Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God

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Pandemic Perspective – Part 8 Masks

Yesterday I had to go to town, and I was greeted with an almost eerie sight, everybody was walking around wearing masks. It looked like everybody was either sick or getting ready to rob the bank! My wife and I were one of only a handful of people not wearing a mask. Don’t worry we practiced safe social distancing. What was interesting is that they were all looking at us like we were the crazy ones. Gone were the smiles, either because of fear or because they were hidden behind a mask. God created us to communicate and greet each other not just with the words that come out of our mouths but with our mouths through smiling. It seemed so strange to see all these people wearing masks. I mean before the pandemic we were not wearing masks, or were we? The truth is people have been wearing masks for centuries, trying to protect themselves and hide what is really going on in their lives. And just like some of the masks people are wearing right now we looked ridiculous. We might snicker at the guy with half a bra on his face, but how foolish do we look wearing our emotional masks pretending to be who we are not? So why are people running around like bank robbers hiding their faces? Because the government has told us that wearing masks will help protect us from this virus. It’s the same reason many of us wear masks to hide who we really are, because the world has told us it’s not safe or cool to be the real you. After all people might not like you, they might laugh at you. If you really want to be successful wear this mask and pretend. In 1 Peter 2:1 it says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” The word “hypocrite” comes from the word that the Greeks of Paul’s day used to describe actors on a stage. It means to “wear a mask.” Actors would put on masks to hide their real identity allowing them to play different parts in the same play. It’s the idea of pretending to be someone you’re not. When we wear masks, our profession does not match our practice. How many have walked away from Christ because of hypocritical Christians who play at being a follower with their lips, but their lifestyle reveals a fraud? Does your witness match your words? Are you wearing a mask? Does your public life match your private life? We are all tempted to wear masks. As believers, many of us have learned how to behave in such a way that people don’t really see what’s taking place on the inside. We can con our coworkers, fool our friends and family, play charades with church members, and even deceive ourselves, but we can’t masquerade before the Lord because He sees right through our masks. So why do we expend huge sums of energy on mask management, trying to look right instead of living right? There are a million different reasons we wear masks and fear is probably one of the biggest. Our fear is that if we show our true selves, the world will say, “Oh, it’s just you.” But being just you is the best thing you can be because it’s who God created you to be.  Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” The psalmist reminds us, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” When we wear masks, we fail to live out the life God intended for us and so we never live up to our potential. Sure, there are a lot of people with similar skill sets to you but none of them will bring the same passion, personality and creativity to the task as you do. Masking ourselves causes us to live a lesser life and never reach our greatest potential. Mask wearing is exhausting because we are living an inauthentic life. Let’s be honest most of us are not just wearing one mask but many. We have to keep up the act and the worst part is not just the exhaustion, but you start forgetting who you really are. When we wear masks, we cut off pieces of ourselves and withholding parts of who we are because we see ourselves as unworthy or unaccepted. When we do, we not only hurt ourselves, but it becomes impossible to heal. Because until you offer up all the pieces of who you are you can’t become whole. It’s like handing someone a broken vase and asking them to fix it but holding back several of the broken pieces. Everything in our lives get cheated when we hide behind our masks. My wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our first grandchild and as I held him and looked into his eyes, I was reminded of how mask free he was. The good news is that we are not born with masks, we put them on, and that means that we can take them off. What are some of the negative message you have heard and held onto? Most of these messages are not true they are lies. So, here are a couple of questions I want you to ask yourself. First, why am I carrying this message? And second if I put it down, what would happen? Probably nothing. The main risk we face is how will the world react. When you take of your mask don’t be surprised if the world tries to scare you into putting it back on. When we refuse to wear masks, it threatens others because it invites them to reevaluate their own lives. It exposes the truth that they also have the power to change, they just haven’t. As the poet E. E. Cummings wrote, “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.” When you live your life mask free don’t be surprised if the world looks at you like you are the crazy one. Are there any masks you are wearing? If so why? What are you trying to protect or cover up? How much time are you expending on maintaining your masks? When this pandemic is over people will remove their medical masks but what about our emotional ones? Why not take the time to evaluated your life and see if there are any masks that are hiding the real you.







