From the Valley, Focused on a Mountain

Most of us this week are confined to our homes as we self-quarantine due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  If you’re like me, you may be wrestling with the fact that THIS week we will all be observing Holy Week apart from each other.  As a pastor and missionary, I always anticipate the deep significance of Holy Week, and I consider it a privilege to lead my congregation especially in Good Friday and Easter services.  We will still do that this week online, but it all still feels off.

Said another way, in these days we are to be focused on what usually is a mountain-top experience (There is no better day in the Christian calendar than Easter!), even as we feel as if we are in an emotional valley.  The Jewish pilgrims trudged for days toward Jerusalem on winding, climbing roads, weary and yet excited.  On many occasions they sang psalms of ascent.  We lift up our eyes to the hills (or mountains) – where does our help come from (Psalm 121:1)?

As we near Good Friday, we, too, are weary.  We find ourselves in a valley, and we know there is a lot of climbing yet to be done.  However, our focus is not on where we are but on where God will lead us.  Our eyes are fixed on a higher place.  Through Lent, we have joined our Savior in “resolutely setting out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  And now, as Timothy & Julie Tennent say, the emotional valley can be transformed into a truly spiritual mountain:

“Mountains provide a great reminder of the presence of God, because God met his people on the mountains. God met Abraham on Mount Moriah and provided the sacrificial substitute for Isaac. God met Moses on Mount Sinai and entered into covenant with his people, giving them both Law and promises. God met Elijah on Mount Carmel and revealed himself as the true and living God, not like the idols of the nations. As Christians, we realize that this trajectory of hope whereby God meets his people on mountains continued. Jesus met us on the Mount of Beatitudes and taught us the ways of the kingdom. Jesus met us on the Mount of Transfiguration and revealed his coming glory. Finally, in the greatest act of all, God met the whole human race on Mount Calvary, and revealed his greatest love for a lost world!”

It is that great love for our hurting, diseased, and fearful world that we celebrate in these days.

Will you join your Savior at the foot of the cross? Although he, indeed, accompanies you in the valley, he also hangs there with arms wide open, awaiting you on the Mountain.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

 

Easter: Full of Life

It is a little paradoxical to write about Easter in the middle of Lent, but every year we pastors prepare our Easter sermons during the heart of the sacrifice and fasting that Lent brings, so the practice makes sense.

In many of our countries, Easter is the day people return to the normalcy of work and school after relaxing during the vacation days Holy Week.  How ironic! After all, Easter is the day “normal” gets obliterated, and a new paradigm emerges.  For Christians there should be no bigger celebration.

As Joan Chittister writes in her book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, “Nothing else in the Christian culture so completely explains all other things Christian as well as Easter does” (p. 54). The Son of God was handed over to be crucified and, after dying on the cross, remained in the tomb three days.  But Easter proclaims that death does not have the last word!  Thus, there should be no greater party than Easter!  An extravagant festival of praise should break forth on that Sunday just as Jesus burst from the tomb in the early morning so long ago.

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Chittister says it this way: “On Christmas morning we find the manger full of life; on Easter morning we find the tomb empty of death.  We know the whole truth now: death is not the end, and life as we know it is only the beginning of Life.  There is no suffering from which we cannot rise if we live a life centered in Jesus.  It is the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning that says to us, ‘You go and tell the others. Now!’ (Matthew 28:10, paraphrase)” (p. 164).  We simply cannot contain this good news!  We want to invite as many people as possible to rejoice with us!

That kind of impulse should cause our Easter service to overflow with joy and excitement.  Chittister shares a humorous anecdote related to this very reality:

“He was six years old and not given to church-going.  When I saw the family at the monastery Easter Vigil, I groaned.  It’s a long service full of dancing and singing, flowers and incense, bells and organ. Why would anyone ever bring a child to it? I thought.  But afterwards, at the agape, the boy was still clearly animated, and the family was aglow. ‘Jake insisted that we bring him back…for the Vigil again this year,’ his mother explained to me, tousling his hair proudly.  ‘Really? Whatever for?’ I said in obvious disbelief.  Then the little boy looked up at me with a kind of mild amazement. ‘Because I like this church,’ he said.  ‘In this church, Jesus really rises!’” (p. 201).

There aren’t much higher compliments.  This Easter may your service – and your life – be evidence to all that Jesus really rises!

10 Ways To Help You Live Normal When Life Is Not Normal

By: Dan Reiland

I have been thinking about the stresses and pressures we are all carrying these days and attempting to focus on the practical things that help promote mental and spiritual health.

Whether you are a church leader, a parent leading your family, or leading in the business arena, we all need to lean into what helps us think and live healthily so we can better care for and lead others.

