April 23 Devotion

25 years ago this week, (April 19, 1995) 168 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.  After 25 years that day is foggy.  But, I do recall a deep horror that daycare children died in the bombing.  Logically, all those killed, whatever age, were God’s children.  Emotions don’t always follow logic.  Like with other national disasters and acts of terror the whole nation went into mourning–though most of us didn’t know the people who died.

    As I type these words the “Worldometer” is recording 49,651 deaths in the USA from Covid-19:  people of all ages, one of whom was my friend.  If all the deaths happened on one day, I believe we would be planning national service of mourning.  But,  our losses are slow motion like a war–that is not over yet.  And we can not ever gather.  How do we mourning and keep on moving forward?  How do we mourn: and go through the processes of filing for unemployment; and wash our masks and our hands and go do essential jobs everyday; and help our kids with at home schooling; and navigating working from home, and navigate the new ways of shopping; and learn virtual ways of meeting; and seek to meet our God in worship far from church buildings and each other?
     2000+ years ago those who the hoped most in Jesus’ suffered the greatest when he was crucified.  They hid for fear of being arrested and suffering a similar fate.  Many were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, yet had to return home to their lives sometime.  One of the stories we have is that of two people walking home to a town called Emmaus.  At Sunday’s virtual worship, we’ll ponder their journey more.  For now, remember a stranger arrived to walk with them (the risen Christ who they didn’t recognize).  During the walk they poured out their hearts, re-told their hopes and their hurts.  The stranger listened and told them all the places he glimpsed God’s presence in their memories.  Looking back at the day’s end, after recognizing Jesus, the walkers said, “did not our hearts burn within us…on the road.” (Luke 24:32)
     My prayer for all of us, and for each of us in our socially distanced, separated lives, is that the healing power of the risen-Christ will come into our daily walks.  I know, our daily walks are mixed with losses, to-do lists and this-isn’t-over-yet.  I also know humans are biologically pre-programmed to exist in families and tribes.  So, here’s a suggestion.  Each day pick one stranger whose lost to Covid-19 and lift that person (and family) up in prayer.  Pick one story of kindness you witness or hear about and give thanks that you glimpsed God’s grace at work.  Pick one.  Share one.  Share one story of hope with another person by phone or an e-mail.  Pick one.  Share One.  Place one.  Place one foot in front of the other, knowing somehow, though the Grace of God, the Easter God is still at work in this world, in Jesus’ name.  Pick one loss.  Share one sign of God.  Place one foot in front of the other in faith.  Jesus walks with us in this.
Pastor Roger

April 18 Isaiah describes the Messiah

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If you do not have a Facebook account (using a computer) a window will pop up asking you to join or log in, simply click on NOT NOW and play the video. If the video plays with no sound you need to turn on the video’s audio. To turn on the audio move your  cursor on the video and click on the little speaker in the bottom right corner of the video.

April 16 Signs of Hope

Click HERE to view Roger’s Devotional devotional.

If you do not have a Facebook account (using a computer) a window will pop up asking you to join or log in, simply click on NOT NOW and play the video. If the video plays with no sound you need to turn on the video’s audio. To turn on the audio move your  cursor on the video and click on the little speaker in the bottom right corner of the video.

April 16 Devotion

Chocolate.  Dark chocolate.  Light chocolate.  A person can’t eat chocolate while wearing a cloth mask.  And, it sounds like we’ll be encouraged to wear masks for quite a while when out in public.  A Harvard study suggested perhaps until 2022.  Yesterday when I shared a video devotion the US death toll was 28,000.  Today we’ve reached over 32,000.  All this in basically one month with many precautions in place.  It’s now obvious this is more than an annual flu season.  It’s also obvious life isn’t going to be back to normal on a set date in the next couple weeks.  So, it sounds like masks and varied degrees of social distancing are going to be part of a new future until a vaccine and cure for Covid-19 are found.

It’s disruptive.  Yesterday morning my wife and I searched for one of her lost cloth masks for 25 minutes.  Every evening she steps in the door, goes straight to the washing machine and throws her mask and all the clothes she wore in.  She sees a couple hundred people a day–some very resistant to social distancing.  Yesterday she was wearing red and looking for her red mask.  We checked the drier the laundry bins, the washed towels, the legs of pants.  No luck.  Life has changed.  Routines have changed.  New normals are evolving.  But, in the meantime stuff and time gets lost as we try to live life in new ways.
This Sunday’s gospel lesson comes from John 20, the latter part of the chapter.  Thomas is kind of bargaining with God.  He lays down an ultimatum.  “Until I see the risen Christ for myself.  Unless I put my finger in the holes in his hands, and my hand in the hole in his side, I will not believe.”  Some call him doubting Thomas.  I think of his as forthright and honest Thomas.  He’s at a point in his life when he needs a sign.
Yesterday, my wife sent me a photo of Dove Chocolate wrappers–from break and lunch when she removed her pink mask.  On the day of the lost red mask she was given a little sign.  She arranged the wrappers and here’s what they said, “Embrace optimism.  Spring is a promise of new hope.  Enjoy spring flowers – feel the sunshine.”  Thomas asked for a big sign.  Many days, however, even little signs will do.  Chocolate.  Some words of blessing.  What little signs of a gracious God are getting you through these days?  If you are writing notes or making calls to keep in touch with people, consider sharing a “little sign” of hope and encouragement with that other person.  Ask what’s “little signs” of hope they’ve glimpsed along the way.  It’s OK to need a sign.  It lifts our spirits to celebrate them together.
Oh, and that red mask.  It fell out of the shirt I put on this morning–along with an unmatched sock and lost car keys from 15 years ago.  (OK I made up the sock and the car keys).
Pastor Roger

