PASTOR’ BLOG
 

Coronavirus Blog Day 13

            Today is Palm/Passion Sunday.  Every year we take either a praise or a passion (suffering of Jesus) approach to the day.  Most of the time though we concentrate on the praise.  This year is a time to reflect on the sufferings of Christ as so many suffer from disease and financial loss.  Very simply, Jesus suffered and died for us to be our Savior.  This disease that ravages the world is a stark reminder that we need a Savior.  Most of us will survive this pandemic, but all of us will one day die, and all of us at that point will need the Savior who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:25-26     Jesus ended his statement to Martha with, “Do you believe this?”  Indeed, that is the question that we personally need to answer this and every day.

 

Coronavirus Blog Day 12

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

            In one form or another this is a desperate prayer on the hearts and minds of many people.  It is a prayer to God that the necessities of our lives be met.  It is a prayer that this day we may have the food, the shelter, the money that we need for one more day!  Several of my friends and family have been laid off in the response to this coronavirus crisis and I know that many of you reading this have either been laid off or know others who have been.  It is a prayer that we all may soon get back to work and be able to once again provide for our families and ourselves.  But as we pray this prayer it is an acknowledgement that the ultimate source of our well being is God.

            If you have gone to the grocery store lately and seen the shelves that have been emptied by panic you know what Jesus was getting at when he asked us to pray for our needs to be met one day at a time, “this day”.  If everyone just shopped for what they regularly needed than there would be enough for everyone who came into the store.  It’s the panic of a perceived shortage that causes us to hoard.  Last week I was in Walgreens for “Senior Hour”.  There were two cartoons of eggs left stuffed way in the back of the display case.  I was sorely tempted to take both but left the last one for someone else.  It is this type of action that God calls us to in this time when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  The prayer is in the plural, so we are praying not only for our personal needs be met, but those of others.  When we act on this, we make the name of God holy, “Hallowed be thy name.” 

            Could you share on my Facebook page and at my email address the times during this crisis where you have seen people putting others before themselves and being perfectly satisfied that “God would provide their daily bread.”  vistaspastorfred@aol.com

 

Coronavirus Blog Day 11

            And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

            This forth petition of the Lord’s prayer can be extremely frightening if we truly understand what we are asking for and don’t see our Father as a gracious and loving God.  The key word is the word in the middle “as”.  Without a doubt we all want God to forgive our “trespasses”, our “debts” our “sins”.   But do we really want to forgive those who sin against us?  That word “as” right in the middle means we are asking God, “to forgive our sins (as=to the same degree) we forgive those who sin against us.  In other words, we are asking God not to forgive our sins if we don’t forgive those who sin against us.  This is a frightening prayer if you understand that, and have an unforgiving heart.  To pray this 4th petition is a challenge to exam our hearts and lives.  Do I or a group of people I am involved with hold a grudge against another person or group.  If so to pray this prayer is to ask God to hold us responsible for our own hearts and the heart of whatever group of which we are a part.  The Lord’s prayer is indeed a challenging prayer if we understand it!  See Matthew 6:14-15

 

Coronavirus Day 10

            There is nothing like going through Lent twice in one year.  The total days in the season of Lent are 46 because Sundays are not included in the “40 days of Lent”.  But here we enter another 30 days of Social Isolation on top of the first 15.  None of us have given up so much for Lent and done it twice in one year!!  I pray this time of trial we use it to bring us closer to Christ.  Sorry for the gap in blogs.  I had 2 memorial services as well as worship this weekend and had to finish 2 sermons for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday yesterday.  Anyway…

“Thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

            This is the spot in the Prayer where we ask God to have the perfection of his kingdom in heaven come to earth and our circumstances.  This is where we pray: Lord let this pandemic end, let it be your will treatments and vaccines are rapidly developed, let it be your will my financial resources last until I can leave the house again and work.  And Lord let it be your will I and all my loved ones stay healthy!  We have the confidence to ask because we know he loves us like a good Father (Our Father).  He is (in heaven) outside our circumstances and as God can change them.

            And in terms of the other petitions’ connection to this 2nd petition we pray that in this time of testing as we wait on the Lord, we stay faithful, bring holiness to his name because of it and be delivered from evil.  The whole prayer is interconnected.  The more you pray it and think about it as you pray the more God will bless you!!

 
March 28, 2020
Coronavirus Blog Day 9
 

“Our Father in Heaven”

            The first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is not like all the “asks” or “petitions” that follow.  It is a statement of faith.  It is a claim that God is not just “my personal God” but God is the God of all humanity.  The entire prayer is in the plural, though, as we pray it, we most often use it to bring our own prayers and requests to God.  But it is vitally important at to recognize the plural, so that the God we pray to in our minds is not just some little figure we can put on the shelf and pull out to address when we have a need.  Our God is the God of everyone.

