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BASEBALL DURING COVID

I’ll be at Junior High baseball practice today
Players and coaches masking up
But what are the young players really scared of?
That baseball is really hard!
Standing in the batter’s box, that’s all they can think of
It’s really hard!
It’s one thing to hit a ball off a tee
And it’s another thing to have a coach throw pitches to you
But … to have one of the other players … one of my buddies ….
Standing on the mound and preparing to launch one really hardball
Right at me …
Well now, that’s a whole new ball game
Even with the helmet, and elbow pad, and a bat in the hand
It still causes one to shiver to know that ball is heading at you
Because it’s a really hard ball! Heading at you
Now that’s scary
You know what else is scary?
A highly contagious but invisible virus is scary
It’s kind of like that hardball – only you can’t see it
And the helmet won’t protect you from it
Nor does the elbow pad
And even more so than those young pitchers firing that hardball –
This virus can come from any angle
And hit you without any feeling
So, it’s even scarier than a hardball coming straight at you
And the harm it can do could be worse than any bruise
So, here is how we practice
We keep 6 feet between us all the time
That’s like wearing a helmet into the batter’s box
And we wear masks whenever we need to
And that’s better than any elbow pad
We check our temps every day, use sanitizer, and wash our hands
We never let our guard down
Because we never know when or where the virus might come at us
And then, having taken all the necessary precautions
We take our place in the batter’s box
And watch that hardball being thrown toward us
And as soon as it reaches home plate
It’s time to swing
POW!
And the ball sails over the fence
And all is well on the ball diamond
So remember these 4 things
6 feet separation
Mask up
Wash hands, rinse, repeat
Knock a homer!
Let’s play ball!
Peace, Love & Baseball Pastor Bob
 

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WHAT COULD DRIVE A PERSON TO …? By Heather Ivery, Stewpot Community Services, Jackson, MS “I recently passed a man panhandling.”

Guest Article: 

This is one of my favorite little stories about what it might be like to walk in somebody else’s shoes. We are often quick to make assumptions and judge other people by the miniscule interaction or perception we have of them. The truth is, everyone has a story behind their lives. There are situations and circumstances, hardships and struggles, that we often know nothing about, that can help us understand better the reasons that some people live their lives very differently than we do. Usually – it all goes back to their story. 

Here is a short story about a panhandler I thought you might find interesting and thought provoking. 

I hope you enjoy … Pastor Bob

This is not necessarily an everyday thing in our city, but it’s not really a rare occurrence, either. The reason this man caught my attention was the location. He was at an extremely busy and rather dangerous intersection for pedestrians. He was not standing calmly beside the road with a sign hoping to receive some generosity from the cars that were unlucky enough to stop close to him. He was, in fact, working the crowd. 

When the light turned red he was walking up and down the rows of cars trying desperately to catch the eye of someone. His tactic seemed to be to guilt or shame them into giving him some money or hope they would be annoyed enough to give him something to just go away.

I was pretty far back in the line of cars impatiently waiting for the light to turn green. I must have seen the man walk up to 8 cars before the light changed with him in the middle of the road. He seemed oblivious to the light change even as cars began to move until horns started honking. 

His venture into the dangerous intersection yielded him no gain this time, but as I drove past I saw him take his place next to the road watching for the light to turn again.

What could drive a person to put themselves in harm’s way like that on the off chance that someone may give them a few dollars? I’ve had people tell me that panhandlers are just looking for easy money, or they are just trying to feed an addiction or they are too lazy to work a real job. People say these things from the comfort of their warm cars and comfortable houses, though. I don’t see what this man was doing as easy. 

What could cause a person to give up his dignity to beg at the windows of stranger’s cars as they try to avoid eye contact or pretend to be so involved in their music that they don’t even see him? What could cause a person to dart between traffic and risk serious injury or even death just for the possibility of help?

I don’t know the answer. I can only assume that it is an act of desperation. Maybe there is a family somewhere he is trying to support. Maybe the money he asks for is for food or an electric bill. Maybe he is so terribly addicted to something that he is willing to risk his life. Maybe at the end of a long day of begging he will get in a car parked across the street and drive away to someplace that won’t run him off when they see him sleeping in his car. 

What I do know is that this man was not doing something easy. He was standing outside in the cold, dodging cars, enduring rejection after rejection, trying to survive the only way he could, on the kindness of strangers.

