New Normal

The following is the Sunday article I wrote for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for October 18. To God be the glory!


I have been doing a lot of thinking and praying this year as I know many of you have. This pandemic has dragged on for a long time and, if you are like me, you are getting anxious. You want things the way they were. You are tired of worshiping in a parking lot or online. You miss the sanctuary of your church building. You miss your brothers and sisters in Christ. And I totally get it. But have I come to a realization that may not be too popular with many.

No, I am not going to advocate that we maintain the status quo indefinitely (you can breathe a sigh of relief now). What I want to do is encourage you to pray unselfishly and consider things that maybe you have not considered before. What do I mean? I have been hearing this phrase a lot, but just recently it has caught my attention anew, “I am looking forward to getting back to normal”. And, as I thought about that phrase, God placed this question on my heart:

Have you considered that I am preparing you for a new normal; something you have never even imagined?

I have thought about that in the past, but it never got more than a passing glance; nothing worthy of a full-scaled article like this. So, I asked God, “For what are you preparing us? What does this new normal look like?” Of course, God did not give me a direct answer – He rarely does. But what God did do is give me a series of questions to pray about, and thus I commend them to you:

(1) What if God does not want us to return to “normal”?
(2) What if God has been using this pandemic to completely break what we have been doing in order to create something new?
(3) What if God is using this time to redirect our attention; to hone our vision so it is 20/20 vision on Him? (See what I did there with the “20/20”?)

I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the Church will never, ever be the same again. We just cannot return to our old “normal”. To do so, we would miss a golden opportunity to glorify Him. I believe that God has been beautifully remolding and reshaping us. Yet, many are afraid of the new. Brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of going full steam ahead in trying to return to “normal”, let us go full steam ahead and pray. Pray, pray and pray some more, and do not be afraid. Pray for the faith, courage and strength to do whatever it is for which God is preparing you. May we not have tunnel vision that is fixated on our comfort zone and “normal” but rather 20/20 vision on our awesome God through Christ Jesus our Lord. He is in control. He reigns and He is sovereign. It is okay to trust Him. He has never let you down and He never will. Let us boldly go into whatever new normal God has for us. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

COVID-19 Prayer

Sovereign God, I acknowledge that there is nothing above you. I acknowledge that there is nothing outside Your power. And, I acknowledge that You are in perfect control. I do not understand this virus. I do not understand why it is persisting this long. People are dying and suffering. Lives have been turned upside down. So much frustration. So much confusion. But through it all, You are my constant. You reign on high. You are the giver of life. You are my God. So, I boldly ask that you destroy this virus – I know You can, but thy will be done. But whatever Your will may be, mold and shape me through this time. I do not want 2020 to be a bad number that passes my lips, but may 20/20 be the vision that I have of You in the midst of this pandemic. You have never left me and never will. Heal and strengthen my faith that I may always look to You through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Time

The following is my article that was published in The News Tribune (Tacoma) this morning. To God be the glory!


Time is a relentless soldier that marches on without compromise. But sometimes we say that time is moving too slow, like when we are engaging in an activity we do not enjoy. Sometimes we say that time flies by too fast, like when we are engaging in an activity we really enjoy. As a father I have often said that I blinked and my kids were grown up. There have been times when it felt like time had stopped. Whatever the situation, the constant through it all is the relentless and methodical march of time. It never varies in speed, even though it feels like it at times, and it never varies in direction. It moves forward and it never, ever changes. It is one of the few things of this world that we can count on.


Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of a summer Greek class as I was beginning seminary in St Paul, Minnesota. It was four years that seemed to last a long time. Sixteen years ago, I was ordained into the ministry of Word and sacrament as I was one month into my first call as a pastor in southwest Minnesota. Four years ago, I was one month into my second call – at Living Word Lutheran Church. Each moment I look back and wonder where the time went. And in each moment, time went where it always does with its unvarying speed – relentlessly marching forward. But still, I feel as if I blinked and now here I am.