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Pandemic Perspective – Part 7 Relationships

Another gift of this pandemic is time to focus on why we are really here, relationships not riches. It’s easy to see the effects this virus is having on people’s physical health but the less obvious is the toll it is taking on our emotional heath. We were created for intimacy not isolation. The other day while I was out cutting firewood a guy drove onto my place. At first, I thought he was lost or looking for someone that lived nearby, turns out he was lonely. He was an older gentleman who had been stuck at home alone for weeks. He decided to go for a drive and when he saw me he pulled in to see was I was doing. Here is the question, did I care? I had firewood to cut, I have a wife to talk to, I am not lonely. So often we base our interactions on where we are at, what we need or want instead of the needs of others. Instead seeing it as a time for interaction we see it as an interruption. I would never have known what was going on in this man’s life if I hadn’t taken the time to talk to him. That’s just it, people take time, something we have more of these days, not because there is more time but because Covid-19 is changing how we spend it. But what about when the pandemic is over, will we still have time for what matters most, people? During Jesus’ final week before his death we learn in Matthew 22:34-40 that an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus responded with s startling revelation about relationships, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” What Jesus does not say is that the law and the prophets hang on these 2 things, rule keeping and not measuring up. Instead He says that ALL of the Law and Prophets hang on ‘relationships.’ When asked to sum up the greatest rule Jesus reversed it and talked not about rules but relationships. When God created us, He hardwired us for three relationships, a relationship with Him, with others and a healthy relationship with ourselves. Love God, Love others, Love yourself. Authentic Christianity means that we love God with all that we are both inwardly, our heart and soul this is loving Him passionately and our mind this is loving Him thoughtfully.  This is not just merely a knowledge of God but a pursuit of understanding God, who He is how He works and what His desire is for our lives. But we are not just called to love Him inwardly but also outwardly, with all our Strength. This is loving Him practically, meaning that we are authentic, our attitudes and motivations are seen through our actions. But loving God also involves loving others, this is loving Him socially. The outflow of loving God should lead to an overflow of loving people. 1 John 4:20-21 says “If anyone boasts, I love God, and then goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar.  Christ’s command is blunt, loving God includes loving people. John 13:34-35 reminds us that loving our neighbor reflects our love for God, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The relationship that I have with my wife is a reflection of the relationship I have with God! We were built for relationship. God said of Adam: “It is not good for man to be alone.” In the Garden of Eden, Adam had a special relationship with God. He gave Adam everything he needed: a perfect environment all the food he needed, purposeful work, and yet God looked at Adam and said, “He needs more. He needs a companion.” Which came in the form of a spouse, a help mate and friend. God has created us with an innate need for relationships, family, friends, fellow-Christians, co-workers, classmates and so on. The second command is about pouring out the love of God with our neighbors. But who is my neighbor? A young lawyer asked Jesus this same question 2000 years ago in Luke 10:30-37.  Jesus answers this question with the story of the Good Samaritan. There was a man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he is attacked by robbers who beat him, take his clothes and money, and leave him on the road half dead. A priest was on his way down the very same road, but when he saw the man he crossed over to the other side. A little later a Levite, a religious man was on his way down the road as well and when he saw the man, he too, went by him on the other side of the road. After this man came a Samaritan, the despised enemies of the Jews, but when he saw the man his heart went out to him. He gave the man first aid, disinfected and bandaged his wounds. He put him on his donkey and took the injured man to an inn where he gave the innkeeper money to take care of him. Jesus then asks the young lawyer, who the neighbor was in the story, obviously the one who cared for him. Jesus then tells the man to go and do likewise. The parable offers a vision of life instead of death, insisting that enemies can prove to be neighbors. That compassion should have no boundaries and that judging people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity will leave us dying in a ditch. I think this story is great not because of the story itself but the way in which Jesus answers the man’s question. The man asks Who is my neighbor? In other words, who is it that I have to love?  He wants something to do a rule to obey. Jesus answers by saying, Be a neighbor.  Jesus tells the man an attitude to embody, that of a loving person. Loving your neighbor isn’t a rule to obey it’s an attitude to embody. Loving our spouse, kids, or neighbors isn’t a rule to obey it’s an attitude to embody and live out. In your relationships are you the Priest, the Levite or the Good Samaritan? Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving your neighbor means that you do for them whatever you would do for yourself. When you have a need, you attempt to meet it. When you have a hurt, you attempt to heal it. When you have a responsibility, you attempt to fulfill it. When you have a prayer request, you pray for it! For many of us loving ourselves comes easily, we have become experts at it. The trick is to keep self-love from becoming selfishness. Loving your neighbor requires action. It’s not enough to be concerned. It’s not enough to feel compassion. You have to get involved. You have to get a little blood on your toga and dirt on your kneecaps. You have to invest some of your time and give of your treasures. You have to do whatever it takes to take care of your neighbor, just as you do whatever it takes to take care of yourself. So, what about my neighbor who as it turned out just needed someone to talk to, was he worthy of my time? Did I value cutting firewood, work more than relationship? No, this pandemic has reminded me that while we need cash, we need connection more. So, I set my saw aside and discovered my neighbors need. All it cost me was a little time. But how often do we miss connection because we dismiss caring? Right now, we have time, but when this pandemic is over will we make the time, or will our careers be more important than connection? Who do you know that needs loved today?