This does not dismiss:

1) The reality of the situation.

There’s no question that devastating things are happening in our world, and COVID-19 is at the top of the list right now. My suggestions do not pretend to make big problems magically disappear, but they do help us keep leading with a positive spirit.

2) The need to be vigilant.

The vast majority of our time and attention is needed to handle what is not normal in our midst. However, we must remain strong, human, connected, and reminded of the little things, the important things that make solving the big problems worthwhile.

3) The need for our focus to be on the hope of Christ

Jesus is and has always been the one who promises to help us with what we cannot solve. He is the giver of wisdom to solve problems, strength to endure challenges, and hope in our ultimate destiny. I’m offering some everyday things that really do help. The calmer, poised, and at peace you are personally, the better you can lead the people God has given you responsibility for.

10 Ways To Help You Live More “Normal”

(What’s normal? I know… but each of us has a normal, our normal, and when it’s disrupted, we know it.)

The goal is not for you to do all 10.

Select the ones most helpful to you.

Don’t let this be a task; let it be life-giving.

1) Establish a new routine.

We are creatures of habit, and routine is essential. And a routine is different than a rut. A routine brings stability so we can remain healthy and more productive. A rut is when you are stuck, not growing, and not experiencing spiritual health. Most of us have recently had our routines blown up. Some of you have kids at home. You love your kids, but that’s a big routine breaker.

Then add the fact that perhaps all of you are home – all the time. Nothing further needs to be said.

Modify your family systems.

Make new plans.

Set new routines.

I highly encourage you to organize and simplify.  That will not solve all your problems, but it helps you lift your spirit. Moreover, candidly, it will give you something where you can see immediate and tangible results. In a time when it feels like nothing is in your control, it will help your mental health and overall disposition.

2) Reach out to your friends.

ainur-iman-IrjcB5DbM18-unsplashYou are probably in close touch with your friends and colleagues you connect with regularly. I’m suggesting that you consider friends and colleagues that you haven’t talked with, texted, or messaged on social media for a long time. Reach out and check-in. Let them know you’re thinking about them. A text or any method is great. Take a moment to pray for them and let them know you prayed.

Don’t make it a project, or a task on your to-do list; consider it a privilege to encourage someone today. This will warm your heart and lift your frame of mind.

 

3) Take time to be quiet.

Time to be quiet is desperately needed by everyone, especially in times of fear and uncertainty. My world is noisy; quiet is priceless to me. I will admit that if I get too much alone time or quiet, I will literally start looking for someone to talk to.  But quiet reflection is essential for the well-being of your soul.

I’m not referring only or specifically to your “quiet time” or daily devotional (although you might prefer to combine them), but real quiet time.  Just to “be still,” to think and reflect. I have a cup or two of tea a day, and that is very centering and a good pause for reflection.  Don’t dismiss the impact of the little things, the simple things in your life. What’s one or two little things or simple pleasures that help keep you grounded?

4) Keep your body moving.

I’m not promoting an exercise routine or any specific workout, though that’s always a good idea. That’s up to you. I’m literally referring to keeping your body moving. It’s far too easy to remain stationary and become sedentary in most leadership roles. Allow yourself to move several times a day. If you are in deep study or on the phone or doing email, get up and stretch, take a few laps or go crazy and do a few push-ups. Take a short walk. Anything. Keep moving; your body was designed for it, and it helps you feel better, think better, and lead better.

5) Do one simple thing for someone else.

Doing practical and physically present things for people is becoming more and more complicated as we are all wisely staying more socially distant. But we can find ways to love and care for people. I recently heard about someone having a meal delivered to an elderly couple who was afraid to go to the grocery store. It was a phone call and a bit of money. Another person picked up medicine for a friend. The key is that this should be a joy for you, not a duty. No guilt, it’s a “get to,” not a “have to.”

6) Take a break from social media.

Used wisely, social media is a useful tool that enhances ministry in significant ways. Personally, however, a break from social media, even if just for a few hours, is healthy.  Use that time to read a good book, one not connected to your work.

The length of your break is obviously up to you. Some leaders go on a social media fast for weeks; others just shut down for a half-day on occasion. The important thing is that you can, and do, take periodic breaks regardless of how long. If you can’t lay your phone down for a few hours, “normal” may be difficult for you to find and experience.

7) Laugh!

ben-white-4K2lIP0zc_k-unsplashThis is a very serious time on our planet, but we need moments to breathe and feel normal for a bit. Laughter is great for your soul. It’s a natural medicine to help you stay fresh and restore your physical and emotional energy so you can pour into and lead others.