            Now to address God as “Father”, though, reassures us that the Creator of the universe is not just some impersonal power out beyond time and space.  He is “our Father” who knows our name and even has a new name for us when we get to heaven.  “Our Father” let’s us come before God as his children.  We come to a good Father who is more eager to help us than we are to ask.  When I pray this prayer in the morning for the first time I am usually walking outdoors.  As I say “Our Father” I take a deep breath and then look up at the mountains.  I am reminded that as big and far away as God is in heaven, he is as close as my next breath.  “Our Father in Heaven” is also big enough to meet any of our needs that soon pour from our hearts as we proceed through the 7 petitions of the prayer.  The relationship of Father to child encourages us to ask and then act on God’s answers.  In this time of the Coronavirus we need to ask for it to end, which is tomorrow’s blog on “thy kingdom come thy will be done…”

 

March 27th, 2020

Coronavirus Day 8

            My friends I am sorry I skipped a day.  I had more duties than day yesterday, so here it is Friday.  Saturday and Sunday, I have 2 memorials as well as worship Livestream and this has all been a challenge for me to get ready even working in the solitude of home.

 “Hallowed be thy name”

            This first petition is directly connected to the 5th and 6th petitions which are “Lead us not into hard testing (temptation) but deliver us from evil,” in this manner.  When I pray this prayer, I translate “Hallowed be thy name” as “Let your name be held holy.”  The “name” of God is a substitute for saying “God”, so more simply, “Let you be held holy God.”  The only way I see God’s name to be held holy by those both within the faith, and those without, is by the way we live our lives as “holy”.  The witness to God’s holiness within the faith is by holding onto God in the times of “hard testing”.  It is recognizing his holiness, strength and power is beyond and above all of our present circumstances.  If we look up at night, we see the moon, the stars and 1000s of galaxies that from the distance look like single stars and God is above and beyond all these.  God is holy.

             In terms of “but deliver us from evil” we are asking God to help us live “holy lives”, so that those who look at our lives can see beyond them and through them to our holy God.  So, to pray to God, to ask God, “Hallowed be thy name” is to ask God, “Let You (God) be held holy as people see me living a holy life free from evil.”  The challenge is how do we do this in the age of the Coronavirus where hoarding and fear are rampant?  How do we lead faithful, holy lives, to bring holiness to the name of God?  Share with me your thoughts.  Tomorrow I will address the beginning of the prayer “Our Father” and where He is presently located.

 
 
March 25, 2020
Coronavirus Blog Day 7
 
This petition (ask of God) comes on 3 main levels of understanding.  The first level is “God please don’t let any evil befall me.”  I believe this is how most interpret this petition for I did the same for many years.  The next level is that this phrase can legitimately be translated, “But deliver me from the Evil One.”  Again, it is a petition that evil or the evil one not come upon a person or group because I can’t emphasis enough that this prayer is in the plural.
              The deepest and most profound level of understanding this petition hinges on the word “but”.  This directly connects it to the previous petition.  The word “and” would give it a whole other understanding in other words we could pray “we do not have a hard time of testing and no evil befall us”.
              The deeper level is that it is a prayer that if God says “no” and we go through the time of trial and testing that during that time of testing we don’t abandon our faith and trust in God.  In other words, these two petitions become a prayer of faith, “lead us not through a time of hard trial and testing, but if you do then let us have the strength to hold onto our faith and not sin.”  The evil that we are asking to be delivered from is the evil of abandoning our faith in times of trial.  We can do this directly by turning our back on God, or more subtly by trying to take matters into our own hands and leaving God out.
              As we pray this prayer the prayer asks us, “Will you hold onto to God in this time of hardship or will you turn away?”  Tomorrow we look at how these two petitions are directly tied to “Hallowed by thy name.”
 

March 24th, 2020

Coronavirus Blog Day 6

            I want to spend a few days guided by the Lord’s Prayer in this time of the virus.  The King James version of the Lord’s Prayer obscures the layers of meaning and the depth and interrelationship of the petitions in this prayer.  So, today, I will begin bringing it into the present situation starting with the 5th petition, “Lead us not into temptation.”  The word “temptation” can be translated “hard testing” or “trial”.  In other words, I often pray this phrase “Lord lead us not into a hard trial or time of hard testing.”  Well apparently, God said, “No” and let us come to this place in which our churches, nation and even the entire world are in a time of “hard trial and testing.” 

            This then can bring us to the point we shake our fist at God and say, “You’re unfair, you’ve abandoned us, and I am turning my back on you!”  Or we can turn to God in faith, which is actually part of the meaning of the next petition “but deliver us from evil.”  But more on that tomorrow.

            In circumstances of trial and testing the most inspiring scripture to me for maintaining the hope of my faith is James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  I must admit when I first read this verse as a young Christian, I did not believe it at all and thought the author must be crazy, but time has proved the truth of this verse.  When coupled with Mark 13:13 “He who endures to the end will be saved.”  It gives us the courage to hang on in the face of at times huge fear and suffering.  Which brings us tomorrow to, “but deliver us from evil.”