Approximately 120+ days ago 2020 took a turn that seems like forever ago, yet it almost feels like yesterday. Satan sells the lie that time has slowed down and thus God is prolonging our suffering – like a stalked storm continuously churning – beating down upon us. But the fact remains, time has not stalled but has marched on – never slowing. And this is indeed a gift from God, for God is the creator of time. He exists outside of time and He is in the midst of it with you and me. We are not drifting aimlessly through this storm but rather being carried along with the relentless march of time. It is because of that fact I am confident that this pandemic (or whatever suffering you are dealing with) will pass, because time never fails. Before we know it, this suffering will be far behind us as a distant memory. Before we know it, we will be reminiscing about how God pruned you and me for his glory. Before we know it, we will be saying, “I blinked, and this suffering disappeared.”


Time is such a gift – perfectly created by our Creator God. These past few months seem long, but continue to hold on, my friends. Time, has not and will not come to a complete stop. Cling to God’s promises in Jesus Christ and march on with Him into glory. Amen.

But Rather

The following prayer initially grew out of frustration of how I perceive many people – including many in the Church – responding to this pandemic. I see people attacking each other on social media and others spreading misinformation. I hear conversations of people fixated on this virus. I have seen this pandemic bring out the worst in people.

Yes, this world is steeped in sin and thus it is subject to decay and death. Yes, Satan is prowling round looking for someone to devour. Yes, nothing we do here will save us. Our only hope is Jesus, who died for our sins and rose from the grave to give us the hope of the resurrection and peace with God, yet many are still not at ease.

You see, the problem is that the gods of this world are being threatened and their subjects are rising up in an effort to defend these gods. Yes, even people who claim Jesus as their Lord are going to battle for these gods. It’s as if Jesus is not enough. Really?!? People need to stop and trust God and Him alone. They need to let these gods go and watch our sovereign God do a new thing. We need to take a step back and trust Jesus. And so I wrote this prayer. I, for one – with the help from God – refuse to fall prey to Satan’s schemes.

Let us pray…


Sovereign God,
I praise You for:
Your power and might,
Your grace and mercy,
Your love and healing.
I praise You for:
Your tender care,
Your outstretched arms,
Your holiness.
I praise You for Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.
Oh God, I am Yours, and therefore:
I refuse to dwell on what I cannot do but rather embrace what You are doing.
I refuse to point my finger of blame but rather raise my hands of worship to You.
I refuse to lament the loss of “normal” but rather wait expectantly the transformation You are bringing.
I refuse to live in fear but rather live joyfully in You.
I refuse to cling to “what we have always done” but rather embrace new beginnings.
I refuse to be self-absorbed but rather pursue the welfare of others.
I refuse to dwell in anything and anyone but You.
Oh God, my Fortress and Shield,
Keep my eyes on You.
In Jesus name I pray,
Amen

John 14 Sermon teaser…

The following is the opening to the sermon that I am preaching tomorrow, May 10, on John 14:1-11. The worship live stream will start at 9:30 AM (PST) on our YouTube channel (Living Word Lutheran Church – Graham, WA)


Fear has a way of rendering people paralyzed – unable to think clearly or make smart, rational decisions. When everything safe around you is threatened, the natural reaction is embedded deep in the primal part of our brain. It is the fight or flight response. We instinctively either, fight for the safe place we have – trying to restore order – or we retreat and search for another safe place. We do this without thinking or planning or evaluation. In a lot of ways this is a gift from God that enables self-preservation. For example, if I were to encounter one of those “murder hornets” that are supposedly here in Washington, I am not going to evaluate too long whether I should retreat or not. But sometimes this fight or flight response becomes a hinderance to common sense. For example, there are people in Washington holding “COVID-19 parties” – purposely exposing themselves to get it out of the way so they can return to their safe place sooner. Truth be told, there is no science to this and thus not safe for the public. And then, this fight or flight response often gets in the way of trusting God – refusing to believe or accept His promises – thus Jesus’ commands in John 14.

Yes, our safe places have been threatened, but God is still sovereign. And so, let us hear the Good News in John 14 so we can stop fighting or flighting (is that even a word?) and start trusting. Let us pray…

The Fight

Here’s my article for The News Tribune (Tacoma) published in this morning’s paper. To God be the glory.


