let us follow their example.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 36 – From Pastor Doug

Tuesday May 5, 2020

Matthew 18:19  19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

John 15:5-8  5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. 

Philippians 4:6-9  6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

One of the best and yet most confusing promises Jesus made to us was that he would answer earnest prayers from believers.  

This is one of the best because we keep encountering difficulties that have us stumped.  Prayer offers us a way out when we don’t see any other way. Examples … “Help us beat the coronavirus.”  “Please may the chemo work.” “Let them offer me the job.” “Help my relationship with (this difficult person) improve.”  These situations are often out of our control. But we know that God is in control of everything. So we pray to God for help.

It is also confusing because many prayers are not answered in the ways we ask.  The coronavirus keeps spreading. Chemo often works, but not always. Our job applications are turned down.  Our difficult person stays difficult. So, what are we to believe?

Here are some things to think about.  Please respond with your insights as well.

As a start, I believe that heart-felt praying is almost always good. (Don’t shut your eyes while driving or carving a turkey.)  Whether or not the prayer achieves what we ask for, God always says, “Thank you for asking. Thank you for turning to me and honoring me and trusting me.  I love that about you.”

But what about prayers that are not answered as we ask?

It may have to do with what are we asking for.  Some prayers, however earnest, are not in keeping with God’s will.  

Prayers that ask God to change laws of creation are very rarely answered as we ask.  The drunk driver is not often made miraculously sober just long enough to avoid an accident.  A worn-out body may not be miraculously cured. (Nevertheless, James encourages us to pray for the sick.)  Disasters sometimes happen even when many pray that they won’t. Don’t give up praying; just realize that it may not succeed in the way we ask.

Prayers that are basically selfish and would simply put us at an advantage over someone else are probably not in God’s will to answer.  Praying to beat someone else in a contest would be an example. Unselfish prayers for others (think enemies) are much more encouraged by Jesus than prayers for ourselves.  

Prayers for things that we humans are supposed to do, but aren’t doing, rarely succeed.  “Please make me stop smoking.” “Please keep me healthy, while I don’t socially distance or wash my hands.”  “Please help the poor in Quakertown.”

Sometimes it is said that what we pray is good but how we pray is bad.

This is a slippery slope.  Jesus warned that praying loudly in public to show we are holy does not get God’s approval.  He said that saying the same prayer fifty times in a row is not better than saying it once. But most complaints about how we pray are usually false and self-defeating.  

An example is to think, “I didn’t pray hard enough.”  Jesus’ specific instructions for how to pray tended to be very short and to the point.  The conclusion that I didn’t pray “hard enough” either says, “I failed and I’m guilty.” or says, “God withholds action unless I do enough the right way.”  This is false on both counts. Even when we don’t have words, God knows exactly what we need.  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26).”

Finally, there may be an issue of time.  Paul advised, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).” Do not quit praying when an answer does not appear immediately.  Jesus told a parable about a woman who wore down a judge by repeatedly asking for justice (Luke 18:1-8)  The beginning of this passage is, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  We have all heard testimonies of mothers who prayed for decades that their child would take a better path and then they did.  

Prayer is what we are asked to do as part of our relationship with God.  Many prayers succeed. If the prayer conversation is heartfelt and humble, we should do it whether or not we get the answer we are requesting.  Our goals are to rejoice in the conversation and to trust in God’s love, whatever the outcome. 

Pastor Doug Donigian

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

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 35 – From Jon

Monday May 4, 2020

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:31-40 (NRSV)

The Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four separate accounts of the life, teachings, ministry , and truth about our Lord Jesus Christ. Different Christian traditions tend to emphasize different parts of these Gospel writings as more informative of their own faith as far as how they are to live in the present moment.

For some, the dramatic calling of Christ to live a life of peace, forgiveness, and understanding that they see in the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 is how they believe they ought to live.

For others, the calling of Christ on the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them from Matthew 28 informs their mission of evangelism.

And for others, the calling of Christ to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the foreigner, and the outcasts from this passage from Matthew 25 informs their mission of working towards social justice, as well as their mission to directly help others in the form of soup kitchens.