 
March 23 
Coronavirus Blog Day 5
I am sorry I missed day 4 but I believe Day 5 will make up for it!!  After seeing this I decided we needed some JOY in our lives at this a most serious time so here is a Youtube version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” that is done in a very creative “together and yet apart” mode in this time of the virus.  Feel free to weep with joy!  I did.  
 Pastor Fred
 
 
March 21  

Coronavirus Blog Day 3

 The following is from the book “How to Pray” The Best of John Wesley on Prayer (Barbour Publishing).  A while back I had what I would call a ‘word of knowledge’ from the Lord concerning our ongoing denominational problems.  It was a simple word, “Wait on the Lord”.  This word certainly applies in this situation as we wait for the Coronavirus Pandemic to pass.  And as we wait we must pray!

“Ask, and it will be given to you.” Luke 11:9 NASB

“All who desire the grace of God are to wait for it, first, in the way of prayer.  This is the express direction of our Lord Himself.  In His Sermon on the Mount, after explaining at length wherein religion consists and describing the main branches of it, He adds, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’”  (Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9-10).  In the plainest manner, we are here directed to ask in order to receive, or as a means of receiving; to seek, in order to find the grace of God, the pearl of great price; and to knock, to continue asking and seeking, if we would enter into His kingdom.

            That no doubt might remain, our Lord gives a peculiar parable of a father who desires to give good gifts to his children, concluding with these words, “’How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?’”  (Luke 11:13 NASB)

            Jesus gives a direction to pray, with a positive promise that by this means we shall obtain our request: “’Go into your room, and…pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and …(He)… will reward you openly’” (Matthew 6:6).”

 
March 20  Day 2
 
Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
 
The Arizona judicatory leaders of the Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Church in America, The United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), and The Episcopal Church teleconferenced together and engaged in lively dialogue about the COVID-19 pandemic. We have jointly released the following statement that I would like to share with you. Here is our pastoral statement:
Church is not cancelled!!!
 
But in-person worship is. As leaders of our respective Christian denominations, we have all had to instruct our congregations to cease in person worship and meetings.
 
And yet, church is not cancelled. How is that so?
 
Church is not a building, and church is not just worship. Church is the gathering of faithful people through prayer, through love, and through caring for the vulnerable. Church is taking on new forms in light of COVID-19. Many congregations are worshiping via live-stream, or by other electronic means. They are using old fashioned phone calls to talk to members, meetings and Bible study are taking place over Zoom. Food pantries are distributing food as cars drive by, homeless dinner programs are offering meals to go, and the prayers of the faithful ascend to a loving God whose arms bind us together even when we cannot be face to face. Since we cannot be WITH one another, let us nonetheless be FOR each other.
 
These are faithful decisions, made out of our understanding of the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. In this present moment, among other things, loving our neighbor means not being physically present with our neighbors, to protect them and us from potential infection.
 
It is more challenging to be church in a time such as this. Our pastors and leaders are having to develop new skills, and our members are having to extend more effort to stay connected. There are financial implications of not gathering in person, and as long as this continues it will grow ever harder to continue our basic outreach ministries caring to the poor, the sick, migrants, and the elderly.
The word “quarantine” comes from quaresima, the Italian word for Lent. Ships were “quarantined” for 40 days in port before they were able to dock and unload people and supplies. So of all seasons of the year to be experiencing quarantines, this present season of Lent is very appropriate. Just as Lent ends with Easter, so this season of quarantine will end with renewed faith in our Risen Lord—though it will likely not happen by April 12, 2020. Over the next few weeks, as the situation develops, we will discern what the right way to observe calendar Easter is; and what the right way to observe our eventual return to in-person congregational life, proclaiming “Alleluia” with shouts of joy. That day will be an Easter Day indeed, celebrating the restoration of new life, having passed through the valley of the shadow of death.
 
We, the leaders of our respective Christian denominations, hold you in prayer just as we ask you to hold us in prayer in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
 
Rev. Jay R. Hartley
Regional Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arizona
 
The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer
Bishop, Grand Canyon Synod
Evangelical Church in America
 
The Rev. Dr. Robert T. Hoshibata
Resident Bishop
The Desert Southwest Conference 
The United Methodist Church
 
Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons, Conference Minister
Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ
 
Rev. Dr. Brad Munroe
Presbytery Pastor for the Presbyteries of Grand Canyon and de Cristo
Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)
 
The Right Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall
Sixth Bishop of Arizona
The Episcopal Church
 
 
 
March 19  Day 1

                 In my reading from the Moravian Texts this week I once again read of the last plague on the Egyptians when the angel of death took their first born and “passed over” the Hebrews.  I wondered how scary it would have been to hear the wailing in the night of those who lost loved ones.  And though the promise was there to the Hebrews of being “passed over” and they were doing everything they were told to do (lamb’s blood on the doorposts and lintel) it still must have been a terrifying night.

                It was a long night of waiting—waiting on the Lord.  Today as the Coronavirus spreads throughout the world bringing sickness and death to people and sickening the stock market and economy, we too wait for it to “pass over us” (as we wash our hands, stay home and practice social distance.)  And pass over it will.  But in the meantime, there is a lot of worry out there and even in our own hearts and minds.  So, in faith and trust in God that whatever happens we are his.  Wait on the Lord.  Hear the promise for those who do from Isaiah 40:29-31:

29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

In Christ’s love and service, Pastor Fred