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Isn’t that how we all get by … in our own little ways? Sometimes it feels like we’re all alone with our problems, dodging cars and feeling cold and desperate. And then … the kindness of a friend … or a stranger … comes forward to reach out and help us. And there is a little light in our world again. I guess we’re all like panhandlers in a way, we all need a little help from others to get through our day. 

Pastor Bob


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A PLAGUE OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS …

The COVID-19 virus has impacted people all across the globe in a powerful and devastating way. It has become an “unseen enemy” that spreads its deadly poison by humans passing it to each other unsuspectingly, and its contagious nature has made it virtually impossible to stop – at least until a vaccine is developed.

Back in the day, or perhaps even these days, the COVID-19 virus could be seen as a plague of biblical proportions. It reminds us of the plagues that God laid on Pharaoh when he refused to follow the commands brought to him by Moses. The final plague in that scenario was the death of all first born children in Egypt – including Pharaoh’s young son. Another example of a powerful and devastating plague. 

The Old Testament tells many a story about how God conjures up powerful natural occurrences across the globe in order to disrupt the “normal” ways of life of the people and bring them back to a godly way of life. Remember the flood and Noah’s Ark. But Old Testament times were times before God had come to earth and walked with God’s people. We had not yet met God in the flesh. It was a time that still believed in a god that was more or less like the gods of ancient days – the Roman or Greek gods for instance – in which each god took on some version of human characteristics and personality, and acted out in ways that would either favor (bless) or punish (curse) people according to how close to God they lived their lives. 

Thus, in the story of Noah’s Ark, we learn that God brought about a global flood in order to exterminate the entire population of people on earth, except for Noah and his family, because of the ungodly way that they all were living. God chose, we are told, to punish the people for their behaviors by killing them all in a flood, so that God could start over with Noah’s family and repopulate the earth with righteous people. Is that a god you would believe in?

Well, we see how that worked out! Turns out that people are people – that we live in knowledge of God but consistently stray from God’s ways. Only to return to God again, over and over, as we are led to for our redemption. Truth is, God already knew that about us, but we didn’t. So, when the flood story was told, and eventually put in writing, we described God as we thought we knew God – just as if God was like the ancient gods of old who responded to each whim of thought and behavior with either blessings or curses on our life. Turns out that everything in our life could be explained by this belief in god as a giant marionette that is always pulling the strings of consequences and fate in our lives based on the way we are living. 

This view of God is as false today as it was in the ancient days. We know that because we have met God in human form … and our God is not capricious with emotions and reactive in actions. Indeed, God is only loving, caring, and redeeming. We now know that the consequences and fate that we confront are brought on by ourselves, not by God. But we also know that God is always there with us to help us through, carry us over, and lift us out of the troubling situations that we get ourselves into.

Nevertheless, as we all situate our lives in the midst of a global pandemic … of biblical proportions … it might be worthy to consider what messages God may want us to hear as we continue to change the way we live because of the virus all around us. 

Here are some lessons God may be teaching us as we ponder what this COVID-19 virus is trying to teach us:

1) God is calling us back home, to a world where all people are one family – the family of God – and so, to have us break down all the walls of separation and exclusion that exist between peoples of the earth, so that we may begin to actually live as one family … just as God created us.

2) God is pleading with us to learn to love each other as sisters and brothers  — because in reality, that is how God created us to live on this earth.      

3) God is trying to teach us to detach ourselves from what has become our “normal” way of life – to let go of the daily grind; to let go of our attachments to material things; and to surrender to God’s way of life in the face of the selfish temptations that arise in our hearts. 

4) God wants us … to be still, and know God.

5) God is asking us to become willing to surrender the need to control the things in our life that are not for us to control.

6) God wants us to understand that “church” is not a building, but a community of faith, hope and love that centers its life on God and God’s Kingdom, not on worldly things. 

7) God is showing us that the Kingdom of God is not of this world – not based on continents or countries or states and provinces, or any other geographic area in the world. The Kingdom of God is God’s new plan for this world that comes from outside the world in order to transform the world. 

8) God is reminding us of the value of loving our neighbor as ourselves; of always putting others first; of developing a selfless and sacrificial heart; and of truly caring about other people … and all people. (e.g.: wear a mask!)