These three examples of emphasis are all good ways in which Christians are called to live, but if we only emphasize one part of the Gospel’s calling on our lives, at the exclusion of the others, we miss the full picture.

Every person in our churches and in our Christian communities is unique. Some will be those who will remind us to live lives that strive for holiness, some will be those who remind us of the call to share our faith with others verbally and through intentional relationships, and some will be those who remind us of the need to care for those in need. A healthy church has people within it that see the value of all three of these callings and other callings from the Gospels, and it has those in leadership who support those in their church who are passionate about each of these callings, while reminding the congregation that Christians are called to believe in and see the value in all of the callings on the Christian life.

If we live lives that seek right living, but we don’t leave our own circles, we miss out on the mission to evangelize, baptize, and care for the sick, hungry, and oppressed.

If we live lives that are dedicated to evangelism, but we don’t strive for right living, and we ignore the needs of others, we miss out on those missions.

If we live lives that are dedicated to the care of others in need, but don’t strive for right living, or sharing out faith with others, we miss out on those missions.

Today’s scripture reading reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a pastor I used to know about the importance of caring for and loving others:

“Nothing in the Bible permits me to be a jerk.”

– Pastor Gary

Jesus’ ministry, message, and the Gospel message of the cross and resurrection itself, all display that the goodness of God should be available to all people, and that all people should live according to the will of God, should share the goodness of God with others through evangelism and through caring for others. Jesus, in Matthew 25, is speaking of addressing religious people in the day of judgement who intentionally ignored the needs of those around them, likely because they saw the people in need as less of a human being. To me, this kind of behavior doesn’t seem to be permitted by Jesus.

Pastor Gary, his wife, and the elders and deacons of his church met with college students weekly to give them a meal, and to talk about our lives, our shared faith, and to encourage us to share our faith with others through the ministry of conversing with and praying for the homeless of Bristol, PA, and through opening their church services to anyone and everyone.

Through challenging times, through hurtful words said, and when ministry got tough, I was reminded of Pastor Gary’s words, that NOTHING permitted him to be unkind to anyone he was speaking with.

In this time as we are spending more time in our homes than we had before, it is a good time for some self-reflection.

We should ask ourselves what we are doing right now to seek out right living in our personal lives, to ask ourselves what we are doing to share our faith, and what we are doing to help those around us.

Then, we should ask ourselves what we CAN do to improve our Christian living in these and other areas, while committing to being kind and loving to all people that we come across.

Lastly, we should examine ourselves to discover where our natural passions are, and how they could align with the missions of our Church and Christian community, both now, and when we are able to reconvene.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 33 – From Pastor Joyce

Thursday April 30, 2020

What can we bring to the LORD?
Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins?
No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:6-8 (NLT)

The prophet Micah gives us some very specific guidelines for pleasing our God. In Jewish history there were things that people did to honor God. These involved making sacrifices of various kinds. There were five main types of grain and animal sacrifice. These included burnt offerings in which the whole animal was burned. This was the most extravagant offering since the entire animal was given to God. There were grain offerings of fine flour or unleavened baked goods mixed with oil. Then there were the well-being/fellowship offerings in which an animal was sacrificed but only the internal organs were burned, and the rest of the animal was divided between the priests and the one making the offering. There was the sin or purification offering which also was an animal sacrifice. Finally, there was the guilt offering that was given when there was something wrong in the person’s relationship with God. In such offerings only the inner parts were burned with the rest of the animal given to the priests.

These offering were seen as “gifts” given to God. When sacrifices were made, the Israelites saw these offerings as a way to give back to God some of what God had given them. These acts of sacrifice showed their desire to deepen their relationship with God. To the Israelites sacrifice always involved transformation. One of the most common ways to transform something was to destroy it, and the easiest way to destroy, to transform, something was to burn it up. Using an animal as a sacrifice took the animal from the ordinary and changed it into the extraordinary, from merely an animal to a gift pleasing to God. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel believed these sacrifices were sufficient to atone for any sins of omission or commission that they had done.