April 8 Devotion

     Yesterday I stopped by the Law Enforcement Center.  Like many other places, it’s following COVID-19 protocols.  There are signs for the general public about the process to even get into the building.  As one of the Moorhead Police Department chaplains I’d been thinking about how to stay connected with the officers while social-distancing.  Thankfully, Google led me to an article that gave me a clue.  Front line people are using hand sanitizer more than ever, (and I know many officers were using it pre-COVID-19).  Increased use means hands become drier and more cracked then ever.  The article suggested that for medical personnel, police officers, and first responders, hand lotion makes a good gift.  So, I stopped by with 20 small hand lotions conveniently sized for squad cars.  No doubt, their hands are parched.  And, no doubt they’re also aware that the fact they cannot shelter in place puts them at risk.  That knowledge can leave people emotionally parched.  If you know such a person, consider gifting hand-lotion, or Googling other options.  Sometimes the smallest things can help others during “parched” times.
     Yesterday, in a video      devotion http://www.graceumcmoorhead.org/2020/04/08/april-7/                    I shared from Isaiah 43:19–a verse that ends, “I will make a way in wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  That’s a scripture about moisture in parched times.  Consider how you might help another who may be feeling parched today–even from a distance.  Look back upon a parched time in your own life; give thanks for the person or the way God used to refresh your parched soul.
     Finally, I have a prayer request that is a follow-up to a devotion two weeks ago.  I ask prayer for Carol, Micah and Craig.  Pastor Craig Breimhorst is the retired colleague I mentioned two weeks ago who contracted COVID-19.  He’s been on a ventilator 11 days, and still is.  He has a long road to recovery.  His wife Carol and son Micah request prayers that he wake up TODAY, so he can progress to having the ventilator removed.  Please hold them in your prayers.  Thank you.
Blessings, Pastor Roger

March 29

Last night in my dream world I had a full social life.  For some reason I’d been picked as a judge in a piano contest at a school; I had all the chairs and extra in my living room set up for a family movie night and all my family was scheduled to arrive along with a few friends; I planning a wedding with a couple whose parents were planning an extremely large reception; but accidentally messed up a food order and ended up with with a dozen cases of canned mushrooms at the church. Almost a lifetime ago now, Elizabeth Kubler Ross published a book–The Five Stages of Grief.  Since that time other researchers have noted that the stages aren’t like stair-steps and they can come in any order.  Plus, people can be in two or three stages at once and hop around through the multiple facets of grief.  Some have even suggested there are more than five stages.  Last night in my dream world, my mind was in denial.  I was plunging ahead with multiple large social events–except none of them ever quite materialized in the end.  In complete denial I’d plunge ahead with an event, only to have it canceled, and plunge ahead with another.

     During my daytime hours when I see frustrated or oblivious people trying to work around the shields or extended distance barriers meant to protect cashiers and other customers or hear people vent frustration over all the unnecessary inconvenience right now, I find myself saddened.  But, I also remind myself “denial” and “anger” two of the stages of grief.  It helps me get to a better, more patient place personally.  That is important for me right now as my role is to empower others to be their best selves for the sake of each other during a very difficult time.  I’ve noticed over the past couple weeks that’s meant creating video devotions and live-stream worship that says, 1) “Covid-19 is very real and extremely contagious, ” 2) “it is OK to be sad over empty churches and cancelled important events”; 3) “God has given us tools to live in a time like this such as Micah 6:8 (do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God); and I Corinthians 13:4-8 (Love is patient, love is kind…it isn’t irritable or rude).”
     I’ve also found myself encouraged hearing what creative ways others are leaning into their best selves.  One who wears a smart watch says when the heart rate begins to race, repeating the Apostles’ Creed brings it back down; another shared about diving deep into the Lenten Study book “Reckless Love: Jesus’ Call to Love our Neighbor”; another picked up the directory and simply started calling people to check in.  Lydia circle created a call list and began making calls.  Some are doing frequent video chats with family.  Another is sending cards of care.  This Sunday, I found myself responding with a note to each person who commented on livestream worship.  It soothed my soul.  Have you found your “something” that brings calm to your soul amidst the chaos?  I’d love to hear about the “something” that is working for you and share it with others in a future weekly devotion.  If you’re willing to share a practice that is blessing you and/or others during this time, simply send me an e-mail at graceunitedmethodistpastor@gmail.com
     Please know this, I am praying over our church directory each day for all of you…and miss seeing you.  I pray you will find ways to do more than cope.  I pray God might breathe a bit of new life into you even in the midst of the challenge.
QUICK NOTES:  Please keep in your prayers:
1) JoAnn Oelke.  Doctor’s have identified inoperable heart issues that will be addressed through medication and therapy.
2) Richard Wagner and Family – Margaret’s funeral service is postponed to July 18th.
3) Pray for Medium Risk and High Risk “essential workers” who interact with dozens to hundreds of people each day.
4) Pray for many who are unable to visit loved ones in hospitals, some who are unable to be with loved ones during times of death,
    some who can’t be in delivery rooms with Mom’s because of lack of masks.
5) Pray for those who’ve been laid off and are actively waiting to see what resources are available and how to access them.
 for Richard Wagner:  511 40th St. S #120, Fargo, ND  58103
 for Don and Pat Walter  3102 S. Univ. Dr. (Villa Maria) Fargo, ND  58103
I will be subscribing to a $9.95/month app called Blue Jeans to create a virtual room for us to meet in, do some work and planning together, and stay connected.  Our building and physical gatherings will be closed until at least May 10th.
If you are out and about getting essentials, the church could use AA Alkaline batteries for our mics and hearing assistance devices.  We will gather in person to worship again!!!  Simply Slide a 4, 8 or 16 pack in the mail slot.  Double A Alkaline–Duracell and Energizer seem to last the best.
Pastor Roger