9) God is demonstrating for us the way of life God wants us to live through the words of the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8) “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”

10) God is confirming for us the truth that our health and well-being … and indeed, our fate … is intertwined with everyone else’s; that we all have a common interest in how we live on this earth, for a single action somewhere affects other reactions everywhere; we cannot escape each other … we must learn to live with each other; justice denied to one person is justice denied to all of us; no person is an island – we are all in this together!    

If we could learn these 10 lessons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic … then (although the virus is not of God’s doing) the result of the virus on the people of the world could be biblical … even Godly! Perhaps that’s what God has planned for us as he turns this curse into blessings …

Stay safe – Mask Up – Love your neighbor –

Pastor Bob <><


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VISION ARTICLE – July 15th Journey Through The Book of James: A 2-Week Immersion into Living Life as a Christian

JOIN US BEGINNING SUNDAY, JULY 19TH THROUGH SATURDAY AUGUST 1ST FOR “JOURNEY THROUGH JAMES”  

One of the most common responses that preachers get to their sermons is to “make it more real.” People today want to know exactly and precisely how to live to be a follower of Jesus. They want to be told, step-by-step, how to live their life in a way that would qualify them to be a “little Christ” – a Christian. And that’s what The Book of James offers its readers … a game plan for living according to the teachings of Jesus. 

And who would be so qualified to write such a sermon? Would it be Peter, the Rock of the church? Or perhaps the Apostle Paul, the church planter and mystical theologian? Maybe it should be the mother of Jesus, who was with him every step of his life? Think about it – it you wanted someone to put down that manual for living a life like Jesus, who would you turn to as your authority? 

The Book of James is the answer to that question. It’s James, the brother of Jesus, who offers to us 5 precise and challenging chapters to teach us how to live. The Book of James is not the longest book in the Bible, it’s not the most cited book, nor the most read. Truth is, it barely made it into the final version of the New Testament, and many biblical experts, including Martin Luther, would rather not have it there. 

But despite the objections, James is one of my “go to” books of the Bible, and it is always a timely and relevant read that shows me where I am on my walk of faith according to the very brother of Jesus, and then teaches me, as if for the very first time, those same principles of living that turn us away from the ways of the world and toward Jesus, once again. For me, this is the book that tells us how to live, and emphasizes that Jesus followers should not just hear the “word,” but also should do it! 

The first chapter of James gives us an overview of what’s to come. He identifies about a dozen subjects that he will be covering in this epistle, thus offering a preview of the book in one chapter. Here are some of the subjects which James lays out before us as significant challenges to living the Christ-like life:

  • there is joy in the midst of trials
  • trials should evoke prayers for wisdom 
  • the poor should boast in exaltation and the rich in in humiliation
  • one who perseveres and loves the Lord will wear the “crown of life” 
  • selfish desires conceive sin within us and lead us away from the “word”
  • God the father is good and constant
  • God’s goodness is shown by bringing believers to “birth” through the “word of truth” 
  • the proclamation of the gospel results in the start of “new creation”
  • human anger does not produce righteous behavior
  • Jesus followers should get rid of impurity and cling to the “implanted word” 
  • God’s word alone can cultivate righteousness and deliver us from judgment
  • and perhaps most importantly for James, Jesus followers should not just hear the “word,” but should do it.

The Book of James is the ultimate “be careful what you ask for” book. James will hit us right where we are, and then tell us that we must move … change … become new again. And he tells us how to do that. 

Imagine being raised as the brother of Jesus. It seems apparent form the gospels that James was not an early follower of his brother Jesus, and indeed may have been concerned about his behavior and the risks he was taking. I imagine it would have been hard to have your brother as the Son of God, the true Messiah, and the anointed one. As they grew up together, I’m sure that was a little much for James to swallow. 

But as it was for many then, and still today, it’s the resurrection of Jesus that changes everything. Rising from the tomb, appearing again to his disciples in spiritual form, was just the body of evidence that convinced folks of the truth about Jesus. And it must have convinced James too. After the resurrection, James becomes a major figure in the Jewish movement to declare Jesus as the Messiah and to change the way Jews live and practice their faith. James became the head of the Jesus church in Jerusalem. And it is thought that Peter and John desired as much. 