For me, it might be an episode of a tv show, or just sharing a funny story with a friend over the phone or playing a board game with family!! How about you?

Let’s not let the Enemy take advantage of what’s happening around us by stealing all the joy from our souls. Find the everyday humor in your life.

8) Express gratitude.

Few things restore and strengthen your soul more than a grateful heart. It would be easy these days to get caught up in what you don’t have. That’s a natural response to loss, and we all experience it to one degree or another. The emotion that comes with that experience can be anywhere from discouraging to crushing. But getting stuck there and dwelling on it is not helpful to you. Do your best to focus on what you do have and the hope of a better future. Those you lead don’t expect you to be superhuman, but they count on you to have hope.

9) Listen to music.

I’m a Beatles fan and proud of it. My new granddaughter already loves the Beatles at six weeks old. (Train up a child… )

What music do you love?

Music does wonders for the soul. Listen to some of your favorites as much as you can.

And of course, your favorite worship music is a great choice as well!

Just don’t do the guilt thing… if you like country, pop, classical, whatever, it’s OK, turn it up!

10) Pray God’s promises of love and hope.

I’ve saved the best for last. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. The longer I’m a Christian, the more I feel “bewildered and disoriented” when I’m not intimately close, daily, in my relationship with Jesus. I love time with God. His promises alone keep me going on tough days.

One of my favorite passages is Psalm 34:4-9:

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,

and he delivers them.  Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,

for those who fear him lack nothing.”

© 2020 Dan Reiland | The Pastor’s Coach – Developing Church Leaders

Hope and Prayer

By: Board of General Superintendents 27 Mar, 2020

Even though these are challenging times, this past weekend was a blessing in the Church of the Nazarene, as worship services from around the world were broadcast through live stream or by video. Many churches reported reaching more people than ever before with the hope of Jesus Christ. People who would not normally feel comfortable entering a church building entered into digital space and encountered grace and peace. We give thanks to the Lord for this!

We are also deeply appreciative of the efforts so many of our churches are making to serve the needs around them in creative ways. We have seen so many examples of creative responses, from a congregation in Maine, USA, stepping up to fill the gap for food deliveries to the elderly to the Cape Verdean Nazarene pastors who were invited to bring a worship service to the country via a national television station, to Sunday school classes meeting by video conferencing, to a drive-in church where people drove to a parking lot and worshiped in their cars as the pastor and worship leaders led from an outdoor platform to a youth group in Ohio, USA, who decided to bring joy to people living in a senior care center through a drama program (from an appropriate distance outside, of course). These are just a few of the many stories we could share. All these are testaments to the faithfulness of God and the creativity of our people. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary means.

Some have asked for suggestions of how to pray during this season of COVID-19. Here are a few ways to focus your intercession:

1. Pray for wisdom for the leaders of your countries, states or provinces, and cities. Ask God to give them good counsel and wise discernment to know what is needed to protect their citizens. Pray for other countries besides your own that may be faced with difficult and complex situations unlike what you are experiencing. Every region of the world is seeking to weather the pandemic.

2. Pray for the protection of medical professionals and health care workers laboring to care for the sickest and those most needy. Pray for divine understanding and supernatural strength from God for their daily tasks. Many are facing a shortage of the most basic medical supplies. Pray for researchers, scientists, and manufacturers who are working to find cures and produce treatment equipment.

3. Pray for healing and comfort for those who are sick, lonely, and afraid, particularly the most vulnerable and endangered. This includes the elderly, those with chronic pre-existing health conditions, those without adequate health care, and those who are isolated due to quarantines.

4. Pray for those most at risk economically. The entire world is confronted with enormous financial implications, but for those who are single-income families, those caring for children and older parents at home, those who are self-employed, those who are in the service industry, and many others, this is an especially devastating time.

5. Pray for your pastors and church board leaders to know how to navigate the ministries and mission of the local church with a balance of caution, courage, and compassion. Pastors are front-line caregivers and “shepherds” of the people of God. If you are able, remember to support your church financially during a time when public meetings are not possible.

6. Pray for the Church around the world, including those of other traditions and denominations. While we ask God to bring an end to the pandemic, we also pray that the Church will find ways to serve, comfort, and love our neighbors for the sake of Christ and the healing of the world.

Phineas Bresee dreamed of a worldwide church when he said, “The sun never sets on the Church of the Nazarene.” Today that dream is a reality. We can literally cover the earth in our prayers, 24 hours a day. Let’s be faithful to that calling.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Grace and peace to you all,

The Board of General Superintendents

Website Church of the Nazarene

Jeremiah 29:11 – A Poem by Ana Brunk

Some of the greatest people on the planet are Missionary Kids (MKs).  Emily and I have been able to invest in different groups of MKs through the years, and we, of course, have two of our own that we think are dynamite.