It is hard to go through a single day without talk of this virus. There are so many news stories, many of which are conflicting. There are leaders politicizing this pandemic for personal gain. People are becoming impatient – demanding relief – demanding a return to normal. There are protests, rebellions, accusations, hatred and so much more. I am saddened to see what this is doing to our communities, nation and the world. Do not get me wrong, I do not blame God for this, but rather I am begging people to stop and drop to their knees and look to God. There are people dying. There are people losing jobs. There are businesses closing their doors. There are families struggling to hold things together. There are people putting their lives on the line. There is a personal aspect of this fight for all of us. We must never forget that, and so I pray. I give thanks each and every day. I plead with and I worship God. Join me now and let us pray…

I wake up each morning,
and I praise You with my first breath,
and I give You thanks for my many blessings.
I rejoice that You have protected me and my family,
yet another day.
But many cannot say this.
They cannot take that first breath without help.
Many people struggle to count their blessings.
Many are fighting this invisible foe so other lives can go on.
It is for them and many others,
for whom I pray.
Oh Lord…
For those who have died of this virus – I mourn.
For those fighting for their lives – I ask for healing.
For families unable to see or speak to loved ones – I ask for comfort.
For those serving on the front lines – I plead for a hedge of protection.
For each essential worker – I ask for strength and provision.
For our elected leaders – I ask for wisdom.
For medical researchers – I ask for knowledge to beat this enemy.
For our children whose lives have been turned upside down – Have mercy.
For teachers learning a new way to teach – I ask for resilience.
For the Church that has now been deployed – Please equip them.
For people struggling to pay bills – Please provide.
For small businesses on the brink – Please give hope.
For each and every moment in this fight – To You, oh God, be the glory.
Oh God, sovereign Lord and King,
In the name of Jesus Christ I pray,
Amen.

May you stay firm in this fight and continue to cry out to the Lord. As the psalmist says in Psalm 116:1-2, I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

The Boat

The waves are monstrous,
The wind is fierce,
And my feeble little boat is no match for this storm.
I try and try, but I make no head way.
I fight and battle but continue to lose ground.
And the storm rages on.
The storm wants to lay claim to this boat –
to bring it down into the deep.
It fights and threatens.
It claws and bites,
and my feeble little boat is no match for this storm.
Jesus, where are you?!?
Wait — you are right here,
in my feeble little boat.
You are right here with me,
as the storm rages on.
Now I am at peace.
Now I can be still and know –
for nothing can touch me
as long as Jesus is in the boat with me –
in this feeble, broken down, little boat.
The storm rages on,
but it will never claim me,
not with Jesus in my boat.

Washed Clean

The following is an article I wrote for this morning’s paper in The News Tribune (Tacoma). It was something I wrote about a week ago – right when things were really ramping up for many around here with restrictions surrounding COVID-19. Living Word had just canceled the rest of our Lenten services and we were going to discuss the status of our Sunday services (which are online now). What a week it has been, but praise be to God that I am his.


No matter where you go or where you look, you will hear/read news about the COVID-19. Statistics seem to change by the minute. Country, state and county boundaries cannot stop the spread of this virus. The CDC and various state and local health agencies are working hard to keep us informed. Basic health and safety messages are being repeated, “wash your hands”, “stay home if you are sick”, “avoid large crowds”. Aggressive measures are being taken: (i.e. restricting crowd sizes, canceling events, closing schools). But no matter what we do, the virus continues its relentless march like a wall of toothpicks trying to stop a tank. We fight and fight, but the march continues. We hide ourselves away, but it still finds us.

As more and more people experience this menace invading their backyards, the fear factor is rising. “Will I or a loved one be next?”. It seems as if the only thing that can be done is to just sit and wait for the inevitable, like waiting for the invisible man, who has been stalking you, to strike.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in fear and therefore…

I WILL NOT!

I refuse to let this virus render me paralyzed by fear. Rather, I am going to remember who I am…

A child of God.

Through Jesus Christ and because I am a sinner: I have been redeemed, I have been claimed, I have been given a new identity, I have been given hope. Through the cross and the empty tomb, I have been given citizenship in the Kingdom of God through the forgiveness of my sins and thus I am protected by God’s holy army. No relentless viral army will touch this redeemed soul. I am His. My creator God is King and Lord. He is sovereign over this virus. He is my loving Father and Mighty Fortress. He is the Rock on which I will stand, and thus I refuse to step off. Satan is wielding this virus to strike fear into people, but I will stand and say, “My life belongs to Jesus! Back off!”