So, James goes from being the highly skeptical and probably even resentful brother of Jesus, to the leader of the Jerusalem church in his brother’s name, to carry on the movement and spread gospel truth throughout the lands. 

I find the story of James especially convincing, as I find his book. This is not a man who came easily or early to the realization of who Jesus really was, and yet, when he became convinced, he was all in. That sounds authentic to me, and I know it’s the path to belief for many of us since then. 

Once James became devoted to his brother Jesus, then he was unshakeable in his faith. And the Book of James reflects that seriousness and commitment required to actually be a follower, and not just a fan, of Jesus. Indeed, it seems from reading his book, that James had no patience with the “fans” of Jesus. Just like in these times, so many people want to have a piece of the Jesus movement in their life; they want to be a part of something that’s good and right, and just might save them from eternal damnation. But beneath that overt desire to belong, the commitment to actually change is lacking, and so many of us keep our religion and faith life at a comfortable distance from our real life – after all, we wouldn’t want to lose what we have for something we don’t know much about. 

James will attempt to convince you otherwise. He will urge you to take that leap of faith into the unknown, by following the Way of Jesus, and becoming willing to change the way you live by letting Jesus change your heart. 

From his exhortation that “faith without works is dead,” to his warning that one’s tongue is the spark to light a forest fire, to warnings against arrogance and wealth, and the assurance that prayers offered by a righteous person are effective – Jams will challenge us in ways that we can’t even see or know yet. 

In 2 short weeks, Jesus’s brother James can change your life. I hope you will join us for the        “Journey Through James” 2-week immersion that includes daily recorded readings from James that will take us through the book in sequence; Wednesday evening Zoom discussions led by Bruce Condill on what we’ve read and your reaction to it; and sermons in our Sunday service that animate the teachings from the Book of James and bring them straight into your daily life …

I’m not sure what you had planned for the second half of July … but you can’t go wrong by making a commitment to give James a part of your life. 

Serving God and Loving Neighbor … I am,

Pastor Bob


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VISION ARTICLE – July 8th “I’m Begging – Wear a Mask – for My Loved Ones and Yours!”

Amy, and I got tested for COVID-19 a week ago Monday at Sara Bush Lincoln Hospital. It was a fairly easy process. Stay in your car. Short line. Drive into the makeshift mini-clinic set up at the far end of the hospital complex. Listen, ironically, to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that is playing in the background. Give the staff a little info. Have each nostril thoroughly swabbed … but not too deep. Offer blessings and drive home. 2 days later – get the call for the results. We were both negative. 

So, at least as of last Monday, I did not have the Coronavirus. But, on the other hand, I could have it by today. Unless I get tested continuously, there’s really no way of knowing. 

The reason we got tested was 2-fold. My mom, Lois, was returning home from a 6-week stay at The Arthur Home where she received their usual dose of excellent care. Mom is 93 years young, and Amy and I, along with my sister Connie, are her primary caregivers. We see her everyday … and to be honest, sometimes it’s just not natural to maintain 6 feet separation. So, we got tested for my mom. 

The second reason we got tested was because our first grandchild just came into the world on July 1st. My son Jackson and his wife Heather live in Lexington, and after our grandson was born, it was just a matter of hours before Amy and I were loading up our cars and heading to Lexington. Can you relate? So, we also got tested for little Owen Andrew Silvanik. 

In either case, I don’t know how I would handle knowing that if either one of those super special people in my life got the COVID-19 virus, that they could have gotten it from me. Both of them would be very susceptible to serious consequences if they contracted the virus. I would rather have a very serious case of Coronavirus – even fatal – myself, than for either one of them to face the same thing because of me.

What about you? Do you have the virus? No matter what you think, the truth is you don’t really know. So many spreaders of the virus are asymptomatic. Just like me and Amy, you could be carrying the virus unknowingly … and unintentionally pass it on to someone else, who unintentionally passes it on to someone else, continuously passing it on until someone shows signs. Someone gets sick. Someone goes into the hospital. And someone dies. All because someone like me or you unsuspectingly and unintentionally passed the virus we didn’t know we had to someone else. 

That’s how it works, you know. And it’s always working. That’s what viruses do … they keep working. Just ask the folks in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona and California. They thought the virus stopped working … at least in their area. Everything was cool … back to normal. Open the beaches! Open the bars! Let’s party!!!