But Micah tells them that the sacrifices that they thought were pleasing to God were just the opposite. Animal and grain sacrifices were not enough. No longer was the smoke rising from the altar a pleasing odor to God. No longer was this the desired way of improving their relationship with God. God wanted something different. Instead of sacrifices God wanted those who love God to do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

To do what is right, show mercy, and live with humility – none of these behaviors take the extraordinary effort to fulfill as making the long journey to Jerusalem to sacrifice animals or grain. Animals do not need to be bought, lives do not need to be disrupted in order to make such a journey, nor is it necessary to involve others to help with the sacrifice. These behaviors involve only the person and God. No animals, no journey, no Temple, no priests, just a one-on-one decision by the person setting goals to deepen their commitment with God.

We may not always be successful in accomplishing these goals, but they are attainable. But there are times when following this advice becomes more difficult. In times like these when we are encouraged to stay at home, avoid crowds, and wash our hands, it is harder to do what is right, show mercy, and do things the right way. These actions are focused on relationships with one another. They help define how we should think about and act toward others. When we are separated and so much of our interactions is restricted, it is harder to stay focused on these ways to please God.

And this is not the only difficulty in following these guidelines from Micah. Age plays a part. As we age, we slow down; we may not have the same enthusiasm we once did; we are not as strong; our bodies show signs of wear and tear. These facts of aging do influence how we can fulfill God’s mission. In this time of pandemic, age keeps many of us from volunteering to help. Instead of accepting our offers of help, those in charge may look at us as folks who need to be protected rather than helping hands. And they would be right. Senior citizens are more at risk than younger folks.

So what can we do? We can keep ourselves healthy by staying home. By doing this we will not be adding to the already burdened health care system. Not only will we stay well, but we will not possibly spread virus to others.

But there are things we can do – we can pray for those who are suffering from COVID and for their families. We can pray for all the front-line workers – health care workers, police, EMTs, grocery clerks, garbage collectors, mail carriers – the list could go on. There are many, many others who are trying to keep our lives somewhat normal during this time.

As Governor Wolf considers how to reopen our state, we can pray that this is done in ways that will not increase the loss of life. We can pray for careful reopening of schools, businesses, and churches. We can pray for finding drugs that will shorten the duration and lessen the severity of this virus. We can pray that such drugs will reduce the loss of life. We can pray for a vaccine that will finally allow us to live our lives more like we did just a few months ago.

We can call our friends, our church members, and neighbors to make sure they are staying well. We can send them cards. If we are talented, we can make cloth masks or other needed items. We can help but from a distance. In these ways and many others, we can do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 32 – From Jon

Wednesday April 29, 2020

29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Matthew 20:29-34

Two blind men were sitting together on a road outside of a city, and called out to be healed by a traveling prophet and preacher, who we now know as our Lord, Jesus. The crowds that were with Jesus shouted at the two men to keep quiet – they viewed the men as a nuisance. Why?

  • Why were the blind men sitting outside of the city?
  • Why were they by themselves without anyone to help them?
  • Why were two blind men together at all?
  • Why was the response of the crowds to keep them quiet, rather than to listen to them?

The blind men were likely not family members, and yet they became like family to one another because of their shared affliction of being blind. As blind men, they were seen as being punished by God for a sin that they committed, or a sin their parents committed, and as such, they were not seen by the people as men they should help, but men who they should exclude and silence.

And so, these two men stick together because they may have no one else, and then they hear the commotion of a large crowd coming their way, and they heard the name “Jesus” being a person that is being addressed as being present. Remembering others who’ve passed by talking about this Jesus before, they decided to call out to this healer that they heard so much about. For yes, they were seen as cursed by the crowds, but surely Jesus would have mercy on them, and heal them, just as they had heard he healed others.

On that day, these two men who were considered cursed, and they had possibly even considered themselves cursed, but they were then healed by a man who the people believe was sent by God in some way. Their world changed that day in a dramatic way because they not only could see again, but they no longer just had each other – they had a whole other family.

I love how the Gospels continually point out these moments where Jesus goes against the cultural norms in order to help people in need of saving, hope, healing, acceptance, and love.