Missionary Kids possess a great deal of cultural intelligence and seem to be able to adapt to a multitude of challenging situations.  But that does not make them impervious to pain and loss.  Recently I re-read a poem that a wonderful MK wrote in 2011 when she was 14 years old.  I hope that it gives you a window into what a teenage MK deals with and the hope that they can find in God even when the burdens seem unbearable.

Jeremiah 29:11

Ana Brunk, Nazarene MK in Singapore, 14 years old (July 2011)

Imagine yourself in Heaven,

Where the beauty of God’s creation thrives

Where the light and love of your Father surrounds you

Imagine yourself sitting in a vast field full of color and beauty

Your Father is there with you

You crawl onto his lap and hold his hand

As you do, he lifts your thumb for a closer look

Do you see those tiny lines all over your finger?

Your thumbprint is so special and unique, just like you he says with a wink

You look up at your Dad and smile

I have a purpose for everything that I do

Even the pattern on your thumb was made the way it was for a reason

Before returning to your home here in Heaven you suffered many hardships

Dear friends would have to leave

Your best friend moved away from you too

You felt alone, like you were the only one who really cared about your relationship with me

I felt your pain in all those situations

I cried with you in the bad times and celebrated in the good

But I knew the plans I had for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you

Plans to give you a hope and a future

You look up at your Father with tears of joy in your eyes

And it all worked out perfect, thank you Daddy

Christianity in Times of Calamity: Lessons from Habakkuk

 

By: Dr. Antonio Carlos Barro

“Calamity” (from the Latin calamitate) or the word “catastrophe” mean public disgrace, or even scourge. Public calamity refers to an abnormal situation provoked by disasters that cause damage and loss on a large scale.  Such tragedies involve a substantial commitment from governments and the society at large to respond quickly in midst of panic and crisis.

At this point in our history, it is almost impossible to think that anyone could not be aware of the calamity that has affected the world. Everyone is being affected. Nothing and nobody can escape this reality.

While reflecting on this, I thought of the prophet Habakkuk and the calamity that plagued his time.  I believe this book can give some answers to the problems we face. The following words are pastoral (another article that covers this topic from a different angle is: https://coletivobereia.com.br/igreja-e-irresponsabilidade-social-os-paradoxos-da-pandemia-de-2020/), and I wrote them thinking only of how we can better face these coming uncertain days.

Habakkuk is little-known in the Scriptures. We know that he lived at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah and that he had extraordinary faith rooted in God’s long-standing relationship with his people. He lived in southern Israel, and his prophecies, like Jeremiah’s, date back to just before Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem in 597 BC.

Habakkuk discussed with God what seemed to be his unjust way of ruling the world. He was baffled by the fact that wickedness, strife, and oppression were rampant in Judah, but apparently God was doing nothing about it. When they told him that the Lord was preparing to do something through the “cruel” Babylonians (1:6), his perplexity only intensified: how could God, who is “too pure to look at evil” (1:13), instruct such a nation to “execute judgment” (1:12) on a people “more righteous than themselves” (1:13)?

God made it clear, however, that eventually the corrupt destroyer would be destroyed. In the end, Habakkuk learned to rest in the sovereign actions of God and to wait for his work in a spirit of worship. The message: Learn to wait patiently in faith (2:3-4) because the kingdom of God will be expressed globally, even universally (2:14).

The book ends with a note of faith and hope: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (3:17-19).

Here are some lessons for us, although I’m sure others could be brought out, as well.