In all those states this week, and others, they have discovered that COVID-19 is still working. And it’s a hard worker! Think about it: with all the cases and all the deaths that occurred in January, February and March, we are breaking records for both number of cases and percent tested positive. In all the states that thought they had seen the worst of it … that the COVID-19 virus was passing them by … that it was time to get back to normal … well, they’re numbers are skyrocketing. And more people are filling the hospitals. And people continue to die. 

Frightening, isn’t it? Many folks around here are thinking the same things … that we’ve seen the worst of it … that the COVID-19 has passed us by … that it’s time to get back to normal. I am definitely not a prophet, but it sounds to me like we’re setting ourselves up for an onslaught of COVID-19. We’re poised to be blindsided. 

As so many have found out in recent weeks, this virus is still working, and just because it hasn’t hit here hard yet, doesn’t mean it can’t or it won’t. Indeed, I have heard chatter that it’s now beginning to creep into small rural villages and towns … including Arthur! If that’s true, I fear we are in a very precarious position to defend ourselves. 

However, we are fortunate in that there is still time to respond and we know how to do it. It’s very simple actually, but it appears to offend some of us, or make us uncomfortable, or interfere with our plans and our lifestyle. Well, all of that’s true! But isn’t the sacrifice worth it. 

For many of you, so far, apparently it’s not worth it. Wearing a mask is too inconvenient or intruding. Maintaining 6-feet separation requires too much discipline. Hand washing is too time consuming. And not being able to party and socialize like before is depressing. 

So … if you find any of that to be true for you … may I make one more appeal to you, since we could be on the brink of an outbreak.

Please … wear a mask. Maintain social distancing. Wash your hands compulsively. Discover that time alone and in seclusion can be time to connect with God and family in deep and rewarding ways.

Please … friends and neighbors. Do this not for yourself. That’s not the point of making these sacrifices. But do it for your neighbors. That’s what Jesus asks of us today … to become a selfless servant. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To see the world around you from the perspective of the other … not yourself. To have the vision to recognize that this is NOT about you … it’s about your neighbor, your elderly family members, your kids. And everyone else’s elderly family members and kids. It’s about US … our village! That’s my prayer for us. 

And … ultimately, back to my own perspective, it’s about Lois … and Owen. So … if you’re still not willing to do it for your family or your neighbors … do it for them … my 93 year old mom and my week old grandson. I’m begging you. Please … do it for them. I’ll do it for you. I’m asking as a neighbor. Together, let’s keep this virus under wraps … let’s minimize its impact. Because it’s coming … and I think it might already be here …

Serving God and Loving Neighbor … I am,

Pastor Bob


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SOME OTHER VOICES … COMMENTING ON THESE TIMES

I spent some time this week looking around social media for what others were saying about these crazy times we’re living in right now.  

Here are a few of my favorites from the week:   

1) A poem by Leslie Dwight 

“What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?”                                                                                                                                                    By Leslie Dwight

What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?

A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw — that it finally forces us to grow.

A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.

A year we finally accept the need for change.

Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of

pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather

the most important year of them all.

2) A TWEET posted by Cassidy Hall, quoting “How to Be an Antiracist”

A Tweet … Posted by Cassidy Hall at 2:53 PM on Mon, Jun 22, 2020:

“Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

From @DrIbram, “How to Be an Antiracist”

3) A FACEBOOK post by Serena Williams that was tweeted by Jerry Tipton

4) Another FACEBOOK post by Cathy Cox from Bishop-elect Deon K. Johnson of the Episcopal Church of Missouri. 

5) A Lao Tzu proverb from the book “The Little Voice” by Joss Sheldon

6) Finally, from your pastor, an answer to the question: “Why aren’t we back in church yet? Why are we still wearing masks? Why are we still sheltering?”

Answer: Look in the mirror. It’s for YOU! 

We are still in the midst of a virus that we know very little about. But we do know this: 1) it is highly contagious; 2) it is potentially deadly; 3) there is no treatment or vaccine; and 4) despite what we would like to believe, the case numbers and deaths continue to go up.  

PLEASE – keep wearing your masks; keep physical distancing; keep sheltering in place … and be very careful. Picture your most loved one in the mirror above … and do it for them.

Keep strong & stay healthy … 

Pastor <>< Bob

 

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