I also love that this story points out that people who are afflicted usually help one another.

In college, I volunteered with a church near the school to go out to a place called “Tent City” in Bristol, PA where a homeless community was formed because they had no where else to go, and they decided that it was good to at least live together. In this camp, there were many men and women, and they were divided into two main sides: one side was younger, and were more okay with drug use, and the other side tended to be older and they were just there to survive and be together without drugs. Nevertheless, though the eaders of these respective sides had disagreements, they still respected each other enough to work together to make sure that everyone had enough supplies.

Our group was not there to provide physical aid, as the community there had many other groups donating to them that they didn’t really have an idea for how we could help them physically. So what we did was go there just to speak with them, laugh with them, tell each other stories, and if they asked for it, we prayed with them and had a bible study. The leaders of the church did much for this community and others through helping them find work, get help, and providing community dinners, but our little group of volunteers were only there to provide them with something that they were missing on a another human level – connection, conversation, and inclusion from those outside of the camp.

A lot of us are missing connection, conversation, and inclusion from those outside of our homes right now. We find ourselves feeling understood and validated through groups for parents during quarantine, through funny memes/pictures that point out the little frustrations of this time, through shared opinions on how to move forward, and through many other ways.

And all of us are together, sitting on the road of our uncertain present, calling out to God to change the way we experience life, to bring back to us the senses of community, hand shakes, and hugs. To bring to us the reunion of family members that we are currently estranged from. And to bring us into our churches that we are currently not allowed to enter.

But at least in our longing, we are together through out shared prayer.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 31 – From Pastor Joyce

Tuesday April 28, 2020

In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
    and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?
Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me.
    I will look in triumph at those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in people.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.

Psalm 118:5-9 (NLT)

One of the feelings many of us are facing now is distress. We feel distress when we hear the latest figures for new coronavirus cases, the number who have needed to be hospitalized and those who have needed to be put on ventilators, and the huge loss of life. We feel distress when we hear the stories that the front line people, the doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, and the many others who go to work each day wondering how many they will care for who will die and whether they will contract this virus themselves, suffer symptoms, or possibly take the virus home to their families. We feel distress when we hear of the problems that are a part of our food chain distribution. We feel distress when our government officials cannot tell us when things will get back to normal – with children in school, parents back at work, restaurants opening, movies showing again in theaters, and we gathering again in church. There is a lot to feel distressed about. In addition, each of us may be feeling distressed because we cannot know if or when we will contract COVID-19 and if we do, how our bodies will respond. All of these things can fill us with anxiety and distress.

The psalmist felt distress and responded by praying to the Lord. The psalmist then tells us that the Lord answered his prayers and “set me free.” That is a key statement to make. This man was in anguish and his natural response was to turn to God in prayer. I think many of us do the same, especially in times like these. How often we turn to God in prayer when things are bleak, and we see no way out.

But then the psalmist makes an amazing statement – God answered his prayers. He knew that God answered his prayer because he felt set free. Set free from what? Distress? Pain? Fear? Anxiety? And likely undesirable feelings as well? That he was set free is plain – he knows that God is watching over him and, because of that knowledge, he has no fear. He knows that God is with him and will help him through the difficult times. But why is this man so sure that God is available to help him? The answer lies in trusting in God’s promises, relying on the faithfulness and unwavering love God shows to him and to us, and as a result experiencing the comfort and assurance that comes from knowing God in this intimate way.

The psalmist goes on to say that it is better to trust in God than to trust in people. Yet in this current situation, what we hear over and over again are recommendations and opinions of people, experts and those in authority. We also know that people are the ones who are saving lives in hospitals, stocking our shelves in grocery stores, driving our buses, planting our crops, and so many other things that make us feel that we as people can overcome even this pandemic. And that is good.

What we can trust in is that God is here among us, that God will not abandon us. God’s presence can be seen in the godly actions of people around us. God uses us all to show God’s love and care. But, and this is a big but, we as people cannot be relied upon to know all the answers. None of our leaders, political, medical, or social, know when and how this novel coronavirus will be completely overcome. Only God knows.