Why isn’t God destroying this virus? Why isn’t God sparing us? Why isn’t God doing something? Well, God is doing something. He’s has my attention. Does he have yours? I really don’t know what God is up to, but I do know, that when this is all said and done, God will be glorified. Why? Because God saves sinners and God is in control.

And therefore, as I repeatedly wash my hands, heeding the advice and warnings of the health professionals I will remember. I will remember that my soul has been washed clean of my sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Every time I come in contact with water — I will remember and cling to His promises. Water will no longer be a sign, reminding me of the virus I’m trying to ward off – it will now point me to the One who holds my life.

Be cautious. Be diligent. Be smart. But don’t live in fear. Live in hope that through Jesus Christ you are washed clean.

Praise be to God, always and forever, Amen!

The Invisible Foe

The relentless march of an invisible foe –
imposing its will –
has taken captive nation after nation
with relative ease.
It cares not for its victims –
showing no mercy.
It strikes at will.
And it’s a fearful thing to fight an invisible foe.
Where do we strike?
How do we attack?
But enough about that –
how do we defend ourselves?
Hiding seems to be the plan
as we wait for it to march right on by,
but its march is slow and relentless.
How long will it be?
Will it find me?

[sigh]

My only hope is God my King –
the Lord of armies.
He will defend me for He has fought the fight for my life.
His warrior is Jesus, and he won.
And this invisible foe?
My life belongs to my King.

Night

The following is my newest article for The News Tribune (Tacoma) – my first for the Sunday edition of the paper. God has now given me the opportunity to expand my outreach for His glory. Sunday is a higher circulation day for the paper. And so, here you go. To God be the glory!


I have been doing a lot of praying recently. This is not to say that I didn’t pray before. I have always been a man of prayer, but I have been challenged to rethink how I pray. I recently read a devotion on prayer where the author asked the following question – “Now answer honestly. If God said yes to every prayer you prayed in the last seven days, how would the world be different?” And so, I started thinking about the content of my prayers. I noticed that I would ask God to bless my family, friends, church, etc; I would ask God to help me do this or that task; I would ask God to be with me and so on. Does this sound familiar? Would I notice a difference if God did all those things? Maybe, but I am guessing that I wouldn’t catch it right away – if I did at all.

Now, I am not suggesting, nor was the author suggesting, that we stop praying those prayers. Instead he challenged me to also be “more bold” in my prayers. He challenged me to move from vagueness to specific. Why? Because God wants you to notice Him at work and thus give Him the glory. Besides, if you access to God almighty – being commanded to pray – why wouldn’t you be bold and ask for the world.

One of the big news stories going on right now is the coronavirus (COVID-19). At the time of writing this article, the death rate is at 3.4% of those infected. The hand sanitizer section in many stores is bare and people are stocking up on necessities in case of a quarantine. Schools have closed to disinfect in response to a student’s connection to the virus. Businesses are rethinking air travel for their employees. Basically, life has changed for many people. But I don’t want to join the media machine that is feeding people doom and gloom – leading them to panic, as if this is the end of the world. Yes, I am concerned, and my family is taking precautions, but we are also praying. How are you praying about this, Pastor? That is a great question, I’m glad you asked. Let us pray…

Sovereign God, You are Lord of all. You reign on high. You sit enthroned over all of creation. This coronavirus is frightening, but I know You are in control. You are not surprised by this outbreak. And even though I don’t understand what is happening and why, I trust You. Please endow healthcare professionals with knowledge to come up with a cure and/or vaccine for this virus. Heal those who are infected. Give peace and hope to a frightened population. Stop COVID-19 dead in its tracks. Destroy this virus. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Bold prayer? YES. If God were to answer that prayer as I prayed it, would I notice a difference in the world around me? YES. Will God answer that prayer as prayed? I don’t know, but I do know God will be glorified in some way and therefore I will pray boldly. Will join me? Let us pray… Amen.