  1. We are all subject to disasters of all kinds. It can be health-related, economic, political, social, relational, etc. These disasters affect everyone without distinction. There is no such thing as praying and then assuming that nothing will ever happen to me or my family.
  2. Israel was God’s people in the past, but due to disobedience was not saved. In fact, it was God Himself who raised Babylon against His people. Babylon did not act outside of the sovereign will of God.
  3. Habakkuk understood what God was doing and decided to have faith and hope for the future. One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible states that God is working and that people will know His name and that His glory will be seen throughout the world: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
  4. We must have that same confidence. God has not forgotten his purposes; his mission is not yet over. While Habakkuk was still alive, he wrote. And while we have life, we are to “write,” as well.  Let’s write our hope, let’s write about God acting in us during this time. Could a calamity be strong enough to shake and destroy God’s goals for his people?!
  5. Let’s be realistic and practical. Habakkuk went to see what was happening. He saw the shortage, he saw the lack of food, he saw a distressed situation. He experienced it first-hand and knew it would shake everyone up.
  6. Even so, when he sees the results of the calamity looming, he stands up in a cry of faith and hope: “Though…”. Although everything is as it is, although I cannot see it, although everything is dry and without the possibility of flourishing…Even so I will rejoice.
  7. In the midst of it all, he prophesies: “I will rejoice in the Lord and rejoice in the God of my salvation.” Circumstances should lead us to praise God and not despair; they must lead us to believe and not to a state of unbelief. If circumstances end up determining whether we have faith or not, our relationship with God is finished.
  8. Finally, Habakkuk expresses his complete confidence in the sovereignty of God. That same sovereign God is your strength and will bring you out of this calamity. Perhaps the doctrine that will be most questioned these days by the people of God is his sovereignty. Surely there will be much written in these days about the injustices of God, about the ineffectiveness of God, and about the silence of God.
  9. It is up to us as the people of God to act with faith, courage and bravery.
  10. Let’s be like Habakkuk. He was not out of touch with reality; he knew what was happening and made sure he was familiar with the devastation.
  11. Now it is up to each of us to act in the midst of our calamity. We might question God, but we must finally believe in His sovereignty. We can convey, like Habakkuk, with our words and actions a message of hope to those who are bewildered. We can be a light in the dark. We can be providers. We can be what God wants us to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Conclusion

It was for this hour that God saved you. He not only saved you so that you could go to heaven, but also so that you would bring heaven to earth.  Bring it now – and soon!

He saved you so that you would shine today and not just in eternity. He saved you so that you would do good today. He saved you in order that you would live through this crisis with faith and boldness.

Believe and obey. Create and act. Today and always remember that God has not yet fulfilled his promise that the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of his glory. Reflecting on these truths will provide great peace of mind about the future.

Dr. Antonio Carlos Barro

General Director, South American Theological Faculty

Londrina, Paraná, Brazil

 

A Pastoral Letter To Our Global Nazarene Family

So much has changed in such a brief time. Our daily news cycle is filled with reports of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Government leaders, medical professionals, researchers, and scientists are diligently working to stem the tide of the contagion and to protect the citizens of their countries. We have all been impacted in great and small ways.

We have been advised by national, state, and municipal authorities to restrict our public gatherings, maintain social distance, and to observe rigorous health protocols. The threat is serious and real – immediate action is necessary to “flatten the curve” wherever possible. We believe it is essential that the church around the world do our part, even as the mission of the church continues.

We have been in ongoing communication with regional, field, and district leadership. We are hearing wonderful reports of how our churches are responding with compassion and creativity, being careful yet courageous. So many are doing their part to adapt because they understand that Christlike ministry extends much farther than the walls of a building. Crises often reveal our dependence on God and opportunities for ministry we could not see before. Thank you for allowing the light of your witness to shine brightly.

However, we also realize that there are many new challenges, unlike we have faced in our lifetime. Because the Church of the Nazarene is a global church, it is difficult to make comprehensive recommendations that fit in every situation. In our various countries, there are different government health protocols recommending restrictions on gatherings. While we believe in the vital importance of the gathering of the saints, due to the highly contagious nature of this virus and as a way to show our respect for governing authorities and to love our neighbors, we ask every local church to cooperate with and follow the recommendations from your nation, state, and municipality. Further, we are empowering district leadership to offer directives and provide guidelines to local churches in the matter of congregational gatherings in accordance with health department instructions. We will find our way through this time with God’s help and the strength of the Body of Christ.

We want to call the church to prayer. As one of our district superintendents said: “Pray now and often. Pray for peace. Pray for patience. Pray for learning. Pray for the Holy Spirit who is unbound by any of temporary restrictions to come over people in their homes. Pray for His power to flow out of us in Christlike compassion and conviction, so much that even though we aren’t gathering for worship according to our customs, we will experience the presence of Jesus and reflect Him in what we say and do.”

Finally, let us be reminded of God’s Word: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). The people of God do not live in fear and respond in panic. We know God will never leave us or forsake us. Perfect love casts out fear. Moreover, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to respond in love and grace to our neighbor, regardless of our circumstances. We have been given a sound mind to make wise decisions and the fruit of the Spirit to give us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control as we follow Jesus and pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray for God’s healing of COVID-19, but we also pray that we will have the grace to be faithful to our mission, “To make Christlike disciples in the nations.” National borders may be temporarily closed, social distancing may be necessary for a time, but the gospel will not be deterred.

Grace and peace to you all,

The Board of General Superintendents

Eugénio R. Duarte

David W. Graves

David A. Busic

Gustavo A. Crocker

Filimão M. Chambo

Carla D. Sunberg

Pastoral Letter Web Site