Only God can direct our people to find the answers that will allow us to go on with “normal” life once again. So, although we don’t know the answers, we can know that God does, and that God hears our prayers and sets us free from distress and sets us free from fear. We can trust that God knows what each day will bring. Day by day, day by day, we will make it through trusting in God. Our desire may be to know the future, but God gives us what we need for a day. Just as God gave the Israelites fleeing from Egypt manna to eat, the amount God gave was only for a day. Each new day brought sufficient food for that day. Each new day for us can bring respite from fear and distress. Day by day, until we finally can say the pandemic is over.

The focus scripture for today begins at verse 5 of Psalm 118. This psalm begins with a verse that is good for us to repeat: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Amen and amen.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 30 – From Pastor Doug

Monday April 27, 2020

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:1-8

This letter to Timothy was specific. Paul was looking back on a long life. He was writing to someone who would shepherd a church. It would be a great letter from me to Jon. 

It has value for more than an old pastor encouraging a young pastor-to-be. It has value for all of us.

It begins with encouragement to fulfill our purpose. “1I solemnly urge you… Preach the word of God.” 

Imagine parents addressing their newly wed children. They would say, “Raise your children with love. Teach them humility without breaking their spirit. Give them enough protection to flourish but not so much as to restrict. Teach them about faith but let their faith be their own. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your children …” In other words, fulfill your purpose as parents in the raising of your children.

Paul goes on to say to Timothy that it won’t be easy. “… people will no longer listen …”  Whatever you attempt to do, you will encounter opposition. How true that is. Imagine a letter to a young salesperson, from one about to retire. “Customers will shut their ears to your ‘pitch.’ You will be asked to sell items that you don’t believe are worth the price. Rival salespeople will take your customers. People will not pay their bills.”

The important thing, as you follow your purpose and run into roadblocks, according to Paul, is to keep doing what is right and not be frightened off. “ … keep a clear mind … Don’t be afraid …”  Survivors might say this to those beginning an ordeal. The ordeal could be an operation like a hip replacement or chemo to treat cancer or coughing and testing positive to covid-19. Or it could be something natural like going to school for the first time or having one’s first baby. Survivors might say, “Remember clearly that God loves you and don’t let fear take control.”

Verse 7 is so important. “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful”. Notice that Paul says he has finished the race. He has taken up his purpose in life. He has had troubles. He kept at it and did not give in to doubt and fear. But … Sarah Lunsford in the Upper Room reminds us that Paul does not say he “won” the race. He just says he did not quit. He finished. 

Parents do not say all their children became model citizens. Only that they did what they could and continue to do what they can for their children. Salespeople do not say they broke every sales record. Only that they were people of their word and cared about their customers. Survivors do not say they never dissolved into tears and wailing. They only say they got through the tunnel and they are there for those just entering. 

What we hope to say, at whatever stage we are in, is that we have tried to remain faithful and we trust in God for the rest. As we hunker down during shelter-in-place, let us all be encouraged. God loves us. We are remaining faithful. We trust God for the rest.

Blessings – Pastor Doug 

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

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 29 – From Pastor Doug

Friday April 24, 2020

13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So, don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.
15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a
good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

1 Peter 3:13-17

In an age where many engage in hard-sell self-promotion, it is good to hear this message. 

“If someone asks about your hope as a believer…”  Why would someone ask us a question about our beliefs?  Unless I’m in a church setting, I rarely ask people this kind of question because so often people want to sell me something.  Before the quarantine, we were given tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show. It was fun and interesting.  But I was careful to avoid eye contact with the vendors. Once eyes met, the sales pitch began. 

In a few cases we did allow eye contact. It was always because the display caught our attention. The display created a sense of admiration. Admiration led to the question, “How did they manage to do this cool thing?”  Or, “That looks really interesting!”  Or, “I wish I could do that.”

That’s why someone might ask another person about their hope.  They see how the person behaves and admire it. They wish they could behave that way. They want to know more.

Here is a counter example. Target has signs on its doors saying that face masks are mandatory for entry into the store. Wednesday, while I was there to pick up some items, two men came in without masks. Did anyone in the store think, “I admire their behavior. I want to get to know them better.”  Probably not. They were blatant. They were putting others at risk. They appeared to be trying to make some point. It was an in-your-face hard sell.  

“ … always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”  

A store employee wearing a mask soon confronted them and asked them to put on masks or leave. When he spoke to the maskless men, he was polite and gentle. He did not criticize them. He simply stated that store policy was to protect shoppers and asked them to please leave. If they put on masks, they were welcome to return. This employee was admirable.  He was a person one might ask, “How do you keep your cool?”  If he spoke of faith in a gentle and respectful way, he would be a witness in the way Peter described.

Times of stress like the present bring out opportunities to behave well when it matters. We can smile through our masks.  We can step aside to give someone space.  We can offer our place in line to someone older.  We have reason to fear but if we behave with loving care for others, people will, “see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ”. Amen.

-Pastor Doug Donigian

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

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 28 – From Jon Bauman

Thursday April 23, 2020

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 

13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

2 Kings 5:9-14 (NRSV)

Naaman was considered a great man who was the commander of the King of Aram’s Army [Aram would have been located in modern day Syria] – The Lord even gave the King victory in battle because of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1). But Naaman developed leprosy, which was a physical and cultural death sentence because of its deteriorating effects on the body, and because of its contagion.

Naaman’s wife had a servant from the land of Israel, and the servant told his wife of a prophet in Israel who could heal him. Naaman was desperate to be healed, so he traveled with some of his men to this prophets house.

The text that we read today shows the prophet telling Naaman to do something so seemingly meaningless to address the severity of his disease that he thought it was a joke of some sort; that this prophet was really just a Crazy man.

Naaman’s servants wore him down to just trying it out, and he was healed. The story from 2 Kings 5 ends with Naaman proclaiming that surely there must be no other God than the God of Israel, for he had never experienced his previous gods power in that way.

The Bible is full of interesting stories such as this one where an outsider to Israel is spoken well of, and even aided by our God. In this instance, 2 Kings communicates that Naaman was helped by the Lord before he even met Elisha through his victory in battles, and then He was healed by a Hebrew prophet, and was then welcomed as a religious convert. Elisha even understood the fears of Naaman of going public about his faith in the God of Israel when he went back to serve his King who worshipped other Gods.

It is a story that speaks to the heart of what our faith was always intended to be – a light to the nations through the God who rescues.

Right now, the medical experts are telling all of us to stay home, to wear gloves, and to wear face-masks. A lot of us may have felt like Naaman at first – we may have seen these precautionary statements as either an over-simplification of addressing the problem, or perhaps we saw it as ridiculous when compared to the earlier advice we heard of “just wash your hands”.

But eventually, most of us have adopted these precautions either by choice, or because it has now been mandated. More people are taking steps to heal and protect our communities through working together, even if initially, we didn’t understand it.

We can view these masks as symbols of fear, or as symbols of light that speak to our mutual care and concern for one another.

The Church around the globe has responded to this crisis in many ways. Many Pastors, church staff, and church leadership are putting in more hours than normal, churches are getting more and more familiar with technology and social media outlets, and phone calls and cards are being made. The Global Church is working hard to provide hope to our world.

Individual churches are seeing more engagement with their online services than they had typically seen on a Sunday Morning before all of this happened. Simple videos or posts that are made throughout the week are getting more responses than previously seen as well.

And why? Because the Church is seeking to be a light in the darkness, the church is seeking to bring light, and the church is seeking to bring healing to all people, whether they were members of churches before, or not.

This time, I believe, will show us the value of what Christianity offers our world – a welcome and a hope that extends past those who were already Christians – just like how the Bible extended blessing, hope, and healing to Naaman who worshipped other gods.

The Christian Churches around the globe are highlighting the Gospel right now through their messages that our God understands suffering, through the messages of Hope that we can have amidst calamity, and through the met needs of people who are longing for the kind of hope, community, and meaningful connection that the Christian Church provides.

I don’t know when churches will begin to meet in their buildings again, but I believe that when we do, we will begin to see new faces as more people are reflecting on their need for healing, and on the call of God to bring light to the world.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 27 – From Pastor Joyce

Wednesday April 22, 2020

21 But Moses responded to the Lord, “There are 600,000 foot soldiers here with me, and yet you say, ‘I will give them meat for a whole month!’ 22 Even if we butchered all our flocks and herds, would that satisfy them? Even if we caught all the fish in the sea, would that be enough?”

23 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!”

24 So Moses went out and reported the Lord’s words to the people. He gathered the seventy elders and stationed them around the Tabernacle. 25 And the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Then he gave the seventy elders the same Spirit that was upon Moses. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But this never happened again.

26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” 30 Then Moses returned to the camp with the elders of Israel.

Numbers 11:21-30 (NLT)

We are definitely swimming in unchartered waters; there has never been a pandemic like COVID-19 in recent history. During this unsettling time, we have heard many, many stories of people who went the extra mile or many, many extra miles to help others. They have put their own lives in jeopardy in order to help others. We have also heard stories of other folks who, instead of helping others, have thought only of themselves and calming their own fears. How else can we explain the empty shelves in stores, shelves that once held enough toilet paper and hand sanitizer for everyone to have some? It seems that this time of social distancing and sheltering in place has brought out both the good side and the not so good side in people.

It would be wonderful if I could say with certainty that all the folks who volunteered in so many ways to help others were all committed Christians. And conversely to be able to say with equal certainty that all the hoarders and price gougers were atheists. However, I know that neither is the case; faith in God, no matter how deep, does not guarantee that we will always do the right thing. And having shallow faith or no faith at all doesn’t guarantee that anyone will disappoint and fail to help others. People react to fear and uncertainty in many different ways.

However, we can feel that our belief in God’s love for us gives us a reason to do the right thing. In our scripture today we see that this is not always the case. Moses asked his seventy elders to come with him to the Tabernacle, and God came down among them and they were able to prophesy – something that had never happened in the past, nor would it happen again in the future. What an experience that must have been!

However, there were two elders who chose not to follow Moses’ direction. They didn’t go to the Tabernacle as requested, but – they received the same gift of prophecy. That didn’t seem to be right to Joshua – they didn’t do the right thing and yet they got the same gift.

Jesus’ disciples had a similar problem. In Mark 9:38-40 we read, “38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” 39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

The concept that is missing in both of these accounts is this fact: God is in control. God acts the ways that God wants. We can’t win God’s favor by doing the right things. We can’t earn our salvation. We can’t earn our way into heaven. Yet we seem to want to be able to influence God by the things we do. None of us wants to be considered self-righteous, thinking we are able to control God’s opinion of us. But that’s the description of someone who believes that salvation can be earned or maintained by their own good works. That logic says that we are righteous in the sight of God because we are obedient. In Jesus’ time, that was the belief of the Pharisees. That isn’t what Jesus asks of us.

It is equally misguided to think that what we do here on earth doesn’t matter because God is an all-forgiving God, and so we all will meet in heaven no matter how we behave. This has been called the “ticket to heaven syndrome.”

So why then should we obey God’s will for us? Because doing God’s will flows out of our love and gratitude toward God for what God has done for us through Christ. We are in a love affair with God. When we are in a loving relationship, we want to please the one we love. We obey because we want to, not because we think we can earn something. We give our faith, trust, and devotion to that One we love, the One who loves us more than we can imagine. We are saved by that faith alone, but the faith that saves us does not stop there. It will always be accompanied by good works.

So that explains why believers do good things. But what about those lukewarm Christians or non-believers who do equally good works? That’s where this scripture can teach us something. God can and does use anyone God chooses to accomplish God’s good work. That means God can use believers, but also God can use a person who happens to be in the right place at the right time.

Our faith can be expressed in our actions. God’s faith in God’s creation, whether believer or otherwise, can be expressed in God’s calling on anyone to do what needs to be done. So it truly does come down to this: It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s all about God. Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Joyce Donigian